Linnaeus

GenCon 2007 and Me—Grey Ranks

In game design, role-playing games on July 23rd, 2007 at 2:24 am

Howdy.

Sorry for imposing another long delay between posts. I’ve been busy helping some friends out with gaming-related projects, and that has eaten up my desire to think hard about gaming. Those projects are done with now, and I hope to return to a semi-regular posting schedule again.

For someone who is neither attending nor publishing, this will actually be a big GenCon for me. My name will be in the credits of two roleplaying games that are being released there, and in the fine print of one of the tournaments.

I thought I’d take a few posts to fill you in on these projects a bit, since I think they are all very interesting. I suppose I could be a little bit biased ;)

Grey Ranks

(designed by Jason Morningstar, published by Bully Pulpit Games)

Grey Ranks is a highly unconventional roleplaying game. If you are familiar with Jason’s previous release, The Shab al-Hiri Roach, this should not be a surprise. Roach is a strange blend of Lovecraftian horror, academic infighting and farce. A lack of conventional design (including a lack of a GM) are about all the two games have in common, though.

In Grey Ranks, the players take on the role of Warsaw Boy and Girl Scouts who are serving as messengers and minor nuisances to the German occupiers for the Resistance in World War II Poland—the titular Grey Ranks. As the War carried on, the Resistance started to have an effect on the Nazi occupation, but attrition and greater ambition put strains on the Home Army’s resources. The situation grew continuously more desperate, and the Grey Ranks became more involved in active operations, however.

The game creates coming-of-age stories set in the harshest crucible one can imagine. Poland was decimated by the withdrawing Nazis and then, again, by the advancing Soviets during the latter stages of World War II. The patriots of the Home Army and the Grey Ranks gave up everything they had in a futile effort to fend off disaster.

Yeah, this is a dark game.

Nevertheless, if you buy into the premise of the game, it promises powerful play. The system is geared up to force the players to balance the player’s desire to strike blows against the psychological toll of warfare. It also gives players the tools they need to tell stories in the world of late-war Warsaw. You will have to let go of most of your D&D- or Vampire-instilled roleplaying habits, though.

I’ve probably had less impact on the final form of Grey Ranks than I have on the other two GenCon projects I have worked on. Jason and I did not have any sort of relationship before he asked me to look at a draft, and I had never done any commenting on an unreleased game before. Jason was already an acclaimed designer, with the Roach well on its way to being a cult hit RPG.

I didn’t trust myself entirely, and pulled punches as a result. If I had it to do over again, I suspect I would offer different feedback. Fortunately, Jason had other, more confident voices to counsel him, and Grey Ranks has turned into an amazing game. Not for everyone, but amazing.

I’m hoping to make it up to him by providing better feedback on new projects he has in development.

  1. This game is on my shortlist of games to buy at GenCon. Bliss Stage is another.

  2. Yeah, I think Grey Ranks will be right up your alley, Seth.

    I’m still having a bit of a tough time getting my head around Bliss Stage. I admit that I haven’t been reading a lot of Ben’s threads about it on Story Games, either, though.

    P.S. I’ll have my post about working with you on Dirty Secrets up in a few days :)

  3. RE: Dirty Secrets–Yay! I really enjoyed working with you on it.

    Bliss Stage–Imagine a mech game set in the Matrix. Now imagine that the strength of your mech is based on your important relationships. That’s Bliss Stage. I’ll want to try it out before buying, but I’m a major Polaris geek, so I’m willing to give Ben a shot at my cash.

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