So for the penultimate session before the Quarter Quell, I decided to go a little unorthodox. A while back, I purchased a game that I wanted to play for so many years. This is dating back to when I was doing the Hope Inhumanity games. Life and other such problems got in the way, though. But now? I can try this. The game? Carolina Death Crawl.
I’m gonna be brutally honest with you all. I’m going into this game blind. Whereas almost every other game, I had an idea of what I’m gonna play, either because I heard someone else talk about it, or I saw a demo, or I have played it before. Here? I have no such prior context. To give you an example, I had this idea the game’s gonna be about cross-country horseback racing a la Steel Ball Run, but instead, it’s about the Civil War…
The one about the blue and white soldiers fighting over the legality of slavery, not the one with the armored billionaire duking it out with the personification of America over superhero regulation.
So, yeah. I’m gonna learn this game as I play it. What I know is that the game is played through cards, much like Hope Inhumanity, and that there’s three kinds of cards: Kill, Disgrace, and Destroy. Thankfully, the rules that come free with the DrivethruRPG page explain the premise. Basic gist is that it’s Civil War, we’re left behind enemy lines, only one person can live. Our character is a soldier for North Carolina and is loyal to the Union despite North Carolina being a Confederate State.
Character Creation seems to be very cool. There’s two halves of a character. The first half has their first name, rank, and title whereas the second has their last name, placement in the North Carolina Army, and the second part of the title. Naturally, I went with Charles Comfort, Lieutenant of the 1st NC Cavalry, Officer & Ass-Kicker.
Well, I’m ready to play, though I’m not sure if I will need additional players or if I can just wing it. In either case, I will have Henry Dunham, Private of the 1st NC Cavalry, Swamp Rat & Imposter, on the ready in case I do. For now, I will need to answer my main question: Whose ass am I going to kick the moment I slip your leash? This question does not necessarily have to be answered right away and can be answered during the game, it seems. So, on with the game.
Skimming the game does reveal that I would need at least three other players for this game. They will act as extensions of myself rather than use an Emulator to simulate them. So, after Henry Dunham is Isaac Eager, Corporal of the 1st NC Calvary, Intellectual & Criminal. And after him is Lemuel Maybank, Sergeant of the 1st NC Calvary, Veteran & Aristocrat. Already we have some interesting combinations. Almost everyone has a beef with each other. Maybank is in debt to Eager, Eager is loathed by Dunham, and Dunham is hiding from Comfort.
The story seems rather fixed in terms of how it begins: the four men are of the Calvary, acting under General Edward Potter to burn the Tar River Valley, starting with the town of Greenville, going into Tarboro, and Rocky Mount. I’m getting a bit of a Spec Ops: The Line or maybe even Bad Company vibe from this game. The first raid is over at Greenville. I’ll begin to tell the story.
Comfort begins the story by blowing up the entrances of the stores and commanding his team to go raid the stores of Greenville. Maybank, however, doesn’t like this all too much and he fakes stuffing his pants with money, only to hand it back to a cowering lady. Meanwhile, Eager is confronted by a Confederate soldier who he is forced to kill after a brief scuffle. As for Dunham, he gleefully blows up too much and burns a building to the ground.
The next raid happens in Tarboro. This time, Comfort covered fire as his men entered the house of Ex-Governor Clark and robbed his place. Much like before, Maybank doesn’t necessarily rob, which Eager takes note of. This is the debt that Maybank has. He’ll keep his mouth shut so long as Maybank pays him back later. Things took a turn for the worst when Dunham murdered Miss Toole and the group had to cheese it to the Rocky Mount.
There, they saw King Cotton, who Comfort personally burned alive. Maybank, knowing that this was his duty, killed Confederates with his group. They noticed a train and they raid that as well. With the flames from King Cotton’s pyre, Comfort burned the train, Maybank picked off the Confederates one by one, Eager busted down the engine which caused a chain reaction and Dunham, revealing to have been a turncoat, caused the train full of money to explode by firing at the engine in the hopes of killing the squad, earning scorn from Comfort as he finds out about it.
… Holy crap. This isn’t a bad company. This is a worse company! Well, with the prologue done, we enter Act 1 of the story: Abandoned. Basic gist is that our “heroes” have been abandoned (in this scenario, it’s because they’re presumed dead) and as far as anyone knows, they’re deserters. The only solution is to get to Potter. Now comes the interesting bit. Through out the game, players will play cards that will prompt characters into actions. With each action, they draw a card if it involves destruction, humiliation, or murder. The cards have points on them as well. Not only that, but the character cards do as well. Throughout the prologue, the characters have demonstrated traits.
- Comfort showed he was a leader and thus gets three points, as shown on his card.
- Maybank chose between Honor and Duty and gets three points.
- Dunham reveals why he’s hiding from Comfort soon after the explosion as well as his true identity and earns five points.
I’ll get into more details later, but for right now, let’s continue. The basic scene goes by, namely that Dunham has gone into hiding and so Comfort, Eager, and Maybank go on their quest to find Potter. Next scene has them encounter some Union members from the 12th New York division who are thirsty. However, because they look down upon North Carolina, Comfort orders his men to keep marching ahead and leave them to die. Maybank, however, slips them a waterskin, effectively disgracing Comfort’s orders.
Next scene has Eager call out Maybank, as he had seen him help the people despite Comfort’s orders otherwise. Maybank just tells him that he doesn’t want to serve a tyrant like Comfort and asks him for help in killing Comfort, as he fears Comfort’s command. Eager mulls it over. The group come across a baby who has the tag “My pa is a bluecoat” on it. When asking Comfort what to do, he insists on leaving her be like with the NY Division, but like Maybank, he quietly disgraces his orders and hides the baby in his hat, though her crying brings Comfort’s attention.
Meanwhile, Dunham goes to the Charles Vine Plantation where he talks with his fellow Confederate men about how his job was a success and that he had killed a good chunk of the Union. However, one leader brings up how, based off reports from Edwards Bridge, three Bluecoats were travelling along Fountain Quarry. Dunham gulps and is given an ultimatum: kill these three or die himself.
With those four scenes done and over with, we now tally up points:
- Comfort has 6.
- Maybank has 7.
- Eager has 5.
- Dunham has 9.
Whoever has the lowest points is dead… That is until you realize that, earlier, it’s been established that Eager fears Comfort’s command. One of the two prompts on his character that, when fulfilled, would give him points is “face your fears and defeat them”. It gives him enough points to do the following:
Comfort pulls out his rifle at Eager.
“I told ya! Leave that brat for dead! But no! You just wanted to keep the baby! Well now, I gotta discipline you the best way I know how!” As he loads his gun, Maybank looks over to Eager. Eager nods and suddenly turns around, unloading buckshot at Comfort.
“We’re better than the monster you are!” Eager says as Comfort begins to bleed out. The two leave their commander for dead as Dunham looks to Eager from afar. Such scum. Suddenly turning traitor on your own commander… At least when he was with them, he was never truly a Union soldier.
And that ends Act 1. Now comes Act 2: Gone to Ground. This deals with the men going into what is called the Pocosins. Basically swamps. The first scene begins with the group encountering a whore, a midget, and a chained up, hydrophobic hound. When asked what the problem is, the midget informs Maybank that the whore has robbed him. Without anything to prove herself, she is seen as guilty in their eyes. Eager and Maybank have no idea how to solve this. That’s when they hear the eerie whispers of their old commander, telling them to hang her.
And hang her they did. Albeit subconsciously. As soon as the two see her swinging, Maybank instantly pukes as Eager has no idea what just happened. They try to leave it behind them as they come across the Simms Plantation and find three hundred men, women, and children, all of them slaves. The two decide that, as to atone for their crimes, they will escort the three hundred to New Bern, where Potter is situated at.
Dunham, meanwhile, encounters the silhouette of Comfort. He freaks out, knowing full well who he is: a Swamp Ghost. A soul of a soldier who has died in the Pocosins and will not rest until those who wronged him are dead… This includes him. An extra scene reveals that, yes, Comfort has indeed become a Swamp Ghost and that he’s slowly and surely causing things to go horribly wrong by possessing a snake in a satchel full of cigars.
Point tally time!
- Maybank has 9.
- Dunham has 3.
- Eager has achieved in gaining Dunham’s loathing, which nets him three points on top of his three (originally he had four, but Swamp Ghosts are able to use their action cards as penalties).
Thus, Dunham is killed by the Swamp Ghost and joins his army.
Thus begins the third and final act: The Last Mile. This is how it goes down. Maybank and Eager come across the Daughtridge Farm where they find Eager’s mom with Henry Clark. They buried Toole in the backyard and notice Eager with three hundred slaves. Eager tries to explain his case and even bring Maybank to take the fall, only to notice Maybank ran off. Maybank blames himself for this disaster, that, had he stuck to the plan and not arranged for Comfort’s murder, none of this would have happened. He arranges for himself to be punished.
The final tally is at two points, leading to a tie breaker of whose rank is who’s. In this case, it’s Maybank who outranks Eager, so he is killed by the vengeful Governor and his mother as the three hundred slaves are brought back into slavery. The story ends with Maybank returning to New Bern and being labeled as a deserter. Unable to say what really happened out of guilt, he is executed by firing squad and joining his squad in the afterlife as a fellow Swamp Ghost.
Okay, this game is pretty dark. Like, this can easily be the premise of an FPS kind of dark. But that’s what makes this game so white knuckled. From the word “go” the game introduces a foreboding tone that can either be bleak, black comedy, or even outright action. It all depends on how people play it. And me, I played it in the darkest way possible.
I enjoyed this game. Unlike Hope Inhumanity, where I viewed the game as “can be soloable, but it’s more enjoyable with other people”, this game is just as enjoyable playing it solo, as you’re pretty much telling a story that, at the end, can leave you mortified. In fact, I might say this may leave you more mortified than Hope Inhumanity, since in that game, you’re merely doing horrible things to get bonuses. Here? The only points you have is from the prompts you play, which lead to horrible things happening, and the character prompts, which sometimes can also lead to horrible things happening.
Given how this game was made by the same company who did Fiasco and Night Witches, I can understand what sort of theme they’re going with for their games. Down and dirty, nitty gritty, but also keeping some fun with it as well. This is a good game to play, and I recommend it.
Next time? We’re doing a Quarter Quell!