MASHED – Exploring the Korean War One Martini at A Time

MASHED: A Korean War MASH RPG
Author: Mark Plemmons
Publisher: Brabblemark Press
Page Count: 260
Available Formats: PDF and print
PDF (DTRPG) – $14.99
Print on Demand – Softcovers – $29.99, hardcovers – $39.99
PoD books will be available by mid-March at DTRPG

PREMISE: 
MASHED is a tabletop roleplaying game that uses the Powered by the Apocalypse engine to explore the value of human life and the stresses of war—but it’s also about relationships. And courage. And laughter. And love.

In the historical sense, characters would spend long hours performing surgery, MASHED compresses these into short events to focus on the most dramatic moments. Much of the game actually occurs outside of the operating tent. Characters have to find ways to relax and remain sane amidst the horrors of war. There are a variety of ways for each character role/archetype to do this. The ultimate goal is to be able to rotate home with some semblance of normalcy intact.

PRODUCT QUALITY:
I was provided a copy of the PDF only and cannot speak towards the quality of the physical book which is soon to be available. The quality of the PDF in terms of overall presentation and layout is fantastic! The book is very easy to read and smartly arranged. The art selections included throughout the book, whether public domain or commissioned pieces are thematically appropriate and give the right vibe. Mark definitely paid attention to the little things to ensure a great presentation and an easy reading book.

MECHANICAL OVERVIEW:
Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games use a simple 2d6+attribute modifier resolution mechanic to determine the level of success of failure when executing a specific move/action. On a 10+ you are successful in doing whatever it is you were trying to do. On a 7-9 you are partially successful but there will be some drawback. Lastly, on a total of less than 6, you have failed to accomplish the task in the way you had intended. There will be obvious fallout from rolling a 6 or less. The GM gets to impose direct or indirect complications for you and/or the group.

MASHED takes the core rules of the PbtA system and adds subtle changes that give it the feel it needs to be a game that is centered on the Korean War. Simulating the feel of war as experienced by those during the Korean War is not an easy endeavor. Couple that with the obvious MASH (the TV show) overtones and you have the makings of a unique game in your hands.

The playbooks included with the game represent some of the stereotypical characters portrayed in the TV series. Don’t let fool you, the characters you will create and the bonds you establish (called History [Hx]) will have depth and be very dynamic. They just take their foundational cues from the TV show and history.

Stress is a real thing in combat and war zones; I know from personal experience. Stress is not something overlooked in MASHED but integral part of the mechanical structure. Players must be able to manage the stress that is accumulating for their character before something detrimental happens, like a breakdown.

While the game itself does incorporate surgical scenes and the associated rules for successfully running them, it’s not the crux of the game. They’re merely there for not only the theme but also as a mechanism to help advance the agenda of the game, the lives of the MASH personnel. This is but one of the things that are central to the stress and livelihood of all those in a field hospital. Meatball surgery is a matter of all hands on deck to save the lives of soldiers and airmen. In a nutshell, surgery is presented as moves to lower a variety of primary and secondary clocks. The means (surgical scenes) justify the ends (the other 90% of the game).

Clocks, we have clocks! A staple mechanic in many PbtA games and MASHED is no exception. There are clocks to help track the progress of many different things. Not all of which are necessary except when specifically called for. Some will be persistent like the bug out clock but most are situational like the contest or romance clocks.

This is by no means a full rundown of all the rules and nuanced changes to the core PbtA rules, but suffice it to say, the rules adaptations feel seamless and fully integrated into the theme of the game.

mashedSOCIAL CONTENT:
This is not something I have highlighted in past reviews, but it does warrant a mention here. The reason to bring it up is Mark specifically addresses racial content, mature content, gender, and queer content upfront. The theme of the game is subject to these topics arising and players and CO (GM) should talk about them upfront. Mark has done a great job laying out these topics and how they relate to the game. Additionally, tips are provided for working with these topics during play. In short, if you want to play a female doctor who is queer, then you can, but there could be some in-game social issues from time to time.  Interesting, President Truman issued Executive Order 9981, officially abolishing racial discrimination in the United States Armed Forces, but the integration of “colored units” in Korea was not fully accomplished until 1952. Maybe you want to play an African American Doctor which in 1950 would still have been very rare in the Medical Corp, play what you want!

Players should not feel like they can’t explore some these topics. In fact, do it! Everyone just needs to be upfront and honest about how they would like to deal or not deal with some of these topics.

PROS:
 Richly detailed theme; very historically immersive
 Adaptation of the PbTA rules fit seamlessly
 Dynamic character concepts
 Addresses and promotes social content and issues in game
 Provides lots of events to incorporate to liven up scenes and camp life
 Phases provide a self-contained segment within which to play before moving on to another phase. Think progression of the war.

CONS:
 Surgical scenes, while not gory, will not appeal to all players
 War and/or historical topics don’t appeal to everyone

PARTING SHOTS:
Having read the rules and being a lover of military history MASHED strikes a chord for me in all the right ways; much like Night Witches does too. I am looking forward to getting this game to the table either as a player or as a CO. I’d almost rather be a player. I would really like to explore some of the historicity of the theme and the character playbooks and roles.

This is one game that is on my “to play” list and it’s there for a reason! If you like PbtA games and like military history or the zany antics of Mash the sitcom, this might be a good fit for you.

~ Modoc

Follow Modoc on G+ or on Twitter

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. That sounds interesting and very unique. I wonder though how to propose it to people unfamiliar with the source material. Or if source even matters. It could be an excellent tool to teach younger gamers about the Korean War. It’s such a niche I wonder what made them go after it?

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    1. modoc31 says:

      I would propose that you pitch it much like the TV series from the 70s and 80s. The game is meant to be zany and funny with a smattering of stressful times. Yes, there is a military theme and there is obviously ample academic source material about the Korean War. The book itself does a fairly good job at conveying the theme and presenting a detail glossary of terms and lots of little call out boxes with historical information.

      ~ Modoc

      Like

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