One of the things that I have come to learn that I enjoy in table top role playing games is playing to see what happens. This idea has a strong presence in a large variety of indie games that are currently out. One of the games that has recently caught my attention that does this is Durance by Jason Morningstar.
You may be familiar with name Jason Morningstar as he is the creator of Fiasco which was recently featured on Will Wheaton’s Tabletop. Durance is game in a similar vein. This is a science fiction game where the players explore savagery, servility, power, safety, and other themes. The setting is a distant planet chosen for colonization by those desperate for change and prisoners that are taking up space in society. Instead of the bucolic paradise that was promised, the planet is a place that makes survival difficult and pushes thoughts of rehabilitation to the background. This volatile mix is where the players take the stage and answer the question, “What Happens?”
The system itself is very simple and is run with out a game master. Whomever brought the game gets the ball rolling and begins the process of building the planet where play will take place. There are six things listed on the planetary survey which are necessary for a good planet for colonization. Three of these things are removed to create a planet that is barely habitable and has forced the colony to become unstable. The three remaining conditions reference a list of planets at the back and gives the group the planet they will be on and provides some hooks for when people may be at a loss. This process is repeated with the colonial record to determine what shape the colony is in at the start of play. The next step is to determine what the third drive is which will determine what shapes the outcomes of conflict. savagery and servility are the fixed themes and the group whittles down the remaining themes to determine the third. Three different color die are placed on each of the drives to help determine the course of things to come.
Once this housekeeping is done, the players each pick two notables from the colony. The key here is that each player has one character from the authority side and from the criminal side. They range in power from the governor of the colony down to the crazies that nobody wants to deal with. Once each player has their characters they are given names and then given oaths by the other players at the table. Oaths are things that the character swears never to do and what each scene will be centered around. Play begins with one player taking the role of the guide and asking a question of one or more other characters specifically aiming towards pushing an oath. The scene is played out until either all players involved are satisfied or until a conflict arises. If a conflict arises, the players will lock one of the theme die in place and roll the other two. They would then consult the drives to see what should guided the ending of the scene. This roll does not determine how it ends, just the manner that it should head.
I really enjoyed getting to play this game. I was hesitant at first as I have never played anything so built on improv. It took a few tries to let go of the awkwardness that I felt and just lose myself in the scenes in which I was involved. I really enjoyed watching the story emerge from the interactions of everyone at the table. There were points where I was on the edge of my seat just waiting to see what happened next. In addition to being fun and easy to play, the book itself is gorgeous. I found it to be a well written book that was easy to understand. It provides a nice example of play to help those who may have difficulty with this style of play. The layout is fantastic and gives it a feeling of being a diary of a colonist. The illustrations maintain this illusion and range from quick and dirty sketches to to beautiful full color art pieces throughout the book.
If you are fan of Fiasco, sci-fi games, or just playing to see what happens I highly recommend picking up Durance. You will not regret the purchase.