The Drifter's Escape (Oct. 14 2010)
players: Robin, Martin, Adrienne, Susan (facilitator)
We played this game with four players. Susan took on the role of the Devil, Martin took on the role of the Drifter, and Robin and I shared the role of the Man. The game progresses through scenes which are usually controlled by one of the characters. For example, if a scene takes place in a bordello then it is (probably) controlled by the Devil. In a scene the Devil controls all NPCs related to crime and sin; and the Man controls all NPCs related to oppressive society.
The Drifter takes part in every scene, because the story is one of his travels and eventual fulfillment or failure. In each scene the Drifter is aiming to accomplish one of his goals (e.g. find a warm place to sleep), and the Devil and the Man are trying to win the Drifter's soul. The Devil tries to entice the Drifter to perform sinful acts, the Man tries to entice him to perform conformist acts. Success or failure in these goals is often the result of a bartering/poker game initiated by the Drifter when he wants to strike a deal. Also, the Devil and the man can impose their desires on the Drifter by making (costly) demands.
In our story Juniper (Miss June) Clemenceau arrived in a small town in North Carolina, looking for a warm place to sleep, a replacement guitar string and passage to Richmond. She quickly became involved in local affairs and got to know many of the town's unusual inhabitants. Miss June made the acquaintance of a young ghost by the river, who'd let her have an ethereal guitar string if she would but learn the song he knew and play it at Cain's bar. Unhappily married Molly would give the girl a place to sleep if she could bring her husband Ezekiel out of the bar and remind him of his wedding vows. Old Blues-playing Bill would give her information, but only if she'd heed his advice. The end-scene played out when under a compulsion to visit the local voodoo practitioner, Miss June is confronted with the specter of her former husband and forced to make a hard decision about her faith. [Forgive me any inaccuracies here, my memory is pretty poor.]
Opinion: Cool, but challenging.
Cool: I loved the way we lay out playing cards to start with that help decide the nature of some of the town's inhabitants. It takes some of the pressure off of instantly creating an environment, but still leaves room for imagination. It's also good how the Drifter's motivations are clearly spelled out - it gives everyone something to work with right at the outset.
I think we all did a very good job forging relationships between the starting characters, and then later the new NPCs we created as the game progressed. I also really liked the way we got to take control of multiple characters (in the case of the Man and the Devil). Also our setting (post-Civil War South) and the story threads we cooperatively wove were pretty evocative and I think definitely captured the spirit of the game. And of course it was great to do and hear Southern accents.
Challenging: Finding the right balance of narrative and strategy. By strategy, I don't mean meta-gaming, but more goal-pursuit. Partly I think I just had trouble understanding the rules of bartering. It might have helped if we made a demand on the Drifter so there would be a more concrete direction to push him along/negotiate towards. Partly I think it was just me having trouble feeling my way into the role of the Man and his desires. The Man is supposed to represent all that is evil within society, the Devil all that is evil without. Susan definitely nailed that, as did Robin with his shopkeeper and Ezekiel. However, I was hung up on 'conformism' and so went along lines of trying to get the Drifter to settle down, believe in God, restore order. These sorts of acts don't really scream evil, and I think it might have been better to have tried and find a different agenda that would cause the Drifter more turmoil.
Adrienne - thanks for that great post! Your recounting of the story is perfect.
I really enjoyed trying out Drifter's Escape with you guys. It was my first time playing since I learned it from the designer Ben Lehman and I'm pleased with how it came out.
The story was quite interesting and perfect for the Halloween season. Big thanks to the game designer's brother Jake Lehman for his inspiring stories that helped us get the intrigue off the ground. (Also a sheepish thanks to Disney's The Princess and the Frog for inspiring my villain.)
I agree the game was cool but challenging. It really leaves little room for any player to loose site of their drives/goals. There's no structure that advances the story without you (as there is in, say, Fiasco). To keep the narrative moving along we each really had to think "okay what am I after in this scene?" This is a general story gaming skill (the story gaming skill?) of course but it seems somehow particularly important here.
Playing the Man effectively was tough to get one's mind around in this setting. Adrienne and Rob did a great job but I can see how hard it is to do that "evil but not the Devil" thing. Maybe a military/soldiers/corruption thread would have worked? Though I did like the nine-fingered preacher we met half way through.
I appreciated the emphasis in the rules on the idea that Drifter's Escape is not a mystery game. The Drifter doesn't have to figure out the town's secret. He just has to travel through the town. It relieves the pressure on the Man and the Devil to create some great cohesive back-story. At the same time it opens up the door to take any interaction on a cool tangent.
I had two mechanical thoughts: I blew off the note in the rules that said we should have a bible or phone book on hand to generate names and I think that was a mistake. It was a hiccup in the story when the names didn't seem right for the period, took a long time to think of, or were just boring/familiar. It wasn't major but I see the real value in that design element.
Also, in the set-up we came up with a useful little system. When we created the characters with the playing cards we found ourselves loosing track of who was who and who had what relationship. We ended up laying an index card with each character's name on it on top of its playing cards. On the underside we wrote a couple key words to remind us what they were about and who they were beholden to. That way we could flip them up and remind ourselves but Martin (the Drifter) didn't have the secrets spoiled.
Overall a good evening with good company and a good story.