RPG Diaries: Durance

I went blind from drinking fluid from the adrenal gland of a Roofie, the subterranean indigenous species of the prison planet called RFS-167.

And I was a lucky one.

Durance by Bully Pulpit Games is a GM-less, sci-fi RPG by Jason Morningstar, the author of the fantastic Fiasco. It’s for 3-5 people and is playable in two hour chunks, though overall gameplay length will vary. It places a group of authorities and an opposing group of convicts on a far-away prison planet. The fun is that every player gets to play both an oppressed convict and an authoritarian oppressor. By acting out scenes that drive the group’s overall goal and personal oaths, the conflict arises and the fun begins. Durance is a lot of fun.

It starts by completing a “planetary survey.” You’re given a list of attributes that each player, in turn, either makes true or false about the world. At the same time, the same process eliminates items on a list that will ultimately be the group’s overall drive, such as status or control. My group created a habitable yet harsh world with unpredictable weather and a hostile native species. As for drive, we all sought status. The social ladder is patently obvious in Durance, and everyone wanted to move up.

duranceI got to play a gung-ho Marine Sgt. and an outcast inmate who was forced to live outside the city walls. The Marine found out that the proprietor of the local “house of ill repute,” which we named “Hot Pockets,” was operating an illegal still and selling her alcoholic swill to customers. This didn’t sit well with the governor who was getting kickbacks from the booze brought in for the customers, so he sent her (my Marine) in to shake the place down. She brought a gang of 20 soldiers with her, and after shooting out several windows and threatening to do worse, the madame handed over the money she earned illegally.

Incensed at what had happened, she hatched a plan to liberate her fellow inmates from the oppressors once and for all. They hatched a plan to poison all of the soldiers at a “party” held in their honor. But how to get the poison?

While existing outside the city walls, my character had a run-in with a local farmer. As they argued, one of the planet’s sub-terranain, indigenous species popped up out of the ground and was promptly shot by a guard. As it fell to the ground, some blue fluid poured out of it and into the garden. Any plant it touched rapidly grew and became supremely healthy. My character dipped a finger into it and took a taste. A few minutes later, he was blind.

Bingo, we had our poison.

After brewing up some lethal hooch, the madame invited all of the soldiers to the Hot Pocket for a good time. They obliged and were soon blinded — and finished off — by the inmates. Yay?

As I said, all of this was improvised. One person “hosts” a scene, and asks two (or more) players to act out a scene that answers a question he or she has. For instance, what is the governor going to do now that he knows there’s an illegal booze operation? The players can make up whatever they want, as long as they answer the question. The other main component is the oaths.

Every character has a sworn oath. He will not, under any circumstances, go back on that oath. Your job, as the host of a scene, is to put them into a situation that could result in compromising that oath. If it happens, all heck breaks loose.

It’s a really fun game that we finished in about three hours total. It takes the right group — you’ve got to be comfortable improvising in character and on the fly — but is often hilarious and surprising. Definitely a good time.

You can read more tales of adventure from our RPG Diaries here.

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