May 012013

In the remote prison colony of Burkestown, where the tropical rains and hot weather make life all but intolerable, the governor uses omnipresent surveillance and squads of ruthless marines to keep the lags firmly under her control. However, her authoritarian leadership has one fatal weakness: her ex-husband, the dimber damber. When the colony’s lord of vice makes an ill-advised power play, it sets off a struggle for control that will touch all levels of society on both sides of the Authority / prisoner divide, drawing an anarchist radical, a newly freed prisoner and a profiteering businessman into the fray. Can they survive this brutal conflict with their oaths intact? Who will be the first to exploit the governor’s strange, voyeuristic attachment to the dimber damber? And what will be the ultimate fate of the colony itself? Listen to this week’s Rag-NERD-rok Actual Play to find out!

  • Gregg

    This was a good, interesting game and a fun listen. Durance seems very meta — it seems like you’re playing the structure of the game more than the game itself, if that makes any sense (it does in my head). The emphasis on breaking oaths almost seems distracting from the story more than advancing it in a natural way, i.e. “We have to break oaths or the game will never end!” and so the onus is on the players to have their characters do things their characters wouldn’t do if the structure of the game didn’t demand it. Is this something you’ve found as well?

    • Maybe it’s just because I’m so used to playing Fiasco, where the structure is much more prevalent than in Durance, but I see it the opposite way. In Fiasco, the narrative is completely driven by the scene structure–every player gets four scenes (or fewer, depending on whether or not you want to start with fewer dice) and the story must resolve within that framework, which drives the plot forward and gives the players a timetable. Things seem to wrap up more neatly because you know that by the time you hit that last scene, you should be ready for the climax and the denouement. But in Durance, the narrative drive comes from putting the characters in situations where they do things they would never do under other circumstances, which is definitely more difficult and, as you said, more meta. Instead of following a set structure, Durance players are constantly in search of one that fits their story, which makes it more organic and character-driven, but can also lead to a bit more narrative dead weight.

      Personally, I think Fiasco’s system tends to produce better stories more reliably because the emphasis is on structure. It forces you to really think about what you want to include because a dead weight scene is a wasted scene. At the risk of sounding incredibly pretentious, I would compare Fiasco to the Harold, a long-form improv game that’s based on a cycle of three sequences of three scenes each, but is still extremely open within that framework. I find that having that guideline makes it easier to pace your story, whereas relying on character-driven methods of gauging the narrative’s progress is like riding without training wheels. You have to be well practiced and confident to pull it off.

      • Gregg

        Thanks for that thoughtful reply. Both systems certainly do have the metagaming mechanic that’s designed to give structure to improv, so (aside from the pre-determined genre inherent in Durance) which game you prefer seems to come down to personal taste. I’ve listened to a few games of Durance now and I find it interesting but oddly distancing, whereas I adore Fiasco and I’d play it every day if I could. I don’t know if that’s caused specifically by the oath-breaking mechanic or not. It just feels to me (admittedly subjectively) that Fiasco’s structure is oddly liberating and Durance is confining. Not to say that being confined is a bad thing either narratively or from a gameplay aspect, of course, because structure is necessary to keep the whole exercise from evolving (or devolving, depending on your point of view) into “a very special episode of Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” It seems to be a question of which structure a given player finds most invigorating.

        Anyway, thanks for putting these up on the Intertubes so people like me can avoid falling asleep at work! You guys are always a pleasure to listen to.

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