[Durance] Playtests are winding down!

Bully Pulpit Games is in the process of playtesting Durance, a game about the intersection of savagery, servility and human weakness. I've got enough playtesters now, so thank you to everyone who has expressed enthusiasm for this project. Anyway, here's the pitch:
Far beyond the edge of civilization lies an indifferent planet orbiting a dying K-type main sequence star. A hurried initial survey pronounced it habitable. This evidence, plus its great distance from anything of worth or note, made it an ideal candidate for a penal colony.

There would, politicians reasoned, be no need for walls. Escape would be impossible. Convicts would, in building their new home, rebuild themselves. They would thrive or they would perish, and it was all one to the people who sent them.

And the men and women sent to mind them? Anyone willing to accept such an assignment was probably best forgotten as well.

1500 convicts and 300 officials, civilians, Marines and hangers-on comprised the first colonists. The journey took 250 days.

The survey was wrong.
If you agreed to try Durance, please get a game in between now and 30 November and let me know how it goes. The playtest document includes 16 questions I'm particularly curious about. Thanks!


  • Your pitch made me think this:

    So... It's 3:16 meets the Stanford Prison Experiment.

    No idea if that's accurate.

  • Posted By: JesseSo... It's 3:16 meets the Stanford Prison Experiment.
    More like 3:16 meets 1791. The Authority side of the colony is made up of guys who couldn't enlist in the 3:16th for a variety of sad reasons.
  • I've had it printed & prepped for a few weeks. Has it changed significantly?
  • Posted By: nemomemeI've had it printed & prepped for a few weeks. Has it changed significantly?
    It has! The Game Chef version is functional but out of date.
  • Would there be any major problems playing this online, via Google+ Hangout or the like? That's the only way I'd be able to play but this sounds Super Cool and I'd love to get in on the action.
  • Posted By: David PidgeonWould there be any major problems playing this online, via Google+ Hangout or the like?
    I doubt it but I'd like to find out! Please consider giving it a try. There are shared documents you'd need to ... share, but once authored they don't change much. Three dice to keep track of for the group. The rest of it is just roleplaying.
  • Man, that sounds right up my alley, but I just can't guarantee I'll be able to run a playtest in October / November with my busy schedule. Oh well, next testing pass, maybe.

  • If you've agreed to playtest and are willing to hear from me if there are changes or updates, would you kindly whisper your preferred email address to me?
  • Is be up for a game on Snail's Pace if anyone else wants to give it a shot...
  • I do! I'll even sign up for Snail's Pace just to do it!
  • One more and we'll have enough for a game.
  • me! Pick me, Marshall!
  • Awesomesauce! So ideally, we should all have a copy to read on our own prior to play, yes? Also, ideas on how to do the whole "crossing out" thing? I was thinking maybe of using WriteBoard for that part, and just deleting/striking the parts we choose to eliminate?
  • edited October 2011
    Joseph, I think if I was playing distributed I'd just subscribe everybody to an editable Google doc with the four lists you'll need to cross stuff off. Whatever is easiest. The colonial notables sheet gets referenced a lot in play, so either a shared version of this (again, you could used GDocs) or each player could print out their own and fill it in as the bits are authored. I'm interested in your solutions!
  • Thanks to everybody who has volunteered to playtest Durance! Please get a game in between now and 30 November and let me know how it goes.
  • Jason,

    If you have any special notes or directions for people playing in a one-shot situation, please post them. (I haven't read through the full text yet, it may all be there, for all I know. But if it's not, here's a good place!)

    Looking forward to trying this!
  • It's really designed for single-session play and I'm not going to give you any advice. Have fun! Let me know how it goes.
  • I already played the gamechef version once but I felt like it would work better with 5 players, even though it was fun with 2. I wanted five players so that there was always someone to claw my way over why trying to climb the social ladder. I might get the chance to play it with 5 players tomorrow, and I'll happily do a writeup of the game even though it's already out of date.
  • I'm sure that would still be useful, as the playtest version is not really very different in its play style, just a cleaner layout and more background and setting info.
  • Just a friendly reminder to playtesters - about a month to go! Please give Durance a whirl.
  • We're in our first scene over at snail's pace. You can't miss it.
  • edited October 2011
    Indiecon is next week and I will run it at least once there. London Indie RPG is on Saturday 12th November (you're always invited, Jason) and I'm planning to do a couple of informal ones before the end of next month.

    Scouts Honour!!
  • How long is a typical game? How much time should we budget for the session?
  • I enjoyed playing in Piers' game. There are a lot of good things in this game. We played for just under 4 hours including set-up. We hadn't reached a natural conclusion by that point but we might have, or we could have carried on for a while longer.
  • edited November 2011
    I think that how long the game lasts might be affected by how punchy the director's question is. In the game Steve and I played the questions asked were challenging but when we looked through the playback the questions in that were brutal by comparison.
  • edited November 2011
    Posted By: Paul T.How long is a typical game? How much time should we budget for the session?
    This is one of the things I want to find out. So far playtest groups are saying 3-4 hours, or a shorter session that doesn't reach a juicy resolution. I think Piers is spot on about the Director being able to control pacing, which I should probably talk about in the text.
  • I ended up not getting a hold of the new version in time and played the gamechef version again, so take my report with that in mind. I thought 5 people would be way better than 2 but both were actually a lot of fun. In the 5 player game everyone got to be director about twice and it took about four hours to play. The planet we came up with was a jungle planet with tons of water and massive tidal shifts. The prison worker's cells were placed on the beach so that the tide would cover them at night. The dimber damber was a flip flob and hawaiian shirt wearing pot smoker who was running marijuana farms that the governor was forcing him to shut down. But between an offshore miner and a scientist looking for intelligent life in the water we discovered the marijuana was being used to trade with the fish people for gold. There were further implications of a conspiracy but we never got that far, ending with a scene where an unhappy marine who alied himself with an unhappy prisoner discovered some marijuana storehouses, when a "crawler" showed up, some sort of man monster in the trees who stealthily killed the captain of the guards.

    It was a very interesting group of people to play with, one player wanting to play extremely positive characters and another being an older guy, a first time storygamer who did toastmaster competitions and was really great to play with. Setup takes a while since there is a fair amount of discussion in the worldbuilding stage, but it was fun. And it's difficult to tell and how to pace the game, my feeling being that it's probably ideal for playing 2 or three 4 hour session long games or one longer game. In the two player game we were more able to play to our time limit and bring the story to a resolution in a single session, but it was more difficult to telegraph a focus in the story to the other players in the bigger game.

    Also, for some reason no one ended up betraying their oaths in the 5 player game I played, which could probably be solved with more agressive scen framing questions. I think people were still trying to establish the plot and all the characters before they felt ready to start bringing them down. Again, since a lot of the first session is spent with world building I think playing a two or three session game would help push over that hurdle as well, giving people more time to get figure out the game and characters. I really like the game Jason and I'll let you know when I play it again!
  • Orion, thanks for the report! I'm glad you had a good time. The setup is much easier in the playtest version since the planets and colonies are pre-established; you just pick the elements and it spits out pre-made stuff.

    Pacing is something I'm really interested in so your feedback on that is valuable. I'm spending a lot of time in the rules trying to inculcate the right expectations about it, but it is heavily influenced by group dynamics as well.
  • I have a game scheduled for MACE, hopefully with a full 5 players. I'll post back when we are done.
  • I've been having trouble getting players :(
  • I'm offering to run it again at London Indie RPG today with a couple of rules mods re: events
  • One final reminder - if you've playtested Durance, please share your thoughts with me via email. If you haven't yet, you've got one weekend left! Thanks to everyone who has given me thoughtful feedback based on your own (sometimes painful, sometimes awesome, always illuminating) play.

    I had 37 people respond affirmatively that they would playtest Durance within a 60-day window. Of these, 10 groups consisting of 48 individuals have played and reported back - a pretty good response rate. Two facilitators have hosted multiple sessions, and you guys (Orion and Piers) are the b-bomb.

    It's been an interesting process for me. I've tried a disciplined approach. I asked fairly pointed questions of the playtesters, and I've methodically dissected each report, breaking out cogent items that I can address and resolve in the game text, as well as larger design issues. The biggest problems get repeated across multiple blind tests. These get broken down into four categories (clarify this, design decision, layout issue, and new idea) and knocking them down one by one has been really productive.
  • Jason, now you've got me thinking how the playtest instructions themselves become part of the rules: by giving certain instructions or asking questions, you're changing how the groups read the rules as written.

    Science hat on!
  • edited November 2011
    Well, Dr. Science, one takeaway form this playtest has been that the game's two major problems, consistently brought up by blind testers, are things I didn't even reference in my 16 questions. Hadn't seen them in my games through designer myopia and some weird dice throws. Your point is valid but in getting answers to your questions there's a lot of emergence and a ton of wiggle room, more art than science I'm afraid.

    New thread to explore your ideas?
  • Good point, but I'm not sure I have any further insight. Sounds like a very successful playtest though.
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