I finally got around to not just watching folks play the Drifter’s Escape, but playing it. We were all a bit tired by the time we got to playing, and I was a bit doubtful about whether our energy levels would go well with it, but it was a lot of fun.
One of the things I saw upon reading was that the game is designed to put you in a bind: if you’re The Drifter, you basically are at the whim of GM Fiat (from one of the two GMs – either The Devil or The Man) unless you Make a Deal. When you make a Deal, both the GMs draw a 5 card hand and offer to give you their hand if you do a specific thing they request – and neither one is obligated to tell the truth about the quality of their hand. If the hand you take beats the other GM’s hand, then you get what you want regardless of the GM Fiat.
The thing I didn’t realize was that the dynamic in play is exactly that of an abuser – when you’re one of the GMs, when you control the scene you’re basically causing problems and fucking up the Drifter’s life and then you immediately turn around and offer them “help” at a cost.
What makes this not completely fucked up as a play experience is that these roles (as the Devil or the Man) are clearly assigned, you KNOW that this is the players’ roles and it changes the situation by drawing the boundaries of what is going on. In speaking with the designer, Ben Lehman, he pointed out that one of the things the game teaches is survival skills in an abusive situation – “Get what you need and get out. Sometimes helping others is what you need, but don’t stick around and let other people’s problems become your own” – which was a pretty accurate assessment of what happened in play.
The second thing which came out while playing the game is the Drifter holds three options which are pretty powerful in play.
1. The ability to ditch a Deal if the terms offered are too weak/terrible.
2. The ability to decide when it’s time to leave town the situation altogether.
3. The ability to Redeem any NPC – to spend a token and right then and there, regardless of how fucked up they were before, they are NOW a good person, and the person playing that character MUST try to have that character do the thing which the player considers the morally right thing.
In our game, everything changed when an extremist survivalist militia type just shot a corrupt sheriff to death and was in a standoff with his friend the meth dealer, the Drifter and her friend – the Drifter player spent a token and immediately Redeemed the survivalist which shocked the whole damn table and ended the standoff.
The Drifter’s Escape manages to paint the world with a brutal cynicism and at the same time, surprise you utterly at the potential for changing your views on characters (or really people).