Monday, March 29, 2010

The Drifter's Escape

Ben Lehman, designer of the ground-breaking ROLEPLAYING GAME, POLARIS, has just published THE DRIFTER'S ESCAPE VOL. 1. I bought it at a cool little gaming store in Northampton, MA (MODERN MYTH) and read it on the plane ride home.

The Drifter's Escape is tiny little book (roughly 4" x 5") divided into two parts. I want to talk about the first part last. The second part of the book is a set of very simple, but seemingly very workable rules for communally creating stories. It's a ROLEPLAYING GAME ... not as radical a departure from the "norm" as Polaris, but certainly still pretty innovative. The story revolves around a drifter, played by one person within the group. The other players control a spectrum of characters divided between two conceptual identities, The Devil and The Man. I bought the book just to see what Ben was up to now. The theme didn't appeal to me all that much, but two things changed my mind. The first was the rules. As I read through them ideas kept popping into my head for what I could do with this theme.

The second was the stuff in the first portion of the book, seven bits of fiction by Jake Lehman. (I suppose we can assume some relationship between the two others, but none is stated.) These little vignettes (only one of them could really be called a "story" I think) were really exceptional. I enjoyed them immensely, though they are a bit hard to describe. Most occur in a poetic, dream-like environment where the bounds of reality are constantly and casually trampled underneath underfoot.

At first I thought to myself, "what the hell do these stories have to do with a game about drifters?" The relationship really isn't all that logical. Yes, there are lots of drifters in the fiction, I suppose, but the game itself seems to be more focused on reality than on the kind of mystical journey evidenced in the stories. Still. There is nothing that would prevent someone from telling these kinds of stories using the game. And Jake's tales had a kind of Beat feel to them that I found really inspiring.

There were two lines in the stories that I thought fit in with the game really well. They probably won't make sense out of context, but if you pick up the book watch out for them.

I tell him the truth, "I'm just following the dog."


I didn't say anything. I wasn't about to get between a man and the demons that wanted to drag him under the earth.

I think I'm rambling at this point, so let me wrap it up with this. The Drifter's Escape is totally worth picking up. The game sounds cool to play and the fiction is awesome. It's a real "two-fer."

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