Durance is a narrative and prep-less/GM-less game for 3-5 players combination of setting and system where the planet, colony and characters are created during play.

Planet, Colony and Drive

The game starts by creating a planet, colony and selecting a Drive.

This works by passing a work sheet around the table and having people circle one thing which will be true (from the planet survey and colonial record) and cross out on thing which is false. Thus you can end up with stable geology, but bad climate and so on. You also end up with a planet and colony code of three letters each, which allows you to look up the planet and colony in the rulebook. A large part of the book is dedicated to these planets and colonies. Each planet is described on a single page and gives you the official survey report and the actual conditions as reported by the colonists. There is also a list of six "details" about the planet meant to help inspire scenes. The colony is described in the same fashion with an official Authority report of the situation and how the convicts see it, and again 6 additional colony details.

There are six possible drives (control, harmony, indulgence, etc.) and the Drive of the colony is again arrived at by having each player cross out a Drive until only one reamins in play.

Character Creation

All characters are placed on a ladder which is divided between Authority and Convicts. The ladder is presented as a split pyramid with five rungs where the top rung on Authority side is the governor and the top rung on the Convicts side is the Dimber Dambler. While Authority is supposed to oversee the convicts the power hierarchy is designed so that each side is potentially equal in power and influence and dependant on each other. Each rung down the ladder characters get more and more disadvantaged.

The players characters are called Notables, and these are created by each character creating a character on each side of the pyramid on different rungs. Thus every player will play two characters, one on each side. A character dies or breaks his or her Oath the player gets to create a new character, but on a different rung than he/she has played before.

Arguably the most important aspect of the character is the Oath which they must never break, as doing so takes them out of the game and makes them a minor character. Each player assigns an Oath to another player's character - usually from a pre-defined list.


The role of Guide shifts for every scene and the Guide poses a question that challenges a Notable's Oath and is relevant to the situation on the planet or for the colony. The Guide's role is simply to setup the initial situation and then watch the scene and perhaps help guide it to a conclusion, but otherwise it is up to the Notable in question to invite others to the scene and describe the details. Being a purely narrative game everything is decided by group concensus and character's can be killed-off with a simple description as part of a scene. If there is a conflict where the participants need help to resolve the conflict the Guide can roll two dice and consult the Uncertainty Triangle.

Uncertainty Triangle

The sole resolution mechanic of the game the Uncertainty Triangle consists of Servility, Savagery and the colonies unique Drive which is determined during the preparation phase (e.g. status, safety, freedom, etc.). Each is associated with a die and the Guide gets to roll two and then choose any that has a die higher than the next in the Triangle. Again the narrative focus of this game means that the result doesn't really decide anything, it only guides the participants to how to resolve the scene. For example if savagery was chosen then the scene would likely turn violent, but it does not determine who has the upper hand. If this is an issue then a player not participating in the scene can decide or if at a total impass each side can roll 1D6 with the highest being the "winner".

Publishing Company

Bully Pulpit Games


  • Jason Morningstar


System Analysis

Evocative setting and collaborative generation of the planet, colony and characters means that there is a high buy-in. Setting up a game can take a bit of time, but is fun and an important part of the game and very easy to do well thanks to the great structure and guidance.

Actual play requires a lot of creativity and collaboration from the players. In play the biggest challenge is to pose a good Question which challenges an Oath with a difficult choice or situation. For players not used to free-form narrative type of games this may feel a bit daunting and for those looking for a system to resolve disputes or determine outcomes this game provides neither. The game is entirely about telling a collaborative story and seeing where it takes you and planning too far ahead or getting too invested in any character or idea may lead to disappointment and disputes. The initial setup phase should help to ensure everyone has a common vision and are invested in the game, but it is doubtlessly a game that benefits from creative players who are comfortable with improvising.


The strongest point of this game might be the pre-play setting generation which together with the game text creates a very evocative and distinct game shared by all participants full of conflicts and challenges.

  • Integration: Setting and system works in harmony to encourage telling the story of desperate colonists and convicts in conflict on a less than ideal planet.
  • Character Pyramid: The split pyramid inspires conflict and lots of opportunity for roleplaying.
  • Prep Phase: Not only does it require no prep making it great for quick pick-up games, but it ensures a common vision and high buy-in from the players.
  • Special Events: Special events, and potentially epic events, can help inject new direction and some unexpected challenges into the game.


The weakest point, at least for new players, is probably the lack of structure and any resolution mechanic during play. Creative players and a good Guide can make for great scenes, but simulationist play and getting deeply into character is discouraged by the need for discussing how to move scenes forward out of character.

  • Uncertainty Triangle: Interesting idea, but doesn't really seem to contribute much to the scene and is often more of a distraction than help. At times the result can be very useful, but just as often it is hard to figure out how the Drive is relevant to the scene.
  • End Game: Although the book does suggest how to identify when the game is reaching its conclusion there is no structure for how to create a satisfactory ending to conclude the game.
  • One-Offs: Although it is doubtlessly possible to stretch a game over several sessions it is heavily geared towards short (probably 3-5 hours) single session games with no suggestions for how to return to a colony's story and add to it.
  • Special Events: Although the special events are great there is nothing to stop the same events from occuring several times and they are often vague and do not fit the scene very well relying heavily on creative players willing to go with the flow.
  • Lack of Immersion: Getting into character can be hard as action is usually paused just when the intensity is at its peak and forces out-of-character discussion to agree on outcomes (obviously experience and practice will mitigate this, but in play this was an issue for some).

House Rules

Some ideas:

  • Introductionairy Q&A session can be used to reveal the back story by asking each player a setting specific question about the events before arriving at the colony and in doing so adding even more background material and colour to the game.
  • When the Guide calls for resolving a conflict/climax with the Uncertainty Triangle have each Notable pick one of the three Triangle Drive's and roll that die. Everyone roleplays according to the chosen Drive, but the Notable with the highest result has the upper hand and determines the outcome of the scene.
  • Vote on the outcome of each scene as to whether it helps or hinders the colony and tally the result at the end to determine how the epilogue should be played out.


Durance is a quite free-form (especially compared to more traditional RPGs) and may require a bit of practice for inexperience players to get right unless they are lucky enough to have a good teacher to introduce them. Supporting each-other's ideas and actions, and being careful not to block or cancel other players is essential to a good game.

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