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[Danse Macabre] "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"
Topic: [Danse Macabre] "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (Read 1811 times)
[Danse Macabre] "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"
March 11, 2011, 01:34:44 PM »
After nearly three weeks of delays, my group finally got together to play our fourth session of
. I talked briefly about the first three sessions in the
, but this time I wanted to offer a more in depth account of play.
Rudy: known as FetusCommander on the Forge, designer of
and other in-progress games.
Mike: co-host (along with Rudy and I) of
Mom's Basement Podcast
Tom: On again off again group member. He had played DM once before, but is less familiar with the game than Mike or Rudy.
Me: Just me.
A plantation during the last days of the Civil War. Most of the able-bodied free males, including the overseers, have left to join the ailing Army of Northern Virginia, leaving the aging plantation owner to run it mostly alone. Sherman is in the midst of his march through the South.
The Band - Greatest Hits. This is the first time we've used lyrical music. It didn't seem intrusive or disruptive to play.
Rudy: Rank - The Priest, Temptation - Despair; Rudy's character was an elderly slave preacher, who had lived his entire life under slavery. He had traditional ideas, and was pessimistic about emancipation.
Mike: Rank - The King, Temptation - Lack of Faith; Mike's character was the plantation owner.Outwardly secure and full of rhetoric about being a proud gentleman, inwardly horrified about the approaching Northern Army.
Tom: Rank - The Artisan, Temptation - Impatience; Tom's character was a slave carpenter. He was diligently focused on his work, and had little time for the larger events unfolding around him.
Me: Rank - The Peasent, Temptation - Pride; My character was a field slave, eager for emancipation. Strengthened by the collapsing South, he had begun to talk openly of revolt.
Since we had only four players, the rank of The Child and the temptation of Avarice went unused. In four sessions, no one has drawn The Child as their rank. Since ranks are drawn at random, this is purely luck. Next time I plan to eliminate at least one rank from the draw to ensure that someone draws The Child.
(To simplify things, I will be using our real names when referring to our characters in the scene descriptions)
Life Scene 1
The first life scene was set during a fairly normal day, near the end of the harvest. Rudy and I were at work in the field. Mike was overseeing us on horseback. Tom's character was nearby, repairing a broken plow. My character started to talk to Rudy about the approaching Northern Army. I spoke about how Sherman would free us, and how the plantation would be turned over to the slaves and the plantation owner shot. Rudy's character rebuffed my character, insisting that the Yankees would only destroy our way of life, and that he thought they might kill the slaves after they burned the plantation. I then tried to draw Tom's character into the talk of revolt, of he was unwilling to listen, insisting that he was only interested in finishing his work. The plantation owner caught me talking about emancipation, and beat me thoroughly. While this was happening, we were freely exchanging envelopes when it felt appropriate. For example, Rudy and I swapped envelopes several times while we were arguing, and Mike and I swapped envelopes while he was beating my character. Mike insisted that Sherman wasn't coming, and that he would never take the plantation. Rudy embraced this. Mike praised Tom for his hard work. He told the slaves that they would be allowed to celebrate the end of the harvest soon and that he would be providing extra food and alcohol.
Rudy stopped the music at this time, ending the scene. The envelopes were opened, and Rudy discovered that he had the Death Card. He narrated that his character had collapsed in the field and died of exhaustion. (Technically, according to the rules as written, Rudy should describe his death during the final Death Scenes, before confronting Death. However, I've discovered this can cause issues during play, particularly if the events surrounding the first character's death come up in later scenes.)
Life Scene 2
Rudy restarted the music, beginning the second Life Scene. This scene was set during the post-harvest celebration mentioned above. Tom was celebrating enthusiastically and drinking heavily. I was largely ignoring the celebration, instead focusing on the injustice of Rudy's death. I was insisting to Tom that it was the master's fault, and this lead to another long speech about how Sherman was going to free us. This was interrupted by Mike's appearance. At first, Tom and I were surprised to see the master at a slave celebration, but it soon became apparent that Mike was intoxicated. He began yelling at us, saying that he was glad that Rudy was dead and that it was "one less mouth to feed." Then he began railing against the North and said he would shoot Sherman himself. He was clearly frightened and agitated. While this was happening, Rudy was taking our envelopes, opening them quietly and exchanging them. He mostly avoided drawing attention to himself.
Just as a confrontation was about to break out between Mike and me, Rudy stopped the music. The envelopes were opened, and Tom learned that Rudy had handed him the Death Card.
Death Scene 1
Tom stated that he had died under mysterious circumstances while he attempted to return to his shack, drunk. He didn't provide too many details.
Rudy assumed his just-doing-my-job-man Death persona and interrogated Tom in a disinterested way. He asked Tom if he felt he had missed out on life, and if he had any regrets. Tom was perplexed at first, and it took him awhile to come to terms with the reality that he was dead. Once he did, he insisted that he had only wanted to work, and expected nothing more. Rudy pressed him on this point, but his character didn't relent. Ultimately, Rudy's Death seemed to decide that this was a lost cause, and shruggingly told him that it was time to go, leading him away.
Life Scene 3
The 3rd Life Scene opened with reports that Sherman's troops were nearby, perhaps less than a day's journey away. I found Mike at the well were the slaves drew their water, poisoning it. He was very agitated, swearing that Sherman wouldn't take anything that belonged to him. I confronted him, telling him that slaves were escaping the plantation, and that he would lose everything. He insisted he didn't care, telling me I should run too, because Sherman would kill me when he took the plantation. I insisted that I wasn't leaving, and that the plantation would be mine soon. We argued for several minutes, and, when I asked him what he would do when Sherman arrived, he insisted he would stand strong and take a bullet between the eyes facing down the cavalry. We began to argue loudly, and this resulted in Mike beating me, more savagely than before.
While this was happening, Tom aggressively playing Death. He would get up close to Mike and me, and try to grab our attention. He was much more openly involved in the scene than Rudy had been. (Indeed, this was a good choice, because it reinforced the deteriorating situation.) Eventually, he stopped the music, and Mike discovered he had been given the Death Card.
Death Scene 2
Mike narrated that he had been killed after the Northern forces arrived on the plantation. He had been shot in the back of the head while trying to flee the troops.
Tom's Death questioned Mike about the morality of his actions. Mike insisted, early, that he had always behaved like a good Southern Gentleman, and that it was all the Yankee's fault. However, after repeated questions he started to break down, vacillating between justification for his actions, and finally, when he had no excuses left, Tom led him away.
Life Scene 4
The 4th Life Scene was set inside the plantation house. The Northern soldiers had overrun the plantation, and were burning the fields and buildings. I had fled into the house, superficially celebratory, but obviously frightened. I declared that the house was mine now, that I had earned it through suffering, and that no one would dare take it from me. Rudy entered the scene as a supporting character, the plantation owner's wife. We had a brief, angry, fearful standoff before Mike led her out of the scene. Then Rudy reentered the scene as a Northern colonel, accompanied by Tom, as a freed slave who had joined the Union Army. Rudy informed my character that he was free, and would not be shot, but also made it clear that the Union Army had no intention of turning the plantation over to me or any of the other slaves. Mike withdrew him from the scene before he could answer any of my other questions. I asked Tom how he could possibly serve a white man, and he insisted that he felt a sense of duty to the Union Army since they had freed him. After Mike withdrew Tom from the scene, I became visibly distraught. The scene ended with my character overwhelmed, and unsure of what to do next.
Mike made a lot of interesting choices as Death in this scene. He didn't act intrusively or attempt to distract me. Instead, he would force supporting characters out of the scene while I was trying to talk to them, underscoring how hectic the moment was, and how my character was largely an afterthought to everyone around him.
Death Scene 3
I decided that my character did, in fact, join the Union Army, and that he was killed in battle shortly afterward, while serving under the white colonel.
Mike, as Death, opened by asking my character whether he felt all the bloodshed and conflict was worth it. My character initially sidestepped this question by claiming that he had been personally wronged, and that he never got to experience freedom. Mike wouldn't let him off so easy, and he kept up the line of questioning. Ultimately, I broke down and admitted that I didn't know what the war or my life was all about, and that I had missed my opportunity to be free after the plantation was liberated. Mike turned the music back on, and the final Death scene began.
Death Scene 4
It was Rudy's turn to confront Death. I portrayed Death as a contemporary black politician (shades of Obama) who praised Rudy for standing strong through suffering, and insisted that it was Rudy's struggles that made his successes possible. Rudy was bewildered. He was shocked to learn about all that had happened in the time following his death--voting rights, equality laws, etc.--and he couldn't understand it. He kept insisted that this was all impossible, and that he wasn't responsible for any of it. And, furthermore, that he didn't want any of it. The exchange got very energetic and emotional, with both sides insisting on their points. Ultimately, overwhelmed by all that he had heard, Rudy's character collapsed from exhaustion, ending the scene.
1. In most ways, this session was pretty standard and reflects how I had intended the game to run. I was particularly happy with all the different ways the players experimented with Death during the Life Scenes.
2. The Death Scenes were kind of touch-and-go. It seems to be harder than I expected to come up with good questions without preparation, and shaping the confrontation to get at the character's temptation can be a struggle. I've noticed that players tend to have more fun trying to come up with unique characterizations of Death then trying to break the character their interrogating. Still, these scenes weren't bad. It just felt like they could have been stronger compared to the Life Scenes.
3. I'm on the fence about whether to have the first player dealt the Death Card narrate the circumstances of their death before the second Life Scene or at the beginning of the final Death Scene.
I'm sure their are other things worth reflecting on, but, unfortunately, I have to run, so I'll leave it at that for now.
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