Me and a couple of people I play Call of Cthulhu and other tabletop RPGs with have been drifting towards a more freeform style for a while now, taking inspiration from Jeepform, Psychodrama, Nordic LARP and whatnot. We played Last Train Out Of Warsaw
with six people (including the Guide) last week and it was brilliant. Here are a couple of things that happened during our twelve hour-session:
- upon discovering an abandoned pub when looking for food in Pilava one of the players deadpanned: 'Pavel Kovalski, fourth-generation pub owner, had suddenly decided that living to see a fifth generation was more important that staying a pub owner'
- the train goes way too slow due to the weight of the gold and the train personnel starts to get suspicious, which leads to a couple of awkward scene between them and the two officers who accompany the train (ostensibly to ensure the safeness of the civilians). The Fireman has no qualms at all to more or less subtly threaten the Adjutant with violence to get the truth, especially after he picked up on the fact that the man is far from brave during an aerial attack on the train.
- the train stays hidden for almost twelve hours near an abandoned mine, where the Engineer had already hidden once before from the Germans during WWI. He is recognized by a young man from a nearby village - the Engineer's unit had plundered the village to stay alive. That scene almost ends in violence.
- the Pretty Girl discovers that something is hidden under the floor boards of the train and she gets caught by the Quiet Man (one of the officers). This scene does end in violence and the Quiet Man takes her into one of the buildings around the mine and shoots her. A little boy seems him take her there, but the Quiet Man is not so far gone that he would shoot the child, he merely knocks him senseless and binds him so that the child can escape later.
- Lublin is on fire. The tracks are destroyed, but railroad workers rebuilt them, right in front of the train. A group of passengers, young men, wish to leave the train and the Adjutant tries to make them stay. The Fireman steps between them and in the end the Adjutant is knocked out by one of the men who do leave the train and stay to fight.
- the tracks are barricaded by a couple of tree trunks, a brightly coloured wagon and a truck and people are waving for the train to stop (the Pretty Girl's family, but we don't know that). Engineer and Fireman decide against that, they let the train run at full steam and the Adjutant, only just come around again, is conscripted to help shovel coal. They manage to break through, but the Engineer is badly burned by hot steam. He dies with the knowledge that he has done his duty to his country.
- at a small station, the Russians have already arrived. Again, the Fireman (who now has to drive the train) decides against stopping. Unfortunately, the Russians have an anti-tank gun and open fire on the train. The first shell removes much of the second carriage, the second one hits the first carriage, but it's a dud. The Quiet Man grabs it and throws it back at them, neatly rolling it under the truck the gun is mounted on. There, it explodes and the train escapes further harm.
- upon arrival at the Rumanian border, there is a small problem: the Rumanians will allow the civilians into their country, but since Poland no longer exists, they cannot allow the train (and thus the gold) to cross the border. The Quiet Man solves that problems by removing and painting over any signs that the train is Polish and he and the Rumanian officer agree that neither of them has seen a Polish train. And so the gold is brought to safety. The Quiet Man, having done his job and having sacrificed too much for it, then commits suicide.
The Conductor was, we all agreed, the best character - think Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. Give him a Polish railway uniform, a whistle and have him try desperately to maintain order and, above all, a proper timetable while around him his world collapses into chaos. Whenever the train stopped or departed, even when it was in the middle of nowhere, the Conductor loudly announced it and advised everyone to get on board, close the doors, keep their pets on a leash
and their tickets ready.
The rules say that during each of the ten scenes, each character has her own scenes. That rule went out of the window immediately with us and we adopted a pretty chaotic style, everyone pitching in to create one big scene. It worked out extremely well for us, no-one was left out or hogged the spotlight and it brought across how chaotic many scenes are, especially the first one (with 700 people fighting to get aboard a train that will hold 360 at most).
Fate cards were drawn every scene, but I think not every character got two, we played that by ear as well. We found the resolution cards much more useful though, the fate cards didn't do all that much for us and two times we really had to struggle to incorporate them into the game (and ended up ignoring one). The resolution cards always were fun and brought the scene forward.
All in all, we had a great time. A couple of us had played Fiasco a few times already, but for three players, it was the first time trying out a system like this. I think it's a pretty good game to introduce people to this kind of playing style, although you need to prepare yourself for a really long session - we skipped one scene and still played from 2pm to 2am.