Nimer and I played the first playtest version of Murderous Ghosts. I hope this feedback is still relevant. For orientation, Nimer is a long-time role-player with a lot of experience with grassroots RPG design in the German scene; however, that scene doesn't stray far from Shadowrun or Der Schwarze Auge design assumptions, and he hasn't played much of the odder or twosie independent games.
1. We successfully concluded the session without any trouble from the rules and their instructions, although occasionally we clarified to one another what the instructions were: "Now it tells me to tell you to go to #8," or similar phrasing.
2. This was most important at the beginning, especially concerning the difference between "Start" and "#1." It might be useful to include some such instruction as "Wait until the other player tells you where to go" at this point, and perhaps here and there throughout the text, especially when the other player goes to an instruction that provides a "thinking" step and then another page to go to, because the first player is wondering whether he or she is supposed to go somewhere.
3. Nimer, not being familiar with S/Lay w/Me or Cold Soldier (which I *think* are this games' main design influences), rightly pointed out that he needed a little bit more orientation at the beginning, especially in the instruction to choose an emotion given by my description of the room. His problem was not any lack in the description, nor even in the emotion itself (which was immediately obvious to him), but rather what he was doing with it. He wasn't sure if choosing the emotion had anything to do with Lucas (his character's name) or not; i.e., whether this was an emotion that Lucas was now feeling, or which was embedded in his back-story (for instance some issue regarding his grandfather who might have been involved in the situation), or anything like that. I assured him that choosing the feeling was solely about prep information to hand back to me, and nothing to do with Lucas, and he was fine with that, but unsure regarding whether this was the actual meaning of the written rules. His comments struck me as important for all of the twosie games at the early stages of play, and I am considering enhancing the S/Lay w/Me text along these lines.
To summarize for your enjoyment, I hope, here's what happened.
Lucas found himself in the sub-basement of an old factory, which was clearly marked by a savage fire which had never been cleaned out or restored. Ancient ash filled everything, which after so long a time was pretty much merely pervasive, mushy dust. It was a very big room with many tables set in rows. The heavy wooden tables had not been destroyed, but were all scorched, and most of the furniture or furnishings were either unidentifiable or so ruined as to be too delicate to survive inspection. There were two very heavy, substantial, reinforced doors set together to make a big entrance or exit, with a ramp or short staircase leading up to them, with a lot of piled-up refuse or junk in front of them, and no other exits were immediately obvious.
He found he was standing practically on a skeleton half-buried in the ash, between the long edges of two tables. As far as he could tell, the body had sprawled there, rather than being laid out by someone else, and among the frangible and slightly-scattered bones was a heavy pair of industrial shears. The skull featured a bullet hole just above and between the eyes, and the bullet was still rattling inside the cranium when he picked it up. Moving around the room, he found other scattered bones and heavy implements like crowbars. At the doors, he found that the debris was mostly composed of a mass of bodies, at least six, embedded, among all the ash, in remnants of uniforms. He dug around to find several police badges and pistols. He also found the doors had been chained shut on the inside; the chains were still there and rather substantial.
A ghost was trying to get out: a rather life-like, not-insubstantial policemen, suffocating and burning, pulling at the chains in a frenzy, including the horrifying detail that the shears Lucas had seen were stuck into his head, as if they had been stabbed quite far. Lucas retreated in a panic, not stopping into he was inside something and could not hear the chains clanking. Which, as it turned out, was the interior of a very large wardrobe-type piece of furniture, more-or-less a walk-in closet, with two curtain-bars. (I think he'd noted in passing, earlier, that it was riddled with bullet holes.)
There in the dark, he was huddled against a female person, whose hand gripped his hard, whispering to him, "Be brave." In fact, he was among a mass of people crammed into the wardrobe, most of whom were crying out softly in fear, and he could hear the gunfire beginning outside. Now he understood what had happened there, in a garment-workers' strike which had gone very badly wrong for all parties.
... And he died in the dark, shot to death.
All of which brings me to my next comment.
4. I found myself very tempted to ignore an explicit instruction. When Lucas was in the wardrobe among the gunshot-victims, various instructions had led me to #10 (I think) and he was "part of its story." I Eventually I was told to go to #13. the first instruction there is explicit: if the ghost is a victim of violence, which this one definitely was, it murders the character. The instructions at #21 provided the perfect justification, "environmental danger" in this case, i.e., the same thing which killed the victim. The combination of "part of its story" and "environmental danger" allowed me to stay consistent with the sympathetic depiction of the ghost, insofar as "murdering" Lucas represented the terrible trauma of the person's death rather than the ghost actually trying to kill him in a one-on-one way.
The reason I wanted to dodge this explicit instruction was that we were really enjoying playing, and a later instruction in #13 was very attractive: to interpret the ghost as an "unquiet soul," and to move on to "investigate" Lucas via #14. I almost did it. I almost ignored the first sentence of #13 and fudged my reading to go to #14 instead of #21. I really had to grit my teeth to do it by the rules.
The actual outcome was very, very satisfying to both of us, especially because Nimer was exactly at that moment of revelation when he understood the back-story. He said the play-experience was exactly like that of a well-made, deeply emotional short film, and I agree fully from the GM-side. I'm not sure what to do with my own struggle regarding the instructions at #13, except to say that it was quite hard to distinguish between "victim of violence" and "unquiet soul," and to clarify that the first sentence of that instruction is supposed to be utterly binary and not to be compared with the other, later options on that page (at least, that's my interpretation of the "otherwises").
5. Neither of us had any difficulty establishing, enjoying, and riffing upon one another's input into the SIS. Jargon term courtesy of yours truly.
6. Lucas did not at any time attempt to escape, effectively dooming himself. Nimer said that he didn't really see any genuine opportunity to do so, but did not consider this to be a flaw, merely an emergent property of how interesting and scary it was to stay engaged with the immediate surroundings in this particular case.
7. Oh yes, the cards. Nimer's initial draws were very low, thus bringing enjoyably-awful events into beginning play, including the panic which rendered Lucas more-or-less unable to seek escape for a fair amount of time. So he wasn't in much danger of busting through 21, and used a discard-before-draw to avoid it easily at one point.