Originally Posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/07/19/tabletop-review-do-pilgrims-of-the-flying-temple/
- (NOUN) A path of life. An undiscovered, but inescapable destiny.
- (EXCLAMATION) The sound pilgrims make when they get into trouble. – from the first page of the game book.
Sometimes, someone comes to you with a game to review, and you look at it and exclaim, in the words of our esteemed Editor in Chief Alex Lucard, “I have no idea what the heck this is.”
Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is one of those kinds of games.
I’m something of a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I grew up watching The Little Prince on TV and reading the book, so when the author, Daniel Solis, described these two things as inspirations for his game, I was intrigued. After reading about the game on his website a bit, I got the basic idea of the game: it takes the concept of “Role Playing” to be less about statistics and dice rolls and more about crafting a character and writing a story, and runs with this concept. The idea, it seemed, was not to build an awesome world-destroying demi-god, but rather, to write silly stories of characters who grew across play sessions, failed and succeeded, and ultimately discovered their destinies. In other words: it’s an RPG for people who like the idea of coming up with stories, but may not be on board with stats and dice rolls, so that those sorts of players can create characters they like and identify with, without having to spend time with experience points and stats and whatnot. It’s certainly an interesting idea, in theory, and one that’s rife with potential, for both huge success and colossal failure. As it turns out, however, Daniel has been around the block a few times, having developed several similar games for all ages, such as Happy Birthday Robot, Pebble Rebel, and Alien Among Us, and while most of these are simply games listed on his site, complete with rules, it’s obvious from this that Daniel loves to make and test games until they’re not just functional, but fun.
This shows in Do.
In the world of Do, you play as a pilgrim from the Flying Temple, a temple in the center of the universe that is a place of peace and study for the monks who live within. Letters arrive to the temple periodically, telling of some sort of trouble in the various worlds throughout the universe, and your players are sent on a pilgrimage to resolve these letters… somehow… to gain experience in the world and find their own path in life. The point of the game isn’t specifically to fix the problems of the people, mind you. Your characters cannot be killed in the traditional sense, have no hit points, and essentially can progress from one letter to the next without worry of injury or demise. Further, success, while desirable, isn’t a requirement; your character could forever screw up everything in the game at all times and still progress forward if that’s the sort of character you want to play, and you could be chased from every world by an angry mob of people without it being a bad thing in the end. The point isn’t so much to succeed as it is to grow; the focus is on how players get into and out of trouble and what they learn as they progress, not
There are six chapters to the main book:
Overview: This essentially introduces the game to the new reader and gives a brief background on the concept and environment. It’s a short chapter meant to just give you a brief background to the game, and it’s only a couple pages long.
Introduction: The Introduction gives you a full description of how the game world works. In short: yours is a universe full of smaller worlds that can be traveled between as needed, each full of people with different beliefs, cultures and levels of technological advancement. The Introduction makes it plain that every world you can visit has its own level of advancement, its own beliefs, and its own ways of doing things, and that your Pilgrims, as they are not bound by statistics and levels, aren’t constrained in what they can do and how they can accomplish tasks. As such, the basic ideas of how the game world works are given to you here, but the chapter makes it plain that you can totally go nuts making up whatever you want if you decide you want to do something beyond what the book suggests.
Letters to the Temple: Letters are the driving force of the game, bringing pilgrims to the worlds who cry out for help because, honestly, they have no other options left and things can’t get any worse (yeah, right). This chapter gives you several example letters to work with, and an explanation of how letters are used in gameplay. In short, each letter contains three things: an explanation of the problem (and, to varying extents, the world in question), symbols that indicate the sorts of challenges and troubles the pilgrims can find themselves facing, and the Goal Words you’ll have to use, which we’ll get to shortly. The chapter also gives you some basic advice on how to create your own letters, in case you want to expand the campaign a bit.
How to Play: Exactly what it says on the box, the How to Play chapter teaches you how to play Do. Daniel has the instructions up on his website, as well, so if you want to see how the game works in detail you can check out the instructions there, but the book goes into a lot more detail and provides excellent examples of exactly how everything works. The required supplies are different from those of your normal pen and paper RPG; you need a trouble token (item you place before you to indicate you’re in trouble), pilgrim passport (character sheet indicating how your pilgrim helps and gets in trouble), and pencil for each player, a notebook of some sort to write your story in, and a bag filled with an equal amount of black and white stones (the amount changes based on the amount of players). At the beginning of a session, your group picks a letter to play, and each player takes their trouble token, pilgrim passport, and pencil in hand. Whoever is chosen as the storyteller will draw three stones from the bag and decide how many to keep (if any). That choice then determines if the storyteller can help someone and/or if they end up in trouble at the end of their turn. The storyteller writes out events dedicated to things they do, such as helping the world or other pilgrims, while the troublemakers (every other player at the moment) write out what happens when the storyteller gets in trouble. In both cases, the players are trying to use the various Goal Words provided with the letter in their writings (though in some cases this is not allowed). Once the storyteller’s turn is finished, they pass the bag and notebook to the next player, who then becomes the storyteller. At the end of a rotation, if any one player has eight or more stones, the story is over, and depending on whether you used all of your Goal Words, you either leave as heroes or failures, before taking off to the next world you’ve received a letter from, determining how many stones of each type you acquired, and making changes to your character’s name based on this. At the end of your campaign, when you’ve run out of letters, you then decide which path your pilgrim takes based on their Do, and write a final epilogue on where your pilgrim’s journeys have taken them in life, then close the door on their story and open the door on the next.
I promise, as complicated as that might sound, it really isn’t. The basic idea is simple: take some stones, keep what you want, and then help someone and/or get into trouble before passing to the next player. The complexity of the game, rather, comes from the Goal Words. See, every pilgrim can use Goal Words as part of what they write into the story, so long as they are allowed to at that time, but there’s a timer ticking on how much time you have to do this. Once any one pilgrim gets eight stones, the story is done, and if you haven’t used all of the Goal Words, you’re run out of town on a rail, cast as failures at the task set before you. Now, it sounds like it’d be best to take as few stones as possible with that in mind, but the key here is that taking certain amounts of stones can be very beneficial to progressing forward. You might get a three stone combination that will allow you to get another pilgrim out of trouble, but will put you closer to ending the game… but if you choose to keep none of the stones, you’ll end up in trouble yourself. Some combinations, as noted, don’t allow for the use of a goal word when writing a passage in the journal; you can use a word from the goal list, to be more specific, but it won’t count against the total for the letter. Making a choice that will allow for both the least stones acquired while also allowing for you to use goal words to complete a letter is quite strategic, and the complexity of the game comes from that mechanic as much as anything else.
Advice: This chapter focuses on giving out advice on creating your pilgrims, playing the game, and developing the characters as you go. For experienced players of these sorts of games, a lot of the basic ideas here are going to be familiar, but it’s a good place to refer to if you’re stumped on where you want to go with a character or plot point, and it’s also a good place for new players to gain useful information. The section also gives credit to the various people who have made the game possible, through assistance, donations, and other such help, and going through (seriously) six full pages of acknowledgements of the people who made the game possible is pretty cool, when you think about it.
Reference: This is a basic appendix of the rules of play for quick reference once you know what you’re doing, as well as a blank character sheet you can print out for your players. It gives a pretty solid overview of how the play rules work for reference, and it’s a small section, so you don’t have to thumb through pages and pages of rules to find what you need.
As you might have gathered from the above, one of the biggest strengths of Do is its simplicity. Because it’s incredibly simple to learn and play, it’s incredibly simple to get new players into, regardless of their experience with pen and paper RPG’s. The game is new player friendly, and requires minimal setup and effort to work, emphasizing teamwork and creativity over anything else, and it’s not a game that you exclusively win or lose so much as it’s a game you play to have fun. The writing style of the book helps this along as well, as the writing is very friendly and relaxed, never taking the game too seriously, allowing the reader to enjoy the material instead of studying it. This makes Do a very good way to introduce new players to RPG’s in general, as it makes the whole process as simple and painless as possible, and lets the players really get into the idea of telling the story, giving them as little restrictions as possible, so they can have fun with the experience with as little micromanagement and effort as possible. If there is a significant complaint to be made, it would be that the letters in the core book aren’t meant to ease players into the experience. The first letter contains only ten Goal Words, giving players who are new to the game a chance to learn the ropes, but the rest of the letters all use twenty words. Yes, you can likely ignore or remove some words if you wish to make things easier, but letters structured this way from the beginning would have been better to see. Also, for those who are massively excited about the idea of level development, dice rolls and rules analysis, Do may not offer them much enjoyment, but then, it’s not really meant for that sort of person, so this is somewhat more forgivable.
That’s the point, really; Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is a game that excises rules, stats and dice rolls in favor of emphasizing role playing, imagination and story development, and with that in mind, it’s very successful at what it’s trying to do. It’s not that rules, stats and dice rolls impede the act of role playing so much as they create a sort of barrier of entry for those who want to play, but don’t want to have to know how all of these statistics and such work, and Do offers them the opportunity to play in an imaginary world without leaving the player beholden to the mechanics of play. To put it another way: Do is a game that I was able to convince a few of my friends who don’t normally play RPG’s to try, based on its simple mechanics and interesting concept, and in one game session they had the rules more or less down pat and were looking forward to playing again. Further, as someone who’s spent years playing Dungeons and Dragons and World of Darkness campaigns, I honestly couldn’t wait either. If you’re looking for a simple RPG to have fun with, or a game to introduce someone to the idea of RPG’s without scaring them off, Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is a fun, low-maintenance RPG that works very well despite its lack of heavily defined mechanics, and it’s a lot of fun to play whether you’re a multi-year veteran or you’ve never played an RPG in your life, regardless of how old you are.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go help out someone who apparently thought you could never have too many pandas. Hopefully, this time I won’t blow everyone up.