Beginning with last week’s review of Night’s Black Agents, I’ve resolved to read through all the RPGs I’ve bought and not played in the last few years. Today, I’ll look at Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, which shares with Night’s Black Agents the distinction of being a nominee for Board Game Geek’s “Golden Geek RPG of the Year 2012″ award.
This is probably the only time a game like Do will be used in the same breath as a game like Night’s Black Agents. They’re in good company quality-wise, but in terms of content and audience, they couldn’t be more different.
Do is one of those games that has jumped in and out of electronic shopping carts many times over the last year. This is a distinction shared by Happy Birthday, Robot!, also by Daniel Solis, which I broke down and bought after readingDo.
The connection to Evil Hat Publishing served as the initial turn-on to both these games; however, on many occasions the fact that both games target kids (12 years and older for Do, and even younger for Robot) determined the final “out of the cart” disposition. Truthfully, I only ordered my print copy of Do after I had a need to (finally) acquire a print copy of Spirit of the Century and decided I’d rather pay for games than shipping, and Do helped me crack the minimum order amount for free shipping.
Now that I’ve read it, I can tell you that a string of expletives not safe for the target audience of this game best describes my enthusiasm for the game. It’s brilliant. I have no idea in what context I’ll actually play it- right now, my assumption is that it’ll have to wait until my 4 year old grows up- but my RPG bookshelf gratefully accepts the addition of this game, and is indeed better for it.
I imagine this conundrum is behind Evil Hat’s announcement this week that they will no longer print Do due to limited sales. That’s simultaneously disappointing and (particularly when understood in light of the numbers Fred provides) understandable.
If I’m reading right, Do is pronounced something like “D’oh,” and likely has a connection to a concept like Tao (of Te and Ching fame). The concept of tao is one of being on a path, and that’s what Do is all about: the path taken by a group of children called to diverse locations in a whimsical fantasy universe as they get in and out of trouble.
“Fantasy” here is not swords and sorcery; although both may be found in this universe, Do does not allow troubles to be solved by violence. Instead, this is a universe of tiny worlds (villages, really) floating through an aether of plants and oversized sea animals. Besides the elements of their personality, the character’s “power” for being a pilgrim is tied up in the ability to fly between these worlds.
The “pilgrims” are really “initiates:” kids who have been taken up by the monks of the flying temple who are sent on missions to solve troubles experienced by these worlds. Each character has two parts to her name: a “banner” describing how she gets into trouble and an “avatar” representing how she helps people.
Stories are all about trouble and help. Initially, the world the pilgrims visit is in trouble, and the pilgrims themselves are not. Throughout the course of the story, the game’s diceless mechanic determines whether the pilgrims alleviate trouble by means of their avatar, or create trouble by means of their banner.
Players completing a game of Do will literally find themselves with a written story, as each round requires players to write a sentence describing how they characters are helping or getting in trouble. Stories also must contain a number of “story words” defined at the outset of an adventure; including all the words gives a “parade” or happy ending, and failing to include even one results in a “pitchforks” or troubling ending.
“Trouble” and “help” are the core concepts of the game, and the organic movement between the two works well. Do helps kids tell stories by solving problems, and encourages creativity by describing how characters solve problems in signature ways. The simplicity holds beauty: the character’s name contains something very much like Fate’s high level concept aspect and trouble aspect. Besides the name, the binary state of whether a character is in trouble or not in trouble represents the other major mechanical component to track in the game.
The mechanics are simple and revolve on a random draw of three stones and crafting the next sentence of the story based on rules represented by the number of stones kept. Players find strategy in deciding the number and color of stones kept.
The artwork is beautiful, and the square form factor of the book is pleasing.
What I’m Stumbling On
The mechanic for drawing stones and knowing what do to as a result feels cumbersome after a first read. There’s a quick reference chart in the back which seems essential for actual gameplay. This may be a case of “it becomes easy to remember once you’ve play a few times,” but from the getgo I”m not seeing an obvious mnemonic for what story elements are required by what number of stones.
I’d love to see suggestions for adapting this game for older or younger audiences. It seems eminently doable; I couldn’t help myself but to mentally hack it for a four year old as I read, and I’ve had some degree of success borrowing concepts of this game in casual play with my child. I have also raved about this book to my gaming group, but have a harder time imagining how to adapt it in an enjoyable way for adults.
I can’t go without saying that the cost of the book (for the audience) is a turn off. It’d be difficult to play this with children without a physical book (i.e.: just with a PDF), but for all the beauty of the book, I’d have been equally happy with a paperback-sized softcover with black and white internals. I’d also very much love to see a “game pack” of sorts published with abbreviated guides for a handful of players.
If there’s any chance you’ll be running a game for children or “tweens” (I didn’t know that was a thing until this week) in the next decade, buy the book. If you want a refreshing change of pace from the typical “stab it and rob it” style of RPGs, buy the book. If you’re within $20 from getting free shipping somewhere, buy the book.
Even if you’re never going to run it, grabbing the PDF is worthwhile: it can be read in an afternoon, and even if the mechanics don’t translate well to other RPGs, the core conceits do. Reading this will likely expand the way you think aboug gaming.