Welcome back to Roll Perception Plus Awareness, my column here on SF Signal about roleplaying games and their place in a genre reader and writer’s world. This time, I am going to tackle a writing game aimed at young adults that got its life in a Kickstarter campaign.
A temple lies in the heart of a collection of diverse worlds. In this temple, young pilgrims with the power of flight, and a desire to help people and a propensity to get into trouble await letters from those in need, be it from a child on an asteroid being swallowed by a space whale, or a resort asking the Pilgrims to make sure a contentious convention goes off with success. The Pilgrims then fly off to said world, and seek to solve the problem, and have adventures along the way. After all, they mean well!
Welcome to the world of DO.
DO started its life as a limited edition funded by kickstarter campaign from its creator, the prolific game designer Daniel Solis. With support from the game industry and genre community alike, the kickstarter for DO was wildly successful in reaching its funding goals. (Disclaimer: I was a backer of this project). The game itself, as well as a supplement The Book of Letters, are now available for sale for everyone.
Dear Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
My name is Hayden, and I am the Chamberlain of Castle Azure. As such learned personages as yourself must know, Castle Azure is the center of the Kingdom of DuMarque, a powerful and expansive realm filled with towering mountains, white glaciers, and excellent fishing along our fjord-filled coastline.
It also turns out that Castle Azure has been lately plagued by phantoms. These phantoms reportedly come into the Castle at night from a secret and mysterious Passage of Mirrors that, if the reports can believe it, shifts position within the Castle every night. I have never seen the passage, but I have certainly seen the ghost of the late Queen Mother for myself just three days ago, and I can tell you the ghosts are real! And they are scary!
Worse, it is said that one of the Princes of the Castle, Prince Hadrian, has gone in search of this Passage of Mirrors and has not been seen in two days. I fear the wrath of the King upon all and sundry if his favorite grandson is dead, or worse.
Hayden. Castle Azure Kingdom of DuMarque
Every game of DO has at its heart such a letter as the one above. This letter has managed to reach the Flying Temple. The players are young pilgrims who are assigned to answer such letters. There is no GM as such, rather players taking turns being the Storyteller, journaling their quest to answer the letter in question.
As much as the game is about solving the problems of these worlds, it’s also about the young player characters having adventures, getting into trouble and in a series of episodes, growing as a pilgrim. Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender, for example, will recall there are as many episodes advancing the overall plot and adventure, as there are episodes where Aang and company are getting into trouble in some location, solving a problem, and growing at the same time.
DO is a lot like that. The artwork and feel of the game encourages this sort of sensibility.
In keeping with the spirit of a game that starts with a letter as its seed for an adventure, the game itself is a journaling game, revolving around the players writing, rather than acting or speaking out, their character’s role. Like the author’s previous (and for a younger set) game HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ROBOT, DO is a collaborative writing game. On a player’s turn, in the storyteller’s role, they advance the story by writing a sentence or two that contributes to the overall narrative in accordance with the game mechanics.
The game mechanics, as you might expect, are pretty basic and center around two things: drawing black and white stones and goal words.
The black and white stones, 3 randomly drawn from a pouch and a number of them kept by the player, are used to determine the kind of sentence that the players can write (whether the Pilgrim is helping someone, getting into or out of trouble) and who has input on the sentence. These black and white stones are a currency that lead in the end to whether the Pilgrims, in solving the problem, are heralded as heroes, or run off with pitchforks. In addition, this is used to help determine the ultimate fate of a Pilgrim when she retires–does she become worldly, leaving the temple for good, or does she become a monk, and stay in the temple forever.
Goal words are derived from the letter being used for a game’s session. Typically, a goal word may be, depending on the stone draw and how many stones are kept, written in a player’s turn to add to the story. Goal words also are a way to set a difficulty for a particular set of players or a letter; the more goal words a letter has, the harder it will be to get a happy ending.
For example, the goal words from the letter I created above might look something like this:
Passage of Mirrors
Once a player has eight or more stones, its time for the epilogue. If all the goal words have been used, its a relatively happy ending and the pilgrims are heroes. If not, its a pitchforks ending and the pilgrims are run out of town on a rail. But even with an unhappy ending, the tone and feel of the game is meant to be whimsical and light. Pilgrims *always* get to fly away from any trouble they cause.
The game book design, both the physical and the PDF, is gorgeous, and has numerous examples and advice for players on designing Pilgrims, sample letters and advice on writing a good story. The game is aimed at teenagers and adults alike and hits that mark pretty solidly with its themes of learning about oneself, growing up and deciding what you want to do with your life.
So, the thing to take away from DO is a very simple but powerful truth: Roleplaying games are something for the younger set, not just adults. And, Roleplaying games can be light, whimsical, writing based, and yes, cooperative.
And the idea of Kickstarter and Roleplaying games is something that we’re going to return to in future columns in Roll Perception Plus Awareness. DO is far from the only one.