50 Games in 50 Weeks: Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Sep 07 2011

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Do simulates a specific fantasy trope: adolescent temple iplgrims who travel the world, helping people and getting into trouble. As limiting as this may appear, it’s easy for folks to grasp and use to tell stories.

The system is much more simple than the length of this review implies, and highly story-focused. Your character is represented by two words: an adjective or verb “banner” and a noun “avatar.” The banner represents how your character gets into trouble, and the avatar represents how she helps people.

That’s it for character creation. There’s no GM, and no combat system. Intrigued yet?

Each story begins with the pilgrims’ receipt of a letter from some community outside their temple. The letter describes some big problem that the community faces (though the letter writer may not be telling the whole truth). From that letter, a set of key words called “goal words” (10 for an easy adventure; 20 for a normal one) have been extracted. The book provides a bunch of sample letters, with goal words pre-extracted.

The system uses no dice; instead, several dozen stones are placed inside a pouch. Black and white go stones are ideal; we simulated them using coin tosses.

Once the pilgrims fly off towards the source of the letter, play begins with the oldest player, then continues to the left in a circle. The current player is the “storyteller,” while the other players are “troublemakers.”

The storyteller removes three stones from the pouch, and decides whether to take the white or the black stones. Taking the larger number lets you help people and get out of trouble while fewer stones get you into trouble, but once any player collects 8 or more stones, the story is over and the group fails.

Practically speaking, if you take as many stones as possible each turn, you’ll collect too many stones. So, there’s a built-in incentive to get in trouble.

The only part of the system that can’t be quickly memorized is the table that tells you what you do depending on how many stones you take.

That table determines what the storyteller or the troublemakers do next, and it’s determined by how many stones you take and whether you are or aren’t in trouble (a total of 8 scenarios). The storyteller may be able to help someone–perhaps another pilgrim who’s in trouble, or perhaps someone in the world they’re visiting–or the troublemakers may be directed to get the storyteller into trouble. Either (or both) may involve crossing off goal words.

Crossing off goal words is how you get a happy ending: if you cross off all the goal words before any pilgrim gets 8 stones, the pilgrims succeed.

After a few rounds, it becomes clear that the pilgrims are regularly getting into trouble, and each player must, while storyteller, balance helping her friends and moving the story along towards its goal.

There’s a bit more complexity involving the stones you take and how your character changes at the end of the story, which appears lovely but I wasn’t able to test.

The book’s cover claims that it’s aimed at players 12 or older, but I think it’s ideal for kids as young as 8. It’s basically Avatar: The Last Airbender, without the heavy long-term story arc.

Moreover, the system is supported by beautiful artwork that evokes child-like wonder and fantasy awesomeness. This is a book worth owning just for the art; combined with the system it was well worth every penny.

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