Sunday, August 7, 2011

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, by Daniel Solis

Last time I said I was going to talk about something a little bit different: a story-telling game by Daniel Solis called Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. I'm just going to jump to the end and tell you now why I want to talk about: because it's really, really lovely.

There are other reasons why I think it is worth discussing here. For a start, I really like playing games, and I'm sure that preparing plots and characters for them has an impact on the way I write. The connection between Do and writing stories is particularly strong -- 'story-telling game' is a very accurate descriptor. I'm also hoping I can introduce Do to people who might not ordinarily hear about something like this. But really, I just want to talk about it because it's lovely.

Let me start with a picture I totally stole from Daniel Solis' website:

Why am I showing it to you? I'm showing it to you because the whole book looks like this. Beautiful illustrations of flying Pilgrims and letters falling from the sky and giant fish towing entire planets. The art totally captures the happily meddlesome whimsy that I love so much about this game. It's just an absolute joy to flip through.

So what's the premise? In all of the worlds floating in the sky, whenever people find themselves in trouble that they just can't sort out, they write a letter. Maybe they hide the letter somewhere secret, or tie it to a shooting star, or give it to a passing sparrow, but somehow it finds its way to the Flying Temple at the centre of the universe. These letters are given to young monks-in-training, leaving the Temple on their big coming-of-age pilgrimage.

The Pilgrims fly out into the worlds, and try to solve all of these problems. Thing is, Pilgrims are always getting into trouble. They can't help it; it's in their nature to drop out of the sky and starting messing around with things. With the best of intentions, of course, but we all know where that leads! Sometimes they resolve the situation to everyone's satisfaction (the game calls this a parades ending), sometimes they're run out of town by the angry villagers (a pitchforks ending). No matter what, they try to leave each world a better place.

See what I mean? The premise of Do just makes me want to hug it.

To play Do, you start with a Letter (the book includes sixteen to get you going). This Letter describes the problem your Pilgrims are trying to solve, at least as it's seen by the letter-writer. It comes with a list of ten to thirty goal words; if you manage to include all of them in the story you write, you get a parades ending. If you don't manage to use them all by the end of the game, it's pitchforks for you.

Each turn, you draw stones from a bag to tell you whether you can write a sentence about your Pilgrim helping someone, or about getting herself out of trouble. The other players at the table might also get a chance to describe your Pilgrim getting herself into trouble. The stones you draw also tell you whether you're able to include one of the goal words from the Letter in your sentence. Once one player collects eight or more stones, the game ends. That's basically it -- the rules aren't complicated, and they certainly aren't competitive. This is a collaborative experience.

Each player creates their own Pilgrim. Pilgrims have two names, like Pilgrim Bouncing Trumpet or Pilgrim Purple Abacus. The first describes how your Pilgrim gets into trouble (Pilgrim Bouncing Trumpet gets in trouble by being over-enthusiastic), and the second how your Pilgrim helps people (Pilgrim Bouncing Trumpet helps by rallying the people to action). As you respond to Letters, your Pilgrim will grow, changing either the way she gets into trouble, or the way she helps people. Eventually, she'll make a decision about her Destiny: does she stay in the world, or return to the Temple as a full-fledged monk?

Underneath all of this loveliness, I think it's fair to say that Do is actually a really great tool for teaching people about writing stories. Obviously you're not going produce wonderful pieces of polished prose playing Do, but there's a lot of great stuff here about coming-of-age stories, about character growth, about the inventive interpretation of a premise to create an engaging story. It seems to me like exactly the sort of game you'd want to be playing with your kids. Or, really, with anyone who can sit still long enough!

There's so much more I could say -- Do, for example, was a real success of the patronage funding model, raising a surprising amount of money from fans (like me) to pay for its publication. One of the results of that process was The Book of Letters, which is a supplement consisting of a whole bundle (a sack, you might say) of Letters written by the people who backed the game during its funding drive. It's a great little resource, and I expect that you'll see Letters written by fans popping up all over the internet.

In fact, I think I might try my hand at writing one right now.

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