Pilgrims of the Weeping Willow
Posted Monday July 08, 2013 at 01:54 AM
Today we met for brunch, walked in the sun to a park by the ocean, and sat under a willow tree near a piñata birthday party and a persistently adventurous dog and her people. There I introduced my gaming group to Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple by Daniel Solis.
I love it when I find a non-traditional roleplaying game that my regular group appreciates. Do now joins the company of A Penny for My Thoughts, Microscope, and Roll For Shoes in that regard. We sat on the blanket and I explained the basics, introduced the setting very briefly, and trusted to their inherent silliness to carry the rest of the setting. We made characters in mere minutes (which, if you're unfamiliar with Do, consists of naming them and interpreting how the parts of their name metaphorically represent how they get in trouble and how they help people), chose the Swallowed Whole demo-length Letter, and I took the first turn with Pilgrim Muddy Waters to show them how the drawing of the stones and writing of sentences worked.
We had five Pilgrims:
- Pilgrim Sunny Cupcakes gets into trouble with inappropriate happiness and helps people by indulging in unhealthy pleasures
- Pilgrim Felonious Biscuit gets into trouble by lacking respect for personal property and helps people with the healing power of food
- Pilgrim Running Pig gets into trouble by running into things and helps people by finding rare things
- Pilgrim Twirly Straw gets into trouble by getting dizzy and breaking things and helps people by dispensing earthy wisdom
- Pilgrim Muddy Waters gets into trouble by making things dirty and helps people by jamming 
This was our story:
Pilgrim Muddy Waters makes the WHALE smile wide open by jamming melodiously. But his sweaty aroma causes the WHALE to sneeze, covering him in rapidly-hardening whale snot.
Pilgrim Twirly Straw spins into the WHALE's mouth and smashes one of its teeth! But she says, "A hole in your smile makes it easier to suck. (Milkshakes, that is.)"
Pilgrim Felonious Biscuit finds the swallowed world, where he befriends the CAT with his strategic tuna reserves.
Pilgrim Sunny Cupcakes takes Pilgrim Muddy Waters stunt-flying, where Muddy Waters crashes into the whale's uvula, breaks off the snot, and falls into the TREES. Pilgrim Sunny Cupcakes laughs, "This is such a cute little planet; I could just eat it up!" and makes MELANIE cry.
Pilgrim Running Pig finds a rare sheep-rat, native to the digestive system of space whales, and gives it to MELANIE to cheer her up.
Muddy Waters jams so hard that the whale sneezes and unEATs the world. But Melanie's HOUSE gets knocked down and covered in whale goo in the process!
Pilgrim Twirly Straw says, "Ambergris COOKIES kill at Girl Guide meetings." She gives the whale a wink as the world spins away, breaking its heart.
Pilgrim Felonious Biscuit prepares a celebratory feast from sheep-rats that had been sneezed out with them. Pilgrim Cupcake dances with the cat, and calls Melanie's parents to tell them to get anti-whale insurance. Pilgrim Pig helps Melanie bake cookies… we were promised them, after all! Pilgrim Muddy Waters plays music for the feast. Pilgrim Twirly Straw says, "If you squeeze sheep-rats they will squeak in tune with the Thong Song."
We easily got a Parades ending in seven turns.
I explained how names change, focusing on developing or shifting the details of the help and trouble and then picking a new banner or avatar to suit.  We updated our Pilgrims, and as they flew away from Melanie's tiny world they became:
- Pilgrim Sunny Cocaine (help: pharmaceuticals) 
- Pilgrim Incendiary Biscuit (trouble: setting people's stuff on fire)
- Pilgrim Running Octopus (help: knowing where anything is)
- Pilgrim Entrancing Straw (trouble: unknowingly hypnotizing people)
- Pilgrim Tidy Waters (trouble: obsessively cleaning)
I would have liked to play a longer letter and have more turns so that everyone could have a better chance of seeing their help and trouble in play, but in practical terms it was the perfect length of game for an afternoon in the park when we had places to be later.
We will definitely play Do again! It's a neat game that hooks you quickly with very little setup. We had enough attachment to our pilgrims to enjoy playing them, but they're still unknown enough to us yet that we want to see who they become and where they go next.
We thought it was a perfect park-blanket game. It has little enough paper that we weren't constantly guarding a pile of sheets from the wind. No dice meant we didn't need a central flat surface to roll (or need to fall back on smartphone dice). Quick setup, simple rules, and the 1–2 hours needed to play a Letter suits the pace that feels right for sitting in a seaside park on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The bag of stones, passports, rule book, journal, and writing instruments were all easily packed in a shoulder bag or were things we normally carry around. The whimsical nature of the game also suited the real-life context and our surroundings. It just fit the afternoon perfectly.
We also liked that we don't need a player quorum for future games. With each Letter being a self-contained episode that can be finished in a short playing session, we can keep playing these pilgrims' stories even if we don't have everyone from the initial game session every time. Since there's no mechanical quantification of ability tied to advancement, "missing" players won't be missing out mechanically, just narratively. And even then, play creates the artefact of a written story that can be read by players who missed a session.
We walked back the way we came, got ice cream on the way, and went our own ways to tend to our Sunday evening plans. 
|||"Jamming" isn't really a help that properly fits the avatar "Waters", but we all thought it was too good a name and help to pass up, just to satisfy the letter of the rules!|
|||Rather than the other way around, like it is during character creation. This was a bit of a stumbling block because of the switch in direction, which is one of the few places where the game runs anything less than smooth as glass.|
|||Non-PG black humour definitely counts as silly with this group. As we were walking back from the park, someone speculated that Sunny Cocaine might become "Pilgrim Happy Endings", with exactly the sort of help that sounds like.|
|||I got a new filing cabinet! No more stuffing RPG notes into my games bookshelves! … Just as soon as I clean up the spot it will live in and move it there, that is.|