I got interested in storytelling games because we have a lot of roleplay friends that live too far away for a campaign or that we only see very rarely. We have friends who just never got into roleplay or who don’t have a GM. We have nights where no one wants to prepare a game and we still want to play. We have friends who I think would love roleplay if they just had a nice low-pressure introduction to it. All of these would benefit from a nice stack of storytelling games.
Our friends are not too hot on storytelling games. Before they were cool, we played a few games of The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Once Upon a Time: The Storytelling Card Game. I disliked the latter’s fairytale theme, and preferred the former even though it tended to evoke a competitive bravado kind of mood. Both games were played a few times and then put back on the shelf. They made us a bit nervous and we were often ‘not in the mood’ to play them. Most of us are introverts and are more comfortable talking up a storm when we have a character to hide behind, so to say.
Possibly not the best start for a storytelling game community – but what’s a girl to do?
Well, when Josh graciously spread the Geek Love by getting me a DrivethruRPG coupon, I figured a girl was going to buy herself Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and get a storytelling game going anyways. Do is a game that offers plenty of structure and inspiration, you even have a character hide behind. You play pilgrims of the flying temple – young orphans that the monks have adopted and raised. As a right of passage, the young orphans make a pilgrimage to help people in trouble who have sent letters to the temple. In a world where everything floats and where people live on whales or giants seeds that one day will sprout – there’s a lot of trouble you can get into. If you want some visuals – think Avatar: the last Airbender. I don’t want to give too much away, but in short: the setting is wacky enough by itself that it should inspire people to similarly wacky shenanigans.
Just to be on the safe side, I got our wackiest non-rpg friends to play it with first. I printed out Pilgrim passports and set some people down to make characters. Your Pilgrim character only has two traits: the trait he uses to help people, and the trait that gets him into trouble. Those two traits also make up his name! Making the characters was a lot of fun and kept my peeps amused for quite some time.
Me and my boyfriend (“experienced roleplayers”) were mostly focused on finding fun ways to get in trouble and fun ways to help people. The other couple we played with were very intent on finding the perfect or most hilarious name. Our girl friend in particular had a really hard time deciding until we suggested she could get in trouble by being indecisive. After everyone had made their characters, we took a big break for dinner.
After dinner when everyone was still sitting at the table, I got out our stack of paper and showed everyone the letter that I’d been keeping secret up to now. It was ‘Swallowed whole’ and got everyone in the right mindset.
Time for play! Do basically works like this: You get to narrate how your pilgrim helps people, the other players get to narrate how your pilgrim gets in trouble. The letter you are responding to comes with a list of keywords like “Melanie”, “whale”, “eat” and so on. You win if you’ve used all those keywords (by writing them in capitals) in your story before it ends. So you have a bit of structure to shape your story.
If and when you get to use a keyword, and if you get in or out of trouble is decided by the stones: every turn you take three white or black stones out of a bag. You can keep the stones of one color and put them on your sheet: the story resolves slightly differently depending on who many stones you keep. The game ends when one of the players has eight stones on their sheet.
Sorting small green and red gemstones out of my gemstone box to serve as the black & white counters
I was the oldest, so I got to start. Since I knew the letter we were going to play, I had a bit of unfair advantage and had already decided how I wanted my pilgrim to reach the whale.
Pilgrim Laughing Bullet sends a letter to MELANIE and follows the mailman to the whale.
Then the other players had to describe how my pilgrim got in trouble, which confused them a bit. “Why are we making trouble for each other, aren’t we all playing together?” I had to explain that as pilgrims we all help each other, but as players we make a bit of trouble for the pilgrims.
My three troublemakers were still having a bit of trouble getting my pilgrim into trouble. They tried to think of ways the mailman would not lead the pilgrim to the whale, and I reminded them they couldn’t undo what was already written, only build on it. Often during the game we had to go back to look at exactly how the previous line was written to see what we could do with it. After a short conversation, we decided on a trouble.
The mailman is startled by Pilgrim Laughing Bullet’s hideous laughter and falls off of his carrier pigeon!
My pilgrim was in trouble (trouble can be for the pilgrim or the people the pilgrim is supposed to help and watch out for). Everyone was now pretty clear on what to do (they were still confused about the stones, but I figured that would be easiest to explain on their own turn). The game ran pretty fluently from there on.
A few times they asked “How does gravity work? Can I do this?”. I kept answering “It works however you want it to work!”. Because it does. Isn’t that awesome?
Pilgrim Pedantic Monkey sends his spirit monkey swinging on a vine from the TREES catching the mailman.
Pilgrim Pedantic Monkey is so impressed by his own cleverness that he doesn’t see where he is flying and flies into a track of WHALE manure.Pilgrim Unchained Melody is an expert on WHALE song and convinced the unconventional whale to sing along, thus gaining access to his mouth
The WHALE is heartbroken by the beautiful song and cries – the river of tears carries Pilgrim Unchained Melody away!Pilgrim Indecisive Shifter flies into the whale’s mouth and turns into a CAT so she can smell Melanie’s cat who is in heat.
The tasty smell of whale makes Pilgrim Indecisive Shifter unable to decide whether she wants to EAT some tasty whale or make little kittens, so she falls asleep instead.
Pilgrim Laughing Bullet flies circles around the whale until it is so dizzy it vomits up its stomach contents.
The sight of the vomiting whale sends Pilgrim Laughing Bullet into uncontrollable fits of laughter in front of the whale and Melanie’s HOUSE lands on her head!
Pilgrim Pedantic Monkey crawls out of the manure and rushes over to the river of tears to wash himself off.
Being as incredibly gifted as he is, Pilgrim Unchained Melody sings an ancient Greek song that summons the boatman over the river Styx who then carries him to safety
Pilgrim Indecisive Shifter wakes up from being vomited out, turns into whale tears to clean herself and then splashes onto Melanie’s planet where she goes back to her initial state.
What is my initial state?”, Pilgrim Indecisive Shifter asks. Unsure, she keeps shifter endlessly which frightens MELANIE so much she send her guard kitty to the attack!
Pilgrim laughing bullet spies an open window in the attic of the rapidly approaching house and flies through it, landing on the comfy attic chair.
“Pilgrim Pedantic Monkey sees COOKIES falling out of the kitchen window and sends his spirit monkey to catch them and offer them to the very upset whale”
While offering the cookies the spirit monkey remarks ‘Actually, whales are carnivores’. The whale agrees and swallows Pedantic Monkey instead.
This ends us the game!
If you use all the keywords before the game ends, you get a parades ending. This means everyone can add an extra line of how the pilgrims are showered in gratitude – or add a final statement to their story. If they were in trouble when the game ends, they quickly get out of it and all if forgiven.
Pilgrim Unchained Melody distracts everyone with a beautiful song and runs off with the as yet uneaten cookies and noms happily ever after.
Pilgrim Indecisive Shifter shifts into a beautiful double rainbow which sets a marvellous background for the festivities held to honor and celebrate the heroic pilgrims.
Pilgrim Laughing Bullet turns the entire adventure into an elaborate knock-knock joke that has the temple in stitches for weeks.
Pilgrim Pedantic Monkey tells the whale he apologizes for being a smartypants and the whale decides to let him out.
My passport at the end of the game
People finally get to find out why they had to save their stones in different places on their sheet (I’m a big believer in explaining stuff only when it’s relevant). The color they have the most stones of determines the trait they get to change: how they help people or how they get into trouble. If they have an equal number of stones of each color, they can choose or even change both. This gets everyone excited again as they happily change their traits and names again:
Pilgrim Pedantic Monkey is humbled by this whole experience, and never quite managed to get the smell of whale manure out: he becomes Pilgrim Stinky Monkey.
I decide my Pilgrim still sees everything as one big joke and it makes her more reckless so she becomes Pilgrim Reckless Wind.
Pilgrim Unchained Melody has gotten fat and lazy from eating all the cookies – he has to keep his avatar but wants to describe it differently and calls himself Pilgrim Washed-up Rockstar.
Pilgrim Indecisive Shifter has equal stones and can change everything! She (after a lot of indecision) decides to become Pilgrim Overenthusiastic Bluffer.
Was it fun?
Yes! It was easier to run and play than I thought, but it was also not as big and mind blowing as it had gotten in my head. It’s just a cute little game that makes you laugh and think of wacky things.
That said, it is the kind of game I tremendously enjoy, and I hope I can get people enthused about it. After the epilogue, everyone still spent a fair while thinking of a new name and ability for their pilgrim. They all said it was fun and that I shouldn’t spoil the other letters for them or myself. But will they ask to play again? I see only ‘Swallowed whole’ sessions online and wonder if groups have moved on to play the other letters as well. I certainly hope so. A few more storytelling nights like these will definitely make Pilgrims a great buy.
Thanks again, Josh!