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The Saving Throw
Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple 2011
He's a walkin' contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction. Takin' ev'ry wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

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Overall Review
published by Evil Hat Productions reviewed by Scott Wachter
96 pages, 2011, $25
Game Setting 4.5
Art 5
Character Generation 5
Game Rules 4.5
Intelligibility 5
Overall
5
Review Scoring

Do is a unique and remarkable in the world of gaming. Occupying a number of different niches in the hobby simultaneously, the game manages to be an indie story-style game, a text-based game, and it's a game specifically aimed at a young audience. Despite these limitations it remains a game everyone should play this game. It's absolutely wonderful in all respects.

The game is set in a quirky universe where many small worlds orbit a temple at its centre. No two worlds are alike and represent nearly any concept or genre imaginable. The people of these worlds have problems and when they get really desperate they send a letter to that temple. These letters both build the setting and provide adventure hooks for players to follow. The letters provide an excellent balance of creating the mood and feel of the world while leaving room for players to define it over the course of play. Similarly, the adventure seeds are just detailed enough to get a group rolling on how to proceed with telling a story, but loose enough on details and come from sources that can't be counted on to be completely reliable that creativity can still run rampant. These letters are a great example of what setting design in a narrative ought to be; it feeds the imagination without ever stifling creativity.

Players take on the role of pilgrims from this Flying Temple, young foundlings sent into the world to learn the ways of mundane people and better understand their eventual role as monks. Characters have only two 'stats' represented in their name. These names represent how characters help people and get into trouble. All action in the game revolves around these two poles. Much of the time will be spent helping your fellow pilgrims out of the trouble, or likewise being helped out of trouble by fellow pilgrims. This is a very direct form of meeting the game's core activity and a very refreshing direction for game design.

There are a few atypical aspects of gameplay that are pretty neat and make Do stand out. Task resolution in the game is accomplished by drawing stones from a bag, the amount of white to black stones determines whether your character succeeds and whether or not the character gets into trouble. Other players decide what trouble means and how it plays out for your pilgrim. All this action is written out as a prose story as play proceeds, with the journal carrying forward throughout the campaign. The letters not only provide plot hooks and build setting, they also create the session's victory condition. The letter will highlight between ten and twenty key words that must be used in the prose account of the game's events in order for the group to receive a Parades Ending in which things resolve happily for everyone. The wrinkle, however, is that in order for the use of a keyword to count it must be used on a action with at least two stones of the same colour. However, if any one player racks up 8 or more stones of the same colour the game is over and if you haven't met the winning condition your group gets chased off with pitchforks. The interplay between the desire to succeed short term and in the long term provides great tableside tension and is just a great game in and of itself.

Character advancement is not about getting better, but rather entirely about growing up. At the end of each session players rename either how they help people or how they get into trouble. The text encourages players to start getting into trouble for the exact opposite reason than previously had prior or by doing the thing you do to help people to such an extreme that people reject you. Same as a session, characters also come with an end point. After a number sessions characters are forced to accept destiny, either out in the world, back at the temple; or a transcendent fate. The player decides what this destiny is and writes his or her epilogue about their life as an adult. It feels like playing a coming of age story in ways that stat bonuses and new perks really can't capture.

This book is probably the best looking RPG manual I have ever held in my hands. The layout is crisp and clear, and all the vital information pops off the page in just the right way. Every page is filled with gorgeous art, from intricate diagrams to pencilled-in doodles along the margins, without ever feeling cluttered.

This game is great in its niche as a kid-friendly game, but manages to exceed that to be a great for everyone. It's a laugh riot with right group, not to mention working well as a chatroom or message board game. The people who made this game loved and cared about it a great deal and it shows through on the page. This is well worth the time it takes to read through and play, and I cannot recommend it more highly.



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