An In-Depth Review of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Geek Culture

Back in April Michael Harrison brought us news about an ongoing Kickstarter campgain for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. At the time, the game’s creator, Daniel Solis, was hoping to raise $4,000 to help fund the cost of printing the book. Owing to the openness in which the game was created as well as some very savvy marketing, including a great Kickstarter video, the funding drive was hugely successful. The good news is that the actual book lives up to, if not exceeds, the hype that preceded it and the final product (now available for purchase) is nothing short of beautiful. Let’s have a look inside.

The Physical Details

The book is a full-color, hard-cover, 96-page book with a square form factor. The entire book, from cover to cover, is lavishly illustrated and a joy to behold. The art fits the style and theme of the game perfectly and without exception is terrific. There’s also a lot of it: virtually every page has one or more illustrations on it.

The writing and layout are of similar quality, with easy to follow explanations and examples, and helpful side bars that augment the text. Of particular note is that the book strikes a perfect balance between an easy to read, conversational tone and an easy to follow, clear explanation of the rules making it both enjoyable to read and a useful reference at the table. In addition, the artwork is also used to supplement and enhance the book’s examples of play. With such attention to detail it’s clear that a great deal of time, effort, and passion went in to the creation of Do.

Game Play

At its heart, Do is a collaborative storytelling, or perhaps more accurately a story writing, game in which the group collaboratively tells the story of young travelers who have been sent on a pilgrimage to help those in need. The game, which clearly draws inspiration from the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series, is set in a universe of endless skies, dotted with thousands of tiny worlds. At the center of the universe lies the Flying Temple, whose monks dispatch young monks-in-training on a pilgrimage to help those in need. These missions, in the form of letters written to the monks, are the basis of the pilgrims’ adventures. However, despite their best intentions, these travelers spend just as much of their time getting into trouble which makes each mission an enjoyable mission of colorful successes and comedic failures. Each session of the game represents one mission on the pilgrims’ journey with the ultimate goal, after repeated play, being that the players collectively create a coming of age story for each of their pilgrims in which their past adventures shape what direction they ultimately take.

Character creation takes about five minutes, consisting of choosing two descriptors (one adjective followed by a noun) which combined forms the character’s name. These descriptors also define the two important details about the character: how they get into trouble, and how they help people. That’s it. The result are traits which can be used as inspiration by the players as they solve whatever talk they might be assigned to in a given mission. For example, a pilgrim’s name might be “Pilgrim Sleepy Story” who gets into trouble by falling asleep at inopportune times, and who helps people by telling them entertaining stories.

Once character creation is finished, play begins with a letter – 16 are included in the game’s book with many more available in the Do: The Book of Letters expansion – which is the beginning of the story. Written by the petitioner, it outlines the problem that can’t be solved by the writer, and asks for the pilgrims’ help. Each letter also includes a list of Goal Words, drawn directly from the letter, which form the basis of the game’s mechanics and pacing.

Each player takes a turn, acting either as the Storyteller with the others at the table acting as the Troublemakers for that particular turn. On their turn, the Storyteller draws three colored stones (normally half of these are black, and the other half white, but you can use any two colors you like), chooses one color, and then consults a chart which dictates what the Storyteller and/or Troublemakers can write. The result is a slowly developing story (typically one sentence per turn although sometimes more or less) in which the characters get into and out of trouble, and slowly solve the letter writer’s problem.

However, just because the group is making progress in helping the writer does not mean they will ultimately succeed. Thus, the game has a mechanism – using the goal word list – to determine if the characters ultimately succeed on their mission, and whether they leave the current world at the head of a parade or at end of a pitchfork. You win some, you lose some, but ultimately the characters learn something from their adventure and mature, growing and evolving after each letter.

The Verdict

Having played the game several times, including with teenagers, I can attest to the fact that Do meets its design goals: the game consistently delivers an entertaining, memorable story. Part board game, part roleplaying game, part collaborative writing exercise, the end result is something more than the sum of its individual parts. Its focus on non-violent problem solving (pilgrims don’t use violence) and collaboration between the player characters makes it an ideal game to play with children. While the game is aimed at ages twelve and up, it can easily be adapted for use with somewhat younger children with an adult acting as an active facilitator. In fact, the game’s strongest feature may be the fact that it can be used to teach creative story writing and grammar to children since the game is all about creating sentences. As such I think the game could easily be adapted for use in the classroom (e.g., creative writing, English grammar, ESL, etc.) or as a fun educational activity for parents to play with their children.

What about for adults? Here I think a lot depends on your personal taste. The game certainly is fun but since it’s more about writing sentences than roleplaying a character, some dedicated roleplayers might find the game less to their liking. Similarly, the “coming of age” theme won’t appeal to everyone. However, Do still has a lot of potential as an occasional one-off game and I can see why it’s so popular at conventions.

In the end, there’s a lot to love about Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and it is well worth the price for the hard cover book, especially if you’re looking for a fun, creative activity to play with kids. If your play is limited strictly to adults, the game is still worth checking out, something that’s made risk free thanks to the free quick-start rules and letters which are available online at the author’s blog. So, gather up your fellow pilgrims, open a letter, and set out to help those in need.

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