Do: The Love-Chain Apocrypha

August 16, 2011

On page 89 of Danial Solis’ game Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, there’s a place where it says that I “just want to be free, but can’t shake these chains of love.” No, for real, that’s what it says.

I love a lot of what Daniel’s doing in Do, partially because I share Daniel’s love for one of his main inspirations — the best kids TV show of the past decade, Avatar: The Last Airbender. But Do doesn’t quite capture one aspect of Avatar that is among my favorite things about the show, which is that it puts big decisions in kids’ hands and asks them to make difficult choices.

Avatar is not afraid to deal with big questions like “Is it ever okay to kill someone?” Most of the episodes are about much less serious issues of course — “How do we get these overprotected kids to lighten up and dance?” — but, even in those cases, the kids’ mistakes as well as their triumphs are opportunities for them (and us!) to explore and learn.

This is an alternative, more adventure-game-y set of rules for playing Daniel’s game, which I call the Love-Chain Apocrypha in honor of my description in Do. It attempts to capture these aspects of Avatar, while still seeking to honor the kind of game that Daniel wants Do to be.


Player Roles and Basic Prep

This set of rules requires one player to be the Game Master (GM), portraying the people, animals, and other things that the pilgrims — portrayed by the other players — encounter when they visit other worlds.

The GM does not make a pilgrim character, but the other players make their pilgrims as normal: banner, avatar, name, etc.

Fill your bag with 20 white stones and 20 black stones, as normal.

Breaking Down a Letter

Once the players have decided which letter to answer, the GM is responsible for “breaking it down” by making a list of the various troubles that prevent the letter writer and their fellow worlders from solving their problems on their own. What makes them resort to calling in a bunch of unpredictable (though well-meaning) outsiders? When deciding on the number and type of troubles, you can choose to base them on the symbols listed on each letter, if you like.

For example, if you’re using the letter “Swallowed Whole,” you might list the troubles as:

  • Just Us (FLAG): It’s just Melanie, her cat, and her trees on their very small world, and they are feeling overwhelmed and powerless.
  • Swallowed (TREE): The whale is really big and strong, plus Melanie’s world is inside it! When the whale moves sharply or yawns, Melanie’s world shakes and tilts!

Having only two troubles will make for a relatively simple problem, while 3-4 troubles will be a pretty difficult problem, and anything more than that is likely to be an extensive problem that will take some work to solve, since the world has all sorts of issues preventing them from handling things on their own and these issues will doubtlessly get in the pilgrims’ way as well.

Before play begins, write each trouble on a card and place it out in the middle of the play area, so everyone can see them.

Prepping Other Characters

Before the pilgrims arrive, the GM should quickly jot down a number of important characters, based on the letter and the other people the GM suspects might be important or have their own plans for solving the problem mentioned in the letter. The GM probably only needs one or two characters per trouble and should write a few brief details about each character on a card, as you already did with the troubles, but places these cards in front of the GM rather than in the center.

For example, if you’re using the letter “Swallowed Whole,” the GM might have these characters:

  • MELANIE: age 8, the letter writer, who lives in a house with a cat and two trees.
  • ROLANDO: Melanie’s cat, who is proud, vain, and lazy.
  • MAPLE and OAK: Melanie’s trees, who are trying to cheer up Malanie, but are rooted to the ground and feel like they can’t be of much help.
  • BIG BLUE: the whale, who is completely unaware that it has swallowed Melanie’s world and doesn’t really talk at all; just swimming along, minding its own business.

Sometimes the GM will have to improvise one or two additional characters on the spot, if the pilgrims go looking for people you didn’t think of. That’s cool! The GM should just ask for a few minutes to think and jot a few details down, so they know who this new character is and what they are up to.

Remember that the people of this world are not really capable of dealing effectively with their problem (in the example, the whale) because they are mostly focused on their own troubles (their helplessness and the fact that they’ve been swallowed). However, if their troubles were not the sole focus of their attention, they could probably deal with the problem just fine, without the help of the pilgrims, just through a little creativity, flexibility, and hard work.

Playing the Game

(This part of the rules is inspired by John Harper’s breakdown of “regular” and “hard” moves in Vincent Baker’s game Apocalypse World. [WARNING: Adult language and images at these links]. It’s not necessary to be familiar with Apocalypse World to use these rules, but it might help. Plus, it’s a great game!)

The Pilgrims Get Involved

As GM, whenever it’s your turn to talk, you describe the situation or what one of their characters says or does, then you turn to the players and ask “What do you do?”

Normally, you make “soft moves” (see John’s description, linked above).

Whenever a pilgrim does something that involves one of the troubles you wrote down earlier, tell them how their actions lead them into trouble and ask them to draw a stone from the bag. If it’s a white stone, they’ve temporarily avoided that trouble; if it’s a black stone, they are currently preoccupied in dealing with that trouble. Furthermore, if they’ve drawn a black stone after a series of white stones, the trouble comes down on the heads of everyone who previously draw white stones.

For the GM, black stones are opportunities to make “hard moves” (see the link above) or create “conditions,” lingering effects of previous actions. An example condition might be that a character is trapped somewhere (swallowed by the whale, maybe!) or in trouble (the whale is bearing down on them!). Conditions are essentially circumstances that constrict characters’ range of possible actions until those circumstances are overcome or dealt with.

Pilgrim Trumps

If a pilgrim is faced with a “hard move” or “condition,” they can turn it back into a “soft move” (giving them more options and room to do things), by invoking one of their trumps.

The pilgrims’ trumps are:
– flying
– cleverness
– compassion
– anger
– fun

[need an example here]

Triumphing over Troubles

The pilgrims actions will eventually transform troubles into other situations, which could be new troubles or circumstances that are not really so troublesome. However, not all troubles have to be transformed in order for victory to be declared and the pilgrims to move on to the next world. Some troubles are dealt with by people learning to live with or get along with them.

[need more examples]

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