The Sundered Land: The Doomed Pilgrim in the Ruins of the Future

The Doomed Pilgrim in the Ruins of the Future is one part of the Sundered Land collection by D. Vincent Baker, available for about USD$5. One of the first games to be designed specifically for forum play, it is rules light narrative game, nominally Powered by the Apocalypse, and reverses the typical GM/Player roles.p19cc3aam710hm1bba99e19oa1rsc7

Shiny Bits

As a PDF nano-game, there’s not much to dig into here. Like the other games in the collection, each is laid out on a two-column page. There’s a photo-edit illustration that hints at a possible setting and what might lurk there, and that’s about it. For people to whom it’s relevant, the body font is readable and the columns flow from one to the next so a screen reader should follow them correctly.

Mechanics

The game leads off with a recruitment message that a GM can pretty much copy-paste verbatim, with small adjustments to take into account the particulars of the forum. The example uses “Google+” verbiage like “I’ll +1 it” so it’s on the GM to change that to “Like” or “@reply” accordingly.

Prep involves choosing from short lists some details about the Setting, Enemies, and the Pilgrim character. Setting choices are limited to brief but evocative place names like the Jungle of Bones or Jaggedlands, but nothing is said about what any of those actually contain. Likewise, a suggested opposition might be “the encamped army of a king who has sworn vengeance upon me.”Characters have two things, also chosen from a list; in my last game, one was “a vast and deadly patience,” (whatever that means!) Deciding what any of these entail is left to the players & GM to discover in play, none of them are backed with Tags or bonuses or additional rules, they’re just hooks to hang description on.

The Gameplay mechanics are very prescriptive. GM, if this happens, do that. Ask one of these questions. Eventually, when we need to go to dice, roll this and say one of these things. You could go off script or break the rules, but that would be missing the point, I think. Everything given in these rules aim to build up a solitary person on a bleak journey, who will face a few small setbacks and then a nearly-insurmountable obstacle. A nice, tidy, dramatic arc.

The kicker here is that while one person facilitates the game, it’s the players who have the most control of the direction and outcomes. I’ve used the term “GM” so far to refer to facilitator, but in truth it’s everyone else who takes care of the usual GM stuff – describing the world and threats, most importantly.

“You, my friends online, play the world. Your goal is to see me to my doom, instead of safely on my way.”

What a delightful way to both invite people to play and coax them into the role of antagonists.

In Play

I’ve ran multiple session of the Doomed Pilgrim across a wide variety of channels: text message, facebook, google+, Reddit, Discord (a persistent IRC like chat), and RoleGate, and it works really well in most settings. Reddit is a poor fit, though: it tries to sort by magic algorithms, so if you attempt it you should put a link to the thread sorted chronologically in the header. It’s worked to draw in authorly friends because of how low-threshold participation is. Newcomers and outsiders can just read the recruitment post with the player rules, skim to get up to speed, and add a post. If they get distracted it’s fine, there’s no guilt in stepping away from the game and letting everyone else finish.

I’ve also had the chance to participant as a player voice, going as far back as one of the first public games on Google+, and in a variant called Atop a Lonely Tower. As a player Doomed Pilgrim doesn’t give me quite the same payout as a traditional arrangement game, perhaps because of the sharing-nice with everyone else in the GM-full role. But the first plays piqued me to this weird thing Baker was cooking up – and in that, it worked incredibly well.

Summary

You’ve got to get at least one play of this, either as the facilitator or GM-full player role, at some point. It’s a great throwback to freeform chat/forum roleplay and offers lots of room to adapt to different settings.

Run it as a Prologue to a fantasy campaign you’re starting next week to fill in some last worldbuilding ideas.

Run it in the downtime between realtime sessions of the other Sundered Land games.

Post the invitation in the Facebook group for the boardgame club you’re trying to butter up to play an RPG.

Hack it down to the bones and use it to build up a whole new asynchronous, many-and-one game.

 

Related:

http://nightskygames.com/welcome/game/TheSunderedLand

https://boardgamegeek.com/rpgitem/213002/den-vipers (Another pack of games inspired by TSL)

e3ac2737-0f40-4ebc-a03a-199898dc11e9-428-000000679114eb5eMeguey Baker (the author of Psi*Run) has also hosted a few plays of something called “Psi*Run: The Chase” where players all say what’s happening as the wolves close in around a telepath on the run. Check out both the original game & dig up the The Chase plays on google+

 

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