This is a post about #DoomedPilgrim and why I think the Pilgrim survives so often during play. Fair warning - it is longish.

So, first, let’s look at Doomed Pilgrim’s procedural rules. Those of you who have played the game online have seen at least some of them. They’re the ones that say “You can only answer my questions” and all that. For those of you who haven’t picked up the game (WHY NOT?!), there’s some stuff for the player of the Doomed Pilgrim to do in the background that guides their follow-up questions. Notably: 

- The first thing always asked is “Something warns me of approaching danger. What warns me?”
- When fleeing an enemy, if it isn’t utterly clear that the pilgrim has gotten away, the player asks, “If I haven’t gotten away, I’ll have to fight. Have I gotten away?”
- When fighting an enemy, the player must explicity ask things like “Do I have a chance to get away?”, “Do I have the opportunity to go?” or “Does it die/submit/flee?”
- After a bit of fighting, the player must ask “If I can’t get away now, [it] will kill me. I do ___. Can I get away?”

Notice how there’s no wiggle room. The first question of the game sets up the fact that there’s a threat and at the resolution the player of the doomed pilgrim must ask explicitly if they survive. Since the goal of the world is to kill off the doomed pilgrim, you’d think that the world would always answer “no” to those questions.

Most of the time, though, the pilgrim lives. It’s downright weird... until you realize the goals of the world and the goals of the players are different. Much like how the goal of the doomed pilgrim is different from the player of the doomed pilgrim.

It’s in what I’m going to call the “stylistic rules.” I’m stealing this from Vincent because he was musing in another post about how people keep asking him for advice that amount to stuff you’d find in a strategy or style guide rather than actual questions about how the rules work. They’re guidelines of what sorts of things to ask and when to ask them. 

It says that the player of the doomed pilgrim’s job is to “get your character into danger. Play to find out whether you can get out again.” It also says to “Always ask for details that interest you.”

In other words, the player of the doomed pilgrim isn’t trying to get the doomed pilgrim to survive. The doomed pilgrim is a focal point or lens through which to explore the Sundered Lands. Vincent, the cheeky devil, knows this because when he talks about stringing the games of the Sundered Lands together, he says that “Between games, play the Doomed Pilgrim to practice, create, and explore.” You can certainly bring the doomed pilgrim as a character into another game, if the pilgrim lives but that’s not the primary drive of the game.

So, the player of the doomed pilgrim isn’t trying to save the pilgrim but to get the pilgrim in danger and ask interesting things. What about the world players? 

Their goal is to kill the pilgrim but what they spend most of their time doing is saying interesting things. And that’s awesome! And interesting! And, I think after a whole bunch of time saying interesting things, it’s hard for people to want to end the game. So they try to sneak in one extra interesting thing. I know I’ve done it. I gave Meg’s doomed pilgrim an escape provided that she lost something precious to her. When I played the pilgrim, I had players hand me a river with steep, crumbly banks which I dove into. To be fair, they filled it full of arrows too, but I got away.

Couple that with the fact that in order to kill off the pilgrim, though, the world players have to say “No.” There’s been a push in the last several years towards “Yes, but” and “Yes, and” responses to questions. We don’t want to say “No” anymore because it seems so final. We aren’t used to saying “No, but” or “No, and” even though those could be perfectly interesting responses. 

So, on the one hand you have procedural rules that make it super easy to kill the pilgrim and stylistic rules that make players super reluctant to do so. What I find really interesting is that when Vincent says you can learn most of the skills you need to play the other Sundered Lands games by playing Doomed Pilgrim, he’s absolutely right. You’ll learn:

- To ask interesting things
- To say interesting things (and say it quickly, without hesitation, because you’ll want to beat others to the punch)
- To pull the trigger (because eventually you’ll remember that your goal is to kill the pilgrim).

I wonder if players who have played more often are more likely to pull the trigger?

I’m going to leave it here, though writing this has spawned off other thoughts I have on stylistic rules, my own Werewolf hack, satisfaction of resolution (and why I feel like Doomed Pilgrim makes for a great game teaser or trailer but should never stand on its own).... Man, there’s a lot here! And the great thing is that experimenting with it can take place asynchronistically - I don’t need to gather folks to test out ideas. That’s so awesome for me right now. :D

Pinging by request: +Brand Robins +Meguey Baker +Bret Gillan +Vincent Baker +Josh Roby 
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