A Journey Through the Desert and the Soul

Let's Talk: The discussion thread at Praxis for this game is at http://story-games.com/praxis/comments.php?DiscussionID=327. If you have any comments or suggestions, please drop on by and let them be known; it's an excellent way for me to improve the game.

Note: This game draft is a document in transition, often being edited and expanded as the game evolves to a more complete form; you may occasionally see empty or incomplete sections and ideas.


Pilgrim is a story game born out of the Game Chef 2010 design competition. It takes inspiration from:

  • Robert Silverberg's 1968 novella Nightwings,
  • Aldous Huxley's 1931 novel Brave New World,
  • the 1976 movie Logan's Run starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter,
  • the 1989 movie The Blood Of Heroes starring Rutger Hauer and Joan Chen, and
  • Avery McDaldno's 2009 story game Ribbon Drive.


Thanks are extended to Jonathan Walton for organizing 2010's Game Chef event.

I also send thanks to Jackson Tegu, Jason Godesky, and Zac D of Game Chef 2010's “Team Fremen” for their feedback and support.

Special thanks go out to Avery McDaldno for getting “Team Fremen” started, and for suggesting what has become the game's core mechanic.

This game would not have been possible without all of you.

Requirements For Play

To play Pilgrim, you need:

  • Three to five players,
  • Copies of the Character Sheet for each player,
  • Writing Tools,
  • A collection of Tokens -they can be poker chips, beads, coins, or similar,
  • A collection of six-sided dice; about five or six per character should be plenty,
  • A set of Caste Tokens or a set of playing cards numbered 1 to 5.

The Premise

In a distant future earth, people undertake a pilgrimage through the vast global desert towards the city of Prees. Their goal is to be reskinned - to have their bodies and minds renewed, rejuvenated. The journey is a dificult one that lays one's soul bare. But to be reskinned, one's soul must be as barren and featureless as the global desert.

Will your soul be ready for reskinning?

The Human Condition

At its core, Pilgrim is a game about exploring the human condition and how that transcends societal boundaries.



Your character is a person burdened with guilt, secrets, or knowledge who has chosen to undertake the pilgrimage to Prees and seek reskinning.

Your character will be defined by a Caste, a Guild, three Talents chosen from those that define your Guild, two Burdens, and a brief description of your character as desired.


You and your fellow players will determine your castes by random draw. Every character's caste within the group will be unique.

Gather five cards numbered from one to five, with one representing the Regnus caste and 5 representing the Bastus caste. In order of player age, draw a card at random to determine your character's caste.

Our players are Mark, Heather, and Rudy; they each draw a Caste token randomly. Mark draws Centrus, Heather draws Regnus, Rudy draws Bastus.


Your character's guild represents their profession, the day to day work they perform to be a contributing member of society. As with everything, Guilds are organized by caste. Each caste is expected to join certain guilds.

Choose a guild from those available to your character's caste.

Having drawn Castes, Mark, Heather, and Rudy choose Guilds for their characters. Since her character is of the ruling Caste, Heather decides her character will be a Regent. Mark chooses to make his Centrus character a Defender; Rudy wants to make his Bastus character a changeling.


Talents represent aspects of your character that you can leverage towards avoiding undesirable circumstances and occurrences during play. The chosen guild defines the Talents available to your character.

Having chosen a guild, select three Talents from the guild's talent list. Show four boxes beside each Talent; these represent the number of uses of each Talent are at your disposal.


Burdens are the most important part of your character; and as such, they are the one thing part of your character left entirely up to you to define.

You define a Burden by noting which book of the Canon applies to the Burden, and the other character involved in its circumstances. The characters of the players to your left and right are the characters implicated in your character's burdens. Assign the character of the player to your left to one of your character's Burdens; and assign the character of the player to your right to your other Burden.

The actual circumstances of the Burden will be discovered during play.


Finally, add a little added description of your character - as much or as little as you wish. Physical description, demeanour, and so forth. Just don't lock down the description to tightly as to inhibit play.

The Pilgrimage

The Journey Begins

The characters may begin play in a city, or already in the midst of their pilgrimage. Take some time to introduce the characters and establish the initial circumstance the characters find themselves in.

The player whose character is of the highest caste start play as the active player, all other players are supporting players during the active player's turn, with the player whose character is of the lowest caste becoming the first supporting player. The supporting players will be referred to as Player A, Player B, and so on from here on.

Play occurs in rounds, with each player having a turn as the active player in order of highest caste character to the lowest.

During each active player's turn, supporting players take turns asking questions and presenting difficult choices to the the active player. Supporting players do so in order of lowest to highest caste.

Burdens Exposed

Player A begins the active player's turn by asking a leading question. The active player responds to that question by framing a scene, in the process deciding which Burden is being explored.

Player B asks a follow-up question that is an undesirable or difficult choice for the active player, marking use of a Talent while doing so. The active player must now make a choice; accept one of the two choices presented by Player B, or use a Talent to present and choose a third, more desirable option.

If the active player chooses one of the choices provided by Player B, she places a token on her character's Burden. If, on the other hand, she uses a Talent to avoid that choice, she places a die on the Burden.

The active player continues to narrate the scene based on the choice made.

If there is a player C and a player D they each take their turn as described for player B.

After the last supporting player has taken his turn exposing the active player's Burden, the active player ends the scene and the player with the next lower caste character becomes the active player.

Questioning Effectively

If you are supporting player B, C, or D, the follow-up questions you ask the active player should aggressively force a difficult choice upon the active player. The choice of accepting one of the bad options vs using a Talent should be emotionally or morally challenging.

Narrative Restrictions

As you build narratives of your characters' Burdens, you must keep in mind that your character must live to reach Prees. You can narrate the death of non-player characters without consequence.

Interweaving Relationships

Each of your character's Burdens in the game is connected to another character; these relationships can complicate your character's ability to release their Burdens.

When the active player's character is questioned about a burden connected to your character and the active player declines to use a Talent, you may use a Talent to disqualify the questions and present an alternative event. If you do so, place a die on one of your Burdens.

The active player then has the renewed option of using a Talent to disqualify your newly presented event. In doing so, the active player places a die on the Burden, and presents the alternate event. The event presented must be amenable to both yourself and the Active player.

If the active player does use a Talent to avoid the choices presented by the supporting character, you have the option of using a Talent to disqualify the active player's newly presented event, placing a die on a Burden while doing so. You may then present a different event, which must be amenable to both yourself and the active player.

The City of Prees and The Skinners' Guild

Once any character has fully used all her Talents, the characters' journey is nearing its end. They have reached Prees and the Skinners' Guild; the endgame begins.

Each player in usual active player order now determines if the character's Burdens were lifted during his pilgrimage.

For each Burden, roll the dice that were placed upon it.

If the results of all the dice are lower than the number of tokens on the Burden, that Burden has been lifted from the character.

If only some of the dice are lower than the number of tokens on the Burden, then the Burden has only been partially lifted; but it the remaining shadows of that Burden are not grave enough to affect the reskinning process.

If no dice are lower than the number of tokens on the Burden, the weight of it remains on the character's soul and the reskinning will fail.

Finish the game in turn by describing the final outcome of your character's reskinning, whether it's successful or not.


A World Ravaged By Time

It is the fourth age of humanity. None now remember how much time has passed between the first age of humanity and this fourth age. All that remains to remind us of the previous ages are the ruins of the once great civilizations of the past; the first age's pyramids in Geez and the aqueducts and Colosseum in Roum, the second age's towers in Toron and Perrs, and the third's age's weather stations.

It was the weather stations of the third age that that brought on the global devastation that left the planet as one expansive desert, leaving only the great cities as the inhabitable areas of the world.

A New World Order

Thus it was that the fourth age was a time to rebuild the world as best as could be managed. The great cities were transformed into grand arcologies; huge oases in a vast global desert.

A new socialist world order was established. People were divided into castes based on genetic potential and temperament. Guilds were organized to manage the jobs to be done by all.

Many technologies of the previous ages were abandoned as troublesome; while others were retained as necessary tools for managing the new world order.

Over time, the rulers of the world sought to reinforce the caste system and re-established the use of genetic engineering and teratogenetic drugs to encourage babies of particular castes to develop with desirable traits.

A Chance at Redemption

As in all civilizations with rigid rules and expectations, many simply cannot, or refuse to, live within the social boundaries set for them. They cross social boundaries, break taboos, and become burdened by secrets, guilt, and knowledge that would bring shame to themselves and others.

However, in the city of Prees, the Skinners' Guild provides an opportunity for redemption and renewal; their mystical process rejuvenates the bodies, minds, and souls of those deemed worthy.

Alone in the world, however, the Skinners do not judge worth by caste or guild. They delve much deeper to find value in someone's existence. All are welcomed to attempt reskinning; but not all are able to successfully finish the process. Those that do win a new life; those that do not sometimes are lost within the process for all time, or worse die.

Of Castes and Canon


In the early days of the fourth age, four castes were devised for the new social order. They are the Regnus - the ruling aristocrats, the Exetus - the managing elite, the Centrus - the skilled workers, and the Medrocus - the unskilled masses.

It wasn't long after the resurgence of genetic engineering and teratogenetic drugs that a new caste was created, the Bastus, for those with birth defects, mutants, and the infirm.


Regnus is the ruling caste. Its members are the genetic elite to whom is given the privilege of making decisions and policy. Their very word is law. Even with the careful genetic manipulation during gestation, few are born with the genetic superiority required to be part of this caste.


Exetus is the managerial caste. Its members possess refined genetics; most of them, in fact, being those whose genetic superiority wasn't quite good enough to earn them a place among the Regnus.

While the Regnus make the policies and decisions; it is the Exetus that see them implemented. They direct the lower castes, and ensure that all goes according to plan.


Within the world's caste system, two are labor castes; the Centrus caste is the superior of those two. Bred within the influence of teratogenetic drugs for specific intellectual traits, members of the Centrus caste become planners, counters, architects, and technicians, and the like.

It is the Centrus that work out the logistics of the plans that the Exetus approve and manage, and who maintain the sensitive technology that so many depend on for their daily work and lives.

Some Centrus are bred for their balanced intellect and strength; they become the cities' defenders.


The second labor caste is the Medrocus; bred for strength and stamina. Its the Medrocus that do the physical work day in and day out.

It is the Medrocus that farm the agrotowers that produce the world's food supplies, and clean the streets and homes of their superiors, and perform the unskilled labor that so commonly needs doing.


The Bastus are society's rejects, the outcast. They are the non-caste; given a name merely that they may be identified for what they are.

The Bastus are those born without a place in society, or those that have lost their place in society; they are social rebels, mutants, and infirm.

Although many Bastus are guildless, there are still a few guilds reserved for this lowliest of castes; though most of the Bastus guilds have no real role in society.


Social rules were needed to maintain the social order and regulate acceptable behavior between members of the same caste, and between members of different castes. These rules came in the form of the Canon.

The Canon was divided into four sections titled Audacity, Temper, Intimacy, and Indulgence.

The Book of Audacity deals with aspects of social status. The Book of Temper concerns rights and expectations of remedy for personal transgressions. The Book of Intimacy details rules about love, sex, and relationships. The Book of Indulgence explains rights and privilege to wealth.

The Canon Condensed

The following is a brief overview of the Canon.


You cannot rise above your caste; but you can fall to lower castes. Never believe yourself better than your caste dictates.


Do not exhibit anger, be it physical or emotional, towards those above your caste. You may deal with those below your caste as you see fit.


Relations with those within your caste is encouraged, but must be consensual. Desire no relations with those above your caste; but comply with all demands for relations from those above your caste. You may demand relations of any below your caste.


Expect the wealth and means due those of your caste; but expect nothing more. Do not request wealth or means above your caste from anyone. Do not give to those below your caste anything that is normally above their caste.

Of Guilds

The guild system was introduced to the world shortly after the implementation of the castes.

Regnus Guilds


Regents are society's rulers. Regent, empirator, sovereign, prince or princess, viceroy, governor, or by any other name, their role is the same; regents set policies and make law for their domains.

In most cases, the regents' domains are the cities in which they reside. In many cities, especially the larger ones, there is a council of regents, each with dominion over part of their city, who answer to a superior regent.

Regents are the ultimate authority in society; it is their right to judge and command any and all beneath them according to their whims.

Regent Talents:
Voice of Authority, Imposing Countenance, “I Am The Law”, Wealth of Nations, Regal Benevolence, Chilling Aloofness

Artists, Musicians, Philosophers, Advisers, Scientists, and the like are all members of the guild of Dilettantes.

They are thinkers, influencing, supporting and enriching the regents' decisions, and by their vocations, enhancing and enriching society; though in reality it is the privileged upper castes that reap the benefits of the Dilettantes' life work.

Dilettante Talents:
Unique Perspective, Influential Insight, Passionate Artist, Inscrutable Mind, Flamboyant Hubris, Voice of Reason

Exetus Guilds


While the Dilettantes have their minds turned towards the future, and what could be; it is the Remembers that keep society firmly rooted in what was and what is. Historians, Archaeologists, Anthropologists, Scribes, Heralds and others of that ilk are all counted among the Rememberers.

It is the Rememberers task to chronicle the past and record the present as it slips into the past, so that humanity may avoid its mistakes and celebrate its triumphs.

Rememberer Talents:
Knowledge of the Ages, Analytical Eye, Endless Patience, Adept Wordsmith, Unfailing Memory, Attention of the Populace

No society can survive without being defended; and it is the Commanders that lead that defense.

Generals, captains, marshals, sheriffs, are among the membership of the Commanders' guild. It is their job to command the military might, and day to day security forces of their cities and the world.

The commanders develop and implement the military and police strategies that keep the cities safe and peaceful, and protect the world from hostile outworlders.

Commander Talents:
Intimidating Demeanor, Strategic Thinking, Acrimonious Recollection, Respected Leader, Unbeguillably Collected, Diligently Informed

Centrus Guilds


Almost every practical aspect of society that is organized, counted, measured, planned, or engineered is handled by the Surveyors' guild. The Surveyors include planners, accountants, engineers, architects, auditors among their members.

It is the Surveyors that formulate the plans and calculate the logistical realities of keeping the cities operational on a day to day basis.

Surveyor Talents:
Logistical Mind, Eye for Detail, Precise Communicator, Pragmatically Reserved, ,

Strong and competent law enforcement and military forces are essential to ensuring the safety and security of society. The Defenders are those strong and competent forces. Soldiers, militiapersons, commandos, constables, deputies, and the like make up the guild of Defenders.

They follow orders from the Commanders, defending and preserving their cities' peace, security, and sovereignty.

Defender Talents:
Fierce Protector, Unflappable Mettle, Stoic Resolution, Winning Desire, Intense Loyalty,

Medrocus Guilds


Assistants, nannies, butlers, waitpersons, laborours and all manner of folk whose jobs are to render service unto others, call the Servitors' guild their own. Many of the routine chores of daily life are heaped upon their shoulders.

Cleaning, cooking, carrying, washing, running errands - the list goes on and on. The work is usually simple, but laborious and seemingly neverending.

Servitor Talents:
Persevering Work Ethic, Procedural Memory, Conscientious Perfectionist, Robust Stomach, Enduring Stamina,

The Cultivators are the keepers and growers of the world's resources; they are farmers, harvesters, breeders, and keepers.

Working within the cities' agritowers and deep catacombs, they produce the vegetable and animal food stock that feed the world's population. So too do they produce raw material such as textile fiber stock, lumber, plastics, minerals, and so on.

Like the Servitors, the Cultivators' work requires little study or training; rather, it requires strength of body.

Cultivator Talents:
Compassionate Tender, Burly Physique, Calloused Structure, Assiduous Capacity, ,

Bastus Guilds


Throughout all human civilizations, people have, for various reasons, sought to have sexual relations with others that are not their lifemate, or to discreetly participate in unusual fetishistic activities; and throughout all those civilizations there has been someone to satisfy that desire.

Attendants are often called prostitutes, sex slaves, fetish partners, or similar titles.

Most Attendants are teratogenetic aberrations - possessing exotic physical features or abilities, or fallen society members from higher castes.

Although they are among the lowest class of citizens, and are generally considered as little more than tools to be used on a whim, their association with members of the higher castes sometimes affords them a significantly more pleasant lifestyle than other lower caste folk.

Attendant Talents:
Alluring Physiognomy, Accommodating Demeanor, Empathic Perception, Delectable Manipulator, Silent Sophistication,

Virtually all children born in this world are shaped and molded by teratogenetic drugs. While many of those born are fine human specimens, many others are gross mutations; they often bear little resemblance to humans beyond a humanoid shape. Sometimes even a humanoid form is absent.

Those mutants that survive are automatically members of the Changelings by virtue of their mutations. They are considered the lowest form of human life; and are given no place in society. Most show much disdain for Changelings, constantly telling them that they should have had the sense to die in the womb or during childbirth.

Despite their low status, Changelings are afforded much freedom. They have no responsibilities, no job, and no defined role in society. As a result, they are free make their own way.

Most Changelings become itinerants; wanderers experiencing what they can of the world.

Changeling Talents:
Downtrodden Outcast, Exotic Appearance, Adaptable Body, Insouciant Freedom, Meandering Curiosity, Unrestrained Honesty

Of the Cities and the Global Desert

During the third age of humanity, scientists discovered the secrets to manipulating and controlling weather. The first weather stations were created and tested; but they were small and affected limited areas. Spurred on by their early successes, massive weather stations were erected to form a global weather control network. Finally, humans could not only predict the weather, but could manipulate it and schedule it according to their whims.

At first, this new control over the global environment seemed like the greatest development in the history of humankind. Once arid regions were made fertile. Previously uninhabitable regions of earth were stabilized and became popular settlement spots. Destructive weather systems such as hurricanes, tornadoes, or flood rains became a thing of the past. The entirety of Earth seemed like paradise.

Last Thoughts

pilgrim.txt · Last modified: 2015/07/17 20:43 (external edit)
2009 © Big Hippie Games, Leo M. Lalande