There’s something deeply compelling about cannibalism. All right, so maybe it’s not strictly the cannibalism angle that makes the Donner Party’s tragic story so powerful and enduring.
For those not familiar, the Donner Party was a group of American pioneers traveling west that became trapped in the Sierra mountains as a result of heavy snowfall, many of whom had to resort to eating their dead to survive.
While the cannibalism is the darkly lurid (and alluring) chapter that first draws your attention, the real story here is about survival, about endurance in the face of impossible odds, about human resourcefulness and the power of our will to live.
It’s these themes that the new tabletop roleplaying game Perseverant aims to spotlight and explore.
Worlds of (deadly) possibilities
Perseverant, the product of a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $10,000, tells bite sized stories of survival intended to last between two and four hours. One of the game’s most interesting elements is how it’s setting agnostic: it’s stories can be told against the backdrop of deep space, in collapsed tunnels in the dark of the earth, or, like the Donner Party’s tragic story, in the blinding snow and frozen tundra of the American frontier.
The flexibility of the setting means that there are a practically unlimited number of stories you can tell with Perseverant’s system, and a similarly endless number of themes and stories to illuminate.
Another fascinating facet of the game’s approach to gameplay is the likelihood from the offing that at least some of the player characters won’t survive. The very nature of the game and the harshness of its premise means that there will almost certainly be casualties, and it’s more a case of determining who they’ll be than if everyone will escape to safety.
This adds a certain fatalistic dimension to play sessions of Perseverant, but it also opens up the possibility for truly meaningful heroic sacrifice — unlike, say, a session of #DungeonsAndDragons, where heroic sacrifice often has only temporary consequences, curable by the incantations of a high-level cleric.
Role-playing as a team sport
The game begins by players building their wilderness and establishing who their characters are, and how they’re connected. It’s in this preparatory stage that the importance of another one of Perseverant’s interesting wrinkles is revealed: There is no Dungeon Master of Storyteller that dictates the flow of the action or determines events.
Perseverant is a totally collaborative system between its players, which also means that the burden of lengthy preparations required by other systems isn’t necessary, and the bulk of the narrative responsibilities don’t fall on one person’s shoulders. This gives Perseverant a pick-up-and-play quality that’s quite rare in tabletop role-playing, and makes it a great alternative to traditional board games when your DM hasn’t had time to prepare a full session of your regular game.
This kind of highly collaborative storytelling also means that everyone feels engaged in crafting the setting and contributing to the narrative; being a Perseverant player is thus a significantly less passive experience than playing other systems.
You’re not just on a ride the way you often are in other tabletop RPGs, just delving through whatever pre-built dungeon or ancient temple your DM has designed. Instead, you’re an integral creative force describing the boundaries of your world and making your way through it.
Perseverant is full of prompts and mechanics that ensure that players don’t get too bogged down in any one part of world building and never feel like they’ve hit a dead end in storytelling. It alternates between Challenge scenes, defined by a Location card, a Challenge Source card, and a roll on the Trouble Table, and Social scenes. And there are a number of mechanics that encourage players to rely heavily on one another and built relationships to help ensure their success.
Aside from being a great alternative when you’re taking a break from your normal system, Perseverant is also an excellent system for bonding a new group of players together and getting them familiar with each other while encouraging them to collaboratively confront problems (and tell stories). It’s a versatile system that accommodates players of any skill or experience level and is a refreshing change of pace from traditional, mechanically dense systems.