Once upon a time, you all swore a pact together: now the time has come to make good on it. It is your duty, as a group, to make your way through the rough country to the very crest of the old hill and light the beacon as you promised you would. The way is not easy and the reward is little, but something inside you drives you onward.
Start by naming your character and describing them in loose terms: something as simple as "John, a chartered accountant" will do, but you could provide something like,"Lady Miranda du Pré, divorced neurosurgeon with a gambling addiction," if you want to. Everyone takes a a sheet of paper and folds it in half to make a tent, then writes their character name big & bold so that, when the tent stands on the table, your character name can easily be seen by everyone else.
You also need to pick two traits for your character, one that is praiseworthy and one that is unworthy; in the case of Lady Miranda, above, her steady hands may be her praiseworthy trait, while her tendency to avoid risky odds may be her unworthy trait. Don't choose niche traits that will be hard to fit into an outdoor survival narrative, demonstrate what you want to see in the story by choosing traits that reflect that, e.g. human compass, night vision, climbs like a monkey, first aider, etc, all make good praiseworthy traits. Unworthy traits are your fears or failings, e.g. afraid of the dark, scared of wild animals, allergic to insect bites, nervous eater and so on. Write your traits on your tent under your character's name, then place it on the table for all to see.
The final act of preparation is for everyone to place a coin on the table in front of their tent, heads or tails up doesn't matter, and then hold hands with the players to either side of them.
The basic rules that guide the progress of the game are as follows:
- Players take turns framing very short scenes; the player to the left or right responds by supporting one of the acting players traits.
- Whenever your unworthy trait is supported by the player to your left or right, you may let go of their hand; you both now have a free hand to use.
- When you frame a scene with your unworthy trait, you may pick up one coin from in front of you with a free hand; you must invoke your unworthy trait before you can pick up a coin from the table. Once it has been picked up, it can only be passed from hand to hand; if it lands on the table again at any time, just pick it back up.
- Your praiseworthy trait can only be supported by a player to your left or right if they have a free hand; when they support your praiseworthy trait, hold hands with that player again and, if you have any coins in that hand, pass them to that player.
- You may only pass coins to a free hand, including your own, i.e. you must have both hands free in order to pass a coin from one to the other.
For example, I am playing Victor Atherton, a part-time model and limousine driver/bodyguard; his praiseworthy trait is 'always finds a shortcut', while his unworthy one is 'doesn't want to get muddy.' I quickly frame a scene by saying, "We hop over a dry-stone wall marking the edge of the rough country, only to find a deep, muddy furrow on the other side of it."
All scene framing in the game should be short and to the point, as in the above example; once you are done framing, a player to your left or right responds by supporting one of your traits, in this case the unworthy trait. You support a trait by narrating how it impacts the scene that has been framed, e.g. in the above case, the player to the left (or right) might add how Victor sinks up to his knees in the mud and then spends 10 minutes fastidiously wiping the dirt off with some of their limited supply of bottled water, much to the amusement and frustration of his friends.
The rules for bringing a praiseworthy trait into play are slightly different; you may only do so while you have a free hand and, once you have framed the scene, you must toss all the coins in that hand, if any. You successfully navigate the issue or obstacle you created if any of the coins come up heads; if there are no heads, or you had no coins to toss, then the obstacle is far greater or tougher than anticipated. You never exactly fail when you make use of a praiseworthy trait, but sometimes circumstances are against you and that is how the player who supports your trait should frame their response.
For example, I am playing Victor Atherton and I have a coin in my left hand, so I frame this scene: "We come to a crossroads in the woods, where the path divides into three; I consult my map to see where we should go." I toss the coin; if it comes up heads, the player to my left might say,"You spot a hidden, overgrown trail and guide us onto it, cutting a good 30 minutes off our journey; we will reach the old hill well before dusk now." If it comes up tails though, the player to my left should not narrate how I get us all lost, but instead say something like, "It suddenly starts to rain heavily, rapidly becoming too dark and damp to read the map; we hurry down the most sheltered looking path, hoping it is the right one." The response to using a praiseworthy trait should never downplay the character's abilities, it can at worst show how the challenge was greater than what they were prepared for.
Whatever the outcome of the coin toss, any coins in that hand are passed to the player who supported the praiseworthy trait when the two players hold hands again. The game continues in this manner, with players taking turns to frame scenes, until one player is holding all the coins in their hands and everyone is holding hands with each other again, so that there are no free hands remaining; finish the game by narrating how you all discharge your duty and light the beacon at the top of the hill.