Paris Gondo Review – The Life-Saving Magic of Inventorying

PARIS GONDO read heroic stories from the age of 5, and loved the order and beauty of equipment described in them. From the age of 15, they studied inventorying. Paris started tidying in their own cell and moved onto those of fellow anchorites. Now, Paris lives in the Monastery of St. Eyvān, helping adventurers transform encumbered loads into packs of beauty, peace, and inspiration. Using the six steps of the play-based GonParis Method you too, oh over-encumbered and despondent adventurer, may finally find your equipment sparking joy instead of weighing you down. This is the roleplaying game where encumbrance is everything, Kalum’s Paris Gondo: The Life-Saving Magic of Inventorying!

Now, I’m on record as not liking encumbrance systems very much, almost literally. No, really, the only time I’ve ever sat on any kind of panel at any kind of con I spent a portion of my time telling more people than I expected just how much I didn’t like them, so a game that’s all about encumbrance might seem like an odd thing to have caught my eye. But the point I was making at the time was that I don’t like encumbrance systems unless they make a meaningful contribution to the game, and that’s definitely the case here.

Paris Gondo is primarily a storytelling game with a minimum number of mechanics, although you will have to do some math because, well, encumbrance mechanics. After your basic setup and session zero-style stuff game play is covered in six stages, or steps of the GonParis Method. First, you create a dungeon (i.e. What is the Dungeon’s appearance? What circumstances led to the Adventurers exploring it? What hazards and dangers did it contain?). Second, you create your characters by choosing which class everyone will play (Barbarian,  Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, or Wizard) which well get you some starting equipment, and define who your characters are and how they interact. Third, you roll for and detail two pieces of Loot that each character has found – you’ve already conquered the Boss, now you just need to worry about the stuff! 

 Step 4 is the actual Life-Saving Magic of Inventorying, where players can exchange, discard, and snatch up items – we’ll go into more detail later, but in short you’re trying to not be too encumbered while also balancing items that are practically useful and items that are emotionally satisfying. Step 5 is getting out of the dungeon – characters will be using their equipment to deal with random encounters on the way out, which may see the entire party stranded or returning to civilization and individual characters living out their days or perishing. Step 6 is the Emotional Epilogue, which will determine whether or not the adventurers were left feeling fulfilled after their escapade – even if they ended up not making it.

 So, how did this get started? Kalum was kind enough to answer some questions about the game, and as usual that’s the first one I asked.

CH: Some of the inspirations behind Paris Gondo are pretty obvious, but what finally tripped the wire for ‘I should make this game’?

Kalum (K): “I interviewed many talented game designers about their games for my show, The Rolistes Podcast. It definitely made me want to design my own game someday.

However, I did not decide to make a game first and then tried to come up with an idea. It came up while reading “Life-Changing Magic of Tidying“. I just thought it would be fun to manage an inventory based on the emotional value of objects. This led in the same evening to Paris Gondo’s very simple system. Objects are defined by four stats including Emotion. Index cards represent the objects. Players fill the index cards then trade or discard them. This simple idea has not really changed since that evening when I first scribbled them while in bed.

The next day, I talked about it to Haqadosch from who my wife had borrowed “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying”. Back then, we often met for lunch breaks. Often, it was to record my Patreon bonus show “Café Rolistes“. We played on the corner of a counter at local coffee shops. We used sticky notes “borrowed” from work. It was limited to Steps 3 to 6 of what is now the GonParis Method but it was already quite fun.

Early tests were encouraging but another thing that pushed me forward was an interview with James Wallis. I can’t remember which podcast it was for but James explained how he wrote “The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen“. He did so, in large part, during his commute or when he had breaks from his daily job. He typed it on a microcomputer sitting on his knees while riding the Underground.

I related to that a lot. I am not good at having scheduled game design sessions. Ideas often come to me randomly throughout the day. Hearing about James’ experience encouraged me to write down my ideas. It also made me realise that this approach is legitimate.”

Now, when you open Paris Gondo’s text-only edition the file clocks in at 104 pages, and you might be thinking that’s an awful lot for a joy-sparking game that’s largely narrative and can be played through in six steps. You’d be right to think that, and the actual GonParis Method (i.e., the rules for playing the game) don’t start showing up until page 68. Don’t panic, Gondo didn’t pull an Exalted and drop a novella’s worth of setting information on you. Instead, the first part of the book is what’s called a ‘Replay’, telling the story from a session of Paris Gondo that was actually played. In it we see a dungeon that was gelatinous cubes all the way down from inhabitants to infrastructure, a wizard that never left the dungeon but found fulfillment in the fae realm, a penguin bard who made it out but whose band fell apart, a cleric who was crushed under the weight of their own Magic Horse (who never even apologized), an edgelord who escaped to find happiness and build a family, and a barbarian whose Close-Fitting Loincloth is still out there somewhere even though they perished. Our own Adventure Logs are more like summaries, and Examples of Play are often quite sterile, but this is something quite different.

CH: Could you talk a bit about the Tabletalk Roleplayng Game format for those who don’t know about it, and why you chose to have a Replay as the first ~2/3rds of the book? How does a Replay differ from an Example of Play, what do you feel it offers being part of the book it’s covering, and what is the editing process like?

K: “I discovered “Replays” thanks to a video by Kotodama Heavy Industries. (Who you might remember from Ryuutama, dear reader – Ed.)

The video explained the format of their English translation of the Japanese game “Shinobigami: Modern Ninja Battle RPG“. They stayed faithful to the game’s original format. It is typical of Tabletalk Role Playing Games (TRPG) with a “Replay” preceding the rules section. A Replay is the transcript of an entire game session. They are only lightly edited. They include out-of-character remarks from the players, jokes, misunderstandings and whatever happened during a session. It is pretty much a text version of audio or video actual plays like Critical Role, The RPG Academy, She’s a Super Geek or D20 Future Show. Since they’re text-based they can be “inside” a gamebook. As a result, I assume, Replays are much more common to gamers in Japan than actual plays are among TTRPG fans worldwide. They are very popular there. Apparently, enthusiasts will even read stand-alone Replays. They might be produced by fans who print and distribute them as zines. They are, to light novels, what actual plays are to audio dramas. They also significantly predate the internet. They are said to have played a part in making Call of Cthulhu by far the most popular game in Japan.

Long story short, it’s a bit more than an example of play. It is something that one can enjoy on its own merit. Provided, you have a taste for these sort of things. I encourage my readers to skip that section if it does not spark joy in them.

Still, Replays do have several benefits when it comes to learning a game.

Of course, they do highlight how the rules work but what really appealed to me is that they showcase what is between the lines. They inform a culture of play. Instead of me writing “…and at this point of the game, you should crack à joke!” between two rules, the players can witness the roleplay and banter from one of my favourite sessions. Replays show rather than tell.

It is much easier to go back to re-read a segment compared to an audio or video actual play. Readers follow their own pace.

I find it appealing as someone who has difficulties learning rules through text and someone who produces actual plays for The Rolistes Podcast.”

Characters have only one stat, Maximum Encumbrance, which simply states how much stuff you can carry. Items, whether starting equipment or Loot, have three stats: Encumbrance, Usefulness, and Emotion, as well as a class they are associated with, which doubles the Usefulness of the item if it’s carried by a character of that class.. While character and starting equipment stats are set, the stats for Loot are determined by rolling a d6 for all of them, and another to determine associated class.

The Average Party Usefulness, which is exactly what it sounds like after accounting for all the items carried by all the characters, is used for dealing with random encounters on the way out of the dungeon. Every character rolls a d20 for an encounter, trying to get equal to or lower than said Average Party Usefulness. Succeed or fail, the player will then describe how an object in their character’s inventory contributed to the result. If there are more successes than failures, the party’s survivors will find their way out of the dungeon; more failures than successes and anybody who doesn’t perish will still get stranded in the dungeon forever.

As for who survives and who doesn’t, during Step 4 you figured out your Encumbrance Factor, a number determined by subtracting the encumbrance of all your items from your character’s maximum encumbrance (i.e. if you have a max encumbrance of 10 and a total encumbrance of 6 then your Factor is 4). The higher the better, because you close out Step 5 with another d20 roll, and you’re trying to get equal to or under 10 + Encumbrance Factor. Succeed, and you either make it out or are among the last adventurers standing; fail, and you’re either lost forever on your own or taking on Step 6 from the afterlife. Either way, each player again describes how one of their items brings this about.

Step 6, it’s a final d20 roll against the total Emotion score of all your items – equal to or under, and you had a fulfilling life for the rest of your days. Over, and you are weighed down forever. The players describe what this looks like, wraps up any narrative loose ends that they want to, and the GonParis Method comes to a conclusion.

CH: The Replay actually included an example of this, with the change to lost/dead characters also getting to make a final Emotion roll, but: what were some of the changes over the course of Paris Gondo’s development? What were some of the challenges, and how did you overcome them?

K: “The first version of the game started directly with what is now “Step 3: The Loot”. Players picked an Adventurer Class and jumped straight into rolling the stats of their two Looted Items. During the writing process, what precedes that step expanded to become additional steps: “Step 1: The Dungeon” and “Step 2: The Party”. You could eventually skip them, but they are very inspiring for the creation of the Loot.

After a couple of online demonstrations, I realised that some players would somewhat limit their experience to the game’s mechanical aspects. On fateful occasions, the players would use the system as a springboard to create exuberant objects and extensively roleplay their interactions. The latter is what I consider an ideal session of “Paris Gondo – The Life-Saving Magic of Inventorying”. I needed to foster that type of experience. That’s when I added quotes from Paris Gondo to read out loud. They started as scripts that I used and improved over dozens of sessions online. It made sense to integrate them into the system.

In the end, the quotes and the Replay work together to encourage players towards the most “invigorating and stimulating” experience.”

Paris Gondo spends a lot of time and effort trying to help its players get in the right mindset – the Replay contributes to this, there are the aforementioned quotes from Paris Gondo sprinkled throughout, there’s a mental exercise to help get in the mindset of items that spark joy, and safety is discussed. The X-Card makes an appearance, but there’s a positive counterpart on the table as well.

CH: The Sparked Joy Card! I’ve seen safety tools used before the game to let everyone know what kind of material they want to explore, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen a formal tool in-game for ‘more of this, please’. Could you talk a bit about this idea and how you implemented it?

K: “So what is the Spark Joy card? It’s a card showing a bright smiling sun and it is used with a pile of tokens, preferably little stones which remind you of your mother. The Spark Joy card sits in the middle of the table. and Players drop a token on it whenever they find that happening in the game is particularly enjoyable.

I had heard before developing the game of the “Script Change“. There are a couple of different tools out there to say “more of that” like the O-Card. They are getting more common when I join games hosted by streamers but, to be honest, I don’t recall any activation of a “more of that” tool as part of a game I played. It’s a pity because it can be a great tool. I think these tools sadly often come across as “bolted on” rather than as a part of the games they are used for.

With that in mind, a couple of things made the Spark Joy card happen.

The game is founded on the somewhat absurd idea to drop the ideas of trendy wellness influencers in the middle of a dungeon-crawling adventure.

Paris Gondo, in their great wisdom, encourages to have a Session Zero and use safety tools because “…individual invigorating and stimulating experiences are tributary to the wellbeing of the whole group“. There’s a “Session Zero” Step that precedes the six steps of the GonParis Method. It’s more than an advice section to read once and then forget about. It’s a part of the play-based GonParis Method. Its purpose, again like the Replay and the quotes, is to inspire players to buy into the game’s subject matter including mindfulness, fulfilment and how absurd they are in the context of looting a place.

Since Paris Gondo is about positivity, even in the face of questionable looting, the uplifting Spark Joy card made sense.

It also comes from my experience as an architect which taught me the following. People do not want to hear about problems they do not think they have. You are much more likely to connect with them through the introduction of the solution to a problem as an opportunity to do something exciting. X-cards and Safety Tools are in my opinion a valuable addition to tabletop roleplaying but, most of the time, they are promoted in a problem-centric package.

No matter how important these tools are that’s not appealing.

Having the Spark Joy card as part of the whole toolset brings in something fun which makes the whole lot more appealing. It also brings in something which is expected to be used when things work out. The goal in a game is not to have to use the X-card. It tends to dramatize safety tools and make their use too much of a big deal. I hope that repeatedly using the Spark Joy card, makes the X-card more mundane and likely to be used if needed.

Really, it tweaks the idea of “safety tool” into “communication tools”. Those are especially useful when you play “Paris Gondo” online. The game relies on index cards. The players mostly stare at a VTT or a Miro board. Most of us don’t have dual monitors, so we rarely see each other smile. The Spark Joy card not only helps players know that everyone is having fun but also makes a celebration out of this shared experience.”

CH: If you had to give one piece of advice to prospective subscribers to the GonParis Method, what would it be? Any extra advice for Facilitators?

K: “In my experience, the second and third sessions are often much funnier. My advice is to plan to play a couple of sessions in a row within an evening or an afternoon. It is supposed to be a quick game. Do not hesitate to rush a bit the first one. After this first session, everyone will be familiar with the light system. This will foster the creation of more inventive characters. They’ll be able to reskin their Adventurer Class and Starting Inventory cards. They will be more inspired to create wondrous objects that spark joy.”

CH: What’s next for Paris Gondo? What’s next for you?

K: “We already met our Itchfunding $500 goal towards hiring a professional graphic designer. Thanks to that, I hired Francita Soto, a talented freelance graphic designer from Chile. Her TTRPG portfolio includes “Tension: A Queer Cat and Mouse Romp“, “Brinkwood: The Blood of Tyrants” and “Red Rook Revolt!“. She has started the work on improved card decks and play aids. Those will be available to everyone who bought the current text-only edition.

She will then start the work on the new edition of the game. It will have a cover featuring art by Bodie Hartley that I already purchased.

This new edition should be the subject of a second Itchfunding campaign to support the purchase of even more excellent art by Bodie Hartley for the interior.

By the way, do not wait for this new edition to get your copy of the GonParis Method. First of all, the current text-only edition already has everything you need to play. Second, the current $5 cost of your copy of the text-only edition will be deducted from any future purchase you might want to make of the next edition.

Purchasing a copy now will help things happen faster.”

CH: Final words for our readers?

K: “Thanks for reading this all the way here. If you are curious about “Paris Gondo – The Life-Saving Magic of Inventorying” but not quite convinced yet, feel free to contact me on social media. I’ll happily inform you of upcoming online demonstrations or plan one for you and your friends. I recommend signing up for the Paris Gondo Newsletter to be updated about my progress. Finally, I also have a bunch of podcasts that you can find under The Rolistes banner, as well as Twitch and YouTube channels where you will find out about many talented TTRPG designers.”

Paris Gondo is, appropriately enough, a lean mechanical machine that nevertheless packs a lot of good vibes into its pages, and that’s without even accounting for the genuinely-fun-to-read Replay. From a meta standpoint it’s also a fine example of itchfunding, and the deal Kalum is offering very nearly had me putting this article in Bargain Bin Gaming instead of The Independents.

If you’ve ever groaned at having to calculate your character’s equipment down to the decimal point, had a character engage in some (perhaps ill-advised) retail therapy, or simply wanted a light-hearted game about what happens after you loot the body, then the play-based GonParis Method might be for you. Adopt this dungeoneering strategy, and you’ll never be overloaded again!

Thanks to Kalum for sending us a review copy, for answering my questions, and for many of the fine and elegantly-crafted links you can find in this article!

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