Paths consists of fifty-two, large one-hundred-and-twenty-five by eighty-five-millimetre cards. Each depicts a landscape crisscrossed by one or more paths. A steep path leads up a hill to a round tower with a single door. A statue of a mermaid sits in the middle of a plaza around which stand a pyramid, a column, and other features. Paths cut through tunnels in the hills. A narrow path joins a junction surrounded by tall, narrow houses. A village sits atop a cliff overlooking a tower below. A field is divided by several routes, but leaves a single tent isolated. An abyss is encircled by the paths. A great viaduct crosses over a valley path. Paths connect to steps that descend to a single platform over a chasm or seemingly connect at random underneath a house that hangs from a wall. Who lives in the tower? Who was the mermaid? What lies in the tunnels? Who lives in the village and where does the narrow path lead? Why is the village higher than the tower? Who lurks in the abyss? What is the platform over the chasm used for? Who lives in the home hanging from the wall? These are just some of the questions that the cards in Paths provoke.
All of the cards are beautifully bucolic and are designed to form a grid, depicting an ever-greater area and range of terrain. As a deck they can be shuffled, cards drawn and laid out to form a whole map, and then done again and again to create new maps each time. Paths suggests that two cards be selected to mark the beginning and the end of a route, and then cards be drawn to map out the route between them, whether direct or meandering. The participant is encouraged to examine each card, asking what it makes him think of or how he feels? The process is intended to be contemplative, even meditative, the participant almost taking a walking holiday across his loving room table.
Lastly, Paths turns the participant into a player and the map cards into a game. It is suggested the map is built collaboratively with perhaps one player as the map-maker who knows the secrets behind each card and location to be revealed as the other players and their heroes add each card to the map. It is suggested that tokens be used and notes taken and dice be used for dice-battles—if needed. These are the limits of the suggestions in Paths, but it would be incredibly easy to import a set of simple rules or even create some. For example…
Paths: The RPG
- Each player creates an adventurer, for example, a wizard or a warrior. Then name the character.
- Players take turns as the Map-Maker. When it is your turn, draw a card and add it to the map. Describe it and answer any questions the other players have about it as their adventurers explore it. Portray any characters who live there. Perhaps they want to help the adventurers? Have something to tell them or sell to them (or both)? Perhaps they are hiding secrets? Is there an obstacle or some monsters? Are there secrets to be found?
- As a player, describe what your adventurer does. Who does he talk to? Where does he look? Let the other players do the same.
- If there is an obstacle or monster, the Map-Maker rolls a six-sided die. Each player rolls a six-sided die for his adventurer (another player rolls for the current Map-Maker’s adventurer). The highest result defeats or stops the other. If an adventurer would have an advantage because of the situation, a good idea, or he just would (perhaps through force of arms as a warrior or a spell cast by a wizard), he rolls two dice instead on one.
- The next player becomes the Map-Maker.
Physically, the cards in Paths are large, glossy, and feel good in the hand. The leaflet runs to four pages and is a quick and simple read.
However the participant, player, or Map-Maker uses Paths, there is ultimately a simple truth to Paths. Which is that this set of cards is a beautiful and lovely artifact. A beautiful and lovely artifact which works as inspiration, contemplation, or a game.