2011-03-22 Archipelago is a Game Master Training Game


We played Archipelago II yesterday. I didn’t like it too much. When I sit down for my gaming session, I want to be entertained. I personally require some sort of struggle and tension for this to work, and Archipelago did not deliver. We did have a most illuminating discussion after the game, however.

I felt that the game was basically a 97% story telling game. We took turns in telling a story. Except that we’re not awesome story tellers like authors of books. Stories in a good book are subtle, deep, novel, emotional, surprising, and we are not. Maybe we could become better story tellers over time, but I don’t have much hope for myself.

I think this has to do with how my creativity works. I like constraints. Random encounters, random abilities, a struggle against opposition. The story I prefer is therefore a side-product of player action, game master plans, random rolls, twists and opposition introduced by others – it is a necessary side-product, but not something that I want to deliberate with my fellow players, not something I want to plan beforehand. I don’t want the author perspective on the story. I want to discover the story as it unfolds.

Archipelago features a random element: On your turn a player can (and usually does) challenge you, forcing you to draw a card for somebody else to interpret. These cards have the famous Yes and or No but answers. Yes you succeed, or you succeed and something minor goes wrong, or it has unintended consequences, and so on. It’s what books like Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley (@grahamwalmsley) try to teach the reader, except now you’re doing it instead of reading it.

Interesting, Archipelago works as a game master teaching tool?

I think it does.

Scene framing, saying yes, accepting cool ideas from the other people at the table, I agree!

Archipelago also has this element where every person at the table is responsible for one aspect of the game world (magic, geography, culture, history – broad aspects, all of them). This responsibility comes into play when a player draws a fate card when they are out of ideas or when they want to spice things up. The card usually calls upon another player to narrate something related to their aspect. So if Lior is out of ideas, he picks up the stack of fate cards, picks one and hands it over to Johannes to read. Since Johannes is responsible for the magic aspect of the world, his interpretation will probably involve magic.

This aspect (hah!) of the game is harder to translate to traditional games. Do I want a player to be responsible for the gods? The cities? I don’t think so. What I will do, however, is grant players narrative rights or veto powers over their home town, their faith or their race (such as my goblins or my shadow elves). We’ll work something out. If I have maps or non-player characters to share, I’ll share some info with players from the location and I’ll let them add to it as far as possible.

This works like wises in Burning Wheel and other Luke Crane games or certain skill uses in FATE games – except that I don’t require dice rolls, nor do I require rules to regulate narrative rights like the ones Archipelago provides. I just offer the opportunity to my players. One or two might take me up on the offer, depending on inclination, interest and time available.

I like there to be 10% player empowerment and story telling in my games, sometimes using emails and the campaign wiki. What Archipelago offered instead was 97% player empowerment and story telling. Thus, Archipelago turned out to be interesting from an intellectual point of view, if not from an entertainment point of view.

The image above was randomly generated using Amit’s Flash Demo of his Polygonal Map Generation (Perlin, 2D slopes). I also removed a bunch of red lines using the Gimp: Select the area with the red lines, go to colors and saturation, pick red, and change the saturation to zero. Worked for me.



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