[Archipelago] The glory hole of Nordic roleplaying

edited October 2010 in Actual Play
Got together with Karen and Andy to play Archipelago II, a very cool GM-less Nordic storygame designed by Matthijs Holter. Rules are light, and provide just enough framework for telling really interesting stories. This game has always fired on all cylinders for me.

The game is meant to evoke the sense of isolation of living on "islands" separated by some sort of space. Although in past games we've used asteroids, South Pole exploration sites and Gold Country mining camps.

Carl Rigney was running AW a few tables over, so we thought it would be fun to do a post-apocalyptic game. The first step is to go around the table and have the players each put down some sort of encampment, or a land feature. We ended up with (among other things):
-Ramp City: a broken concrete highway overpass protecting a series of huts commanded by "The Chief"
-Sex Shack: a former "romance" store, complete with video booths in the back, that had been turned into a brothel
-Landfill Hill: smelly and guarded by radiation rats, but all sort of stuff if you dig enough
-Sunny Days Day Care: converted into a BBQ shack
-Just-Like MiniMall: with stores like "Nails B U" and "The Littlest Hairhouse"
-Town Square: overlooking the area is a clocktower inhabited by Franko, a kooky and vengeful guy with a sniper rifle

Next step is to let each player pick an element of the game fiction that they own, and have veto power over.
-Karen: man-made objects
-Chris: non man-made objects
-Andy: science

Then we made characters. Each character has a name, a few simple traits for color, and an indirect relationship to a PC (through a shared NPC). Other NPCs are developed with just a name and a quick phrase as needed during play. We kept a part of the map reserved for writing these down.

Karen played Skip, an expert in acquisitions. Scrapper, bare-knuckle boxer, stealthy, parkour expert.
-Chief is my illegitimate step-brother (who knows he's really a girl)
-Franko provides me sniper cover in exchange for a cut of the goods

Andy played Simon, a young "brave" vying for the lover of the chief's teenage daughter, Lala. Young, muscle-strong, but headstrong as well, Simon lives in Ramp City
-Lala: in love with; perhaps unrequited
-Chief: trying to win his respect to gain the hand of his daughter
-Trina: prostitute who works at Sex Shack; meets with her for relationship advice

Chris played Artie, the annoying-but-useful tinkerer who lives in the Junkyard. Techie, wears glasses, shy and stuttering.
-Trying to bang Trina at the Sex Shack but too shy even to talk to her
-Owes serious Grub (unit of barter equal to a meal) to the Chief

The final step before scenes start is to create Destiny Points for the session. These are thematic ends that show the character in a new light, showcase a strength, or are just interesting. This is probably the most challenging thing for new players to do. But it's also a lot of fun, as each player creates Destiny Points for other players to choose from. Each Destiny Point is kept face up on the table during play so the players know what they are driving towards. Although this sounds counter-intuitive, it's actually a powerful drive to the story.

Destiny Points:
-Skip: takes what is rightfully "his" from the Chief
-Simon: leave Ramp City and establish a splitter group called "Tracksville"
-Artie: get the movie projector working so he can invite Trina over for a date


  • Scenes

    Skip scrounged a Precious Moments bird from Landfill Hill for Franko. But using the rules, "that might not be so easy" meant that she needed to pull a resolution card. Which was "Yes, but only if... The character can get what she wants – but only if she chooses to make a certain sacrifice." So we narrated the incursion of some radiation rats, who had to be chased off with some cans of food that were meant for the Chief.

    Over in Ramp City, Simon was trying to ask for Lala's hand in marriage from the Chief, who was much more interested in the 3 o'clock puppet show being put on by Puppet Guy, a little person of some creativity.

    Artie was over at Sex Shack, watching Trina through a glory hole as she serviced another customer. After the john left, Trina lit up a cigarette and blew smoke through the hole. During their hesitant chat, Artie found out that Trina was a lover of (porn) films, of which Artie had several. Suddenly Artie had a reason to build a projector!

    Skip gave the figurine to a creepily grateful Franko. In return, Skip was wondering what Simon had been up to. "Franko will keep an eye on Simon. I will fire a green flare when I have information for Skip, yes?"

    Simon tried to suss out what the Chief was hiding from Skip. But a resolution card ("No, and... The character fails, and something unrelated also goes wrong.") meant that not only did Simon fail, but that he caught the preppy Chet banging his erstwhile GF Lola. And Simon was not much of a man and backed down to Chet who said some disparaging things about Lala's virtue.

    Artie saw Skip walking over to Ramp City, and met him at the crossroads on his scratch-built dirt bike, complete with headlight shining through the open mouth of a sex doll. Artie needs a certain gear to finish his movie projector, and he's sure it's in the clocktower. But no one but Skip can get near it without getting shot by Franko. "No problem" says Skip, "Franko loves birds, so make him one of your little toys and he's love it. But in return I want a gun."

    Chris calls for a Fate card (which anyone can do once a session) to shake things up. "This character does something rash that causes them a lot of trouble with the element you own. An unwise sexual liaison; insulting an ally; destruction of property." We played this that Artie inadvertently killed a bird that Franko dearly loved and made it into a wind-up toy.

    Skip brings Artie over to see Franko, who pretty much freaks out when he sees the bird that raised him turned into a child's toy. In the ensuing crying and shouting fit, Artie slipped out. But later on, Skip came back to the tower with the tiny Puppet Guy, who stole the gear while Skip consoled the still teary Franko.

    At this point, it was time to wind up the session, so we pushed hard towards the Destiny Points.

    Skip got the gun from Artie, which turned out to be a magnum revolver that had the trigger guard removed, barrel sawed down and grip wrapped with electrical tape. A nasty belly gun.

    Skip had asked Simon to find the Chief had hidden the "thing", but Simon delegated it to Chet, who not only found the hiding place, but looked at it as well.

    When Skip showed up and read between the lines that Chet had seen the only picture of a young Chief next to a young (and female) Skip...well Skip shot Chet right in the stomach to close that line of conversation.

    We ended with a shot of Trina coming over to the Junkyard for a date. Artie had his couch all cleaned up, lit candles in empty beer bottles, and a movie projector setup with Trina's favorite porn. "Oooh, Artie...you can put your hand on my knee if you want..."


    Overall, this game reminded me what I liked about rules-light GM-less systems. I felt like we got a lot of the flavor of a AW-style game without all of the (to me) confounding rules and the need for a GM or a scenario/front. But then again, that's just my preference. If you like these style of games, I would recommend downloading the free rules and getting a game going. We got a complete 3-player session finished in three hours.

    We definitely want to play more to see if Simon can get Skip to kill the Chief. And I'd like to play Trina to see what is up with her crazy whore life.

    Any thoughts?
  • One thought that struck me is that both AW and Archipelago have PC-NPC-PC triangles. In Archipelago, they're a part of the setup, and I called them "indirect relationships". I'd almost forgotten about them until I read this AP.

    I like how your destiny points vary from the big and dramatic to the "small", personally significant (getting the movie projector to work).

    The part about the dead bird being made into a wind-up toy was brilliant :) I love moments like that; where one character does something they think is a good idea, and the players understand that it really probably isn't. (Basically, what Fiasco is about, I guess).
  • Archipelago II is such a good game.
  • Matthijs, the indirect relationships really do work in play. It sets the PCs up with relationship hooks into the game. But at the same time it doesn't necessarily assume any relationships between the PCs, and in fact lets those develop in play.

    Interesting point about the different scales of Destiny Points. Everyone at the table seemed to be rooting for Artie to get Trina over for a date that session. But we were all fine with finding out what happened with the potentially explosive battle w the Chief in another session since that was so big. So the scale sort of took care of itself.

    You know it's a good game when you come in fully intending it to be a one-shot, but at the end everyone looks at each other and says "when are we playing this again??"

    What do you think about switching characters between sessions? I really want to play Trina next. And I think it would be cool if someone played the broken-down sniper guy Franko. There are definitely areas on the map we haven't addressed yet.
  • I've never tried switching characters - but I would like to try playing two or more characters each sometime. I think that would be a cool new* thing. You'd see the action from several viewpoints.

    * Except, of course, that the Danes probably did it already.
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