Actual Play – Learning Archipelago (10/14/2013)

ArchipelagoPlayers: Karen Twelves, Mia Blankensop, Erin Sara Beach-Garcia, and Sean Nittner
System: Archipelago

So that Karen and I were prepared to facilitate Archipelago at Improv for Gamers, we invited Mia and Erin Sara over for dinner and a game. My only experience with Archipelago was from playing Jason’s very structure game Last Train Out of Warsaw at Big Bad Con, so I wanted to see what the game was like when you started from scratch.

Yar, there be pirates!

We opted to go with a pirate cove, and the people that would be affected by pirates arriving. Are locates were:

Roe’s Port
The Pig & The Eel – Pub in Roe’s Port
Old Duncan’s Lighthouse
Lady Godiva (the pirate ship anchored in the bay)
The Sandbar
One other location, I think a vista point, but I can’t remember it now and can’t read the map!



Our characters were all tied to the location and/or to each other.

Captain Joan Moreo La Santa – Captain of the Lady Godiva and once lover of Arp
Little Duncan – Old Duncan’s son who owned the lighthouse. Friend and confidant of Arp
Arthur “Arp” Poorpenny – Owner of The Pig & The Eel. A broken man.
Etienne de Champagne – A french fugitive hiding from the law. Etienne sought refuge by joining Joan’s crew (unsuccessfully)

The love affair between Arp and Joan came out in play rather than being something we established in advance. It was a strong move to tie the characters together. As was Etienne’s attempt (failed as it might have been) to join the crew.


The elements we picked were all tied to a pirate’s desparate life:

The Law

Tides may seem a bit specific but both the sandbar and the caves were accessible only during certain tides. Also, later when disaster struck, it was tides that crashed up against and destroyed Old Duncan’s Lighthouse.

The Play is the Thing

Our story was one of messy lives and people making the right choices at the wrong times. Arp finally admitted his love for Joan, but she had already moved on. Etienne looked for refuge, and could have found it with Joan, but her crew decided to turn him in for the bounty instead, showing the first signs of their mutinous desires.

We didn’t get to our destinies (which I’ll talk about in thoughts below) but we did push towards them, and you could see them in the horizon if we just had another session or two.

Thought on this game

I was a little unsure how to start this game. Archipelago gives a lot of great prompts for once a scene is rolling (“Harder”, “That might not be so easy” ,etc) but not much direction in how to create tension or impetus for action. It seems to me that the piece that is missing is situation. What just happened, or is about to happen, that the characters must respond to?

Jason’s game (Last Train) creates that by establishing an external pressure (Germans are coming we all have to get out) and internal divides (things we knew about the characters created problems for them). The base game offers some of this with the destiny, but since the destines we had weren’t really things we could pursue (or even things are characters were necessarily conscious of) it was hard to play to them, especially early on.

I think I want to add a kicker to this game, or possibly a need. Something to direct and drive action from the start.

The lost love story here was sweet. I was happy to be ancillary to it and watch Arp and Joan toil over their mis-fired affections. The twist of Etienne trying to join Joan’s crew but being sold out by her usually very loyal crew was a great example of “That might not be so easy” doing it’s job, as was Little Duncan loosing his lighthouse.

We only used about half of the locations, and I never felt like the space had that much to do with the narrative. More often they just set he mood. Arp was at home in his pub and lots of people could justify randomly being there, but the location didn’t have a life of it’s own. I wonder if more fantastic locations like “Trollshaw Forrest” would create more intrinsic location specific challenges/events.

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