Actual Play – Archipelago at the Improv (12/7/2013)

ArchipelagoPlayers: Karen Twelves, Milo and John Kim, Julie Southworth, and Sean Nittner
System: Archipelago

After four hours of awesome improv at the Improv for Gamers workshops, we sat down to play some Archipleago. After a bit of discussion we opted for English Manor Houses. What started as a Jeeves sand Wooster vibe, quickly when to a dark Downton Abbey.

The story was a tight one, I think because (and this is based off my previous experience feeling a bit undirected) we pushed for some urgency up front, and because we were still warm from improv games so we were ready to be vulnerable, push for our destinies, and reveal our true intentions.


The cast

  • John – Mrs. Prudence Westerfield. A widow and ward of Westerfield manor. Her daughter and heiress Presicilla was of age to marry and secure their future. Destined to marry her daughter against her will.
  • Milo – Clyde the butler of Westerfield manor. Fiendishly loyal to the Westerfield family because his own life was in debt to the last Mr. Westerfield. Destined to give up his life to protect his ward.
  • Julie – Jenny the assistant to the cook in Brinkley manor. In love with the lord of the house Viscount Aaron Lunceford. Young and innocent. Destined to make a fortune to support her lover.
  • Sean – Viscount Aaron Lunceford. A posturing lord who was made the pretense of wealth but was horribly in debt. Terrified of his uncle (lord of Scottham manor) finding out that he was broke. In love with Jenny. Destined to lose his manor but gain his true love.

Other characters of note:

  • Earl Terrance Lunceford – Aaron’s disapproving and stern uncle.
  • Alice (Harding) Lunceford – Terrance’s wealthy american wife.
  • Bob Harding – Alice’s brother, a rich Montana land owner with an offer for the English Gentry.
  • Priscilla – Young heiress, daughter of Prudence, and a free spirit who just wants to live life.

Notably we made all eight characters as “people that need to be in this kind of setting” and then picked the ones to play based on what drew us and how they formed relationships with the other characters. This left us with a wealth of interesting NPCs to bring in throughout the story. All but Alice saw quite a bit of action.


Based on the problems we saw people had, we picked these as our elements:

  • Love
  • Innocence
  • Social Status
  • Money

The Play is the Thing

We started with a garden lunch at Brinkley manner with the Westerfields coming to visit. This was a scene with all of the player characters present and it allowed us to establish several thing right off the bat.

  • Aaron wanted Prudences money to help him invest in Montana land (and hopefully get him out his debts.
  • Jenny wanted Aaron to forget about his financial obligations and marry her.
  • Clyde wanted to protect the Westerfields interest, which meant keeping Aaron away from any upstart servants.
  • Prudence wanted Aaron to marry her daughter Priscilla to secure their family fortune and status.

And yeah, things spun out from there. Priscilla didn’t want to marry Aaron.  Aaron was indebted to the Westerfields, and things pushed to the point of desperation until Clyde decided to betray one Westerfield in order help another. He stole money and send the now landless Lunceford with his wife to be and the heiress, away from Prudence, lest she marry her daughter off to the even more despicable Mr. Harding.

Actually, playing Bob was quite delightful. We traded who got to do it, but him representing new money, and total disregard for for the English social mores. He was also the impetus that pushed a lot of the action. Truly the external threat.

At one point we were using the map to represent the marriage license between Aaron and Priscilla and I literally tore it to pieces. Yay!

Shots from after the game

IMG_1868 IMG_1863


Thoughts on this game

Pushing for destinies, establishing situations up front, and really using the Archipelago “say this” actions really helped with pacing, momentum, and drama.

We hit all four of our destinies! Woot!

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.

Actual Play – Last Train Out of Warsaw (10/6/2013)

lasttrainGM: Jason Morningstar
Players: John Aegard, Karen Twelves, Kevan Forms, Adam Koebel, and Sean Nittner
System: Last Train out of Warsaw ( based on Archipelago)

At the end of Big Bad Con, after most of the tables were broken down and all official events were over, a small group gathered to play Jason’s Last Train out of Warsaw.

Last Train is a focused (and GM’ed) game of Archipelago that depicts, as the name describes, the last train leaving Warsaw before the German invasion. Jason is great as taking historical events and providing just enough color that folks who know nothing about them (folks like me) feel capable and comfortable playing through our own retelling of history. This game is no exception.

We told the story of a few individuals on this train, trying to make it to some place safe, or in some of our cases, trying to secure the future of Poland. We all failed at all of these things.

Thoughts on the Game

Adam played a very intense quiet man. Quick to violence when he believed it would achieve his ends, but also not emotionally or mentally prepared for the task. We watched his stoic facade crack and eventually shatter.

Kevin’s engineer was never going to make it to Romania (that we knew) but that loved his train and hated the Germans with a particular kind of passion.

Karen and I should have swapped the areas that we governed. She played the fireman and governed the train. I played the pretty girl and governed the people. This put us in predicaments where we had to create our own opposition, and sometimes resolve the out come of our actions with that opposition, which never works.  Something to watch out for.

Jason’s helping hands offered urgency, panic, and towards the end just the right dose of hopelessness.

Having John enter the game late, playing the conductor, did involve smoothing over some ripples in the shared fiction, but once he was it, it was a great addition to the game. When the pretty girl finally realized he betrayed all of them to the Russians, she took advantage of his injury (and helplessness) to suffocate him with the bandages that should have been wrapped around his wound.

This game was great. Grim as hell. And great.