I started to feel that I didn’t know roleplaying games well enough so I came up with the plan to read a roleplaying game corebook for every year they have been published. Selection criteria is whatever I find interesting.
Archipelago, which I read in its third edition, feels like the definitive game for collaborative, GMless story-based roleplaying. It feels that for groups that it appeals to, it’s the last game they’ll ever need because it packages a methodology of play that can then be applied to a wide range of stories and settings.
The main thing I like about Archipelago is the way it consistently centers the collaborative creativity of the participants. Some storygames especially from the Forge period feels like machines that will chug along regardless of the players, the systems creating the desired results whether there’s a human element or not.
Here, the goal is to give tools, prompts and a framework for people to play with. In a sense, Archipelago feels more like a toolbox than a system. You can use it as much or as little as needed.
The game has a connection to the Earthsea books of Ursula le Guin and many of the examples are based on the assumption of wanting to play in that world. However, the game is by no means limited to that.
The game is narrated in turns by the participants. The basic tools of Archipelago are phrases such as Harder, which means you want the current scene to go deeper into whatever emotional/narrative direction its going to. You use them to direct the play of others. They are not hard and fast mechanics but rather something you employ depending on your individual judgment in the moment.
The game also uses cards which function as prompts. Their purpose is to nudge you along and help improvise the story in interesting directions. An example of a Fate card is: “This character receives an unwanted and troublesome gift from an area on the map.” They strongly resemble the prompt cards in Itras by.
Archipelago is the basic toolbox of collaborative storytelling. You can find it as a free download here.