Storyjamming with “Archipelago”, 2nd Edition

I recently had the opportunity to jam story using the Archipelago story game, written by Matthijs Holter. We played two sessions over two nights.

I still endeavor to introduce storyjamming to players who have never done it before. I believe collaborative storytelling can really enrich anyone’s life, and make more personally relevant stories than Hollywood or other media. I had at least five players who had never played a “story game” before, for a total of 8 players (!!).

I always have an experiment going for every game I run. Most importantly, I want every step of game play to feel like fun, including “learning the rules”. To maximize fun and most quickly learn the fundaments of game play, I have an array of tools I use.

In the past, I had a series of warm-up games I consistently used, specifically (in this order) “Firing Line”, “One Word at a Time”, “Color, Advance”, and “I see you”. These games have a downside in that they don’t necessarily relate directly to the setting or story, unless you have a creative way to make them relevant. I’ve gotten positive feedback from players, but still I want every moment of play to contribute to the shared story.

I love Archipelago because the ritual phrases offer an alternative way to ease into a game and gain confidence setting scenes (such as “Try a different way”, “More details”, “That won’t be so easy”).

I realized that most importantly to me, I want new players to feel confident and comfortable creating fiction; in the back of Archipelago Matthijs lists several principles of good Archipelago play (such as “Yes, and…” and “Accept input”).

I made five major decisions to accelerate play, group cohesion, confidence in contributing in the shared fiction, and learning the “rules” of Archipelago.

First, I gave all the ritual phrases hand signs (taken from ASL), that made it easier and gentler to interrupt another player’s flow to get “more details” or “try things differently”, and modeled memorably using the ritual phrases.

Second, I created two other ritual phrases, “Help”, to support the “Ask for input” principle. New players don’t know how to quickly get rescued from a creative block, and tend to freeze up and stress out. “Help” worked amazingly; everyone had an easy out, all they had to do was make the ASL hand sign  for “Help” and other players jumped in to rescue the moment. Also, I used the ASL hand-sign “Finish” to indicate the end of scene.

Third, I ran “I see you” for everyone’s character. All the players remarked on how vivid their shared vision of each other became. They really enjoyed this part. Formerly stereotyped, cardboard characters became rich and mysterious, everyone wondering how they would fare in the story. Already interesting characters acquired even more depth.

Fourth, instead of a destiny “statement”, we all created destiny “loaded questions” to answer, and per the rules, once answered, that character’s story finished. I did this inspired by the Jason Morningstar and Matthijs Holter partnership Archipelago games “Last Train Out of Warsaw” and “Love in the Time of Seith”. The players really loved this too; it really heightened the mystery and anticipation of the game to an extraordinary degree.

Five, I allowed “secondary players”, much like the Moons in Ben Lehman’s “Polaris”, that had no role other than to play bit parts and help with the setting. The WAYK game’s “Lunatic Fringe” technique inspired this. I also allowed “paired” character ownership, so that players could tag team for one character and retain a lot of energy and comfort with play.

Things I’d change for next time:

Less characters, more secondary players.

Each player can choose more than one destiny “loaded question”; players had a difficult time choosing one due to the rich variety of questions that other players wrote, so why limit it?

Change the process of “I See You”; rather than saying “I don’t see it” and ending the game, use Archipelago’s “Try something different” and keep going. Go two or three rounds around the table, until the player says “Finished”.

Written by Willem