During last weekend I was lucky enough to get into two games ran by Jason Morningstar at Ropecon; one of which I was not even thinking to get into but managed to get a seat when a player did not turn up. Too bad for him. It was an excellent game and pretty much shook up my whole view of roleplaying (in a similar way that AWengine did a few years ago). In essence this post is about testing Fall of Magic and Archipelago.
Both games had a similar base. You play character in a GMless story-telling game where you talk your way through (an epic) story. Both games use locations as the driving force and seem much alike. At least considering the two games I took part in.
The strongest point of Fall of Magic was the unveiling map that lead us on our journey to the source of all magic. I was eager to see all the places we could visit on that trip even though you cannot actually visit them all. It was like reading a book – really wanting to know what happens next is easier when you have something concrete you can focus on. The Kickstarter of Fall of Magic comes (at a certain level) with a parchment map that is a perfect way to enhance the feeling of the game.
On this map there are several locations that are in turn broken into a few sections. While you travel through the land you may choose to have an encounter there. You put your own marker on one of these sections and maybe take some of the other players with you there as well. The sections pretty much gives you the backbone of what is going to happen and you simply play it out with others. We never had a falling out about what was going to happen so I have no idea what we would have done in such an event.
When all participants feel that the scene has been resolved they move on. Other players may visit the sections in that location or you just decide there is nothing more for you here and move to the next location.
The Archipelago game we played worked out quite similarly. Jason had prepared characters for all players and then there were a number of different locations from which we got to choose from. Fall of Magic did not let us take control over the locations (other than in describing them) but in this game we got to choose what kind of a places we had in the game from a few descriptions for each unique location.
During the game each player on his own turn declared a location where an encounter took place and chose what characters were present. Each location had a list of thing that had to happen while visiting the location and a player on your left got to decide what would be the outcome of the encounter. Each player was also granted two themes and one of those should always be present in his encounters as decided by the player on his right.
I know this all seems overly complicated at first but it really did not take long for all of us to realize what we were doing and after that the story just glided.
As an example – the was this thing called “The Queen’s Maze”. On of the players had decided its appearance from a short list of descriptions. On the location’s sheet it said that “The Maze graves for terror” so we knew what kind of scene would work out in the Maze. When my character (The Silver-haired Queen) summoned the other characters to the Maze the player on my right chose the theme of “deception” from my Queen’s two themes and the player on my left chose “The monster”-event from the location. (This is not actually exactly what happened but this is what I could easily remember). So even on your turn on the spotlight you cannot be sure what happens or if the story will follow the path you would like it to.
In addition to other players having a say of what should happen there were a few other rules. If one of the players thought that what had been said contradicted of what had been established in the narrative he could say: “try it a different way” (or something similar indicating that it needed some rewording or even rethinking). Another thing you could say was: “that’s is not so easy”. When this was the case the player who was trying the halted actions phrased a simple “yes” or “no” question and decided which of the players not involved to the current encounter should draw a card from a deck. The deck had cards with “yes”, “no”, “perhaps”-type of answers but they all had an additional phrase that also happened. “Yes, but you harm someone close to you”, “Perhaps, if you are willing to take help” and so on.
Both of these games were simply incredible. I have not played a lot of GMless games and I was not that sure if they would be for me (maybe because I tend to be GM more often than not). But they simply clicked with me.
I would be lying if I said these games are for everybody. Their simplified rules and the shared responsibility and power of the direction of the story might not work in some (or even most groups). But if the group is willing to give their best it apparently can lead into a session that all other sessions will be compared to in the future. At least this was it for me (though I must add that I tend to be overly positive about all Ropecon sessions since I get to play and can try a multitude of different things).
Of the two games I have to admit that I like the Archipelago more. It seemed more diverse and I just loved the card mechanic – even though I am a dice guy. If I had not get into the Archipelago, Fall of Magic would most likely have been the best thing since Ville Halonen ran “Curse of the Yellow Sign” at Ropecon a few years ago. But I think the strongest point in that game – the map, might also be the weakest. Once you have unrolled that magnificent map you just cannot get the same sense of wonder. I do believe it is re-playable but in a way that console- or pc-games are. The playset Mr. Morningstar had created for the Archipelago might have the same problem but I would assume it to be easier to create new games with that engine. In fact we already discussed about hacking it with Ville.
I have a hard time to point out just made the whole experience so enjoyable. Maybe it was the fact that both games had a distinctive feeling and theme that I liked and could very well work with. It was not so much about trying to solve problems, kill monsters, and roll criticals but more about sharing an (quite intimate) experience through telling a story.
As a final point I must also add that both games are equally easy to use while playing with children which I think is a huge plus side. There are no hard rules and as long as at least one of the players knows what she/he is doing the game will quite likely be excellent.