New Techniques for Archipelago II

These techniques were written by Willem Larsen, who runs the excellent blog “The College of Mythic Cartography”. I even have their T-shirt.

If you love Archipelago, and you want to make it as accessible as possible for new players, here are some additional techniques you can add in to the mix.


First, your new player can decide whether or not they’re ready to control a “main character”, or just want to play extras and support world creation.

Probably the easiest way to bring new players into the game is to start with established setting and characters. Whether you do this or not, a very effective way to cohere the shared vision of play is to use a mini-game called “I See You”.

“I See You”

Starting with the first player who has a main character, have them introduce them by name and describe them for 30 seconds.

For all players in the game, go around the circle and have them say the following:

“I see [character name], and [describe an aspect of what they look like, some influential piece of history, something they’re wearing, some behavior you see them doing]”.

The goal is to “see” the character that the player has created, to zero in on exactly the person that character’s player has summoned – and contribute a detail, something that fleshes out more fully their intended concept, not to take away the reins or influence them in another direction.

If the description doesn’t ring true with the original player of that character, they have the right to say “I don’t see it” and move to the next player in the circle, who then introduces the aspect description they see.

This continues on twice around the circle (or more, depending on how richly the group wants to flesh out characters). At the end, the player has to describe the character that the group has seen together. Once they’ve finished, go to the next player-character in the circle and have them do another 30 second intro.

Destiny “Loaded Questions”

Instead of having statements of fact about the character’s destiny, have each player write a “loaded question” about each main character. Something that assumes a lot while leaving a lot open in the discovery. Examples:

For Nathaniel Hawthorne, graduate student at the School of Piracy in the coastal city of Newport, on the island of Grohn:
“How did Nathaniel Hawthorne become the heir to the Pirate school?”
“Why did Nathaniel Hawthorne duel and kill his brother?”*
“What series of events caused NH to consider a career in piracy?”
“Does Nathaniel Hawthorne know that his brother is in fact still alive?”
“How does Nathaniel Hawthorne react to the news that his mother has been admitted into an insane asylum?”

For Hortensia Dreamrider, a blond-haired horse whisperer from the island of Fyn, players submitted the following questions (with the one the player selected has an asterisk*)-
“What magical union created the child that became Hortensia, and why doesn’t she know it?”*
“How come no one has met any of Hortensia’s relatives, nor remembers her as a child?”
“Why did Hortensia’s father teach her to make tattoos?”
“Who is the small child who suddenly appears in Hortensia’s dream?”
“Why does Hortensia believe Stanley is responsible for the death of her twin sister?”


All the ritual phrases can be easily coupled with hand signs, borrowed from ASL, that allow “interruptions” without breaking the flow of play as harshly. Whenever anyone uses a hand-sign, for all the other players, it’s their job to copy the hand-sign so that everyone knows that a ritual phrase is being brought into play. You can find ASL signs by going to this online ASL dictionary.


This ritual phrase is available at any time for any player who has a creative block or who simply wants more collaboration in their scene. It corresponds to the “Ask for input” advice in Archipelago II. Use it early and often! Use the ASL sign for “help”. Using this sign and ritual phrase means the player wants someone else to jump in and pick up the narration.


Using the ASL sign for “finish” makes it easier to signal the end of scenes.

Suggested ASL signs for the ritual phrases

ASL “Other” for “try something different”
ASL “Describe”/”Explain” for “More details”
ASL “Not” for “Veto”
ASL “Follow” for “Follow-up scene”

4 thoughts on “New Techniques for Archipelago II

  1. Pingback: Archipelago II « Nørwegian Style

  2. Sign language! Awesome!

    We have been using the “cut” sign, two fingers on one hand that make a scissors like movement, to mark and request the end of a scene.

    Either the scene holder makes the cut sign to show that the scene has ended.

    Or someone else starts making cut signs to show that he or she thinks this would be a good time to end the scene. The scene does not actually end until the scene holder acknowledges the request by also making the cut sign.

    We haven’t used it in Archipelago II, yet, but in Zombie Cinema, Love in the Time of Seid and Montsegur 1244 it has worked very well.

  3. Pingback: The ultimate big list of GM-less games « Doubleninja's Blog

  4. Pingback: 20.000 Little Islands | Nørwegian Style

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