A million years from now, humanity has spread across the galaxy and taken countless forms. Vast empires have come and gone like waves against an unimaginable shore.
But some strange voyagers chose to remain outside the churn of civilizations, pursuing a greater purpose. When a new force comes to the galaxy, will these eternal wanderers remain who they are—or, at long last, change?
Archives of the Sky is a tabletop storytelling game with an epic sci-fi backdrop and a focus on very human stories. This is a roleplaying game, but no gamemaster or advanced preparation is required. You and some friends will collaboratively create a great House, a group of interstellar wanderers with a set of inviolable core beliefs—and then, like any good storytellers, find a conflict that pits those beliefs against each other.
The core rules of the game are finished and available for you to preview now, but they need some help to really shine. With your support, I'll extend them in a full-color sourcebook chock full of examples, play aids, breathtaking art, and ideas you can mine to help your stories come alive.
You might have played GM-less roleplaying games like Microscope, Fiasco, or Downfall before; but even if you haven't, Archives is a great place to start. This thrilling style of roleplaying involves every player in the creation of the story from scene to scene. Rather than one player preparing a setting and a story in advance, everyone gets to help create the world and plot, which gives rise to unpredictable stories brimming with ideas sparked by constant collaboration with your friends at the table.
This might sound intimidating, but Archives has been fine-tuned through over a year of playtesting to help even novice storytellers build an incredible world together, and then tell a meaningful story within it. The mechanics are carefully designed to help unleash your inner Ursula Le Guin, Alastair Reynolds, or Gene Roddenberry:
- You'll create a deck of words from your favorite sci-fi novels, and draw from it when you need inspiration or a random outcome.
- Take turns playing roles like "the Epic" and "the Intimate," focused on making the story breathtaking and huge in scope,or keeping it grounded in human details and sensations.
- Threaten the values of your characters and your House with new plot developments, and build towards a dilemma that puts them in conflict.
In three to four hours, you'll invent, tell, and resolve a complete story with a galactic scope and a very human conflict at its center... with the option to keep telling more stories with the same characters the next time you play, or create a whole new galaxy and start again.
To get a sense for how this works in practice, check out this brief sample of play, which shows players spontaneously creating a scene together.
How does Archives work? At its core, the system provides a structure for storytelling based around a Dilemma, a conflict between two Values.
As in much great sci-fi, the epic scope provides a canvas for big questions: what does it mean to be human, and what are our ideals really worth to us?
When you start play, you'll collaboratively create a House of galactic wanderers devoted to some all-encompassing mission: to seed new life, to protect the helpless, to hunt transdimensional titans, to record the past—whatever you can think of. You'll create a set of core Values for your House, like We always help a friend in need. Each player will then make a character within that House who has their own personal Values, like Chen hates sentient machines.
The rules of the game help you improvise a story that moves toward a Dilemma putting two Values into conflict. For instance, what would Chen do if a persecuted robot came to her House seeking asylum? How would she reconcile her loyalty to her House with her own unshakeable vendetta?
Once you've found your Dilemma, the characters try to come to consensus on a course of action. Ultimately, someone will have to make a decision that betrays a Value, and herein lies the core of the game, and of many gripping stories:
- Will Kirk change history to save Edith Keeler?
- Will President Roslin rig an election on Galactica to prevent a traitor from rising to power?
- When push comes to shove, does might make right, and do the ends justify the means?
What will your characters do to defend what they believe in?
Without dice or hidden information, Archives needs a source of uncertainty and randomness, and that's provided by the Trove, a deck of player-created cards with interesting and evocative words drawn from your favorite books. You can draw from the Trove if you need inspiration, resolution, or just a piece of flavor.
How you interpret your draw is up to you. The word fire might mean a catastrophic explosion, or the fire in your character's eyes as they pull off an amazing maneuver. Your Trove word will almost always give an interesting nudge to the story, or even inspire its whole climax!
Depending on how the story ends, your characters might have to Adapt, permanently changing as a result of what happened. A character who acted against a Value might decide to Let Go of it, erasing it from their record sheet. Or they might choose to Resolvethat value, becoming even more committed to it, and swearing never again to compromise it.
You can play through multiple Episodes with the same characters, seeing how they evolve and change over time, or run the game as a one-off: it works fine either way.
The core rules of Archives are complete and playtested, and you can even download them now to try the game out yourself. A game like this, though, really benefits from a well-designed book that carefully lays out the rules for maximum clarity; that contains lots of examples and idea seeds to help get your creativity flowing; and that's illustrated with beautiful artwork that conjures up the immense vistas of a galaxy eons into the future.
If the Kickstarter is funded, I'll be able to publish Archives to print and PDF as a full color sourcebook, a 6x9 softcover with 80-100 pages. In addition to the rules, the book will contain:
- Sample names for characters, Houses, and planets
- A thousand juicy Trove words to choose from (in case you don't have a stack of sci-fi novels handy when you play)
- A "Quick-Start" guide that you can read aloud to introduce the rules, introducing new concepts gradually across the course of your first few scenes
- Actual play examples (edited for clarity) to show key rules and mechanics in action
- Sample story seeds, scene ideas, Values, and villains: for when you need more inspiration than a word from the Trove
- Variant rules for playing in other settings, and a "fast play" mode that streamlines character creation and takes out some mechanics, suitable for pick-up play at a con or game night
- Full-color, awe-inspiring sci-fi art
I'm finishing up this additional content now. Your Kickstarter pledge will go to professional layout and art design for the book. I've got an experienced RPG layout designer and art director who's agreed to move forward on this project if funded, so the last piece we need is the budget to make it happen.
About the Author: I'm a lifelong roleplayer and award-winning digital game designer who's been making interactive fiction for fifteen years; my 2014 game The Ice-Bound Concordance won an IndieCade award for Best Story. This is my first tabletop game and I couldn't be more excited about it.
(Fun fact: I also recently finished a dissertation about new kinds of interactive narrative and what digital story games can learn from tabletop. An early version of Archives is in the appendix!)
My budget breakdown can be seen below. A bit over a third the funds will go towards layout and art, with a bit over another third going to order fulfillment for printed books. The remaining money goes to Kickstarter fees and miscellaneous expenses.
For fulfillment, I'm partnering with DriveThruRPG to deliver both digital and print-on-demand physical copies of the book. The physical books will use DriveThru's highest quality printing option, which produces beautiful books worthy of sharing a shelf with your other favorite sourcebooks.
Thanks for reading, and I can't wait to hear what stories you tell with Archives of the Sky.
Risks and challenges
I've previously done a successful Kickstarter (for The Ice-Bound Concordance, a digital game that came with a physical book) which was successfully delivered. "Archives" is a simpler and smaller-scale project. The core game rules are polished and the supplemental material is nearing completion. The book will be print-on-demand and handled through an experienced provider (DriveThruRPG). I'm estimating about one month to finish the content (concurrent with the Kickstarter), two months for layout and art, and another two months to work with DriveThru to make sure the printed book is as perfect as it can possibly be, so putting an estimated delivery date of October 2018, and feel very confident I can hit that deadline.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)