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AARON A.

REED

ARCHIVES OF THE SKY


A TA B L E T O P S T O R Y G A M E O F G A L A C T I C S C O P E A N D H U M A N I D E A L S

FREE VERSION (APRIL 2018)


Copyright © 2018 Aaron A. Reed (aaronareed.net)

This is a bare-bones version of Archives of the Sky, containing the basic rules without a lot of fancy type-
setting, pictures, examples, and so on. For the most up-to-date version (and eventually, a complete book),
visit the official website below.

Website at archivesofthesky.textories.com

Typeset with tufte-latex.googlecode.com


Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 4

A million years from now, humanity has

spread throughout the galaxy and taken

countless forms. Your House has seen empires

rise and fall like the cresting of waves. You

wander the stars as fast as light allows,

immortal in your sleeper ships skipping

across centuries. But something new has

been found. Will you remain who you are,

or, at long last, change?


Setting

Nothing moves faster than light.


Humans learned that as we spread across the galaxy, in lonely,
drifting voyages between achingly distant stars. A once in a lifetime
journey, for most.
Others kept moving.
These strange souls would sleep for centuries to reach a new
world, and then move on, skimming through history like stones on a
pond. They gained a unique perspective. They saw galactic empires
grow vast and die out, then flare up and fade again, like the embers
of a fire. Stealing the best tech from each, they became like gods,
nearly immortal. Eventually they formed their own social structures:
the great Houses, humanity’s most enduring institutions.
A million years have passed since then.
Humans have flourished, evolved, regressed, died out, and been
reborn, thousands of times and in countless variations. But the
Houses have endured. Each devotes itself to a principle that goes
beyond a single civilization or culture. Some seek knowledge or pro-
tect life. Others hunt treasure or thrills.
And some record the history of human multiplicity: the archives
of the sky.

To play, you’ll need three to six players (including yourself), a sci-fi


novel for each player, a stack of blank index cards, some pens or
markers, and a handful of small tokens (pennies will do). Paper for
taking notes might also be helpful. One player, probably the one
most familiar with these rules, should act as the Archivist.
Your first game, including building your galaxy, will take around
four hours. After that, continuing episodes with the same characters
will be around two to three hours each.
Building

The galaxy is too large for any one player to design. Guided
by the Archivist, you’ll collaboratively create a House and some
characters within it, and tell a story of epic conflicts that pit long-held
values against each other. Whenever writing on cards, write large
The one major ground rule for your galaxy is this: nothing moves and legibly, preferably with markers
(which force larger writing) or dark
faster than light. While you exist in an unimaginably vast cosmos, pens. Players should be able to read
when facing danger you are also unimaginably far from help. any card from across the table. The
Archivist should demonstrate this when
they make the first few House values,
and if they see someone writing too
Your Trove small on a Value card later, ask that
they rewrite it.

Your Trove is a deck of cards that you’ll draw from for inspiration
and resolution, filled with inspiring, evocative words. Create it now.
Cut about three index cards per player in half across the shorter
side and distribute them evenly. Give each player a book connected If you’re the Archivist, you play the
to the setting (epic science fiction) and take about two minutes to game along with everyone else, but you
should also:
flip through your book and write down interesting words you see,
• read through the rules in advance
one per card. Don’t use simple words (a, the, an) or proper nouns • help new players learn and apply
(specific people or places). Try for a mix of verbs, nouns, and adjec- the rules
• lead by example (by writing large on
tives/adverbs, both positive and negative, all interesting or evocative. cards, by suggesting strong Values,
After a few minutes, or as soon as each player’s found at least four and so on)
words, collect these cards together, shuffle them, and place them face • keep the House Values in front of
you
down on the table. This is your Trove. At various times you’ll have • play NPCs if the Narrator asks
the option to draw from it and use the word you drew for inspira- • only have your own character if
there are just three players
tion. If you exhaust the Trove, reshuffle it. • keep things moving forward by
Cutting scenes, Advancing the
Dilemma, and shepherding the
Episode towards a conclusion
Your House

Your characters are all members of a single House, a group of near-


immortal humans who skip like stones through galactic history, one
decades-long star voyage at a time. Start by creating the House you
all belong to.
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Your First Values. Decide collectively on your House’s ultimate pur-


pose, overarching mission, or reason to exist. Try to keep it short: a
verb, or a verb and a noun, phrased as an action statement, like “We
hunt.” Sample First Values:
Write each Value on a horizontal index card, in large letters on the We explore.
We trade.
bottom half; then rotate the card and write the Value again on the top We invent.
half. Everyone at the table should be able to clearly read the Value, We build artificial worlds.
We archive philosophies.
no matter where they’re sitting. We encourage life.
Your House’s second Value is fixed: “We will always remain We terraform.
human." Write this also on a card and place it beside the first. We investigate.
We preach the Path.
Arguments over how Values should be interpreted and acted upon We destroy abominations.
are the core of play. Once the game begins, players will work towards We sing.
We design.
creating a Dilemma, a decision that places two Values in conflict. We hunt.
For example, imagine your House discovered some radical alien
genes that would allow them to be vastly more successful at pursuing
their purpose. Should you incorporate this DNA into your own, or
destroy it? Either decision might seem to compromise one of your
Values: is excelling at your mission worth any cost, or is protecting
your humanity more important than success? Finding out how your
characters resolve these conflicts will drive their stories.

Your Place. Discuss briefly how your House is seen by others in the
galaxy. How big are they: a few hundred members, a few million?
Are you strong and influential? Quiet and in the shadows? Honor- Figure 1: Example of a Value card.
able, mysterious, feared, ignored? A few evocative words is enough.

Three Others. Devise and name three Others of equal or greater


power: an old Ally, a new Opponent, and a growing Mystery. These
should be of greater scope than your run-of-the-mill galactic empires
that rise and fall in a handful of millennia. They should be forces Your Ally could be sentient AIs your
your House has or may have to deal with across millions of years: house created and set free; a sister
House with complementary goals; a
other Houses, post-human intelligences, unknowable alien empires, godlike post-human collective that owes
meta-civilizations, forces of nature, cosmic mysteries. you a favor; a beneficial philosophy
you’ve painstakingly seeded
Everyone should take brief notes on these three Others: just their Your Opponent might be a rival
name and a few words about them is fine. House that opposes (or misinterprets)
your mission; a relentless invasion of
life-eating nanodrones; a malignant
ideology only growing stronger; aliens
Two More Values. Propose two additional Values for your House. with a vendetta and a billion warships
Some of these may solidify ideas that have already come up in dis- Your Mystery could be new arrivals
to the galaxy, as yet uncontacted; a
cussion; others may be new ideas. Everyone must agree on a Value galactic apocalypse of impossible
for it to be accepted; discuss and revise if necessary. physics, expanding at light-speed; a
House acting strangely, motivations
Try to keep Values short and simple: at most six or seven words.
unknown; a song all intelligences now
Write a card for each. hear every 36.3 hours
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Values should begin “We always...” or “We never...” (or some


equivalent: they should never be wishy-washy). They are ideals that
everyone in your House has sworn to live by. Sample House Values:
Picking strong Values is important. Apply the following two ques- We always help those in need.
We keep our homeworld a secret.
tions to any potential Value: We will never betray another House.
We never give up hope.
• Is this Value a belief about what is right? We always weigh both sides.
We never procreate.
• In the right circumstances, would a member of your House die
We never leave a friend behind.
rather than act against this Value? We trust Machines.
We always question dogma.
If the answer is an easy yes to both, it’s a good Value. If you’re not We never leave our ships.
We revere the stars above all else.
sure, refine till it becomes an easy yes, or pick a new idea. We will always have our revenge.

Finally, name your House. Choose an evocative word connected in


some way to your Values: for example, a house that never compro-
mises might be the House of Stone. Write the name on a new card, House of...
vertically oriented, again on both sides so it’s readable from either Moths – Glass – Seasons – Starlight
– Fire – Light – Darkness – Windows
direction. Take the card and fold it in the middle so it makes a tent. – Oceans – Wind – Suns – Tears –
Place the nametag and House Values in front of the Archivist. Memory – Years – Milk – Waves –
Stone – Reflection – Gems – Jade –
Water – Air – Bone – Dreams – Knots –
Clockwork – Ash – Mist – Ice – Dancers
Your Characters – Clouds – Sound – Dust

Everyone but the Archivist will now make a character. (There should
be at least three characters, so if there are only three players the
Archivist should make a character as well.) Together, your charac-
ters will make up a small contingent from your House travelling the
stars together.
First, decide why your group has come together. You’re a small
part of your House, not all of it, and on your own. Maybe you have
specialties within your House’s purpose, maybe you’re doing some-
thing only tangentially related to it. Maybe you’re from different
factions within the House and have things to teach each other, or are
on a mission connected to one of your House’s Others.
Next, pick a role that describes what you do in the group. It could
be about your external specialty, like Pilot, Security, Treasure Hunter,
or Historian. Or it could be something more internal to your group,
Figure 2: Example of a nametag card.
like Listener, Troublemaker, Elder, or Protector. (There shouldn’t be
a Leader, though: all members of a House have equal authority and
power, and decisions are made by consensus.) If you need inspiration for a name,
Now, come up with a name for your character. This could be draw from the Trove and do one of the
following:
something suggested by your job, like a nickname or similar sound-
• use what you drew directly
ing word (“Polo the Pilot” helps everyone remember your role). • rearrange some of the letters
Write your name and role on both ends of a vertically-oriented • use something that sounds similar
or is otherwise suggested by your
card, and fold it in the middle so it makes a tent, as with the House draw
nametag. Put your nametag in front of you.
If you’re still stuck, hand the card to
another player and ask them to name
you.
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 9

Personal Values. You’ll also define your character by creating two


Personal Values. These are things your character has come to strongly
believe, across millenia of traveling the galaxy with their House.
Brainstorm aloud and discuss each Value with the group before writ-
ing it down, making sure everyone understands it and agrees it’s a
strong Value. If you need an idea for a Personal
Phrase a Value starting with your character’s name, and use al- Value:
Start with your character’s role. Why
ways and never words (or some equally strong equivalent) just as do they do this: because of something
with House Values. Apply the same two criteria and rewrite the they believe above all else? A vow they
made to someone? Is there negative
Value until both answers are a strong yes: space in the role, something else that
they swore never to do?
• Is this Value a belief about what is right? Or, make something that might
• In the right circumstances, would your character die rather than conflict with an existing value. If
your House “never helps Machines,”
act against it? maybe you “always help those in need,"
suggesting a juicy conflict if a machine
Watch out for Personal Values that are hard to imagine acting intelligence came seeking your aid.
As always, you may also draw from
against. For instance, “Terra never forgets the names of her kills” is the Trove for inspiration, or give your
an intriguing belief, but it’s hard to imagine her acting against it. A draw to another player and ask them
good test is to see if you can imagine a situation where your char- for a suggestion.

acter is forced to take action betraying this Value. Thinking through


this aloud, the players revise the Value to “Terra never kills without
knowing their name.” Now we could imagine a situation where she’s
asked to sacrifice a handful of anonymous people for some greater
good, creating a moral conflict (and an idea for a scene).
Make a new card for each Value and keep them spread out in front
of you. Again, write the Value on both halves so that players across
from you can read it too. Sample Personal Values:
Kentaurus never trusts something
without a face.
Briefly introduce yourselves, stating your Personal Values and Tirio always keeps a promise.
your role. The Archivist should restate the House Values. Ormu never walks away from a fight.
Crel never delivers the killing blow.
As you play, you’ll alternate between thinking like an actor, role- Maya treats her quarry with honor.
playing the character you’ve created, and thinking like a storyteller, Astra loves Crel above all else.
plotting where the story is going and what conflicts would put pres- Crel will never forgive the Protectors.
7-B9 destroys abominations.
sure on their beliefs. While other players are introducing themselves, Nero will never fall in love.
think like a storyteller about which Values might come into conflict Nero always trusts their eyes.
Liber never shoots first.
with each other. Jot down interesting juxtapositions in your notes. Johnny values people over the Hunt.
Look for the situation a character would never want to face and think Cipren knows time is most precious.
about a story that would make them face it.
Decide who will be the first Narrator. If you’re playing for the first
time, it should probably be the Archivist. The Narrator should write
“Narrator” on a blank card and place it before them (or use the “role
card” handouts).
Set out as many tokens as players in a central location that every-
one can reach. That’s it: your world is seeded. You’re ready to play.
Playing

Each game of Archives will tell a single Episode in the lives of your
characters, unfolding in a series of scenes staged by each player in
turn. Most Episodes will begin with arrival in a new star system after
a voyage of decades or centuries, and finding something unexpected
or mysterious there. Recommended Quick Start: For first-
time players, it’s recommended that
On your turn, you’ll become the Narrator, asking a Question and
your first three scenes ask the following
staging a roleplay scene that explores it. Everyone can help tell the questions, and that the Archivist
story of a scene, either in character or by providing colorful, intrigu- introduces the related concepts below
along with each scene.
ing details. When a scene ends, the player to the left becomes the
1. What star system will we visit next,
new Narrator, and so on until the Episode is over.
and why? (Questions, Scene setup,
As the plot develops, you’ll keep an eye open for situations that Playing scenes; then as scene ends,
threaten the Values on the table. At any time, a player can Spot- Cut and Reflection)

light a Value by placing a token on it. Players will work together to 2. Which Value causes trouble before
we leave? (Spotlighting Values,
eventually construct a Dilemma, a pending decision that places two Epic/Intimate)
Values in conflict. The characters must then come to consensus on a 3. What mystery do we find when
course of action to resolve the Dilemma, and you’ll end the episode we arrive? (Trove as resolution
mechanic; then as scene ends, free-
by discovering how this plan plays out, whether any Values are com-
form Questions)
promised, and how your characters change as a result. 4. On the Archivist’s second turn as
Narrator: Advancing the Dilemma

Scenes The final version of Archives will


include a Quick Start walkthrough
script to help with this.
A Scene begins with the Narrator asking a Question. Everyone in the
scene works to explore the Question by roleplaying and narrating
events that move the plot forward. All players, even those without
characters in the scene, can add interesting or colorful details to help
bring the story and setting to life. When anyone feels the Question
has been adequately explored, they may call for the scene to end.
Everyone has a chance to Reflect on the scene that just ended, and
then the person to the Narrator’s left becomes the next Narrator.
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 11

Turn Sequence
1. The Narrator asks a Question.
2. The Narrator sets the stage, deciding who is in the Scene and where it takes place.
3. Roleplay the scene. Players with characters in the scene drive the plot; everyone adds interesting de-
tails, especially the Epic and the Intimate.
4. Anyone can Spotlight a Value at any time by placing a token on it.
5. Anyone can end the scene by saying “Cut.”
6. Everyone Reflects. On the Archivist’s turn as Narrator, they may also Advance the Dilemma.
7. If the Dilemma is now complete, Validate it and begin Voting.
8. Pass role cards left for a new Narrator.

Asking a Question
If you need an idea for a Question,
The Narrator begins their turn by asking a Question. The Question here are a few ways to find one:
is the next thing we’re going to find out about the plot or charac- 1. Turn a Reflection into a Question.
ters. You ask it wearing your storyteller hat, out of character, to lay Just before a new Narrator’s turn,
everyone will have speculated aloud
a scaffold for the next scene. Everyone will work together to impro- about where they think the story
vise a scene within that scaffold that explores and maybe answers the is going (see Reflection). Take any
reflection and make it a Question.
Question.
Reflection: “I wonder what
The Question can be specific or vague, giving the scaffold more TX-9 would do if they learned the
or less detail. For instance, the Question “What happens when we get Gorgons are behind this.”
to the embassy?” establishes very little about the upcoming scene Question: “How does TX-9 react
when they learn the Gorgons are
other than a location. On the other hand, “How will Tia survive the behind this?”
Vorlon assassination attempt at the embassy?” establishes much more in 2. Draw a card from the Trove, and
advance. use it to inspire a new Question;
or ask the person on your right to
The Narrator does not need to know the answer to the Question
interpret your draw.
in advance, and indeed it’s often better if they don’t. The Question Trove draw: “asteroid”
will be explored through roleplay and improvisation by players with Question: “Why does a newly-
characters in the scene. detected asteroid suddenly become
significant?”
Questions should ideally be bold and move the plot forward,
3. Use one of these, adapting them to
but any will do in a pinch. Don’t get hung up trying to think of the your story so far.
perfect Question. It’s okay and natural to sometimes be stumped “What is an NPC hiding?"
when your turn as Narrator rolls around. If you don’t have an imme- “Why does an owner of a spotlit
Value care so much about it?”
diate idea for a Question, use the sidebar at the right or the “Ques-
“How is an Opponent involved
tion Ideas” handout; ask for suggestions; throw two people into a here?”
scene and ask “Why don’t you ever get along?” But don’t just sit there “What happens that threatens
trying to think of an idea: you’ll only get more frustrated and less someone’s life?”
“What ultimatum is issued?”
able to think creatively as the seconds tick past. Ask something, any-
Remember, as Narrator you need
to state the Question and set the
stage, but you don’t need an answer.
Everyone will help you explore and
maybe answer the Question in the
scene.
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 12

thing, and get into a scene, where you’ve got collaborators to help
you. Even “What happens next?" is fine in a pinch.
The Archivist should write the Narrator’s Question down in large,
easily visible letters, and place it in the center of the table so everyone
can see it, on top of the most recent Question card if one already
exists. This stack can be consulted at any time if people want to refer
back to what’s happened so far. Example Scene Setup
Alice, Bob, Carlos, and Delilah are
playing, and it’s Bob’s turn to be
Setting the Stage Narrator. Alice, most familiar with
the rules, is acting as Archivist, and
Once the Narrator has stated the Question, they set the stage, doing not playing a character. Bob is playing
the robot B-28, Carlos a genius named
the following things:
Creya, and Delilah the enigmatic Delos.
Asking the Question. Bob decides to
• Decide which player characters are in the scene follow up directly from the last scene
• Optionally, assign the Archivist to play a non-player character by asking “How do we rescue Delos
• Say where the scene takes place and what the characters are doing from the starbeast?”
Assigning Roles. He says that B-28
there (his character) and Creya are in the
scene.
If the Narrator already has a strong idea for an answer to the The Archivist can play an NPC. Bob
Question, they may also say “I want to drive” when they set the asks Alice to play the chittering voices
of the starbeast collective.
stage. This means the other players should take a more passive role, Set the location. He decides the scene
treating the Narrator like the gamemaster in a traditional roleplaying will start in the crumbling outpost hov-
ering above the planet-sized creature’s
game, and letting them make external events happen and push the gaping maw, jumping forward a bit
scene forward. in time from the end of the last scene
The Narrator may include their own character in a scene, but when the characters were floating in
deep space.
doesn’t have to. They might stage a scene with only one character, or Assign Epic and Intimate. Finally,
even no characters at all and just describe some external event. he hands the Intimate card to Alice
(on his left) and Epic to Carlos (on his
In scenes, fewer characters is better. Sometimes you’ll want ev- right). Both of them are already playing
eryone on stage for a group discussion. But think of how often com- characters in the scene, though, and
pelling ensemble stories like Game of Thrones will isolate two charac- Delilah isn’t; so Carlos passes the Epic
card on to her.
ters out of a larger cast for an intimate conversation. Two-character
scenes make the action tighter, and free up more players to contribute
in ways other than being in character—playing the Epic or Intimate,
watching for Values to spotlight, and adding worldbuilding details
that make the story come alive.

Playing the Scene


If your character acts against another,
Players with characters in the scene begin to roleplay, saying what you should say what you do, and
their characters say, do, and think. “Argon’s angry, he smashes his leave it to the other player to say how
their character reacts. Saying “I shoot
fist on the table. ‘Who are you to judge me?’ ” you” might result in the other player
Players with characters in the scene as well as the Narrator may responding “I dodge” or “The blast
hits me and I crumple to the ground in
also say what happens in the world around the characters. “Sud- pain.”
denly, the proximity alarm goes off. The Swarm’s found us!” Likewise, if you narrate something big
The goal of every player, but especially the Narrator, is to make happening, leave the response to the
characters. “With a terrible groan, the
sure the scene continues to move toward answering the Question. roof finally caves in!” Let the characters
react how they will.
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 13

If you’re ever unsure what to do next in a scene, look to the Question


and think about what might happen next that moves the story closer
to answering it. Building the world and fleshing out your characters
is important too, but try not to let the scene drift too far away from
the Question. If this happens, the Archivist should gently point it out
to the Narrator.
Be flexible: make plans about where the scene is going, but be
ready to abandon them if the story moves in a different direction. In
improv theater there’s a technique called “Yes, and”: you build on
what your scene partners contribute, rather than stubbornly holding
on to your own ideas.
Any player may add interesting descriptive details, even players
not in the scene, to help bring the story and world to life. Anyone
may also ask another character what they’re thinking or feeling at
any time. Some players have specific prompts for doing these things
(see The Epic and The Intimate below).
Those not in the scene should think about where the story overall
might be going, and how it could be building towards a Dilemma.
How could events further challenge spotlit Values, and what other
Values should become spotlit? Players not in the scene may also
have a better perspective on when to end it than those caught up in
creating it.
In any role, be bold with your contributions. Rather than stop to
ask what’s allowed or expected, build and extend the world at every
opportunity. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.

Resolving Uncertainty. If something dangerous or uncertain hap-


pens in a scene, a player may of course simply say how it resolves.
“Dashland snips the final wire and the bomb is disarmed.” However, for
a more tense and unpredictable resolution, anyone in the scene may
also draw (or ask someone else to draw) a Trove card to decide the
outcome: “Dashland snips the final wire and... let’s see what happens.”
Interpreting a Trove draw is entirely in the hands of the drawer.
The word “fire” could mean a catastrophic explosion, or it could
mean the spark in a character’s eyes as they ace a dangerous maneu-
ver. Go with whatever seems most dramatically compelling in the
moment.

The Epic and The Intimate


In addition to the Narrator, there are two other storytelling roles
given out before the scene begins: the Epic and the Intimate. If all
characters are in a scene, the Epic should be on the Narrator’s right,
and the Intimate on their left. Otherwise, the roles should ideally
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 14

be taken by players without characters present. No one should have


both roles at once.
The job of the Epic is to make sure the story stays grand in scope.
This may take the form of epic details (“The ship isn’t just big: it’s ten
miles long"), expanded stakes (“It’s not just this one colony in danger. It’s
the five hundred million people across the planet!") or descriptive detail
that highlights the grandeur of the setting (“The scattered blue light
reflecting off the rings of the gas giant is breathtaking.”)
Don’t overdo it, especially if the scene is already sufficiently epic,
but look for opportunities to inject a sense of wonder and awe at the
scale of the character’s adventures.
The Intimate, by contrast, tries to keep the story grounded in the
humanity of the characters and their values. The Intimate can ask
players to say how their characters feel about what’s going on. They
should also add small details of setting and character: the texture of
the alien monolith, the sound of the phase weapons, a bead of sweat
on an NPC’s forehead, a small smile only a few people see.
As the Intimate, look for opportunities to keep the story grounded
in human senses, emotions, and details, and keep the Values on the
table in mind.
Remember that all players are free to add such details and inter-
esting specifics during a scene. The Epic and Intimate roles just help
remind everyone about this power, and provide suggestions for how
to focus it.

The Archivist’s Role. Except in a three-


Spotlighting a Value player game, the Archivist won’t have a
particular character to play, which frees
up mental cycles to focus on the bigger
At any time, during a scene or otherwise, anyone may place a token picture of where the plot is going and
on a Value to spotlight it, suggesting it’s becoming relevant to the how to construct a juicy Dilemma.
They should look for ways to push
plot. You can spotlight any Value: one of your own, another charac-
the characters towards a Dilemma or
ter’s, or a House Value. challenge their Values, either while
You can explain your spotlight in character, if you’re present in a playing NPCs, or through spotlighting
values, Reflection, and Advancing the
running scene, but don’t need to. You shouldn’t Spotlight covertly, Dilemma.
though: make sure the other players see you doing it and understand Archivists should chime in frequently
with descriptive details and play the
why.
Epic and the Intimate, when assigned,
In the game’s first half, everyone’s working toward creating a with gusto, demonstrating to the other
Dilemma which puts two Values in conflict. Spotlighting a Value players how everyone can participate
in telling the story. Archivists should
is a way to nominate it for a role in the upcoming Dilemma. It’s also aggressively end scenes that are
something you do with your storyteller hat on, essentially saying dragging, have a good understanding
of the rules in case questions come up,
“Wouldn’t it be cool if the Episode ends up pivoting around this
and otherwise keep the game moving
Value?” whenever possible.
You should start with the same number of tokens as players, in a
centrally accessible pile. Once a token has been used to spotlight, it
requires consent from all other players to move or remove it. If you
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 15

want to spotlight a Value that already has a token, you can simply
tap the token to draw everyone’s attention to that Value again.

Ending the Scene

A scene should end once its Question has been satisfactorily ex-
plored, which may mean answering it but does not have to. Anyone
can end the scene by saying “Cut.” If someone in the scene objects,
they may continue the scene, but should try to wrap it up as soon as
possible.
Scenes should be tight. Try not to let individual scenes last much
more than five or six minutes. Anyone who feels a scene is meander-
ing should call for a Cut.
The Archivist may note the scene’s resolution on the Question
card, if this seems useful. A word or two to jog the memory is
enough.

Reflection
Some sample Reflections:
At the end of a scene, everyone should pause for a moment to con- “I wonder if those transmissions are
sider what just happened with your storyteller hat on. Consider your from the Grebulons."
“I wonder how Xerxes will react
character’s Values, any Values that have been spotlit (or ought to when he finds out about the Machines."
be), and the current status of your Dilemma, if you’ve started it. You “It would be a shame if the Mantis
did something suspicious, confirming
may want to take a few notes about new elements introduced during Marta’s fears."
the scene, especially any new names or proper nouns, so you can “Sorgur feels furious that no one
remember them later. seems to care about our House’s pur-
pose."
Starting with the person to the left of the old Narrator, everyone “Davik feels like Garmak has forgot-
now says one sentence speculating about the plot or characters. A re- ten her vow to avenge her brother."
flection should begin with either I wonder or My character feels, or
some equivalent: either a speculation on where the plot is going, or a
statement about how your character is reacting to what’s happening,
particularly in light of their Values.
If you wish, you may Spotlight a Value as you make your state-
ment, or when someone else makes theirs.
You must say one and only one sentence, and other players may
not react (except perhaps to make appreciative noises). Do not ram-
ble, and don’t get into discussions. If you don’t have any ideas,
choose the second option, and say how your character feels about
the events of the last scene.
On the Archivist’s turn as Narrator, as part of Reflection they may
optionally take a special action to Advance the Dilemma (see below).
The last person to Reflect is the old Narrator. After they Reflect,
the person on their left becomes the new Narrator. Everyone takes
turns as Narrator, including the Archivist.
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 16

Pay attention to Reflections. They’re a great source of Questions,


either immediately or in the future. If you’re about to be the new
Narrator, think about turning someone’s Reflection into your Ques-
tion. Reflections like “I sure hope X doesn’t happen" are especially ripe
for becoming the Question “What do we do when X happens?” Even if
you’re not the next Narrator, jot down cool ideas from Reflections
you’d love to explore on your next turn.

The Dilemma

The crux of each Episode is its Dilemma, a major decision between


two mutually exclusive courses of action. Through Scenes, we weave
threads of narrative that suggest possible Dilemmas, and discover
which Values are threatened by the evolving situation. Our goal is
to work towards a Dilemma that puts two specific Values in conflict:
only one of them will triumph, and the other may well be compro-
mised.

Figure 3: Sample Dilemma: the group


recovers a robot floating in deep space
that demands asylum from The Man-
ifold, a hivemind that has ordered its
destruction. Their House has sworn
to help those in need, but one of the
characters bears an old and fierce
grudge against mechanical lifeforms,
and doesn’t trust this robot. The players
create a Dilemma around this situation.
Their Conflict is: should they save the
robot, or hand it over to the Manifold?
Of the two Threats, one is Chen’s per-
sonal Value and the other is a House
Value. Whichever course of action
is chosen, one of the two threatened
Values will be challenged.

A Dilemma has three parts: the central conflict, and two threat-
ened Values, one for each possible resolution to the conflict. During
Reflection, anyone may help advance the Dilemma by creating the
conflict or threatening a Value. When all parts of the Dilemma are
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 17

in place, all players will pause to Validate it, and then move on to
Voting and the final scenes of the episode.

The Conflict
The Dilemma is a looming decision the group will have to confront.
It should be a choice between two mutually exclusive courses of
action, a sentence in the form "Should we ______, or should we
______?" The sentence should be as short and clear as possible.
A Dilemma should not be resolvable by splitting the party, or
delegating NPCs to handle one side. It’s also important not to resolve
it, or get into in-character discussions about it just yet: that will all
happen once the players have Validated it.

The Threats
What’s the difference between spot-
No matter which way the conflict is resolved, one Value will be light and threaten? Spotlighting is
threatened by the decision. The threatened Value would seem to simply a suggestion: this Value might
be interesting to make part of the story.
preclude taking that course of action. Often, the same Value seems Threatening a Value by moving it to
to offer a justification for making the opposing decision. The choice the Dilemma is definitive: a conflict
around this Value is now the pivot of
between the two ways of resolving the Dilemma is really a choice this Episode. You don’t have to threaten
between which Value trumps the other. only spotlit values; but the spotlight
In the example Dilemma above, resolving the conflict by saving the tokens are a reminder of what ele-
ments have been suggested as potential
robot is justified by the Value “We always help a friend in need,” but candidates.
threatens the Value “Chen hates machines.” Likewise, handing the
robot over to its enemies aligns with Chen’s hatred for nonbiological
life, but tramples on the House Value to help friends in need. One of
these Values is betrayed no matter which course of action is chosen. A Dilemma can be constructed in any
The two threatened Values may be any combination of Values: two order.
If you threaten a Value before defin-
House Values, two personal Values, or a House Value and a Personal ing the central Conflict, you won’t yet
Value. Personal Values may be from different characters or even the know the specifics of the danger to it.
Later on, someone will make a Conflict
same character. that explains the threat. This is a bit like
dramatic foreshadowing. When we see
Liam Neeson trying to connect with
Advancing the Dilemma his daughter at the start of Taken, the
storytellers are setting up a danger to
During Reflection, an Archivist who was just Narrator may take this that relationship later on.
special action by doing any or all of these things: If you threaten a Value after defining
the Conflict, you’re establishing the
emotional resonance of the upcoming
• Define the Conflict of the Dilemma, writing its two choices on the
decision. If a comic book hero has to
Dilemma sheet choose between saving a boat full of
• Define one of its two Threats, moving a Value to one side of the people or defusing a bomb in City Hall,
that choice is complicated if we learn
Dilemma sheet or the other the villain has tied the hero’s boyfriend
to the bomb. The decision now has
Anything Advanced should make sense with the parts of the greater emotional stakes.
Dilemma already established. That is, you shouldn’t Advance with
a threat to a Value that doesn’t connect to the Dilemma’s conflict. If
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 18

someone doesn’t understand how your contribution connects, you


should stop and discuss it until everyone is on the same page. If you
can’t come to a consensus, withdraw the move, and everyone should
work to play scenes that bring the Dilemma into sharper focus. It’s okay for non-Archivist characters
It’s okay to alter the Dilemma by revising or replacing the conflict, to Advance, too. In practice, first-time
players can be hesitant to do this, and it
or changing which values are threatened. Again, though, discuss this can save explaining an extra mechanic
with the group to make sure everyone understands and agrees with if the Archivist just handles it. But feel
free to allow any player with a great
why you’re doing this. idea to Advance the Dilemma.
The Archivist should Advance on every turn as Narrator ex-
cept their first. The one exception is in a three-player game, where
they can optionally skip Advancing on their second turn as well, if
the plot seems like it needs more developing first. In a five- or six-
player game, the Archivist should strongly consider completing the
Dilemma on their second time Advancing, since there will have been
over ten scenes played by this point and you’ll likely to be ready to
move forward.
Sometimes after Advancing a still-incomplete Dilemma, the rest
of the pieces seem to fit obviously into place. If everyone agrees, it’s
okay to finish building out the whole Dilemma as part of Advanc-
ing.
The Dilemma Sheet can help organize a dilemma. Whether you
use the sheet or not, you should place the Dilemma in a key central
position, and establish space on either side of it as correponding to
the two courses of action. You should place the threatened Values
each on the side of the course of action that would threaten them.

Validating a Dilemma
Once all three parts of a Dilemma have been filled out, you should
pause for a moment to discuss it as a group and make sure it’s valid.
A valid Dilemma must be understood, irreconcilable, and conflicted. When defining what it means for a
Value to be compromised, consider
• If not every player understands how the Dilemma represents a your worst fears about what could
happen if the action threatening that
conflict between two mutually exclusive courses of action (and a Value is taken. In the sample Dilemma
parallel conflict between two Values), the Dilemma is not under- earlier about whether to trust the robot
seeking asylum, the players decide
stood. that the House Value “We always
• If splitting the party or delegating one action to some NPCs help a friend in need” would feel
would resolve the Dilemma, it is not irreconcilable. Your characters really violated if the robot actually
is innocent, and its death leads to
are representatives of your House and must act unanimously in its further suffering. For “Chen hates
name: you must pick one course or the other. machines,” Chen’s player decides the
worst violation of this would be if they
• If the characters are already in unanimous agreement over which trusted the robot and it went on to do
course of action to take, the Dilemma is not conflicted. something abhorrant, validating her
hatred.
If any of these are not true, you should restructure the Dilemma, Later, when you play a scene to
determine whether a threatened Value
either immediately or by returning to play and staging more scenes. was compromised, keep these stakes in
mind to ensure the consequences are
appropriately weighty.
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 19

Turn Sequence During Voting


1. The Narrator may do one of the following:
• Cast a vote, moving their nametag to one side of the Dilemma or the other
• Discard a token to Ask a Question, probably about whether someone can be persuaded
to change their vote
• Discard a token to pass
• In certain situations, Force Our Hand (ask the Question What forces a decision?) and move all
nametags to one side of the Dilemma or the other
If Asking a Question, proceed as in the standard turn order, Setting the stage, Roleplaying the scene,
and (optionally) Reflecting; but no longer Spotlighting Values or Advancing the Dilemma. Anyone can
also Cast a Vote during a scene they appear in.
2. Pass role cards left for a new Narrator.

Define what it would mean for either Value to be compromised


in these circumstances. If your character believes in this Value (be-
cause it’s their own Personal Value or it’s one of the House Values)
compromising it is not something done lightly.
While the Dilemma might connect thematically to any number Once validated, the Dilemma should
of Values, only two Values can be part of the final Dilemma. Try to not change, no matter how much your
characters might wish it could. While
find the pair which most starkly defines the emotional stakes of the your characters might look for a way
Dilemma, and best creates a situation where one Value cannot be around the Dilemma or an action that
could minimize its consequences,
defended without sacrificing the other. as storytellers you must ensure this
Once everyone agrees the Dilemma is valid, reclaim all tokens on does not succeed—at least, not yet. No
spotlit Values to the center. Anyone who already knows how their matter what happens, keep pressure on
the Values in the Dilemma, and until
character wants to vote should move their nametag to one side of the the end of Resolution, keep alive the
dilemma or the other (see Casting a Vote below). possibility that either Value could be
compromised in the worst possible way.
That said, if as storytellers you later
realize a Dilemma isn’t working the
way you thought it would when you
Voting validated it, pause to adjust it before
moving on. This might mean clarifying
Once you have a valid Dilemma, your goal is now to choose a course the Conflict or swapping out a different
threatened Value if necessary.
of action. Your characters must try to come to consensus on which of
the two possible resolutions to choose.
Continue taking turns as before, passing turn order left. The Nar-
rator must now discard a token from the center to Ask a Question
and narrate a scene. Instead of asking a question, a Narrator may
also now Cast a Vote, or discard a token to pass. In certain situations,
they may play Force Our Hand to immediately pick a side. Tokens will have no further use after
If the tokens run out before all votes are on the same side, the the Voting phase ends.

characters will lose the ability to pick a side: one course of action
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 20

or the other will be chosen for them (see Force Our Hand). The
Archivist should stress the seriousness of this.
As soon as all votes are on the same side for any reason, move on
to the Resolution.

Asking Questions
If there are remaining tokens, the Narrator may discard one to Ask
a Question and narrate a scene, following the established rules for
doing so (except no longer spotlighting values or advancing the
dilemma). Questions during this stage will probably involve trying to
sway how other characters vote, either through roleplay (Can Dolmek
convince Arvin to change her mind?) or by narrating plot developments
that push characters toward a decision (Who’s really behind the sepa-
ratist movement?). As always, don’t contradict anything previously
established, and in particular don’t alter the Dilemma in a way that
invalidates the threat to either Value. But it’s okay to up the stakes, or
reveal a new moral complexity in a decision.
From this point onward, a player may skip their Reflection if they
have nothing new to add: things are moving away from new ideas
and towards a resolution now.

Casting a Vote
Instead of asking a question, a Narrator with a character may instead
state which Dilemma action your character sides with, and move
your nametag to the appropriate side of the Dilemma. You may ac-
company a vote with a short justification, either in or out of character.
But don’t treat this like a full scene: don’t set the stage, roleplay, or
Reflect at the end. If someone wants to challenge you in character,
they’ll need to discard a token and Ask a Question on their turn as
Narrator. Once you’ve voted, it’s the player on your left’s turn, as if
you’d narrated a scene.
You may Cast a Vote even if you’ve already voted, by moving your
nametag from one side of the Dilemma to the other. However, you
may not change your vote back to undecided. If a Narrator doesn’t
want to cast or change their vote, and also doesn’t want to narrate a
scene, they can discard a token, if any remain, to pass. (If they can’t
do this either, they must play Force Our Hand.)
In addition to Casting a Vote as your turn, you may also do so at
any time during a scene your character appears in. If all votes are on
the same side at the end of a turn, move on to Resolution.
Voting against a Value you believe in is a big deal. It shouldn’t
be done lightly, and the Intimate should press you for your feelings
about doing so. Mechanically, it’s fine in your first Episode to vote
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 21

against a House Value or even your own Personal Value. In subse-


quent Episodes, though, characters may have Resolved Values they
aren’t allowed to vote against.

Force Our Hand


If the Narrator doesn’t want to cast or change their vote, and there
are no remaining tokens, they must ask the Question What forces a
decision? Play this out like a normal scene, including Reflection. The
answer must be an irrevocable event which immediately commits
the characters to one course of action or the other, chosen via the
Resolving Uncertainty mechanic (a draw from the Trove). This might
be something a character does, perhaps behind the others’ backs (like
launching a missle or hijacking a ship), or it might be something
caused by an NPC, a force of nature, or an expiring countdown. For
better or worse, once the scene is over the course of action is set:
move on to Resolution.
After the first Episode with a set of characters, some players might
have the option to voluntarily choose this option and control which
side is chosen, if one of their Resolved Values is part of the Dilemma;
see Adapting below.

Resolution

The characters, voluntarily or not, are now committed to a course of


action justified with one Value, while placing another Value at risk.
Continue in normal turn order, playing two more scenes to answer
the following questions (in either order):

• Does the plan succeed?


• Is the opposing Value compromised?

Each scene must use the Resolving Uncertainty mechanic at least


once, drawing from the Trove and using the draw to interpret what
happens. The scene should not end until the question is answered,
with the answer flavored in part by the Trove draw(s) during the
scene. The answers must be Yes or No. If there is any confusion when
the scene ends, the Narrator should state definitively which answer is
final, and color their narration accordingly.
If the Plan succeeds, the characters were able to execute it success-
fully. A failure means some or all of the plan failed, with disastrous
results. (The Epic should ensure they are appropriately disastrous.)
If the opposing Value was compromised, the threat to it has come
true in the worst possible way. (The Intimate should ensure this is
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 22

appropriately personal.) If not, the characters are able to avoid com-


promising the threatened Value, or the worry its threat represented
does not come to pass.

To end the game, the last Narrator stages a final scene around the
Question: “How does the story end?” Everyone can take part in this
scene, which doesn’t have to be a literal scene: it can be a montage or
collection of individual images. Once someone calls Cut, the Episode
is over.

Wrapping Up

As a result of the Episode, your character might change by Adapting.

• If the Plan failed, anyone may choose to Adapt.


• If a Value was compromised, anyone sharing that Value must
Adapt.
• If both failed, everyone must Adapt.

When you Adapt, your character has changed as a result of the


events of the Episode, moving you either closer to or further from
your House. Pick one of these options:

• Let Go. Permanently discard one of your Personal Values. Explain


why your character no longer believes in it. You may not Let Go of
a Resolved value.
• Resolve. Pick a Value, and either write your character’s name on
it and underline it (for a House Value) or underline the “always”
or “never” (for one of your Personal Values). This Value is now
Resolved for you. You are even more committed to it: you can
never vote against it or Let Go of it. In a future Episode, if a Re-
solved Value is part of a Dilemma, you can play Force Our Hand
to prevent it being compromised.

If you cannot legally Adapt, if one of your Resolved Values was


compromised, or if you so choose, your character’s story is over. You
may say a few words about how it ends.
Never Adapt more than once per Episode.

Playing Again
If you intend to play another Episode later with the same charac-
ters, you should create an Archive deck. Transfer your three Others
to three index cards, and also make one for any other significant
forces introduced in your first Episode. At the beginning of each new
Episode, review the cards in your Archive as a group, and discard
Archives of the Sky (Free Version) - 23

any that are no longer of interest to anyone. (If you have fewer than
three, make a new Ally, Opponent, or Mystery.) Store the Archive
along with your Value cards and character nametags to return to
your galaxy later. You should create a new Trove each session, al-
though you might want to keep a few favorites to seed it for your
next game. Playing Without a Character: More
When your character’s story ends in a campaign setting, you can than one player can share the role of
Archivist. If you have six players, or
decide whether to create a new character, or keep playing without if someone doesn’t feel like making
a character (see below). The group might decide to end the overall a character, this is a good option. See
the sidebar “The Archivist’s role” from
story as soon as any character’s arc concludes, or when multiple earlier for more on what to do as an
characters wrap up in a single episode. Archivist.
Alternatively, if all the players are
familiar with the rules, it’s also possible
Playtesting to play with no Archivist. In this case
everyone shares the role of keeping
scenes on track, playing NPCs, and
If you have any feedback on these rules, or playtest reports you’d like helping Advance a solid Dilemma.
to share, I’d love to hear them. Please send feedback to: Situate the House cards as if in front of
an extra player.
aareed@gmail.com

Acknowledgments

Thanks to playtesters Barrett Anderson, Sam Ashwell, Matthew


Balousek, Duncan Bowsman, Jacob Garbe, Rebecca Gold, Max Hervieux,
Kurze, Jo Mazeika, Nox, Johnathan Pagnutti, Martin Ralya, Star
Sajdak, Ben Samuel, Karen Siebald, Ben Spalding, Emma Stewart,
Phoenix Toews, Tiffany Wong, and Wilson Zorn, and my players at
KublaCon, DunDraCon, and Big Bad Con.
Thanks to the many storytelling games that have inspired me, in-
cluding Polaris, Fiasco, Microscope, Shock, Lovecraftesque, Kingdom,
Dungeon World and Apocalypse World, Hillfolk, Nobles of Amber,
Downfall, The Shab-al-Hiri Roach, Fate, Dream Askew, Dogs in the
Vineyard, and Juggernaut.
And finally, thanks to Alastair Reynolds for his mind-blowing
book House of Suns, which inspired this game about remaining hu-
man against the epic scope of the cosmos. Also highly recommended
are his Pushing Ice, Blue Remembered Earth, and the short story collec-
tion Galactic North.