Review: Simulacrum Liberation Press – Archives of the Sky

Archives of the Sky
Archives of the Sky is a sci-fi storytelling game, written by Aaron A. Reed and published by Simulacrum Liberation Press.
By Aaron T. Huss

Learn more about Archives of the Sky here
Download Archives of the Sky (free version) here
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The term “storytelling game” is used quite liberally across the tabletop RPG hobby. In essence, almost every RPG is a storytelling game in one way or another; it is the level of mechanical control over that story that often sets one RPG apart from another. Archives of the Sky, on the other hand, is possibly the most “storytelling” I’ve ever encountered in an RPG.

Archives of the Sky is a GM-less, dice-less storytelling RPG set in a sci-fi setting. After reading through the book and absorbing the mechanics, I wasn’t really sure why it was set in a sci-fi setting and pitched the question to the developer. Aaron A. Reed’s response was

The game was originally inspired by an amazing sci-fi book, Alastair Reynolds’ House of Suns… As I really started getting into why the book worked, though, I realized it was because all the focal points were around very human moments– how the people in these incredible contexts navigated decisions about morality, meaning, and what it meant to them to hold on to their humanity. That’s what really sparked the core of the design– figuring out how to make those decisions a centerpiece of gameplay.

This explanation is actually quite important to understand as it establishes the purpose of the games’ mechanics. Being a GM-less AND dice-less RPG, the mechanics serve a unique purpose. For starters, there are no stats; the game is meant to tell dramatic stories involving conflict and resolution, but without the randomness of most games. Instead, the game’s mechanics are there to provide direction, promote dramatic interaction, and facilitate resolution without ending up in across-the-table arguments.

The older I get, the more I find myself drawn toward games with fewer mechanics. I like playing crunchy games, but they are not my preference and I would never volunteer to GM them. I would instead prefer to GM rules-light or rules-medium games and revel in the idea of playing GM-less games or very rules-light games. The problem is finding a gaming group that feels the same way. These types of RPGs are something of a niche and your typical D&D or Pathfinder player may not enjoy a game without all that crunch. But when you find that right group, the mechanics found in Archives of the Sky can lead to some memorable gaming experiences; much like improv shows would. However, I can easily see past the sci-fi setting and as I told the developer, these mechanics would be great in post-apocalyptic, end of the world, gothic horror, and cinematic horror settings as well.

Now that I think of it, Archives of the Sky is kind of like role-playing the dramatic interludes you may find in more mechanically-inclined RPGs that promote dramatic interludes like Savage Worlds, Entropic Gaming System, World of Darkness, etc. You could play those games and when you reach a point in the storyline where a dramatic interlude is being injected, take out Archives of the Sky and play it through with a set of simple mechanics. The mechanics are potentially that versatile.

Archives of the Sky is currently available in a bare bones, no frills free version with a Kickstarter in the works to add artwork, graphic design, and lots more content. If anything, this free version is worth the time to read it and the Kickstarter is definitely worth entertaining!

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