by John Evans

Dragonship is a tabletop roleplaying game. The focus is on collaborative storytelling; the point of the game is to offer bits of story to your fellow players, to have these story bits discussed, added to and built upon, in a supportive environment. It's intended to be a good game for those who have not played this type of game before, especially those who may be anxious in social situations like this.

Dragonship is a little different from most other games. If you find yourself reading the rules and thinking "Well, why don't you just…", there's probably a game out there that does exactly what you're thinking. I am not implying that other rules are better or worse; however, the rules in Dragonship were chosen to engender a specific effect.

The idea of games, any sort of game, is that the players agree to follow the rules, as they believe (or have been told) that following the rules will result in a rewarding experience. The rules cannot force you to do anything; I cannot force you to do anything. However, if you don't follow the rules of a game, you may not be getting the experience intended by the game's author.

(Also, the game is extremely vague and not playtested. Sorry.)


To play Dragonship, you need at least 3 players. 2 is possible, but it kind of loses the point. Constructing a solitaire variant is left as an exercise to the reader. In theory the game can support a large number of players—10 or so?—but you're probably better off with a maximum of, say, 5. Incidentally, the players all have equal roles; there is no "game master" or even "referee"; the emphasis is on collaboration.

You will need a deck of cards; you could construct a deck of Dragonship cards, but it's easier to use a standard 52-card deck (no jokers) and look up the results on the accompanying table. During play, cards will be drawn from a deck, held in players' hands, played to the table and placed into a discard pile.

You will also need a number of index cards to write on, and perhaps some paper, along with pens, pencils, etc..

Dragonship is designed to be playable by people with little gaming experience. They should, however, have the proper attitude; they should be willing to offer ideas to be woven in to a collaborative story. It can be upsetting to present your ideas in a forum where they may be judged, but Dragonship allows you to do so in small steps. By the way, you might want to read aloud (and discuss) the "idea of games" a few paragraphs back.

Really, the hardest part of the game is probably finding 2 other people who will consent to sit down with you and make up stories, who you can trust to take the enterprise seriously and be gentle in their criticism. Believe me, if I knew a recipe for it, I would tell you.

The Premise

The Dragonship is a ship that travels through time. Its crew finds themselves more or less adrift. They can move through the currents of spacetime and inject themselves into various histories…However, they have lost track of the meaning of any of the events they witness. Are they changing history, or is history changing them?

The Dragonship skims endlessly through history, dipping into events here and there. Some crew perish, some new folk are taken on; however, the ship cannot stay too long in the same spacetime locale, as stillness takes hold of it and threatens to pin it down forever.


Discuss among the players what sort of "world" the Timeline documents. The "default" setting can be thought of as one where magic is a form of energy ultimately harnessed by science, and endless empires rise and fall upon the same world. Ultimately the Dragonship is created and its crew hurtles through time, observing and/or meddling in the past. Note: With freeform discussion like this, it becomes likely that one person will dominate the conversation. That's fine, as all you are doing at this point is setting a foundation for play; just keep it vague.

Create starting Events. 2 are recommended. As above, they can be discussed among the players and left vague; something like the rise and fall of an empire. Feel free to draw cards for inspiration. Note, however, that other Events may be created before or after these Events during play.

Arrange Events in the Timeline. The Timeline is an ordered line of Events. Events are "before" and "after" each other, but there is always space for more Events between existing Events.

Choose one person to take a turn first. A random method is recommended.

Stillness starts at 0. Choose a target Stillness; when this number is reached, it will be time to end the game. A larger target means a longer game; 3 is recommended for new players.


Shuffle the deck and deal 5 cards to each player.

The current player chooses somewhere in the Timeline to create an Event and reveals this choice to all players. The new Event must be linked to an existing Event, either preceding or following it. Take an index card for the new Event and write down this linkage upon it.

Each player plays 1 card from their hand, face down.

The played cards are mixed, then the current player reveals them. The current player can arrange them in any order.

Using the card table, the current player narrates the course of the Event. Each card must be represented in the narration. A summary of the Event is written on an index card and placed in the Timeline.

The cards played this round are placed in the discard pile.

Each player draws one card from the deck. (If there are not enough cards, shuffle the discard pile into the remaining deck before players draw any cards.)

The next player clockwise around the table becomes the current player. But, when everyone has had a turn, Stillness increases by 1. If Stillness reaches the target number, play the Final Turn.

Final Turn

The significance of the Final Turn is that the Dragonship's time engines have finally run down. It has come to rest in one particular time. If the players can agree on one particular Event where the Dragonship rests, that's fine; otherwise it can be left vague.

Start counterclockwise from the first player, and continue in that manner until the first player is the last to play. Each player plays one card and narrates its significance within the story. These narrations are intended to focus on the final fates of characters created during the story, but they can also reveal the fate of the timeship itself.

How do I create an Event?

When you create an Event, you have a great deal of freedom to create story elements; characters, events, even entire societies. There are a few constraints.

1. You have to make sure that none of what you create contradicts existing story elements.

2. You may create at most one Dragonship character on each of your turns. (You do not have to create one.) "Dragonship character" refers to a character who started on the Dragonship, a passenger on its maiden voyage.

3. Everything that happens must be justified by a played card. Also, each played card must be referenced in some manner.

Given those constraints, feel free to reference, develop and change preexisting story elements or characters. As for the Dragonship, the Event may be influenced by its crew, or they may be passive witnesses.

The Event is summarized on an index card, but feel free to record interesting elements on a sheet of paper (especially Dragonship characters).

It can be difficult to introduce your ideas in a setting where they may be judged. If this bothers you, lean on the cards provided to you for inspiration. You don't have to create something with a great deal of detail. Remember that the players have given you these cards, so you can assume they want them incorporated into the story, or at the very least don't mind. Also remember that once you create an Event, it may simply be ignored by the other players.

If you are having trouble, you can ask the other players for suggestions. Of course, they've already given you suggestions, in the form of the cards they handed you. When you add the ideas to the game, you are exercising your creative muscles. This is a metaphor, yet it's accurate in that your creativity gets more powerful the more it is used. If you ask for help, it's a bit like crawling; we have to start out this way, but ultimately we want to walk on our own. That's the whole idea of the game: To exercise your creativity and build your confidence. Of course, you shouldn't push yourself so hard that the experience becomes painful. Lean on your fellow players if you need to.

Each card has several meanings; see the Card Table, below. You can interpret a card as a character, or as something that happens. An Event needs to specify something that affects some large number of people; something that everyone in one society would have a good chance of hearing about. You can phrase Events in sweeping terms, as in "The nobles of Aelia oppress the common folk"; however, it helps the story come alive to always associate a character with an Event.

If you are choosing a card to give to the current player, remember that the cards are mixed before being revealed; therefore, no one will be able to connect you with the card you played.

Card Table

Each card, of course, has a suit and a value; this table gives several meanings for each suit and each value. It should be possible to interpret each card as an event or as a character.

Spades - Destruction, Oppression

Hearts - Creation, Growth

Diamonds - Creation, Material

Clubs - Destruction, Violence

Ace - Something amazing, climactic. A great war or an epic romance. A legendary figure.

King - Rulership. An authoritative leader.

Queen - Prosperity. A teacher or researcher.

Jack - Nobility, pride. A politician or businessperson.

10 - Turning point, surprise, cycles. A moral leader or author.

9 - Crisis, revelation, disruption. A whistleblower, revolutionary or martyr.

8 - Intellect, justice, severity. A judge or lawmaker.

7 - Conquest, conviction. A warrior.

6 - Relationships, passion. A marriage.

5 - Discipline or duality. A scientist or spy.

4 - Endings, loss, change. A killer.

3 - Knowledge, introspection. A scholar.

2 - Innocence, madness. A fool or a trickster.


The card readings are meant not to constrain but to inspire. Many of them have dualistic meanings. Feel free to choose and combine whichever sound interesting.

Queen of Diamonds - Creation/Material, Prosperity/teacher/researcher. A good starting card, because you can imagine it as a situation, for example: The empire is in a golden age where riches flow in from all corners of the world.

4 of Spades - Destruction/Oppression, Endings/loss/change/killer. Representing a character, this could be a government assassin. Metaphorically, you could apply the idea of 'endings' to 'oppression' and posit the breakdown of an oppressive government.

2 of Hearts - Creation/Growth, Innocence/madness/fool/trickster. A veritable Eden. Or, a jolly monk who travels the land teaching agriculture and solving problems.


Dragonship was created for the Game Chef 2015 event.

The basic idea is very similar to Ben Robbins' Microscope. One could almost think of Dragonship as a 'Microscope hack', simplified with some card mechanics tacked on. Anyway, the notes for that game contain this tidbit:

…players who were normally quiet wallflowers surprised everyone with their contributions—even themselves. People who no one thought had ideas threw down amazing stuff. Some found it uncomfortable, but were rewarded when they fought through it.

To which the obvious response is, "Oh really? People always find it rewarding to have their ideas judged by others?". And then, further: "How could one design a game to make it as easy as possible for players to offer ideas for collaboration?".

The card mechanic was inspired by Jonathan G. Cook's Gabardine. With a little touch of, believe it or not, Cards Against Humanity.

The dragonfly picture is based on one by Mouagip.