Between the Skies and Beyond the Horizon

By Justin ReeveThis feature is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #173. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


This series of articles is made possible through the generous sponsorship of Exalted Funeral. While Exalted Funeral puts us in touch with our subjects, they have no input or approval in the final story.

A black-and-white photo of an gothic castle turret in ruins. "Funeral Rites presented by Exalted Funeral" is inscribe on top of the image in a rockin' gold font.In the realm of tabletop roleplaying games where the world is limited only by the imagination of the players, Between the Skies represents a beacon of boundless creativity and narrative freedom. Developed by designer Huffa Frobes-Cross, who aims to unlock the untapped potential of collaboration, the game takes players on a journey through strange and wondrous domains where the only borders are built through their own creativity.The cover art for the TTRPG Between the Skies features a giant pink blossom floating in the stormy skies above the ocean.Between the Skies begins with a clear description of its twofold goals: “a cosmic fantasy game of travel and exploration across endless worlds,” but also “a set of modular procedures, tables, and methods that can help spark your, imagination and bind together your chosen fragments from the ever-expanding cosmos of rpg creation.” This mission statement outlines Frobes-Cross’ unique approach to game design, rooted in a deep appreciation for the unexpected and the unexplored. Her philosophy centers around the idea of roleplaying as a “flow of shared imagination” where rules and systems serve to facilitate play rather than dictate the player experience. As the designer explains, “rules and procedures are there when the group finds them fun or helpful, but they’re not required for play.”Frobes-Cross adds that “I write games to encourage this flow and channel it in weird and compelling directions. The rules, procedures and systems in my games facilitate play, but the conversation is most important.” She goes on to say that, “I want to give as much help and inspiration as possible to the roleplaying conversation, while not presenting a system that must be followed.” She refers to Between the Skies as “rules minimalist, fiction maximalist.” Frobes-Cross explains that “nearly every procedure or rule in Between the Skies is independent of every other procedure or rule.”This philosophy is reflected in the mechanics which are intentionally open-ended and flexible. Character generation produces a textual description which is system agnostic, allowing players to interpret and expand upon their characters in unique, interesting and unexpected ways. The game also offers multiple approaches to resolution mechanics, travel, inventory management and spellcasting, encouraging players to find the methods which best resonate with them. “In all these ways, I’m giving the reader tools and toys to use and guidance on how to use them, rather than a unified system to follow,” Frobes-Cross notes.The journey of Between the Skies from concept to publication is a testament to the power of community and collaboration in the world of independent design. The game quickly grew into an over 200-page project, but was initially published for free on the popular platform, before being picked up by Exalted Funeral. There now is a collected, revised and expanded hardcover copy in the works, promising even more tools and resources than ever before for players to explore and enjoy.An abstract blossom with long, tentacle-like petals floats above a golden field of wheat.The development of the game was a personal journey for the designer. “My history writing games is also intertwined with my personal history as a queer woman,” she explains. “I came out and started to transition at almost exactly the same time that I finished Between the Skies. The cover, with its blooming in-betweenness, evokes the weird, fantastical fertility of the game, but I also made it as a private symbol for my newly emergent self.”“I found my first sense of queer, trans community through roleplaying games and am now a part of a small community of trans creators whose work inspired so much of my subsequent work on Between the Skies and my other in-progress projects. Between the Skies isn’t explicitly a game about queerness or transness, but it comes out of those experiences.” Frobes-Cross knows the value of found family, and credits the creative support group Trans Monster Insurrection as a solid foundation for building this and other work.At the heart of Between the Skies is a desire to inspire players to embrace the limitless possibilities of their own imagination. The game’s themes of wonder and exploration are designed to spark creativity and encourage players to think beyond the confines of traditional narrative structures. As the designer explains, “I hope that players will collectively spin their imaginations off into places they can’t predict, and I can’t predict.”One of the most striking aspects of Between the Skies is the approach to worldbuilding. Instead of presenting players with a fully fleshed out world, the game provides them with fragments of language and procedures to create their own. This approach allows each individual game to be a unique and evolving experience, shaped by the collective imagination of those involved. “Worlds emerge in play,” Frobes-Cross explains. “I hope to inspire and open paths to imagining other selves and other worlds that players might not otherwise think about. Imagining other bodies and subjectivities in roleplaying games was a way of discovering my own desire for transition, and I know that’s true for many other trans people. Maybe thinking about being a rodent swarm or a sentient ooze will help people envision other ways to be?A charming line drawing of an abstract cone and sphere structure floating above a medieval castle in the woods.“I may be partially joking, but I do hope that the way the game pushes you towards thinking the strange opens the way a little to consider new possibilities in other parts of your life,” the designer explains.The artwork in Between the Skies is as evocative and imaginative as the game itself. The designer initially created collages using public domain art, inserting their own strange and fantastical elements to spark the imagination of players. There have been several talented artists who have since been commissioned for the upcoming hardcover edition, each bringing their own unique vision to the world of Between the Skies, including notable contributions from Roque Romero and Amanda Lee Franck. “In both my own work and the work that I’ve commissioned, I wanted to have images that worked a bit like the tables, sparking interpretations and imaginative flights, rather than illustrating an unambiguous fictional event,” the designer notes. Interestingly enough, much of this commissioned work was “created from results the artists rolled on Between the Skies tables.”What sets Between the Skies apart from other tabletop roleplaying games would have to be its unique blend of simplicity and incredible depth. With minimal rules to learn and a plethora of resources to help players along the way, the game offers a truly customizable and open-ended experience. As the designer puts it, “I wanted players to have plenty of resources, inspiration and guidance, while having little to no required rules to learn. I wanted them to have the ability to run their games flexibly using the rules and procedures that work for them, while not feeling adrift in a game that gave them no direction. That combination of very simple rules and procedures, no set unified rules system and in-depth guidance, and a plethora of resources, seems pretty unique to me.”A lone figure walks a sunlit path towards a deep valley while an iridescent bubble or portal shimmers around them.For those who have experienced Between the Skies, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Players have expressed joy and surprise at the strange and unexpected creations that emerge from their sessions, a testament to the game’s ability to unleash the imagination. Whether played alone or in a group setting, Between the Skies offers a truly deep and immersive experience which invites you to explore fascinating possibilities and imagine worlds beyond your wildest dreams.Despite the ongoing success, Between the Skies has not been without its challenges. Some players have found the game’s emphasis on subverting typical RPG tropes and standard to be overwhelming, prompting the designer to include a section in the hardcover edition on how to approach and limit this perceived weirdness in the game. Such a commitment to player feedback is a testament to the designer’s dedication to creating a game which is both inclusive and accessible. As the project continues to grow and evolve, the future looks bright for this innovative tabletop roleplaying game. With the hardcover edition on the horizon and a dedicated community of players and creators behind it, Between the Skies is poised to continue inspiring players to explore new worlds and possibilities.Between the Skies represents how tabletop RPGs are growing beyond traditional confines. The project is a journey into the unknown, a voyage of collective imagination where the only limit is the bounds of your group’s wildest ideas. The success of the game is also a testament to the growing popularity of independent design where creators are constantly pushing the boundaries of possibility in tabletop gaming. Between the Skies stands as an example of what can be achieved when designers craft fresh approaches to game design. Whether you’re a seasoned roleplayer or a neophyte to the world of tabletop gaming, Between the Skies offers a unique and unforgettable experience which is sure to captivate and inspire. So, gather your friends, grab your dice and prepare to embark upon this adventure like no other, exploring the limitless stars and boundless possibilities.


Justin Reeve is an archaeologist specializing in architecture, urbanism and spatial theory, but he can frequently be found writing about videogames, too. You can follow him on Twitter @JustinAndyReeve.

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