[Microscope] War of the Beast-Men!

Our game was about the death of magic in a land filled with beast-men and humans and the brave lovers who crossed that line*. There was a strong thread of eugenics and blood purity that was disturbing and awesome. In the end magic died, as it must, and with it the spark of reason among every beast-man everywhere. The last scene of the game was Alice, the ancient crone who was the first person gifted with magic, saying goodbye to her three little mouse friends as she dropped them (an archivist, a professor and an assassin) off in the woods, answering the question "what is the last word an animal ever says?" It was "We curse you for all time".

So that went well.

Microscope is a deeply weird thing. There's role-playing-ness to it, but no character monogamy, and even less character value. They are just tools, cogs in the larger wheel. This is really liberating.

There's collaboration, but it is asynchronous collaboration. You build on what others have built, but never at the same time. This is extraordinarily difficult, at least for us, because we're conditioned by the games we play to constantly work together, offer alternatives, listen and reflect. In Microscope you get to reincorporate hardcore and that's it. If you offer another player suggestions you are doing it wrong. If nothing else, this puts ingrained habits about creative contribution in extremely sharp relief. We were all skeptical, and to be honest I think we played it a little loose, but damn if it doesn't work.

We had a great time and created a cohesive, succinct timeline that felt pretty satisfying. The game is very simple and the procedures are luminously clear. We basically ran it from the reference sheet in the back without consulting the actual rules once play began. I'd read it thoroughly, but I honestly think you could just sit down and play blind. Not that I am suggesting that, because the book is just a revelation in instructional design.

I suspect that second games are better than first games, since you need to sort through your gamer cruft a bit and adjust your assumptions.

We all agreed that it isn't something we'd hammer week after week, but it will enter our arsenal as an occasional pick-up game. And we all saw the potential as a collaborative tool for building a setting for another game.

*Clinton bravely refused to cross that line. The relevant quote is "You can't call me a Nazi just because I refuse to fuck a bear."


  • Fantastic. I'm really looking forward to playing this week.
    Posted By: Jason Morningstar*Clinton bravely refused to cross that line. The relevant quote is "You can't call me a Nazi just because I refuse to fuck a bear."

    How did it feel to slip into character in the midst of the timeline creation? The directions are very strict about how much gets played out (ie "end a scene when the question is answered, not when the action is resolved"). Did you return to scenes due to that? Did it feel natural? Fulfilling?
  • Hi Emily!

    We only got into character during scenes. Events and Periods were straight narrated/described.

    I really railed on the idea that we had to end scenes when we'd answered the question, and for the most part we stuck to that. It was surprisingly difficult! We never revisited an Event.

    It didn't feel like a roleplaying game in the best way. I thought we told a pretty engaging, fun story and that it was totally worthwhile. When we finished there were still large gaps across the timeline but it wasn't a big deal. We played for about two hours.
  • Posted By: Jason Morningstar
    We only got into character during scenes. Events and Periods were straight narrated/described.
    Right, exactly! It looks like a really different kind of experience. Plus the whole, end the scene when the question is answered. I'm really curious to see how it feels to have the negotiation and shared story telling happen in isolated pockets of in-character play.

    Did you wrap up after 2 hours because that was when it felt complete, or was that just all the time you had to play?
  • edited June 2011
    That's how we roll, Emily - we start around 7 and end around 9 most weeks. Microscope is deliberately open-ended and fractally, so you're done when you say you are or when it feels right (this is also a little bizarre from a traditional standpoint, and really eye-opening and effective). We had identified a clear arc and got through three Foci in that time.

    Here's a big picture of our final timeline.

    My favorite Event: "A Generation Knows Peace" [DARK TONE]
  • Great picture! I'm planning on using multi-color index cards too. :) I can imagine, too, that how many scenes get played out would vary with the group. Everyone in a given round could choose to play out scenes in a given event. But I can see it being more spread out than that, since each person will have different aspects of the overall picture they're interested in.

    I'll report back after tomorrow night.
    Posted By: Jason Morningstar
    My favorite Event: "A Generation Knows Peace" [DARK TONE]
    Dark tone: awesomely ironic.
  • We didn't use color as methodically as I intended...

    Yeah, there's nothing stopping multiple people from hammering a specific event with scenes, provided there are lots of questions. We didn't do that but that's just a style choice.

    Scenes can also be really, really short, or outright narrated.
  • Ah, I bet it's pretty hard to play Microscope without using the "Dark tone"/"Light tone" labels in an ironic way at least once. It's just... there all the time, how could you resist?

    Emily, for what it's worth, my own experience of the game (only played once) is that the "scenes" are pretty brief--although sometimes intense--and if you try to get too deeply into them, it feels like you suddenly stop playing the game and start playing a different one.

    They appear to work best as brief interludes or cut-scenes, or perhaps like parables, which you're creating collaboratively. You get in fast, and get out fast, and try to focus on the Question. It's a cool collaborative story-telling experience much more so than an immersive free roleplay kind of thing. It seems to work best if you just jump in, make some drama happen, and get out. As Jason says, the characters are tools for storytelling... not *people* whose skin you inhabit.

    I'll be curious to hear your thoughts after you play!
  • Oh:

    We also played it from the summary sheet. So either we played it wrong, or... yeah, it's really easy to play it as written, with the rules and procedures very clearly communicated.
  • Hi Paul!

    The summary sheet is very complete. I've cooked up some additional reference sheets after reading it through, but they are mostly in depth discussion of things like pushing, or some infrequently used rules.

    That reminds me, did either of you have pushing come up much in scenes?
  • Is "pushing" the group vote to resolve conflicts? If so, we didn't use the procedure at all.
  • edited June 2011
    We used it twice! I love the idea of the mechanic but the wonk in me says it is a tiny bit off. We all agreed that it'd probably work better if the range was 1-3 rather than 1-5. 1-5 disincentivizes moderation, I think on a psychological level, so you mentally limit the scale by voting 2 or 4 every time. Could be wrong, and it worked fine regardless. When I steal the mechanic it'll be 1-3.

    I'd also be tempted to make it more of a Likert scale with no middle. I need to stop thinking.
  • edited June 2011
    First off: awesome. Mouse assassin is such a natural choice once you think about it.

    Second off: I wouldn't recommend making an effort to downplay role-playing when you play. When I play Microscope, I do a lot of scenes, and I definitely dig in and play the characters as people. I try to make them sincere, explore what makes them tick, etc. I'm using them to answer the Question, but I'm also making them as real and as interesting as possible to the other people at the table, just like any role-playing game.

    I'm not saying that's a rule, but that's how I play Microscope and I have a lot of fun that way. Other people leave out played scenes entirely. Like you already said, making scenes or not making scenes is a choice each player gets to make. If particular characters interest any player, you can come back to them. If they don't, you won't.

    I think because the "new" part of the game is the vast scope of creation, it's easy to focus on that and think individuals aren't the meat of the game, but every time I play Microscope the scenes are the gold (like the Davin the Mason scenes I was just talking about in the Fabricated Realities thread). The history creates the context that gives the scenes meaning, but the people and their moments are what we care about and remember, even when they have no impact on big deeds and just reflect the times.

    Zooming in and zooming out go hand-in-hand. They compliment each other.
  • I really enjoyed the scenes in our game, too. They made the whole thing work.
  • Looking forward to Emily's report!
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