[Microscope] Killing the Gods and SPACE Robots!

edited June 2011 in Story Games
We got to play Microscope last night. It was at the Indie Games night at Modern Myths, one of our FLGSs. We had 9 players so we broke up into two groups and played. Both groups seemed to really enjoy the game.

Our group's Big Picture was "Humanity rises up to kill the Gods." Remarkably, we carried through on the premise, in spades. We stayed close to real world mythological sources while combining them. One of the Palette items was that there were other created species than humanity, so we had both Djinn and Angels; one of our periods was the Tower of Babel. A motif that arose and eventually became a Legacy was the family lines of the three thieves who had stolen the tools of the Gods (pulley, sword, fire) to build the Tower. In an early scene the Gods brought the whupass down on the thief who stole the first sword, which smelted the sword into the eon spanning (and later Legacy) Thunder Sword which eventually was used to kill that very God who had inadvertantly created it.

It was satisfyingly epic. The other table's game was similarly so, though space opera rather than antediluvian. An interesting effect of banning elements in the Palette had a wide reaching effect for them: they banned humans. So the story revolved around the robots (from the Big Picture), and then they had a wild time coming up with numberless non-human alien species.

Technique stuff:
Both our tables played out a lot of scenes, which is pretty different from the experiences of folks in Jason's recent thread, and Paul T.'s where the main thrust felt like the event and period building. We relished the scenes, and did in fact have one immediate follow-up where we wanted to see what came next in the situation (after the Thunder-Sword was created. Actually, that was the moment when we as a group decided that the sword of the thief would become something important.) Early in the game we clustered our played scenes in one or two early periods so I think we didn't get the full effect of going forward and back in time with the scenes. Though the crafting of the events & periods themselves was all over and did give us that wonderful freedom that I'd hoped for.

Things we did wrong were having a certain amount of table talk. I made sure that we observed the sacrosanct nature of everyone's Period, Event or Scene creation. But at our table, we chit-chatted about the implications of things we'd created and set expectations about what would come later in play based on them in a way that, I believe, stretched the spirit of the rules. But when I run or facilitate, I tend to err on the side of the mood of the group, and we were very happy with that kind of collaboration. I let it go. The other group was being strict about it. I look forward to comparing notes about that with them.

We never pushed. Never even thought about it. We were careful to observe the "your narration ends at the tip of my nose" rule.

There were some very interesting things that happened when there was an outcome in question, like the killing of the last god.I'd like to talk about that more somewhere. Basically, we moved all the way up to almost killing the god, and were all looking for what would push us over the edge--as players and as audience--to buy that we had successfully killed the Goddess Null. When Eppy suggested that his Djinn character who was sacrificing himself guided the sword of the smoke blinded Angel-born sword thief hero, and as a result got him caught up in the blast, turning him into the sun and Null into the moon, we all loved it and were well satisfied that the battle had been fairly won. Though now that I write that, it does mean that it wasn't humans who killed the last god, but the other creations who had come to the side of humanity!

Eppy just had the idea of playing a game of Microscope based around Godzilla appearing. I can't wait to play again...


  • Posted By: Emily Caree were careful to observe the "your narration ends at the tip of my nose" rule.
    This required some discussion for us - we're conditioned to endow and accept endowment around here. I think Microscope is a great game for illustrating conventions and assumptions of play.
  • It's true. Most of our crew was made up of experienced story gamers. Two were new to it. It made my introductory speech about not doing that feel kind of odd, since why would they assume they could say what happened to someone else's character? Sharing characters felt very natural. But not offering suggestions, or asking for them wasn't. Had to bite my lip a few times.

    I remembered another way we strayed from the rules. Since we had too many players, I gave the book to the other group, along with the reference sheet and another one I made up with oddball rules. And we talked over the rules as one big group first. Still, apparently the other group initially thought that everyone made two nested Period/Event or Event/Scene pairs in a Focus round. They corrected that after a bit, but it slowed down their game. It's a lot of power, and I wonder how it played out for them.
  • Any idea on what led you to play out more scenes than other groups? Did you do anything to imbue the scenes with purpose and focus beyond what the game provides? Did the table talk go some ways toward that?

    I was all set to try this game and treat the characters as disposable and the scenes as colorful ways to answer a question and then move on. Which I may still do. But I'm curious about what made the alternative work here.
  • Also, Emily - did you photograph your final timelines? You can tell a lot from them. Fewer Periods means more Events means, probably, more Scenes. Also, how long did your games last? Ours was two hours, and I think that impacted the pacing, even though with Microscope it shouldn't. We're conditioned to seek cogent arcs in that time frame.
  • Okay, so I've finally made it to Story Games, thanks to this thread. My reasons for not joining up until this point boil down to my impression of this forum as a hostile place. I hope I'm proven wrong.

    Emily, I might post our AP here if my writing load lessens this weekend.

    David, we played out more scenes at our table because we had a number of scene-chewers at the table who wanted to do just that. It worked out well for what we wanted the game to do.

    Jason, I think Jim got a photograph of our timeline.
  • Welcome, Evan!

    One of our players shot a picture of the timeline from our game too. I'll post a link when I get it from her. We had a lot of scenes, both dictated and not. We only introduced a couple Periods after the initial go-round. Partly due to being constrained by space, I think (we lined them up perpendicular to the length of the table). But also because we were interested in delving into the Periods we'd already created. The Tower of Babel period got a lot of attention, rightly so, I think.

    We also played for 4 hours, minus about an hour for rules discussion, a break and creating our groups. We realized we had only 45 minutes or so left after doing 2 full lens go-rounds, so during Eppy's focus we just did dictated scenes so we could get to the fourth player's turn. We mostly did events and dictated scenes until the very end where we played out killing the last god. The final legacy made a nice coda: the creation of the heavens from the bodies of the Djinn and the Gods.
    Posted By: David BergAny idea on what led you to play out more scenes than other groups? Did you do anything to imbue the scenes with purpose and focus beyond what the game provides? Did the table talk go some ways toward that?

    I was all set to try this game and treat the characters as disposable and the scenes as colorful ways to answer a question and then move on. Which I may still do. But I'm curious about what made the alternative work here.
    I found that we invested in the characters a lot. Having Gods to play allowed us to be able to have continuity, we played Null and Solace at the birth of humanity, and all the way through the Final Battle with the Gods (the bookends of the game). Well, at least Null made it that far. Ben does caution against having time travel or immortality to guard against having characters appear again and again, but in this context it felt natural and, really, necessary. Another way that we created a strong sense of unity among the characters was having bloodlines of humans: those descended from the first human created, descendants of the three thieves, descendants of the angel that turned against the gods. So in later scenes we could have characters who were relations to those in earlier epochs.

    We had one prophetic scene. I introduced a prophecy about the Thunder Sword after it came into play. That worked well, though the scene didn't necessarily have a strong reverberation, though some elements became re-incorporated later in play (the god of imagination who joined the side of the humans when they created the first University in the ruins of Babel). Answering the question in that scene was surprising: it was whether the humans rose up against their Djinn masters when they heard the prophecy. But the child who relayed the message from the god was realistically childlike and so was ignored by the adults. I was non-plussed about that for a moment, since the message had not gotten relayed after all, but then someone pointed out that it meant that it took the next generation to rebel: the friends of the Child who did believe.

    Has anyone played two player? It seems like it would be neat, though different. I wonder if you could return to a timeline with less than the full group? I fully agree with not playing in one with someone who'd not built it. Too much too communicate.
  • Here's the write-up of the "SPACE Robots" game.

    For our Big Picture, we knew we were feeling "space opera." Some of us wanted to do Star Wars after Episode VI, others wanted to re-write the ending of Battlestar Galactica. (Here's where one might comment on how RPGs set in popular story universes usually bring out our preoccupations with narrative conclusions in said universes... but I digress). Our group of 5 settled on the idea of "space kings" and came up with the Big Picture:

    The Collapse of the Space Empire, and the Rise of the Space Kings

    ...which, incidentally, were also our Bookends. We decided the fall of the space empire was "dark" whereas the space kings' rise was "light" Perfect for the veneration for aristocracy underpinning most space opera!

    The Palette came fast and furious: yes to laser swords, gender equality ("king" is actually a gender neutral term), drug use, spaceships being giant Greco-Roman statues, telepathy, mounts, dragon-like beings, elected kings, and robots; no to humans, high magic, planet destroying devices, dogfights, time travel, space immediately killing you, nukes and desert robe-wearing mystical knights.

    We then managed to get through only 2 different Foci – "The Greater Good" and "The Robots," meaning only 2 of the 5 of us got to be the Lens. That's okay; we all seized our share of the spotlight as it was passed around.

    (• is dark, o is light; roman numerals for Periods, alphabet for Events, numbers for Scenes)

    I. Collapse of the Space Empire (•)
    A. Babel Plague (•)
    B. Peasant's Revolt (o)
    1. The Robot Factory Strike on Henry X (•)
    II. The Steel Diaspora (•)
    A. The Last Factory Falls (o)
    B. Robot Space Exiles Search for a Home (•)
    1. Bounty Hunting in the Abandoned Factory in Viola II (o)
    III. The Corsairs' Rule (o)
    A. The First Crown is Unearthed (•)
    1. Assault on the Artificial Planet, Iago I (o)
    B. Prophecy of the Space Kings (o)
    1. The Kids Surviving a Space Pirate Attack (o)
    IV. Scores Are Settled (•)
    A. Glorious Duels of the Star Titans (o)
    1. The Duel Commemorating the Iago I Attack (o)
    B. Betrayal of King Octavia (•)
    C. The Emperor's Will is Executed (•)
    V. Triumph of the Space Kings (o)
    A. Space King of Elizabeth II Routs Red Fleet (•)
    B. First Space Court Held (o)
    C. The Historian Passes on His Story for the Last Time (o)

    Legacies: The Historian, Laser Swords

    Scenes in Brief:

    The Robot Factory Strike on Henry X

    Question: What was the resource that ran out to trigger the revolt?
    Includes Robot who becomes "The Historian," Bans "Direct Ancestor of a King"
    The scene: A factory producing robots on Henry X cannot meet output, and the workers are under pressure to produce more than they can. The Historian, Unit X27Z, has malfunctioned into sentience, and informs the workers, one of whom is the bald blue guy George Starshine, that the workers who have been disappearing all this time are being replaced with robots.
    Answer: Workers!

    Bounty Hunting in the Abandoned Factory in Viola II
    Question: Why can't the robots settle on this planet?
    Bans "Robots"
    The scene: An abandoned factory years after the robots have been vilified and persecuted. Bounty hunters carrying out the last vestiges of the Emperor's will seek Henry "X" Starshine, a freedom fighter whose descendents will later become Corsairs (but not kings). They find a curious spider in the factory trapping a (SPACE) dragon in its web. Starshine is hiding behind the web, and he cuts a deal with the dragon to make good his escape. One of the bounty hunters, Canus Jericho the laser-axe wielding gnoll, hops on the spider's back as Starshine flees with the dragon. Another bounty hunter, Razzrr the velociraptor, pulls together an army of velociraptors to give chase.
    Answer: There is an army of robot-hating velociraptors on the planet.

    Assault on the Artificial Planet, Iago I

    Question: How many millions have to die before the Crown is secure?
    Includes The Historian and a Starshine descendent
    The scene: Othello Starshine, Captain of the Caliban (an Atlas-shaped starship) lands on the embattled artificial planet of Iago I during the heat of battle. General Ssarrok, a velociraptor and ruthless (SPACE) Corsair, lands nearby and quickly gets into a laser sword duel with Starshine. This, of course, is a smokescreen for the scientist on the ship tracking down the crown with the help of converted apostate BattleBot Z95. Robot armies approach the starship, and it is detonated once the crown is found in a secluded chamber nearby.
    Anwer: Not that many.

    The Kids Surviving a Space Pirate Attack

    Question: Why are the Space Kings a source of hope?
    Includes "Prophet," Bans "Adults"
    The scene: The space pirates (different from the Corsairs) have destroyed a village and only children are left. They gather around a fire elemental: a giant larva with a living tumor on its head (the prophet), and a rock elemental. The Historian approaches them looking for the space elevator and the larva eventually spills the Prophecy, via the living tumor: "Whilst the Wild Fleet gather, so shall the Space Kings rule." Then he metamorphoses into a (SPACE) weasel creature and becomes the first space king.
    Answer: They have pledged to destroy the Space Pirates using the Wild Fleet.

    The Duel Commemorating the Iago I Atack
    Question: What kingdom will win the right to hold the feast commemorating Iago I's defeat?
    Bans "Starshines"
    The scene: There's a faceoff between two Greco-Roman starships: the Saturn, piloted by (King) Captain Dredge, a descendent of BattleBot Z95, and the Poseidon, piloted by King Petra, a queen bee looking to cement her power. The ritual face-off is interrupted by the return of the now sentient planet Iago I, which is taken as a miracle by Dredge. Nin the fire elemental from the earlier Prophecy scene convinces King Petra in its in her best interest to jointly hold the feast on the living remains of Iago I.
    Answer: Both kingdoms.

    Play Analysis

    Three things:

    • In our group, whatever characters we chose to play in a scene framed its content WAY more than any other factor, including the Focus or the Period or even the Question driving the scene. When we all realized we could create different creatures of shapes and sizes to populate the universe, we did so enthusiastically -- maybe at the expense of some more rigorous historical threads. But then again: character creation is 50% of the entertainment of all RPGs, and this one has you constantly creating characters.

    • It's easier to be cryptic on the Periods ("Scores Are Settled") when you know you're going to play their main Events out in Scenes. Otherwise, you have to explicitly state occurrences in order to elicit player response from what you add to the Timeline. In effect, you create a more open-ended, obtuse history if you emphasize the Scenes, and a straightforward history if you emphasize Periods/Events.

    • I love the way in which the game forces us to be transparent about our likes/dislikes with regard to play. The Palette is an easy Lines/Veils mechanism, and it also frames the "gonzo" level of the play itself. Shared genre presumptions are always best communicated, and the gameplay itself forces you to do that.
  • Cool, thanks, Emily. Sounds like in each scene, in addition to answering the history question of what happened, you guys were answering character questions of "what's the last character's descendant like?" and "how do the Gods react to this?" In that situation, instead of playing until I answered the history issue, I expect I'd play enough to get a good sense of who the characters were, how they related to or reflected on previous scenes, and then answer the history issue. Is that what you guys did?

    On the subject of relating and reflecting, I'm also curious if you guys needed any thematic glue beyond your Big Picture and simple genealogy to make that resonate.
  • Very cool, Evan. It's neat the the characters were such a strong element. There is an amazing itch that it scratches. I think we had something similar--the characters we chose ended up creating large thematic elements (the families, epochs, etc.). The consequences of the scenes were often far reaching, like the Sword creation which turned into the next Focus round.

    In the creation of Events, the book says to describe write a brief phrase, then describe what happened to the rest of the group. This had us scratching our heads many times to be sure that our events were at the right scale (Period: War; Event: Battle; Scene: Skirmish, was the analogy I made.) We wrote the description down on the back of the note card. Characters as well: on the back of the scene cards. That may have kept us more narrow with the events in play, though it's hard to compare.

    David: The Legacies and Focii kept us working together as we went around. We were sometimes more or less on target with a Focus, esp. as we were getting used to following them. But mostly it was rock solid, and the elements created tied them in. If you mean a large scale theme or issue, our premise had many to pick from: hubris, human endeavor, power vs moral authority, rebellion, etc. We all grooved on each of these throughout.
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