Monday, April 04, 2011

Microscope: A Magical Apocalypse

On Friday night, I was joined by C'nor (the Outermost Toe) for an online game of Microscope using only Corkboard.me. It was the first time that I have played the game with another person and it was the first time that C'nor had even encountered the rules. Given the limits of playing by text, I'd say the session was pretty successful.

Microscope is a world-building game with RPG elements. Players define the general bounds of history (start and end points) and can jump around in time to explore particular periods, events, and scenes of interest. The game feels like it has a lot of potential to develop really interesting and surprising worlds while also providing a compelling RPG experience on its own.

Friday night's game seemed like the first steps toward to realizing this potential. If you've ever played chat games before then you are no doubt aware of how much longer it takes to accomplish anything. This is especially true if the players are new to the system. Fortunately, Corkboard.me provided a nice platform for play and (despite a couple of minor connection issues) had the added benefit of preserving a record our play experience. Microscope relies on a spatial arrangement of notes and Corkboard.me handled this very well.

Check out a read-only version our corkboard HERE (you'll need to scroll around a bit)

Tutorial
As I mentioned, C'nor had not seen the Microscope rules before play. This was not the problem that it could have been because Microscope includes a chapter with precise instructions for introducing new players to the game. This worked very well and I only wish that it was a more common practice in RPG products.

Big Picture: A Magical Apocalypse
Based on a little back-and-forth, C'nor and decided that the concept for history would be that "survivors of a magical apocalypse live through a new Dark Age with the help of the remnants of a secret supernatural community. We further clarified this to mean that the secret supernatural community was active in the time before the apocalypse.

To this base concept, we only added a few things to our palette:
YES: Magic; Magically fueled technology (based on binding demons and spirits); and Ghosts (which can be either intelligent or emotional residue).
NO: Immortals; Clear memories of the before time; Aliens.
We defined our Bookend Periods as:
Start: MAGICAL APOCALYPSE (Dark)
End:  THE SECOND RENAISSANCE (Light)
Actual play
We only managed to get through the Setup (where each player defines a new Period or Event) and a single turn of the first Lens player.

In the Setup, we defined two Events under the Magical Apoclaypse period:
THE TRIGGERING (Dark): The Triggering was only the start. Who began the first experiments into hybridizing spirits and ghosts is unknown, but the eventual culmination of them was that diametrically opposed groups began to be bonded together, simply to see what would occur. At least, that was what was believed. As it turned out, the mages doing such experiments were not really the experts. The shamans and other "traditional thaumaturgists", had refused to participate in such things. It proved to be untrue that the nature spirits and angry ghosts were mostly incompatible... They had believed that such natural things were far more peaceful than they actually were. Of course, most of those ghosts that had volunteered were not exactly truthful about their level of rage...

At the same time, many sea spirits that were being used to study marine life managed to break free...

THE YEAR OF ANGRY TREES (Dark): The apocalypse was not an instantaneous thing. It was really a series of devastating events (mostly in succession, but sometimes overlapping). One of the events was the Year of Angry Trees. This was actually a bit of a misnomer. It was not just the Trees that were angry. It was the entire biosystem. Anything that grew in the ground seemed to take on a life of its own.
* Plants demonstrated remarkable and impossible growth.
* Lakes choked with algae and seaweed
* Roads and building were ripped asunder as seeds sprouted from the smallest cracks.
* Even formerly dead wood (like those used in the construction of houses or furniture) sometimes starting growing again... or sometimes just rapidly decayed into rich earth.

The devastation was uneven. It seemed far worse when humanity tried to fight back with chemicals or technology. It was also much worse in areas that were already lush in vegetation.
As the first lens, picked "The Karlan Institute for Paranormal Studies" as a focus. and I followed the suggestion of the Microscope rules in doing a scene based on ideas proposed during setup. I left the scene transcript on the corboard, but the question that we were trying to answer was "Why did Stephanie Bennett disable the containment device at the Karlan Marine Facility in Miami?" Short answer: a dolphin test subject that was slated for destruction was actually inhabited by the spirit of her dead father.

Hopefully, C'nor and I will be able to meet again to continue this history...

2 comments:

Professor Pope said...

I am excited about trying this out with you, but have some work travel and related parent/kid/wife stuff (making sure the house is in order for when I am gone and helping it get back that when when I return) that will keep me occupied for the next two weeks or so.

Do you want to try and set a date?

Risus Monkey said...

Send me an email and we'll set something up. :)