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Unclassifiable Microscope: the RPG (Reboot!)

Discussion in 'Role Playing Forum' started by Saintheart, Sep 5, 2012.

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  1. Saintheart Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2000
    star 6
    [IMG]


    Welcome to the RPG of Microscope, which is about ... well, that's the thing. We determine that.

    Microscope is a game where we create a saga, a story, a universe together. There's no GM; only players. There are no character sheets; you don't play one character, but potentially many. There's no end date; we can go as long as we want or as short as we want. This is a very different RPG.

    By "we", I mean the people who are interested in playing this game. Two positions -- Xan, Ramza -- are already spoken for, and there's myself of course, but I'm willing to take one more person if you're interested.

    What is Microscope?
    Microscope works differently than some other role-playing games you might have played, so let's abandon some preconceptions: You won?t have your own character. You won't play the game in chronological order. You may know all about the future, but be surprised by the past. You'll build the story from the outside in. You'll decide the big picture, the grand scheme of history, and then burrow down and carve out the details.
    It's fractal gaming.
    So think big: you have a massive chunk of history to play around in.

    Humanity spreads to the stars and forges a galactic civilization?

    Fledgling nations arise from the ruins of the empire?

    An ancient line of dragon-kings dies out as magic fades from the realm?

    These are all examples of Microscope games.

    In Microscope, you build an epic history as you play. Want to play a game that spans the entire Dune series, the Silmarillion, or the rise and fall of Rome in an afternoon? That's Microscope. But you don't play the history from start to finish, marching along in chronological order. Instead, you build your history from the outside in.

    You start off knowing the big picture, the grand scheme of what happens, then you dive in and explore what happened in between, the how and why that shaped events. You are free to jump backwards or forwards, zooming in or out to look at whatever you want, defying limits of time and space. Want to leap a thousand years into the future and see how an institution shaped society? Want to jump back to the childhood of the king you just saw assassinated and find out what made him such a hated ruler? That's normal in Microscope.

    You have vast creative authority. You can make whole empires rise and fall at will. Dream up a utopia or destroy one with nuclear fire. You have that power, but remember you're not alone: everyone else at the table can do it too. You create independently, but not in isolation. Each facet you add to history builds on what other players built before you. You expand on their ideas, and they expand on yours. History might not turn out the way you expected. Be prepared to think on your feet.

    When you zoom all the way in to a particular moment in time, all the players share the stage and role-play together to find out something we want to learn about the history. Did the crew of the Icarus know the aliens were on Titan? Did the rebels really fake the government crackdown? Do the knights remember the original meaning of their ritual vows? We role-play and see. The more you play, the more your once simple summary becomes a detailed tapestry, full of meaning and surprises. History snowballs.

    Bear in mind this is a game of equals. I will be explaining the game and might interrupt to explain how it works, but I have no more authority than anyone else creatively in this game.

    So ... first in, best dressed for the one spotsI have, and let's make some history! (Xan, Ramza, please tag in anyway so I can be assured you're still in...? :) )
    Last edited by Saintheart, Sep 5, 2012
  2. spycoder9 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 23, 2008
    star 4
    Managed to nab that last spot! :D Guess my tie set me apart from everyone else. :p
  3. Ramza JC Head Admin and RPF Manager

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    star 7
    Oh, cool, the briefing is back. When I saw the thread it was just a globe and I was all "Er." Yep, still in.
  4. DarthXan318 Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 12, 2002
    star 6
  5. Saintheart Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2000
    star 6
    All right then, we're off and running! spy, don't be surprised if this process gets a lot more 'chatty' than would ordinarily be the case for an RPG - I'll put up a dedicated OOC thread later on that will double as the Library Thread, but the way Microscope works, the OOC thread slowly becomes the IC thread to some extent. ;)

    Anyway--

    First Step: The Big Picture
    First, we need to brainstorm a simple overview of the history we want to play. If we were looking in a history book, this would be the one line that summarizes what happens, but leaves out all the details. It should be no more than a single sentence. We do need to all agree on this part.

    An ancient empire rises and falls.

    Cavemen at the dawn of time found the first civilization.

    Mankind leaves the sick Earth behind and spreads out to the stars.

    Pick something big. You want a lot of time and space to work with. Don't worry if your idea seems too simple or uninteresting. That?s normal at this stage. Fleshing out the interesting details is what the rest of the game is all about.

    Here's a big bunch of seeds for inspiration...

    Long-separated branches of humanity stumble upon each other again in the depths of space
    Explorers settle a new land, displacing the native people
    Secret societies carefully steer the course of civilization
    Primitives leave their caves and found the first cities
    Superheroes protect society, undermining the rule of law
    A race of machines unearth their organic origins
    How the West was won (alternate history America)
    Gods play with heroes? fates until Doom takes them all
    The teachings of the Prophet are embraced by many, but bitterly rejected by others
    Technology brings humanity into a golden age
    The ancient Enemy spreads its dark hand across the land
    Battle of the Planets
    Renaissance: society shakes off the shackles of ignorance and embraces art and learning
    Colonists tame a new world, but are cut off from the old
    The health of the kingdom is bound to the life of the king
    Atlantis sinks and her secrets are lost with her
    Evolution of a species
    Captains of Industry: corporations dominate society
    A brilliant world-conqueror leaves behind a fractured and feuding empire
    Scattered refugees struggle to rebuild after the Apocalypse
    The last Magic passes from the world

    So. Where to begin? Last time we did science fiction, but it doesn't have to be that way again. 'Gangsters battle for control of a city over generations' springs to mind as a possibility if we're interested in something a little more intimate, but I'd be happy with scifi as well. Thoughts?

    TAG: ramza, Xan, spy
    Last edited by Saintheart, Sep 5, 2012
  6. Ramza JC Head Admin and RPF Manager

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    star 7
    I like the gangsters seed, because it provides more intimacy but doesn't necessarily preclude the possibility of more fantastic elements like steampunk, sci-fi, perhaps the odd large pilot-operated mechanical biped...

    Also, gangsters are a perennial personal fascination of mine, so yeah, some biases there. :p
    Last edited by Ramza, Sep 5, 2012
  7. spycoder9 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 23, 2008
    star 4
    Like the gangster idea a lot. Generational things are fun to me anyway, but with the possibilities of, like Ramza said, some sic fi in there, I'd be really into it. Apocalypse type stuff piques my interest too, but the last game had that sort of thing with a "disappeared Earth" in it.
  8. Saintheart Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2000
    star 6
    Steampunk gangsters? Or even Elizabethan-era gangsters, perhaps? Or both? I'll happily go with a wider sci-fi setting too, if we want it. Down to Xan now. ;)

    Never mind - I was just brainstorming. Hell, you could make the operative "city" in the phrase a massive floating city in space.
    Last edited by Saintheart, Sep 5, 2012
  9. Saintheart Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2000
    star 6
    In other brief news, I think I've worked out why our first attempt didn't go right: because I didn't fully follow the RPG's instructions. Apparently, once the Palette's complete, we're meant to create a new Period or Event each -- before we get into Lenses and Focuses and whatnot. Ah well -- we'll get it right this time! :)
  10. DarthXan318 Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 12, 2002
    star 6
    I ... am actually not a huge fan of gangsters. :p

    HOWEVER! I like anything to do with sci-fi and space, so sci-fi gangsters fighting over a floating city in space? That I can get behind.
  11. Saintheart Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2000
    star 6
    All right, well, let's leave it open as "'Sci-fi gangsters battle for control of a city over generations". Beyond that it's elastic.

    Onward!

    Second Step: Bookend the History
    Seeing as we're agreed on that, we next define how the history starts and ends. We do that by creating two Periods. Again, on this one we need consensus.
    Each Period is a very large chunk of time, probably decades or centuries. Describe how your history begins and ends. These are your starting and ending Periods, the bookends of your history. We'll add more Periods later on, but everything will be between these points.
    How we do that is:

    1) Agree on a short description for each Period, just a few sentences or a paragraph at most, painting a clear picture of what happens during that time.

    2) Decide whether each description is Light or Dark, whether what happens during that Period is generally happy or tragic. This is the Tone of each Period. The Tone of the starting and ending Period do not have to match. You can describe either Period first, as you prefer. Sometimes it's easier to pick Light or Dark for each Period, then see what ideas emerge.

    Note that at this stage you're not defining the commencing and final event of the history-- just the beginning and ending periods and whether they're light or dark. There's plenty of room for light events inside dark periods and dark events inside light periods.

    (I'm using blue and red for Light and Dark respectively mostly because I don't know how to do highlighting code on these boards, and it's a reeeasonably intuitive colour scheme ;) )

    Shall we look at the tone first? Really, it being binary, there's four choices: either the beginning Period is light and the ending Period light (implying a catastrophic struggle in between ,perhaps); the beginning is dark and the ending dark (nuclear war bookends both periods - we don't learn from our mistakes?); or the beginning is dark and the ending light; or the beginning is light and the ending dark (the very definition of It Got Worse, perhaps?)

    And finally, on suggestions for a starting period: how about starting with a Light period being "The foundation and first flowering of The City". The City is a massive, floating city in space, the flower of galactic civilisation's efforts. In this period, she is first completed and begins to grow into her role as the centre of trade in the Milky Way."
    Last edited by Saintheart, Sep 5, 2012
  12. Ramza JC Head Admin and RPF Manager

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    Highlighting is done exactly the way it was on the old boards, with [hl=*colorname*]TEXT[/hl]. You can also use the html numbers for the highlights, which is useful if you want to use the dropdown menu - select a text color, then flip into bbcode mode and change "color" to "hl" in the brackets.

    For ending, I'd like something like Dark: The long crime war has taken its grim toll. Death, tragedy and corruption rule the day. It is unknown whether The City - now a blackened shade of its former self - can survive much longer under these conditions.

    Beginning, I'm receptive to either Light or Dark depending on what's presented. No strong opinions, there.
  13. Saintheart Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2000
    star 6
    I can get behind that ending period.

    EDIT: Although I wouldn't leave it as an unknown whether the City can survive. I'd go stronger - The City, ravaged by the struggle for control of her, decays into uselessness and is abandoned. The game encourages events to be determinative - you can always go backward to explore reasons why something happens even if you can't change the event itself.
    Last edited by Saintheart, Sep 5, 2012
  14. DarthXan318 Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 12, 2002
    star 6
    Light beginning and Dark ending sounds fine by me:

    So-

    Start: Light: The foundation and first flowering of The City". The City is a massive, floating city in space, the flower of galactic civilisation's efforts. In this period, she is first completed and begins to grow into her role as the centre of trade in the Milky Way.
    End: Dark: The long crime war has taken its grim toll. Death, tragedy and corruption rule the day. It is unknown whether The City - now a blackened shade of its former self - can survive much longer under these conditions.
    Last edited by DarthXan318, Sep 5, 2012
  15. Ramza JC Head Admin and RPF Manager

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    Ah, I'd be just fine with that. I was being more ambiguous because I thought I had to be. :p
  16. Saintheart Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2000
    star 6
    Sorry, Xan, I was conducting Edit Wars behind your back. :D
  17. DarthXan318 Manager Emeritus

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    Sep 12, 2002
    star 6
  18. spycoder9 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 23, 2008
    star 4
    Sorry, I fell asleep. :p

    But I throw all my support for Xany's light period, and Saint's dark one. :) Love the sci-fi elements.
  19. Saintheart Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2000
    star 6
    Then we're agreed on our start and end periods!

    Start: Light: The foundation and first flowering of The City". The City is a massive, floating city in space, the flower of galactic civilisation's efforts. In this period, she is first completed and begins to grow into her role as the centre of trade in the Milky Way.
    End: Dark: The long crime war has taken its grim toll. Death, tragedy and corruption rule the day. The City, ravaged by the struggle for control of her, decays into uselessness and is abandoned.



    Step Three: The Palette

    The Palette is a list of things the players agree to reserve the right to include or, conversely, outright ban. It gets everyone on the same page about what belongs in the history and what doesn't.

    We make a Palette by setting up two columns: Yes and No.
    1) Each player can add one thing, either a Yes or No. Add something to the Yes column if you think the other players would not expect it to be in the history, but you want to be able to include it. Add something to the No column if you think the other players would expect it to be in the history, but you don't want it included. Players can go in any order. You don't have to add anything to the Palette if you don't want to.
    2) If every players add something (either a Yes or No), repeat step 1: each player has the option to go again. If someone opted not to add something, stop: your Palette is done. In the end, no player will have added two things more than anyone else.
    Feel free to discuss and negotiate. No one should be unhappy about what winds up added or banned on the Palette. The Palette is not an exhaustive list of what will be in the history: it's a list of exceptions. If something fits the setting (like wizards in a fantasy world), you probably don't need to add it to the Yes column because the other players already expect it. Likewise if something seems really out of place (like wizards in a science fiction history), you probably do not need to add it to the No column unless you think other players want to include it. When in doubt, discuss.

    If something is in the Yes column, then during the rest of the game it's okay to introduce it into the history even if it doesn't seem like it fits. You've all agreed it belongs. Even if something is in the Yes column, it doesn't exist in the history until someone introduces it in play. Something might be in the Yes column, but never get used at all.

    If something is in the No column, it's never okay to bring into the game, no matter what. You've all agreed it's not part of the history.

    Example: One player puts "habitable worlds" in the No column. People have to live in artificial habitats, biodomes, space stations, or ships. Another player asks if terraformed worlds would be okay, but the first player doesn't want that either. The other players decide to go along with it.

    Another player adds "aliens" to the Yes column; she's not sure the other players want aliens in this setting, so she wants to find out now. Other players want to keep space mysterious, so after some discussion a different player adds "communication with aliens" to the No column. There may turn out to be aliens in the game, but there will be no way to talk to them.

    The Palette is your last chance to freely negotiate and build group consensus about your history. Your choices tell the other players what kind of game you want to play, helping you avoid bad surprises and misunderstandings later on. If there's a big disagreement about the kind of things you want in your history, now's the time to find out and talk about it.


    So, we have two columns, and I'll add something off the bat...

    Yes

    No
    - No hyperdrive or hyperspace. Travel between the vast distances between stars can only happen by two methods: naturally occurring wormholes or conventional sublight propulsion, i.e. "generation ships" in the latter case.
    Last edited by Saintheart, Sep 6, 2012
  20. DarthXan318 Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 12, 2002
    star 6
    I'm down with that, and I'll add one more:



    Yes

    - Psionics. Which, yes, is basically "space magic" along the lines of the Force or biotics or whatever. How psionics occur in people, its rarity, its manifestation (telepathy? telekinesis?) and all those details can to be determined as we play 'em.

    No
    - No hyperdrive or hyperspace. Travel between the vast distances between stars can only happen by two methods: naturally occurring wormholes or conventional sublight propulsion, i.e. "generation ships" in the latter case.
    Last edited by DarthXan318, Sep 6, 2012
  21. Saintheart Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2000
    star 6
    Sounds good to me. Ramza, spy, anything to add?
  22. Ramza JC Head Admin and RPF Manager

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    star 7
    Yes
    - Psionics. Which, yes, is basically "space magic" along the lines of the Force or biotics or whatever. How psionics occur in people, its rarity, its manifestation (telepathy? telekinesis?) and all those details can to be determined as we play 'em.
    - Giant bipedal mechs. At some point large humanoid robots, piloted by a person sitting in the cockpit, become a weapon of choice.

    No
    - No hyperdrive or hyperspace. Travel between the vast distances between stars can only happen by two methods: naturally occurring wormholes or conventional sublight propulsion, i.e. "generation ships" in the latter case.


    [IMG]
    I got a fever and the only prescription... is more robots. :p
  23. spycoder9 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 23, 2008
    star 4
    Yes
    - Psionics. Which, yes, is basically "space magic" along the lines of the Force or biotics or whatever. How psionics occur in people, its rarity, its manifestation (telepathy? telekinesis?) and all those details can to be determined as we play 'em.
    - Giant bipedal mechs. At some point large humanoid robots, piloted by a person sitting in the cockpit, become a weapon of choice.
    - Aliens. Lots of them. A variety of types and sizes and shapes.

    No
    - No hyperdrive or hyperspace. Travel between the vast distances between stars can only happen by two methods: naturally occurring wormholes or conventional sublight propulsion, i.e. "generation ships" in the latter case.[/quote]
    Last edited by spycoder9, Sep 6, 2012
  24. Ramza JC Head Admin and RPF Manager

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    star 7
    Edit: Eh, after mulling it over, I'm okay with aliens. Previous content retracted.

    So if I'm reading the rules correctly, we all get a chance to go again?
    Last edited by Ramza, Sep 6, 2012
  25. Saintheart Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2000
    star 6
    Yes, we do. When someone doesn't want to add anything else, the palette's done.

    As for me--

    Yes- Psionics. Which, yes, is basically "space magic" along the lines of the Force or biotics or whatever. How psionics occur in people, its rarity, its manifestation (telepathy? telekinesis?) and all those details can to be determined as we play 'em.
    - Giant bipedal mechs. At some point large humanoid robots, piloted by a person sitting in the cockpit, become a weapon of choice.
    - Aliens. Lots of them. A variety of types and sizes and shapes.

    No
    - No hyperdrive or hyperspace. Travel between the vast distances between stars can only happen by two methods: naturally occurring wormholes or conventional sublight propulsion, i.e. "generation ships" in the latter case.
    - No universal translators. Communication with other species is just as tricky and fraught with potential error as communicating with people in other languages is. Some languages might simply not be capable of translation into human terms by virtue of the fact the communication method is utterly incompatible with human understanding (emission and detection via single photon patterns, for example. Human eyes biologically requires a stream of at least eight photons to even register.)
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