Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Microscope Experiment - Summary and Observations

So this week I played Microscope with my weekly gaming group again, finishing the round we started last week.  With five players (the maximum recommended number of players) we pretty much filled up the table with 3x5 notecards.  We did not do as many scenes this time, which seemed to drop the energy level at the table.  We also seemed to be reaching the point where players had definite ideas where they wanted the story to go and were starting to get a bit snarky when it didn't, which seemed to be a good sign it was time to stop working on this particular history.
  • We missed that Legacies could be used instead of the current Focus until after we were done playing.  I think this would have helped where players had no idea what to do with the current Focus but had things they wanted to add to the history.
  • Writing an Event requires a bit more conciseness than we mustered early on.  We got better, but it is something to keep an eye out for.  Events are more concise than Period and have a definite start and end, even if they are only implied.  For example, my Event "Open warfare between the armies of The Circle and The Purple Crown" should have said "The Circle and The Purple Crown field their steampunk mecha prototypes against each other for the first time, utterly destroying Townsville and each other".  That's what I was seeing in my head, but I had not yet learned to put that exactly down on the card.
  • Scenes are where the excitement is.  Do Scenes as often as you can get away with.  Really.
  • A good question for the Scene helps lots, but the Scene description is vital to getting started.  I found myself restating the descriptions for scenes to make sure I understood what the active player was trying for and getting them to state the exact starting point of the Scene.
  • I can see why 3-4 players is a better number - things go around faster and players have more influence on the history.
  • Microscope is designed for large periods of time, so it would be difficult to use for periods of time smaller than multiple decades.  But for grand scale creation, it works very well.
Next week we are building characters for our Burning Wheel game and will be doing a quick round of Microscope to establish some world history.  I'm not certain how that will pan out exactly, but it will give the players a better grip of the world and more insight into it, so that should be good.  I think I'm going to recommend the GM set out the periods he wants and have the session be a single round adding to that.  The end period for the game will be the starting point of the actual campaign.

I'm going to provide a (hopefully) concise summary of the outcome of our two sessions of Microscope.  I'll try to explain anything that seems unclear.  All cards played are defined as Dark or Light by the player, but this seems to be somewhat arbitrary.  I might need to read some more on this for the next game.

History Seed:
We started with by selecting a seed from a list of sample seeds in the back of the book.  The seed we selected was "Secret societies carefully steer the course of civilization".

The Palette:
This is a list of things players want or don't want to see.  The Yes options allow for the possibility of something, the No options specifically exclude things, making them forbidden to add.
subtle magic [This should have been defined better.]
reanimation is possible

timey-wimey stuff
joke conspiracies
non-humans (specifically sentient non-humans)
otherworld travel (allows other worlds to exist, but no travel to them)

(more, much more, below the cut)
Period: Weak Empire leads to strong secret societies. (Dark)
     Event: Witch of the Woods discovers her ability to control weather. (Dark)
     Event: The Witch of the Woods founds The Circle. (Dark)
          Scene: How did the Witch of the Woods convince people to follow her?
                      A village square, mid-day.  Required: The Witch of the Woods
                      Answer: She tested people out through a gambling board game with a circular board,
                           playing for favors or what they wanted most.
    Event: Nobles looking to expand their influence form The Purple Crown. (Light)
Period: Secret War I (Dark)
     Event: Headquarters of The Circle attacked, starting Secret War I. (Dark)
     Event: The Circle looses secret War I (Light)
          Scene: What caused The Circle to lose the war?
                      Matsuba Auditorium (built of Acoustic Wood), back stage before a meeting with the
                      leadership of The Circle.  Required: Vitoria Elonza (leader of The Circle) and Domu
                      Bogstrum (her assistant)
                      Answer: Purple Crown infiltrator detonates a sonic grenade at the meeting, which is
                           amplified by the Acoustic Wood, killing all but Domu (who pursued the assassin).
     Event: Domu Bogstrum initiates a new Circle. (Dark)
Period: Magic fades away (light)
             [This sparked a debate as the Palette allows subtle magic. We decided it was not permanent.]
     Event: The Dawn is formed to keep magic from disappearing entirely. (Light)
Period: Secret War II (Light) [Actually the last Period played and near the end.]
     Event: The Seven Maidens form an alliance with The Dawn to turn against The Purple Crown.
     Event: The Dawn use ritual magic to attack the Purple Crown, pushing their headquarters to
                 another dimension and erasing memory of it. (Light)
     Event: The Dawn assumes the role of the top heirarchy of The Purple Crown, suborning it. (Light)
     Event: The Purple Crown assassinates the leader of The Seven Maidens. (Dark)
     Event: The Dawn uses Purple Crown infiltrators to infiltrate the other secret societies. (Light)
     Event: The Seven Maidens discover The Purple Crown is controlled by The Dawn. (Dark)
     Event: Members of the Seven Maidens form Eclipse to fight The Dawn. (Dark)
Period: A period of steampunk technology. (Light)
            ["Steampunk-style technology ascends." would have been better. Let it go.]
     Event: Nikolai Edison marries his first wife, Jeanine. (Light)
     Event: The Circle begins funding steampunk technology research. (Light)
          Scene: Why did The Circle become interested in steampunk technology?
                      A field with a steam engine on one side. Required: Nikolai Edison and someone from
                      The Circle.
                      Answer: The saw the power in Nikolai's steam cannon.  (Dark)
                     [They also made it look like a failure so noone else would want it.]
     Event:Vitoria Miles, a rival to Dr. Magnus, opens a workshop to compete with him. (Light)
     Event: Nikolai Edison establishes his workshop. (Light)
     Event: Jeanine leaves Nikolai for his brother. (Light)
     Event: Nikolai Edison sells his steam cannon designs to a Circle front organization. (Dark)
     Event: Nikolai Edison's wife dies. (Dark)  [Not his first wife it turned out.]
          Scene: What technology did Nikolai Edison lock away as too dangerous after it kills his wife?
                      In Edison's workshop, just before a demonstration.
                      Required: Edison and his wife Matilda
                      Answer: Electronic levitation technology  (Dark)
                      [This was the first scene we did.  We wanted to see the end, so we did the next scene.]
         Scene: How does levitation technology kill Matilda Edison?
                     In Edison's workshop, as the demonstration happens.
                     Answer: Sabotage by an agent of the Purple Crown explodes a clock being levitated.
                                   Gears from the clock strike Matilda at high velocity. (Dark)
                     [There was also an infiltrator from The Circle trying to steal the plans.]

Period: A period of great prosperity. (Light) [Again, an early play that could have been better.]
     Event: Secret societies meet and agree to outlaw the use of steampunk technology for warfare,
                ending official military research. (Light)
     Event: Edison Corporation starts the sale of steam-powered autonomous helpers to great success.
                (Light)  [They had to be defined as non-sentient due to the Palette.]
     Event: The Purple Crown declares that Edison Corporation must be put out of business. (Dark)
                 [An early event that needed to be more focused and with an ending.]
     Event: Leader of Edison Corp. discovers the company is being targeted by a mysterious 
                organization. (Light)
     Event: The Purple Crown assassinates the Board of Directors of Edison Corp.  (Dark)

Period: Secret War III
     Event: The Circle backs ConEd against the Purple Crown.  (Dark)
     Event: Bero, direct descendant of the Witch of the Woods, becomes the Duke of Starrymarsh.
     Event: Nikolai Edison's levitation technology is rediscovered. (Dark)
     Event: Bero, Duke of Starrymarsh, finds a copy of The True History of the Second Secret War in
                 the ruins of a recently destroyed manor house.  (Light)
     Event: Open warfare between the armies of The Circle and The Purple Crown. (Dark)
                [This should have been: "The Circle and The Purple Crown field their steampunk mecha
                  prototypes against each other for the first time, utterly destroying Townsville and each
Period: Truth of secret societies is exposed. (Dark)

So we could go back and explore parts of that history of explore what happens afterward and have satisfying stories develop.  Our ability to create better events improved as we went along, so I'm looking forward to the next time we play.

That's it for now - Later!

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