Thursday, October 15, 2015

Thoughts on Hacking Microscope

One of my favorite story games is #Microscope.  Zooming in and out of a history, while you are forced to be creative, that gets my blood pumping.  I'm a history nerd.  Making one up just makes me giddy.

I don't get to play it enough, though.  By myself, I played a game of Microscope, which led me to creating Noah: the Kaiju-Song.  Noah is about a city on the bottom of the ocean dealing with psychic mutants called Angels and Demons.  Yes, Crux is also a city-based setting.  

I have a recurring theme it seems.

Fractal Hack-Manship Ideas.


Hacking Microscope seems apt.  Or something everyone who plays it thinks of doing.  As a setting creation tool.  My first curious thoughts is seeing if I can use part of Microscope's fractal design.  To hack and the like.

The first thought I had was to have a sort of use of the Create Advantage option from Fate Core.  Have a established timeline for your setting, and allow it to be fluid.  You have a defined "now" point the Fate Core game takes place in.  A player who takes time, like days or hours can make a Create Advantage action to create an Event or Scene in the setting's timeline.

This means time is a fluid, changing thing.  Maybe this would reflect time travel well in a Fate Core game.  Which would be a fascinating twist for something like Microscope, on second thought.  Since Scenes are just asking questions, it seems like a apt tool to bring over to Fate games anyway.  One could try to run a session where your scenes all are based on questions.  Each of these questions the player has asked beforehand.

Go around in order, giving each player a chance to "ask" a question.  You should start with some sort of theme or tentpole.  But still, that could lead to interesting adventure design.

Timey-Wimey RPG Mini-Game Thingy.


But as a setting history tool, I'm curious.  What if you made a bunch of fixed points?  Prompting tentpoles for the rest of the timeline you need, if you will.

In Microscope, you already do that: the starting and ending periods serve as tent poles.  They establish how the rest of the timeline will start.  In my idea for a variant, you don't allow players of the minigame to create new Periods.  Those are already established beforehand.  You, perhaps, give each player a chance to elaborate or alter them to taste.  But what "spans" of history are already there.

They are prompts.  Like leading questions or another mechanic. They are open-ended questions the players can answer in their own way.  You let each player get to define, describe events throughout the timeline. Do so in the fashion of Microscope.  One player is the lens, and that player defines the focus each turn, etc.

I imagine you might have to have a checklist of Foci to go down.  Once done, the setting's history is completed.  The end goal should be to not have a comprehensive timeline.  Instead a timeline that all the players know and have some investment in.

Scenes you could play out like in Microscope.  Or if you want, you can have questions about various setting history stay unanswered.  They are ported over to the game you plan to set in this history.  These could be the basis for various issues, factions, etc.  So Scenes become "Questions" rather than full RP moments.  Flavor to taste though.  Some questions might be better answered, not left open.  Having a chance to play it out for the sake of feeling those answers out might be worth your time too.

This also means a GM might have to define ahead of time core components of Microscope setup, which is easy to do.  It isn't the intent of how the game is meant to be played.  For one player to decide the course of the history, without consulting all the others.  A game master should remember to try and get all players on board with some of the ideas. You see if they want to take part in this sort of thing beforehand.  Settle these questions before even starting this sort of thing.

Communication, again, being the cement your gaming group should rely upon.

An Example From The Fall.


My example is this.

Five periods, all for a timeline based on the seed of "The Fall and What Came After."  In this timeline, each period covers a period of two to five years.  The periods are, in chronological order:


  • The Good Old Days (Light).
  • The Big One (Dark).
  • The Fall (Dark).
  • The Struggle After (Dark).
  • The Rebuilding (Light).


In Microscope fashion, I've given each of them either a dark or light tone.  Each are vague.  You can tweak the period as the game goes on.  I haven't mentioned where the game takes place.  I'd set it in the last Period, for a nice post-apocalyptic game.  BUT you could use it as a set of "predetermined" events that lead up to a disaster that ends the world.  Or you could go for somewhere in the middle.

I should try this out, I guess, but I think it could be a neat way to set up a setting for a game.