Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Road to Doubtfall: A Microscope Alchemical AP

Microscope remains a solid game, and my go to tool for doing interesting building. I mentioned in other posts (here and here) that I'd offered my wife a one-on-one campaign, based on alchemy- which would echo her favorite video game series, Atelier. For something like this- a game directed to the interests of one or two players, Microscope works well, allowing you to naturally incorporate their interests into the background and setting of the game. As a GM, it makes my job easier- suddenly I'm armed with a host of ideas only lightly hinted at in the timeline.

We sat down, then, to do a two-player session of Microscope. Previously I'd done 3,4,5 and 6 person versions. We decided that each turn would have five passes- with the starting player setting the lens and ending the round (three passes total) and the other player taking two passes, but setting the legacy. We settled on a fairly broad premise: "Fantasy Kingdom impacted by changes in the alchemical arts." To that we only made three changes to the 'palette.' We didn't add anything which we wouldn't expect- I think in part because we knew the nature of those video games and had a sense of what they encompassed in terms of themes and details. We did "ban" three things:
  1. Non-humans races (like Elves) appear rarely. They are exceptional and don't interact fully with the main world.
  2. Related to the above, no classic "evil" races in the story- like Orcs or Drow or such.
  3. No transformational attacks- which is based on a set of things from the video games where certain characters can turn monsters into candy or cakes. They're strange games, ok...?

Below is the timeline we developed, presented in chronological order. That doesn't trace the development in play, but we didn't track that. One interesting factor in the two-player Microscope session is that you end up with more 'parallel play.' Both of us found ourselves writing new things while the other player was creating. We did play off of each other's ideas, but we also didn't have to worry as much about another person knocking things off axis. While this was fun, I think Microscope really benefits from a larger number of players- I'd say three is the minimum. That breaks any straight duality to what the players are doing. I enjoyed this experiment despite this.

Great areas lay empty, knowledge lost. Cause unknown.

* Awakens In A Field
Slinka Dux Compos wakes up in a empty valley. She remembers little of what has happened. Later it will be suggested she is among the few survivors of the Gearsworn vanishing. She discounts this interpretation as overblown and fanciful

Some wish to use their arts for practical control, some with to stay apart. This begins an age of division among the Alchemists.

* The Personifications Depart
Heretofore, the thirteen Manas have existed as powerful personifications of their respective elemental forces and companions to their chosen Alchemist masters. In the course of a single day, those personifications retreat from the world (presumably taking their masters with them) and leaving only those Alchemists with the strongest gift still able to muster the elemental power sufficient to do alchemy. Sadly, this concentration of the remaining (albeit reduced) Alchemical power among fewer individuals only intensifies the feuding.
* The Sole Surviving True Master
Albriech Compos retires as an alchemical master (of Air) the day before the Manas retreat from the world. The event comes as a great shock to him, "I had no idea anyone was upset" he’s heard to say.
* Ruins Within Ruins
Following an earthquake, the Academie Laybyrinthe slides into the Buried Sea, a valley full of fossilized former sea life and stone ships of unknown origin and titanic size. The mountainside alchemical facility had been abandoned for generations after a series of experiments gone awry.

The new Masters of the thirteen elements trade their loyalties to different kingdoms, hoping that martial force will strengthen their agendas. Alchemists serve nobility and nations rather than concentrating on bonds with the elemental forces for the first time in known history.

* The Loss of Heartbreath
Echoing the vanishing of Gearsworn, the city of Heartbreath disappears. A single survivor speaks of The Quiet and his two siblings, The Somber and The Silence who caused this. This testimony is the first recorded appearance of the triplet enigma.
* The Summoning of the Castigants
Each hearing the sounds of hammers in their dreams and the calls of the Mana of their respective Mana, Master after Master visits the former Foundry of the Mana. Those who do manage to return from that place beg release from their martial allies and attempt to retire from society, speaking of doom that may yet follow them. The foundry becomes known as the Furnace of Castigants.
* Welcome to Doubtfall
Gregor Batuza mistranslates a magical warning sign and finds his way into the Doubtfall Valley, a place lost and forgotten since the vanishing of the Gearsworn Empire.
* The Immortal Lock
Eranae Lastsaw opens the Immortal Lock. Assisted by her students, she snaps the relic back in place, sealing in herself, her students and The Silence and The Quiet. The Somber is said to have watched the place for a year before vanishing for many decades.
* The Abstraction of The Colleges
The last vestiges of the alchemical colleges of the Thirteen are each shrouded in roiling mist. Those who travel in and return will report that all has been reduced to strange puzzle hallways patrolled by monsters and stretching into emptiness.

Although the Alchemical arts are all but lost, page after page of Lastsaw’s journals are discovered in unlikely places and brought together by improbable coincidence. Scholars gather to retrieve some measure of the Arts of Alchemy from the highly prosaic pages of Eranae’s dairies. Eventually three new academies of Alchemy are founded: Earthvale, Abellvross & Kenkuran.

* Batstad
Gregor Batuza founds Batstad, which will change hands and kingdoms over the years to come, but will always be at the frontier. Batstad sits in the middle of a host of dangerous ruins, making travel outside dangerous. The people of Batstad will eventually become known for their nonchalance regarding monsters and the strange.
* Competing Interpretations
Three separate interpretations by former friends spawn bitter rivalries- and three rival academies of Alchemy.
* What differs between the interpretations? (Scene)
Each argued for the preeminence of a particular Alchemical approach. The founder of Earthvale Academy, Adil Doravale, argued that MATERIALS had the greatest impact on outcome. K. Abell, future headmaster of Abellvross Academy, claimed that IDEALS OF FORM provided the most meaningful framework for organizing the potential results. Yan Kenk, who would build Kenkuran Colleges, claimed that all was ruled by INTENTIONALITY.
* Hero’s Trail Heralds The Scattering Of The Keys
The comet, Hero’s Trail, becomes associated with occasional sightings of the Mana personifications of old. Stories begin to circulate that the Mana descend from the heavens on the comet’s tail to hide away tokens of favor- later the story becomes that the things left behind are pieces of keys needed to call back the Mana. None can produce any evidence of the tokens or their purpose- but the stories strike a chord and many believe them as fact. Sadly, Hero’s Trail only passes by every seven years.

Renewed warring between the three academies allows the return of The Somber. The Earthvale Academy is destroyed, an event which shakes the remaining two.

* Disgraced!
Wrenluck Compos is kicked out of Earthvale. He leaves in disgrace for his semi-lascivious sculptures. As he leaves by the back gates, a force of alchemists from the other two academies sneak in via the front to steal secrets. They lower Earthvale’s defenses and allow The Somber to destroy the place.
* Return of the Trio
Wyrel, the Master of Aroma and Feld, the Master of Water, fall back from The Immortal Lock. They are unable to prevent The Somber from releasing its exiled siblings.
* Once Upon The Warpath
A war party of Earthvale alumni gather to take revenge upon Kenkuran (first). They sight the Enigma Triplets on their path. They hastily retreat and manage to tell their story, but they subsequently vanish shortly thereafter.
* The Alchemists Isolated
The remaining two academies, Abellvross and Kenkuran, retreat from affairs. Fewer recruits are taken in and fewer venture out into the world. Hedge Magic takes the place of Alchemy in many kingdoms.
* Jilly’s Triumph!
Seeking to stop the rampage of the venomous Snakewyrd, Jilly Compos, the Alchemical Savant, creates the Iceline, a massive wall of ice which stops the monsters. She is feted until the next summer when the wall melts, floods the lowlands and then re-forms.
* Ozanos’ Plot
Ozanos Ruk begins his retreat from the Furnace of Castigants, leading The Silence. The foe follows. Ozanos draws it across the wild north as the alchemist hoped.
* The Wizard of Fruit
A plague, reportedly created by the Trio, the Alchemists or a crazed hedge mage, ravages the land. It destroys fruit trees and crops everywhere. Sillbar Delsk travels up the Annexed Ladder to Equal where he harvests new seeds and brings them back to the land.
* Things End Unsatisfactorily for Both
Millicent Compos sets out to quell the Harpy raids choking off trade between Govril and The Goldsworn Guilds. Her explosive charges wake up an ancient dragon- which does indeed scare off the harpies quite permanently. Fortunately for Millicent, the dragon is more interested in conversation than small person-sized snacks. Unfortunately for Millicent, the dragon calls her by the overly familiar 'Milly.' Her dignity wounded, she sends him back into his torpor with some dangerously over-powered sleep powder. To her great regret, the nickname is not so easily put down.

Torvadi finds old ruins at the heart of Minkal, the Divided City. He begins to maneuver- ending with his establishment of a new third Academy- the arrogantly named Torvadi Academy.

* Torvadi Is Popular at Salon
Always blessed with a sense of theatre, Torvadi promotes himself even at parlor games. Among his notable talents at salon, he claimed to use a secret technique to translate dreams- always casting the dreamer in the most positive light. When prompted to reveal and then translate his own dreams, he staged a revelation that his dreams were telling him that ‘all alchemy is merely the recognition of potential.’ Investors clearly liked the message.
* The Quiet or Not Quiet
The Guild of Misreaders, the elect of Batstad, manage to mangle and fill-with-error an analysis of The Quiet. They render it odd and ineffectual, adopting it as a mascot for their city.
* The Translation of Potential
Entrance to the Torvadi Academy is notoriously simple for those chosen and inscrutable for those not. The only useful advice, it is said, is ‘go there if you think you can do it.’
* Ruins or Runes?
After mapping the area around Batstad, the surveyors and cartographers are summarily paid off sufficiently handsomely to ensure their silence and asked to leave. The Batstad city officials consult over the maps produced, call in the Misreaders and, that proving insufficient to quell their alarm, build a windowless and doorless building of basalt to house the resulting maps.
* The Ruin of Wickmarek
The alchemist Dun Mogton works on a creation to clean Wickmarek for an upcoming festival. His work backfires...and he propels several neighborhoods into the future, switching them with ruins from that time. Abellvross disowns and disbars him.
* Exciting New Paths to Riches
Gold Captain Reavis of Arlint becomes famous and wealthy after discovering an ancient trove of the Gearsworn. The life of a treasure-hunter catches the popular imagination; droves of young adventurers set out, dreaming of their own version of Reavis’ luck.
* Carry On, Gentlemen!
Torvadi, prideful to the end, successfully manages to prove his theory that only those of Alchemical Talent can draw the attention of the Triplets and hope to affect their course. However, having forgotten to plan a retreat from his demonstration in the case it was successful, he is forced to seal himself within the Caverns of Echoing Folly to escape The Somber. None have yet been able to break the seal.


Despite the loss of their school’s founder in their junior year, the students and the academy’s devoted faculty press forward.

* Igfell Vanishes
Koring Igfell, leader and hero of the Kingdom of Govril, vanishes from his palace. He leaves behind his armor and sword, along with a mysterious purple flower, never seen before.
* Weighty Rediscovery
The semi-lascivious statuary of Wrenluck Compos is rediscovered up in the attic of one Provender Pine Compos. All but one of the original statues are recovered after their location is revealed when one of the bronze pieces falls through a rotting ceiling and brains an assassin intent on taking the life of P. P. Compos. Sadly, the strangely proportioned piece that dropped from above was smashed up quite badly in all the interesting spots and considered a total loss by experts.
* Always Room For More Strange
A strange contrivance, altogether too similar to descriptions of The Immortal Lock, appears in the clocktower of Batstad. The Misreaders argue vociferously, Not Quiet starts setting up a little potted garden around it and the Batuza family sends out inquiries for assistance.
* On the Economy of Pears
Stevtarish Figuel, scion of the wealthy Figuel family, works hard above and below the table to corner the market on pears. However, a bumper crop in Pearlthorn brings his efforts to naught. His family’s fortunes lie in ruins and rotting fruit...
* Compos-ed Pears? What can be the meaning of it?
Villain Compos approaches Stevtarish Figuel with a scheme for turning pears into gold. After much horse-trading and many travails, Stevtarish learns that Villy’s recipe requires star metal- many times more valuable than the gold that would be produced. However, Villy has already left town with a cart of overripe pears- to what purpose no one knows.

So obviously, the game will have to take place in the city of Batstad, in the Valley of Doubtfall. I have plenty of unanswered questions, family names, crises and ideas to play from.

Turn (Lens/Legacy)
One--->Divisions/The Somber
Two--->Retreat/The Furnace of Castigants
Four--->Heroes/The Immortal Lock
Six--->The Line of Compos/The Semi-Lascivious Statuary of Wrenluck Compos

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