Monday, October 15, 2012

Hearts of the Worldship: A Microscope AP

On Saturday we had a new local games day- a mini-con, if you will. Derek has a good write up of what he expected and how things turned out. I’d signed up to run Microscope and the Fiasco game and GM ended up folded into my game. We had five players, so I moderated and kept things moving. We used our “fast” approach to scenes- they are always dictated, but the creator can come up with a question to answer themselves or hand it off to someone else to answer. Two of the players- Dave and Nick- had played once before, one- Scott- had played several times with me, and two- Patti and Steve- had never played Microscope before. I used one of the three prompts to quiz them a little and set up the initial premise, which ended up being sci-fi.

Big Picture: Refugees from a disaster cross the void to arrive on a new colony world.

Yes or Add List: Black Markets; Low “Magic”; Evidence of Past Civilizations; Cybernetics; Near Infinite Energy Source

No or Ban List: No Faster-than-Light Travel; No Projectile/Kinetic Weapons; No Robotics; No Artificial Intelligence

Focus One: Power Source (Nick)
Legacy One: The Brotherhood (Dave)
Focus Two: Aliens (Scott)
Legacy Two: The Girl (Nick)
Focus Three: The Psychic War (Steve)
Legacy Three: The Hearts of the Zivali (Scott)
Focus Four: Cybernetics (Patti)
Legacy Four: Arboretum (Steve)
Focus Five: Raos and the Young Girl (Dave)
Legacy Five: The Addict (Patti)

1. Colonists/Refugees Arrive (L)
When their homeworld is invaded, the Diori escape in Slower-than-Light ships. They travel for years through the void of their own solar system before discovering a Precursor Worldship.

  • Raos the Sun Eater creates a sentinel to monitor his solar system and to use as a tool as necessary. He creates this sentinel in the form of a young girl. He slumbers. (D)
  • On the colonist’s original homeworld of Dior, the Clemto arrive and begin operations to enslave them. (D)
  • Some of the Diori manage to escape their Clemto overlords. (L)
  • Raos secretly places the girl with the colonists for protection. Whether he hopes to protect her or them is uncertain. (L)
  • A scientist among the refugees discovers that one of alien lifeforms they stole from the Clemto possesses strange properties. Matter and blood from them creates an addictive drug. This drug has the side-effect of granting low-level “magic,” but these talents degrade and corrupt the user. (D)
  • The Diori refugees discover an “abandoned” Precursor Worldship in the void at the edges of their solar system. Engines within generate apparently infinite energy. They settle it. (L)
  • In response to cultural pressure, the practitioners of magic among the Diori take a ship and leave for parts unknown. They are led by a man named Zivali. (L)
2. Era of Exploration (L)
Refugees explore the heart of the Worldship, discovering giant Precursor beings in stasis, whose life force powers the ship.

  • Explorers discover terraforming equipment. This suggests the possibility that they might one day be able to create a hospitable new planet. (L)
  • A young girl develops a mental link to the precursor race. She now can only speak and understand their unknown language. This is the first time that Raos sentinel comes to the attention of the greater colony. She becomes simply known as “The Young Girl”. (L)
3. Space Idiocracy (D)
With free and abundant energy available to them, the Diori become lazy and complacent. They decline in knowledge and talent, losing ambition.

  • An enigmatic figure known as Brother Jon forms a cult called The Brotherhood. Their plan to be a response to the complacency which has gripped the colony. (D)
  • The Brotherhood fires the opening salvo in what will come to be known as The Literacy War, striking at those who revel in ignorance and hedonism. (D)
  • Perhaps hoping it will force the colonists to become more self-reliant, the Brotherhood calls for the release of the Precursor aliens held in stasis. (L)
    • SCENE: What is the release process for the Precursor aliens? Materials from the star itself must be scooped up and fed to the machine holding the aliens. (L)
  • The colony moves the Worldship closer to the star and activates the release of the aliens. The Precursors agree to ally themselves with the colonists. (L)
    • SCENE: How do the Precursors convince the Brotherhood to abandon the Literacy War? The aliens use the star materials to re-energize the ship’s power- but with limitations, forcing the colonists to become more self-reliant. (L)
4. Era of Cybernetics (L)
Colonists and refugees learn to upgrade themselves to help fight in the war against alien invaders they believe is coming.

  • The Brotherhood leads the refugees to a hidden Arboretum. This Precursor area possesses a bank of cybernetic “seeds” which grow cybernetics like plants when implanted in the body.
    • SCENE: What caused the Brotherhood to search for the Arboretum? Simple curiosity and the search for knowledge. With the war won, the Brotherhood transition into a group of scholars and explorers rather than rebels.
  • The colonists conduct a round of initial tests on the cybernetics. These go horribly wrong. Left with mutant creatures, they lock these away or destroy them. (D)
  • The Young Girl warns against the use of cybernetics, but is ignored. Authorities respond by acting against her. (L)
  •                 SCENE: What cybernetic device is forced upon The Young Girl? The random implant turns out to be a linkage to the Worldship’s controls. (L)
  •                 SCENE: As Raos’ sentinel, why is The Young Girl concerned with the use of cybernetics? She believes that the use of cybernetics will remove their protections and defenses, leaving them vulnerable to the coming alien invasion. (D)
  • Raos, slumbering and dreaming, is angered at the cybernetics forced upon The Young Girl. He releases a solar flare which fries electronics across the refugee’s original ships. The colonists now have no means to depart the Worldship and travel elsewhere. (D)
  • The Zivali hear of cybernetics being used on humans and wish to stop the use of such devices. They gather their wandering ships and launch towards the Worldship to assault the colonists.
5. Zivali War (D)
Strange alien beings invade the Worldship, claiming to be the true heirs to the Precursors and masters of the ship. The colonists have themselves forgotten the Zivali. A war breaks out.

  • The Zivali capture The Young Girl. They understand the strange language that she speaks. They believe her understanding will help them extinguish all colonists from the Worldship. (D)
    • SCENE: How do the Zivali use the girl to establish dominance? They utilize her cybernetics to create a virus which overwhelms the colonist’s own devices. (D)
  • Zivali capture refugees and perform experiments on them to reproduce The Young Girl. Instead strange mutations develop in the survivors. Neither the Zivali nor the colonists know the girl’s true origin. (D)
6. Colony Destroyed: Extinction (D)
The war continues and expands leading to an incident which destroys the Worldship and the colony.

  • Some colonists fighting the Zivali develop their own psychic energy abilities. The means remains unknown. (L)
  • An investigative team uncovers the means for gaining psychic power: killing and eating the hearts of the Zivali. By doing so, the colonists absorb the psychic energy and mastery of their foes. The colonists and Zivali have forgotten that they come from the same stock. That knowledge along with much else has been lost. (D)
    • SCENE: Why is the navigator position unfilled for so long? Knowledge of the charts and systems for operating the controls has been lost. No one can read the instructions any more. As well, most who might have the skill have become Zivali-Heart addicts. (D)
  • Colony physicians warn about increasing sterility among the colonists- they point to the eating of the Zivali Hearts as the likely cause. (D)
    • SCENE: What happens when too much Zivali Heart is ingested? Nothing happens immediately. However a fatal stroke will occur within three weeks. That stroke will release a psychic burst knocking out and injuring those in close range. (D)
  • Raos the Sun Eater awakens in the heart of the solar system’s star- roused from his slumbers by the psychic screams. Angered by the theft of his solar material, he attacks the Worldship, forcing the war between Zivali and colonists to end. (D)
    • SCENE: How do the Zivali react to the end of the war? Trapped on the Worldship, the Zivali make a treaty with the colonists. They start planning a way to kill Raos. (L)
  • The Young Girl convinces Raos that the colonists have advanced and new to start a new world. They make provisions for themselves and prepare to depart from the Worldship, leaving the colony behind. (L)
  • When the Young Girl reveals her true nature, a heart addict detonates with his psychic stroke nearby. The burst knocks out the girl. But the feedback sends the burst further, striking Raos who is linked to her. This shocks Raos and causes him to ignite the sun, creating a nova which destroys the Worldship and the solar system. (D)
    • SCENE: Why was the addict with the girl? He was in love with her and desperately followed even as she prepared to rejoin Raos and leave the colony. (D)
Though I've played Microscope several times, this was the first sci-fi version I've done. It is really tough to moderate the game- especially when great things occur to you but you have to wait. I did massage and reword some of the entries here at the end to create a coherent narrative. I more explicitly connected some of the ideas which had been implicitly tied at the table. Once again I opted to write this up as a straight timeline rather than tracing when items got added and where. I need to figure out some directions/examples to keep people focused when they write events. A few times we had more general descriptions that cover a span of time. To really kick it up a notch, I think events need to be concrete and specific- not that X happens, but that Y person or thing causes X thing to happen at Y place. But I had a good time and would do it again at a convention. It is a shorter game, so I need to figure out how to deal with that if we have a larger timespan. 



  1. Wow, great report. I really enjoyed reading it. So much for "Happily ever after," huh? :)

  2. Would you really be able to reconstruct the order in which the gameplay added the bits of history? (Did you record the game?)

    I really want to play Microscope --- I had the idea of using it to generate a world for a "normal" character-based RPG for the same players, but I thought of some problems with that idea ( Have you tried that?

    1. I think what we would have to do is have the players number the cards as they placed them. Perhaps assign each a letter code and then have then number them independently. Then in the write up I could track it that way. I'm not sure I'd gain a whole lot from doing that however.

      I've used it three times to create campaigns, each with success. I will definitely do that again. I haven't had issue with either of the two problems you suggest. For problem #1, players buy into ownership of the setting in that single creation session. Especially if it is clear that they're going to be playing in that setting. Tell the players up front and make that creation only a single session. They will often try to put elements in which they want to play (races, themes, kinds of stories). That early ownership makes them more connected when we come to the table. For the second question, I build the game around the world they've created. So I hack systems to get there. If you're using a set system with its own logic about spells & such, you could establish that at the outset. "Magic works here as it does in D&D" and let the players tinker with that. The idea is that you're building a world they want to play in- so you structure the world building to create the history up to the point you're about to play. That means the end period should be ambiguous- "The Big Bad Threat Appears" and let the PCs define what they want to fight (see "The Hunts Begin" example above). Plus players will give you plenty of space and room to develop threads from what they build- things won't get closed off and you'll be able to play with them.

    2. Thanks for replying --- definitely food for thought. I feel like players would be so much more invested in a world they helped create, and player-DM collaboration would be so well established when you began.