Last Wednesday we used Microscope to build a history for a fantasy setting. Below are the guidelines I gave the players, a brief overview of the process, and the history they built. If you want to see the actual play you can check out the videos (Part One and Part Two). The actual campaign use 13th Age, which adds a few wrinkles. Icons are a major part of the setting and so we created some of those in play. The rest I made up after that- I'll post those tomorrow. Icon creation took the place of Legacies from Microscope. In the history below, I'd added some GM annotations and clarifications. They're marked in red.
For an interesting contrast, check out the Microscope history built by a different group with essentially these same bookends (but covering a single year).
See here for the new Icons we developed for this world.
See here for the new Icons we developed for this world.
LEGENDS AND LORE
For the session I have a couple of structural rules:
*We’re building a history to run games in. We’ll want to keep that front and center in our thinking. What does that mean? It means that our campaign will begin where that history ends. Essentially we’re going to be writing the lead up to the story. We will have two bookend periods: “Revelation of the Empress’ Death” for the beginning and “The Hunts Begin” for the end. What do those mean? We’ll figure that out. I’ll probably also set a time time for the history we build, like a century or a decade. We settled on a century, with the campaign beginning just at the end of the history presented.
*We’re going to be playing this with 13th Age, a relatively light level-based fantasy game. That means that certain fantasy concepts will already be set in play:
1) No steampunk stuff, this is more classic high fantasy.
2) The game has classes and the setting we build should allow for them- though I’m cool if we have to modify them- perhaps Cleric worship something other than conventional “Gods”. Base 13th Age has the following classes: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, and Wizard. The 13 True Ways book adds Chaos Mage, Commander, Druid, Monk, Necromancer, and Occultist (though those I’m not worried about).
3) 13th Age has figures called “Icons” who represent powerful forces in the setting. We’ll be coming up with some of those in our history, and I’ll round those out. The first part of the 13th Age book gives examples of what those look like in that setting. Here’s an example of other ones from the 13th Age SRD and you can see more on that at the Pelgrane site.
PALETTE aka ADD/BAN LIST
- Clearly visible to all in the known world is the Titan that carries the sky. Carl came right out of the gate with this one. I love the idea of a literal Titan always off in the distance. He is the pole and all compasses point to him. You can judge something of your distance and position based on observing the Titan.
- Fantasy Future Tech in pocket sites from crashed spaceships. Matt adds his “Barrier Peaks” moment to the list. He talked Scott into this, and we negotiated making these elements relatively rare and precious. There’s a great opportunity to steal the old tech use flow-charts from the original Gamma World. I also need to go back and look at some of the Glorantha Dorastor material, which also had lost tech.
- Every person is bound to a spiritual aspect attached to them at birth. You can count on Scott to always add interesting concepts to the history. We actually spent a good deal of time talking about what exactly this meant. When someone’s born, a spirit becomes connected to them. These can be virtue spirits (valor, love, rage), nature spirits (raven, bear, wolf), elemental (fire, lightning, water), or even more weird an abstract (a plague spirit, the spirit of the ocean, etc). In a few places, you’re judged and classed by that spirit connection. But generally it acts as a weird reference point (“Oh, he has a bad temper because of his fire soul.”). Some people work to embrace that spirit, while others react to overcome it. Some claim that they have a strong connection with their spirit- or are even commanded by it. One of the Icons focuses on personal expansion by developing this. In general the soul spirit doesn’t offer any power, but acts as a neat reference point for the fiction.
- Draining Magic Items that affect/interact with your soul spirit. Here’s a nice idea which dovetails with elements from 13th Age. That game limits major magic items players can carry, based on the character being overwhelmed by the item’s intelligence. Here we have a limit imposed by those items draining or using up the bearer’s soul essence. There’s a secondary idea Fabian mentioned that someone could have their soul-spirit broken, meaning they couldn’t use magic items.
- Humans are not the majority race. A big changer, obviously. But it also shows an interesting thing about the Add/Ban list in Microscope. Sometimes these elements are simply taken as established facts about the world. In other cases, as with our history, the players offer an event which causes this to happen- explaining the entry retroactively.
- No Continental Land Masses- High Waters. And boom- suddenly my vision of things shifts. Well maybe not shifts, but things come into focus. A world of islands, lots of seas and straits. The largest islands perhaps the size of Ireland. Most smaller. The Titan is up to his ankles in the water.
- No firearms. That’s a classic fallback for Scott who doesn’t like too much mixing up in his games. If offers a nice compromise to Matt’s addition of weird tech above.
- No skyships. I just threw this in there because we’d had some recent settings which relied on these. As it turned out this had a major impact when Fabian raised the water level with his add.
- No Common Magic- requires dedication and training. I like this one- and Matt had some smart reasoning for wanting this. I’m imagining most magic users as heavily tied into institutions and serving some kind of enforced journeyman service. In some places they might even be bound. Their powers are rare and potent. Adventurer mages represent those who managed to skirt the system or found an out (perhaps through service or connection to an Icon). In Exalted there’s this idea of magical architects dedicated to making and maintaining manses, centers of power. I picture something like that, but dedicated to aquaculture, farming, and survival, given the environment.
Round Two: Focus: The Old Gods
Round Three: Focus: The Spirits
Round Four: Focus: War
ERA FIRST: Revelation of the Empress’ Death (D)
Event: The Shield Is Broken: With the Empress dead, Humanity's psychic defense against the forces that lurk at the edges of perception ruptures, and 80% of the race die that day. Without her divine protection, new spirits penetrate the veil and bind to living souls on this plane. (D)
I made a couple of shifts here to make this fit with the Add list and Scott’s implication of long-term continuity to the existence of these Soul Spirits. As you’ll see, I realized that the Empress had to be one of the Icons. There’s an interesting question about these new spirits which have entered the world in this century. What are they? How do they differ from the other spirits? Are they part of what the Empress had been holding back?
Event: The False Queen Amelia is executed in her Capital City of Titan by the Holy Order of Guiseppe (D)
Question: Which factions stood with the False Queen? The forces of her Elvish lover, Fathrist; the Ringwardens of Task, and the tradesmen of the Shenten Consortium.
Event: The surviving daughters of Amelia founded the Shadow as the martial arm of the Order of Shaklee.
We have the Prince of Shadows as an Icon, so there may well be a connection there.
Event: Samira, the Queen of the Merfolk, is warned by her water spirit of an Ancient ship that’s been revealed beneath the waves. The Ship is defended by strange, many eyed metallic fish, and has caused many deaths among her people. She bans all peoples from exploring the ship, including her own people.
ERA: The War of Succession Rages (D)
The 13 Noble Houses of Titan vie for the throne. The Holy Orders each back a House bringing the gods into the struggle.
This establishes that one of the remaining human nations, perhaps the strongest is Titan. It seems likely that the landmass for this country lies close to the Titan, hence the name.
Event: World Wide Web: Figaro Fortunatissimo, a devotee of the Prince of Shadows, becomes the first agent of the world's first black postal service, the Tristero System. Anyone that matters, or is sufficiently attuned to the mystical rhythms, can access the system of obtuse drop-offs and pick-ups. Even in the chaos of world war, the information must flow! After a few years, only the insane would dare interfere with a man wearing the postal horn symbol of the System. (L)
Question: What does the System’s motto, D.E.A.T.H., stand for?
D. Destiny is the lie of the gods.
e. Eternity is always the goal.
a. All things will be known.
t. Time brings all things to light.
h. Hell is reserved for those who Stop the flow.
I’ll have to figure out how this connects with the “No Common Magic” ban. Who has access to these systems? How are they staffed. I’m going to assume this training takes a significant investment like other magics, which makes these carriers quite valuable- and therefore subject to corruption. That’s especially true given that this comes from the hands of the Prince of Shadows. That suggests a system perhaps reserved only for criminals or the like.
Event: The Ageless Hag releases Kakardahl, Priestess of the Goddess of Death, bringing an end to the Soul Hollowing. (L)
Event: The Diaspora Heretics retake their ancestral home of Talon Gold. (L).
Question: Who were the heretics? The Diaspora Heretics are the 13th Holy Order. They were purged and then spread 500 years ago.
We’ve seen the Holy Orders are parallel to the 13 Noble Houses, and both appear to be (at least previously) mostly human.
Event: Alari discovers the Manual of Souls among the shattered remains of the twisted hulk. The War of Possession Begins. (D)
Some of the immediately following events suggest more about this event, even if they don’t name it directly.
ERA: The Cultural Revolution (D)
The victorious forces begin their ideological purges resulting in untold suffering
This refers to the victors of the War of Possession.
Event: Garibaldi, High Priest of Guiseppe purges the spirits from his ideological enemies, removing their ability to use items of magic, and earning him the hatred of the 13 houses. (D)
Question: Why does Garibaldi really purge the spirits? Because the spirits that are bonded to people protect them from the machinations of the Ancients, his true masters.
Garibaldi learned these techniques during the War of Possession, suggesting that the Victors had greater control over the spirits than the losers.
Event: The Order of St. Cuthbert seizes works of knowledge of the Ancients and disperses them to the corners of the globe, working to preserve ancient wisdom. (L)
Question: What domain of power does the old god that the Order of St Cuthbert represent possess? The Dark Sage holds domain over secrecy and madness, knowledge that man was not meant to know.
The Order did this in response to the growing influence and corruption of Garibaldi and his spirit-wracking followers.
Event: Garibaldi, High Priest of Guiseppe is assassinated by Gabriella, the last descendant of the False Queen, breaking his god, whose spirit had inhabited him. (L)
This unprecedented event changed the nature of the heavens themselves. The War of Succession and the War of Possession had divided the gods and thrown them into a larger conflict than ever before. Guiseppe either changed or violated the rules binding the gods’ intercessions. He took full command of a worshipper, assuming a human form. This made him potent, but still vulnerable. As the Empress had been struck down ritually, the carefully planned murder of the god shook the world.
ERA: Faithscatter (D)
New gods emerge and a war in the heavens ensues. The old gods are broken and cast down onto the earth.
The destruction of a god on earth opens the door to new gods. The old gods are thrown down to earth, taking new and powerful forms. They’re not Icons, but remain potent. Some die, some vanish, some hide, and some are transformed by the experience. Who are the new gods? That remains uncertain. They have not yet made their will, presence, or tolerance of mortals known. Meanwhile in the world, holy orders scramble desperately.
Event: The Return of the Rom (L). With the breaking of the old gods, the Rom, a seafaring race of traders claiming to the be first acolytes of the trader God Phenix, return to the world with the crashing of the great waters.
Wandering nomad people of strange origin, the Rom managed to wander up into the heavens to follow their trader god. Now they’ve returned to the world. What strange knowledge and lore do they bring with them? What do they know about the new gods?
Event: Vontcael, fallen and broken God of Storms, kills High Priest Tuvaellen and reveals that the fallen gods were once the Ancients, whose ships filled with weird technologies have been discovered over the centuries. (D)
Event: As Vontcael’s death scream is heard, Ancients’ artifacts spring to life in museums and treasure hordes across the world. Many surmise something of the old gods’ true nature as his spirit powers the old technology. (L)
Event: Fathrist, Blood King of the Elves, performs the first Execution-Exorcism. This rips the soul from the punished and pulls it into the world as a demon. These bound spirits (with physical forms drawn from their former bodies) become work-slaves at the whims of their Elvish masters. (D)
Question: Why did Fathrist, Blood King of the Elves perform this heinous act that forever stained the honor of his people? Because it advanced the cause of Elven Supremacy and served as a mechanism to punish the lesser races for the indignities suffered during the Cultural Revolution.
ERA LAST: The Hunts Begin (D)
What are the Hunts? They may vary from race to race, nation to nation. But for many the hunt is to find a cure for the dying Titan before he falls and brings the sky crashing down.
Event: Chu Chulainn Rises. From the ruins of one of the ancient crash sites, the old god Chu Chulainn rises, summoning a barbarian horde of all the coarser races. The civilized world watches in bewilderment at the gathering. (L)
Question: What was the robot doing there? Assembling itself into a massive unstoppable battering ram called Grond.
Chu Chulainn is another of the fallen gods.
Event: The Dwarves of Yan-Kannag seize control of the mammoth sea-turtle bearing the vital Green Lotus farms of the Shenthen Consortium. This daring raid turns the tide of their war in the Dwarves favor.
Question: Why is Green Lotus so Vital to the Consortium? The Green Lotus fruit allows the imbiber to directly control and magnify the power of their coexisting spirit.
Event: Council of the 13 Houses is convened: The new Holy Orders unite the 13 Houses to respond to the barbarian horde. The High Priests reveal that the Titan not only holds up the sky, but holds back the old gods’ masters, terrible forces that come from beyond the skies. And that the Titan is dying. (L)
This demonstrates that the 13 Holy Orders retain power despite the fall of the old gods.
Event: The Titan Staggers, his hand forms a land bridge between The Elven Isle of Blight and the Orcish Isle of Gharne. Fathrist immediately crosses and forces Malkarna and her people to flee into the ocean. (D)
Event: Malkarna of Gharne, the Orcish War-Leader, uses her personal Titanshark to shatter the sea-walls of Coralsent. Her forces pour through the breech. (D)
Questions: What are the Titansharks? Great beasts much larger than ships which can carry war-crews on their backs or inside their gullets. They remain among the most powerful of the sea-beasts, but not the largest.
Event: Alexia, Samira’s daughter, desperate to defend her people against the Orcs, rescinds the ban of her mother hoping that the Ancients Ship holds a key to defeat Malkarna. Her expedition reaches the ship and sets the defenders into a frenzy. The strange metallic fish defending the ship have grown much more numerous since the ban, devastating both sides in the conflict as well as the Rom, caught up in the war in which they were trying to stay neutral. (D)
GM AFTERWORD: WHAT'S NEXT?
The next post will show the four Icons we came up with in play, plus the other nine. Icons offer a great way to define your campaign world and I tried to build from elements the players brought out in this history. I have a little over a week before we do the first session (we're playing online bi-weekly). I expect most of the group will have a plan for their character, but we'll do character creation for at least a little in that first session- especially polishing 13th Age's 'One True Thing' and backgrounds for the PCs. I also want to build some kind of relationship connection between the characters, probably as simple as having each one explain their tie to the player on their left.
So what's on my GM to-do list?
- Make a list of the people and places mentioned above and put it into some kind of glossary, likely on a wiki. That will organize the info more easily for me.
- Make a name list both for NPCs and places.
- Go through my computer and pull together my fantasy battle maps. Hunt around online for some more.
- Decide if I want to use images for NPCs- if so I need to organize those.
- Come up with graphic icons for the new Icons.
- Set up the Roll20 campaign. Get an image for the Escalation die.
- Come up with a campaign name.
- Find a good GM one-sheet reference.
- Print an Icon relationship one sheet.
- Plan/generate a simple starting adventure that integrates some of the names/ Icons/ location details mentioned above.
- Plan out some interesting NPCs and a few campaign hooks or incidents I could throw at them. Use the Tome of Adventure Design to generate these.