Monday, April 18, 2011

The Fleet Departs: A Microscope RPG Campaign Set-Up

We're switching up one of the on-going campaigns, our Wushu one, as an experiment of a sort. We plan to finish out the Wushu game as we can, but the opportunity arose to play something out. We decided to do a fantasy campaign, one in which I'd set a basic premise and the players would then use Microscope to build the background and history for the setting. I'd then run the actual campaign in another system from whatever they built in Microscope. This Saturday we had the world-building session. I'd suggest checking out my review if you want to see how the game operates.

The History
I had a pretty basic idea in mind, I wanted to run a kind of fantasy riff on the original Battlestar Galactica. The PCs would be on a fleet fleeing from one part of the world to another. Beyond that premise, I left everything open for them to build. Here's what I established- the terms in bold & caps they would determine through playing out the Microscope session.

Premise: A magical, divided world suffers a crisis leading to an exodus.

Starting Period: The World Divided

Ending Period: The Fleet Departs

Basic Assumptions:
1. The world has been divided into SECTIONS
2. There's an OBSTACLE which creates those divisions
3. Each section has PIECES which must be traversed.
4. The peoples of each section use VESSELS to travel
5. A CRISIS has forced the surviving peoples of your section to flee to a new section.

You will be playing important scout/explorer/leader characters in the escaping fleet. There's a lead ship, plus one ship for each player's culture, plus a small number of others. Even if players choose the same race, they will come from different cultures. Each player will additionally have the means to move between the vessels easily (a riding beast, magical device, etc- depending on how you build the world). Imagine the fleet like a floating city.
We had five players, two of whom had played Microscope before. I made sure they were the first and last Lenses. I made a couple of modifications to the rules to accommodate the newness and time required for building the world. All scenes would be dictated, and a player could set up the question and answer it themselves or ask someone else to answer it. As GM I intended to just throw one or two things in, but I ended up taking a turn as the Lens. For Legacies, the player could choose a Legacy and have the Gm write it up or vice versa. We had a final free placement round at the end. Since we had the premise, starting and end points for the history built, we began with the Palette.

* No technology without a personal investment and magical empowerment: any tech (guns, flying machines, etc) must be magically powered.
* No free mana: all magical power comes from a phsycial power source, the most common being magistone.
* No multiple worlds- a single world broken and divided.
* No universal magic: all magic comes from specific traditions which focus on particular effects. Persons cannot learn deeply into more than one tradition.
* No personal flight spells- magic items allowed.
* No constant powers or effects on magic weapons: powers must be activated.
* Different races cannot interbreed.

* Skyships (didn't necessarily need to be here, but player wanted to define the setting through this which seemed reasonable)
* Reincarnation
* Non-human majority; humans less than 50% of population
* Active, Intervening Gods balanced by a complex bureaucracy
* God Foundlings create new souls (this came from the question of reincarnation above as we tried to get some clarification about what that meant. Essentially the only new souls come into this world when a god (male or female) procreates with a mortal. The resulting child is not divine, but is a new soul and not a reincarnated one)
* Elementals are native to this world.
* Each race/culture has a unique economic/crafting/commerce specialty which they're the best at.

I've noticed we tend to use the palette to define some of the universal features as well- I suspect we'll get more used to doing that through placed items as we use Microscope more.

The Lens
A quick summary of each round-
Round One: Scott; Focus: Division; Legacy: Kraken Pirate Fleet
Round Two: Ward; Focus: Reunifiers; Legacy: Magistone
Round Three: Jeanne; Focus: The Crisis!; Legacy: The Straadi
Round Four: Kenny; Focus: Races; Legacy: Lord SunForge
Round Five: Sherri; Focus: Twins; Legacy: The Sympathy of Souls Prophecy
Round Six: Lowell; Focus: Magic

The Play History
L= Light Item; D= Dark Item

The World Divided: Period One
The world is split into separate areas through a great calamity (D)

d10-1 Magistone Rush: The various races battle for and rush to exploit the newly arrived magistone which rains from the sky. (D)
d10-2 World Shattered: The wizard Calmoot in an attempt to bring order to the battles for the Magistone causes a massive calamity and shatters the world into pieces. These pieces float in the ether like islands, with oceans becoming floating bodies of water. (D)
d10-3 The Twins: In the aftermath, all births are twins with each sharing a single soul, split across the two bodies. (L)
Scene: Why did twins become the norm? The explosion of magistone damaged the Wheel of Reincarnation. (D)

Age of Exploration: Period Two
Some of the races discover the secrets of sky ships- they spread out to other peoples and lands, passing those secrets along, building trade contacts and inventing the means to map their sky ocean. (L)

d10-1 The Stormwall Mapped: The Grand Fleet "Leviathan" composed of the last of the Dwarves bind their ships with protective magics. They head out and map most of the Stormwall which separates this sky ocean from others. The fleet is lost when a freak storm splits off from the wall and engulfs them. (D)
d10-2 Birth of Golems: Mad Wizards attempt to reunite the souls of twins to create a single, non-split soul. This process is too rigorous for mortal flesh to survive and instead the wizards create Golems to serve as vessels for the reunited souls.. (D)
d10-3 Magicstone Sickness: The Twin Magi of the Seeking Stone Path, Tyrakhet and Tyrokoth discover the source of grave illnesses sweeping across the populace. The explosion changed the character of Magistone--now exposure to too great a quantity can make a person sick and eventually kill them. (D)

Age of the Tengu: Period Three
The Tengu race discovers Warpsteeds, wingless flying beasts. This allows them to travel more quickly and faster. They spread out their trade empire, the Rainbowed Horde, across a third of the islands, bringing trade and a common language to the peoples. (L)

d10-1 Consortium of Nocturne: Several groups from the "Dark Races" (Goblins, Ogres, etc) forge an ideological and economic compact. It is occasionally disregarded, but over time becomes almost an ethical "right" and standard for civility among these groups- separating them from other Dark Race nations. (L)
d10-2 Change Storm: A massive storm from the Stormwall sweeps across the land, causing great damage and creating magical beasts. (D)
d10-3 Meshing Mind and Machine: The Goblins discover how to mesh machine and mind. They create the first firearms and siege machines to dissuade the Tengu from taxing the peoples of the Consortium. Machines of War become easier to create. (D)
d10-4 Sky-Squids: The Goblins of Drek-Sable perfect the Sky-Squid, originally a parachute and then later adapted into a flying device.

The Warring of the Races: Period Four
With expansion, the many races come into more and more contact. This leads to an extensive period of conflict with the various gods heavily involved. Races stakes major claims to the portions of the shattered world. (D)

d10-1 Reformation of the Celestial Bearing: After the destruction wrought by the gods' favoritism in the wars between races, the gods are reorganized into a complex bureaucracy, with no god able to take unilateral action without approval by backers. (L)
d10-2 The Gods Divided: With the changing of the gods order, they reveal their new roles to the peoples: the gods will be divided among the various races rather than answering all petitions. (L)
d10-3 Avatar Leadership: Representatives of the gods of each of the peoples establish peace between them. They bring diverse peoples together (L)
d10-4 Scaleborn: The Scaleborn race is created when various peoples hunt down and slay nearly all of the dragons. In the final battle, the dragons release their essence and change their attackers, creating a new race from the Dragon's souls. This new race lacks any gods to speak for them. (L)
d10-5 Twin Slayers: Syra and Talvein were the first "twin" souls to be born apart. When they meet later, it was on opposite sides of a war. Syra killed her "brother" and his soul linked to her, unable to be reborn without her. This combined with dark magics gave Syra great power. She creates a rogue group of warlocks who kill their twin as a means to gain strength. (D)

The Winged Riders of Gul Desett: Period Five
The Riders travel out across the lands, attempt to rally like-minded people. They forge one of the first unified multiracial and balanced Empires. (L)

d10-1 The Riders' Mounts: The Wyvern clutch of Nightscreech are found and tamed by the warriors of Gul Desett. They form the first of the Winged Riders (L)
d10-2 Straad Created: House Gul Desett establishes the island city of Straad, welcoming all newcomers. (L)
d10-3 Artificial Magistone: Xolosh Reykin, a Grey Path Dancer, masters the art of summoning extra-planar elementals, with new forms and powers beyond the native elementals. He also discovers the means to convert these non-native elementals into artificial Magistone, a process which kills them. (D)
d10-4 The Release: Shilasch Reykin, Xolosh's twin sister attempts to stop her brother. She frees a summoned elemental and sends it back to its kind to hopefully close the gates. (D)
Scene: Why Does Shilasch do this? She assumes the elementals have twins as well and cannot stand the thought of a being separated in this way. The death of a single creature means a twin is left behind, too too tragic. (L)
d10-5 New Laws: The City of Straad Justicars determine that twins are responsible for each others actions. (D)
d10-6 The Scaleborn Hunted: The Twin Dragons Velsha-Velshe set upon the task of killing the Scaleborn in an effort to reclaim the Dragon "energy." (D)

The Kraken Pirate Fleet Conquers the Unity Empire: Period Six
The Unity Empire held sway for generations across the lands. Finally human sky-pirates assemble a massive fleet and destroys the heart of the Empire. They conquer and ravage the decaying Empire. (D)

d10-1 Freespar Founded: The White Elves, Dana Tet, liberate themselves from the rising power of the Kraken Pirates and establish a home island, Freespar. (L)
d10-2 Magistone Redistributed: The vaults of the Kraken Pirate fleet's wealth, rich with loot, explode, raining Magistone everywhere across the lands. The first nail in the Pirate Fleet's coffin has been hammered. (L)
d10-3 Humans Rescue Elves: The Elvish peoples of Forest Allonian are rescued and pledge allegiance to House Van Deu. (L)
d10-4 Cutting Off the Kraken's Head: A Wolfen Alpha Pack, lead by Kule Rintscythe, assassinate the five lieutenants of the Kraken Fleet. (L)
d10-5 Namir Allies: The Namir, a cat-like people, ally themselves to the growing coalition in the war against the pirates. (L)
d10-6 Van Deu Expands: The Nokor, Blackskinned orcs and former members of the Consortium of Nocturne, present gifts and are welcomed by House Van Deu. (L)

The Soulkiller Wars: Period Seven
The Elvish Nations, seeing the damage wrought by humans through the actions of the Pirate Fleet decide to take action. Banded together, they slaughter humans across the lands- reducing their numbers and making them a minority. They use newly created Souldeath magics to back their crusade. (D)

d10-1 Souldeath Weapons: One of the Namir discovers the the secret of imbuing weapons with the Souldeath magics. The Namir rise to notoriety as these weapons become highly sought after. (D)
d10-2 The Dana Tet Flee: The White Elves repudiate the Elvish Alliance and steal the secrets of the Fatespinner magics to escape their wrath. (L)
d10-3 New Magics: The Orcish order, Forgiveness of Stone, inadvertently create powerful food growing and preservation spells in their pursuit of the mysteries of healing. They never do get healing right. (L)
d10-4 Saving Humanity: The White Elves, having been hunted and enslaved themselves give some humans aid and protection against their pursuers. (L)
d10-5 Desperate Measures: The Order of Calmoot discovers the arts of necromancy, utilizing the life force/souls of other beings. (D)
d10-6 Elemental Allies: Pooh Kha'Rhan, a Namir shaman discovers strong allies among the native water elementals during a summoning exercise. (L)

Landfall: Period Eight
A great storm begins which sweeps across the land. In the aftermath the floating lands one by one begin to sink and tumble from the sky falling into the abyss. Panic spreads. (D)

d10-1 The Storm's Source?: Unbalanced amounts of natural magistone summon mana storms throughout the sphere. (D)
d10-2 Dark Secrets: Straadi Mages discover the ability to keep their own island afloat. (L)
Scene: How did the Straadi keep their island afloat? By using Xolosh Reykin's method for man-made magistone. (D)
d10-3 The Arks: The first arks are built. People move to ships that hover above the land, never knowing when the islands may begin to sink. (L)
d10-4 Guidance: The Scalebound discover that they can sense when the magics of an island are beginning to weaken. They take on the role of leading the arks. (L)
d10-5 Discovery: Scholars ascertain that the storm has destabilized only the islands in this zone. When one crosses the Zintai Stormwall border, stable masses can be found. (L)
d10-6 The Enemy Revealed: Lord Sunforge, Warlord of the Beyonder Elementals, reveals the role of the extra-planar elements in the destruction and present crisis. His army swallows the Straadi Empire. (D)
d10-7 Healing Magic Discovered: The Lunar Elves of T'kain learn how to imbue the life energy of certain herbs to work with magicstone to create a healing magic. (L)

The Fleet Departs: Period Nine
As Lord Sunforge lays waste across the land, and the last of the islands fall, a small fleet of ships gathers to make a desperate attempt to breach the Stormwall and find new lands. (D)

d10-1 The Scourging: Lord Sunforge and his Army of Elemental Scourging declares war on the survivors of the Landfall. He hunts down the arks and smashes the island of Sealadusk as an example. (D)
d10-2 The Sympathy of Souls Prophecy: A few have been born without a twin- prophecy reveals that such birth means that a twin has been born in a portion of the world beyond the Stormwall. These persons can follow those ties to elsewhere and lead the fleet to a new home. (L)
Scene: Who Spoke the Prophecy? The Chorus of Grief and the Three Bereft Sisters spoke to their gods, twins themselves, in visions, even as Sunforge smote Sealadusk. (D)
d10-3 Twinning the Fleet: To navigate the empty between lands amid storms, the arks are tethered to one another by splitting twins across ships. (L)
d10-4 New Allies: The enslaved race of Aeolatoi, a winged humaniod folk escape from their otherworldly elemental masters and join with the White Elves, providing vital information as they flee from this section of the world. (L)

So the players established all of the major facts for the campaign, built some history and created a lot of races and ideas to build characters from. As a GM I have plenty of things to now build from.


  1. Thanks a lot for this report. I was thinking of using Microscope to build my next campaign. Now I'm sure I'm doing it.
    Good game to you and your players.

  2. That is awfully cool. Not only the fun of playing out the world-building, but all the great details that might not have otherwise been thought of and assembled.

  3. This is a marvelous example of why Microscope is so great as a game starter. I'm fascinated by the little details and I wasn't even playing. I can't imagine how you all must feel about it.

    So your game will take place in a separate world or one within the history created, and at the end of the history, or in the middle somewhere?

    I'm contemplating using Microscope in the midst of a current campaign to flesh out a lot of the unwritten history and give more depth and purpose to everything happening in the present.

    Excellently done, and I'd love to see where it goes from here.

  4. The plan is to use this as the starting point for the campaign- giving a strong backstory and motivation for the players. They will take the role of key members of the crew for the Fleet exploring new lands and trying to find a home. The players knew that going in and built some niches for themselves- interestingly in couple of cases, the players seem to have changed their minds based on the other cool stuff on the table. We'll see next session when the players come back with their concepts. We're using a fairly loose story game for actual play, so I plan to build their "class" to their description.