[microscope] Make history, mock chronological order, then tell me how it went

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  • I guess it boils down to personal opinion, because I find improv role-playing to be a lot of fun. If I thought it were tedious, I'd probably want to eschew it as well.
  • edited July 2009
    Posted By: ValamirSo my recommendation that I shared with Ping was this: either find some good ways to bolster the importance and depth of roleplaying the characters. Or scrap the roleplaying parts altogether and just play the entire game at the meta level.
    Ralph, I absolutely heard your feedback and passed it on to Ben. I don't know if you read the post-mortem I wrote about our game, but we were tired and playing with 5 people and that's less than ideal because it means scenes have more secondary characters and the Lens/Current Player has a long way to go around. Also I didn't show or explain as Michael said above that we could still keep drilling down into interesting characters by creating new scenes for them or making them the focus of the Lens. I've played in games where we had 6 or 7 scenes with the same tyrant king from his youth to death because he was interesting, but that takes more time and ideally fewer players than we had. If a character is interesting in the scene, I have found that players can't resist going back to them because they have to find out what happened to that guy.

    That said, it is true that Microscope is not a game about pre-defining characters with known backgrounds and motivations before you go into scenes and most characters appear once never to appear again usually because they're not interesting enough to the group. Sometimes you might know a lot about the character because of established facts or previous scenes with said character, other times (especially the beginning obviously), as it was pretty much the whole time in our game, you know very little and are establishing it right there in the scene. Through thoughts and picking characters, you can give some hint to motivations and tell the other players where you are going with the character in the scene, so they have a chance to play off it, but a lot of it is improv, hence the recommendation of not playing if you're tired because you really have to be alert to other players.
  • I think its more than just that though. Admittedly throwing the lens on a character and playing through several scenes with them will help with some of it, but I don't know that that gets to the real issue that I wasn't enjoying.

    Because its clear that the game is not a collaborative exercise, because each scene is focused on one question and one question only, and because driving towards an answer to that question is the only real goal of the scene -- there's an element of...competition isn't the word I want...gamesmanship maybe. Where you're trying to use your skill as a roleplayer to move the scene and shape it towards a particular end...answering the question in the way you'd like to see it answered. There's an element of narrative tug of war where you don't want to be the lamo who just blurts out the answer to the question with no fictional support for it, but you also want to steer things to avoid answers you aren't as interested in, in favor of answers you are. There's a whole narrative dance that's going on there.

    The problems as I see it are:

    1) this really isn't compatable with the idea of "just riff off the other guy" improvisational roleplay...because in improvisational roleplay you don't really have a vested interest in seeing things move a certain direction. I could just play my character in such a way to make you awesome, and I well might if its a question that I don't care what the answer is. But if I do care what the answer is, because the game is so anti collaboration, its set up an environment where I have to "win" the improv roleplay to get the answer I want. Trying to "win" at improv is I think inherently an ineffective technique.

    2) Doing the narrative dance and trying to maneuver the scene the way you want can indeed be fun (as legions of chat room RPers can attest) but to do it well you need more touch points, more shared history, more character flags to play off of. Trying to steer a scene with no touchpoints is like trying to steer a car on ice. There's little friction to grab anyone's attention and point the narrative in a direction so as a result things just ping pong all over the place with little sense of a solid thread.

    3) Its exhausting...which is why, as you've pointed out, playing while tired is not ideal. But for myself, while I'm more than willing to put that kind of intense draining effort into my roleplaying, I'm less inclined to do so for characters that just don't matter. There's no payoff. Its a big emotional, intellectual investment on behalf of characters who aren't even real characters...just placeholders for scenes. Not worth it to me. If I'm going to put that kind of effort in (which I'm happy to do) I want it to be for a character that is interesting and worthy of my attention.

    For instance, I also played a game of Fiasco that weekend. A game where you similarly start with sketchy characters and a lot of improv style roleplay. But in that game you start with a couple of elements to begin to riff off of. You play the same character in several scenes over the course of the game. You can have more control over the "answer" to a scene by choosing that you're going to be the one to Resolve. And there's much less game pressure to drive towards a specific answer before someone else beats you to it...largely because scenes don't end until everyone is satisfied with where to wrap it...so there's no "get my answer in before the scene ends" drive. As a result, it was definitely worth my effort to invest in roleplaying Dr Alphonse Capresi. I hope my fellow players would agree I did a pretty good job with him, and a I thoroughly enjoyed playing him in ways I don't think I could ever enjoy playing a character in Microscope under the current structure.


    So, at the risk of over harping on a specific point, I'd enjoy the game more if there was more development to the characters for me to sink my teeth into so I could care. Or I'd enjoy the game more if there was just no actual roleplaying I need to do at all. As it is, I'm not finding the middle ground of "yes you have to roleplay, but no the characters don't really matter" to be very fun. But of course, some of that has to be speculation on the basis of a single abbreviated con session, but given the fundamental structure, I'm not sure more play would actually change my mind.
  • I've yet to try Microscope so I might be entirely off-base, but my assumption regarding scenes was they were to play out as sort of an abbreviated round of InSpectres; players throw out little kernels that start to pull back the veil on the question until the answer is either rendered apparent organically or through force with tone debt or legacies. As I think about it, I realize that the scenes are probably a touch more competitive than that, so in practice it could be completely different.
  • edited July 2009
    Posted By: pingAlso I didn't show or explain as Michael said above that we could still keep drilling down into interesting characters by creating new scenes for them or making them the focus of the Lens.
    Actually the President in question was the focus of the Lens -- which I think sheds some light/adds some emphasis to what Ralph is expressing. Even when the character was the focus of the game -- and for longer than the designer feels is ideal (ref: 'too many players'), we still didn't learn much about him as a character. (We did learn a fair bit about his impact on history, which is of course excellent and yay.)

    Personally, I found the RP scenes to be okay but I basically ignored the question-requirement in favour of trying to situate myself in the scene with a character I wanted to play, or wanted to learn more about. This seemed to work okay with the larger number of players, since it was less crucial that everyone in the scene at least be capable of answering the question.

    But I definitely still felt some of the 'gamesmanship' Ralph mentioned -- the scene about the sabotaged colony ship comes to mind, in particular, since I actually did have some interest in how that played out. (Amusingly enough, the answer to that question turned out to be what I wanted, but I was kind of dissatisfied with the narrative support/the way it actually roleplayed out.)

    My favourite part about the scenes (as I think I already mentioned) remains the 'what is your character thinking' bit at the beginning. And part of why is definitely that it adds dimension to the characters (or at least gives an opportunity to add dimension that the scene itself, being more immediate, is unlikely to afford.)
  • Ralph, have you read the Microscope rules? If you haven't whisper me your email and I'll send them to you.

    You have some good points (particularly about the roleplaying to answer the question), but I think some of your other observations are interpreting what happened at a particular session as a broader design intent. I think it'd be a much more fruitful discussion if you could compare what happened at your game with the rules as written.

    As we've talked about a little bit elsewhere, trying to learn a game during play can be difficult, particularly if it's a game like Microscope that isn't following the usual models of play.

    Of course the game still might not be your cup of tea, but at least then we'll know we're starting from the same point of discussion.
  • edited July 2009
    Posted By: Ice Cream EmperorPersonally, I found the RP scenes to be okay but I basically ignored the question-requirement in favour of trying to situate myself in the scene with a character I wanted to play, or wanted to learn more about.
    That can definitely sabotage the scene mechanic. Effectively you were answering your own separate question, which is that you wanted to know more about that character. You've gone rogue!
  • A few quick clarifications in case this thread is confusing anyone:

    - No, there's no Microscope rule requiring you to only play minor NPCs. Some scenes may be about the "movers and the shakers" deciding the fate of history, while others might just be personal vignettes showing what it's like to live in that history. It's totally up to the player creating the scene.

    - As others have pointed out, when you pick a character for a scene, you can say things like "I'm playing the President's mistress" and during the Reveal Thoughts phase you very actively tell other players what you are trying to do with the scene. So you should have a pretty good idea about the other characters before the scene starts.

    - Yes, cool characters come back because a player chooses to bring them back. Players have authority to explore what interests them.
  • Ben, I have a copy of the rules that we played with that night I think. Don't know if that's the most current version. I haven't studied them in detail, but if there's a specific section that you think it would help to review more closely let me know.

    To be clear, the large number of words I've posted shouldn't be interpreted as a indictment of the game. There's just a very specific thing that's hard to explain succinctly.
  • This may be wishful thinking on my part, but...could this game possibly be (or become) "Splatbook: the Game-ening?"

    The reason I ask... a fellow player and I were recently bemoaning the lack of creativity we've been exhibiting in our long slew of one-shots. The idea came up of using other people's settings, but honestly...? We both hate HATE HATE reading somebody else's long-winded setting material. (I could digress for paragraphs on why this is so, but to keep this post from being a rant both vitriolic and pointless, I'll refrain.) For hopefully obvious reasons, we're also not all that eager to sit down and write long-winded setting material of our own.

    So far, we've had the most success so far with Universalis/Mortal Coil/fractal aspects -type approaches to setting creation. The limitation there, however, is that, yeah, we have all these tenets and guidelines, but we rarely end up with a world with any real personality, somehow. The wild and seemingly interesting settings we create just don't end up breathing on their own, for some reason. We understand them, but we don't know them.

    Now, a game--a game which may be FUN--that has as its goal the creation of a history...! Could the other end result of this game (the first being the fun of playing it as it is) be useful as a backdrop in which to play other games? Frankly, I don't see how it could not!

    Perhaps my real question, then, is whether or not you have any interest in having people play test Microscope with such a nefarious intent lurking in their hearts?
  • Jef, there's a suggestion within the rules write-up to do that very thing.
  • That sounds like one the more reasonable nefarious uses for Microscope. The game isn't designed for world building per se, but you wind up with a setting everyone is familiar with pretty quickly.

    Welcome aboard Jef!
  • An AP from one of the external Microscope playtest groups:

    Scourging of the Sky
  • So we tried playing this on the car drive to Dexcon - me and Ellen. This meant no index card madness, but we only played a few rounds. It was enjoyable and I hope to play more so that I have more helpful information for Ben here.

    We did run into a problem, and that was there was a disagreement about whether something fell outside the bookends or not. We were doing a fantasy type world, and decided to make the bookends the beginning and the end of the world. We set things up so that the the gods of the fantasy world were banished to this one from another dimension for some crime or another, and the world and the races came about from their deaths. Anyway, she wanted to do an event that was set in the dimension they came from and I was like "no way, that's before the creation of this one so it's outside the bookends." And there was a struggle. So how does that get resolved?

    Oh and I have a question that may be answered in the updates which I haven't read yet: so you can spend Tone Debt to make a prediction about a scene. Is it okay if that prediction answers the question posed by that scene?

    And how do you make an interesting question anyway? I got hung up because there was a scene I really wanted to play out, but I just didn't have any questions really.
  • Ooh, road-Microscope. Playing without being able to see the history is tough. We were toying around the idea of using small post-it notes stuck to a clipboard but never tried it. Even with that, the driver is going to have a rough time.
    Posted By: Bret GillanWe did run into a problem, and that was there was a disagreement about whether something fell outside the bookends or not.
    Did she agree it was outside the bookends? Because if so you're agreeing that you're breaking the rules and just negotiating what you want to do about it, social contract style. It's up to the group to decide how to handle it. You can fudge and expand the history or just say "no way!" because that's not what you both agreed to, but it might be a long drive...

    But you may have some wiggle room. Because the start and end are Periods, not Events, you can have things happen that are just before or after any Event implied by the Period description. So if your starting Period is the destruction of the Earth, there really is some moment within that Period when the Earth actually goes boom (which would be an Event if you actually made it). It's perfectly legitimate to show the days leading up to that boom, because they would still be part of that Period. These kind of implied Events can happen in other Periods too.

    That may or may not be a solution in your case -- if it's clearly before the start Period you're back to square one.
    Is it okay if that prediction answers the question posed by that scene?
    Yep -- see the last sentence of the Predict section, page 17.
    And how do you make an interesting question anyway? I got hung up because there was a scene I really wanted to play out, but I just didn't have any questions really.
    It can take a little practice to get used to thinking in terms of Questions instead of just scene framing. Stop and think about the scene you have in mind. What's the point? What is interesting about it? What could be surprising? That should point you right at your Question.

    Another trick is just to think about some detail that hasn't been decided and ask about it. We know the city fell. Did the king spare the city elders? Then you can take the same idea and twist it further by implying something unexplained, like "why did the king execute all the city elders but one?"

    When I make Questions I usually have no idea where I'm going with it. I just aim for something big, twist it once or twice, and then see what happens.
  • Ben - she didn't agree. She thought it was within the bookends, I didn't. But what you say about wiggle room makes sense. Is there any method of resolving disagreements like this? Whether an event falls inside one period or another, or of it falls outside the bookends completely? It's probably unnecessary and this may have been a random weird incident.

    The question was the thing I got hung up on the most, I think. I already like this game quite a lot, though.
  • So my regular gaming buddy, Eric, and I got together to take Microscope out for a spin last night. There is much to say! But first, per the playtest feedback request, here are our vital stats:

    - We play together frequently. Sometimes with other people, but usually just the two of us.
    - Eric only read the synopsis and the example of play. I read the rules and explained them as we went.
    - We've only played one Microscope session so far.
    - The last three games that I recall were Fate 2.0, Wushu, and...Savage Worlds? I don't remember. We play a lot of Wushu and Fate, but we're looking to branch out.

    As mentioned in a previous post, we were playing with an eye towards creating a cohesive history as a backdrop for our regular gaming. In this regard, I consider the game a smashing, smashing success. In one rather slow-paced session, we came up with a history that has nice, meaty hooks into scenarios we'd really like to play, including tactical or cinematic zombie fighting action, 40K-ish Space Inquisition DitV stuff, Traveler-esque exploration, Sorcerer-like explorations of power and repercussions of using it, etc. The list really goes on, and all of it is interesting because of the shiny new context we've created for them. There were also some real "holy SHIT!" moments.

    So here's what worked:
    - The rules in general. Easy enough to explain and understand, especially since there weren't a lot of fiddly bits and exceptions to keep track of. The biggest hurdle here was getting a sense of what the game was actually all about. Yeah, "history, but...what other game is it like?" :) Thankfully, a few rounds of playing made the rhythm flow become a bit more obvious. The writing was clear and the concepts were well-demonstrated in the examples.

    - Tone: I thought at first that the dichotomy between "light" and "dark" was just a little too, er, black and white to be very useful or interesting. However, in play, we used tone easily, and it was even helpful to be able to lay down a vague event that even the author doesn't fully understand, but still be able to wave in the direction of "this sounds nice, but it ends badly. Very, very badly." Tone debt, on the other hand, didn't get a lot of play, but not for any particular reason. It seems workable, we just didn't get a chance to invoke the debt we'd built. In fact, I really like the incentive that it gives you for exploring dark within light and vice-versa, as well as the balancing influence that invoking it has, as well as the cool player benefit of using it (scene control). Keep this!

    - Legacies. Legacies presented themselves in play very naturally. There were a few themes that were coming up over a few times, so...BAM! The ability to create or invoke them at will is nice. And, although the flip-flopping of the tone screwed me out of using a particularly legacy once when it would have been PERFECT, I still think the alternating tone idea is a really neat one.

    - Initial thoughts: This silly little bit about saying what your character is thinking before a scene started made a WORLD of difference for me, both in giving me more to go on with my own character, as well illuminating some of possibilities of where the scene might go. This was actually my favorite aspect of the game. It's so elegant... simple, character-illuminating, player-communicating, and conflict-generating, all in a sentence or two.


    Where we had trouble:
    - Goal. Eric expressed that he came away from Microscope feeling that it was more of a brainstorming or creative writing exercise, rather than a game. When I was explaining the rules up front, in particular, he was trying to leverage the "goal" or the "point" of the game in order to place the other rules in context. This was obviously problematic, since the best goals I could come up with were, "make something cool," or "the experience maaaaaan!" It seems like Microscope is more sandboxy than it is overcome-the-antagonisty. I happen to like sandboxes, so I didn't have a problem with this. But I realized that this absence of any sort of end-game condition will most definitely keep me from playing this with my casual and non-gamer friends. I just don't want to keep hemming and hawing around the question, "what's the point?" I don't see this as a problem with the game itself, so much as a different strokes issue.

    - Playing out scenes. This was definitely one of the most problematic areas for us, for a number of reasons:
    - For one thing, with only two players, we felt terribly constrained in our ability to make things happen in a scene. The limitations that keep a player from steamrolling a scene in (the 1 free NPC action in particular) would have worked much more naturally in a larger group. But as it was, we ended up having to bend the rules to allow us to narrate what we felt was interesting. Some of this was our own difficulty in sticking to the rules, however. Like I said, we're used to the wordy free-for-all of Wushu. This strikes me as something we need to practice to get right in Microscope.

    - I personally enjoyed the roleplaying that went in our scenes. I dug the improv nature of it. Eric, however, felt the same as Valamir, above, in the sense that he didn't really get into playing "NPC level" characters. He's more of a deep characterization guy, and our history was broad enough that we didn't really have any re-occurring "PC" types. Playing with a shorter timeline might have helped this (we later considered trying a game where the bookends were the birth and death of a single individual).

    - Absolute Power: I introduced a scene because I genuinely wanted to see what would come up when we tried to answer the question. I had no real preconceived ideas about what could or should happen, but Eric's eyes totally lit up. Unfortunately, my scene framing and character list precluded him from really using his idea. Further, when he told me later what he had in mind, it clearly should have been a dictated scene. I would have really liked to have the option to "go where the fire is," and turn over some of my authority for the sake of someone else's excitement and what that can bring to the story. In hindsight, I suppose I could have rescinded the scene and then let him play it on his turn, but I felt at the time that the die had been cast. Again, part of this is us getting a handle on and obeying the limitations imposed by the rules, but neither of us are very comfortable with the idea of watching someone's awesome wither because the rules dictate that my weak-ass ideas MUST take precedent this round. Perhaps some sort of credit for passing the talking stick voluntarily...?

    There may be more, but this is wordy enough as it is. In conclusion, I love it. Eric's lukewarm on it. We could both use another session to explore it and possibly change our minds. :)
  • Posted By: Bret GillanBen - she didn't agree. She thought it was within the bookends, I didn't. But what you say about wiggle room makes sense. Is there any method of resolving disagreements like this? Whether an event falls inside one period or another, or of it falls outside the bookends completely? It's probably unnecessary and this may have been a random weird incident.
    I don't think there's a silver bullet. Barring all the wiggle room stuff we already talked about, if players disagree about what's outside the bookends it probably means they aren't talking about the same thing -- either their conception of the bookends didn't match in the first place or the thing being added isn't what one of them thinks it is. In that case discussion must ensue to make sure everyone's on the same page. Big note: discussion to clarify, not negotiation.

    Normally a player has _no_ authority to tell another player they're putting an event in the wrong period, unless some established fact is being contradicted ("you can't have an event about the city then, we know it was built in the next period"). There is no "but it fits better there" argument.

    And again, if one player thinks a fact is being contradicted but another disagrees, someone has a different vision of the established fiction than someone else -- reviewing what you already know to make sure you have the same idea of what has been established is necessary. That's why asking for clarification is so important when someone makes something and you're not sure you get it (and probably should be made more prominent in the text), but of course that assumes that you know you don't know...

    Players not being aware that they have conflicting visions of what is happening in the fiction is something that happens in all games, because let's face it, it's all imaginary. In lots of games you may not even notice, but in Microscope it will smack you in the face and make you deal with it.
  • edited July 2009
    Posted By: derthnadaIn one rather slow-paced session, we came up with a history that has nice, meaty hooks into scenarios we'd really like to play, including tactical or cinematic zombie fighting action, 40K-ish Space Inquisition DitV stuff, Traveler-esque exploration, Sorcerer-like explorations of power and repercussions of using it, etc. The list really goes on, and all of it is interesting because of the shiny new context we've created for them. There were also some real "holy SHIT!" moments.
    Nice!
    Yeah, "history, but...what other game is it like?" :)
    Yeah, that's the sixty-four thousand dollar question.
    I personally enjoyed the roleplaying that went in our scenes. I dug the improv nature of it. Eric, however, felt the same as Valamir, above, in the sense that he didn't really get into playing "NPC level" characters. He's more of a deep characterization guy, and our history was broad enough that we didn't really have any re-occurring "PC" types.
    There's no reason for characters in your game to be "minor" characters if you don't want them to be. You're making them after all.

    Here's an easy trick: make a particular person the Focus. Even if you start off knowing nothing about the guy, you explore him a lot. The counter-point to that is in a two-person game the Focus is relatively short-lived. But if the next Lens likes the character, theirs nothing from stopping you making him the Focus again (or something related).
    but neither of us are very comfortable with the idea of watching someone's awesome wither because the rules dictate that my weak-ass ideas MUST take precedent this round. Perhaps some sort of credit for passing the talking stick voluntarily...?
    Noooooo! Seriously, your heart is in the right place, but what makes Microscope work is that you _can't_ pass (or veto). Maybe your idea isn't the best of all possible universes. That's fine. There will be more stuff later. It's more important that everyone participates (the way the rules make them) and owns the history than that you have an artistically perfect history. That's the idea anyway.

    Thanks for the feedback Jef, and keep me posted when you play it again.
  • but neither of us are very comfortable with the idea of watching someone's awesome wither because the rules dictate that my weak-ass ideas MUST take precedent this round. Perhaps some sort of credit for passing the talking stick voluntarily...?

    Noooooo! Seriously, your heart is in the right place, but what makes Microscope work is that you _can't_ pass (or veto). Maybe your idea isn't the best of all possible universes. That's fine. There will be more stuff later. It's more important that everyone participates (the way the rules make them) and owns the history than that you have an artistically perfect history. That's the idea anyway.

    Yeah, that was actually another big issue I had. I was happy to ignore it for a con game, but philosophically I find "person X gets to say and there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it except quit playing" to be a poor design choice. Similarly for "person X must say and there's no way for them to get out of it".

    Is there some particular agenda that you have for the game that makes you believe that such rules are what make Microscope work? Cuz, honestly, I think it would work way better without such a hard line being drawn. But then, that's why I put Challenge rules in Universalis...cuz I never think such a hard line is a Good Thing.
  • edited July 2009
    Yes, it's absolutely intentional. The other side of the equation is that even though you're required to contribute, because the game jumps all over the place in time and space, what you contribute does not have to be central. If you want to add something small or off in the corner, feel free. And if you add something no one likes, other players won't build on it. That wouldn't work in a normal chronological order game, where there's a progressing plot, and what each person does creates the linear thread of the action.

    You can take risks because there are fewer mandatory consequences for your actions than in a linear game -- if you nuke Earth, other players can always wind back and play when Earth was still around. You don't take Earth away from them as part of the game.

    After nearly 20 games, I've seen this pattern over and over again. More importantly I've seen people who are normally hesitant to take creative authority, and who would pass if they could, take up the reins and get excited because they are playing better than they thought they could.
  • Yeah, personally I like the idea of a game existing where everyone has equal say unequivocally. It's not like people still won't try to browbeat them outside of the mechanics of the game anyway.
  • Posted By: Ben Robbinsbut neither of us are very comfortable with the idea of watching someone's awesome wither because the rules dictate that my weak-ass ideas MUST take precedent this round. Perhaps some sort of credit for passing the talking stick voluntarily...?
    Noooooo! Seriously, your heart is in the right place, but what makes Microscope work is that you _can't_ pass (or veto). Maybe your idea isn't the best of all possible universes. That's fine. There will be more stuff later. It's more important that everyone participates (the way the rules make them) and owns the history than that you have an artistically perfect history. That's the idea anyway.
    Perhaps something as simple as allow someone to suggest things before the Lens describes things. He still has full narrative control and stuff, but that way he is able to incorporate cool stuff he might otherwise not think about. (I'm thinking "Breaking the Ice" in here.)
  • Interesting, Ben. Yeah. Definitely not a philosophy I share...or would really have any desire to play under. If you destroy Earth, the ability to rewind to a time where Earth still exists does nothing for me at all. In fact, its rendered everything I've done or would do in "Earth before it blows up" to be utterly transitory. You've unilaterally diminished all of my contributions to "but ultimately none of that mattered". So from my perspective...you've totally taken stuff away from me. Stuff I very well may not want to have taken away from me. Other times or other things I might not mind being taken away. But sometimes I will.

    If that was part of the bookends...that's one thing. We agreed to that and I incorporated that expectation into my play. But if you spring that on me mid game and there's nothing I can do about it? Yeah...definitely the last time I'd ever play that game with you.

    And Bret, browbeating outside of the mechanics is exactly the sort of suck that having in game mechanical recourse helps avoid / deal with. I HATE it when the only recourse I have is social badgering and manipulation. Largely because I'm really damn good at social badgering and manipulation and really dislike it when I find myself pulling that crap at a game table.

    But if the game leaves me no other choice about something I really care about...that's IMO not very good design. Or if the game expects me to just be casual and not ever care that much about something I create...that's not IMO a very compelling way to spend a few hours of time. I LIKE to care and be passionate about what I create. Otherwise I'll play a board game where the creation requirements are minimal to nonexistant.

    So bonus points for building towards a clear design goal...but increasingly the game is sounding like not my cup o tea.
  • Ralph, I disagree with a lot of your characterization, but yeah, it's entirely possible that Microscope is just not the game for you. That's a-okay.
  • It's really not much different from what you do all the time at the table. You get to care and be passionate about what you create. If no one else cares, either you can force them to contribute anyway via the rules or social badgering or whatnot, you can keep pursuing what you care about despite their lack of contribution, you can tweak your creation to be something you care about *and* you think others will care about until they *do* or the session ends, or you can say "hey, not everything sticks, in the interest of having fun with the group I'll table this particular thing I care about - for now!".

    In Microscope, the rules let you (basically) force people to contribute to something against their will by allowing you to create a scene in which they must participate and by allowing you to declare a Lens which at least makes it convoluted for them to not contribute.

    Or wait... perhaps the problem is this?
    If you destroy Earth, the ability to rewind to a time where Earth still exists does nothing for me at all. In fact, its rendered everything I've done or would do in "Earth before it blows up" to be utterly transitory. You've unilaterally diminished all of my contributions to "but ultimately none of that mattered".
    I believe that there is no afterlife and eventually the real Earth really will be destroyed, and that those facts don't make life meaningless. That my contributions are not "diminished" to "but ultimately none of that mattered". Maybe I'm radically misrepresenting your position... :D but then again if someone, even if not you, believed that IF [there were no afterlife and all of humanity and its contributions will cease to exist] THEN [none of that mattered], I could see that someone having a pretty big problem with Microscope.
  • edited July 2009
    Posted By: Guy SrinivasanIn Microscope, the rules let you (basically) force people to contribute to something against their will by allowing you to create a scene in which they must participate and by allowing you to declare a Lens which at least makes it convoluted for them to not contribute.
    You are forced to contribute something when it's your turn, but what you contribute is up to you. These two cases are both more slippery. A player can choose a character in a scene but basically just sit out if they want to, and players can also be very clever in interpreting the Lens' Focus (you say it's the war, but I don't like the war, so I have a scene in the far future of children reading about the war in their history books). So really you have fairly little power to make another player do something.

    Guy your "transitory" point is a really good one. It's a core premise of Microscope: if you're looking at a vast swath of history, all the characters are going to die sooner or later. That's just how it works. Dying doesn't diminish them. Fallen Troy is still Troy in the eyes of history. (though of course the counter-argument to that is that how they die or are destroyed may very well change them)

    PS Guy, got your play report, very cool. I'll send you an email reply.
  • Yes, that's true... you can't ever force someone to contribute to a specific thing, but you can make it so that by not contributing they are in fact making a very strong statement. If you so choose, no one's gonna passively sit out of your idea unnoticed.
  • edited July 2009
    Guy, the lives of the characters may or may not have had meaning, but they are imaginary.

    Its not their lives being meaningful or not meaningful that concerns me...its my contributions to the game being meaningful or not meaningful that concerns me. Whatever direction I had wanted things to go has now been rendered moot by a big giant boom.

    And its not that the game went in a direction I didn't anticipate that's the problem (having games go in unexpected directions is the key joy of roleplaying vs. just writing fiction). The problem is that 1) there was nothing I could have done to prevent it from happening, 2) there is nothing I can do now that it's been said, and 3) there is nothing to ensure that the Earth exploding is in any way pertinent and not just some random throwaway "i can't think of anything so 'everybody dies'" knee jerk statement.

    I consider #1 to be utterly unacceptable as it renders my efforts as a player completely moot...If there is nothing I can do to stop that from happening than nothing I'm doing is really doing anything at all. Playing helpless characters can be fun. I have zero desire to be a helpless player. Giving any one player absolute creative authority (such as the ability to create an Event "The Earth Explodes") is simultaneously stripping all other players of all creative authority. For that moment I have no authority at all...none...I am helpless in a way that goes beyond deprotagonization and into a whole new category. Its not my character that's been deprotagonised...its me. As a player, I've essentially been creatively emasculated. I've no doubt that this isn't the intention of the rule. But that's what such rules actually do.

    I consider #2 to be socially dangerous and completely unnecessary. There are an infinite variety of genre appropriate ways for players to resolve creative differences in a game without resorting to social bickering or having no recourse but to quit playing. I consider failure to provide such a mechanism in a game to be a weakness not a feature.

    I consider #3 to be creatively destructive in most cases. There are times when having to adapt to someone's half ass bullshit actually turns into a compelling plot twist that we wouldn't have otherwise discovered...but most of the time its just half ass bullshit.


    So to summarize: If we're playing the game and you put out an Event Card that says "The Earth Explodes" then the group better be able to look you square in the eye and say "What the Fuck is up with That?" and expect you to justify that event in a way that demonstrates that its a meaningful and compelling addition to what's being created and not some half ass bullshit you just thought up because its your turn and you couldn't think of anything good. And if it is just half assed bullshit then the game had better give the group a way to say "The hell with that, do something else". And even if it IS something that is meaningful and compelling to you, if its a direction that no one else wants to go in and you can't persuade them to try it, then the group should still be able to say "Uhhh, we're not feeling that, do something else".

    Otherwise the entire group is held creative hostage to your whim...and that's not something I find fun.
  • Posted By: ValamirAs a player, I've essentially been creatively emasculated.
    Getting kind of melodramatic, don't you think?

    Ralph, I feel like you're interpreting everything in the most negative possible light, reducing any subtleties into absolutes. I think that's limiting the usefulness of this discussion.
  • Posted By: Valamir3) there is nothing to ensure that the Earth exploding is in any way pertinent and not just some random throwaway "i can't think of anything so 'everybody dies'" knee jerk statement.
    I consider #3 to be creatively destructive in most cases. There are times when having to adapt to someone's half ass bullshit actually turns into a compelling plot twist that we wouldn't have otherwise discovered...but most of the time its just half ass bullshit.
    Your argument appears to be "I don't trust the other players, I want insurance that they won't screw up my game." Microscope is almost definitely not for you. Apologies if I'm misinterpreting or reading too much into that.
  • edited July 2009
    I don't know Ben, isn't the rule an absolute? Isn't the rule that you _can't_ pass or veto? That's the absolute. If the rule was instead "you normally don't pass and you should try to avoid veto"...then you have room for subtleties. Unless the rule has been misexplained to me.

    And its not a trust thing. I've had this discussion a ton of times and typically it initially gets dismissed as "you need to trust your players" or "don't play with dicks" or what have you. But that's really not the issue.

    I can totally trust you...I can totally respect your creative abilities...I can totally enjoy playing with you...and I can still absolutely totally hate to a game breaking degree the idea you just contributed...and vice versa. And that's not you being a dick or me being a dick. Its just two creative people having a completely reasonable creative difference. A difference that IMO a well designed game will provide a vehicle for resolving. If the game does not provide a vehicle for resolving it...if my only option is to suck it up and deal or quit playing...if my creative input on the issue is not factored in at all...then is it really melodramatic to say I've been creatively emasculated? That's issue #1 above.

    Let's put it out there. We're playing. You just played the "Earth Explodes" event. Let's take on faith, that for some completely legitimate non dickish reason such an event just totally deflates my enjoyment and ability to engage productively with the game. If I indicate that to you...would you be willing to alter your event to something that doesn't totally derail me? Or would you be all "screw you Ralph, I get to say whatever event I want"

    If the latter...then yeah...emasculated...and totally not interested in playing. If the former...and I suspect, just because we're both decent human beings, that it would probably be the former...then what's REALLY going on in the game is a degree of give and take and group buy-in to creative contributions. And if that's the case...then that really should be formalized in the rules instead of pretending in the text that it doesn't happen that way. That's issue #2 above.

    As for issue #3, there are times when even creative people draw a blank and the game is just better if they punt, let someone else take the lead. Yes, my three points included a good bit of hyperbole, but the fact of the matter is if you shine the spotlight on someone and force them to create on demand...with some degree of regularity what you are going to get is not that person's best efforts but merely the best they could come up with at the time. If the game does not provide a mechanism for filtering such contributions so that you draw out people's best...but instead enshrines even their sub par efforts as canon...then you have a game built on a whole lot of sub par efforts.

    Even the people who love the game stress how exhausting it is to play...don't play when tired...don't play while drinking...Is that really a feature? Perhaps that is a symptom that you've created a play structure that puts an unnecessary burden on players. A burden that ultimately can be alleviated by tapping into the synergies of the group rather than trying to force everyone to stand alone.

    I suspect that what REALLY goes on around the table in a game of Microscope is a whole lot of informal unspoken consensus building. Consensus building by body language and by people catering to the preferences of players they already know. I suspect that the "no consensus building" "no passing" "no veto" stance that you've taken sounds better on paper than in practice. I suspect that in practice passing occurs regularly...in the form of someone drawing a blank, someone else offering an idea, and then the first someone adopting that idea as their own (which is essentially creatively the same as passing). I suspect that in practice vetoing occurs periodically...in the form of someone self editing something they know the other players will hate or changing their minds after interpreting body language "oohh wait, no...this is even better..."

    Those are my suspicions. Maybe they're completely wrong and off base. But if they're not completely wrong and off base, then I submit that you may want to reevaluate your rules to make them more reflective of what is actually going on at the table that is producing functional play. My money is on some form of group buy-in to individual creative contributions being a critical component of success. And if that's true...then THAT should be your rules.
  • Microscope is an experiment, so I'm following scientific method: state the hypothesis, collect data, see if the results support or disprove the hypothesis. In the beginning I wasn't sure the game was playable at all.

    To my knowledge 65 people have played Microscope (66 if you include me). With a very conservative estimate that's 119 hours of play time, or around 400 player-hours, which as far as I'm concerned is just the start of the playtest.

    The results of those games are my experimental data (including the game you were in that wasn't any fun).

    But just throwing around a lot "that can't possibly work! You're doomed, I sez, doomed!" doesn't really lead to progress. I'm trying new things and seeing empirically if they work.

    And I have to say that while I get your logic, having suspicions of what "REALLY" happens, saying you know better than the people who were actually in the games and enjoyed them is a bit much. It's seriously internetz. If they liked the thing you don't like, they must not have really been doing it?
  • Posted By: ValamirSo to summarize: If we're playing the game and you put out an Event Card that says "The Earth Explodes" then the group better be able to look you square in the eye and say "What the Fuck is up with That?" and expect you to justify that event in a way that demonstrates that its a meaningful and compelling addition to what's being created and not some half ass bullshit you just thought up because its your turn and you couldn't think of anything good. And if it is just half assed bullshit then the game had better give the group a way to say "The hell with that, do something else". And even if it IS something that is meaningful and compelling to you, if its a direction that no one else wants to go in and you can't persuade them to try it, then the group should still be able to say "Uhhh, we're not feeling that, do something else".

    Otherwise the entire group is held creative hostage to your whim...and that's not something I find fun.
    I think I understand you entirely! :) IMO there are two issues here.

    The first is directly related to "don't play Microscope tired". In its current incarnation, there is no way within the rules text to deal with a player who makes up half-ass bullshit because she can't think of anything good. Presumably players won't do this on purpose (if they do, that's a different issue altogether), so the problem is that thinking up something good consistently is hard work. There is at least one way I can see without thinking much that gives a player an out if she can't think of something - asking a non-tricky question about an existing event (i.e. "why did the Persians lose?" rather than "which Persian chose to make the Persians lose?"). That's a scene. Now everyone else can chime in with their awesome thoughts. I don't think there's any problem here for anyone besides the obvious "can we make the hard work easier", correct me if I'm wrong.

    The second is when someone creates something she finds meaningful and compelling but the group does not. Phrased that way it sounds simple - the group wins. In reality, of course, "the group" doesn't fail to find something compelling. Individuals do. Perhaps, in the extreme case, every individual but the creator thinks the creation is half-assed bullshit. What do we do in that case? Majority vote? Throw out all ideas that aren't found compelling by every individual at the table? Designate one person as ultimate gatekeeper? All of those are possible solutions with their own merits. Microscope's solution is that the creator is the final authority. As long as the creator really does find the creation meaningful and compelling, it's a fine solution with its upsides and downsides just like the others. One advantage that e.g. only-universally-compelling-contributions has is that you're guaranteed everyone finds every given contribution meaningful - one advantage that Microscope has is that you're guaranteed not to be locked out of certain ways of having fun due to e.g. someone else in the group not caring about Tom Bombadil.

    In sum,
    a) Microscope fails faster to social problems than most games will.
    b) Given a healthy social dynamic, Microscope gives you a wider range of acceptable creative contributions than most games will at the cost of a greater possibility you will find someone else's legitimate creative contribution uncompelling or gamebreaking.

    ETA: just saw your idea about informal, unspoken consensus building - very interesting, obviously at least partly true. I'd much rather introduce something I find awesome and I suspect most or all of the rest of the people I'm playing with would find awesome than something I'm not so sure they'd like, even if I love it just as much. That's the way social interaction works. :) But really, I have no idea how *much* we changed our behaviors based on body language, etc. I don't recall anyone *ever* doing the faux-passing thing you suggest in our AP, though it happens plenty in other games. Or the faux-vetoing. Except kind of, once, during the initial Setup, when one player created a Period "the aliens land at Atlantis" and the other two players faux-vetoing it as being an Event, so it was changed to "the aliens' contact with Earth at Atlantis" (or something), referring to a longer stretch of time.
  • It seems like if someone does "Event: The Earth goes boom" and you had a stake in what happened to those people, you could do a scene where you ask the question "What happened to those people?" and use the mechanical leverage you do have (Debt Tokens, Legacies, etc.) to make them get away in a spaceship and be on the run from the destroyers of the planet in a really interesting and compelling period.

    Hey, sounds familiar.
  • Guy, yes. Total concurrance.
  • edited July 2009
    Ralph, this rant of yours was more fun when it was about Capes three years ago.

    You preferences have been well documented on this issue.

    You don't like green sweaters. You think they make people look bad. And yet... people keep making green sweaters! Almost as if... your preference isn't their #1 concern.

    Truly, the world is upside down.
  • Pardon any typos, but I'm writing from a mobile.

    Oddly enough, all the railing against this idea of absolute creative control being passed around the table in a serial fashion has made me realize that I'm not so opposed to it, after all. There are a lot of good points on both sides, here, but for me it kind of boils down to the spirit of the game, which seems to be something like "take this idea and run with it!" Or away from it. That's cool to, because you're still reacting. It's a game like a relay race. Pass the fiat.

    I think somebody else already put this more eloquently, but how is having my world-ending event voted down by the group any less satisfying for me than having it enforced would be for someone who didn't want it? Or having dice decide in either case? Again, the spirit of Microscope says to me that, for this game, I am going to accept what other people put in, and see what I can do with it. We make similar commitments to randomizers...so why not people? When we play SotC next wek, i can suggest ways to bolster another player's uninspired narrative. Or when we play 4e, I can explain to the GM how gave me no recourse when he unleashed the horde of undead upon us, because what *I* really wanted was for it to be a whorde of hot lesbian elf priestesses of an unholy sex cult.

    Yeah.
  • Jef, that's a really good way of looking at it.

    From a whispered question:
    Any thoughts yet on when Microscope might be 'release ready' (whatever form that takes)?
    Any estimate would be premature. I'm letting the feedback from the playtesters percolate. I'm still considering the whole thing a big experiment, only now I've amended that to "an experiment that's going really well."
  • I compiled the links to the actual play reports I've seen online, both here at Story Games and elsewhere:

    Many Shades of History: Microscope Actual Play

    This list only includes game reports that actually talk about the history made, not just rules analysis etc.

    Did I miss any?
  • The funny thing about these discussions about an "earth explodes" event, is that no one has pointed out how much room there is in the middle. Because there's always room in the middle. You can add in events or periods before "the Earth explodes" that completely change the context of the event in question, such as "Colonization of Earth" or "humans flee earth before the invading interdimensional hordes arrive." Playing Microscope is like building a rollercoaster at the same time you're riding it, so what's the problem with building in a few loop-de-loops?

    Of course, a really evil player could drill down from the event to a scene where he dictates an answer to the question, "who survives the destruction of earth," establishing it as a fact that no one survives. Of course, unless he does this in the ending period, and even if he does, there's nothing to stop you (save possible palette restrictions) from creating a race of intelligent life from hardy bacteria, that come to puzzle over the remains of human life in the eons to come.
  • Posted By: ThreadbarePlaying Microscope is like building a rollercoaster at the same time you're riding it, so what's the problem with building in a few loop-de-loops?
    That's pretty much it. Heck, if there weren't any loop-de-loops, why bother riding? We have _streets_ for that.
  • Microscope Playtest Update #2 is out.

    If you're a playtester and you didn't get the email, scream and shout.
  • edited September 2009
    Microscope Playtest Update #3 has been sent out, so if you're a playtester you should have gotten it already.

    Legacies have been revamped, and in our games so far they've worked much better: Legacies emerge from play instead of being created as ad hoc solutions during scenes. Between Lenses you have spotlight moments, exploring particular Legacies and how they influence the history.

    I also need to get busy and write up some actual play of our latest games. One is rebuilding after the apocalypse, the other is feudal knights with mecha but no other high tech.

    Everything seems to be clicking into place, so I'm wrapping up this phase of the playtest in the next few weeks -- this should be the last rules update. If you have any more feedback, send or post it before the end of September.
  • Ben, I'd love to participate in the playtest as well and shall whisper my email to you in a follow-up post.

    That said, I understand where Ralph is coming from. But that's also why Ralph wrote Universalis instead of Microscope. I also understand where Ben and John Harper are coming from. Ralph, all your arguments come down to, in my mind, "Microscope isn't Universalis, and I want to play Universalis." Part of the rationale behind Microscope seems, to me, to pushing the envelope in order to coax people into participating without fear of contradiction. One of the flaws of Universalis, in my mind, is that it tends to reward aggressive, control-freak players. Win a few Challenges and the token economy means you can often run roughshod over everyone else at the table for a while until they join forces to rein you in. Based on the descriptions here, in Microscope the playing field is leveled.
  • This phase of the playtest is wrapping up in the next week or so, but if you get a chance to play it I'd love to get your feedback Michael. Be warned the rules may look a little confusing at this point because the updates that came out during the playtest trump some of the original text. Where possible I've marked those sections so you can see what rules are affected.

    I'd actually like to thank Ralph for the whole debate -- as you said Michael, we clearly disagree but it was a very insightful discussion to have.
  • edited November 2009
    Confusing rules suck. I've made a cleaned up draft with all the playtest updates incorporated in the main text. No more "see Update X." If you're playtesting Microscope and you didn't get a download link, give me a holler. Details, yo:

    D is for Drama

    I also have to point out a really fantastic actual play from Daniel Taylor:

    [Actual Play] Celestial Dragon Judges & Vase Runners

    Ancient China-flavor history. Celestial dragons become justices of the Imperial court. Bribe the judge, I dare you. Oh, and there's no paper. Scribes write on vases. Couriers run around the countryside carrying important (and heavy) messages on their back...

    I want to play in that game.
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