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

I'm looking for brave souls to playtest Microscope. I'm specifically looking for people who will play the game and provide feedback, not just read it.

What is Microscope? It's a no-prep, no-GM game. Very heavy on the big story, the collective creation--you don't even have your own character. Here's a pretty good description:
You start with the big picture, the grand scheme of your history, then zoom in and explore all the nooks and crannies. The more you play, the more complex the history becomes. Your once simple summary becomes a detailed tapestry, full of meaning and surprises.

It’s fractal gaming.

Want to leap a thousand years in the future and see how an institution shaped society? Want to jump back to the childhood of the king you just saw assassinated and find out what made him such a hated ruler? That’s normal play in microscope. You have the freedom to move around and examine whatever you want, defying limits of time and space.
This is actually version three of the rules. The first two versions were playtested by the brave and beautiful gamers of Seattle, but so far I've been always directly involved. Now it's time to see how the game does when I'm not sitting at the table -- y'know, a real playtest.

If you're interested, whisper me with your email address, or send an email to microscope-playtest + lamemage.com.

Got questions? Hit me.

Thanks are also in order to everybody I've had so much fun playing the game with already: Tony Dowler, Ryan Dunleavy, Mike Frost, John Harper, Robert Haskell, Jem Lewis, Kevin Lewis, Ching-Ping Lin, Trey Marshall, and Paul Riddle, plus additional feedback from Stephen Scholz and Jonathan Walton. You guys are stone cold rock stars.


  • This game is cool. If you like the collaborative group story thing (Universalis, PTA, InSpectres) you'll definitely want to check it out. Or if you just like FUN.
  • Seconded! This game is something else. I hope to run a session at Go Play NW.
  • edited June 2009
    Me three! I too will be running it at Go Play NW. The game is awesome and easy to pick up and just play, and if you're going to be at GPNW, you can find out for yourself. :)
  • (answer to a whispered question)

    I'm not setting an end date for the playtest yet. Normally I would, but since it's a bit experimental I want to see what happens when more people play it and decide from there.
  • If you've got questions, you can just post instead of whispering them. Other people are probably wondering the same things you are.

    Another whisper answer:

    I'll be sending out the playtest document tonight or tomorrow at the very latest.
  • I just sent out the first wave of emails with download links. If you don't get an email, post here and let me know so we can figure a workaround (it probably got blocked by spam filters).

    Thanks in advance to everyone who volunteered. There's still room for more, so if you're interested, step up!
  • I just started reading and am so excited. I'm hoping to get some of the go play pdx people to play this with me when I move.
  • That's excellent Hans. The more the merrier.

    There'll definitely be some pick-up Microscope at GoPlayNW too.
  • edited June 2009
    I've read through the rules and am planning to take it for a spin with a game of four shortly. My first reaction to the rules was pretty positive; I know from reading the dev. blogs on the project at Lame Mage that there was some initial diffculty in explaining the game's concept to others and I can safely say that in my experience that is not the case in this version. The rules are clear, concise, and fairly intuitive. I feel that going into a game I might need to refer to the rules for adjudication, but the overall concept was easy to grasp and certainly sounds fun. When I had finished reading though I was definitely excited to play so in that regards it is a success. I'll post initial reactions to actual play here as soon as I have them.
  • Ben, a question:
    am I allowed to pass the pdf over to the other guys in the playtest group?

    As an aside: I've just browsed the game and whoa, it actually looks like the game I have been looking for for a long, long time. This look seriously good, especially to me as a huge Asimov Foundation fan.
  • edited June 2009
    Absolutely Giulia. Anyone you want to play with is welcome to read the rules.

    Yeah, Foundation is really good example. One of the really interesting parts of the game is that you may start off thinking you're playing a straight knock-off of some idea (like Foundation or ancient Rome), but twenty minutes in it has already morphed into something totally unique. The system prevents overt collaboration once the ball is rolling (aka creativity by committee) so unexpected and beautiful things start to happen pretty fast.
  • I would die to play this myself. Unfortunately, I'm not entirely sure how much interest would the guys at my gaming group have. So I thought I might ask a couple of "technical" questions, just in case...

    How many players would you recommend for the optimal game? What's the minimum you could have without "breaking" the game? How easier would it be to port it into another media (such as internet-play or something like that)?
  • We've played with anywhere from two to five players. I didn't think two would work at all, but I was wrong, it worked great (that was also our first stab at a real world alternate history Microscope game, a classic "what if the Nazi's won WWII" setting).

    Personally I think four is ideal, because you have a good balance of constant involvement plus unexpected creative contributions. Three players is a close runner up. Then again I favor smaller groups in just about all games these days, so that just might be my bias.

    There is at least one playtest group who's going to try playing over Skype, so we'll see how that goes. The history changes constantly, so there might be technical issues displaying that for all players. Instead of using a visual map of the history you could also just write it as a text outline, so that might be a good way to rapidly update and display the history online.
  • Is it too late to get in on playtesting this?

    I may not be able to get a group together until after Origins but I'd be interested in giving this a go.


  • Never too late Jason (insert Microscope "past is never closed" joke here). I'm still signing people up, so I'll add you in.

    It's going to be a pretty large phase 2 playtest, but I'd much rather have lots of people and explore every nook and cranny. I'm in no hurry.
  • Thank you, Ben.
  • Finally read it today, Ben; this is seriously awesome.
    not just like a "i like you, you're a nice guy, i want to support your art" kinda thing. Not that i'm generally given to that kind of thing anyway,
    but i just wanted to say how stoked i am to play this in a week. Oh Yeah!
  • edited June 2009
    Posted By: Ben RobbinsI didn't think two would work at all, but I was wrong, it worked great (that was also our first stab at a real world alternate history Microscope game, a classic "what if the Nazi's won WWII" setting).
    Yeah, four is the probably ideal, but three is fine and we only very briefly played with five and it definitely fell outside the roleplaying sweet spot, but mechanically, the game is not affected in any way.

    I didn't at all think two would work but it turned out to be just fine if you're comfortable roleplaying in a two person group. The clockwise, counter-clockwise rules don't apply and you have really be on your story-game toes because when you're not the current player or the Lens, you're about to be, but that's really good in a way. It's very intense. Because players have such broad creative powers in a scene and because the idea is that you're never advocating for "your" character but rather the story, having just two players doesn't mean there are only two characters affecting the scene which is why scenes don't feel limited to just a two-way conversation. So, while it's not ideal, if you don't think your whole gaming group would go for Microscope, you can definitely just give it a whirl with another person and I am sure it will work and be fun.
  • I just finished reading the rules last night, and can't wait to play.

    I'm running it with my Skype group, and the same idea occurred to me that you mentioned: using the text outline and a real-time shared document. We record most of our games and put them out in our podcast--we'll record yours, too, but would you rather just have that for yourself, or would you like everyone to get to hear it?

    Given my group's leanings and the things I'm working on myself, I know exactly what I want to play: the history of The Fifth World, to develop the background for my own game (something you suggest in the rules)! We start with the Collapse (a Dark Period), and end in 400 years, with the beginning of the Fifth World (a Light Period). I have a few ideas for some of the stuff in between, like the Rusting Ages, when you have some Road Warrior type stuff in the cities (a Dark Period), but I've never filled in the history from now to then. I can't wait to try it out!
  • Jackson: Sweet! I dig the honest feedback. Yep, I'm ready for some hot Microscope action at GPNW. I'll be doing pickup games pretty much whenever people seem interested.

    Michael: Awesome, I'm looking forward to it. Just a few more days!

    Jason: Sharing the actual play recording with the world is a-okay (so are any other actual play reports for that matter). Keep in mind the golden rule though, which is to abandon your preconceptions about the history you'll play. It may turn out very differently than you expect once the other players add their ideas. If you're flexible and open you're good to go, but if you feel ownership of the setting you might be in for heartbreak.
  • I'm big time interested in this game, and I'd love to participate in a playtest. In fact, I'm more than willing to facilitate/host/etc as neccessary.

    The issue is: my playgroup's recently disintegrated... Does anyone know of any playtest groups in RI or nearby Mass that might have room for another player? Or would anyone be up for an online (Skype or some such) game?

    Just figured I'd through the question out there.
  • Posted By: Ben RobbinsJason: Sharing the actual play recording with the world is a-okay (so are any other actual play reports for that matter). Keep in mind the golden rule though, which is to abandon your preconceptions about the history you'll play. It may turn out very differently than you expect once the other players add their ideas. If you're flexible and open you're good to go, but if you feel ownership of the setting you might be in for heartbreak.
    I know where it begins and ends, but I only have a few ideas about things in between--really just enough to come up with a period myself when needed, and only one period at that! So I think I should be good here.

    Unfortunately, Willem went off for a few weeks, so we won't be able to play until early July. You said you didn't have a schedule yet, so I hope that means we won't be too late then. I hope I can play it with a face-to-face group before then.
  • Going to try to play this with Ellen here soon, but she's on the road a lot for work. Hopefully soon!
  • Posted By: HiQKidDoes anyone know of any playtest groups in RI or nearby Mass that might have room for another player?
    I've been thinking about running this with SGBoston, which meets every Wed, 7pmish (we usually start around 7:30), at Pandemonium Books in Central Square. If you wanna train it up for a session or two, let me know.
  • I'll be playing this with my non-gamer wife this week or weekend.
    She's a very creative painter. She makes all of these loverly little iconic creatures, esp birds, and she's interested in "discovering" what their history is.

    We're going to open the file with neither of us having read it before, and start playing from that.
  • Posted By: JCunkleWe're going to open the file with neither of us having read it before, and start playing from that.
    Oooh, that'll be an interesting test.

    I can't say I recommend starting play with no one having read the doc, so I'm really curious how it turns out.
  • Someone posted a link at my collaborative story telling site about this playtest. We were bantering around how successful it could be over a text based medium.

    Have you tried using it to fuel a play by post or play by email game yet? My site is neither, but that's a fairly close representation. Our stories tend to be very story driven and often times the mechanics can get in the way.

    I'm very interested to hear if you've had any experience with this medium yet. It sure sounds like a dynamite system for player collaboration.
  • So I got to play this at GPNW, and I left the game table just needing to play more. I really like.

    All you fence-sitters, boot your other games and slap down a session of this.

    Read the rules first, too. I don't know if I'm using either of these words correctly, as I'm very tired, but during play the adjective-phrase (shut up, grammar) that kept popping into my head was "procedurally complex."
  • You guys were great Hans! You all caught on to the whole Microscope idea really quickly, and the shining Lemuria vs bloody ziggurat-builders vs free barbarians setting that emerged was very cool.

    I've got a lot more to say about how awesome all the GPNW games were, but I'm still basking in the glow and at a loss for words...
  • Echoing Hansel, I got a chance to play this at GPNW and it was fantastic. Ben, if you need more playtesters I'd love to give it a try with some of my group. I'm a little curious how it'll do with people who aren't so into this sort of game.
  • Absolutely Ryan! Whisper me your email address and I'll send you the playtest info.
  • Ben, I have blogged about our Microscope game we play on Saturday night. We had so much fun that we forgot to order food..

    I would be tempted to play Microscope in a semi-public place so that I could use it as a gateway game. In fact It has the feel of a gateway game, Role playing is optional, for those that worry about that..

    We observated that not every scene needed PCs for each player.. A little too late we realized that someone could play everyone in a class of people. And that maybe if ideas for PCs were not forth coming maybe a Player could pass and then jump in when an other role needed filling.

    We ended our game when it felt right in the fiction, and after we all had a turn as Lens.
  • About to playtest this soon (in about a week.) Have a few requests for clarification.

    I'm still not sure I quite get Focus. The rules say in a couple places that the Lens "picks" a Focus. But from the examples it seems like the Lens gets to just make it up. Possibly in addition to the other things he gets to make up. Since the economy of creation seems pretty important in this game, I'd like to understand this part better.

    It's a bit nebulous where the creation of Legacies can occur. Possibly anywhere, but it seems like the sensible time to do it is right after a Scene resolves.

    A random thought: things might get really strange in a game with time-travel on the Palette. I think we'll steer away from that one on our first time out.

    Another: Time... Time has a bad name. A horrible name. Just call it the Chorus and be done with it, or something.

    Really looking forward to playing this.
  • Nicholas, I'm completely jealous of your Cthulhu game. That's a great premise for a Microscope history.

    I agree with what you say in your blog post: five players is definitely the high end. It can work, but four is better (which is true for lots of story games). In hindsight, I think "three or more players" gives the totally wrong impression and I need to amend that.

    It's better (I'd argue) to force people to choose a character, even if that character never appears on stage, because that choice can still contribute to the scene. We had some scenes at GPNW where the chief scientist was dealing with the corrupt council and a rogue AI, and in the very first scene his wife was a character, and her Revealed Thoughts were something like "I wish he would confide in me. I know something's bothering him." She never even walked into the scene, but it added another subtext to what was going on.

    And if you do decide mid-scene that there's another character who would be really useful to move the scene, you can just control NPCs and introduce them.
  • Roger, the focus can be anything the lens wants, whether that's something already in the game or something just made up. I can see how that might be unclear.

    You can make a legacy at literally any time, just as written. Things might emerge that seem like legacies, but they are not _mechanical_ legacies until someone decides to make it so.

    Time is definitely not a chorus. As a character, Time has a very specific agenda.

    And yeah, time travel seems like a bad fit (to me anyway). Right up there with immortality.
  • Posted By: ChairmanHave you tried using it to fuel a play by post or play by email game yet?
    So far all the games have been face-to-face (at least that I've heard about). I haven't done much online gaming so I might not be the best judge of how it would work.

    My guess is that it would work well, because unless you are playing scenes individual players have huge authority to just make things, without negotiation or discussion (the kind of thing that otherwise really slows down play-by-post).
  • Posted By: Ben Robbins...time travel seems like a bad fit (to me anyway). Right up there with immortality.
    Our game had some time travel, at the very end of the game one of the characters asked to be send back in time to stop these events from happening, but that only enlightened why some events happen as they did.

    We also had messages being sent from the future to the past. And several characters reincarnations and decedents showing up latter in the story.

    After we where storyed gamed out, and done with the game, we reviewed our timeline in chronological order, and it did make sense. While playing we didn't always know why events happened, but they could always be explained at some latter time.

    This game comes closest to collaborative novel writing, then any RPG I have ever played. At the end of the game we had an outline it just needs some filling in.
  • Ben, do you want feedback in this thread, its own thread, an email to you, unspecified other?

    I have a short AP for you, and more sure to follow. It was a great session and my wife and I are jazzed to play more.
  • An AP definitely deserves its own thread. You can put feedback that relates to the game in there as well. You're also welcome to email me feedback if you prefer.

    I'm excited to hear about it!
  • It's late now, but tomorrow for sure. Like I said, short AP, but I took notes on most everything I could think of.

    I was excited to play it, and short version= it rocked.
  • edited July 2009
    I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the game of Microscope that I played on Friday night -- but I spent so much time afterwards talking about it with Ping & Ralph that I feel kind of burnt out on feedback. (Hopefully most of what we said got back to you in one form or another.) Nonetheless I will ramble a little here.

    I do feel like tone debt was kind of opaque and difficult to manage -- in fact we never used it in our entire session, which may be part of why I don't get it (seeing it in play usually helps.) The problem is that you need to understand how to use it before you can see it in play, because otherwise nobody can tell when the opportunity exists to spend it.

    Lenses are a great idea, and worked to interesting effect, possible because Ping chose an actual person as the focus. The first few additions after the Lens was announced were very literally about the person and his specific historical period, but after several concrete scenes there was a kind of dispersal effect as players tried to find ways to add in Lens-related elements to unexpected places. This seemed like a natural and desireable effect, since it created a sort of historical interpenetration which is (I assume) one of the emergent properties of the game. It widened the scope in which the Lens element could later be reincorporated.

    Scenes still need work, I think. We had issues with when to cut scenes (I felt some got cut early because we had happened to answer the question, but the scene felt dramatically incomplete) -- and I regularly chose characters with no intention of answering the question, but instead because they seemed to fit the scene as a scene. I feel like any scene in a game has inherent dramatic requirements, and they seemed at times to be interfering with the informational/mechanical requirements of the game (answering the question.)

    Nobody ever narrated a complete scene outcome from the beginning -- I think this is an option that needs to be explained & supported well in the text, because it feels like a really important middle-ground in terms of pacing & scene turnover.

    I want more wrap-up at the end of a scene besides just deciding if it was light or dark (another thing we struggled with a lot, surprisingly.) Specifically I would love to have another round of 'thoughts' at the end, since the thoughts were my favourite thing about scenes in general.

    I would like to see a mechanic or explicit structured opportunity for naming things and people. Ping clearly felt (probably based on her previous experience with the game) that this was not actually a good idea. But... the one element that was named (which I was forced to name because I wanted to reincorporate it in a way that required a name) ended up being reincorporated probably three or four additional times. By comparison, there was not a single other case of concrete reincorporation (that I remember) in our entire game. Names create focus and focus is obviously crucial in this game. I suggested (or maybe Ralph suggested?) that this could be done at the end of every scene -- choose one character or scene element to be named or otherwise made more real, to help guide future reincorporation/characterization.

    It was suggested (by Ralph but I could be paraphrasing poorly) that more could be done to facilitate adding details to elements besides answering a scene question. I agree very strongly that there were often lots and lots of things I wanted to know but that I didn't want to know enough to spend an entire scene finding out. Some of these were important colour about our Pallette elements (what do the Apocalypse Cults believe?), some were more incidental (what do members of this particular Apocalypse Cult wear?) And while we did manage to introduce some of this colour into scenes incidentally, the intense Question-based focus of the scene tended to curtail those opportunities. There were several scenes where I saw opportunities to really flesh things out, but those opportunities were largely missed; as a result several story elements that were clearly Very Important to the overall story we were telling still felt very anemic -- there wasn't a lot to them, despite their importance.

    Now naturally, if we continued play, I could introduce scenes to answer the most egregious of these gaps -- but as mentioned, an entire scene seems like a fairly high price to pay, when there is no particular single Question missing, but rather a whole bunch of half-questions that, together, would give the element a greater solidity. And on the one hand I can see how this tension is important to drive the game and have players make choices about resource allocation -- but it was definitely an issue in our game, and something I would be interested in seeing play out over a multi-session game.
  • In fact in retrospect it's not clear that Tone added anything to our game at all. I think the game would have been basically identical without any consideration of light/dark.
  • Hey Daniel, I'm really glad to hear your feedback. Whisper me your email and I'll send you the rules text. I'd love to get your impressions after reading it (kind of a before/after comparison of what you think).

    I don't want to comment too much before you read it, but there are definitely limits to trying to teach and play the game simultaneously. Some things (like Tone Debt) never have mandatory effects -- they have to be brought in voluntarily by a player, so obviously that's going to fade to the background if no one is sure how to use it.
  • For the record, Daniel, I haven't played the game yet, but Tone Debt remains the part I'm most skeptical about. That said, I haven't played the game yet, so my opinion isn't really worth anything :) I guess I just find the binary split less interesting that either 1) nothing or 2) having an alternative that's more colorful than the light/dark split (like, uh, "the general theme of this period is that comfort breeds complacency, but so far everyone's been fairly wary and attentive, so I'll spend some Theme Debt to cause these characters to be lulled into a false sense of security").
  • edited July 2009
    I was part of zipht's playtest last week. I agree that Tone Debt feels a little hard to use effectively, but I'd like to try the game again to make sure the problem isn't with my understanding of it. In particular, I felt like there needed to be some way to get it off of Events and onto the governing Period, because we found ourselves with a lot of Tone Debt sitting on Events that we felt no need to play any further Scenes in. Just seemed like a waste. In general, when we wanted to bend a Scene in a particular way, we brought in a Legacy instead.

    I thought the light/dark split was actually very easy to use (and perhaps most importantly, judge), but then we were pastiching Lovecraft so it was kind of easy to tell which one a Scene ended up as.

    And speaking of time travel, I want to give some major props to Ben for making a game that encourages fourth-dimensional thinking. It's a really rare and bizarre thrill to think about framing Scenes that foreshadow events we've already played out. Gives me the same warm fuzzies and sore brain as Continuum.
  • Posted By: Ice Cream EmperorI just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the game of Microscope that I played on Friday night
    Daniel, I posted some thoughts about the Friday night game in an AP thread.
  • I just sent out Microscope Playtest Update #1 to all the players. It answers some questions, but not any of the ones people are really asking, like what's up with Tone and Tone Debt? That's because I'm waiting for the playtesters to answer those questions after they've played a few more sessions...

    (and no, no rule changes yet -- just clarification and play tips)
  • I missed this thread in the flurry of GPNW threads.

    I really think the game has a ton of potential. I'm totally into seeing how it winds up. I really like the drilling down from periods to events important in that period to scenes that illustrate those events. I think that part is the most solid of the game.

    I like the Lens picking a topic that everyone else has to focus on for that round around the table. I think that nicely sets the stage for those bubbles of history that get a ton of coverage while others get skipped over with just sketchy mention.

    I'd like to see the game move more towards a model of "History is the story of great people doing great things". Conversely if this is definitely not the model of history that Microscope seeks to emulate...then I'd scrap the whole roleplay through scenes piece altogether (more on that below).

    To my way of thinking, if you're going to portray individual people in scenes that illustrate a moment in history, then I want those people to be the people whose names show up in history text books from future periods. Not every scene has to be a moment in the life of Jefferson or Napoleon, the occassional scene where ordinary joe's are reflecting on "where they were when Kennedy was shot" is a great contrast. But it doesn't really work for me if EVERY scene is that. Babylon 5 did an episode where some major event was going on but most of it was being seen through the eyes of a couple of maintenance laborers going about their shift. It was a really compelling episode. But if the entire show had been that way...not so much.

    Right now, at least based on one brief con experience, I didn't feel like we had sufficient time or motivation to establish any of the characters as both "historically significant people" and "people with any depth". We had a president who was revealed as being secretly a mutant in the midst of anti mutant fervor who gave a speech to congress so impassioned it went down in history as one of the great speaches of all time (a Legacy in the game). Future space ships were named after this guy. But yet we knew nothing about him at all. In fact, I don't think he even had a name in the one scene where he got played...the name was invented later because we needed a name for the space ship.

    That really doesn't work for me. What I'd like to see more of are the little snippets of stuff that people remember...accurate or not, so what...people remember strange stuff...like Washington had wooden teeth and Napoleon was short and Kennedy chased skirts. Things that would make these characters feel like what you would read about in a history text or remember from pop culture. So, more opportunity to reincorporate characters who are important to a particular event or series of events in a period. More opportunity to see them played and play them and accrue details about them that stick.

    Thought: drill down another level. Period -->Event-->Scene-->Character where "Character" is just a representative individual not EVERY character the same way as a scene is just a representative scene and not every moment of every day.

    Barring that...I don't think I'd find the "roleplay characters in a scene" a very interesting activity if they're just blank generic placeholders who exist only to answer the question. I'd rather just brainstorm an answer to the question with the other players and go.

    The sense I got was that the primary purpose of roleplaying the scenes was that there's this question...and there are these characters who are in a position to answer the question...and you go through the motions of roleplaying until one of the players manages to work the scene into a situation where he can have his character spring the answer on the group...and whatever that is...it is.

    I can appreciate the desire to not create meely mouth touchy feely group hug history by having everyone collaborate and reach consensus. And I can appreciate the desire to have sudden drastic answers that take the history in unexpected directions. But I'm not sure if the "roleplay the scene until the question is answered" bit really gets it done in a way that I find very fun. It felt a bit like playing Russian Roulette with the story where you hoped you'd be able to work your answer to the question in before the "gun goes off" and someone else springs some bizarre thing you hate into the mix.

    Additionally, you're trying to manuever the scene in a certain direction so that the narrative of the scene supports your answer...but you've got literally nothing to build on. You know nothing about the characters, their personalities, their past, heck even their name. So you can't really tell what the other players are trying to do, whether their character is acting normally (for them) or strangely (for them) its just a very surreal experience. I guess here's what I mean. You have these characters. They know each other. Some of them might know each other intimately. Colleagues, coworkers, family, lovers, hated enemies...whatever...but WE don't know any of them...or anything about them. So its almost like roleplaying a bunch of people who have amnesia. Say I'm playing your husband...but I don't know if we have a good marriage or a bad one. I don't know if I love you or I married you for money. I don't know anything about our relationship at all. So I'm roleplaying and I'm making up how my character feels about yours as I go. And that may totally not mesh at all with the version of our relationship that you're making up as you go. And we have no details at all to go from...and it just...doesn't feel right.

    I really liked the history building parts of the game. But to be perfectly straight forward...I did not enjoy any of the roleplaying segments at all. They all felt hollow, artificial, chaotic, and ultimately unnecessary.

    So 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.
  • In my opinion, Valamir, you aren't approaching the role-playing segments in the intended way. You're not supposed to get inside the character's heads and figure out their motivations because their isn't enough time or focus to do so; to borrow some DnD terms these characters aren't Player Characters they're minor NPCs. They should be improvised not planned. When going into a scene, pick two or three characteristics you're going to give the character and hit the ground running. Relationships with other characters in the scene and facts about characters should be established in action and conversation and when one is presented run with it (or subtly refute in through other action or conversation). Keep it loose and be flexible.

    Regarding whether these characters are important to the overall narrative, or one-shots is entirely up to the group, not the rules. If you like the president who gave the great speech and want to know more about him set him as the focus for your next turn. How important a person, and object, a location, anything is to the history is entirely up to the players. Most characters played are not going to have a tremendous impact outside of their own scenes, but those that do should come to light and can be zoomed in on and highlighted appropriately.
  • That's the thing Michael. Playing minor NPCs is Not Fun. Playing minor NPCs is something that's only enjoyable in the context of watching them interact with PCs. If there are no PCs* to interact with then playing a revolving door of blank slate NPCs in scene after scene is an exercise in tedium...at least for me.

    If you aren't supposed to get inside their heads and figure out their motivation...why use role playing as a game technique at all? Instead of roleplaying the scene why not just story board it from a 30,000 foot 3rd person level.

    Something like:
    "Ok, in this scene the president's been called in to testify in front of congress on the mutant issue"
    "right and there's a senator there who's totally anti mutant and he has evidence that suggests the president is one"
    "right so there's a bunch of back and forth questions from various senators on the panel and politically dodgy answers for a while until finally that senator springs his accusation on the pres"
    "exactly, and that's when the pres admits in front of everyone that he is, in fact, a mutant, and gives an impassioned speech about freedom and humanity and mom and apple pie and all that that brings everyone to tears"

    Why not just do that and skip the pretend role play. That's the "scrap the roleplay" alternative I recommended. Personally, I'd much rather see the roleplay expanded in an interesting fashion, but if that's definitely not part of the design concept then I'd go this route. Because the kinda-sorta-but-not-really role playing that we were doing I didn't find to be very fun and a net detraction from the cool parts of the game that I did find fun.

    *for purposes of Microscope read "PC" as "character developed enough to be interesting on their own merits"
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