So, I’m really excited to write this up. It’s my first time doing an actual play report, so I’m a little high on naïveté and adrenaline at the moment. Please excuse any excessive gushing.
For all my gaming “career,” I’ve always been a player. Mostly, I’ve played in one-shots and game-store demos because of a lack of real-world time. Last year, I had the time problem resolve itself, and I concurrently joined two different groups -- one for Pathfinder and one for the West End Games Star Wars. I really enjoyed being a participant, but I want to move from being in front of the camera and refocus my efforts to the production end of gaming. I want to GM.
I like the idea of playing homebrew settings more than established settings, so I decided that my group would build the world from scratch, using Microscope. It seemed appropriate because I want my players to be invested in the setting. I’m also hoping to work in several story game techniques, but my players aren’t very familiar with that type of gaming. To be honest, I’m pretty new to this kind of gaming, too. So we’re learning this together.
We first met a few weeks ago, and It was pretty easy to get started. We knew we wanted to do something in a more post-apocalyptic setting. One of my players had recently been playing mostly Pathfinder, and he was tired of a “traditional” fantasy RPG setting. He wanted to see either a post-apocalyptic or cyberpunk genres. Considering that the other players enjoy games like Star Wars and Shadowrun, they were enthusiastic about the idea. So we started with the focus:Culture rises again after an apocalyptic event destroys the world as we know it.
It’s a very broad statement that could go almost anywhere. What was amazing was how quickly it became defined by the palette. We began discussing what the players wanted in the world, and I was surprised that they wanted straight out horror. I was thinking that our world would be similar to something like Steven King’s The Dark Tower series, which has dark themes, but has a lot of light in it as well. Or perhaps something like Alas, Babylon, where nuclear war has happened, but people are making the best they can out of life.
I was really surprised how responsive the group was when it came to input for the palette. We had to refine some of the entries, but for the most part, they had put a lot of thought into what they wanted. They were gung-ho!
The next part, the development of the initial periods, was a little more complicated. We had to spend several minutes discussing how periods work, and the general method of Microscope’s top-down outlining structure.
Since I had the most experience, I served as the lens first. I decided to make an event and a scene focusing on the Supervirus Outbreak. The roleplaying of the scene was a bit awkward. In part, I think this was because the rest of the group weren’t sure of the actual goal of the process. This had a couple of factors. I don’t feel I explained it well, which was my fault. Another factor was the lateness. Our group is only able to meet starting at nine, due to family commitments and such. By the time we got to this point in the evening, midnight was fast approaching.
As an aside, I think the scenes are the hardest part of Microscope to do (the second hardest being Legacies). I think they can be very rewarding but it seems overwhelming to those I’ve tried the game with before. After that first scene, we didn’t do anymore.
Once the group understood the mechanics, the game began to hum along nicely. We managed to do two complete rounds, focusing on the first two periods before breaking for the evening. Our group is a bit larger than what the game recommends, so that added to the amount of time.
It was a few weeks before we were able to get back together, but we were able to get into the game with only a minor recap of the rules. Our session last night was good for a couple reasons. First, it was really cool to see my friends grok the world we’re building. There were some fist-pumps when they realized how they could take different pieces that other people were writing and work it into their own entries. More than once, I heard them say to each other:
“This is such a cool world.”
“Yeah, it really is.”
Some of the contributors did have a hard time expressing their ideas. So I did workshop some with them individually. Mostly, I had to ask questions to get the creative juices going. I also pointed out a few interesting things others had written and asked what kind of consequences they thought would come from those entries. At a couple of points, I had to remind the players that the collaborative part was done because they would suggest what they wanted to see. But overall, it went really smoothly.
Once again, though, time became an issue. We wrapped up at 3 in the morning. We may have gone a little too long, but we managed to add to all but three of the remaining periods. We’re planning to have one more session to wrap up the world outlining. I then plan to flesh the outline out into a full history. A few of the players have said they’ll help with the writing chores, which is a really good sign.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed using Microscope this way. I could have thrown together a homebrew of my own and then told the players to come up with characters. But Microscope makes the world in and of itself a multi-faceted character that they know. Once we finish the world, the players will have a lot of gaming goodies to choose from, which will make my job as a GM that much easier. I know that they’ve got an investment into the game already. f you would like to see the outline we’ve developed so far, you can view it here