Sunday, August 26, 2012

Go Play NW: Microscope Actual Play (The Gardeners)

So, Rapid-Fire Go Play NW. It has no bee almost an entire 2 months since I was actually there. Damn it, I hate myself for procrastinating like this. So here you go:

At Go Play NW I played 6 games. Dungeon World I already gave an Actual Play post of (and my photo of my charshet is one of the first things on Google Images if you search Dungeon World Thief, and it's on the second page if search even something as broad as "Dungeon World"! Okay, enough patting myself on the back now). The other games were: Microscope and Commando World on Saturday, and Geiger World, 3:16, and Metamorphosis: Omicron on Sunday.

MICROSCOPE
So for the middle slot on Saturday, I'd elected to toss myself into the lottery. This was, essentially, going to be my first time going into a session with a completely random group with no idea what would be played. To be frank, I was pretty frightened - I know there are a lot of rather intimidating story games. My eventual group was: Ben Robbins, Dylan, and Feiya (I hope I got those right - my sincere apologies if not, it's been a while!). You might be able to see where this is going: I own Microscope, and I know whose name is on the cover. I didn't come right out and ask, but you can sure as hell that I voted for the game he actually wrote. See, I own Microscope, but I've never played it - whenever I read it, something just wasn't clicking, and the actual creator facilitating it for us would be great. And believe me, it was.
If I haven't said it straight yet, Ben Robbins designed and wrote Microscope.
So what is Microscope? It's a game of fractal history. Players take turns addding Periods (long lengths of time unified by some factor), Events (smaller things that happened within a given period - the exact scale of Events was something that came up as a little fuzzy, but it's pretty easy to just judge it), and Scenes (which are roleplayed out). Acting in chronological order is not a factor at all, and no one is taking ownership of or advocating for a given character or faction. One of the interesting things is that during your turn, no one else is supposed to collaborate with you or give you ideas. It's very much a counter to a lot of indie games, which thrive on cross-checking and concensus. It makes things surprising and forces even the timid to put their ideas in. It wouldn't work everywhere, but Fiasco could probably do some interesting things if you apply that principle over to it. I wouldn't say words like "better" or "worse"  but I'd definitely say that I think it could change into a little bit of a different beast. Heck, maybe it's supposed to be and I'm just playing it wrong!
Now, I haven't even gotten to the game itself, huh?
Here, take a peek at our game map!

http://www.lamemage.com/misc/microscope-gardeners.jpg
So, want me to explain this stuff? Alright. In the top left are two cards that are a bit blurry. The one on the left is headed "Focus" while the other says "Yes" and "No" with stuff under each. To their right are two folded cards that you can't read, which are the Legacies.
The Focus is a tool used to let players narrow in on their interests. Every round of play, one player is the Lens. The Lens decides on what aspect of the fiction is going to be focused on in this round; it could be a person, place, event, concept, whatever. The Lens plays twice, playing two of periods/events/scenes in whatever combination, with each of his things relating in some way to his chosen focus. Each player than takes a turn placing something (or playing a scene), but whatever they do must relate to the focus. When it gets around to the Lens again, he takes one more turn.
Legacies are things in-between Focuses. After a Lens finishes up a Focus, the player to his right picks a Legacy - something interesting he or she wants to see in the game. Eventually, every player will have a Legacy - when it gets to your turn, you can replace it, but you don't get more than one. When it's your turn to create or replace your legacy, you then get to make a dictated scene or an event about anyone's legacy, not just your own. Our's here are a Prussian Officer and the Secret Grimoire of Florence.
The Yes/No card is the Palette. the Palette is a thing where, at the beginning of the game, we each name one Yes and one No. Yes things are always allowed in your history - they're things we like and want to see. No's CANNOT be included in the game. Someone doesn't like them and doesn't want that to be what our history is about.
Our Yes's are International War, Gene Theory, and I can't read the last one. Our No's are Zombies, Time Travel, Scientific Agreement (oh boy there's a doozy) and Plague Affecting Kids.
The top row of upright cards are Periods. The colored or empty circles are whether we (the creator) consider that piece of history to be light or dark. I don't think this had a rules affect, it just helped set tone. As you can see, we have a lot of dark periods, and our one light period is the least-populated one.
Under the top row, the horizontal cards are our Events. Any vertical cards under the Events are Scenes we played.

In general, the game focused upon a man-made plague that Renaissance science unleashed upon Europe. Behind it all, a secret society called the Gardeners - they're mostly made up of nobles, working to finesse and perfect their genetic lineages and keep the nobility pure.
We had three focuses. The first was The Gardeners. The second (mine) was on Sandro, son of a Florentine gardener we'd talked about in the previous Focus. The third was the Church, and their addition changed the face of the game, so thanks Feiya!
Some memorable scenes (by which I mean things that happened, not just mechanical Scenes):
* An early scene of the Florentine Gardener and his family leaving Florence to escape the plague - they were the last to go. Unfortunately, they could not all go - I played the butler, trying to argue that I should be left behind while Dylan, playing the Gardener, argued that the family would never make it without me. The scene ended with me punching him out and tossing him on the wagon and telling them to go. Before that though, the Florentine (which I will continue to call him, havign forgotten his actual name) presented to his son Sandro a large tome, his Gardener's book, with the message at the back explaining everything about his organization to his son. However, with the Florentine now not staying behind, he reclaimed the book afterward before Sandro read it. But now that book is in play, and as I said before, the Secret Grimoire of Florence eventually became a Legacy.
* A scene between Gardener leadership discussing what they knew about the plague (this is the farthest left scene btw). They thought they'd squelched it when they had destroyed the lab under his estate. However, even under torture (which my dude was advocating against and Ben's character was actually doing) the plague creator hadn't revealed what I knew; he had a summer estate in Florence with another lab underneath. This lead to the already established evacuation of Florence and where the plague came from. His intention was, as we later discovered, to rid the world of the Gardeners, attempting to narrow the plague to kill only those of the Gardener bloodline, but the released plague worked on anyone (of a certain age, in accordance with the Palette).
* A debate between Church members who had been rationing food during the famine. They weren't only distributing food - to get the food, they drew your blood for study to keep the plague from getting out of control again.
* The final scene. The Jesuits had uncovered the Secret Grimoire of Florence. See scenes are framed by the creator asking a question that will be answered in the scene. The scene plays til the question is answered, and no more. This scene's question is the only one I vividly remember: "What world-changing secret is uncovered within the Grimoire?" Dylan played an attendant, Ben played the top Jesuit, Feiya played a descendent of the Florentine, and I played - guess who? - the Pope. Yup. When I included the Pope in the scene, I just knew I was going to have to be the one to play him. A bit of advice: Don't play the Pope. That is a HARD role. Folks said I did a good job and Ben had mentioned to several folks later that I was a sweet Pope - the mellowest Pope you'll ever meet. The tome had been brought before me, and the Jesuit kept trying to hint that I shouldn't bear the burden of this, and that if I'd turn away he'd destroy it (though he never said so - it was in the subtleties), but I was insistent that I must know. When it came to opening it - well, none of us really had a world-changing secret. We kept tossing out stuff (the Gardeners conducted horrible human experiments, etc) and deciding, yeah, it's in there, but that's not THE secret. Then it came out - a lineage tree, found on the final page. It traced the geneology of the Gardeners - all the way up to Adam and Eve and the GARDEN of Eden. Yeah. The Gardeners are the direct descendents of Adam and Eve. This changes the world - it is undeniable proof of the truth of Genesis. The Jesuit, even now, tried to convince the Pope that it was the faith without proof that showed peoples's strength and devotion and that true proof would destroy that, but I knew: the world needed to know.
The Garden/Gardeners thing was entirely out of left field - remember that the Church wasn't even in the game until Feiya Focus'd it in. It was perfect. This is an unbelievable game. I can't wait to try to play again sometime.

Huh. I've typed a hell of a lot more than I thought I would. This isn't Rapid-Fire - this is full AP. Up it goes!

Music!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3udu4SUsIc&feature=player_embedded
All this Florence and Church talk has me in an Assassin's Creed 2 mood. This is the first track on the soundtrack, and incorporates a lot of the elements of other songs on the soundtrack (electric guitar from the Combat songs, Venice Rooftops's acoustics, and Ezio's Family's choir and melody). It's one of my favorite songs from the game, coming in just under Ezio's Family and just over Venice Rooftops. Florence Tarantella is a great fourth, and Dreams of Venice is one of the best city songs in the entire series along with City of Rome and City of Jerusalem.

EDIT: Also, thank you to everyone who keeps viewing for making this month another pageview record for me! I hope to only keep doing a better and better job at pleasing you all!

End Recording,
Ego.

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