Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #25 - Microscope


It's no revelation that I like to steal/borrow mechanics from games and apply them to my games of choice. I have written a lot about 13th Age in that regard (and will continue to do so until it is reduced to little more than its d20 core), but there's other games that have mechanics that work well outside of their native games.

Microscope is different though. I don't want to borrow a mechanic from Microscope to apply to Cypher System or AGE, or whatever. Instead I want to just co-opt the whole RPG into the early stages of any planned campaign ... and here's why.

I'm guessing that there's a decent number of people who might read this and not have any idea what Microscope is.  It is an RPG (duh) about building history. It's diceless, cooperative, freeform (to an extent), improvisational, and scalable. But that still doesn't tell you what it does. A session of Microscope creates a world. Yes, a world, and that is why it is one I would co-opt for use as I started a campaign.

When you play Microscope the group creates a timeline of a world, a setting, and as each turn unfolds more detail is added, more facts are revealed, and more events are laid out. You start with a concept, a "big picture", a broad block of time that could be rather broad, or rather narrow, depending on your preference, and then create periods of time within that big picture. The nature of Microscope is fractal, much in the way FATE is, and so within those periods you will define events, and within those events you will create scenes.

The game is scalable, so if you only play a single session and go around the table three times you will likely have a good amount of information to work with, but you could just as easily go on to play another dozen sessions, adding to and refining the session to a high degree. Regardless of how detailed you decide to go the people playing have a direct hand on the history and structure of the world you create, and that is why I think its perfect for use as part of an RPG campaign.

Often GMs want to build a new world, one where they can control who did what and when and where. That's great, but it can lead to problems down the road during play. The GM has put a lot of effort and time into their world  and is probably rather heavily invested in their setting; they may even be a little too attached to it as a result. Conversely the players are only as knowledgeable as what they are given to read by the GM or what they can gain from discussion. This can mean that the GM is far more invested in the game than the players are.

By using a game like Microscope to create the game world and its history with your players you will be able to gain a great deal without losing out on the best part of custom settings; the fact that you "own" them. Using Microscope will help spread the workload out among the whole group. This will require some degree of compromise up front, and a willingness to relinquish absolute control, but you will gain players who have more investment in the game world (literally in this case), and you will allow them the chance to add or remove facets of the world that will interest them (or disinterest them). Likewise they will be able to help steer the setting history in ways they find interesting, they will have a good solid understanding of the world, and will (hopefully) be that much more excited to play in the resulting world.

It also helps that the creation of your new world will be a process of game play and not game design. You and your group will hopefully enjoy the experience of building your world as much as you will playing in it.

If you want to check out Microscope, its available through DriveThruRPG for a mere $10. In print I have seen it on Amazon for under $20. I highly recommend it, not just for use as a campaign word creator, but because it is a great game in its own right.