Happy Birthday Olivia!

Game two of our excellent StarCraft-analog Microscope game.

In the first game we established that along with the humans and the Swarm, the third race were the mysterious Wan, sometimes called the Voi. In keeping with StarCraft tradition, while the Swarm are a horde of monsters, the Wan are a highly advanced species, technology far ahead of humanity and the inheritors of a proud and ancient culture. In their minds they are the chosen race of the galaxy. Shades of racial messianism. They’re ten feet tall, have four legs, and skin like marble.

Ping throws down the first focus of game two: the Swarm on Earth. During the initial game setup, Haskell made a period where humanity makes first contact. Unfortunately, it comes in the form of the Wan showing up and utterly overwhelming the newly space-faring humans and subjugating the entire race. We know that later on the Wan first encounter the Swarm, and it’s their vicious attacks on Wan-space that weakens Wan control over Earth and the human colonies, allowing mankind to break free after a bitter guerrilla war against their alien overlords.

Ping starts us off with an event in that Alien Occupation period, the 10th birthday party of little Olivia, the daughter of one of the human collaborators. Because nothing says brutal alien occupation like a child’s birthday party. She then makes a scene with the question “does Olivia reveal her father’s sympathy for the rebellion?”

There’s a “hey, wait a second, I thought you said Swarm?” moment, but Ping is ready: Olivia has a family dog, and that dog has been secretly taken over by the Swarm. We’ve already had scenes later in this period where we see Swarm-animals skulking around on Earth, but it’s clear the humans don’t even know the Swarm exists, and there’s no indication the Wan know about them yet either. They’ve infected Earth without anyone being the wiser.

We pick characters and wind up with Olivia’s father (me), his nervous social climber wife (Ping) clinging to the material benefits of collaborating with the enemy, and one of the alien overseers (Haskell) making an formal appearance to show official favor for the cooperative human. Yes, the Swarm are the focus but no one opts to play the Swarm-dog, because it’s not in a good position to answer the question. Olivia clearly is, but hey, we like a challenge, so no one plays her.

Thoughts reveal pretty quickly that the father isn’t just sympathetic to the rebels, he’s up to his neck in it. He’s feeding the overseers information to set them up for a rebel ambush, hoping to wipe out the upper echelons of alien leadership in this zone. He knows if it goes wrong he’s screwed, and he’s put his whole family in danger, so he’s on edge when speaking with the aliens. I use Drama to establish a fact: we’ve already seen that the Wan have language translation devices (creepy looking collars), but I add that even though this gives them literal verbal translation they can’t interpret subtler human signals, like emotion or facial expression (and vice versa). So they can’t pick up on things like nervousness or outright fear, like the father is showing right now. He’s terrified, but he knows the alien can’t see it. If his lies hold together, he’s okay.

I immediately use NPC control to have Olivia peek out from her bedroom (where she was sent on a time-out after getting cranky in the middle of the party), and spy on her father talking to the overseer. The alien can’t tell her father is agitated, but innocent little Olivia can see it clear as day, even if she doesn’t understand why.

Doom is about two steps away. I sit back to see what the other players do — I just used Drama, so I couldn’t use it again if I wanted to. Haskell has the satisfied alien walk away, but before he’s out of earshot Haskell controls Olivia to have her come out and sulkily ask her father awkward questions. The alien turns around ominously, and we cut scene, because we know the jig is up.

The answer: yes she does, without realizing the repercussions her childish actions will have. The rest is just unhappy detail. The party ends before anyone gets cake, and someone’s Dad is going to the re-education camp. Happy Birthday!

Poor Olivia. On the bright side this gives us lots of reason to make her a fanatic yet guilt-ridden rebel years later.

And in the background the creepy dog lurks in the shadows, watching everything, and waiting…

Drama Is Good

So far so good with the new Drama rules. Knowing that Drama will be available every scene seems to have drastically reduced our hesitation using it. Scenes feel even more decisive, even when Drama doesn’t get used at all, because you know it’s an option.

    Ben Robbins | November 19th, 2009 | microscope actual play | leave a comment