Ever since the first playtest, Microscope Echo required the Lens to describe a faction going back and changing history. The idea was that this intervention kicks off each round and drives the action. But as I keep playing it, I’m thinking that requirement isn’t necessary. Players don’t seem at all hesitant to go back and mess with the timeline.
Requiring an intervention at the start of each round seems to push the action a little too much. The changes snowball too quickly. Instead, I’m adjusting it so players have more freedom to explore the history as it stands without forcing them to jump in and change it so soon every round. That way players can establish the problems and events that really cry out for intervention and give the situation more context, if they want.
At a gut level it feels like a more graceful fit, which is always a good sign. It’s a lot like when I was originally working on Microscope: every time I would put in something that forced players to do a particular thing instead of giving them choice, I would eventually come around to taking that requirement out and putting the decision back in the player’s hands. Constraint is good — in normal Microscope you almost always just pick whether to make a Period, Event or Scene — but you have to make sure you are still leaving the proper space for the players to use their taste and judgment, particularly around things like pacing or escalation.
Does that mean I’m getting rid of the requirement that you must follow an Intervention with an Echo? Nope, that still feels like a very useful constraint. It makes us examine the consequences of tinkering with history instead of just lobbing more bombs. Plus it ensures that every change to the history include a rebuttal from another player:
Yes, the Moralists thought pumping classical music into the AI cyber-creche would begin to awaken something akin to a soul within them, but as the Echo showed, it instead conditioned them to react to the music in a way that made them easier to lobotomize and control, Clockwork Orange-style.
Cue enslaved terminator armies rolling over South America. Whoopsie!