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if you asked Ben's brain about gaming, this is what it would say

“Fantasy worlds that break history’s back”

“But too often, fantasy worlds are created like Ikea furniture, popping up whole with minimal assembly from big pre-existing parts that creak and come apart after heavy use. That’s why so many many fictional worlds seem to produce carbon copies of real world Western gender hierarchies, even if it becomes painfully dissonant with other details of the setting.”

That’s Katherine Cross, getting to the very heart of the matter.

Her article is about Microscope specifically, but I think it highlights that role-playing games in general have vast potential to help us look at the world with fresh eyes. A long, long time ago, role-playing games were panned as escapist fantasy. I think we’re realizing now they can also be the exact opposite.

Fantastic article. Go read it.

Microscope Echo Needs Playtesters

Four years ago today, Microscope is released:

would-be players: “Oh cool! A game about time travel!”

me: “Actually no. Players pick where in time they want to explore but the characters in the game can’t move through time. Except, uh, forwards. At the normal speed.”

would-be players: “But… I can haz time travel?”

Fast forward to now. Microscope Echo is ready for playtesting. Yep, you can haz time travel.

As previously described, the game uses time travel, but play is really about exploring alternate histories. Seeing how the world would turn out differently if you went back and changed something. And now it’s time for playtesting!

Same drill as before: because Echo is a Microscope spin-off, you have to already know how to play Microscope to participate. I’m looking for people who will actually play the game and give feedback, not just read it. If you’re interested, email echo-playtest + lamemage.com or leave a comment here with your address in the email field. Make sure to include the last few role-playing games you’ve played (other than Microscope) so I know what kind of spread of players we’ve got.

Change the past to change the future.

Dark Side of the Moon

The Earth was lost. The tide of Communism had spread to every corner of the globe.

But on the Moon the last patriots remained steadfast, raining down showers of city-crushing debris from their lunar bunkers. Vengeful, destructive, but ultimately futile. It was a last hurrah for the West, but too late to turn the tide.

On the moon the star-spangled banner still waved, but where the fifty stars once shined there was now only a single white disk…

Echo is the last of the Microscope spin-offs that’s going to appear in the Microscope Explorer book. I’ve been calling it a game of time travel but it’s really more accurate to say it’s a game of alternative history. The fun is changing key moments in your history and seeing how the repercussions — the echoes — make it turn out differently.

It’s a tricky business. It took a while to get the rules for Echo to a point where I was willing to playtest them, so I am happy to report that it is not only playable, it is fun. I had serious doubts. The whole process of taking a Microscope history and then continuously revising it was starting to look like it was an interesting idea but just too hard to manage as a game. But the current version seems to actually tackle it. Whew.

It was particularly interesting to see the same Periods morph back and forth. The Cold War space race became a military conflict — astronaut versus cosmonaut — then a great victory for the West, but then flipped and became a bitter defeat, leaving that last holdout of Americans on the Moon. Which also changed things so the alien relics buried beneath the lunar soil weren’t discovered until much, much later…

Playtesting? Yep, very soon. Stay tuned.

By This Ring I Swear

Great game of Microscope Chronicle at Story Games Seattle.

Rulers swore oaths on it (and broke them). Friends spirited it away and swore more oaths on it (and broke them). Later it was the wedding ring binding two houses in marriage (guess how that turned out?).

By This Ring I Swear

Doomed bromances and loveless marriages for everyone!

“What do people that play Microscope need?”

Really fun interview I did on the RPG Gamer Dad podcast is now online. I talk about Microscope, Kingdom, the wonders of gaming with kids, the eternal font of fun that is Story Games Seattle, and some of the cool new stuff being crafted by Marc and Caroline.

And yeah, I drop a few hints about Microscope Explorer

RPG Gamer Dad: Why Not Build A World (Episode 15)

If you haven’t checked out RPG Gamer Dad before you are in for a treat. Definitely listen to the adventures of RPG Gamer Boy at the top of the podcast because it is always excellent (q.v. the Adventures of Meteor Man).

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I will say: well-played RPG Gamer Mum. Well-played. Yeah, you should probably just go ahead and subscribe…

Microscope After School

I met Dylan at PAX. He asked me about using Microscope with kids and I made him promise to tell me how it went. Good to his word, Dylan gave me a full report and then kindly agreed to let me share it:

I work as a Programmer and sometimes assistant at a after school child care facility that runs throughout my town at almost every elementary school. In my position I am in charge of making sure that kids go home safe first and foremost but also that for the 4 hours that they are there, that they enjoy their time. Some of the kids I work with come to the program 5 days a week and you can imagine that coming up with something new every single day is hard which is where a game like microscope came in handy.

There are many kids from different backgrounds and situations that I can not disclose but let’s just say there are some pretty crazy things I deal with on a weekly basis.

I work with a ton of kids everyday and coming up with something new all of the time can be a very challenging thing to do. I ended up purchasing your game as it seemed the best option to introduce kids into a creative story atmosphere…

I have played the game quite a few times with kids at several different school with kids ranging from ages 5-12. However, most kids are ages 6-9. During the beginning of the game newcomers first have a hard time understanding what I means to be “vague” in their descriptions of events which occur. Most kids want to delve in right away and say “The aliens come down blow up everything then make a space station and then Minecraft creepers come in and Pokemon and then…..and then….and then” you get the picture. Once they get past that phase and they understand how the game flows they get really into it. It is a great game to have a structure to their imagination so that they have something to ground it to.

At one school a group of us try to play once a week and we continue the same story and just let it see where it goes; right now we are on chapter 5. Kids have created drawings of the characters which they have created and have a sense of entitlement on that which is theirs in the game. We changed a couple things so as to avoid conflict. All of these kids come from the same school and not all of them are friends, sadly some are mortal enemies :C. We made so that players can not get rid of other players characters so that no fights happen. Only the person who created a character can get rid of them or if they say others can then it is okay.

The verdict?

[I] can honestly say that microscope is a positive tool that I will use not only for fun but for education as well as a tool to be able to ground kids to their world when they might be upset.