ars ludi

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

Microscope Explorer

I was walking around Go Play NW telling people what I was working on. Then they would say they were surprised they hadn’t heard of it and I had to respond “oh, that’s because I haven’t announced it yet.”

So let me fix that right now:

Microscope Explorer is a supplement that explores (ehh? get it?) different facets of Microscope. Seeds to get play started quickly? Check. Tools to hone your history? Check. Rules variants and other twists? Check.

It’s also going to include a few “spawn of Microscope” games, systems that use the principles of Microscope but are different enough that they really are whole new games. Union is the first and I love it already. Other spawn are still squirreled away in the lab, electrodes stuck to their metaphorical brains. They’ll be emerging soon, stompy monster-style.

I’ve been working on Explorer for a while, trying to decide exactly what I want to put in, what ratio of different ingredients will be the most useful to the people who actually play Microscope. I’m trying to give very honest insights into the game but also make it a tool that will take your Microscope sessions up to 11, as the kids say.

More details later. And if you’re wondering, no this is not the project sneak-previewed in the Kingdom kickstarter. That’s something else entirely.

Actual Play Roundup: Unicorn vs Death (GPNW 2014)

Got to play two great games of Microscope Union at Go Play NW:

  • Revolutionary Zero — Bringing down society as we know it. Let she who is without sin throw the first plague.
  • Oathbreaker — Magi, faerie courts and unicorns (well, one unicorn) fighting Death for the soul of a mortal.

Pat, Feiya and Tim also played Union on Sunday, but they made a family tree (ahem) of squirrels. Yes, squirrels. Watership Down-style, but with squirrels. I seethe in jealousy. If I had played I would have made a bad-boy squirrel named Chestnut, because he’s tough on the outside but has a heart of gold…

I was so busy playing Microscope Union that I didn’t play any Kingdom (weep) but Orion and company carried the torch. Their Kingdom was a space station high school, complete with alien students like a hedonistic slime mold who was a bad influence on the other kids. Probably smoking in the bathroom, stuff like that, as hedonistic slime molds do.

Microscope Union Needs Playtesters

Microscope Union is already much more polished than I expected, which means it’s time to let slip the hounds of playtesting.

As usual, I’m looking for people who will actually play the game and give feedback, not just read it. Because Union is a built on Microscope, you also have to already know how to play Microscope to participate.

If you’re in, email union-playtest + 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.

Game on!

“My Dad, he’s full of stars!”

First playtest of Microscope Union was beautiful and bittersweet:

Nathan grew up on the farm. As a young man he sees strange lights in the sky, a sight that fills him with quiet wonder.

Belle comes from the big city. She hates the country, hates working on the farm, but eventually she and Nathan fall in love and marry. They are happy together.

Years later, Nathan walks out into the fields one night and disappears. Simply vanishes into the sky. Belle grows old raising their son alone, never quite able to explain to him that his father didn’t abandon them. Not really, not like that.

Until the day Nathan returns from the stars to say goodbye…

Union is a spin-off of the Microscope rules, redesigned to explore a family history and all the triumphs and tragedies as each generation creates the next. But like Microscope, you already know the ending: you know who the final descendent is, the outcome of all these unions, then you go back and see all the lives that came before and made that person who they are.

When we played, it was amazing how much the characters sprang to life because of the web of relationships they had with everyone else (“She sympathizes with her mom but she’s rebelling against her grandfather, the firebrand preacher!”). There were a lot of characters but we had zero difficulty keeping them all straight because they were all interconnected.

I’m liking it a lot.

Hilarious design note: I spent hours and hours and hours (really, too much time) trying to layout a diagram for the family tree that you could fill-in during play. I kept tweaking and resizing and starting again from scratch but it always seemed ugly or an inefficient use of the space. About an hour before the game, I finally printed out something that mostly worked. But once I finally had it done, I immediately had a brainstorm and realized I didn’t need a diagram at all. I could just do everything with index cards. It would be better and require less prep by the players. Eurek-duh!

Getting Microscope Books Overseas

Want a Microscope book overseas but don’t want to pay an arm and a leg on shipping? You can now order Microscope print-on-demand thru Lulu.

Lulu now prints in a variety of countries (Australia, Canada, and all over Europe) so if you’re outside the US it might be cheaper and easier for you. You might save on shipping and burn fewer dinosaurs. The downside is that I have no control over the print quality. If you get a bad book, tell Lulu and make them replace it!

I’ll be adding Kingdom too, but I have to tweak the format to work with Lulu’s system so it will take a while.

Uncontrolled Orders & Predictions

A small but important official change to the Kingdom rules. If you switch Roles and leave orders or predictions behind, it’s up to the players who have Power or Perspective during Crossroad resolution to decide whether they happen.

Kingdom Rules Update: Uncontrolled Orders & Predictions (one-page PDF)

Update: I revised and simplified the text to make it easier to play and remember. The PDF shows exactly what text changed. You can print it and tuck it into your book.

Why the change?

The old rule wasn’t exactly broken, but it could lead to tricky play. Uncontrolled predictions and orders could already be cancelled by any character who decided to Challenge them and success was automatic. But during Crossroads, players can only interrupt once, and you might want to save your interrupt for something you care about more. Having to choose what’s important to you is good, but it doesn’t make sense for another character to apply that much pressure with a Role they no longer have.

And most importantly, this just makes more sense. The players who currently have Power and Perspective are the ones who control that aspect of the Kingdom. When you switch Roles, you lose that control and gain different influence. In hindsight it seems incredibly obvious (like, “why didn’t we always do it this way?!?”) which is always a good sign.