Thoughts on Microscope 19-06-13

As mentioned in my last brief blog entry (available here) myself and my wife Hannah sat down to do a test game of Microscope last night; although the game is recommended for more than two players, it does provide some useful advice on how to adapt the game for only a couple of players.

Basic Premise

The basic premise behind Microscope is that a group of players each create a fictional timeline or history between them using a number of different constructs that can be nested inside each other

  • Periods: The largest division of the history, a very large chunk or time that can cover whole centuries depending on history (in my transcript the ‘Golden Age of Dragons’ was the first period in the game).
  • Events: Events cover specific events that happen during a period (in my transcript the ‘First elves are born to the wild magics of the forest’ is a scene within the ‘First age of elves (creation/birth of species)’ period.
  • Scenes: Scenes are the smallest unit of time and answer specific questions related to any event (in my transcript the ‘What finally caused the Dragons to unite against the dwarves? | Sighing Mountains | Harrad a Dwarf Engineer-King killed the last pureblood dragon to build a great skyship’ scene answers a question about the ‘Dragons unite against the Dwarven Empire when Dwarf Technicians begin hunting Dragons for the innate magic in their bodies’ event which is itself part of the ‘Last great dwarf Empire is destroyed in the First Dragon War’ period.
How is this done?

At the start of the game the players are directed to collaboratively come up with a brief ‘mission statement’ or summary for their timeline (in our example we chose ‘A dark power rises and is defeated’ and then to create the first and last period in their fictional history (for our example we chose the first period being ‘The Golden Age of Dragons’ and the last being ‘The Dark Lord is defeated.’
Players then create a palette of ingredients that are either approved or banned from the history, banned ingredients are those story elements that you might expect to see in the genre of the timeline but that the players have agreed not to include (in our game Hannah chose to ban beastkin races from the timeline) whilst the approved ingredients are things that you might not expect to see in the genre but the players have approved for use (such as magitech in our example game).
Once this is done each player adds a Period or an Event to the timeline, placing them anyway that they see fit within the rules; the game uses index cards written in a portrait orientation and laid in a line to represent periods, place in landscape orientation underneath Periods are the Events that occurred within them and Scenes are also written portrait and are then placed in order behind the Events that they are answering questions about.
An example layout diagram is shown below for clarification:
Play then proceeds with one player being designated the Lens each turn, the Lens gets to add a couple more elements than the non-Lens players during a turn and they also define the Focus at the start of the turn. The Focus determines what plot element the game will focus on this turn, it can be anything, but every element placed on that turn must be connected with the Focus. Once a Focus has been decided on the turn then moves through a number of phases with each player putting down their own element on the timeline; the Focuses are written (we used a single index card for this) in a list with the name of the person who came up with them next to it.
The rulebook provides clear guidelines on how to write cards for the various different elements (Periods, Events and Scenes), it also directs you to put a circle at the bottom of the card and colour in the circle if it is a dark/negative element or to leave it blank if it is a light/positive element. Personally, although the writing was extremely clear and concise, enabling us to quickly press on with our game, neither myself or Hannah could see what point there was in the dark/light circles at the bottom of the cards, although I suppose that they may be useful as a general measure of whether your setting is overwhelmingly light or dark.
During their action players have complete narrative freedom to make up anything they want and put it anyway on the timeline as long as their entry is connected to the Focus, doesn’t contradict anything already in play and doesn’t include anything from the banned list; the game suggests that other peoples should only be allowed to the ask the current player for clarification and should not be able to offer any narrative advice or suggestions, keeping their ideas until creating their own elements. I found this a very enjoyable part of the game and several times I spent phases setting up something, only to have it turn out different when either Hannah introduced some of her own elements or when I changed my mind based on how the timeline had altered since my previous phase.
Once all the phases have been completed, the player to the right of the Lens chooses a concept from the last turn to become a Legacy; the only restrictions are that the Legacy has to be some that appeared in play this turn and it should be something that the Legacy-chooser is interested in exploring in more detail. There can only be as many Legacies as there are players, and if you want a new Legacy then you must replace your old one (either with a new Legacy or a previously discarded one).
After the choosing of Legacies has been resolved the Legacy-chooser then gets to make an Event or a dictated Scene then is connected with one of the Legacies in play and place it on the timeline. Once this is done the turn ends and the next player becomes the new Lens. During our test game, since we only had two players, we ignored the Legacy limits and just wrote them in a list on a single index file, this seemed to work reasonably well and certainly didn’t impact on our enjoyment of the game.
There are guidelines in the book for roleplaying out Scenes and filling in the details of precisely what happened (although the outcome is decided at the beginning when the Scene is created), however, because of our limited player numbers and time, we chose to simply dictate the Scenes and write down the outcomes rather than RP through them, although I think that given more time and players the RP element would be an interesting avenue to explore. The rules for RPing Scenes are written in a similar informative and easy to understand fashion as the rest of the book.
Overall I thought that the book was extremely well written, allowing you to jump into the game with a minimum of prep and reading, the only thing beyond the book being required is a pack of index cards and some pens (although i’m sure other media such as flowchart software, a wipeboard, a piece of paper or others could easily be substituted); despite starting off with a fairly standard fantasy idea for our sample game it quickly developed into an interesting history that went to a number of places that I didn’t expect when startin the game. I think that the game is great as long as all the players are comfortable with creating narrative details off-the-cuff as it were, although I think that people who prefer a more structured form of RPing might find it more challenging; it also seems that the game would be a a great way of having a group sit down and create the history of a setting that could then be used with another system to actually run a more traditional RPG in.
A very enjoyable book and evenings entertainment that I highly recommend 🙂

Transcript of First Microscope game 19-06-13

Played my first game of microscope this evening, was an entertaining few hours of developing an anime-esque fantasy timeline for a fictional world, will post a more detailed summary of the system tomorrow when i’m more awake.

A transcript of the results can be found here.

Morality as Consequences in FAE

Last night and during my lunch hour today i’ve been thinking about the best way to represent morality within my NWOD hack; since all of the games feature some sort of morality (generally represented by a Hierarchy of Sins that causes moral degeneration of the character when it is transgressed against) and a struggle to prevent it from sliding down to a point where the character becomes a monstrous NPC that dances at the whims of the GM, it doesn’t seem inappropriate to say that the descent of morality is a major theme within the entire gameline. The various Morality systems within the different game lines have been given different names, whether it’s the Humanity of Vampire: the Requiem, Wisdom in Mage: the Awakening or Clarity in Changeling: the Lost but broadly they function in the same way, building on the mortal system of morality provided in the core NWOD rulebook to track a characters decline or fall.

I originally considered added an additional Stress Tracker where a character would sustain Stress when committing “sins” as a method of tracking a character’s degeneration, however this wasn’t particularly interesting as far a the story goes and didn’t really take into account the individual tweaks on the morality system that were applied to each supernatural.
Currently my favourite alternative to the Stress Tracker system is the addition of a set of Morality Consequence boxes that function in most ways like the normal set of Consequence boxes as detailed in FAE, however when a character commits a sin from the reduced Hierarchy of Sins (as shown below) they automatically acquire a Morality Consequence, the strength of which is related to the “sin” committed.
Hierarchy of Sins

  • Injury to another, theft – mild morality consequence.
  • Arson, manslaughter – moderate morality consequence.
  • Murder or other heinous acts – severe morality consequence.
Morality consequence boxes and normal consequence boxes can be used for this purpose and, if all the boxes of the listed level are full then the damage bumps up to the next level. For example: If a vampire steals from someone and both his Mild Consequence boxes are full then the consequence becomes a Moderate Consequence (and if they are both full then it gets bumped up to Severe).
Anyone who gains a morality consequence when their list is already full has fallen to such a state of degeneration that they are no longer suitable for play as an player character and become a particularly monstrous NPC. After thinking of this idea I wondered whether or not this was a little harsh considering that there are only three Morality Consequence boxes on the tweaked sheet that I have been working on, and I toyed with the idea of adding additional boxes; however some re-reading of the FAE rulebook lead me to realise that the recovery rate of Consequences is fairly rapid:
  • Mild consequences – clear at the end of the scene.
  • Moderate consequences – clear at the end of the next session.
  • Severe consequences – clear at the end of the scenario.
Looking at the recovery times I think that it is not unreasonable that a creature who goes around committing “sins” willy-nilly will quickly burn through their consequences; although I did decide that allowing the normal consequence tracker to also ‘soak’ Morality Consequences was probably a wise move (although Morality Consequence tracker can only be used to ‘soak’ consequences from Morality.
I’m eventually planning to tie blood hunger and other such concepts into the two Consequence trackers.
A link to my WIP character sheet for the hack can be found here.

Thoughts on my FAE World of Darkness hack thus far

This is the first in a short series of blog posts detailing the thought processes behind the creation of my FAE World of Darkness hack.

  • Establishing the Basics

First thing I needed to do when I began work on the FAE nWoD hack was to detail how much the hack rules were going to adhere to and deviate from the basic rules of the Fate Accelerate Edition.

  • Aspects
I definitely wanted to keep the High Concept and Trouble Aspects discussed in the FAE rulebook, however I also decide to implement a Type Aspect that would either be the appropriate type of supernatural (vampire, werewolf, etc) or simply ‘human’ if the character was playing a mortal; the idea behind this was that it could be invoked when appropriate and also it could compelled by opponents when the characters type was a disadvantage. For example, if a werewolf was wrestling against a human, it wouldn’t prove unreasonable IMO to compel them based on the fact that a human is physically weaker than a werewolf.
Typically in WoD games the various supernaturals are divided into social groupings that impact on the powers and abilities that the character may possess; variously know as clans, tribes, etc the different types have been nicknamed Splats by many different people in the RP community. I decided that there should be a Splat Aspect that would be based on the characters clan, tribe or whatever.
For example: The Mekhet clan are shadowy occultists who take additional damage from sunlight due to their affinity with the night, therefore their Splat Aspect is Master of the Shadows.
Obviously humans don’t have a Splat Aspect as such and therefore they effectively have more freedom with assigning this Aspect, I quite like the fact that humanity is more versatile and free to choose its own destiny whereas the various supernaturals are, to a certain extent, defined and limited by their curses/blessings. 
  • Approaches

I decided early on that I didn’t want to alter the existing Approaches listed in the FAE rulebook, since they cover a broad range of approaches and would be easy for a group to understand; however the loss of morality and the struggle against the darkness within is (for me) a fundamental aspect of the World of Darkness and therefore I needed to find some way to represent this.
Condensing the Hierarchy of Sins table from the nWoD corebook I needed and assigning difficulties to the various sins was fairly straight forward, however I needed something that could be used to test against the difficulty and none of the existing Approaches really seemed to cover it, so I added in a Humane Aspect. Whilst tinkering around with this mechanic, I decided that I would also need some measure of how inhumane a character was so that things such as Predators Taint could be judged.
Predators Taint in the Requiem corebook is when two vampires meet their beasts react to each other, the vampire with the highest blood potency feeling violent/angry and the vampire with the lower blood potency feeling fear and the desire to flee; i’ve chosen not to focus so drastically on blood potency in my WoD hack, but still wanted to keep the Predators Taint (as a cool mechanic), so I needed something else to measure it by. I eventually settled on adding a Bestial Approach, but it seemed ludicrous that one could have a character who was very humane and yet also very bestial, therefore I decided that the player would be able to give Humane and Bestial Aspects any score from +1 to +8 that they wished as long as the two of them did not add up to more than +8; any additions to one score would subtracts from the other, meaning that a character could try to achieve a balance or could focus on one to the exclusion of the other.
  • Stunts

I left the Stunts pretty much as written in FAE although I did decide that a number of the various supernatural powers would be represented by Stunts.
However, I did decide that some Stunts in the game would be activated without spending fate points, for instance, vampires would replenish their Physical Stress boxes by feeding, and would gain physical stress by activating their discipline powers (representing them burning through the stolen blood in their bodies).
  • Stress Tracks

Looking at FATE core I borrowed the idea of having multiple Stress Tracks, the original Stress Track (that I renamed the Physical Stress Track) and then a second one that I named the Mental Stress Track; since I wanted to keep track of a characters dwindling morality it was necessary to have some sort of stat that could be depleted and “healed” as morality increased and decreased, stress tracks seemed the natural fit for this.
Near the end of my first draft it seemed obvious to me that I could borrow another idea from FATE Core, that of tying Stress Tracks into certain abilities, in this case the Bestial and Humane Approaches tying into Physical and Mental Stress Tracks; meaning that more Humane characters would have a greater resistance to mental stress whereas those given more to their bestial natures were less focused on the mind but more likely to master their own physicality.
  • Crumbling Integrity
As i’ve said earlier, one of the main parts of the WoD that has always appealed to me is the struggle against the crumbling of morality in the face of the cruel gameworld; i’d already worked out that I wanted to model the loss of integrity/humanity using the Mental Stress Track and had composed a Hierarchy of Sins with difficulty ratings on it, it was easy to assign rules that a player must test only when the difficulty rating of the sin was lower than their Humane Approach and that, if they failed, the character would take Mental Stress equal to the degrees of failure. The Stress could be dealt with as normal by filling in stress boxes or by accepting Mental Consequences.
Originally, in my first draft I accidentally wrote that an Integrity test was only required if the sin was ‘higher’ than the characters Humane Aspect, however Julius Müller was kind enough to point out the error after reading the initial draft so that I could correct it.
  • Vampires

Vampires seemed like a natural first supernatural to tackle since, love them or hate them, Vampire was always the flagship of the World of Darkness gamelines (in both its iterations).
  • Spending Blood and Feeding

One of the first things I decided was that I didn’t want to introduce an additional Stress Track or measure to track the amount of blood in the vampires system, that seemed to introduce more complexity that was necessary; eventually I settled on using the Physical Stress Track to measure blood, with vampires incurring physical stress as they activated their disciplines and when they woke in the evening (to represent blood spent) and ‘healing’ physical stress when they fed.
  • Diablerie

In the core game Diablerie allows you to drink the soul of another vamprie when you have them at your mercy, drinking some of their power in return for consuming their soul and damaging your own humanity in the process. Given that most powers are going to be based on Stunts I decided to allow the diablerist to steal a Stunt from the (now)deceased victim at the cost of taking mental stress (since devouring someone’s soul takes a heavy toll on you).
  • Predators Taint

The mechanics of Predators Taint have already been discussed above, the actual effect was largely left to the players and GM as a narrative device.
  • Blood Bonding
In the World of Darkness a vampire can feed someone their blood three times in order to bend the victims will to their own, gaining an additional Aspect called In the Thrall of [name of vampire whose blood you drank] quickly took care of that.
  • Sunlight
Sunlight is one of the major banes of the vampiric race, it beats down relentlessly on the kindred like a punishment from God, burning the unclean flesh of the kindred. I thought that the best way for me to represent this would be to have the sun launch an attack on a vampire for every turn they remained in the sunlight, with the strength of the attack varying depending on the strength of the sunlight that they were exposed to.
  • In Conclusion

I’m pretty happy with the WIP hack up to now, there’s still a fair bit of work to be done on it, Stunts to be created and (potentially) other supernaturals to add into the mix. The very active G+ fate community has also provided some interesting suggestions:
  • Drew Hamblin suggested using Humane and Bestial as the only two Approaches; I personally love this idea, but I think it would be a bit too vague for some.
  • Todd Grotenhuis suggested using Conditions to represent the hunger of an ill-fed vampire, unfortunately Conditions are part of the FATE toolkit and I don’t have that yet; i’m definitely planning to have a look at it when the toolkit becomes available to the public.
  • Paul Vencill mentioned that the Humane and Bestial Approaches may only really be suitable for Vampires and Werewolves and may not work as well for other supernaturals – this is definitely something that i’ll be putting more consideration into as I expand the hack to include other supernaturals. Paul also raised a very good point that perhaps I was cleaving a bit too closely to the rules of the World of Darkness when perhaps I should be looking less at the rules and more at keeping the themes of the games, this will definitely be kept in mind as I rework the hack.
The current WIP hack is available here.

Change of address for Rogue Trader hack

Since most of my other FATE stuff is handled via Google, you can now find my FATE Rogue Trader hack at the following Google Drive address:

The old link will still work until I get round to re-organising my Dropbox account at which point it will no longer function.

FATE warhammer 40K hack – complete

Well it’s taken a fair few hours but i’ve got my FATE Warhammer 40,000 Hack to a completed state where i’m pretty much happy with it; there are a few bits and pieces that could be fiddled with and I expect that i’ll make minor tweaks and changes to it, but it’s pretty much done.

Hope it’s useful to people who want to run 40K games using the FATE rules system 🙂

Link to file

FATE warhammer 40K hack WIP

At the moment in-between re-organising my notes for my FATE powered Rogue Trader campaign i’ve also, on and off, been working on assembling the collection of rules and hacks that I use into something vaguely resembling an organised document so that I can have all of the information in one place and make it available to other people.

Currently the hack focuses on the most pressing issues in my own game:

  • Purchasing items.
  • Space combat.
  • Travel through the warp.

    I plan to add to the hack in the future as I go along, eventually making it into a useful reference for people who want to play 40K RPGs using the FATE rules system.
    The current hack is available here.