Terry, Pat, and myself played a "short format" game of Microscope, where the bookends were restricted to a single day. In this case, it was the day that Earth was destroyed - from the beginning of the last day, to its inevitable destruction (BOOM!).
There was some hesitation from the group going into it as we tried to reconcile the standard format of Microscope with this unconventional timescale, but once we got into the rhythm of things we were really nailing it.
The overall theme ended up being very "disaster movie" - several interconnected storylines driven by key characters and interspersed with brief, but tense, action. Everything was very character oriented however; despite the epic backdrop, things were brought very much down to the human level.
Rumors about the end of the world are circulating, but there are no concrete reports. Nevertheless, groups of extremists in the countryside are taking things very seriously. Jeremiah, leader of a religious commune, strikes a deal with Scott, the head of an armed survivalist militia. The Communists will get safety in the Militia's bunker, and the Militia will get the Communists' 100 acres of land.
Shortly after, news of "The End" reaches mainstream media. First on the story with exclusive access is Donald Hugh, news anchor for a major station. Donald shamelessly sensationalizes the story, causing widespread panic, despite the protestations of his co-anchor Christy.
At home with his wife and sister-in-law, Joe Lam is watching Donald's report on TV. Joe's teenage son Jake is still at school, but he is reluctant to go search for him. Suddenly, they are forced to flee as a devastating mudslide approaches.
Now homeless, the Lam family heads to the high school to retrieve Jake. When they arrive, Jake is there with his friend, who brandishes a pistol ("We'll be safe as long as we have this!") Joe is spooked and makes a move to wrestle control of the gun away from the teenage boy. In the ensuing struggle Jake's friend is accidentally shot and killed. Jake rages at his father and then flees as everyone breaks into hysterics.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah's commune suffers a surprise attack from looters. He begs his people not to resist, but his pacifism is in vain, and the attackers begin murdering and brutalizing the communists. Overcome with anger, he snatches up a rifle and forsakes his principles to shoot as many attackers as he can before being cut down by gunfire.
Back in the city, full-scale riots have erupted. In the chaos, Joe Lam is separated from his wife and sister-in-law. He frantically searches for them in a department store to no avail, until he happens upon a stranger who has recently seen them. Before Joe can get this vital information, the stranger collapses clutching his chest, desperate for heart medication. Joe battles through the mob to the pharmacy to get the necessary pills. Joe saves the stranger's life and learns that his family is somewhere near the news station.
The armed militia hatches a plan to steal government fuel cells for their bunker. They overrun the governor's motorcade and kidnap him to get the information they need. They attempt to raid the supply depot for the fuel cells, but it turns out to be an ambush and over half of the militiamen are massacred. Ben, who is Scott's right hand man and a brother of Jeremiah the communist leader, tacitly allows Scott to be shot and killed by an army officer, before himself escaping.
Ben and his remaining men lead a small group of surviving civilians back to their shelter. They barricade themselves there and pray for the unfortunate souls outside, who are pounding at the door and pleading to be allowed in. Jake Lam is among those in the bunker, and hears the voice of his high school sweetheart outside the door. Foolishly he rushes to let her in, and so opens the door to a crashing wave of humanity that sweeps through the bunker.
Meanwhile Jake's father Joe Lam arrives at the news station. The building is completely empty except for Donald Hugh, who sits inside relishing his accomplishments for the day as #1 news anchor. Beaten, bloody, broken and alone, Joe confronts Donald and blames him for everything that has happened. He raises his gun but instead of shooting Donald, he turns it on himself and ends his own life. Donald is stunned, and has a profound self-realization that he must change his life.
Somewhere in an underground bunker, a secret government project is in panic. The head scientist of the facility, Dr. Franklin Jr., is missing. He is the only one who knows how to operate the mysterious Omega Device, humanity's only hope of preventing the impending disaster. In absence of their brightest mind, the project puts Dr. Franklin's father - Dr. Franklin Sr. - in charge.
Dr. Franklin Jr. is actually with his true love Caroline, making the most out of their last moments together. Dr. Franklin had actually abandoned the Omega Project because he realized it was futile, and would rather be with Caroline than anywhere else in the world. Caroline is afraid of the coming destruction of Earth, so the couple takes sleeping pills and go peacefully into the void.
Simultaneously, Donald is having a phone conversation with his co-anchor Christy. Despite everything happening around them, they talk about mundane, unimportant things - retaining as much normalcy as they can even in their last moments.
Finally, Dr. Franklin Sr. activates the Omega Device. But something is wrong. The device rapidly goes out of control. Nothing can stop it as it indeed causes the very event that it was designed to stop - the end of the world!
It had been a while since I attended story games, so I was a bit nervous about jumping back into things. But Terry and Pat were great cohorts and it went better than I could have expected. I highly enjoyed our round of Microscope, and look forward to more story games in the future!
Nice write up!
I really enjoyed this game. I know we had our doubts at first but we went to fun and interesting places. I'm starting to really like having "mundane" as an allowed property of the game.
I'm really starting to see that Microscope can be used for more than just epic time/space lines.