Story Games Seattle Message Board What We Played › What we played: The Price of Civilization (Microscope)

What we played: The Price of Civilization (Microscope)

Cy M.
user 12565307
Seattle, WA
Post #: 3
Players: Jamie, Sylvia, Jason, Cy
In keeping with the Halloween theme, we decided to go with some sort of ancient curse causing trouble over time and settled on: Ancient Mayan Evil.
Ins - The source of all magic is evil.
Outs - Space Travel, Accurate prophecies, zombies, supers, incarnate gods.

Framing the time between the Rise of Mayan Civilization to The End of the World.

Turns out, before the Mayans, there were no large human settlements bigger than a family, because evil spirits roamed the land and drove them to murder each other. Mayan civilization began when they found a way to bind one of these spirits to a child, and placate that spirit with the sacrifice of the child. Mayan civilization spread, and many cities were founded, with the unsuspecting city builders sacrificed and bound into a great stone slab with iron chains. This "Empowered Whisperer" spirit grew powerful, and devoured the other spirits in the world, becoming the principle source for magic. We learned that the spirits of the city builders were bound in eternal torment to power civilization. Eventually, a willing sacrifice bound the Empowered Whisperer and the souls of the builders into the slab, sealing magic from the world.

Civilization spreads from the Mayans, but their civilization, and the very cost of civilization, is forgotten. Until man breaks the chains binding the city builders, and they lash out in their torment. The builder's twisted evil spread a plague across the land, killing a third of all people in a twisted attempt to give humanity what it wants. One child finds an amulet, a link of the chain binding the city builders souls. He lashes out with it, killing his brother for attempting to take it. A doomsday cult forms around this child, against the wishes of his remaining family. He is crowned the Child-Emperor, over the ancient Mayans catacombs. He learns of the sacrifice he must make, to bind the souls of the builders to himself and pay civilization's debt with his own. He is sacrificed as well, and entrapped along with them.

Some few years later, an unsuspecting Archaeology team, driven into the catacombs to escape a civil war above, find a rite to undo the bindings. Knowing not what they do, they release the spell, freeing the ancient builders, the willing virgin, the child-emperor, and all the spirits of the world. Cities and civilizations collapse, without the magic of the builders to sustain them. Humanity is freed from the wants and strife of life as slaves to civilization.

But the amulet, and the Empowered Whisperer remained. And was found by a raven, who took the shiny thing back to his nest. And built a bigger nest, like the shiny thing told him.
Cy M.
user 12565307
Seattle, WA
Post #: 4
I really like the way this one turned out, although I'm not sure I would have wanted to go much further with it. It really felt like a self-contained story by the end (at least in my head.)

Random observations:
We had some odd time dilation, where three ages ended up packed into the span of maybe 50 years at the most because of 1-2 events being set in specific (modern) contexts. I don't think this hurt anything, but it was a little jarring when something I thought of as hundreds of years collapses down to a few decades quickly.

I liked the way our focuses (Rituals, Civilization, Supernatural, Ordinary People) ended up working out, it definitely felt like they had an impact on the story, without dictating what was going to happen.

We had one kind of dead age about the conquistadors that didn't really stick with anyone or affect the story. I think it worked fine to just have a few dead cards on the table, but I'm not sure what about it wasn't clicking.

The tone of each age was odd. We two nominally light ages at the end (Reign of the Child Emperor and The End of the World.) But almost all of the scenes in them were dark, and I'd say the end of each age was also pretty dark.
Jamie F.
user 12636925
Bellevue, WA
Post #: 6
Wow, in hindsight our story doesn't make much sense to me. It seemed so clear when we were playing.

The time dilation was neat, I was reminded of books and movies where multiple simultaneous stories separated in time are played out but we see the repercussions of the past story on the future story. Julie & Julia a recent example.

My biggest LOL was in the hospital of the plague victims in Paris; I'm tormented and wailing about visions of ancient builder spirits, and the clown who has come to cheer us up asks, "Do you like my flower?"

I don't think it's a bad thing to have some ages or events without scenes - I thought of them as backstory / exposition. They helped ground the timeline and didn't hurt anything and only took a couple of minutes of game time.

I didn't care about any of the characters in our story, and felt a bit like a sadistic boy torturing ants as we played - the darkness of our game wasn't "real." Did you guys care about any of the characters? I wonder if this is why I find games where I own a single character so effective - I almost automatically care about at least one character. It occurs to me now that Microscope is the only RPG/story-game I can think of that doesn't have character sheets.

I wasn't crazy about how some scenes ended as soon as we answered the scene question...I know in theory I could have framed a second scene to answer, "So how did that first scene resolve, anyway?" but somehow I kept forgetting. That might be something I'd get better at with more play.

I wasn't sure about the value of having 5 votes instead of 2.

Really neat things about Microscope:
Broken time (its killer app) - I'd like to try something Reservoir Dogsish or Pulp Fictionish with it - I think that might be as simple as capping the span from "starting to gather a team to do a heist" to "the heist went pear-shaped"

The thoughts! What a cool mechanic. I imagined an actor asking "What's my motivation?"

It's challenging - the way time jumps around to new scenes with new characters pushes you to roleplay a lot of different stuff.
Cy M.
user 12565307
Seattle, WA
Post #: 5
I didn't really care about most of the characters at the time either. In retrospect, I think the Child-Emperor could/should have been sympathetic, but that wasn't as clear until we were done. I feel you on the sadistic thing, too. Maybe we played the horror idea too hard? I think that feeling of connection/caring is what Sylvia was pushing for when she picked the Ordinary People focus, but maybe that was too late in the game to stick.

I actually kind of like the way scenes cut when the question is answered. It keeps the scenes from rambling and, as you say, you can still come back with a clear question for a follow on scenes. We've done that a couple of times in previous games I've played. (Side question: is "no-one who wasn't in the previous scene" a kosher character exclusion?) I think what was a little off here is that we ended up answering some of our scene questions by Drama/Voting rather than as a direct outcome of the scene. Which made a couple of scenes end kind of abruptly, and feel kind of irrelevant.

I definitely think there's a learning curve, and it's kind of a different kind of learning curve from a lot other story games.

Now that you mention it, I could see a kind of cool Microscope|Fiasco mashup. You have a protagonist in an ill-fated caper. You're framing scenes ala microscope. But the Tone is set on a per-character basis, so if you had negative drama in a "previous" scene, you can only get positive drama for the current scene.
Ben R.
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 68
One of the recommendations from the text is, when in doubt, make very specific, concrete Foci rather than broad ones. So instead of Rituals, your might pick a particular thing that happened, like "the ritual that bound the serpent-spirit to the black ziggurat." Instead of a broad category of people, your Focus could be just one person, like "Tecumah, a temple priest."

The tighter the Focus, the more in the moment your game plays. You also are more likely to have multiple Scenes with some of the same characters, so you start to see their stories emerge, and you get more interested in seeing what happens/happened to them.
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