Gladiators Microscope the Stars

Our game this week was a session of Microscope by Ben Robbins in a star system initially dominated by the last humans, but that ends with a galaxy populated entirely by those who come after humanity.

Concentric circles create the illusion of a tunnel with microscope written below.
Microscope badge courtesy of Lame Mage.

Our story begins with the wealthiest people on Earth mastering immortality, enhancing themselves so effectively they easily dominate the entire planet. They come to call themselves the Golden Gods, but their competitiveness results in a series of God Wars that leaves the rest of humanity dead or dying, civilization largely in ruins. In the end, only one God remains on each continent, seven people suffering alone through decades until they reach a breaking point. Their Ennui Years end when the scion of the Musk fortune realizes he can’t achieve everything alone and reaches out to the others to finally fulfill his family dream and conquer the stars. They escape our world together, each claim a planet, and create new life forms to populate them. This Age of Creation is the summit of the Golden Gods reign, as they soon begin competing again, wars fought by proxy in gladiatorial arenas. Can a Martian defeat an Europan both on Mars and on Europa? They pit their creations against one another to find out. Eventually, a gladiator rebellion succeeds, deposing and killing the Golden Gods, overwhelmed at last by the masses arrayed against them.

Over the centuries, the planets of our system grow less hospitable to life, and the gladiatorial people leave seeking new worlds. These people, united in their search, build a New Empire in which immortality treatments are not only banned but come to seem sacrilegious, an affront to life itself: to live is to die, a fitting motto for gladiators. Their Empire flourishes for centuries, but the supply of fuel for the ancient faster-than-light engines inherited from the Golden Gods eventually dwindles, which attenuates then severs the connections between the planets of the Empire. Before the last of the fuel is gone, the imperial worlds send out Space Arks in what comes to be called the Great Scattering, life once again slipping past the eclipse of annihilation. The Arks arrive on strange new worlds many lightyears apart with no way to return to or communicate with their origins.

Each world has its unique challenges, contrasting environments in far-flung systems orbiting different stars. It’s only natural the people on these new worlds evolve independently, particularly in their cultures and myths, which answer questions specific to each ecosystem, vast oceans evoking different stories and explanations than dry, rocky escarpments. Each world becomes its own civilization, unlike any other. Our story ends with a heretofore unknown Golden God—a secret love child of two of the last humans—watching over the dispersed descendants of their parents’ creations. They find it curious how these peoples change over the eons, but they cannot quite escape the limitations of their view from eternity. To them, the life that endures is the most fascinating.

Butterfly Princesses & the Mantis Regent

We played the setting of Butterfly Princesses of the Swordlands by Richard Kelly, but since we were online, I switched out the mechanics with a heavily modified version of the Lasers & Feelings ruleset. The Swordlands are bucolic valleys populated by faeries with butterfly wings, each of whom is a princess in line for the Monarch’s throne. Princess Necritia is a macabre mage with death’s head moth wings who seeks to promote the essential but much maligned decomposers of the forest. Princess Comma has tan spotted wings and seeks to organize the Swordlands to be less chaotic and more like the ordered ants. Princess Periwinkle has metallic blue wings with orange accents like the leaf-wing butterfly, and she just wants to bring everyone together in love and friendship. Princess Monarsis is an artiste with purple and emerald wings who wishes to make the Swordlands itself into a work of art. Finally, Princess Fortuneflame is a creature of the forests and hunter whose wings resemble those of the purple emperor butterfly.

Our story begins at a birthday party for Comma at her families abandoned bee-box estate. We each present our gifts to the birthday girl, but inside Monarsis’s gift of flowers emerges an orchid mantis in pink, whose dignified and precise movements grab Comma’s attention. At the end of the night, the mantis (whose name is Chrysalla) makes an offer to all the Swordlands—she would willingly serve as regent until the princesses mature and are ready to vie for the throne, allowing them to properly enjoy their youth. Monarsis and Comma find the idea especially appealing, but Necritia is dead set against it, already feeling excluded and slighted by how we all have treated her, with her dust and spores floating everywhere, during the party. Periwinkle escorts Fortuneflame and Necritia outside together to defuse the situation.

Pink orchid mantis disguised as a flower on a green plant.
Orchid Mantis image from El Guanche, used via cc by-nc 2.0

Later, sitting outside, Comma and Periwinkle discuss the possibility of a Mantis Regent. Comma’s is enthusiastic, but Peri worries about how much disagreement this could create, and what do we even know about what Chrysalla might do as regent. When Comma mentions the human threat, Fortuneflame, who had been perched above them in a tree, mocks them for believing in such myths, but then Monarsis and Chrysalla arrive. Asked questions by Periwinkle, Chrysalla states she wishes to make the Swordlands more ant-like, but that humans are immaterial, a phantom threat, prompting Comma to think she should be Monarch. Fortuneflame finds this prospect very unappealing, so she visits Necritia and convinces her to campaign for Queen herself on a promise of equality for all, mushroom and earthworms and princesses alike. Recognizing the threat, Monarsis visits Comma to argue for the Mantis Regent and discuss her attachment to the ants. It comes out that Monarsis doesn’t believe in humans, but knows that Bigfeets are real, which could be an ally against humans if they turn out to be real. When Chrysalla arrives, they discuss what the mantis may do—seeking a balance between the chaos of anarchy and the rigidity of ant-archy.

Our story concludes at a political rally with a debate between Necritia and Comma. Necritia plays to the crowd with talk of equality, and Comma tries to argue for learning a bit about productivity from the ants. Fortuneflame interrupts telling Comma that people do believe in equality and that means acceptance, so it is okay for her to admit that she is part ant, no one will judge her. Mainly join in, admitting to being mixed, including Fortuneflame herself, Monarsis, and various members of the crowd. Upset, Comma runs off crying, but by this point, all the ado has activated something in Necritia, who has unconsciously begun to emit some narcotic spores that mellow everyone out. Chrysalla comforts Comma, asking her what she would say to any little princess in the crowd who may be part ant, to which she replies: “everything will be okay.” Monarsis marvels at how beautiful everything has become and yells out about seeing such beautiful wings. Periwinkle arrives at this point, opening the door and seeing everyone in their euphoric state, puddled together about the room. “Finally,” she says aloud and joins her sister princesses.

After this, all the princesses agree to make Chrysalla the Mantis Regent. But what happens next? Some of us believe that Chrysalla will eventually work her way through the Butterfly Princess population, eating us one at a time for years. Others think that Chrysalla may demand regular sacrifices of male mantises for her enjoyments, but surely will otherwise lead us to years of peace and prosperity.