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.

Microscopic Enchanted Forest

This week, we created the history of a forest in which various magical and supernatural creatures struggle to learn to live together beneath the vaulted canopy using Microscope by Ben Robbins.

Our history begins in a period of escalating conflicts between the various peoples when a forbidden child is born among the snake people, who are so long-lived that births are unusual and strictly regulated. This child promises to be a savior but none can yet foresee how. Not long after, Queen Uniqa of the unicorns and King Hip of the hippos marry and the hereditary Hippocorn Republic is born along with their first child. Shaka, the snake savior, becomes enraptured by the ideals this rising power embodies and joins the republican army under General Hiparth to become a great warrior. Decades later, General Hiparth deposes the monarch for interfering with the functioning of parliament but must seize personal control to restore order. The General rules the new Hippocorn Empire with an iron fist and begins by enslaving the gnomish peoples, who maintain their traditional parental gift to their children during the years of bondage by replacing gemstones with flowers trapped in amber. The forest spirits flee the Empire by going through their hidden portal to another realm. Meanwhile, the werewolves are rounded up into a ghetto to keep them from roaming the open forests, but the sprites create a black market to provide much needed goods to the suffering werewolves. Not long after anti-sprite slurs appear on birchbark signs in the forest, Shaka leads a rebellion to overthrow the Empire and defeats the emperox using a glove woven from hippocorn hair and weaponized with werewolf claws.

Hand drawing of a snake person, a hippocorn, and an air mermaid flying above them.

To replace the fallen Hippocorn Empire, a ruling council arises and determines in its first meeting that it serves to handle only those things that the individual communities cannot handle internally or that occur between communities. There is a bit of a controversy when two council members—the representatives of the gnomes and the mairmaids (air mermaids)—are found to be having an affair, causing people to question whether they were acting in the best interests of all. Gnomish weddings become famous and popular because gnomes invite everyone to every wedding and serve the finest foods. The Forest Council begins to collapse when the mairmaids become the Council hosts and monopolize power by moving the meetings into the clouds, where only flying creatures can participate, breaking the people’s faith in the council, which soon dissolves. With no council to keep the peace, the werewolves and mairmaids get into a dispute when the mairmaid lantern festival—a festival of lanterns filled with swirling smoke-filled bubbles and bright lights that ends with a giant rainbow lantern shining everywhere—disrupts the werewolf first-turning ceremony by throwing off too much light. Eventually, the two groups find a way to combine their activities and resolve the dispute on their own, which launches a renaissance of growing peace between forest creatures.

The Renaissance officially begins when now-old but still-vital snake person savior, Shaka, marries a werewolf princess, showing that different peoples can unite in peace. A group of malcontented hippocorns and sprites worried about the little folk being left behind unite in opposition to these events, but this does not deter the spirit of the age. The Spirit folk return and begin an art movement using diaphanous layers to create sounds, images, and sculptures known as Spirit Baroque that culminates in an enormous Woodstock festival where many peoples celebrate together. A new council forms after the festival’s success and the werewolves build a temple with a giant moonstone to commemorate this new period of uneasy peace. The sprites, no longer fearful of the new order, form an alliance with the centaurs. Elves and gnomes decide they can share a garden that they have both claimed for decades and build a compound together at the garden. In the compound, the elves teach the gnomes the magic necessary to reanimate the flowers trapped in their amber gifts, and together they populate the garden with these ancient flowers. The sprites begin creating fashion accessories out of castoff bits from various creatures, like hippocorn fur and mairmaid scales, showing off the beauty of syncretic art. Our history ends with the erection of a statue to honor Shaka after the end of their long, full life.

Microscope on Zodiac Gods

Tonight we played Microscope by Ben Robbins exploring the history of a universe populated by the gods of the Zodiac. We start with the Ascension of the Gods when the gods coalesced from the porto-matter of the Big Bang into their canonical forms. Then each god creates the heavenly bodies associated with each sign, and the group combine their power to create the Earth. The next period is when humanity and the gods come together. The god Keron manifests as a king in order to sire progeny among humanity, and at one of his weddings, his bride’s sister creates controversy as she fails to recognize the gods for what they are, but humans are but a blink of the eye to immortal gods. Keron’s bride and her sister are long estranged until eventually the sister tries to kill the wife, so Keron transforms the sister into a particular species of snail. Later Capricorn and Sagittarius appear at a festival and convince many attendees to become worshippers, and Cancer bestows the power of light upon a the pearl in the clam idol created in her honor. Trying to compete, Pisces and Aquarius create an amazing water and air show that threatens to bring the heavens down to Earth, which threatens to destroy the balance of the universe until Capricorn stops them.

Concentric circles create the illusion of a tunnel and below it says Microscope.
Microscope badge courtesy of Lame Mage.

This is the beginning of the period when the gods are directly competing for control of humanity. A human war is stopped when Leo and Cancer become annoyed and descend upon the battlefield in their canonical forms and routed both armies. Virgo and Gemini have an argument about who will gain the dedication of a library built by a group of Mercury worshippers, with Gemini as the patron of words winning the dedication. One of the bystanders, a fruit seller, who helped adjudicate the argument has a daughter named Petra who creates a diorama out of cherry and peach pits of the library that is displayed in honor of Gemini in the library itself. Mysteriously, the gods ability to manifest on Earth wanes, and when the gods meet their conclave devolves into open warfare between them. The war eventually ends with the gods agreeing to leave the human realm, but some continue to manipulate the world by manipulating the natural world directly.

This leads to the Nature Wars when the ability to manifest is quite limited. Taurus manifests as an indestructible vine that threatens to overrun the world and disrupt the ecosystem. Aries and Cancer manifest as wolves to teach wild wolves how to protect nature from the vine expansion and gives them elevated intelligence, which leads them to using the illuminated pearl to signal and communicate with each other over vast distances. Finally, we come to the Death of the Universe and the end of our history. During this period, Virgo, Capricorn, and Taurus hit the ancient diorama of the library, causing the pits to erupt into a massive tree that bear a combined fruit with beautiful blossoms. This brief moment of beauty before precedes the gods working together to destroy the universe in order to reform it anew in a different schema.

Microscope on the Stars

Tonight we played Microscope by Ben Robbins to create the story of humans venturing into the stars to escape the ecological disaster they had created on Earth.

Our story begins during the bioengineering crisis when Dr. Isabel Caldwell creates hydrocarbon eating bacteria that she uses to clean the oceans of spilled oils and plastic detritus, and the new genetic modification technology spawns a body-mod industry. But the HCE bacteria become a plague on our planet, destroying the fossil fuels that our economy depends on faster than we can replace it. In despair, Dr. Caldwell commits suicide after handing over her bacteria data. After this, humanity enters a period of limited resources when people return to small local farms and live a more sustainable, subsistent lifestyle. On these farms the Gratz family grows corn for the husks, which are bacteria resistant, and marry into the Caldwell family, whose youngest, Susie, becomes a famous singer.

In the Lunar Years, humanity begins to settle within the moons of the solar system, establishing Gratz station as the first permanent lunar settlement. L.U.N.A (Lyrical Universe Navigation Agency) tests an instant bio-dome project on the moon, and then humanity builds settlements on the moons of Jupiter & Saturn. Before long, the Great Migration begins, when humanity sends fleets of generation ships to distant stars likely to sustain life. The Luna gets separated from it’s fleet due to a navigation glitch and is lost. Another Dr. Caldwell discovers a habitable planet and joins a mutiny aboard the Phoenix when Commander Nikolai Luna refuses to allow anyone to explore or attempt to settle there.

Eventually, families do leave the ships and begin settling the planets they find, founding dome cities to protect them from the harsh climates. One enclave learns to domesticate creatures they call space whales, with a magical ability to bear untold burdens and travel through the vacuum of space. When a supernova threatens life on the new system, the people of Caldwell City escape with help from the space whales, which leads to the loss of technology and technical know-how, as life among the space whales takes on a clannish nature. People have already begun to learn the songs of the whales before the various clans join in a great Conclave to reunite and bring order to the disparate human diaspora.

Our story ends as humanity begins to settle together on a New Eden, a planet in which they can live without their technological protection, but under the sky as their ancestors did. The children learn epic songs telling how humanity, and their own families, came to New Eden, and a shrine is built to Dr. Isabel Caldwell, the primeval god who set in motion humanity’s liberation from technology.

Idols Under a Microscope

Tonight we played Microscope by Ben Robbins and pulled from the lurking darkness oracle to find our premise: the spread of primitive artifacts conceal graven images. Our world was magical rather than technological, flat but two-sided, and characterized by levity more than madness. Our timeline began with the archeological dig at which the artifacts were uncovered and continued until humanity embraced their darkest desires. We focused first on Love, then the love idol itself, then the Flip Side of our flat world, then humanity’s darkest desires, and finally humanity’s noblest ideals. Here is the history we created.

Gaming table showing index cards laid out in a tableau and the Microscope quick guide.

At the archeological dig, one idol uncovered was an idol of love that no one had expected. Later, two workers at the site, Jamie and Alex, met and found love while vying for a spoon. Their love became a legend passed down through the ages. The first writings about the Inverse Land on the flip side of the world were also found by the archeologists. Soon after, a collection of artifacts toured the world . When the kindness idol went on display, compassion and goodwill spread across the city in waves of good feelings. But then the King and Queen of one land died while hosting the idol of love in their palace. Some time later, as each idol had developed a cult around itself, the war of the cults erupted across the lands. Romeo led his cult to seize the love idol from a rival cult leader thanks largely to the garbled communication of the messenger guild and general incompetence. The Idol Futures Exchange was first opened during the war because if you’re going to have a war, you ought to at least make money from it. Later, star-crossed lovers Romeo and Mercutio perfected a technique for flying to facilitate their secret rendezvous. When this method first spread through the world, a crime wave ensued and gang warfare gripped the lands.

Due to an unknown crisis, people formed caravans to rush to the edge of the world seeking to get to the flip side. This caused the world to tilt on its axis as the entire population collected at the same edge. While this was happening, Becky’s thirteenth birthday party and guests all disappeared into a portal to the other side, and the original Love Idol disappeared from our lands. After the near disaster of our world flipping over, people were more judicious in their exploration of the Inverse Lands but this lead to many mysteries and unsolved disappearances, despite these missions being undertaken in a spirit of curiosity and exploration. One group was turned back by Charles Irwin and his mole people, who treated them like an invading army by turning the Inverse Land’s mechanical horrors upon them.

This lead humanity to embrace our noblest ideals, guided by the examples of Jaime & Alex, and by the story of Becky and her sacrifice. But Becky’s brother Timothy and rival Other Becky became an item and returned from the Inverse Lands seeking a fortune. When they were discovered to be smuggling catnip and other animal intoxicants, we abandoned our noblest ideals and took the first steps toward our darkest desires. Later one cult’s head monk ordered the mass production of love idols out of bone and for them to be distributed to the entire population. This flooding of the market lead to the collapse of the entire Idol Futures market, and mass hysteria as brokers committed suicide to escape their losses. At this moment of crisis, one idol apostate wrote and distributed a manifesto that converted masses of dejected idol worshipers to a life guided only by desire. This unleashing of raw passion rapidly left only two people alive in our lands, but they managed to kill each other in a flying duel armed with a hatchet and a spoon and a fatal fall.

Holiday Wars Under the Microscope

Index cards arranged on a table, with 6 cards at the top indicating Periods and cards below them indicating Events and Scenes
Index cards arranged on a table, with 6 cards at the top indicating Periods and cards below them indicating Events and Scenes

This week we played Microscope by Ben Robbins. We explored the history of a magical land populated by magical beings associated with various holidays, particularly Christmas and Halloween.

The Christmas and Halloween armies first clash during the terrible Holiday Music Wars. The turning point in the war comes when a Halloween army songwriter composed a powerful tune, based on the sounds produced by sleeping Bethany. This song inspires the Halloween army, led by Bethany’s feckless boyfriend, to victory.

Unfortunately, Christmas’s humiliating defeat in the Holiday Music Wars leads to the rise of the brutal dictator Santa. Santa’s rule is so devastating that Jesus defects to Halloween. Meanwhile, the elves of Santa’s Workshop form a union to fight for better pay and working conditions.

All is not well on the Halloween side, either. The long war has led to widespread unrest, with a revolutionary song being sung in the streets. Various covers of this song, including ones by Marilyn Manson and a group of Gregorian chanters, increase its popularity.

In the hopes of bringing about a decisive victory over Santa, Jesus attempts to recruit forces from other holidays. After an inquiry to St. Patrick’s Day is unsuccessful, he finds substantial support from Easter, and forms the Easter Army.

Ultimately, both Santa and the Grim Reaper / Jack Skellington are seriously wounded during a Halloween/Christmas battle. The Elves’ Union violently overthrows Santa and takes control of the Workshop. Zeus (under the stage name HeyZeus) attempts to fill the power vacuum, with support from the ambitious Mrs. Claus. Fortunately, the elves and goblins manage to unite, and they trap Zeus and Mrs. Claus in a snow globe, bringing in a new era of egalitarianism in the magical land.

Microscope Centaur Isle

Thanks to Microscope by Ben Robbins, we discovered a world populated by mythical creatures like nymphs and centaurs, at war with each other and humanity, once they came riding and conquering from the steppes. The centaurs emerged victorious from the great colonial competition, thanks to the betrayal of one troop of horses during a decisive battle. Centuries later, five families rise to rule the world, families that mix centaurs and humans, and who learn to compete through ritualized artistic and theatrical productions rather than war, as if the Olympics could be used to resolve geopolitical questions. When the cactus nymphs rose up in rebellion, the power of the families began to wither until only the Trojanus family remained. When their centaur rulers were sentenced to death in a public trial, the age of the families, and of this history, came to an end.

Microscopic Cosmic Deities and Pandora’s Other Fiasco

Tonight we had two full tables of gaming going with 9 players in all. On one, we took to the stars in Microscope by Ben Robbins. Our history spanned hundreds of years and followed the wars between the planets and the megacorporations that ran roughshod over the entire solar system. Things got complicated when the planets, houses, and corporations allied themselves with cosmic deities to extend their war, but when those deities decided that mortal squabbles weren’t worth the trouble, they brought an enforced peace to the entire system. Imagine our surprise when another pantheon of gods arrived and wiped these cosmic deities out, leaving our hodge-podge of aliens to pick up the pieces, but at least we were united for the first time.

On the other table, we played Fiasco by Jason Morningstar using the Touring Rock Band playset. We were managers and fans of the very obscure band Pandora’s Other Box (or POB as some call it). A combination of mismanagement and poor impulse control led the team to organize a performance at a megachurch in Salt Lake City as a tribute to the victims of a fire that took place at a prior POB concert.