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Microscope» Forums » Sessions

Subject: California Dreaming rss

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Justus
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California Dreaming
A 2 player 2 session Microscope play report

The Big Picture:
California falls into the sea and generations later it rises again from the Ocean.

The Palatte:
This is based in “reality” as we recognize it
The time frame is several generations – those who saw California disappear are not those that see it return.

Focuses:
1) How does Everyone Get out of California
2) Squatter Camps.
3) Development of the Desert.

The Timeline:

Period: A Vibrant Real Estate Market in California – the economy is rocking again, people are happy and everyone got jobs.
Event: Oakland Raiders win the Super Bowl over the St. Louis Rams in a blowout in Tampa Bay.
Scene: What does Dr. Nishikawa see in geological test data while the good folks in the East Bay are celebrating their long awaited return to a championship? Stage: emails with a graduate student assistant. Even though the warning signs are subtle, every single seismograph in the state is sensing tectonic activity.
Event: Soon after a series of small Earthquakes experienced throughout California over a period of a week.
Scene: How does Dr. Nishikawa realize he may need to sound the need for an evacuation of the state? Stage: A conversation with a fellow geologist in Japan. During the conversation, the fellow geologist completely dismisses the need for alarm. The Japanese scientist thinks its well within what one would expect from statistics, especially since the state has been quiet for so long. However, as the conversation ensues, Dr. Nishikawa suddenly realizes a pattern in the map of California that ties the faults together in a way that could result in a huge chain reaction if triggered.

Period: People Begin to Leave California voluntarily – a series of continuous but minor tremors begin to get the population skittish.

Period: Mandatory Exodus. As the Earthquakes continue and the infrastructure is broken beyond repair, the government calls for an evacuation of the entire state.
Event: Major Earthquakes begin to rock the state regularly.
Event: Squatter Camps Develop outside of Vegas. These camps are primarily composed of people who do not have the resources to really go anywhere. Also many of them just don’t think this will last forever and they basically just get far enough away to keep the authority off their backs.
Event: Anti-government, revolutionary political sentiment develops throughout the squatter camps. Faith in the government erodes and a libertarian streak becomes very popular among the refugees.
Event: The libertarians lose hope in reforming the government. So the revolutionary zeal dissipates and instead those without faith in the government begin to migrate out of the squatter camps to form independent communities.

Period: East Coast and West Coast gets wiped out. There’s nowhere to go but the heartland.
Event: Terrorists set off a nuclear device in Manhattan.
Scene: Were the terrorists related to the revolutionaries in the squatter camps? Stage: An FBI investigator speaks with an anonymous phone caller from Texas. It turns out that the Texan was a contractor working at a jobsite and heard these Mexican guys talking about something really big happening in a few days – before Manhattan blew up. The implication is no, this terrorist attack is from a South American group, not from inside.

Period: Refugees flood into Nevada. At this point California is completely fallen off the map, but with turmoil throughout the country, there is nowhere to go, especially for these people who have almost nothing.
Event: Contaminated water supply in camps cause riots, frustration, and illness leading to death.
Dictated Scene: What is the mood of the camps? As more and more people succumb to radiation poising from fallout after the nuclear attack, people realize that the federal government is incapacitated from all sides. There is no help coming and they will be stuck in the desert a long, long time.

Period: People fighting for limited resources. You think things were bleak before, well it still gets worse!
Event: In the midst of this poverty, an non-legal social structure develps. However these gangs are particularly viscious and brutal, and people immigrate out of these camps even though there is zero government help in the wilds.

Period: A New Coastline. Ways for making fresh water are developed allowing independent communities to develop throughout the new coastal region.
Event: A government census discovers there are many more people in the western portion of the country than they had assumed. The govenernment had spent its attention on the squatter camps but there was much more people living in independent communities throughout the west. It is a chaotic social situation, but there are people out there.
Dictated Scene: How did they solve the water problem? Along the new coastline, people had cobbled small localized desalinization plants that were being built in the midwest using innovative technologies that were introduced before the disaster.

Period: California Rises again!
Event: Descendants of the squatter camps go back to repopulate the new landmass
Scene: What did the first settlers coming from Nevada see as they crossed the Sierra Nevadas? Stage: The leader of the settling party as they travel. As they begin their trek it is pretty much familiar, but as they continue up through the mountains and passes they begin to see more and more strange and different plants and wildlife. As they finally crest at the top of a pass, the look out onto the beyond. The mountain slopes down into the ocean and far away across the water, they see a new body of land that has emerged from the water.

Thoughts from the newbie at this game:
And I do mean newbie. This is the second time that either of us has partaken in an RPG session. For better or worse, I had great fun at the game, unfortunately my girlfriend realized that RPG’s may not be her thing. She’s burned out on gaming in general and she’s more into more passive activities such as watching television, surfing the internet, and watching TV on the internet. That said she was quite a trooper for this two session extravaganza and she was open to the idea of playing this game in bite sized chunks in the future.

The first session was two hours long because we started with a Big Picture that we ended up dropping – “what if the humans discover a parallel universe and in the end two cities end up swapping populations”. It sounds like a really intriguing idea, but the idea of parallel universes and transporting souls back and forth and teleportation just blew our minds during the palatte phase. So instead we started over with a much simpler premise. Having spent a lot of time on the setup, I started with a tight focus that was maybe too tight for the beginning – especially since my girlfriend was not ready to jump around in time nearly as much as I was. So we dropped the Oakland Raiders focus after my initial pair of Super Bowl event+ Dr. Nishikawa’s ominious discovery scene. She came up with the more general focus “how did everyone get out of California”, which we did an AA-B-A-B-AA series and closed out the night with my legacy, squatter camps.

In retrospect, we only seeded the first pass with one Period from each of us, and I don’t think that was enough to our creative juices going so the aborted focus with the Oakland Raiders Event/Dr. Nishikawa Scene was essentially a “second pass”. When we play this again, I would do ABAB for the first pass for a two player game.

Knowing that my girlfriend was not necessarily fond of this collaborative storytelling experiment, we just ran a short session the day after, to give a little conclusion to the story and see how it would play out with a little more attention. As such we ran two lenses, with just AA-B-AA in both of them. Even though this structure seems like a very quick round and overly weighted towards the A player’s interest, because the B player has the legacy period/event interstitial in which she can do whatever she wants, it actually balances out quite nicely. Each round took about 30 minutes since we knew what we were doing.

As I was writing this down, a few things struck me as kind of interesting but I don't know where to go with it. 1) Funny how the story never really deals with the event of California falling into the sea nor how it rises up. Then again the human drama is what was really interesting to us. 2) It started on a light note, but went and stayed dark pretty much the whole time until the very end. Not planned but that shape of the dark/light tone is interesting to me. 3) On another thread, I think the designer had said a failed palette session in a way actually a successful thing. Its better to find out if a story idea will work with all the players sooner rather than later. For us that was definitely the case and I think it was good that we ended up going with a big picture that had a simpler story line.

In general I think the game flowed very nicely, but I believe my girlfriend had had a harder time with the scenes, and the two scenes she initiated were both dictated scenes. I don’t know if the idea of role-playing in the first person freaked her out but once she got over the mental hurdle she seemed to get into character even though she did swap characters with me a couple times when she hit a creative roadblock mid-scene. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the scene mechanic. I loved the uncertainty that came as part of role playing. For example I had thrown in the terrorist attack in Manhattan event very early and ended the first session with the event concerning anti-government groups in squatter camps. Later that night I realized I could easily connect the two events. So in the second session one of the first things I did was to initiate the scene with the FBI investigator…and it turned out be Mexicans behind it all!

My girlfriend was a bit more linear in her approach – I suspect the jumping around in time was not as much to her liking, and she liked to focus on one subject and she had a hard time with the scene making. However, this game still works nicely for that. She was able to stay more focused keeping her interests more clumped together while I jumped around and added things here and there. She also had a hard time biting her tongue when I did something she thought was ridiculous, but after having played it through, I think she realizes the resiliency of the system now and hopefully she will have much less pressure getting it “right” from the beginning – which is one reason I suspect she did not enjoy the first session as much as the second session. It’s one thing to say “just do whatever you want, it won’t break the game”, it’s another thing to actually go through a game and see how it all comes together.

And that is why I pretty sure I will love this game. I am a fan of oulipo fiction and hard boiled detective novels. Its an odd pairing, but this game really ties the two together. Calvino was a writer who eschewed linear fiction and who played with structure in his books. And while there was no hint of any such “meta” discourse in the genre fiction of Chandler and Ross MacDonald, there are many twists and turn that don’t make sense until after the fact. What I find interesting in this game is that the “after the fact explanation” might be something that actually happens earlier in the epic history even if it is narrated later in gameplay. It’s a game that takes our human propensity to tie everything neatly and just lets it go wild –somehow it avoids being predictable and boring but it magically avoids spinning out of control.

(cross posted at story-games.com)
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Hans Messersmith
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Everybody all around the world, gotta tell you what I just heard There's gonna be a party all over the world I got a message on the radio, but where it came from I don't really know And I heard these voices calling all over the world
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Nice session report, thanks for posting it. I can't wait to give this game a try.
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Justus
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Thanks, the tableau of cards is a great help for remembering what went on. And also his system stacking the cards works perfectly so you don't have to imprison your dining room table between sessions.

For what its worth, the cards I'm using are old business cards my girlfriend found in her desk when she started her new job and the size is perfect!

Definitely get it played, I think it really cranks up in fun once the players realize they can do ANYTHING (within the rules/palatte of course). The human mind's ability to connect any two items is awesome to behold!
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Agent J
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He's looking real sharp in his 1940's fedora. He's got nerves of steel, an iron will, and several other metal-themed attributes. His fur is water tight and he's always up for a fight.
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He's a semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal of action. He's a furry little flat-foot who'll never flinch from a fray. He's got more than just mad skills, he's got a beaver tail and a bill.
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Thanks for the session report. Your thoughts on it strike me as the main part of this, more of a review than a session there, which is awesome because I'm trying to decide whether to buy it, and it sounds like the reactions there might be exactly what I'll end up getting. Though, I may be surprised. I hope so, anyway.
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Justus
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Jythier wrote:
Thanks for the session report. Your thoughts on it strike me as the main part of this, more of a review than a session there, which is awesome because I'm trying to decide whether to buy it, and it sounds like the reactions there might be exactly what I'll end up getting. Though, I may be surprised. I hope so, anyway.


Thanks for the compliments. I have to say that as a boardgamer going into RPGing I think this fits fairly well with the boardgamer mindset. Yes you're telling a story, and sometimes you're play acting, but really you're working within a structure much like any boardgame. There's no winning or losing per se, but I feel it has a closer affinity to boardgames in that its a structured shared activity that is meant to be played in a limited time frame as opposed to the ongoing epic saga of you and your merry band of ruffians where you develop very tight personal bonds with your fictional characters. I say its worth a try at least, but I am not an RPG expert at the least so don't take my recommendation very seriously!
 
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Agent J
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He's looking real sharp in his 1940's fedora. He's got nerves of steel, an iron will, and several other metal-themed attributes. His fur is water tight and he's always up for a fight.
badge
He's a semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal of action. He's a furry little flat-foot who'll never flinch from a fray. He's got more than just mad skills, he's got a beaver tail and a bill.
mbmbmbmbmb
I'm a board gamer looking at RPGs, too, so now I feel even better. Right now I'm looking at this and Fiasco. I like the idea of personal relationships but not so much that everything needs to blow up in the end, although with some groups it's fun. I like the idea of making a history but I don't know about pulling relationships out of nowhere. Maybe a hybrid of the two, or at least some playsets to come up with interesting relationships that will make the Microscope games come alive... or I could just use my own imagination. ... what imagination?
 
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Justus
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Jythier wrote:
I'm a board gamer looking at RPGs, too, so now I feel even better. Right now I'm looking at this and Fiasco. I like the idea of personal relationships but not so much that everything needs to blow up in the end, although with some groups it's fun. I like the idea of making a history but I don't know about pulling relationships out of nowhere. Maybe a hybrid of the two, or at least some playsets to come up with interesting relationships that will make the Microscope games come alive... or I could just use my own imagination. ... what imagination?


Hahah, the beauty of Microscope is that it just builds on itself. Its kind of daunting to get started, but once you put a little info out there, it just accreetes.

Fiasco is a fun time too, the BAMF podcast has a great demo by Jason Morningstar for Fiasco. It certainly does tend to go more wild and wacky, but I think it is completely reasonable to calibrate the insanity by laying out a rating at the start of the game "hey guys, this is a "PG" game of Fiasco". Once again, the beauty of that game is the simple structure of the game that powers the whole series of interactions.

(mind you I've only had a chance to play fiasco and microscope once each, before being shut down by my GF who has decided she doesn't like RPGs either)
 
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Agent J
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He's looking real sharp in his 1940's fedora. He's got nerves of steel, an iron will, and several other metal-themed attributes. His fur is water tight and he's always up for a fight.
badge
He's a semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal of action. He's a furry little flat-foot who'll never flinch from a fray. He's got more than just mad skills, he's got a beaver tail and a bill.
mbmbmbmbmb
Aw, man. No RPG love from the GF?

Generally, if I can explain it to my wife and she understands it in a couple minutes, she will try it if she's not too tired. Which she's almost always too tired (genuinely) so we don't play games very often... even those that don't require additional creativity.
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