ASTG Indie RPG night #1: DW character creation and Microscope

This was the first night for the Art of Story Through Gaming meetup (hopefully of more than one) in a series on Indie RPGs, that I was trying to get going. We had four takers: Harry, Wale, Phil, and Aaron showed. We first decided to play around with Dungeon World character creation.

Dungeon World

Dungeon World is a game using the Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) engine, which emulates classic Dungeons and Dragons in tropes and feel. Because the most of these folks hadn't played much of that system, and because I've had such a great experience with it in the last year, we created some characters: 

  • Wale as Starry, the Druid of the Blasted Wasteland
  • Phil as Searlock, the entitled Wizard
  • Harry as Asp, the Thief, and spy
  • Aaron as Sanguinius, the Paladin of somewhat feeble intelligence

We decided to go with a setting I've used before, which is simply: The characters have been conscripted (willingly or not) by the army of a large empire, for use in special missions, in a campaign on the border of a large military conflict.

It was especially fun seeing the players come up with Bonds, which is one of the best parts of the character creation of this system. Each character sheet comes with some sentences that you fill out, which creates relationships with the other characters. Some examples:

  • Starry: "Searlock smells more like prey than a hunter", and "I have showed Asp a secret tire of the land".
  • Searlock: "Asp is keeping an important secret from me."
  • Asp: "Starry and I have a con running" and "I stole something from Sanguinus"

All good seeds for creating inter-party relationships, conflicts, and adventure goodness.

Before long, however, we decided to jump into Microscope, as some players had mentioned a strong interest in seeing how that system works. 

Microscope

Microscope is a system for history and world building. Because we just started to make Dungeon World characters in a setting as described above, we decided to play with Microscope in fleshing out that setting.

The first thing you do in Microscope is define some key setting pieces:

  • Setting: The history of a world that was colonized 2000 years ago by humanoids through a "stargate". These humanoids include at least factions that can be called "human", "elf", "dwarf" and "halfling" (as per the Dungeon World character race choices).
  • Bookends of history: Exploring the timeframe that starts with the "Pre-history" through "The Third empire", which comes just before the time we are playing in the above Dungeon World game.
  • The Palette: YES to city-states, artifacts from the homeworld, sasquach, native sentient lifeforms, inhuman ancient gods, dashing swordplay, rebel forces, magical storms, plentiful ritual magic, and water is scarce. NO to dark elves, gnomes, god-caused apocalypses, and laser weapons (i.e. no laser guns and no light sabers).

We didn't get too far, going through only one full round of play (although with 5 players, I don't think Microscope would easily go through many rounds unless you have lots of times, or experienced players; in this case everyone was new to it). We had enough to define a few periods, and had two role playing sessions, and everyone got a good feel for how the system worked.

We ended up with the following periods, events, and scenes:

  • Period: Pre-history [DARK]
    • Event: Foo the Lizard King dies, leaving no heirs behind. [LIGHT]
      • Played Scene: Q: How was the stargate involved in Foo's death? (at the Lizard King's Castle) A: Drudari summoned a demon to kill Foo, and Foo is killed sacrificing herself for husband Baf. [DARK]
  • Period: The First Empire [LIGHT]
    • Event: An innumerable hoard of gods and demons enter through the gate. [DARK]
    • Event: The fall of the first empire [DARK]
  • Period: The Arrival (of humanoids) [LIGHT]
    • Event: The stargate collapses [DARK]
      • Dictated Scene: Q: What caused the stargate to collapse? (refugees are rushing through the gate) A: A great sasquach broke the archway. [DARK]
    • Event: Using an ancient artifact, Dromlus unifies the city-states and starts the second empire. [LIGHT]
  • Period: Search for the abominable Sasquatch [LIGHT]
    • Event: Lumptorious Lumpround (the halfling bard) discovers giant Sasquatch footprints glowing white. [LIGHT]
    • Event: Demand for Sasquatch hides spike as people believe it has magical powers related to stargates. [DARK]
      • Dictated Scene: Q: Why do people believe Sasquatch hide is magical? (In Mystik, a bar where criminals hang) A: Sasquatch is killed in a bar fight and its body, when touched, cures all illness. [?]
  • Period: The Third Empire [DARK]
    • Event: Scouts of the third empire discover a long abandoned cave of Foo the Lizard King. [LIGHT]
    • Event: Rebel forces of the third empire find artifacts from the homeworld. [LIGHT]
      • Played Scene: Q: What is the artifact the rebel forces found? (Abandoned cave of Foo) A: A diamond recorded shape. [?]
    • Event: Amid earthquakes, three new islands appear in the steaming sea. [LIGHT]

The first "focus" was stargates. The first "legacy" was Sasquatches. The second "focus" was chosen as "artifacts from the homeworld", however we didn't get far enough to get much into that one.

 Microscope session

Microscope session

Wrap-up

One thing I enjoy in retrospect is that I have a starting point for playing with this shared history and experience in creating a Dungeon World campaign or game. Playing with the same players would be that much more enjoyable because they now have a vested interest and attachment to the world, as I can pick and choose interesting bits to work into the fiction (assuming we get to play in this world again).

I've always heard and thought of using Microscope as a way to world build for a campaign or gaming session, but this is the closest I've come to actually doing so. We'll see what, if anything, becomes of it.