World's Collide: Microscope with Dungeon World and a Cinder Queen

Microscope Explorer

Ben Robbins, the writer of Microscope, also came out with an add-on to that game through a Kickstarter (and now available product) called Microscope Explorer. I got the kickstarted deliverable in the mail just recently, and it couldn't have been at a better time.

OK, that's a lie. It could've been better if I had received it just a little earlier because the first part of the book contains some good tips for running Microscope in general which would've been useful when running the last session. Although maybe it's better to learn through trial and error and reading, so I'll just consider all that a learning experience.

The book has a few modifications to the base game, but I haven't really gotten to those sections yet.

The part which I did just finish is a section called "World Building: Games Collide", which describes tips for using Microscope in world building.

Servants of the Cinder Queen

So, I want to run Servants of the Cinder Queen, a little Dungeon World module I helped kickstart a while back. I love the design and flow of this adventure module. Each area is linked to the other just through hints in text (not some convoluted map), and there is the framework for the bad stuff that will happen if no one takes care of this evil (a "front" in DW parlance), with clear steps on how it will proceed ("grim portents").

The adventure's description is:

There once was a monastery perched high on a slope of the mountain called Hvitr’s Horn. The warrior-monks who dwelt within were dedicated to Hvitr—lawful god of storms and justice—and entrusted with the stewardship of holy artifacts and texts. But above all else they were gatekeepers; for Hvitr’s Horn was an active volcano, and thus (like all active volcanoes) a gateway to Ellorash, an elemental plane of fire.
 Sample pages from Servants of the Cinder Queen; very Dungeon World specific, lots of bullet points making it easy to run with, as a DM.

Sample pages from Servants of the Cinder Queen; very Dungeon World specific, lots of bullet points making it easy to run with, as a DM.

Games Collide with Servants of the Cinder Queen

In Microscope Explorer,  the World Building: Games Collide section describes the process, pitfalls, and suggestions around using Microscope to create a playground that will then be used for another RPG.

Ben outlines six basic ways to adapt elements from the Microscope history for the game. I found no need to use CREATE (to create something new), REMOVE (to delete anything), or REVISE (to change something in the history). That is good; that means I can use the Microscope history we created almost "as is".

I decided to use EXPAND (to add more detail) in one case, and IGNORE many of the historical details (to possibly revisit in later adventures), and FOCUS (emphasize / make it central to the adventure) for many of our scenes for this particular quest.

Here's a summary of most events (and some scenes) from the Microscope history, and whether or not they will be used:

  • IGNORE?: Foo the Lizard King dies (scene: Drudari summoned a demon by which Foo was stolen into the stargate portal)
  • EXPAND: An innumerable hoard of gods and demons enter through the gate.
  • IGNORE: The fall of the first empire
  • FOCUS: The stargate collapses (caused by a great sasquach)
  • FOCUS: Using an ancient artifact, Dromlus unifies the city-states and starts the second empire.
  • IGNORE: Lumptorious Lumpround (the halfling bard) discovers giant Sasquatch footprints 
  • IGNORE: Demand for Sasquatch hides spike
  • FOCUS: Sasquatch hide, when touched, cures all illness.
  • FOCUS: Scouts of the third empire discover a long abandoned cave of Foo the Lizard King. 
  • FOCUS: Rebel forces of the third empire find artifacts from the homeworld (A diamond recorded shape)
  • IGNORE: Amid earthquakes, three new islands appear in the steaming sea.

Applying these to the module

Now to adjust the Servants of the Cinder Queen adventure to make it fit roughly with our history:

  • The Cinder Queen is a demon that can enter through the gate. I was playing with the idea that it would be Foo, the Lizard King, who was tossed into a stargate, and then is now coming back with horrible powers. Not sure that I'll go through with that. Might be cleaner to just have it be a creature similar to the "hoard of gods and demons" that had entered the game long ago, when it was open.
  • I may have the Cinder Queen cult be led by a lizard man. I like the idea of the saurians and the Sasquatch as diametrically opposed in some fashion in this world. In this case the fire vs ice can be used effectively enough in mimicking the Cinder Queen subtexts. Or perhaps just a human rogue (maybe from the rebel forces?) who is possessed by some item he/she found in those catacombs?
  • Instead of module's storm god, which helped seal the door to the cinder queen, I like the idea of a cold-based Sasquatch cult. They seemed to have a god-like reputation during our history, and I envision them sort of like the Yeti in The Last Parsec, but maybe with some mystical quality. It'll be nice to take the "Sasquatch", which started with a little bit of a silly feel in our Microscope session, and end up giving them some gravitas.
  • I may have a Sasquatch hide or otherwise cure-all type item, if appropriate, to help heal some characters at the end of the journey. (A power hinted at in the history; maybe it'll be red herring?)
  • The history's scouts and rebel forces will be the ones who discovered these caves at some point in the past. In some way they will be related to the PCs and their positions in the army of the third empire. Their legacy will be giving the PCs some rumors of what lies in the caves (skipping the rumors provided by the "old crone" character in the local town).
  • I may use the history's "diamond recorded shape", whatever that means, as something big that was discovered and visible to the PCs prior to the adventure, or some kind of recurring symbolism.
  • In the Microscope palette we said an enthusiastic "yes" to "artifacts from the homeworld", so I'm planning to make the magic items - even though they may have similar powers to those described in the module - reshaped to give this feel.

Most preparations done. Now to see how it all plays out...