Actual Play – Humanity spreads to the stars and forges a galactic civilization (8/19/2012)

Players: Lalita Devi, Noam Rosen, Karen Twelves, Sean Nittner and Eric Zimmerman.
System: Microscope

Eric and Lali invited us over to play Microscope with them. I bought the book at Gencon 2011 and was just now (a year later) playing it for the first time. For shame.

Microscope does something I really like. It allow you to tell a very satisfying story in a single session and ALSO gives you a platform for running a several session game. Because each area can keep being explored more and more, there is no definitive “end” to the game, but there are many satisfying stopping points. Very well done!

Humanity spreads to the stars and forges a galactic civilization…

Both Karen and I had been watching a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation, so sci-fi was on our brains. Everyone else had either watched TNG recently or was generally a fan of sci-fi, so it was a pretty easy pick to take the sample epic frame taken from the book and make it ours.


We started with Apollo lands on the the Moon and ended with Humanity transcends three dimensional space. We felt both of these were optimistic, showing humanities exploration and learning, so we labeled both periods as “light”. Oh the bloody cost of peace! We had so many “dark” scenes, and periods in the game, we really saw the story of it requiring horrible suffering for humanity to learn.


I really like this idea. Lets write down the stuff we’d like to see and the stuff we don’t want. That means you can use this for lines and veils (no alien tentacle rape) or just to make sure the world works in the way you expect it to (no magic). I did it. This is what we had.

Aggressive intelligent life one the moon.Mysterious ancient extinct aliens (ala Stargate)
Lots of (intelligent) life out there.Psychics
Questions of "what defines sentience?"Inexplicable magic
Language translation tech
FTL Travel


The focus seemed to be another “focusing” tool, so that the games didn’t just go all over and we had a round of periods, events, and scenes that were about a thing. I’m not sure we needed the Foci, but it certainly didn’t hurt and it did keep us asking ourselves “are we on target” as we played. Here’s the four we got through:

  1. Aliens – The first round was all about humans interacting with other species, including war with the moon people, the first bi-special president, and earth being destroyed by the Octarians.
  2. Transhumanism – We saw the birth of an artificial life form (the Homoelectrus) out of necessity, as the human race was close to extinction due to the Vorax Plague, and our uncertain relationship with our own evolutionary offspring.
  3. Humanities self destruction – We revisited a lot of already pretty dark periods and events to flesh them out and show how all the suffering was brought on by ourselves, and the Intergalactic Central Intelligence Agency (ICIA).
  4. Humanities Galactic integration – We had this awesome “crossfire” like scene where aliens and humans discussed the bi-special president’s policies. A little bit of current political issues started to shine through at times.

The mind map

This won’t make as much sense to anyone not in the game, because of course we developed it by jumping all around. For posterity sake though I want to preserve it, in hopes we’ll pick back up.

Period: Apollo Moon Landing (Light)

  • Event:Thomas Sean Nittner allies with the moon leaders (Light)
    • Scene: What is Nittner’s first interaction with the moon people? Giving them a Baby Ruth (Light)
  • Event:First peace talks with the Moon People (Dark)
    • Scene: Why did the peace talks end with declaration of war on Earth? Henry Kissinger (CIA trained) shot the Moon ambassador. (Dark)
  • Event:Formation of the Anti-Earth Moon Radical Group – The Nittnerites (Dark)
    • Scene: How did the ICIA frame the Nittnerites for a terrorist attack? Double agent and exploding statue of Nittner. (Dark)
  • Event:Eradication of the Moon People (Dark)
    • Scene: How did we eradicate the Moon People? Atom bomb.(Dark)

Period: Humanity leaves the solar system (Dark)

  • Event: Founding of the first extra-solar colony on a planet inhabited by primitive aliens (Dark)
  • Event: Humanity elects first representative for Galactic Council (Light)
  • Event:First Octarian ambassador investigates colony planet (Light)
    • Scene: How did Prime Minister of Russia Elena Petrov convince Octarian Boubacar to start trade? The dignitary was fascinated by humans. (Light)
  • Event: Facebook corporation industrial accident of the Octarian colony on Galven 3 (Dark)
  • Event: Earth destroyed by Octarians (Dark)

Period: Humanity begins breeding with other genetically compatible species (Light)

  • Event:The Geminoids bring AI technology to the earth people (Light)
    • Scene: What did Earth offer the Gemenoids in trade for AI? The human genome to add to their collective. (Light)
    • Scene: Why did the Gemenoids make the Vorax Plague? They exploited the broken genome sequence that Dr. Vorax thought would render it unreadable. (Dark)
  • Event: Vorax Plague claims 30% of population (Dark)
  • Event: Rebel repopulatinists steal human genome back from Gemenoids to replenish gene pool. (Light)
  • Event:The first bi-special Earth president is elected (Light)
    • Scene: What is the reaction to the president? People are mixed. Humanity Purity Party shows its first seeds of growth as a result of alien antagonism. (Light)
  • Event:Human Purity Party assassinates the first bi-special Earth president (Dark)
    • Scene: How did Leslie Freeman become head of the HPP? Orchestrated assassination with the ICIA. (Dark)
  • Event:Genetic engineers create the Homoelectrus (Dark)
    • Scene: How does Louis Vorax convince the president to adopt the Homoelectrus as part of mandatory reproduction? Appealing to the HPP’s xenophobia. (Light)

Period: The colonization of Andromeda (Light)

  • Event: Humans bio-engineer Earth Prime in Andromdeda (Light)
  • Event: Andromeda learns how to communicate with humanity (and other aliens) (Light)

Period: Humanity transcends three dimensional space. (Light)

  • Event: Homoelectrus cuts ties with humanity (Dark)
  • Event: Humanity discovers how to manipulate space-time (Light)
  • Event: Homoelectrus Expedition enters the Gray Zone (Light)


This was the most “meh” part for me. Call up something you like and make a scene about it. I don’t know. I liked the game. I didn’t need to call specific attention to things, that just happened in the discussion as we played. Here’s what we had:

  • Lali – The Nittner Assassination
  • Sean – Intergalactic Crossfire
  • Karen – Octarian-Human relations
  • Noam – Homoelectrus

Thoughts on the game

First off… I didn’t bring in Thomas Sean Nittner! That was Eric. Though it was hilarious and he was spiffing off something we said before we started playing about any player being able to introduce anything not forbidden on the palette.

Second. Interestingly I have an uncle named Thomas Nittner in Austria. Who knew?

The game played in fits and spurts. Sometimes we were role-playing, sometimes we were just trying to wrap our heads around the events we had created, and sometimes we were laughing our asses off. I really, really dig how something can be created and abandoned for a while until someone has an idea of how to address it. Like when we started it was just Octarians meet humans as one event and Octarians destroy earth as another. We left that for quite a while until fleshing out how some of that happened. It was pretty damn awesome!