2 August 2020

Microscope Actual Play: A Watery Grave”, Part 1

2 August 2020, 4 players, ~2 hours of playtime

Players: Y, YH, A, and myself

This was the first time that I, or anyone else at the table, had played Microscope. Most of the players had some experience with RPGs before, but this was a completely new structure and type of game for all of us. This is a record of our play, with comments in italics throughout. The chronology follows the actual sequence of play, followed by a summary of the history.

Big Picture

Humans leave the land and build a civilisation underwater.


Yes No
Romance Space travel
Human-fish hybrids Magic (all things had to have some technological basis)
Conflict between land-dwellers and water-dwellers Other humanoid or sentient beings
Genetically-modified aquatic creatures


  1. First round: Genetic modification
  2. Second round: Star-crossed lovers

The bookends

The history that we wished to tell opened with the first period, where a race known as the Atlanteans lived underwater, and emerged from the water to form the first landed civilisation.

The details of the early Atlantean underwater civilisation were never fleshed out in this history, but there are inklings that it was an advanced civilisation with technology that the humans (descendants of the Atlanteans who lived on the land) would discover for their own benefit in later periods.

From the beginning we also knew that the expansion of the humans underwater would ultimately be the end of the human civilisation — the ruins of the underwater constructs would become empty and uninhabited, becoming nothing more than husks for new life to emerge.

The first pass

The following periods were added in the following sequence:

  1. Atlanteans rapidly colonise and take over the land
  2. Humans discover and develop technology to go underwater
  3. A conflict emerges between pro-genetic modification (pro-GenMods) and anti-genetic modification (anti-GenMod) camps
  4. Humans war against the Atlanteans, and it is unclear if any Atlanteans survive.

The First Focus: Genetic Modification

As recommended by Ben Robbins, since I was introducing the game, I took my turn as the first lens.

Event: Mediation between the Pro-GenMods and the Anti-GenMods falls apart

Within the period of conflict emerging between the pro-GenMods and the anti-GenMods, I declared an event where the United Nations attempted a mediation between the leaders of the former and the latter in the hopes of achieving some form of cooperation. However, the mediation would fall apart.

Scene: What led to the irreconcilable conflict between the Pro-GenMods and the Anti-GenMods?

Within that event, I then proposed a scene, where we would try to answer the question, What was it that caused an impassable rift between the pro-GenMods and the anti-GenMods?”

The following characters were identified as necessary to the scene:

  1. The leader of the Pro-GenMods
  2. The leader of the Anti-GenMods
  3. The Secretary-General of the UN

As we had four players, that left the last role to the imagination of that player. The player in question, Y, decided to play an associate of the leader of the Pro-GenMods who was actually secretly an Atlantean, who wanted to maintain the purity of the aquatic creatures against the encroachments of the Pro-GenMods and their experiments in genetic modification of humans.

The scene began in the United Nations headquarters, as the Secretary-General called an informal meeting over a coffee between the leaders of the two sides. I introduced myself as the leader of the Pro-GenMods, Felix.

Another player, YH, ask to clarify whether we were sitting in the water, or whether we were in an air pocket or structure of some kind. Since I had not specified this, we had a quick discussion and decided that we would be having this meeting in the water, while surrounded by a see-through membrane that kept the outside” (including various aquatic creatures and vehicles) separate from the inside”. As a result, of this agreement, we had to resolve the issue of how we were breathing — YH, playing the anti-GenMod leader (“Mr Lee”), was in a helmet and suit of some kind, whereas Fleix, as the pro-GenMod leader, was in fact genetically modified to be able to breathe in the water.

This was a wonderful contribution to the game as (1) it was extremely concrete, (2) immediately required various solutions to the technical problems it presented, and (3) naturally progressed the plot and the division between the pro- and anti- GenMods.

We then entered a discussion between the leaders of the two factions and the Secretary-General, each side making their case for the value or evils of genetic modification of human beings. The Secretary-General, played by A in this scene (who described the Secretary-General as a 48-year-old and stylish lady), sought to balance both sides, proposing that the pro-GenMods and anti-GenMods be separated. This was displeasing to Felix, who then tried to persuade the Secretary-General to undertake the modifications herself, emphasising that these were entirely voluntary. Mr Lee countered violently that the children of the GenMods were never given a choice in the matter.

As the discussion continued, Y began discussing with YH how their two characters (whose interests were aligned, at least for that time) could work together. YH proposed that Mr Lee would leave the room, and at that point, it was suggested that the Atlanteans might attempt an attack on the UN headquarters. That neatly wrapped the scene up. Y described the Atlanteans spotted advancing against the headquarters, while Mr Lee was conveniently absent, giving rise to a great deal of speculation (among the public) about the connections between the Atlanteans and the anti-GenMods.

As the Atlanteans advanced, I described how a half-human, half-octopus hybrid who was waiting in the wings came through and grabbed Felix to bring him to safety. This was the first time that anyone had seen such a GenMod — it had been understood until then that the GenMods had only been working on making human beings able to breathe underwater.

The speculations surrounding the origins of the Atlantean attack and the revelation of the extreme lengths to which the GenMods had gone rendered any form of compromise unacceptable. Thus ended any hopes at stability and the conflict between the two sides heightened.

End scene.

Event: The Atlanteans and Anti-GenMods attack Felix’s Lab

Y followed up on the Atlantean efforts against the Pro-GenMods and proposed the following event: flush with their victory at the United Nations headquarters, the Atlanteans ally with the Anti-GenMods in launching an attack on Felix’s lab. However, Felix manages to hold them off and prevents them from destroying the work that the pro-GenMods had done.

Event: The Pro-GenMods are domed off” in the Aquarium”

After that failure, and seeing that the destruction of the Pro-GenMod technology might be beyond them, the Atlanteans and anti-GenMods dome off a large area which included Felix’s lab. When that area is established, they force all genetically modified humans to live in there, an area that comes to be known as the Aquarium”.

Event: Scientific discovery polarises opinion on genetic modification

A took a step earlier in time and proposed an event in the period when human beings were discovering the technology that would enable them to live underwater. In that period, a cloning experiment leads to the result of a genetically modified human child who had certain characteristics of fish. Colloquially dubbed the Dory” experiment (after the Dolly” sheep experiment in our reality), this polarised public opinion on the lawfulness, ethics, and morality of the genetic modifications that were now within mankind’s reach.


The Legacy” part of play was a bit harder to explain than others (and I’m not sure if I understood fully, or explained correctly, the purpose behind the Legacy”).

A, being the player to my right, summarised a legacy from this round as follows: the pro-GenMod faction gains popular sympathy. She dictated a scene which sought to answer, How did the people react to the attack on the UN headquarters?” We zoomed in on a bar where a bunch of people were watching the attack unfold on TV. We heard the murmuring in the crowd against the Atlanteans and anti-GenMods, realising that they may overreached in the attack and the sly alliance that they had struck.

So ended the first Focus on genetic modification”. I will continue with an account of the next Focus in my next post.

To be continued…

Microscope Actual Play Record A Watery Grave

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