On Age of Ravens, Lowell discusses using Microscope for an alternative purpose. He takes the idea of creating a shared world role-playing experience and using the same basic structure to build a city-setting. I took a few minutes to create such a thing myself and instantly knew I had a new way to develop ideas for my AFMBE zombie game. I will walk you through what he defines the new labels as, then what I created for a city, and finally my zombie adaptation.
Lowell alters the process by inserting City, Neighborhood, and Sights to replace the standard Microscope levels. City is defined with a simple statement. Neighborhood replaces Eras in Microscope. Sights replace Events and are made up of a Person, a Place, or a Thing. Each Sight is made up of rumors. The rumors may be true, partially true, or not true at all.
I did not want to use this process untested on my current setting, Beaver City. So, I used my second default locale, Port City. Port City is located along a southern coastline in the USA. I define southern coastline as anywhere from North Carolina to Texas. I have a state map, of sorts, for Port City, so I know what is nearby and what is a few hours away. This includes other cities, the state line, parks and recreation areas, highways, major landmarks, and a Native American Reservation. My simply statement for the city is, “inviting southern city on the coast.” After all, it’s a much nicer place than Silverbrook.
One of the major landmarks is an island called Baird’s Isle. I discussed a little bit about Baird’s Isle here. I decided to utilize Baird’s Isle as my neighborhood. No further input is needed at this level, so I move on.
For sights, I decided to go after all three and create three rumors for each.
Person: Beach Bum
+ Is a descendant of the original Baird and has so much money that he can wander the shoreline all day
+ Former spy, burned and left here by the KGB
+ Is the primary source for cocaine in the Port City area
+ Serves as a meeting place for high level government officials in Congress and the Department of Energy
+ It is the original boat house for “Old Man Baird” (insert ghost and lost treasure stories as necessary)
+ Is owned by a gun runner with ties to gang leaders in Mexico
Thing – Statue
+ There is a secret bunker below it designed as a hideout for nuclear attack
+ There is Spanish gold behind the name/date plaque
+ The statue façade is of someone else than who is named on the plaque
Coming up with all of these ideas took under 30 minutes. Thinking about the players in my zombie game, I could have done this with all five of them, and had all five of them contribute one neighborhood and one sight to each of those five neighborhoods. I think such an exercise could be fruitful and fun. That lead me to thinking about how I could use this for my zombie game, now that it is already in play.
I changed the rules from being setting specific to goal specific. I also removed a level from Lowell’s City design. I already know the city and don’t really need it. In the long run, I guess you could leave it in when making this a group activity. However, that would depend on what you had planned out for your game. Do you want your players able to move from city to city in a zombie game? Not all of us do.
I changed Neighborhoods to Goals and Sights to Sources. I felt that Goals better represented a survival horror games’ atmosphere. Food, water, ammo, shelter, these are the things important to the game, not names of neighborhoods. At least, not in the short run. Sources supply the Goals, so we have to have them. Sights really doesn’t ring true for Goals. I kept the Person, Place, and Thing theme. I think this works just fine.
To supply a similar experience to the walk-through of my City creation, I did a walk through for a Goal – Food. Now, for the Sources:
Person – Know-it-all Teenager
+ Has a map with all the local grocers marked on it
+ Only sells info where to find food in trade for cigarettes, alcohol, bullets, and sex – depending on what you look like you can afford
+ Has food hidden throughout town in various homes, only he knows which addresses
Place – Former Farmer’s Market
+ There is a group of people using it as a base and they may be willing to help or trade with visitors
+ It operates as in days of old, but only on every sixth day
+ There are big freezers on sight still operating, they have meat left in them and the community only takes what they need
Thing – Hand-Painted Sign directing the cast to a specific location
+ It’s a trap to capture people and take their stuff
+ The location has already been raided and all that is left are crumbs
+ The location is somewhat hidden and you will need to search for it to find it at the location mentioned by the sign
It’s a meager list, but I think it works for this exercise. I am not certain I like the idea of doing this with the players for a survival horror game. There should be a level of uncertainty on the players’ side as to what is out there. Does this reduce that uncertainty if they know one of these could be right? Do I simply need to remind them during the Goal creation process that these are rumors that may not be true? Would pushing them towards the negative thought process of “may not be true” actually help them keep that in mind once game play starts?
Yet, if the players know such rumors exist, would it give them a reason to search out such Sources? Would knowing that there is potentially a Former Farmer’s Market that could have food convince them that searching it out would be worth their time? I think with a good group and a Zombie Master that is comfortable with trusting their players to a certain extent, yes it would work. After all, nothing says that each Rumor must be used or used with the Source associated with it. That said, it might hurt some feelings if it wasn’t used in the manner designed. I think this can help with game sessions where goal-orientated play is what you desire. It sounds a little hack ‘n slash-ish, sure, but sometimes more structure is better than less structure.
To step back to Lowell’s City creation process, you could add a Goal and Source to the Sights section. Players could include a goal and source as part of their Sights. It may make it too complicated and I should probably try mapping it out before trying it.
I really like how this works. If I had started with this process for my current game, I would have multiple areas ready to go, various rumors and ideas I could spread around (who says the rumors that aren’t used for one topic can’t be used with another?), and the players would already have seeds in their own heads of storylines.
I took this idea and did it with the hunt for generators (for power at their hide-out after the power plant went offline). It worked out pretty well. Not only did I have pre-generated ideas ready to go, when the players went a different direction, I at least had thought through the concept and was more ready than I might normally have been. I think group think for a zombie game involving food, water, weapons (or some sort of protection), power, hide-out, medicine, transportation, or whatever else you think you may need.
There are two thoughts that give me pause for concern. The first is that if you have bad players, you can end up with meta-game abuse. I guess you just have to deal with them in those situations. Bad players are just that, bad players. Maybe you will be lucky and find a way to turn them in to good players through this process.
The other thought is that this may narrow down your options, too much so. If you only have 5 rumors about an old doctor’s office that could have supplies and none of those rumors can be delivered to the players, it becomes a wasted effort. Many of us have been GMs long enough that we can recover and find new ways to use those rumors and insert rumors that better fit the story.
My concerns do not outweigh the positives on using this idea. The fact that I did a second Goal structure for use in the actual game I am running is proof of that. Here it is:
Goal – Power Generator
+ One of the kids they picked up can let them know their family has one on their farm
+ Other people are also out looking for a power generator, they claim to know where to get at least one
+ Lowes/Home Depot type
+ Tractor Supply store
+ Outdoors store like Bass Pro Shop
+ Sight - generators found in the street, all of them are broken, can any be fixed up
+ Sound – the cast can hear generators running in the distance
Don’t forget to add in an obstacle or two!
+ Building has wandering zombies in it
+ Area/building is filled with zombies
+ An organized group is raiding the building/area the cast wants access to – will they all play nice together or not?
+Another group arrives just as the party finds their goal