Ahoy! If you don’t play tabletop roleplaying games, beware! There be some real nerd ploppin’ ahead, cap’n.

We Loved Quiet Year, Wanted to Try Microscope, But Had 7 Players

I took elements from Microscope, added it to A Quiet Year, added some other stuff, and bam, we had a blast playing a holistic worldbuilding game that could accommodate 7. It was so successful that people told me I should write it down as my own game. Legally that’s impossible because it’s literally the ideas of these other people, but who knows. But I am here to share the solution I found to adapting Microscope and A Quiet Year together for a big fun worldbuilding experience. I’ll Give You The Solution First; Backstory Later

A QuietScope: FrankenWorldbuilding, for up to 10 players

What You’ll Need

You’ll need: Notecards, pencils, a big map, the rulebook to Microscope, and a copy of A Quiet Year (or the Oracle and a deck of cards), and a basic understanding of how both of those games work. Not required but helpful, a few sheets of paper for a potential Scribe to take down notes

Overarching Vibe:

One of the things I loved about Microscope was its ability to pair rigorous structure with the philosophy of “This part of the game ends…whenever you feel like it”. Channel that for this whole experience. Sometimes it’s better to shepherd everyone to the next stage.

Stage 1: The Whole Group Collectively Makes the NPCs/Characters

Everyone gets a notecard. They write the name of a new NPC at the top, along with the Original Creator’s name (the card will circle all the way back to them). I think you get where I’m going with this– everyone will pass their NPC, write a new detail on the NPC they received, and pass again, until their original NPC card returns to them filled with new details and ideas. Once it gets back home, the Original Creator can strike or add ideas as they see fit. Now everyone has a character with some stuff they intended, some details they didn’t, and likely this crazy combo of details will inspire you and fill your head with new ideas about what this NPC is like.

Stage 2: The Palette

I absolutely love the structure and idea of The Palette. It does so much, and should be required for every Session 0 regardless of the game. Each player takes a turn making a statement of either something that is banned, or something that is required. “There must be a secret dungeon beneath the building,” “there cannot be mention of gruesome details or gore.” Make sure to emphasize that players aren’t allowed to negate, contradict, or amend what’s written down. No one is allowed to But of course, complex interactions between rules can lead to great results. Great examples are in the Microscope rules. After explaining the Palette, things went around the table relatively fast, and everyone was respectful and had great ideas. Remind everyone to respect each other’s decisions!

Stage 3: Start The Map, Warn the Scribe, or Both, or Neither

Using everything outlined in The Palette, designate one person to be the mapmaker and get any crucially important elements required by the Palette down on the map before you begin (for instance, if someone required a Castle, draw the castle and some path or road leading to it, etc). Only put down the stuff required by The Palette and get a very, very general idea of the landscape. This step is optional based on how things are shaking out in your game. We also found it helpful to have a scribe write down names, roles, references, important points, etc. You could do this right on the map, or just keep it in your heads, or whatever works for your table.

Stage 4: Play A Quiet Year, with a side of Microscope

Now, you have some characters/NPCs, and you have The Palette, and you have some basic elements down on your map. Next, you’re going to play A Quiet Year, with some modifications lifted from Microscope. The main structure of gameplay going forward is A Quiet Year; using a map and the deck of oracular cards, following the turn structure of A Quiet Year. There is no timeline.

However, in terms of framing things, the Quiet Year at hand doesn’t have to be a quiet year ending with cataclysm or some big notable event. We’re worldbuilding together, and it can end up however you like or whatever is appropriate to your game.

Remove a bunch of cards from each suit from the deck to shorten the clock if you have a bunch of players (we removed half of the deck for 7 players, and didn’t even reach August, but ended the game exactly where we wanted it).

Alright, again, now you’re essentially playing A Quiet Year, with some alterations. Players draw a Quiet Year card. They pick one of the story options…OR, they can simply invent their own (a freedom afforded in Microscope). Then, they can take a Quiet Year action; Discover something on the map, Have a Discussion, or Start A Project. Remember the Palette! There are Requirements and Banishments that must be followed.

Discover: no changes. Start A Project: With lots of players, the Project counters and Scarcity mechanics mostly bogged us down. Instead, you just started a project, and it could be done on your own turn. Discussion: Now, The Quiet Year’s “Have a Discussion” is now melded with Microscope’s “Scenes.” To “Have A Discussion”, the active player goes through the steps of playing a Scene in Microscope: The active player sets the stage, asks the Scene Question (see Microscope), then assigns roles to be played out (and/or players can declare who they want to play in the scene, or not at all, or Time… refer to the Microscope rules for Scenes). In terms of acting out the scenes, it was most helpful for us to just go around in a circle one by one, but the most important thing is that the question of the scene is answered. Once it’s answered, or once everyone gets heard, it’s back to the active player to cap off and end the scene and get the last word on how it worked out. One real example from our game: Active player had a town council meeting to come up with a name for the city; he donned the role of the Mayor, and assigned roles for each person at the table. The whole table took turns in a town council meeting acting as those roles, coming up with NPC names and characters on the spot.

Stage 5: Ending The Game

If you have no time limit, stop whenever you feel like it! That could be when the Quiet Year deck runs out, or some other indicator. If you have a time limit, when you’re 20 or 30 minutes away from being done, have a meeting with everyone at the table. Determine any last important world elements you must get down before the session is over. For instance, we’re worldbuilding for another RPG. Our PC’s for this rpg all needed a headquarters, somewhere on the map. We had tons of fun playing through the different A Quiet Year cards, but we realized that we had 20 minutes left and only one of our characters had a headquarters on the map.

That’s it! By the time was done, we had a bunch of haphazardly fleshed out characters/NPCs, a giant map of a city, a Palette for the city and the game overall, and a ton of back story for our characters, with markers on this map where our characters dwell. And it accommodated 7.

Where We Started:

We approached wanting to play a worldbuilding game “as a tool” or with a purpose of it being an introductory step into playing a new campaign. Our group of seven is gearing up to play our first Vampire: The Masquerade game. We’re all familiar with DnD, and have played that game for several years, but Vampire has a different vibe. It feels as though it’s asking us to think more deeply about RP, think more deeply about our characters, and of course, we can’t rely on the old standard familiar DND lore as familiar touchstones. On an off day, we all tried A Quiet Year and had an absolute blast, and we were all really excited about playing this game that was so different than typical RPGs. When it came to Vampire, none of us could decide on our city, so we decided, “Hey, why don’t we do Quiet Year to invent a new city?” And most of us are busy with silly “life stuff” and may not have time in the week to read the book and make characters; such is the life of RPGs in your thirties. Bumbling around the net, I came across Microscope. It seemed like a phenomenal game, with some really amazing ideas. I pitched that to the group and my pitch was met by welcoming shrugs.

What We Wanted To Accomplish:

We wanted to play a worldbuilding game where we would accomplish the following:

  1. Each Player needed to come up with an important NPC (Vampire Sires), and come up with some backstory
  2. We needed to invent a city because no one could agree where to set our game, and it’d be nice to have a map
  3. We have 7 people A Quiet Year alone seemed a little too limiting for the purpose of this individual worldbuilding problem… amazing at building a city, but we don’t want to be restricted by the card prompts every time, and Projects and Scarcities and Surpluses weren’t exactly relevant to what we wanted. Microscope is a great fit for coming up with fleshed out lore and history, except for the whole Nuke Atlantis theory baked into the game (buy the book! Basically, don’t get attached to creations because it all belongs to everyone to alter or destroy). And the book, along with multiple threads online, all recommend not playing Microscope with more than 5 players. We have 7. Both games seemed to offer 75% of what we were looking for.

I hope you enjoyed this, and give it a shot!