Microscope

A few years ago I heard about the game Microscope and it sounded way cool. In summary: it is.

It is in some ways like a role-playing game, but in other ways it’s something else entirely. When you play Microscope, you’re not telling the story of a few character, and you’re not trying to solve a puzzle. You’re building a history on a large scale. It’s meant for building stories on the scale of decades, centuries, or millennia.

The game starts with a few things being decided up before play really begins:

  • what’s the general theme of the history being built?
  • what things are out of bounds
  • what things are explicitly allowed

From the start, play rotates. It is a game, although it’s a game without victory conditions. Each round of the game, each player makes one or two moves from the short list of possible moves. The possible moves, though, are all of great importance to the final outcome. Basically, each player may:

  • declare the occurance of a player-described epoch anywhere within the timeline
  • add a major event to an existing epoch
  • invite the rest of the table to narrate a specific scene within the timeline

As with many other story-building games, once a fact is established, it cannot be contradicted. Since there’s not really any challenge to getting your facts onto the table, the game is entirely co-operative. There is no fighting over the story allowed. Instead, there’s a rule for suggesting “wait, before you write that down, maybe it would be cooler if…”

I only managed to play Microscope once, but it went pretty well. I think after two or three more games, it would be great fun.

I had originally wanted to start a regular set of Microscope games. Whoever committed to each round would show up first for a game of Microscope, establishing a setting. At the end of the session, the players could pick a point (or points) within the history where they’d like to play a traditional RPG, and then we’d have three sessions of that. It struck me as likely to be a ton of fun, but I’m not sure I can really wrangle up players for it. Here’s the pitch I wrote myself:

Monthly Microscopy

Microscope is a game of fractal history building. When you play Microscope, you start with a big picture and you end with a complex history spanning decades or centuries. Microscope is a world-building game.

My plan is to play Microscope over and over, building new world, and then running traditional tabletop games in those worlds.

Every month, we’ll play a game of Microscope. The big picture will be determined before we play, so everyone who shows up will have at least some idea what to expect. (Knowing the big picture only gets you so far in Microscope, though!)

At the end of the game, we’ll have our setting described by a set of genre boundaries and specific facts about the world. We’ll have to figure out, now, what kind of RPG we want to play in that world. When during the timeline does it take place? Who are the characters? These are answered by bidding.

At the end of each session, each player in attendance gets five points. If it’s your first game, you get twenty. At the end of every Microscope game, players can suggest scenarios for the month’s RPG, and then bid on a winning suggestion using their points. Each player may bid as many of his or her points across as many of the suggestions as he or she would like. The bids are made in secret, and all bid points are used up.

There will be three post-Microscope sessions each month. They might form a mini-campaign, or they might be three unrelated groups of characters, as determined by the winner of the plot auction.

Each game will be scheduled at least a week in advance, but won’t have a fixed schedule. Times and days will move around to be friendly to different time zones and schedules. Microscope games will be played with G+ Hangouts and Docs. RPG sessions will be played on Roll20 — but we might use Skype for voice chat if their voice chat remains as problematic as it’s been.

Written on October 9, 2013
games   rpg