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4.30  ·  Rating details ·  319 ratings  ·  39 reviews
What is Microscope?

Humanity spreads to the stars and forges a galactic civilization...

Fledgling nations arise from the ruins of the empire...

An ancient line of dragon-kings dies out as magic fades from the realm...

These are all examples of Microscope games. Want to explore an epic history of your own creation, hundreds or thousands of years long, all in an afternoon? That'
Paperback, First, 80 pages
Published 2011 by Lame Mage Productions
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Average rating 4.30  · 
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 ·  319 ratings  ·  39 reviews

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"You can also use Microscope to build settings for other game systems. Play one session, and you have a world that everyone at the table knows and likes. Make up some characters and go exploring."

This quote, from nearly the end of the book, neatly defines Microscope's purpose. Mr. Robbins' work is not a "game" so much as it is a "generator of collaborative history."

DESIGN: The design is well laid out, with the concept laid out, the rules in a neat order after that, several diagrams and then a "h
Oct 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: roleplaying gamers who like storytelling
I've just become aware of the new trend in roleplaying games: "Storytelling games." The basic idea is not really new, of course - there have been experimental, GM-less RPGs before, but it seems right now a lot of people are publishing games explicitly designed to be collaborative efforts between players to create worlds and "run" games without a GM.

Microscope seems to have the advantages and flaws of all such systems - it would probably work best with a group really willing to commit themselves
Michael Burnam-Fink
Dec 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, rpg
Microscope describes itself as "a fractal role-playing game of epic histories." This is a big claim, perhaps insanely ambitious, but Microscope might just be able to pull it off. I haven't had a chance to play Microscope, so this based just on reading the text, but that said:

I've theorized roleplaying games as about Structured Negotiation. In that regard, Microscope gives you a very powerful and elegant way to narratively generate histories. The nested structure of Period-Event-Scene intuitively
May 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
OK, this is fascinating.

Microscope claims on its cover to be a role playing agme of fractal history. I'm not sure that RPG is the right label though. I can see how starting with veteran role-players (and I mean character- or story-driven role-players, not crunchy-bit or min-maxing roll-players) is a good place to start.

OK, start over. What's the idea? To create a fictional history. Kind of like being a GM or author doing your world building.

Cool, so a framework to build worlds around, allowing c
Shannon Appelcline
Jun 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rpgs
One of the best roleplaying games (story games) of the 21st century. It's very innovative in both its idea of using a game to create a history and in the way it approaches it by moving back and forth in time and "fractally" creating periods, events, and scenes.

Though it's fun just to play on its own (and I could see regularly revisiting the same histories again and again) what I really love is the ability to use it to create histories for other mediums — be it a novel or a tabletop roleplaying g
Sep 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
Presents itself as a game, but would probably only work in the most forgiving of game groups. What Microscope has got going for it, however, is an excellent exercise in world building. 4stars as the latter, 2stars as the former.
May 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Something I've noticed about reading a great deal of role playing games is that one of the best parts of them is the initial premise. Roleplaying games tend to come at you with promises: experience a world of adventure, relive tales of heroism, build worlds like your favorite book/TV show/movie only this time you get to be the main character, so on and so forth. This is the hook that draws us in, makes us want to read through the numbers and find out what really lets us live in worlds composed o ...more
Matthew J.
Jun 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Holy nuts. I want to run right out and try this one. By itself, this seems like a really fun way to spend an afternoon. If you're in the mood for something like "Once Upon a Time," where you're collaboratively creating a story, this one lets you create a history. If you're thinking about creating a setting for a tabletop RPG, this could be an extremely useful tool. And if you're a writer, this has tons of great opportunities. As a game, as a creative exercise, it seems deceptively simple. Taking ...more
Kevin Saunders
A fascinating game. Many other GM-less RPGs I’ve read and played spread the narrative duties around, microscope passes the reins from one person to the next instead. There is no discussion of “what might happen” instead a player declares significant changes to the history that’s being developed. The power and authority in that is really neat, and gives people the opportunity to make big swings.

The rules for playing out scenes are a little crunchier than I would have expected, only because perio
Roger Alix-Gaudreau
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
A unique take (in my experience) on the storytelling RPG genre, and one I can't wait to try with my friends.

It also occurs to me that this game also provides an interesting framework for creating and exploring setting suitable to writing fiction, as it creates a dynamic where multiple people contribute to the creation of a fictional narrative that has unexpected twists and turns, something an author could then build on and explore in greater depth later, primed by the output of multiple creativ
Sep 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I will revisit this review after playing the actual game, rather than just reading the rules to the game.

However, the book is very clear in presenting its ideas. It also doesn't shy away from letting the voice of the author shine through. This is a good thing, one ends up holding something very bland, otherwise.
Jul 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ebook, rpg-rulebook
Twice this week I've heard somebody mention that "playing a game of Microscope" is their favorite way to create and begin a new RPG campaign. I was curious, so I grabbed a copy.

I love the idea of this both as a standalone game and as a campaign generator. It's given me a great framework with which to explore my own homebrew setting.
Aug 27, 2020 rated it liked it
i'm not sure if i can really rate this because it's an instruction book for a game i had to play for creative writing class...??? i will say the game is very fun and although it seems intimidating at first it's really not once you get into it.
Josh Storey
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This game is simple and so complex. Frankly, it's amazing, and I'll be mining this thin edition for new ideas for years to come.
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Genius! This is the story game I have been looking for - thanks!
Kathy Brown
Love this game. Hope I can explain it to my friends now. This rule book is a clear protocol for the game.
Mar 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book lays out the rules for an interesting form of role-playing games. It's played with pens and notecards and imagination. It's called 'Microscope,' because the game works by changing levels of action during play. At the largest level is the central idea for the game, and then come, 'Periods,' which act as distinct time periods. Then come 'Events,' which are major events within a, 'period.' Finally come, 'scenes,' where the players dramatize a major scene within an 'event.'

I confess that I
Aug 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As usual, I am late to the party of awesome things, and Ben Robbins's Microscope is most certainly an awesome thing. The game itself is of course incredible, but this is a review of the text, so I will just say that the book is exactly as long as it needs to be and not a page longer. The presentation is clear, indicating not only what the players should be doing during their turns, but how to make those actions as powerful as possible, providing clear examples all along the way. The extra advice ...more
Mark Austin
Apr 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
★ - Most books with this rating I never finish and so don't make this list. This one I probably started speed-reading to get it over with.
★★ - Average. Wasn't terrible, but not a lot to recommend it. Probably skimmed parts of it.
★★★ - Decent. A few good ideas, well-written passages, interesting characters, or the like.
★★★★ - Good. This one had parts that inspired me, impressed me, made me laugh out loud, made me think - it got positive reactions and most of the rest of it was pretty decent too.
Mar 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: role-playing, gaming
A great little game (80 pages) that is more of a collaborative world building game than an RPG, although it does have moments of role-playing built in.

After establishing some basic facts about the setting, players take turns establishing Periods, Events and Scenes that help flesh out the history of the setting they are creating. The mechanics force everyone playing to contribute and prohibit 'alpha' gamers from dominating the turns of less assertive gamers. The result can be quite interesting a
Matthew Galloway
May 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a really fascinating gaming system -- more a very structured, yet open, system to tell a story. You create a structure to base your grand, sweeping history on and then bounce back and forth throughout it to explore any little bit that interests you. As the writer is fond of saying, this means that no matter what happens, you never have to forget about a character or place or event because there's always some other question you can explore within it.
Aug 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a gaming book which designer and writer Ben Robbins describes as "fractal" worldbuilding. No GM, you take turns around the table establishing a timeline for the world and fleshing out that timeline, in any order and any level of specificity. You can do eras, or you can do scenes. It seems like a lot of fun, and he's got an inherent knack for storytelling, but I haven't played it yet.
Feb 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rpgs
This is a fantastic game. It has the perfect balance between giving its players a firm foundation and clear rules with which to play, while still allowing them the freedom to follow their creative impulses. I'd highly recommend this to both new gamers and those with a lot of tabletop RPG experience.
Wythe Marschall
Dec 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This game is simply... mindblowing. The prose of the game-rules is a pleasure to read. I've read limitless nerdcore game-rules in my day, and this is the clearest of them, for the most abstract (and therefore most potentially confusing) game yet: the game of history, *all* of it.
Cintain 昆遊龍

Can't wait to try it out. The concept of cooperative storytelling at the heart of every RPG is brought to the fore elegantly and powerfully in Microscope. The rules are terse and easy to explain, and the gameplay offers intriguing possibilities.
Jan 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Are you a nerd? Are you into roleplaying or storytelling? Do you like literature, history, improv theater, or anything at all that engages your creativity? Do you want an awesome activity to spend an afternoon on with your friends?

Yes? Boy have I got a recommendation for you.
Day New
Sep 20, 2015 rated it liked it
A very interesting game where your group writes a unique history of events. The rules seem very well thought out to enable everyone to contribute equally. I will update this reviewer after I have played it.
Allison Lara
May 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Sounds like a really interesting concept for diceless role playing. I don't know if I have any friends that would do it, but it seems like a fun way to flesh out a campaign world beforehand as well.
Adrian George
Jul 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-games
an interesting RPG. I think it would be fun for a session or two then use it as a setting for another game.
Interesting concept. I'm curious to see how it works in play. At the very least it could be a useful tool in world building.
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