What is Microscope?

Mankind spreads to the stars and founds a galactic civilization. A brilliant general conquers the world and dies young, leaving behind a fractured empire. An ancient line of dragon-kings die out as magic fades from the realm.

Those are all examples of Microscope games.

Microscope is a roleplaying game, but you don’t have your own character. You don’t play in chronological order. You know how things end before you know why they really happened. Yeah, it’s a bit experimental.

You start with the big picture, the grand scheme of your history, then zoom in and explore all the nooks and crannies. The more you play, the more complex the history becomes. Your once simple summary becomes a detailed tapestry, full of meaning and surprises.

It’s fractal gaming.

Want to leap a thousand years in the future and see how an institution shaped society? Want to jump back to the childhood of the king you just saw assassinated and find out what made him such a hated ruler? That’s normal play in Microscope. You have the freedom to move around and examine whatever you want, defying limits of time and space.

Want to do a game spanning centuries or thousands of years, like the Silmarillion, the Foundation books, or the entire Dune series? Microscope says yes.

What’s the next step? More playtesting of course. We’ve played it a lot in the last six weeks, but to be honest the games haven’t felt like playtesting at all, just good gaming. How cool is that?

    Ben Robbins | April 28th, 2009 | | hide comments
  1. #19 Adam Dray says:


    I’d love to give this a whirl. I’ll probably do an online game with wiki support. Can I get a playtest copy?


  2. #17 ben robbins says:

    Actual play report of a two-player Microscope game:

    The Rat-ening

    Rise of hybrid animals, a dying sun, and Sydney gets nuked.

    “Why would you [nuke Sydney]?”
    “Because I’m evil, let’s play.”

    Update: moved the Microscope actual play reports into their own thread, because they are too cool.

  3. #16 ben robbins says:

    Another AP from one of the external playtest groups:

    Scourging of the Sky

    Magical sky-cities, the bond between elves and dragons, and no mundane means of reaching the ground…

  4. #15 ben robbins says:

    Great actual play report from one of the playtest groups. Alternate real world history meets Cthulhu:

    When the Stars are Right

    “My first bit of History was the event that Alexander Graham Bell was the one that contacted the Mythos beings while trying to speak to the dead…”

  5. #14 elaisabet says:

    what is microscope?????

  6. #13 ben robbins says:

    Did you want to join the playtest Simon?

  7. #12 timeLESS says:

    Hi Ben, im starting off a new playgroup pretty soonish made up of entirely inexperienced “story” gamers. Could be nice to see how that goes with your game which sounds pretty darn interesting.

    -Simon Kempes

  8. #11 ben robbins says:

    I’m going to be putting out a call for outside playtest groups fairly soon. We’ve played it a bunch already with an assortment of people, but it’s time to see how it works with people who’ve never been briefed by me.

    I’ll post about playtesting in the next week or so (as soon as I get the latest draft nice and polished), so keep your eyes peeled.

  9. #10 deadlytoque says:

    I’d also dig being in on the public playtest. I’ve just started a new “story games club” dedicated to doing some “alternative” rping, and a playtest would be an ideal team-building experience for us as well as a great experience.

    -Adam Drew

  10. #9 Ara says:

    I was curious about the playtest document as well. My gaming group is getting back together in July and this sounds like just the thing. Thanks!!


  11. #8 ars ludi says:

    […] that is a) pretty obvious and b) pretty much inevitable anyway? Because microscope is making me. […]

  12. #7 Sohum says:

    Dayumn. That sounds like an immensely cool idea. Why doesn’t anyone really challenge gaming conventions? Fractal gaming … nom.

    Can’t /wait/ for the public playtest.

  13. #6 Dionysus says:

    This does indeed look interesting.

    I love the idea of an “interactive history” type game :)

    public playtest is much looked forward to!

  14. #5 Ryan says:

    Interesting. When the public

    I think I have an idea what your saying. You play different characters in different time periods. Reminds me of a description of a game I once read about where characters had a Multiverse Machine, and could explore universe each with their own physics.

    Say. Will an example of play ever be posted? And I’d like the playtest too, it sounds good.

  15. #4 bats says:

    Well, the light synopsis helps the curiosity a little, but damn it, I’m still maddened!

  16. #3 tonyd says:

    I like that first paragraph especially. I’m having a blast with Microscope. It’s been a while since I was so excited to sit down and play something!

  17. #2 ben robbins says:

    The public playtest isn’t out yet Joshua, but I’ll send you an email.

  18. Hey, Ben, is there a playtest document to download?

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