This week: Microscope Explorer – an expansion to the Microscope RPG and a very exciting project up on Kickstarter right now. You should check it out because it’s a great game with a lot of child-friendly gaming potential!
I first encountered Microscope at my local one-shot RPG meet. This group has a strong indie ethos and Microscope fit in nicely. The system is dice-less, GM-less, often involves playing multiple characters at various points in the game and, most importantly, tells a history.
What kind of history? Well, to quote lamemage.com (the official site for Microscope and Kingdom RPGs):
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’s Microscope.
You have vast power to create… and to destroy. Build beautiful, tranquil jewels of civilization and then consume them with nuclear fire. Zoom out to watch the majestic tide of history wash across empires, then zoom in and explore the lives of the people who endured it.
In my first game of Microscope we told the tale of a civilisation. We began in the bronze age and moved quickly into a period of high-magic and high-fantasy. Next came an era where wise elders suppressed knowledge of magic for the good of the human race. Later, in a burgeoning era of space-travel it becomes increasingly clear to the populace that something fishy is going on: science doesn’t really account for all these amazing technological advances. Something underhanded is going on but no-one quite figures it out.
Then at the end — as predicted by those wise elders in the first place — Mars is colonised and the same secret magic that is used to power the spacecraft ends up summoning Cthulhu-esque monsters who rip the planet apart from the inside and then destroy the universe. The human race — or at least three rather fortunate members of it — are saved at the last minute by the reappearance of the Fae from another dimension. The Fae popped up in the dark-ages earlier and have returned to make good on a promise they made to Merlin. Oh, and Leonardo Da Vinci was in it too — manipulated by demons to start building a functioning space-ship.
Sounds pretty rip-roaring? Yup!
We didn’t tell this story in chronological order because that isn’t how Microscope usually works. Each player takes a turn and can focus on the area of the timeline that appeals to them at that point. You can leap back in time to fill out details, create new events or (my personal favourite) call a scene. In this case the players quickly invent and then play a character in a scene which is pivotal to the history you are building.
We featured this session on Episode 7 of RpgGamerDad Podcast and interviewed Microscope game-designer Ben Robbins himself for Episode 15. Ben talked of his own experience of playing Microscope with a child at a convention game and mentioned feedback he has received from other gamers that Microscope suits the imaginative story-telling and world-building that comes naturally to young minds.
This chimes with my experience. I have found the easiest way to get RpgGamerBoy (and, to an increasing extent as she gets older RpgGamerGirl) tabletop-gaming is via world-creation and broad story-telling with a focus on a handful of important characters. This seems to come more naturally to them than playing a single character for the duration of a session.
During the interview with Ben I came up with the idea that it could be fun to play Microscope with RpgGamerBoy and a group of his friends. I haven’t done this yet but not from lack of enthusiasm for the idea. Rather, after careful consideration I decided that 5-yrs old was a bit young for this. I’m pretty sure I could get it to work with my own son — but I’m not so sure I could keep a whole table of excitable young kids on task and I don’t want to risk it yet! I have it provisionally scheduled for when GamerBoy is 8 years old. GamerGirl will be 5 and I reckon the two of them will have enough RPG experience to keep two other kids on board!
I’m also sure other gamers will have success playing Microscope with younger kids; everyone is different and I think the important thing is to play the game with a group of grown-ups and get a gut feeling for how this will work in your particular case.
And, as for the Microscope Explorer Kickstarter campaign: I’m very excited to see that Ben has included a WE LOVE TEACHERS funding level. This provides — at a heavy discount — copies of the game for use by teachers with their pupils. This is exactly the kind of thing that is going to help expand this hobby and open up a generation of young minds to the amazing variety of tabletop RPGs.
So, please check out the new Microscope Explorer Kickstarter. If you haven’t already played the game there is a $20 tier where you can get the .pdf of both original and expansion which seems very reasonable.
Have fun, happy gaming and remember to be very patient and massively, massively encouraging!