The Game of World Building

This is the second in a series of posts about GMless games. Sometimes you don’t have time to do the prep or someone can’t make it to the game. These are great substitutes for your ongoing campaign. Today’s game, Microscope, stands just fine on its own. It’s an RPG where you get to build everything.




While this game is billed as GM-less, I’d argue it is almost the opposite. In Microscope, it feels like everyone is a GM. The group works together to build an entire history with nothing but some index cards and some pencils. Everyone gets to take ultimate control.

In a nutshell, you begin microscope by picking a beginning period and an ending period. Each one is written on an index card. These are your book ends. For instance, your beginning period could be something along the lines of “Human kind makes landfall on the planet Yulund, coming into contact with the Subelders.” Your ending could be “Yulund burns bright enough that the flames can be seen in space. No living thing survives.” Everything you create will be between these two eras.

So we know how the game begins and ends, which is different than most. What we don’t know is what happens in between. That is why you play Microscope. On each turn, the players get to fill in that info on index cards and set it in between any of the already established eras. The longer the game goes on, the more details you have and the more questions you want to ask.

You can also zoom in closer than the long eras to events. An event is more specific, such as “General Yerz guides his failing ship into the burnt sea of Yelund.” You can also zoom in one more time to play a scene. A scene answers a question, such as “What happened to Yerz’s ship that caused it to plummet out of space?” At that point, everyone gets to role play until you figure out the answer.

When does it end? Well, that is up to you. A game of microscope doesn’t have a set ending. You can play it as a one shot or you can stay with the same history for months on end. Its easy to pack up the index cards into a pile that can easily be laid out again next session to continue on the story. Since there is an infinite amount of space between each era, event, and scene, you can always add more cards between them. The stories you can tell in the setting you create are limitless.

There isn’t anything that restricts you genre wise either. You can do fantasy, scifi, western… you name it. In one particular off kilter game I played, there ended up being cowboys and dinosaurs with a romantic bent. Things got weird. It was quite the difference from the gritty science fiction microscope game we played the next time.

Microscope is big and expansive while simultaneously being able to be small and intimate as you explore the lifespan of civilizations as well as the triumphs and failures of individual characters. If you in anyway like world building, this is your game.

Interested in picking up the PDF? Click here.