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New ways to play Microscope, the fractal role-playing game of epic histories.
New ways to play Microscope, the fractal role-playing game of epic histories.
New ways to play Microscope, the fractal role-playing game of epic histories.
1,674 backers pledged $55,629 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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We’re playing the Echo version of Microscope, so we're going back in time and changing the past to alter the outcome of our history. But every change has unforeseen consequences. Things don’t go as planned.

One faction wants to help humanity reach the stars. They go back to the Cold War and introduce discoveries to accelerate the space race but–surprise!–another player describes how it escalates into a military conflict. Astronauts and cosmonauts battle in orbit and then on the surface of the Moon.

In this history, the West falls. Their lunar bases are all that remain. The star-spangled banner yet waves, but where the fifty stars once shined there is now only a single white disc: the Moon, the last stronghold of democracy.

But if the Earth cannot be free, should it be left in the hands of their enemies? The defeated patriots look down on their homeworld, fingers poised over the button that will shower the globe with city-smashing moon-rocks. The answer is clear: give me liberty, or give me death!

Oops. Instead of saving the world, we've doomed it. So we go back in time and try again...

Microscope Explorer is an expansion that lets you take Microscope in whole new directions. Explore a family tree with UNION. Forge the epic story of a city, a ship or a sword of power in CHRONICLE. Travel back in time and rewrite history in ECHO.

It's loaded with tools and strategies to get the most out of all your Microscope games, like SEEDS to get you started playing faster, TECHNIQUES to improve play, and WORLD-BUILDING methods to create settings for other role-playing games.

Even if you've never played Microscope, this Kickstarter is for you: back a level that includes both books and start making history.

Microscope is a game where you sit down and create an epic history, spanning hundreds or thousands of years, all in just a few hours of play. Create cities, nations or whole worlds… or destroy them.

You can defy the limits of time and space, jumping backward or forward to explore the parts of the history that interest you. Want to leap a thousand years into 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 in Microscope.

Crazy, right? But it works. People play it all around the world. Here are just some of the things people have said about it:

"Microscope is incredible! A truly brilliant design."
     –John Harper, designer of Blades in the Dark & Danger Patrol

"If you play just one role playing game this century, make Microscope that game."
     –Emily Care Boss, designer of Shooting the Moon & Breaking the Ice

"It's been a long time that a game captures my attention like Microscope. Bypass the hype, it's a truly remarkable well-instruction'd game"
     –Andy Kitkowski, founder of story-games.com

"Microscope is a model of minimalist complexity: with easy-to-learn tools you gain the power to create a believable history that will surprise you even as you're authoring it."
     –Katherine Cross, scholar and gaming critic

"Ben Robbins' Microscope may be the clearest-written game text I've ever read - which is helpful, because it is also one of the most innovative games I've come across in a long time."
     –Jason Morningstar, designer of Fiasco

"We created the Citizen Kane of spaceship stories…"
     –Timothy Young, playing Microscope Chronicle at PAX

Microscope Explorer brings you three new spin-off games, each using the core principles of Microscope but with careful adjustments to create different experiences in play:

UNION turns the Microscope history into a family tree. Go back and explore the lives of the ancestors whose unions brought each new generation into existence and see how the past makes us who we are today. Union creates a tight web of characters and brings their lives and personal decisions into the spotlight.

CHRONICLE focuses and streamlines Microscope, narrowing the history to the story of a single thing, such as a castle, a city or a sword of power. It also brings individuals to the fore with anchor characters whose lives are intertwined with each chapter of the history. It's a simpler, more personal, Microscope.

ECHO brings time-travel to Microscope. Don't like how the future turned out? Go back and tamper with the past to change it. See how the changes you make echo forward, reshaping your history or utterly destroying it. Winners write the history, but the losers can go back and change it. And if you just want to experiment with alternate histories or "what if" scenarios without time travel, Echo includes an option to do that too.

Each brings a very different flavor to the table. I think Union is my favorite, but if you want to see how Chronicle can turn big history into something intimate and personal, check out the write-up of one of our games, Flight of the Madamas.

One of the biggest challenges of playing Microscope isn't making a vast or interesting history, it's narrowing down your choices and picking just one idea for your story from all the infinite possibilities. Explorer includes detailed SEEDS to help you agree on a premise and get started playing more quickly.

These new seeds are a huge improvement over the simple prompts included in the original Microscope. Each starts with a core idea and walks you through a simple step-by-step process to customize it. You could play the same seed over and over and get a unique history every time. The book includes a range of seeds including sci-fi, fantasy and real world issues:

Blood of Monsters: A terrible power runs through the veins of a few, passed from one generation to the next since the deeds that first spawned them. They are mighty overlords, monarchs... or terrors.

Peak Oil: The gas runs out, bringing the world to a grinding halt. Highways stand empty and airports are silent. Can new energy sources replace the once-plentiful fossil fuels or is cheap energy a thing of the past?

The Imperium: The grand Imperium spans ten thousand stars, uniting all humanity beneath the glorious banner of the Omnipotent Astrarch, Emperor of the Void-Throne, Keeper of the Heavens and Sovereign of All Worlds.

Golems of Eden: Magi fashion artificial servants, but inadvertently create a race of living, feeling beings. Are the golems accepted as equals or enslaved and exploited? Are they children or usurpers of Man?

After Lemuria Sinks: The great island nation has sunk beneath the waves. Wise and terrible Lemuria, that mighty jewel among the nations of the earth, is lost. Fallen. Never to return. Now the young nations are free to forge their own destiny. Will they thrive or will they descend into barbarism without Lemuria’s guidance and tyranny?

Since Microscope was released, gamers have flocked to it as a WORLD-BUILDING tool to collaboratively create settings for other role-playing games. Now Microscope Explorer gives you step-by-step techniques to translate your history into an environment you can use for your next campaign.

The new flavors of Microscope are also excellent tools to bring aspects of your setting to life. Want to develop the backstory of a character? Unleash Union. Want to flesh out the origins of an order of assassins or a sacred relic? Break out Chronicle.

There's a lot more the book covers: play advice, using Microscope to reboot your favorite books or movies, plus weird experiments like reincarnation games or split histories. It's packed with things I've learned from playing Microscope over and over again with all sorts of wonderful people.

But I need your support to make it happen. If you've never tried Microscope, now's your chance to start building your own epic histories. And if you already love Microscope, you can help make it even better. Shout it to the world and show gamers everywhere what they are missing!

Stretch goals unveils a new tool to get your Microscope games started: ORACLES let you generate random seeds for your history. You can use them to spark your imagination and come up with unexpected starting points for your game.

$18,000 -- REACHED!

  • To the Stars (Oracle): Generates seeds for interstellar histories. Elements like radical tech breakthrus, alien artifacts, synthetic life, post-human evolution, colonization, galactic war and Humanity's never-ending struggle to adapt to new and strange environments.

$23,000 -- REACHED!

  • Swords & Sorcery (Oracle): Creates fantasy history seeds. Dragon hordes hidden in crooked towers. Feuding kingdoms and walking woods. Dead gods and runes of power. Druids, sages, princes and thieves. Valor, heroism and terrible deeds.
  • Finger-Dice (Bonus Goal): A simple method to roll on the Oracle tables using just the humans at the table. Who needs dice?

$28,000 -- REACHED!

  • Cradle of Civilization (Oracle): Explore how new inventions disrupt the old ways, uprooting societies and traditions. Tame fire. Invent the wheel. Write the first laws. Erect monuments that defy death itself.

$35,000 -- REACHED!

  • Essence (Seed): A new drug changes society. Its benefits are so great that living without it becomes unacceptable. Play it as the pivot point of humanity's expansion into space, a discovery brought back from the colonies in the age of exploration, or utterly disrupt the modern world we know.
  • Kaiju Century (Seed): Towering leviathans emerge, crushing everything in their path. No city is safe. Does humanity fight back with giant mecha or cower helplessly and lament their own hubris?

$40,000 -- REACHED!

  • House of the Dragon, House of the Unicorn (Seed): Knights and lords clash as two noble houses vie for supremacy. Rex Alicorn! Rex Draconis!
  • Brave New World (Seed): Colonists settle a new planet. Can it grow into a flourishing, civilized world or will the colony fail and be forgotten?

$45,000 -- REACHED!

  • Apocalypse (Oracle): It's the end of the world! Quakes, plagues, comets or zombie uprisings! Does civilization fade into the dust or does something new rise from the ashes?

$53,000 -- REACHED!

  • Oracles Online: Need a seed for your game? Get out your phone, go to the Oracle web page, pick a category and it will automatically generate one for you. This includes all the Oracles from the book plus the ones backers at the Oracle level request.

$58,000

  • Lurking Darkness (Oracle): Weave histories of horror, from classic Gothic to Lovecraftian terror. Dig too deep and expose secrets better left unknown!

All backer levels get all the stretch goals! New goals will be revealed as each is unlocked.

I've been floored time and again seeing how kids rock Microscope. Parents have been playing it with their children and teachers have been using it in the classroom for a wide range of ages with great success. As a way of saying thanks, I created a special backer level to make it easier for teachers everywhere to bring Microscope to the classroom. Because teachers are awesome.

The books are labelled educational, not for resale. This level also includes a PDF of both books for the teacher, so you can get started learning the game before the books show up.

Risks and challenges

This is the third book I've released so I know what it takes to get the job done.

Most of Microscope Explorer is already written. There are still parts I'm working on (and doubtless parts I’ll revise again) because I want it to be a valuable tool for Microscope players everywhere. The new versions of Microscope have already been playtested and are ready for the table. I could decide they needed some more last minute testing and revision (because I'd rather do that than waste people's time with a flawed game) but right now they feel solid.

I’ve been using the same printer for years and I have total confidence in them. There was an issue with the cover lamination in the first printing of Kingdom, but the printer fixed it and I offered free replacements to anyone affected. If there’s a problem, I'll correct it.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    Microscope Explorer PDF. Take your Microscope games in whole new directions.

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    Microscope Explorer PDF plus the original Microscope PDF. That's everything you need to sit down and forge epic histories.

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    Microscope Explorer book & PDF. If you already have Microscope, this is for you. Books will be shipped to backers before they go on sale anywhere else.

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    COMPLETE: Microscope Explorer book & PDF plus the original Microscope book & PDF. The complete history-making kit.

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    DOUBLE: Two copies of the Microscope Explorer book & PDF. One for you, one for a friend.

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    Pledge $60 or more About $60

    WE LOVE TEACHERS: Are you an educator bringing Microscope to the classroom? Get five copies of both Microscope and Microscope Explorer at an insane discount. That's enough books to get your whole classroom split into groups and playing. This level is just for teachers because teachers are awesome.

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    BRICK & MORTAR: We also love game stores! Five copies of Microscope Explorer for resale. Stock your shelves and make gamers happy.

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    Pledge $80 or more About $80

    KINGDOM: Books & PDF of Microscope Explorer, Microscope and Kingdom too. Get all the games and save on shipping too.

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    STACK: Four copies of the Microscope Explorer book & PDF. Flood your whole table and save on shipping, especially international.

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    FRACTAL BRICK & MORTAR: Get five copies of Microscope Explorer plus five copies of Microscope to stock your shelves. We told you we love game stores!

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    Pledge $300 or more About $300

    SEED: I'll write and release a history seed of your choice so people around the world can explore your idea. Plus you get the Microscope Explorer book & PDF. Some restrictions on content may apply so I don't get a pitchfork-wielding mob of lawyers at my door.

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    ORACLE: Pick a topic and I'll design a random seed generator for it! Same restrictions as the SEED level. And you get the book & PDF of both Microscope books, of course.

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Funding period

- (29 days)