Solar systems and space monkeys – more Microscope world building

Posted: May 20, 2014 in writing
Tags: , , , , ,

Like so many activities, writing is more fun if you can find a way to share it with friends. This weekend I did just that, having my second go at the Microscope world building game. More accurately, I had my second and third goes at it, as Everwalker and I spent all day Saturday inventing imaginary worlds with friends. You can read about what Everwalker made of it here.



So what new things did I learn this time?

Go big

When you’re inventing a fantasy setting, or even a story within one, it’s easy to spend time on the details and take big picture things for granted. Halfway through our first game Dr Nick upended this by revealing that our world revolved around its moon, as did the sun and stars. None of us had seen that coming, but it made that world a lot more intriguing.

Relish contradiction

Our second game was a vast space opera, spanning humanity’s settlement of the stars and the eventual overthrow of an evil empire. This setting got pulled in some very different directions, as Everwalker played up the tragic elements, Dr Nick (a naval architect) filled it full of AI warfare, and I crammed comedic outlaw monkey men into every available space. That might sound like a mess, but it worked really well. These thematically distinct strands played off each other well, and gave our universe a sense of depth, with the absurd and the overwhelming going hand in hand. It felt like a real place, full of inconsistencies and contradictions yet all interconnected, like the real world.

Go with your guts

We almost had a misfire starting the second game. We started talking about a post-apocalyptic setting, but then we struggled to even complete a pallet of elements to include and exclude. It clearly wasn’t stirring anybody’s enthusiasm. We scrapped that idea and the resulting space game created much more energy. It made me realise what a mistake it is to push on through with a story I can’t get passionate about, as sometimes happens. It just leads to a lack of creativity, going through the motions instead of getting fired up.

Whether you’re playing Microscope or planning your epic novel, don’t be afraid to ditch an idea if it doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t fill you with passion for the task. You just won’t commit to it in the way that it needs.

Under the lens

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- Microscope is great fun. It isn’t really a roleplaying game, and in our second story we skipped the roleplay entirely. But it’s a wonderful creative activity to share with friends, and a great way to generate unusual ideas for stories or roleplay settings.


  1. Sue Archer says:

    Thanks for the tip, Andrew. I’ll have to check this out. I’ve played RPGs but they’ve always been character-driven rather than world-driven. It’s clearly an approach that requires a different type of mindset. Did you ever find yourselves getting stuck? Or did the ideas keep flying?

    • It took us a little while to sort out our initial ideas at the start of the game – what was in, what was out, where our story would start and end. But after that it flowed really well. We started seeing the interesting potential in each other’s ideas and bouncing off them, it got pretty exciting.

      Microscope is very different from normal RPGs – as I mentioned, the roleplay is the part that worked least well for us. But it’s a great game for an imaginative group to play.

  2. glenatron says:

    Sold! You should probably be on commission.

  3. […] I’ve raved about this one before. It’s a collaborative world-building game in which you tell a grand history with your […]

  4. […] an apocalyptic scenario, describing how the end of civilisation as we know it comes about. Like Microscope it’s pretty free wheeling, though it’s narrower in its focus and designed more to […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s