Stretching Those Creative Muscles


Saturday night, I finally had the chance to play something that I’ve been intrigued with for months now. A few months back, I spoke on my love for Choose Your Own Adventure books and why they were such a critical part of my creative development when I was growing up. Years later and I’m literally choosing my adventure with a few friends.

Let me first clarify by saying that Microscope by Ben Robbins is not a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Neither are the subsequent expansions that he has created. I simply used the opening paragraph as a metaphor. What his initial book does do is set up a role-playing game that can be done between two to five people and provides a very easy to understand rubric for collaboratively creating a new world, the timeline between the period of events, the actions that occur during those periods, and the characters that enact those actions. All of this generated by your own imagination.

I like to think of Microscope as a fun creative exercise in world building. Which just so happens to be my favorite part of the process when creating a story. Establishing the world that your characters inhabit, the structure of the civilizations, the geography, and even the mythology, all provide some type of satisfactory itch inside my brain, wherever that creative process actually is. The basics of the game are as follows:

  1. You and your group of people will collaborate on a specific genre and theme that you want the overall narrative to take.
  2. Following that, the group will figure out a summary of the story that you want to create. Think of it like an elevator pitch that you’re trying to refine.
  3. That ‘elevator pitch’ will then be used on index cards to define the ‘beginning’ of that timeline and then the ‘end’ of that timeline.
  4. From there, you and your group will create periods, events, and scenes that will flesh out the history of the world that you have created together until you can think of nothing else to add.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the wherewithal to take an actual picture of the game I played with my friends (*SIGH*). So instead I provide visual reference from another game that I saw online. As you can see, the placement of the cards denotes their purpose. The top row describes Periods of time, the next row with horizontal cards are Events, and the final row (or cards underneath the events) are specific Scenes within those events.

There is no overall ‘Game Master’ or Dungeon master in the traditional sense like other tabletop games played with a group of people (think Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, or Warhammer). Instead, there is a shared collaboration that occurs that promotes each individual to come up with a particular idea that contributes to the entire mythology of the world that is being generated. Because everyone gets a say in what happens, surprising circumstances can occur that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. The best example coming from Saturday was when one of my friends came up with the idea for a character named Thunder-Eye, who rose to prominence following an intense, almost religious movement pushing for humanity to prepare itself for visitors from ‘beyond the stars.’ The genre was a sci-fi western, so humans had colonized the galaxy but were fighting heavy decline in organized civilization. This made a discovery of an advanced cache of weapons become a sought after prize (a period that I created within the timeline) worth killing one another for.

Thunder-Eye started as a funny idea to introduce but soon became central to riots happening within outer colonies. This ended up sparking ideas from all four of us, generating our own separate periods, events, and scenes that helped to paint the rationale for this character’s ascension to this position, the ramifications of these skirmishes, and even far-reaching consequences that introduced alien life. It was a blast and I was incredibly pumped at the amount of traction that we pulled from such a humble beginning (Post galactic colonization, humanity is struggling to survive, separated from the events of the past).

This will not be our last time putting more ideas into this world; and I can tell that we will hopefully have the chance to generate new and interesting timelines in the future. All in all, it was a great way of reminding me of just how engaging world building can be and how important it is to providing depth to your story.

Until next time.

*Still want more information on Microscope? I found a good link with additional explanation of rules and even more links to further break down this barebones but engaging game. Click here to go there.


Author: Mr. Nifty

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