A Writers’ RPG

I’ve mentioned before the benefits of tabletop gaming, especially the ability of role playing games (RPGs) to immerse a player in character motivation, world development, and plot creation. However, if you don’t have a group of folks who are eagerly awaiting an opportunity to roll some dice and tackle a monstrously large handbook, these benefits might be harder to come by.

Unless you have Microscope, “a fractal role-playing game of epic histories” by Ben Robbins.

First of all, the paperback is less than half an inch thick and costs under $20, so the intimidation and investment factors are somewhat less giggle-inducing for those who haven’t yet plunged into the gaming world.

This system is perfect for writing groups who are looking to build their creativity together. One person’s small idea may spark a moment of genius for someone else. While the system requires all players to support the ideas of others, the story will break down into a flat and simplistic mess if the individuals try to collaborate on everything.

Three or four players are ideal, and no one is stuck being the game master (a narrator of sorts) for all eternity. You don’t even need dice. A stack of index cards, a pencil, and a table will do nicely. Together, the players vaguely bookend an agreed upon big idea for their story’s history and compromise on the story “palette” (what’s allowed and not allowed to exist in this world). However, that’s where the group decisions end. From then on, developments are decided by taking turns to create periods, events, and scenes within the history. Everyone’s contribution is 100% valid as long as it doesn’t contradict something already established by another player or go against the agreed upon palette. Each player takes a turn as the Lens, choosing where to focus for a time, and if the current Lens wants to delve into a scene with the help of others, role playing decides what will happen in the moment. Nothing is prepared before a game session, and no one can take complete control of the narrative.

The group can jump back in time to explore the whys and wherefores of a single character’s downfall or jump to the end of the timeline to explore the predetermined outcome of this existence. Kill off those characters. Build an empire. Destroy the world. Like Microscope says, “the past is never closed.”

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