A Microscopic Supplement

Indie RPGs of the arthouse school which actually get supplements published for them are a bit of a rarity. Plenty of indie games simply never get the sort of traction which would create an appetite for a supplement in the first place; in other cases, the core expression of the game represents more or less everything their creators want to say on the matter, at least in the form of an actual product, or the designers end up transferring their enthusiasm to new projects.

One exception is Microscope, whose designer Ben Robbins has turned out Microscope Explorer, both a collection of alternate spins on the core game, tools and aids to help support the standard game, and hints and pointers on best practice in play. I don’t have a whole lot to say about the Explorer that wouldn’t be something of a rehash of my original review of the game, but I want to put a particular spotlight on the way the advice on good Microscope practice is clearly built on experiences in actual play, which is something I wish were true of all RPG products but often isn’t.

Robbins has clearly both played a bunch of Microscope himself and taken into account the experiences of the wider audience that took it up after it got published, and it really shows in the points he chooses to expand on here and the way he explains why he considers particular approaches to be useful. One expects that if a Microscope 2nd Edition ever happened, some of the explanations offered here would likely make their way into the core book, especially since the Explorer seems to reflect Robbins’ evolving thoughts on this interesting new game format he has invented as much as it does a clarification of matters he wishes in retrospect he had expressed a little better in the original book.

Microscope Under the Microscope

One of the things that enraged me about Ron Edwards’ awful brain damage thing is that Ron wheeled out his horrible opinions on how White Wolf games warp developing minds in the process of making a point which was actually fairly reasonable, but which got derailed by the impossibly crass way he expressed it and the terrible ideas he wheeled out in the process of being crass.

That point is one I’ve also wheeled out a lot in discussion of artsy narrative-y indie RPGs: that many such games would benefit from walking away from the conventions of tabletop RPGs altogether. For instance, some games seem to retain ideas like players having a particular identification and control over a particular character, or particular bits of the scenario being under particular people’s authority, when that just doesn’t serve them well.

Such is not the case with Microscope, which marches into novel territory so firmly that I’d almost hesitate to call it a role-playing game. It sort of is, since it’s a game in which role-playing can take place and is explicitly supported as part of the process, but at the same time it’s a game where that is just one aspect of play and an awful lot can happen without any role-identification occurring whatsoever.

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