I'm interested in playing Microscope online and was wondering if anyone knows what tools exist that might support this?

Microscope differs from many RPGs in that it is primarily playing using blank index cards, which you fill in as you play and arrange in a timeline. Features such as battle-maps and dice rolling therefore are not much use.

I've used MapTool in the past, but i'm not sure that it supports the edit-on-the-fly card functionality that would be required.

Any suggestions?

closed as off-topic by SevenSidedDie Nov 4 '15 at 18:08

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

locked by SevenSidedDie Nov 4 '15 at 18:13

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. More info: help center.

  • I tried to renovate this question to be a “how to” instead of “gimme recommendations” question, but that seems to not be working without deleting all the recommendation answers that are acting as broken windows and pulling more recs. So sadly, I am closing this as off-topic. On the upside, that means that someone can ask a real “how to” for Microscope later and not get it closed as a duplicate! – SevenSidedDie Nov 4 '15 at 18:13
up vote 11 down vote accepted

What you may want is corkboard.me. (Now known as NoteApp.) It's a virtual shared corkboard that everyone can place, move, and edit virtual sticky notes on. We used it to coordinate with a remote player for our recently-concluded Alternity Star*Drive campaign. For a fill out and arrange card metaphor it's right on point. It's free and there's not even a login; security is by carefully sharing your special corkboard URL, so it may not be a good choice if you want to publicly share the results.

  • 1
    Holy cow, that's awesome. Thank you for sharing that. – Jadasc Nov 23 '11 at 15:35
  • @Jadasc - You may also want to look at spaaze which is a similar corkboard site. – gomad Nov 23 '11 at 18:22
  • 3
    Looks like something has changed - NoteApp still hosts a free version, but it's limited to two users on the board at any one time. This is a bit constrained for Microscope. – Nathan Mar 13 '15 at 1:08

Trello might also be a good choice.

It's by the same company that makes stackexchange and stackoverflow. It is free with the feature set that you would need for Microscope.

I haven't played Microscope before but this seems like something Google Docs would handle incredibly well.

They are designed to be collaboratively edited in real time. You can have everyone join your campaign document and start working.

UPDATE: Brian recently hosted a game and we played it using google docs. We used outline levels to delineate period/event/scene and text highlighting to depict light or dark. It worked quite well in conjunction with voice chat.

  • 1
    I agree that Google Docs is your answer. A high-level of stability and the data is easy for everyone to access make it prime choice. The collaboration is unmatched. – Josh Nov 23 '11 at 14:50
  • As I mentioned in the question, I was really looking for a solution that used the card-based mechanism common to the table-top game. Google docs would give me a word-processor document, which is not really what i'm after. – Frater Nov 23 '11 at 23:40
  • 3
    No, docs isn't the answer. Having participated extensively in the beta-test of microscope, an outline provides for an excellent documentation, but very poor real-time representation. – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 25 '11 at 4:13
  • Actually, Google Docs can give you a drawing or a presentation document in which you can throw as many different colored text rectangles as you would like. But, you may be right, it may not fit what you are looking for. – Josh Nov 26 '11 at 19:29
  • There's also Fusion Tables, which is a table-drive database. While it doesn't support carriage returns in text cells... but it could be used (with careful numbering) to do a card-based bit. – aramis Nov 27 '11 at 3:09

I've always thought Mind Mapping software would be good for this kind of thing. https://www.mindmeister.com is online and collaborative, though not free if you want multiple collaborators. It allows you to add icons which would be good for showing light/dark indicators on the nodes, and you can also distinguish between Periods, Events, and Scenes in a similar manner.

I've also seen http://www.wisemapping.com/c/home.htm, but never tried it, but it looks about the same as mindmeister.

The only downside is you have to have a single top level node, but that can just as easily be the name of your current game.

  • I used mindmeister to hold information about my Dresden Files campaign. But I found that at some point, my map was overwhelming. It was hard to find information, hard to navigate. I went to Scrivener and was very happy. – gomad Nov 23 '11 at 18:19
  • Mind mapping would definately fit the bill. Mindmeister looked good but i'm not keen on paying a subscription on something I will only use occasionally. Wisemapping certainly sounds interesting, though do you know if it supports simultaneous collaboration? I can't find any indication on the site. Gomad - I also love Scrivener for that sort of work :) – Frater Nov 23 '11 at 23:45

I recently used Roll20 to run a game of Psi*Run, a game that uses index cards to create a location map as the players proceed through a desperate chase. Two of my players were local and three at a remote location.

It was simple and easy to draw rectangles as cards and add some text on them. My memory of Microscope is fuzzy, but I don't think it required much more than that and marking with a color - which is easy in Roll20. I used some colored circles as tokens -- you could easily drop colored circles on cards and group them together, or change the fill or border color of the rectangles, or even just use letters or numbers in place of the color mark.

I was even thinking of using Roll20 for Microscope after this experience - having never run Microscope at all.

I've tried a few options for this. Corkboard.me/NoteApp used to be a good option, but the free tier now limits the number of collaborators to 2 (as other commenters here have mentioned), which makes it unsuitable for Microscope.

Roll20 is good for a shared workspace, but the drawing tools are honestly fairly clumsy compared to any vector drawing app. The built-in voice chat features could be convenient, but overall there was enough friction in creating and manipulating cards that I went looking for a better option.

In this stream the players use draw.io, which is an app built on Google Draw for building flowcharts. This was the best overall experience I had in building diagrams for Microscope. I'm not really a fan of drawing arrows from card to card - to me this creates some visual and mechanical resistance to inserting new cards in between, which is a key part of Microscope - but you don't have to make use of that feature. The grid is convenient, as are the pre-set shapes and extensible canvas. The pre-set color palette is good for setting card tones easily. Anyone with a google account can be a collaborator and edit simultaneously, and google hangouts for voice is pretty frictionless once you're using everyone's google account already.

Overall, out of the tools I've tried, draw.io provided the clearest and most intuitive interface, with all of the tools necessary for playing Microscope in a single convenient view.

Gingko App is a tree of cards. Ideal for microscope!


Note that I'm the developer, but it's use for microscope was pointed out to me by a customer (see darkliquid's comment below).

Here's an example (with a custom theme):

enter image description here

  • 2
    If you are affiliated with the software (which from your profile you seem to be), can you please make that clear in your answer/ – Wibbs Oct 29 '15 at 12:58
  • 2
    You might want to expand this with pros and cons based on experience. For one thing I immediately notice in the screenshot, you can't see all the cards at once: how does that impact normal Microscope play in your experience, how did your group work around that, and how well did the workaround work? – SevenSidedDie Oct 29 '15 at 15:29
  • I'm the person who played (and themed) the game pictured here. I've since updated the theme in this gist: gist.github.com/f540574fdd7309c968be – darkliquid Nov 1 '15 at 9:12
  • 1
    Anyway, to answer your questions, not having visibility of everything want an issue. Since many games I've played tend to sprawl over a while take anyway getting a full view of everything even in real life is difficult. Being able to rapidly shift through the cards while maintaining their hierarchy (simply using the up and down keys), plus the fact every player cod do this independently in their own login (we didn't use a shared screen) made it easy to move quickly across the timeline and examine multiple things at once if we wanted to. – darkliquid Nov 1 '15 at 9:19
  • Thanks for the suggestion! Not sure it'd be a comfortable game experience though - having clicked through, it looks difficult to determine which cards belong to which "branch" of the trees without actually clicking on the parent and causing them to be highlighted. That makes it difficult to read the game tree without a lot of clicking, particularly once it started to grow significantly. – Frater Nov 2 '15 at 23:52

If the mindmapping approach is what you're interested in you could try https://bubbl.us/ It's free and very flexible :)

  • 1
    Have you used this for microscope before? Does it work? – wax eagle Jun 11 '13 at 20:32
  • 2
    Mind maps have a central node. Microscope timelines do not have a central node, so -1 for that. – SevenSidedDie Jun 11 '13 at 20:58

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.