When Do I Peel Back The Cosmic Curtain In My Campaigns?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0958


Grand campaigns take characters from weaklings to near demi-gods. Intrigue campaigns have shadowy layers with a central truth hidden deep in the core. Mega-plot campaigns have a pyramid of villains and factions piled atop each other like an Ikea storage unit.

How do we know what truths to reveal? When do we reveal them?

I’ve found an early reveal gives players too much information and distracts them from the task at hand. They focus on the big picture and get overwhelmed or paralyzed with indecision. They want direction.

But being cheap with the info-bombs creates a grind, a hamster wheel. Players lose purpose and become fatigued. They want more plot advancement.

How do you pace the players’ greater awareness of the biggest possible picture?

From Micro To Macro

I’m reading Master of the Game by Gary Gygax right now. Lots of good GMing nuggets there.

In the milieu chapter he puts the onion onto a spectrum. On one end is the Microcosm. The smallest view of the campaign, world, and universe in which the characters operate.

At the other end lies the Macrocosm. High level PCs conflicting with Cthulhu, confronting the true nature of reality, or traversing a muli-galaxy plot.

Between extremes lie several levels or tiers. He did not give names to these tiers, but I think of it like this:??

  • Microcosm — Rats in the cellar
  • Micro Adventure — A plot
  • Macro Adventure — The villain, a front
  • Micro Campaign — The villain’s boss, multi-adventure
  • Macro Campaign — Save the world
  • Macrocosm — Cthulhu

Game system and genre will change the tiers for your Grand Campaign. It doesn’t matter what the layers are. It just matters there’s an increasing scale of stakes, conflicts, and power levels.

Slowly Reveal The Next Tier

To help you decide when to reveal a bigger truth and how, you find the tier you’re on and reveal the one above it.

If the characters are looking into the disappearances of beggars (Micro Adventure), you start teasing out clues about the villain (Macro Adventure).

As the characters pursue the villain across the empire, you reveal machinations of the emperor.

At each layer PCs get glimpses of the next, encouraging them onward.

Players might start connecting dots two or three layers higher, which is great. They’ll be pulling along the party to confirm their ideas. But at the character level, you stay in scope for game balance and keep revealing glimpses of just the next tier, throttling scale to keep challenges doable. Before next session, decide what tier your game is currently at. Then make plans for just the next tier and start dropping the clues and making the connections.