What the hell is an exploded-view campaign?

What the hell is an exploded-view campaign?

Well met, reader.

If you're reading this, you're probably at least somewhat familiar with tabletop role-playing games. Perhaps you're watched Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, or you backed the Avatar: The Last Airbender Kickstarter but have been afraid to try to play it. You may have seen shelves of books, so many, many, books.

These books are a little different. They aren't describing a setting, although there is only one universe presented. They are not a system, although the campaign described utilized the Invisible Sun game, albeit at times deviating from it severely. And they do not consist of adventure modules or a campaign in which you can reasonably expect to have your own table experience the same story with the same arcs and beats.

The goal with these books is to perform an autopsy upon a specific campaign, using it's successes and failures to demonstrate how you can make a satisfying, player-driven, improvisational campaign. An exploded view diagram is something that engineers use to present on a single page the different parts that would otherwise obscure each other in a mechanical device while maintaining their relative relationships.

Every part of these books—side characters, locations, rules of magic, theories of the universe—is deeply informed by the specific player characters that resided in this world and even more so by the players who piloted them. There will be dangling threads and loose ends that are never quite tied up, and for that I hope you will forgive me. They have not been cleaned up, because what we hope to reveal in this is the process, not merely the outcome.

These books are, in some ways, a response to years of mentoring despairing gamemasters who, having poured their hearts into memorizing rules, building entire worlds, and attempting to balance perfectly the challenges they plotted to their players' characters' skills, found their plans failed to survive their first encounter with the enemy players.

Many roleplaying games implicitly encourage an asymmetrical relationship, in which the gamemaster alone presents the authoritative depictions of the world. By preparing less and talking to your players more, room is made for their own contributions to its lore, and where players spend attention can become where the plot is.

This book exists in three strata. The core of it is a narrative; it's a novel, of a sort. It is the narrative of the campaign that existed from 2019-2023, that cycled through 13 players, 3 of which persisted from beginning to end.

Around that core is a commentary: footnotes and sidebars and marginalia and essays that detail how, in each moment, we were responsive to the needs of the characters, the players, and the narrative, in co-creating an epic tale of surrealist fantasy.

Finally, it is supplemented throughout with material that is yours for the taking, in part or in whole, for your own games in which I hope you are outrageously daring and creative. This will include custom mechanics, practical tips, non-player characters, creatures, institutions, conflicts, and nonsense.

While I anticipate that gamemasters will most benefit from all three strata, all are welcome, and I hope you feel free to ignore as much as you like; if all you wish to do is poach, poach; if all you wish to read is the narrative, read away.

I hope you'll be encouraged by how much can be salvaged from such mediocre efforts, appreciative for the mountain of ideas that are free for the taking, and emboldened to let go a little and allow your players to surprise you. Let the aleatory elements of the game inform where your story leads.

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Jordan & Tyler Peacock

Jordan Peacock

Jordan Peacock