I think my next campaign pitch, when I'm ready, will be about playing exiles. Inspired by colonial era, and in particular, at least the mythos of Australia as a land where Britain dumped its malcontents and criminals to get them out of the country causing problems. The land was brutal and nasty and actively vicious to the settlers, with flora, fauna, and natives all hostile to the incoming settlers.
Yes, this is hyperbolic exaggeration, but it is at least a nugget of the inspiration.
So what do we need for this?
- We need an empire just arcing into its declining years. Still great, still powerful, but looking at the downward slope. There can't be a current war, or else you'd just draft the malcontents into the armed forces and let them sink or swim, but it is an uneasy peace, else society could just absorb the malcontents' woes in stride and ignore them.
- We need opposition to the Empire, probably a bunch of smaller nations nipping at its borders, the grand war is over; however, the conflicts are still there, brewing. And unless the Empire controls all access to the oceans, they'll have colonies as well.
- We need malcontents. The players would all create characters who bore a grudge against the Empire deep enough that they would at least attend meeting of dissidents, even if they aren't actively working to strike back.
- We need a distant land for the exiles to be banished to, which is inhospitable and dangerous. There also needs to be a reason why the Empire is sending them here, so it'll either need to be on a trade route, of military importance, or have desperately needed resources. I'm thinking the latter might be the easiest for my to deal with - rich in raw goods - ores, lumber, and minerals.
I think I'd kick off the game with the introductory scene of the shackled players being brought off the ship, and then do a flashback to the meeting where things went wrong and the players ended up captured, thrown through a justice system, and banished to the far-away land.
I'd see the game starting with exploration and expansion of the colonies - fight or negotiate with the natives, obtain resources, discover other cultures, and then eventually it would come down to choices for the players - do they flip the Empire the bird and form their own nation, do they take the fight back to the Empire and try to reclaim it for greater glory, or do they make the best of a bad situation and seek to redeem themselves in the eyes of their nation? Or some other option that I don't see.
What else do I want?
- I want pirates. Which means I need trade routes that can be pilfered, and the pilfered goods sold to the other nations.
- I want to limit the races, once upon a time, I read about how limiting a setting to only 10 "monsters" changes the mood. And while I'm not quite that disciplined - I can see myself trying to do the same. Common species are things everyone of a reasonable education and age would know about. Uncommon are ones that much is discussed, but little is known. Rare creatures are the stuff of legends and myths.
- Old Land - Common: [PC Races], Ogres, Sprites, Goblins, Hobgoblins, and Zombies are all common.
- Old Land - Uncommon: Ghoul, Wrath, Griffon, Dopplegangers
- Old Land - Rare: Dragon, Demon, Nightshades
- New Land - Common: Gnoll, Kobold, Lizard Folk, Sprites, Zombies, Sahuagin, Basilisk, Grimlock
- New Land - Uncommon: Ghoul, Wrath, Yuan Ti, Trolls, Chuul, Destrachan (I loved these guys from 3rd Edition)
- New Land - Rare: Dragon, Demon, Nightshades
I can even see a mythology by picking what I want from here - improper buried dead (perhaps all dead must be burned?) rise back up, most rise up as zombies, some rise as ghouls, and a very few rise up as a wrath. We won't speak of what generates a Nightshade. Griffons exist because I want air cavalry, and dopplegangers because shapechanging spies aid in the paranoia. The old land is tamed and less wild, so the creatures represent that, ogres are something more than orcs, less than giants, large machines of destruction, while goblins and hobgoblins are most definitely natural allies.
The new land seems almost a jungle - kobolds, lizard folk, and the yuan ti give a strong lizard theme, while the Sahuagin and Chuul are more aquatic focused; while I see basilisks, grimlocks and the destrachan living in the same ecosystem where two have adapted by having no sight. Trolls replace ogres as the engines of destruction, while Gnolls are my go to for "more savage, but still reasonable" race.