Are you feeling stuck in the campaign setting you’re running, or just looking for a new type of campaign? If you’ve played as many pen & paper sessions as I have, you already know that this can become an all too common occurrence. Never fear! Whether you’re a GM looking to jump start an aging campaign, or a player looking to inspire your Game Master with something new, I’ve got you covered with a handful of unique and interesting campaign twists.
I searched outside the normal campaign settings for inspiration and ideas on how to keep campaigns spicy, and compiled a list of the most interesting ones, just for you!
This is a Grim & Gritty survival horror game. Paranoia, resource management, and basic survival skills will be themes to play on. Like any good zombie story, you need to keep the players guessing. How did the outbreak happen? How widespread is it? Is their a cure or rare immunity? When you do start revealing what happened, consider the following causes of the outbreak in a fantasy setting: a necromancer (lich), an evil wizard, or demon lord. Any one of these could control an army of undead creatures, or unleash a plague or curse that has spread across the land and controls large portions of the population.
The zombies could act like normal NPCs until something triggers their undead nature. This will make the players paranoid about meeting new people and keep them on their toes. In addition, the zombies could keep attacking even after their hit points are reduced to zero. They might require a beheading, or to be set on fire to guarantee their permanent defeat. This would make for interesting scenarios where the players must figure out – perhaps mid-battle – “how do we destroy these creatures?”
Another idea would be to make the zombies appear only at night, leaving survivors to scramble for supplies and shelter during the day. Heavily civilized areas would be particularly dangerous, and perhaps the only way to cure the disease could be to kill the vampire or lich that rules the Capitol that has become a Necropolis. Borrowing from the lore of Warcraft, you could have the undead “awaken” only after their leader is destroyed. Now self-aware of their existence and guilt, maybe they will form their own nation to right the wrongs they committed under the rule of their former dictator.
Another place to go for ideas on where to start is the D&D setting Dark Sun. Find inspiration from Mad Max, Borderlands, and the Wild West. The idea here is a campaign based around scarce resources, like equipment, items, food, water, and even magic.
This type of campaign is good for first time DMs and experienced ones alike. The desert theme lets you focus on the basics of running a game, while also giving experienced players a chance to be more creative in doing more with less. The players have to figure out how to get from point A to point B through the scorching heat of the day and the freezing cold of the night. They need to find supplies to survive. Quickly the players will learn to scavenge everything they find because bartering might be the only way to get crucial supplies in a local town.
One of the drawbacks of running this type of game is that the point could be missed if the players are not prepared for the hardships of a wasteland. In this setting, NPCs would be less trusting and more deceitful than in most other fantasy games. Monsters would need to be more extreme to survive the harsh environment. Bandits and gangs rule the wasteland as guards, and royalty is far from common. Dungeons hidden beneath the desert sands could contain great secrets, though, and might make all the hardships worthwhile…
While I chose the desert for this example, this theme could be applied to any type of brutal environment. You could set your environment to anything from extreme ice, overgrown tropics, or volcanic wastelands.
One of my all time favorite setting twist is time travel. With the thrill of Back to the Future, humor of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and the scale of Terminator, time travel can be an extremely fun and rewarding mechanic for the DM and players alike.
There are many ways to implement time travel. My personal favorite involves having one of the players get stuck in the past and letting the other players figure out how to get her back. This can be a useful tactic for a DM if one of your players is absent but everyone else still wants to play. Have the absent player’s character be taken away, missing, or by some stroke of bad luck, fall through a portal. Another method is to have all the players be sent to the future by an unknown force. Once there, they get a taste of things to come if events and conflicts in their present time continue.
In the realm of games, time should be linear and always moving forward, similarly to how Chrono Trigger handles it. If an event happens in one time, it is now the history of that time period. Don’t allow players to travel to the moment before what they just did; their actions won’t have any consequences.
All of these techniques can be used against the players as well. Any of these things can be used by NPCs to counter the players, or just as an unintended consequence of them going back in time. For example, the players might invest in a business in the past to make a fortune in the future. This could backfire in a number of ways, such as a robbery, a tragic accident, or hostile takeover. In this case the heroes will have to help their descendants fix the calamity that ensues.
What other interesting and unique campaigns have you run?