Campaign Themes

As a player gains archetypes to help define their characters, a GM gains campaign themes to help define their campaign.

Campaign themes take the form of one, central, positive vs. negative conflict that is often slightly metaphysical or at least broadly mythological in nature. This theme can be imposed by a GM as a ground rule, or may arise from the selection of the players. One side is generally assumed to be the player characters, the "protagonists," while the other side is where the villains lay. The villain's "one-winged angel form" is generally related to their side of the conflict fairly blatantly, while the characters' "super plot device" is generally related to theirs. Note that while other conflicts may be present (and even take the form of themes), one conflict should be considered the core of the campaign, and so become the governing force. There's more than enough time to resolve some side-conflicts, but they should not take center stage for long.

Though the characters tend to represent overly positive forces (life, freedom, nature, etc.), it is entirely possible to flip the conflict around, and, indeed, this can make for a more interesting set-up. Advice is provided for both.

#1: Life vs. Death

Overall: One of the oldest conflicts known to exist, this is the preservation of continued existence in the face of the possibility of non-existence. This may be the cliche "heroes who save the world vs. villain who destroys the world" writ very blatantly, but it may also be a more subtle take on it, such as "heroes who preserve the natural order vs. villain who wants to achieve immortality," or "heroes who just want a normal life vs. villains who want to commit genocide," or even "heroes who were foretold to fail vs. villains who were foretold to succeed."
Heroes As Life: They reprent rebirth, healing, resurrection, protection, love and families. The PC's may include many defense-oriented jobs, such as breakers, paladins, or devouts, and they'll likely include energetic, youthful archetypes that focus on elements of romance and protection. PC's in this game may have extended family members still present: resist the GM's urge to kidnap them all the time.
Heroes As Death: When death is the heroic force in the game, it is held out as the better alternative. The PC's may usher people onto their eternal rest, or may be responsible for ending things that should have been slain long ago. The PC's will gravitate more toward dark, aggressive characters, such as wizards, dark knights, and ninjas. PC's may be outcasts, feared and persecuted in such a game, or
Villains As Life: When evil is the "constructive" force in the game, it is usually building up for a bigger fall. Villains may keep people alive to enslave them, to use their life-force for their own ends, or they may be protecting and healing a wicked force, focusing on the resurrection of some ancient long-dead evil, or the birth of some hell-spawned demon. The villain may also be persuing immortality himself, with the PC's being the only hope at ending his unnatural existence.
Villains As Death: The usual "kill kill kill" villains are well and good and easy enough to do, but for a more empathic villain, you may want to consider a tragic tale that lets them see life taken from them (and so who wants to inflict death on the world). Dead lovers or murdered families can give a strong impetus, and if the PC's are involved in the tragic instance, it loans particular power to it. The villain may also have been exposed to death through his work: think of a creature created to wage war, who has done nothing but kill, and so has grown to want to stop killing by killing EVERYONE.
Examples: The original epic of Gilgamesh has an interesting twist on "Heroes As Life," because Gilgamesh ultimately fails to achieve immortality. While such a downer ending might not be very apt for an FFZ campaign, it can work for an adventure: a quest to achieve immortality for the PC's that ultimately fails. One might consider the robots of the Matrix trilogy "Villains As Life," keeping humans alive in vats for their own health and well-being. Though the ultimate conflict in that was about Freedom, the idea of a life lived only to serve evil can be part of a Villains As Life game. Similarly, a game that revolves around undead and necromancy may be a classic Heroes as Death game, where the re-animated corpses of the dead serve as an example of perverted life. You can keep a sense of "PC's as outcsts" in such a campaign by making necromancy a sort of technology: people re-animate beloved pets and the rich keep zombie servants and resurrection is available to the highest bidder, and the PC's are trying to undo all this, to ruin society, and to overthrow the social order, just becuase the necormantic technology that the populous uses happens to be completely evil. This can have some similarities to a Nature vs. Technology campaign or a Freedom vs. Order game in this way.

#2: Friendship vs. Independence

Overall: Humans are very social beasts, but we negotiate that social interaction very carefully, and for good reason: when we depend on others, we rely on people that might not live up to our own expectations, who might limit us, control us, and hem us in. Likewise, they're going to depend on us, limiting what we can do, and expanding our sphere of responsibility. This conflict is ultimately about how close we can get to others without getting hurt, and about how close we can let others get to us, without letting them become a burden.
Heroes as Friendship: Because the PC party represents a few united individuals, they often find themselves on the side of friendship, simply because they need a modicum of it to work together in the first place. Friendship is a stronger theme when the PC's have good social skills (high Charisma and Wisdom), and when they choose jobs that enhance their allies (such as the devout, the dancer, or the bard).
Villains as Independence: The loner is dangerous. Off by herself, running mercenary for her own interests and without regard for others, she is an icon of selfishness and self-interest, more than willing to let the entire world fall apart just to get her goal. She may delight is causing havoc between relationships as well, making people mistrust one another, and planting the seeds of doubt and betrayal in otherwise loyal and confident allies.
Heroes as Independence: Sometimes, the

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