Every setting should have what is called an “elevator pitch.” If you never heard the term before, it is a quick speech that a writer/producer can pitch to a producer during an elevator ride. It should quickly telegraph exactly what kind of stories you are going to tell in the setting. Just take a look at your favorite TV shows and movies and you can quickly figure out what the elevator pitch was. *Spoiler Warnings* MASH: A bunch of doctors in an army field hospital work to save soldiers and civilians. When they are not working, they are bored out of their skulls and occupy themselves with relationships, practical jokes, and writing letters home. Star Trek: The voyagers of the starship Enterprise are on a 5 year mission to explore strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations. Together they boldly go where no human as gone before. Marvel Cinematic Universe/Avengers: The adventures of Earth’s mightiest heroes. They are each a force powerful enough to deal with serious dangers. However, when they encounter something so powerful that none of them can stop it alone, they put aside personal differences and team up for the good of the world.
This is also true for role playing games. Take the Pathfinder Campaign Setting as an example. The elevator pitch is basically a setting where each country has their own flavor allowing for just about any kind of story to be told there. The god of humanity died when he was foretold to ascend to even greater power. Now the world is in an age of lost omens where prophesy no longer works reliably. How about Eberron? Its elevator pitch is a high magic society run amok. Various magical wars have left some of the landscape barely hospitable yet the people have access to magical equivalent of modern tech such as street lights and high speed transportation.
The obvious question is then, “What about Shadowsfall?” Of course we have an elevator pitch. Here it is. A lich very nearly took over the world when he decided to take on the sun goddess and destory the sun. The after the goddess’ death, the gods destroyed the lich and his phylactories, leaving the undead a leaderless horde. You are one of the survivors, beating back the masses of zombies and skeletons while trying to reestablish civilization.
So how does that pitch make it different from more stand RPG settings like a Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or Pathfinder? In these settings, a common source low-level violence involves raiders, be they human, elf, dwarf, orc, goblin, kobold, gnoll, or whatever. An adventure jumps off from there because the raiders took something and you have to get it back. In Shadowsfall, that source of low-level violence is a horde of skeletons and zombies. Since these can’t take something (unless controlled by an intelligent creature), adventures go in a different direction. Are there too many zombies? You have to get everyone to safety. Do they all bare the markings of the orc tribe your village trades with? You have to go and investigate. Do all the skeletons bare the same arcane symbols to reanimate them? Someone is actively raising them and you have to go find out who and stop them.
Another source of adventure in most campaign settings is delving into ancient ruins looking for treasure. In Shadowsfall, you’re trying to steal food from ancient fields and orchards protected by constructs that can no longer tell living from undead or from fey growing magical mushrooms that can feed anyone that submits to their whims. Political campaigns in standard settings revolve around taking down a corrupt city ruler and getting the backing of the powerful NPCs to install an honest person. Shadowsfall political campaigns involve getting humans, elves, and gnomes, to coordinate their efforts with orcs, hobgoblins, and trolls and getting them to see that working together will help for the greater good.
The Greater Good. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)
What about high level campaigns? Your standard campaign settings frequently fall back on 4 different sources of danger (mixing and matching as desired): giants, dragons, the planes, and undead. Well, one of these is kind of obvious for Shadowsfall. Undead are definitely there. The question then becomes, who or what is the power behind the undead. Is it a powerful wizard or sorcerer that wants to unify the worlds under their rule? Perhaps it is an archkyton that want to keep the people afraid of the undead enough to submit willingly to their torture? Maybe it is a fey lord trying to clear her lands of undead and inadvertently sending them to the mortals? Maybe a construct machine that has seen all the fighting the living and undead have wrought and decided to wipe out the source of the undead by eliminating the living. The possibilities are endless. Sure you can have an undead only campaign but you need a reason behind them or else it will become boring fast. You need to have a conscious mind with clear goals and that is where all the other creatures come in.
Shadowsfall is shaping up to be a fun and exciting place to adventure in. We hope you will join us.
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