Okay, so I was looking at some of those martial-arts fighting games (which I never actually play) and thought that actually there was some good campaign material hidden in there. I am DMing mostly with Pathfinder right now and not long before that I had been reading some posts on the Paizo message boards about gestalt characters. For those of you new to the concept of a gestalt character (as I was until recently), it's where you multi-class, but get all the benefits of all classes at every level. Thus instead of being 10th level with, say, 5 levels of ranger and 5 of druid, you're 10th level with 10 levels of ranger AND 10 levels of druid--simultaneously. Obviously this makes for very powerful characters even with just two classes.
For my fighting game campaign I figured all players (and probably most of their opponents) would start with the monk class. Then, to model the flashy magical powers in these games, PCs would also have the sorcerer class. The different bloodlines of sorcerer are also perfect for differentiating the various big temples which dominate the fighting world. Each temple thus has a supernatural background which imbues power to the monks who live and train there. This immediately provides cool ideas for each temple in terms of their symbols, magical guardian beasts, temple statues, etc.
As per these games (and martial arts movies in general) I assume that the monks are not religious in the sense of following the "ordinary" gods which the common people do. But temples can also have gestalt clerics, oracles, or witches (each combined with the temple's sorcerer type). These "holy ones" can be PC-playable or as useful support NPCs "back at base", depending on whether the DM wants to keep more to a pure fighting game ethos.
For each of the main temples, I pictured large, sprawling complexes with Chinese/Japanese architecture. Most are located, in classic Chinese fashion, on the tops of holy mountains. Some could be deep in bamboo forests or swamps (Serpentine bloodline, for instance) or whatever. The "ordinary world", which will be an oriental type culture, is far below. In addition to the huge mother temple complex, each temple faction will have other lesser temple/monastery sites here and there--including some ruined/abandoned ones, each with it's own story to tell. These lesser temples are handy places for the heroes to rest up, get healed, resupply, gather information, etc. Lesser temples can also each have side quests available, interesting NPCs to fall in love with, etc.
To further the oriental culture theme, one option is to group the temples into clan groups based on the Five Directions (east, south, west, north, and center). Each clan group is united against outsiders but has plenty of intra-clan intrigue and rivalry. Clan groupings makes it easy to add a political dimension and also to have big martial arts tournaments, both intra-clan and inter-clan; individual temples will, of course, have contests/duels between competing members.
The next step was to review the bloodlines available in Pathfinder to see which would fit this campaign concept. I finally decided on these 20 (not because I wanted 20, it just ended up that way):
- Deep Earth
Having twenty makes it possible to divide them up into four per Clan, or you could have varying numbers of three to five per clan to allow more flavor. Some of these bloodlines are more "evil" (undead, oni, infernal, etc.) and so you could declare them NPC-only if desired. For my campaign I figured on breaking the main list into ten "good guy" temples and ten "bad guy" ones. (Not that the "good guys" won't spend plenty of time facing off in duels and tournaments to put fist to face, but not usually to the death.) The "good guy" bloodlines available to the players would be this list, which allows for plenty of variety:
- Deep Earth
This creates a decision point for the DM: must all players decide on one common bloodline/temple or will each come from a different temple? I figured that it would be more fun for players to each pick their own temple. Few things suck more as a player than being stuck playing something you don't want to play. Then, for the campaign, you can posit that the players' temples have recently suffered a series of setbacks (assassinations, ambushes, suspicious tournament defeats, mysterious plagues, etc.), thus forcing them to put aside petty differences and band together for survival. The players' group is assembled by their temples as a symbol of the new alliance. Each player thus has the heavy burden of upholding his/her temple's honor before the representatives of the other temples (and so an honor point system would be very useful here). Another option is for each of the home temples to have hidden agendas, with players given various secret missions for the head abbot--naturally these will result in conflicts and give players secrets which they must guard.
The players will initially head out on missions, given perhaps by a guiding council which has a representative from each of the alliance temples. Later, as they move up in level, they will begin to follow up on plot lines and leads on their own. Naturally, there will be a big meta plot that one of the "evil" temples/clans is behind the recent spate of attacks on their home temples as a plan for world domination. The main plot line will of course be punctuated with frequent duels and tournaments, including player-vs-player bouts if desired. A possible plot twist is to later have their home temples wiped out, the survivors scattered, leaving the group to carry on alone to avenge and perhaps rebuild.
Interaction with the mundane world would be optional, the monks of the temples being so powerful that their concerns transcend those of ordinary mortals. However, the political leaders of the mundane world will naturally approach the powerful temples for assistance with various problems and thus perhaps ensnare the group in worldly politics. Interaction with normal people is also useful for character development, forcing moral choices, introducing forbidden romance, etc.
As monks they would have no need of money and any magic items encountered will be appropriate to the campaign (no magical plate armor, etc.). One could assume that they get free room, board, and other facilities at their temples and are typically treated as honored guests wherever they travel in the ordinary world--based on the honorable reputation of the PCs and their home temples.
So, anyway, I think that's a pretty cool campaign concept. I'm hoping Paizo will come out with more
Oriental Adventures, err, Dragon Empires material for just such an oriental-themed campaign. Actually, they basically have enough oriental stuff already to run it (although I might need the Bestiary 3 for the oriental-themed critters).