I was talking with some gaming friends the other day and we got onto the topic of people being turned to stone (e.g. by a Medusa-type monster) and then back again (e.g. by a Stone to Flesh type spell). We agreed that aside from any wear and tear you receive while as a statue, being turned to stone (and back again) would actually be a great way to time travel (once, one direction only), because it would carry you almost un-aged into the future.
We also talked about the possibility of using this conceit as the basis for an RPG campaign: the PCs suddenly awaken in a cave somewhere to discover that they have been recovered from a collection of petrification victims. There’s a lot of room for variation and customization.
- When do the adventurers wake up? Have mere days passed since they were caught and turned to stone? Years? Centuries? More importantly – what has changed? Was a battle lost? Has a kingdom fallen? Has the outside landscape been changed beyond recognition, or has it changed just enough to catch the player characters off-guard and undermine their expectations? It’s the perfect excuse to set up a party of blank-slate adventurers whose ignorance and uncertainty about the game-world matches that of the players.
- On a related note, how have the PCs changed? Did the petrification and recarnation leave any lasting physiological or mental effects? Did erosion ruin most of their clothing and equipment? (If so, perhaps their faces were saved by having been wearing masks? I do like the idea of a group of adventurers wearing masks that are supposed to protect them against the Medusa’s gaze, but which turned out to be a total ripoff….) For that matter, did a flawed Stone to Flesh change all of their clothing and equipment into sheets and chunks of meat? Conversely, did the patron who freed them leave them material gifts or information as well? It’s the perfect excuse to start the party out with any collection of stats, conditions, and equipment you want.
- For that matter, who freed the PCs, and why, and what are they doing next? Is it a magically powerful but physically frail individual who can act as the party’s patron and quest-giver? Is it a bad guy who intends to use them as pawns through manipulation or bribery? A neutral party who simply asks for a favor in return? Do they reveal themselves immediately, or is their identity a mystery for the PCs to unravel? Are they even alive when the party finds them? It’s the perfect excuse to set up a mystery and let investigation be the fall-back activity for the players while the campaign gets into gear.
- I’m envisioning this setup as the starting point of a campaign, but do you want to use it in a different way? This sort of discontinuity would be the perfect excuse for a massive content or even genre change in your regular campaign: you could shift between dramatically different levels of technology or magic; you could shift genres from high fantasy or horror, low fantasy to superhero comedy, or anything else you want. (Obviously it’d be best to consult with the rest of the group before making this kind of change in the middle of a campaign.)
What comes to my mind is the party being left groggy by their return to the land of the living and finding themselves in a cave or other defensible position of some kind, along with a crowd of other victims. These other characters can act as a pool of backup characters in case of PC death, but they can also provide limited support, and will definitely provide a goal: taking care of the community. Their base has some resources and clearly has the potential to be developed into a self-sustaining colony, assuming X, Y, and Z can be gathered from outside.
On venturing out of their base, the PCs find that the landscape is unrecognizable, and studying the stars (or other clues) reveals that centuries have passed. Some disaster has erased the world they knew and rendered the landscape hostile, so that adventuring (the game itself) is necessary. Each game session is the colony’s away team going on a mission to eliminate some threat, overcome some obstacle, gather some resources, or solve some mystery.
One such mystery is that of their benefactor, who left before the initial grogginess wore off. A meta-arc for their adventures, if they choose to pursue the thread, can be in hunting down clues in order to find and confront whoever it was. I’m kind of leaning toward a morally complex figure who has enemies somewhere else in the area and who figured that the colony would provide a check or balance to that enemy’s power – i.e. using the PCs for selfish ends, but in a relatively passive way without direct manipulation or control. A hermit who lives in a deep mountain valley, or a shape-shifting mythical creature who hides in plain sight within the colony itself, are attractive options.
Beyond this, I’m imagining a sandbox campaign: a map to explore, with challenges and threats to overcome. Here and there are resources to gather, ranging from tools and weapons to magical secrets to raw materials to domesticable animals to people who could be recruited to bolster the ranks of the colony. Other groups of sentient beings inhabit the landscape, far enough away that they can be left alone if the party isn’t interested in interacting, but close enough to negotiate or fight with them if desired. Multiple groups with varied natures and resources and conflicting interests could help ensure engaging faction play.
Major factions should probably be nonhuman, in order to discourage the PCs from simply trying to merge the colony into a preexisting faction community – centaurs, giants, lizard-people, sentient animated skeletons. This is an excellent opportunity to play up the weirdness of the territory being explored; meanwhile, the home colony provides both a contrasting sense of “normalcy” and opportunities to do a little base-management play.
In the end, this whole thing is just a little conceit to get the ball rolling; most of the work of making this into a sandbox campaign would be in building the sandbox: drawing maps, placing obstacles and inhabitants and rewards, and then actually running the dang thing. But you could probably do worse in terms of setup.
A variant for you trope-benders out there: the Sleeping Beauties. A party of freakin’ princesses who were ensorceled and entombed years ago and now have to fight to win back their kingdom(s) while also babysitting a hapless prince – he freed them and is now insisting that one or perhaps all of the party marry him. Allies include a clan of dwarves, of course. Bonus points if all the PCs are magic-users and the final confrontation against the witch-queen is less a knock-down fight than a complex, protracted magery duel.