The world of the Spirits of Eden offers a number of possible campaign experiences, and the ones provided here are by no means all that can be done within the setting. These are some of the styles I think of when I think about the Spirits of Eden. Elements from all of them can be used or rejected to suit your tastes and those of your players.
The Mythological Campaign
A Mythological campaign is one in which the otherworldly magic of the setting is played up as a predominant theme. There is less emphasis on realism and more on fantasy, whimsy, drama and heroism. In the mythological campaign, the PCs are seemingly ordinary people with seemingly ordinary problems who are in reality great and powerful heroes when faced with adversity, and who’s adventures will take them to places few can have claimed to see and allow them to meet larger-than-life characters and even deities in the flesh. A “small” problem like a kidnapping can become greatly compounded.
Spirits in a mythological campaign, even those which are ultimately helpful and benign, are played up as being mysterious, capricious entities. They might dress strangely or with a mind to a certain symbolism – a creature in a national military uniform for example – and their personalities might not be superficially fitting to the power they wield. They suffer from human faults, such as jealousy, naivety, greed, and it is these traits which put them into conflict with (or on the side of) the PCs.
Some spirits, typically those lesser ones but perhaps others too, might not “act their age” or behave “rightly” for their station. Their motives, outlook and behavior should be alien and bizarre to the players, sometimes even humorous or satirical in certain ways. It may become difficult for players to take some of the events seriously, but if you have imaginative players, they should find no need to “suspend disbelief” in the face of these things. Such a thing is mostly irrelevant to the mythological campaign. You begin with a framework where the story, in spite of being fitting to its setting, is unrealistic by many other standards. That must be accepted before you can continue. Let loose the anchor of reality and dare to dream, and you will greatly enjoy the game.
You can draw inspiration from myths and epic stories, such as the Indian Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, or from Greek mythology. The labors of Hercules, the tale of Lord Rama and Hanuman, all can spark the imagination for the epic tale of your mythological campaign. All of these contain heroes who do extraordinary, superhuman deeds against overwhelming foes when faced with problems that are ultimately very human in nature.
One thing to look out for in such a campaign are the Taboos the character’s believe in, particularly the fact that they may be cursed if they kill a Spirit. Only the most villainous of spirits should be slain. Virtuous heroes should see that the mythological evil of the campaign is the true oppressor – or that, perhaps, it is all a tragedy of human faults, and the virtuous heroes will set things right without any death, much to their own glory. This can be relaxed or made stricter still depending on the game, but generally, a “kill everything and loot the corpses” mantra should not permeate this kind of campaign.
The “Wuxia” Hero Campaign
Wuxia is a genre of Chinese fiction which emphasizes martial arts, personal honor and heroic justice, and superhuman stunts performed in combat with similarly-skilled foes. Wuxia also emphasizes a mythological land where heroes wander and deliver justice and uphold the peace. In the Spirits of Eden, this mythological land can easily exist as a metaphorical concept. Despite their being a world of the people, with national and local governments, the transient PCs travel their own land of heroes that is socially and ideologically apart from this normal world, even if it overlaps geographically.
A Wuxia campaign in Eden would emphasize errant, but well-traveled and connected, and highly skilled PCs who, as they travel, or when they settle somewhere, right wrongs or form rivalries that lead to drama and action. Each PC should be a different class and fighting style, with his or her own weapon, different powers and different focus or role. Not just because the game is better balanced that way, but because thematically, the heroes of Wuxia stories showcase a wide range of interesting martial arts. This element should not exclude exclusively ranged attackers – theirs is its own kind of style, and in a group filled with martial artists, they can stand out and cover an obvious weakness.
Chivalry and honor are major parts of the Wuxia tradition. The PCs help those who are helpless against wrongs done to them, or they quest to restore their own reputations or honor, or protect their country from a great threat. Yet, not all battles are to the death, even among bitter enemies or rivals. Not all battles call for the full strength of a character or enemy. And also, chivalry and honor don’t necessarily mean that uncouthness is unwarranted. Don’t restrain the character’s personalities, but do remind them that they are heroes who do battle for what is right in the world – even if they are drunken womanizers who love gold.
Not all battles are winnable. Some odds may require the PCs to train themselves harder and discover new techniques and skills, or find ways to counter the style and techniques brought to bear by the enemy. You should design your enemies with liberally strange drawbacks, such as having them take more damage from certain weapons or having lower defenses against certain styles.
PCs should be free to name and describe their techniques and skills as they want and come up with elaborate backstory for their family or clan, their fighting style and their selves. However, they should not radically alter their fighting styles once they have begun the game, as that is a great part of who they are in a Wuxia campaign.
Inspirations for such campaigns abound, as Wuxia has become more popular. Movies like Hero, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The House of Flying Daggers and a multitude others are readily available to draw from. Don’t feel restricted to purely Chinese concepts either. Japanese Bushido and Samurai tales, in animated, film and comic book form, and even the typical Knights and their chivalry we are all so used to in our western fantasy novels, can be drawn from to add to the campaign.
The “Tourism” Campaign
The world of Eden is very large and very connected. Only the islands really require a vessel to be reached. It is possible (and indeed, quite probable) that some adventurers have footed paths through each nation, experiencing all the major cities and sites. Indeed, this is a very viable “sandbox” campaign style in which the player’s only real goal, perhaps other than fame or wealth, is to travel across the world where their whims might take them, perhaps performing jobs to pay their way around.
Quite easily, this campaign style can also be referred to as a “wilderness” campaign, because a lot of Adel is mostly rural. The PCs could travel through vast plains and farmland, deep forest, they will certainly see many villages. Each Nation has a few large, iconic cities of its own where the urban sprawl holds many opportunities, wonders and secrets of its own – but the spirit’s wilds are what the players will see most of the time.
The campaign could even take the party to the different “planes” of Eden, such as the Forlorn Void, Septinum and the Second Skies, all of which have their own conception of city centers, monuments and landmarks. Their only limitation is their resources, and their own self-restraint. As a GM, offer interesting characters and different ideas wherever your players might go. Highlight (perhaps even exaggerate) the cultural traits of each Nation and location to give them very distinct feelings. Emderuer and Sargasso might both be nations founded on honor and piety – but Emderuer’s monarchy is not directly tied to its church. Use those details to construct different adventures in each area.
Your PC’s travel circumstances should change to spice things up. Maybe at some point they do have a vessel and can travel wherever they please. Maybe they befriend a large flying spirit or a dragon that can give them a ride. Maybe they don’t want any of that – maybe they just want to foot it everywhere. You should be ready to offer them dangerous locations to foot it through so they might find excitement wherever they choose to go. And when they decide to settle down somewhere, find the time to give them peace and let them get to know the place and form connections to its people before they leave again.
The style of this campaign will probably become very episodic, and that is perhaps its appeal. Rather than a long overarching plot, the game follows smaller plots the PCs more or less define the beginnings and conclusions of. Secondary characters can come and go, and even the player’s own characters can come and go, allowing them chances to try different characters and classes in different situations and locales, if everyone is willing to put in the work to make and keep track of that many characters.
Eventually, the PCs should have a chance settle for good or to find a greater meaning to their character’s lives than traveling around, giving the campaign a tighter focus in its last few adventures than it had throughout the rest. They could settle down as high clergy or nobles, or even ascend to become Spirits.
The Horror Campaign
Crazed spirits, dark swamps and abandoned forest holds, aberrant ruins, all can lend a Spirits of Eden feel to horror. Emphasize the unknowable whims of evil spirits and their dark origins. Perhaps the lord of a secluded elven manor, a racist, cynical wizard, died in some horrible way and became a monster, or was driven mad by the discovery of an aberrant object (or even a true aberration) and has become a cultist, attracting spirits and monsters to his land. Perhaps an old necromancer seeks the lore of Kaehma to unleash a horrible plague of madness and undeath upon the countryside.
Build dread and don’t be afraid to hurt PCs. Have them lose health instantly from coming into contact with horrible beings. Tax their resources and push their limits. Isolate them from help and harry them even in rest. Make them discard any taboos and honors they held dear in order to survive. Something is said of those who hunt monsters, after all. But if they survive, give them a chance to return to the beautiful, peaceful world they knew. Emphasize the contrasts between their horrible experience and the rest of the world. Draw from Lovecraft, Poe, and those who draw from them, like Stephen King.
The Intrigue Campaign
The politicking in the cities of Adel is not be underestimated despite the relative peace of the world. Senators of Andaliel are given gifts and boons from locals in exchange for favorable legislation and patronage. Voting fraud could be organized in small, isolated villages in Andaliel also. In the monarchies, noblemen scheme against each other to discredit, humiliate or defeat one another, games in which their whole families and friends are used as cards to be drawn with the appropriate hand.
In Sargasso, the inquisitors subtly build cases against suspected heretics believed to be dangerous, stringing them along in secret tests of their piety and loyalty, tempting them until they outright choose heresy and are caught, whoever they might be, and tortured back into line – or killed – in ways reminiscent of the Inner Party’s dealings in the Orwell novel 1984. In Vedaria, rebel movements stir beneath the surface, hoping to bring Andalian freedom to the desert, but can they win? Should they win, putting freedom over the prosperity and national power that Vedaria’s totalitarian state grants its citizens?
Wherever there is marked presence of institution, such as government, royalty, mercantile interest or clergy, there is bound to be a chance for intrigue, espionage and battles of words and wits. Facilitate the purchase of items, usage of magic and acquisition of skills that work subtly, and make the consequences of drawn weapons and outright attacks known – but allow chance for honorable duels and challenges to be played out, if someone wants a bit of an action kick.
The Swashbuckling Campaign
This campaign type hardly needs much introduction.
Adel is surrounded by an endless ocean with few features – but closer to Adel, the potential for a swashbuckling adventure still exists. The islands off of Sargasso and Periterim are numerous and vague enough to be whatever you require, and the Meridian River’s branches within Adel are all a large enough body of water for adventure to occur.
Piracy, romance, high adventure, and thrilling escapades are more than possible in the tropical nations and islands on the map, off the coasts of Andaliel, Sargasso, Selvage and Periterim. You could even host a Swashbuckling campaign in the vast deserts of Vedaria, using magical vessels that sail the sands like an ocean. But in the places more removed from Adel, culture can be as you want for it to be, and all the locations are completely your own to control. You can combine the swashbuckling tradition with elements of Eden mythology or Wuxia, or even Horror, to come up with an interesting and flavorful game.