Keep On The Borderlands
I imagined the classic Keep On The Borderlands as, well ... see if you can guess.
There's the magical kingdom of Goodkingdom. They are the biggest, most powerful nation in all the world.
One day, in the far-off land of Badplace, a great evil arose: JoeBob the Necromancer. Striking out with his undead horde, he allied with the leaders of Badplace, the vile cultists of the chaos god ... idk, Loofah? Loofah the chaos god. Sure. Why not.
Together they raised a great ball of hellfire, and lobbed it right into the lands of Goodkingdom. It razed the town of ... uh ... Nyork. Thousands dead, women and children. The entire kingdom thrown into disarray.
A war was the only response. Goodkingdom sent its legions to Badplace.
THE WAR RAGED. Eventually JoeBob was forced to retreat into the his mountain fortress, and the vile cultists were knocked out of power.
Goodkingdom swore to bring peace and serenity to Badplace. The king ordered his legions to build keeps, along the frontier, to protect the good people of Badplace from the vile cultists and the undead armies of JoeBob.
That was ... 200 years ago. Kings of Goodkingdom have come and gone, Badplace remains occupied, and while the bards sing of the great victory of Goodkingdom over evil, the people still bear the burden of fighting the endless war. The kings of Goodkingdom fear retreating from Badplace; especially as long as JoeBob is alive, and the vile cultists still control large pieces of land (even if it's in the mountainous regions). No one lives who saw Nyork destroyed but it remains a potent cultural touchstone.
JoeBob and the vile cultists remain in power in the harder to access regions and launch attacks against the "invaders". Sometimes, an allied local warlord will suddenly change sides and attack the peacekeeper legions, and a campaign will take months to defeat the traitor and regain the territory.
And so, every spring, the lords of Goodkingdom send their militia to Castle Goodkingdom, where they are sworn into the legions. And they make their long journey to Badplace, usually at the peak of the so-called "fighting season", where they are thrown into battle having barely seen the ground they will fight on. Those that live to winter will bundle up against the harsh winds, behind the keep walls, leaving only when necessary for forage or to assist the locals. Then as the snows begin to melt, the new recruits arrive ...
It is at one of these keeps on the borderlands that our story starts.
I wanted to make a couple of points right now, on the chance this post somehow gets noticed. Yes, this is "fantasy Afghanistan", obviously.
"So you're saying (Muslims, Islam, the Pashtun people, etc) are vile cultists, huh? Pretty fucking racist/Islamaphobic".
Well, no. I'm not saying that at all.
I know that use of any kind of trope, when even loosely mapped to real-world people/places/events, can be instantly problematic. The problem is, if our goal is a war story, then we're going to have "good guys" and "bad guys". Second, while not elaborated above, a good story arc over the course of a campaign is "perhaps the vile cultists aren't what we think they are". You could have stories focused on diplomacy and interaction, and build a better backstory about the "vile cultists", as opposed to having them just be spear-fodder.
The other reason is, a modern gaming trope is "the more factions the better". So we want "our heroes", the "big bad", and then as many others as we can shoehorn in. Having the game just be "killing lots of zombies and casting Turn Undead over and over" isn't very fun. Adding in another faction, especially one whose loyalties are perhaps fluid, makes for more fun.
So no, I am not trying to map "Islam" to "bad", and yes, I am aware of the risks of doing that in any fantasy version of real-world events. Fuck, we're still arguing about Tolkien doing it!
One of the rejected ideas (that I might bring back if I ever get to run this) is to have at least part of the population of Badplace be Orcs: specifically at least 2 different factions. Maybe they were the original inhabitants of Badplace, colonized by the vile cultists. I really want to do a game with Orc politics, where some are on the side of the PCs, some are of shifting loyalties, and still others are antagonists - but maybe for more complicated reasons than "just evil".
Another idea I had for this game is to replace "levels" with "ranks". Since the PCs are assumed to be members of the military, they would be promoted, not "gain levels". Another idea is a kind of base-building and resource-management minigame. Keeps are just FOBs, and supply is hard.