Campaign Model: The Travel Ban
This is a simple layout for a short campaign focused around a theme of travel, classism, and discrimination. The concept is pretty simple. A corrupt and megalomaniacal dictator has imposed a complete ban on traveling into their country from certain other countries, namely those of our players. But our players have life or death emergencies that they cannot be kept from and they will not be deterred.
This campaign works best in a modern or sci-fi setting but can work as well in a fantasy setting in which overland travel is either not feasible or nonexistent and the alternatives are strictly monitored. This model is also well suited to smaller groups with a focus on strong narrative and role-playing.
Setup: The establishment of the premise is vitally important. For this campaign to work you have to really sell the feeling of xenophobia , paranoia, and oppression present in the country the players need to enter. You must make them believe that this totalitarian country or kingdom can and does function at least on some level. A good dictator always needs a scapegoat, an enemy they can fear monger about, a threat to rally others against, and in this case the players find themselves caught in the widely cast net of potential targets.
The other side of that coin is the conveyance of where the players are now. In a campaign filled with propaganda and lies about their starting country, it's crucial that the players are shown the truth of where they're from. What the people are really like, this is vital to the theme of the entire campaign.
Couple with those two ideas the setup must also sell the emotional need to get into the country. each character needs a powerful personal investment. An organ that must be delivered, a child being born, a loved one on a death bed, a war to end. A soldier or interpreter who has served the country loyally, now finding that with their cover blown and enemies on their trail they cannot return home. A parent whose child was sent on the flight before them, now separated. Refugees who promised aid and then, after leaving everything behind, denied it once they've come so far. These characters need something for which they will break the law and risk their very lives for, make it powerful, make it deep.
That's why I highly recommend devoting an entire session to the setup, to playing through each characters introduction, their struggles, and their exploration of their current environment.
The campaign: With the setup established, some or all of the party finds out there are other ways to get around the travel ban, that such a restriction really only keeps out those who follow the law. But using these means will involve violating that law, traveling with criminals, and risking their safety and security. The first step may be following a lead to someone who can produce illegal passports or a similar stand in, and procuring their service. This of course will come at a cost not easily paid by those on the run, the exact details can vary but it should cost them more than cash.
With passports secure, next, travel must be obtained. This might mean boarding an old unreliable ship in cramped fetid quarters, possibly even stowing away. It might mean sneaking across a patrolled border into a neighbouring country that was arbitrarily excluded from the ban. The players could even procure a ride aboard a private aircraft or space ship one way or another. To help heighten the contrast between communities in our opposing countries, consider this travel being procured as an act of charity, a kindness, a sacrifice made by someone else, a gift from a near perfect stranger with a trusting and sympathetic heart. This will perfectly oppose the blind jingoism and paranoia of the other country.
Hardship follows the players and disaster strikes. Their vehicle hijacked, the border erupting in a firefight, their ship attacked by pirates, but one way or another a life or death battle ensues. The players are pushed to the limits of what they're willing to do, willing to endure, for the ones they love, to accomplish their goals.
Finally, the arrival and the last obstacle. The Players reach the country, now they must make their way to their respective goals, possibly facing one more challenge as a group, or perhaps each facing an individual hardship. The country they've come to does not want them, or at the very least the law of the land doesn't. This final challenge can be resolved in a number of ways appropriate to the players and in a way that will satisfy their individual arcs. And with that last challenge completed they may finally enjoy the fruit of their labour, complete the goals they set out for and resolve their stories.
This campaign model uses themes and ideas that are all too real and painful for some people, and while some might consider it insensitive to make a campaign based on these real events I strongly advocate it. The games we play are a part of us, and if we can learn to better explore the tragedies and struggles and triumphs that others around the world are going through, we should grab that opportunity. Interaction is the most powerful method of teaching, and only through teaching and education can we break down the walls that others build out of fear and ignorance.