Over at From the Sorcerer's Skull, Trey has an idea for a spooky season campaign setting that really intrigues me.
Trey wrote: "the world that the players' would know and explore is a sort of mythic forest, a dark fairytale sort of woodland with no apparent beginning or end." Rather than being heroes or conquerors, the "adventurers are wanderers in the wood, dealing with the things the forest brings them."
But the detail that stood out to me most was this - the forest-dwellers cannot remember the past. They don't know the history of the forest, they don't even necessarily remember the history of themselves. "Memory, like everything else, gets swallowed by the forest."
Imagine you have a certain number of lines of backstory on your character sheet. Simple, declarative sentences.
Maybe they have a mechanical benefit, like you can invoke them for advantage or inspiration. They could represent skills or contacts, life history events that grant you abilities. Or maybe they just define who you are, who you were, before the forest.
And then, as you play, they start to vanish. Maybe at the start of each session one goes away? You wake up, as though from a dream, no clear memory of how you got here. Just a sense that you chose this, even if it was a mistake. Perhaps a sense that you'd like to leave, that you have unfinished business somewhere else, even though the forest is everywhere. Definitely whenever you're at some sort of low point, the forest steals from you while you're down.
You could cross them out - your backstory, your memories. Or literally paste new strips of paper over them to cover them up.
You can add new memories as you play. Meet new people, learn new things, accomplish noteworthy deeds on your adventures. But those aren't safe either. Eventually, the forest takes everything. Everything. Unless you can find a way out...