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I am currently running a campaign that I have set in a world that is fading slowly. The idea is that, while the players cannot stop the end of the world (it's kinda similar to the heat death of the universe), they will eventually be able to influence exactly how it ends, and what comes after. In a way, the big thing I am building towards is not stopping the end of the world, but instead changing the results of this ending. And, there are a lot of NPCs who will be very interested in having a different outcome than what the players would like.

Since the campaign takes place over multiple months + years ingame, my current plan is to slowly start introducing symptoms of things fading, like stars disappearing from the sky, plants losing their color, and rare animals just... disappearing. Eventually the symptoms could get more severe as the world approaches its end.

You must understand that big thing I want to do here, however, is have the world end with a whimper and not a bang. I want it to be gradual, but still present. With this in mind, something that is worrying me about my plan is that I am not entirely sure how to deal with this: If the world is ending, how do I deal with the people in it? Do they just die?

If I start killing off massive amounts of people to bring about this ending, suddenly the campaign takes on an extremely dark and morbid tone, which is not really what I want. I would be fine with a somewhat "sad" or "serious" tone some of the time, since obviously the loss of so many people isn't exactly a good thing. However, I am not sure exactly how I set up the world so that this does not accidentally turn into the most depressing campaign I have ever run.

Do any of you happen to have any ideas about how I can accomplish the disappearances of large amounts of people without ruining the tone of the campaign? I've thought a lot about this and still am struggling to come up with a good plan.

For reference, the game is Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies; However, this isn't a system-specific question so feel free to ignore that part.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. Unfortunatley, this site is poorly equipped to deal with idea generation questions because we want to be able to indentify one single correct answer. Please take the tour to understand how this site works. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Aug 27, 2023 at 9:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question, with some tweaks, may be a better fit for worldbuilding.stackexchange.com — their approach for opinion based is a bit different, you need to be specific about what would be a good answer a bit more precisely than you did here, but they deal with speculative fiction on the daily basis. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Aug 27, 2023 at 14:52

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Have the end of the world be cyclic, and people hibernate

Having everyone die is pretty morbid, yes, so rather than that have everyone go to sleep. I've done this when doing philosophical campaigns and it has an inspirational feeling of everything will get better. There's a few ways people could do it.

  1. They hide. Using theology or other elements they hide in divine demiplanes, perhaps from the Zultanate of Colrona, and wait out the end of the world.
  2. They seek a new world. People jump into the Sky of Fire because they believe it holds a safer universe.
  3. They hibernate. Specialized gifts or alchemy lets them rest in such a way as to avoid heat death.
  4. They try to extend the end. Perhaps using some mystical weapon like Crail and Ilwuz's splitting one, they make a certain island last longer.

There are a number of options, but broadly, for the most part people aren't going to die en masse, they're going to go to sleep. Less optimal options may include more risk- for example, cheap alchemical options might not guarantee remembering anything but dearest family, and not even that if you're unlucky, while if you can get a place in a religious plane you might remember everything.

This guarantees that the end won't be too morbid. The vast majority won't be dead, they'll just be floating endlessly on the islands till the world restarts in a trillion years.

Make incongruous locations.

A big part of the grace of post apocalyptic settings is seeing familiar sights surrounded by monkeys or other monsters.

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This is a classic example from planet of the apes, with a famous landmark, the statue of liberty, in a land of apes. You should have your PCs see the grandeur of failed civilizations filled with opportunists and monsters, and make choices on how they will push to survive the end.

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Since you mentioned stars disappearing and colors fading: what if people just disappeared, becoming forgotten by most everyone? It can introduce a lot of friction and anxiety as others start noticing incongruities (the house is equipped for six people but only four live there; the village has an inn but no one actually has the job of innkeeper) but the aspect of dying and mourning will not be present because one would need to have known and remember the missing persons. Of course, instead of individuals disappearing, it can be whole communities instead. The player characters might have some ability or artifact that enables them to realise what's going on but others would just comment on the grain shortage, not realising that it's because the village where it used to come from disappeared.

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