Design goals: To make a setting suitable for many gaming styles, including the exemplified by Dogs in the Vineyard, and to further make it one that has themes that engaging to me on personal level. The setting has seen some play-by-post action, which is currently on hold because one player is serving his year in the FDF. The game hopefully continues after that.
Once upon a time there was a magnificient forest, untainted by civilisation. Humanity came and hacked and burned. Significant areas are now devoid of forest, but vibrant with farms, livestock and even a few cities. Now the forest is coming back.
It is dark, ancient and malicious. It wants to conquer your lands. Beasts mundane and mystical have been sighted. Few who dare to enter the woods come back, fewer still untainted.
Yet the forest is not without a weakness. An iron fence keeps a village safe from the enroachment of beasts. An iron blade is what can slay the beasts. An iron amulet protects one from the vile sorceries practiced by witches.
Men and women are weak. They open the gates and let the forest in. They worship dead gods of the ancient forest-dwellers. They give away their amulets to be cured from a disease. They huddle behind their gates and let their blades rust. They neglect the fences during cold winter nights. They build with wood, not stone.
The banished, the outlaws, the poor, the diseased, the heretics, the muggers, those are the only people who have no choice but live next to the forest. No noble, no merchant would ever live there. Few are brave, or foolish, enough to visit the border. Most live in their secure castles and fabulous palaces, caring little of the forest and even less of those who live next to it.
The nobles with no money, the bastards, the wealthy or influential who have earned the ire of the powers that be, the nonexistant children of the clergy are trained as wardens. They are taught to fight, to pray, to help. They travel from border village to next, slaying beasts and heathens, bringing news, murdering, raping, robbing, saving innocents, repairing the iron fence, holding sermons, smothering rebellions. They are the law near the forest. Theirs is the power over life and death, over sin and salvation. They are trained to be righteous, just, and careful saviors of the poor. Many are murderous, cunning, lecherous thugs. They hunt rogue wardens as often as beasts of the forest.
A group of wardens, together for safety and watching over each other, enters a border village. Maybe they need to identify the witch, whose evil eye has cursed the doubtless devout priest. Maybe they need to judge the witch: She heals people and works as a midwife, the best of the region. Her magic is tainted by moss, rot and corruption, yet it is used for good. What’s a warden to do? Maybe they need to bring down the wolf of huge size and great cunning, which has slain all herds and some men. No villager has the courage to tread outside after dusk. Maybe a village is full of heretics worshipping the ancient pagan gods. Slaying everyone is not feasible. Maybe a rogue warden tracked down is enjoying quiet country life with his new-found wife rumoured to be a witch.
There is man fighting the forest (I am on the forest’s side). There is new religion against the old one (I support the old). Behind all conflicts are humans.
That said, do go and play it as a heroic monsterslaying spree. It is adaptable. It can be investigation, travelogue, hacking and slashing, or a tragic full of angst and moral dilemmas. That’s the point.
Add it to an existing setting. Some fringe area, possibly an island, where humanity recently arrived. It may be a jungle or a marsh. It may be a distant planet or moon, far from conventional trade routes.