I was browsing the blogs this afternoon and stopped by Grognardia to see how a rereading of Tolkien was treating James.
In the comments, from Aos: "I do, however, very much prefer to avoid world saving as a campaign emphasis. I've done it in the past and while it has an inherent charm, it also tends to deflate any further interest I might have in the setting."
I am dancing around this issue with my 4e campaign. My entire 4e universe has been "ending" in a slow protracted process that started with the stars going out in response to events in my Mutant Future campaign. The mutant future players, while exploring a strange chamber that evidently had been created by snakemen, activated a subprocess in a controlled singularity device on the planet of Celestia in the Mutant Future universe.
Like a bathtub draining, all the energy of the 4e universe is being sucked into the Mutant Future universe. The particular planet the 4e campaign is played on will succumb in just under two months game time, which of course can be an eternity or just a couple of sessions.
There are many powerful NPC actors in the 4e universe, none of the them (with the possible exception of the royal inquisitor from the city state of Siss Anor) friendly to the PCs, but all of them with a vested interest in seeing the universe persevere.
The party is currently fighting tooth and nail to survive against the minions of Manu Jibleetu, pinned down into a sphere of protection against shadow in the middle of a rain storm in the jungle and taking mortar fire from two artillery positions. Manu Jibleetu is an ancient lich technomancer who may or may not be allied with the snake men... and if the party thwarts Manu's plans, they may accidentally and unwittingly prevent him from stopping the destruction of the world personally (Manu just showed up last week after a centuries long absence from the region, and is up to all kinds of shit, including being commissioned by the snakemen to repair the malfunctioning sentient computer that controls the singularity, thereby saving the 4e universe for the time being).
What I have been enjoying is that the saving of the universe from impending doom is FAR from the top priority of the campaign, and it will not be a campaign ending event when it happens, regardless of if an NPC actor or the party succeeds. The party is currently trying to collect samples of each of five alien elements that do not occur in the 4e universe but which are necessary to activate the gate in the grandmother and grandfather tree at the confluence of the river to prevent all the energy in the 4e universe from flowing into the Mutant Future universe (this course of action having been arrived at through consultation with the gadoro, the race of spirit monkeys that guard the confluence of the river and the grandmother and grandfather tree, and after lengthy research among the tribes of the area). This is a short term goal, and they are ready to get back to the REAL task of trying to figure out what the heck the snake men are up to, and who were the race of tiny aliens who abandoned powerful energy vessels below the surface of the planet and on the moon.
Last session Tilia had a breakthrough (natural 20 on an arcana check) while trying to gain entrance into a sacred metal pod. She realized that the metal was an alloy composed of the five alien elements, at least theoretically opening up the possibility of breaking down the metal into its composite elements. As one of the areas of dimensional instability where the alien elements appear is hidden underneath Manu Jibleetu's twisted tower, the party welcomed at least the possibility of obtaining the shadow element without having to brave the dead hills and enter the tower.