A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s court by Mark Twain, Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs and The Wizard of Oz all have one thing in common. The main Protagonist comes from a contemporary and modern world to a fantasy land of adventure. They discover the fantastic worlds not being from this world, but by seeing it as an alien land and being taken out of their element to experience these worlds. Films and books have used this concept for a long time, and it is not very much like what most D&D campaigns look like. The Dungeons & Dragons cartoon used this device to bring the main characters into the story. Why don’t we see that in our D&D games?
One thing I would consider when setting up a game like this is the possibility of it just turning into a game of colonialism. I really do not want to run a game where players just take up the role of colonialists when I present this. I would consider running a game based around colonialism and using that concept to structure the evil and conflict of the game around the dangers and evil of colonialism, but this is kind of what I would want to avoid when presenting this idea.
When I look at the idea of doing a campaign of this type I see a great deal of potential. By rolling up characters from our contemporary world or another time I can have players create characters that they can relate to much more than some barbarian or wizard of a fantasy world. To discover that world brick by brick and bring their preconceived ideas in as ways they approach the setting you are introducing these characters to sounds like there would be a plethora of material to interact with in game and build a lot around. Sometimes I have seen getting into the mindset of some peasant or knight of a medieval world can be hard for people. But, playing a character they can relate to, used to the same world they are used to and throwing it into a fantasy setting gives the players the opportunity to approach, explore, interact and role play around discovering in new ways. Here they can ask questions in character to help understand this fantasy world they are playing within in the game itself. It is a feature of playing the character. I also imagine this could be a wonderful way to help understand a world and learn about it. What? No guns? What do you guys do when you have to prepare for the cold on a long journey? Who is the ruler of the land? What are the laws and norms in this world? And by discovering this they could do so from a base starting point of where the player is coming from.
This brings us to a snag. If you play D&D you know there are limited classes and store clerk isn’t one of those options. There are no classes for people who know how to do modern things. But there are plenty of role-playing games that do have modern classes. There are also many generic system games that exist to make any game you can think of in any time or period. Savage worlds is a popular one that fits that description. The game has settings from many genres, and options to really get out there with it. Troll Lord Games puts out Castles & Crusades a great version of the classic fantasy role playing game with mechanics very much like previous versions. They also put out games like Amazing Adventures which uses those rules and that system to create modern adventures. There is nothing stopping the DM from making modern characters with Amazing Adventures and throwing them in to discover a fantasy world. Perhaps even start off in a modern class but pick up one of the classic classes like a Magic User or Fighter and explore how that character makes that transition could make for great RPG adventures. Do the characters need to train or study to learn to make a transition from a modern character to a classic fantasy RPG class?
When it comes to a DM or storyteller world building and presenting their world to the players, an approach where the characters are discovering and learning about the world becoming a part of it could be a great approach. At the same time, it could be fun giving the players the opportunity to make modern references and comments that would be out of place in a fantasy setting can be liberating and fun for players. Players can take the liberty to make jokes and references about NPC’s and other elements of the game in fun ways that would not normally fit in a fantasy setting, but suddenly makes a whole lot of sense.
The genre where one is suddenly transported to a fantasy world is a large foundation of fantasy and the stories like Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of OZ, Peter Pan and many others added a great deal to the development of fantasy and the games we play when we play fantasy role playing games. I think the John Carter books might be the strongest example being that they are referenced in the legendary AD&D Appendix N from the Dungeon Master’s guide.
Looking at ways to expand on this, classic AD&D had a great deal about planes and different realms of reality. From the Manual of the Planes to the Planescape setting there was a great deal put out that was just this. These would be great sources to plug into in crafting a larger story and campaign where characters are transported from the world they know to fantasy settings. Perhaps you want to explore more than one fantasy setting, these books did exactly that.
I hope some might have a little spark when they read this or an aha moment realizing the beginnings of a new campaign. This idea is nothing new. The Palladium system had a lot of fun creating classes and races and settings where they transported characters from all over genres, setting and times mashing them together. Rifts the RPG seems to be one big hodgepodge of various characters, monsters, and heroes. Having one system you can roll up a character in and yank it to another world entirely makes it a great system to really get crazy with this idea. But still games like Gurps and Savage worlds give you generic systems you can make anything in and pull it to any setting. And, of course with so many different games using Open Game Licenses to pull mechanics from the various editions and clones of D&D you have a mountain of games and books to draw from to make modern characters to place in these settings. And you don’t have to just go from modern to fantasy, you could just as easily pull the players into all sorts of SciFi and horror settings using the same ideas.