Sunday, November 4, 2018

Gateway to Adventure

A common trope to fantastic fiction, in everything from The Wizard of Oz to The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant have the protagonist transported from our world to another. Some subgenres (like Sword & Planet) work almost exclusively that way.  For some reason, that trope is mostly absent from fantasy gaming, despite media inspired by fantasy rpgs (like the Guardians of Flame series and the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon) including it.

Recently, reading some of L.Sprague de Camp's Viagens Interplanetarias sequence, specifically some Krishna stories, has made me think this avoidance might be unfortunate. The Krishna series is broadly Sword & Planet like Burroughs's John Carter tales, but with a difference. Wikipedia sums it up like this:

The seven novels and four short stories of the Krishna sequence follow various Earthmen and occasional other aliens in their encounters with the pretechnical local culture, in which their pursuit of their own often petty ends tend to have ramifications ranging from minor to history-changing on a society struggling to adapt to the more advanced civilization.

The Terran interlopers on Krishna often go disguised as native Krishnans. This literalizes what is going on in D&D on a meta-level: Everyday Earth folk from a technological society masquerade as members of a Medieval or early modern society for their own petty ends. Why not make it literal in game, too?

The basic setup could go something like this. Say some kids did disappear in steam tunnels into playing an roleplaying game back in the 70s due to a rift to a another world. These rifts may have opened worldwide at the same time Roadside Picnic style, with likewise similar, ineffective worldwide response to try to contain them. The world on the other side of the rift is a mostly a Medieval/early modern one where "magic" appears to function (though magical artifacts do not function, or perhaps not for long, upon returning to Earth). The desire to exploit this world and possible learn the secrets of making "magic" function in our world is intense, so despite official restriction groups or parties are hired to sneak in. A greased palm or two insures a blind eye is turned to this, so long as the adventures outfit themselves with native tech.

This would have a few advantages or interesting aspects. The PCs ignorance of the details of the world would no longer be a bug but a feature, as would schemes or plots with anachronistic elements. The colonialist or exploitive aims of Earth from add complications or opportunity for the PCs.


bombasticus said...

The hottest stuff!! My initial take is that the "exploiting" is the key word there . . . as this becomes an industry something in the Connecticut Yankee (carpet bagger) formula stops being fun. I know Greg allowed humans from earth into Glorantha early on but they messed around too much so the gates were shut. Then they try something similar in the other direction with the Dreamlands line but it languishes.

Tom said...

I think the gateway idea works in fiction and solo computer games because it helps give the reader or player that sense of escape, but when we're at a table with friends we want to take that to the next level. Self insertion isn't as big a priority when you can go all the way to being a completely different being.

It certainly can be fun, I've been in both Call of Cthulhu and Supers games where we played ourselves, but I can see why it has less broad appeal. Though it was a very memorable Cthulhu game where I got mind-swapped with another person and then had to gun down my own body to save someone else. That cost a lot of SAN points.

Trey said...

@Tom - The gateway idea wouldn't require doesn't require you to play yourselves, any more than the characters passing through gateways in fiction are the authors. In fact, I wasn't even proposing that they would.

Tom said...

Excellent point.

Hey, would you consider characters like Corwin in Nine Princes in Amber or Holger in Three Hearts and Three lions to be a relative of this idea? Where they don't remember their part in the world they've been brought to?

It is a great observation, by the way.

PCBushi said...

Ahh Guardians of the Flame! I remember that series.

Trey said...

@Tom - Holger is definitely a traditional sort of "visitor." Corwin is an interesting case. He's sort of in-between, as you point out.

Eric Nieudan said...

/me starts to take notes about a Lost Kid class. (Or a Lost Whatever, because that Warlord pic, man!)