Portal Fantasy Idea

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
I am fiddling with an idea for a "portal fantasy" campaign set up, designed to be long term and sort of West Marches-y. it probably won't go anywhere, but I thought it might be fun to discuss possibilities here with you folks.

In this case, by "portal fantasy" I mean mostly "time travel." Specifically, time travel to a very far future Earth a la Jack Vance. So mostly fantasy on the surface, but seasoned with post-post-post-apocalyptic super science as needed. Characters would begin as normal modern Earth folks that just wake up in this realm one day. They have to survive and figure out what is going on. Then, just as randomly, they return home. The travel back and forth appears random. This is for 2 reasons: a) it helps with the West marches thing where people showing up isn't necessarily set, and b) there's a background story reason for it.

The modern people don't necessarily know one another "now" but once they get back they can look one another up, if they so desire. I imagine most "modern Earth" play would be in downtime or between sessions, but sometimes an "adventure" might happen in the now. I am leaning toward Worlds Without Number as a system. It is already a far future fantasy, as well as being a relatively light OSR game. It is also free! Anyway, these are the beginnings of my thoughts. What do you think? Would you play such a game? What elements of portal fantasy would you like to see brought to the fore?
 

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Autumnal

Bruce Baugh, Writer of Fortune
That sounds very appealing to me.

A big thing for me in portal fantasy is discovery of hidden opportunities, where loss and trouble lead to characters needing to do things they never have and them working out surprisingly well. Like “knowing sound historical research methods let’s me track down the true source of this monster invasion” in Barbara Hambly’s Darwath books, and the various ways modern Earth life might prepare a PC for an aspect of magic on the far side.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
One of the things I would like to emphasize -- and of course this really requires player buy in -- is the longing to return after the characters return home. No matter how harrowing their initital experiences were, they inherently see the potential freedom, power, love whatever is back in the other world.

I know it does not age well today, but The Guardians of the Flame was a huge influence on me as a young reader.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Truths:

1. Time Runs Differently: The relationship is something like day=month. That I'd, a day on our world means a month goes by in future world. So PCs will be gone for weeks but when they finally get back home, only a day or two has passed. However, if it is weeks between trips to the future, years have gone by.

2. Bodies Are Different: However it happens, the things that happen to bodies in the future do not impact the bodies of the present. You could lose an eye or an arm adventuring in future land but when you get home to now, you're whole.

3. Death is Death: However, if you die in the future, you're dead. They never find your body.

4. Magic Is A Future Thing: Whatever forces power magic in the future do not extend back to the now. So if a character is a wizard through the portal, they do not retain any magical ability when they get home.

5. There Is A Plan: It may be ineffable, but there is a plan. The PCs are being brought forward for a reason, even if no one knows why.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
Magic Is A Future Thing: Whatever forces power magic in the future do not extend back to the now. So if a character is a wizard through the portal, they do not retain any magical ability when they get home.
If this is true, I’d say the source of the magic is actually Clarkian super science.

There was a novel I read decades ago in which a planet was discovered where it seemed magic worked. As it turned out, this was because there were nanites that transformed thoughts into effects.

Similar plot lines popped up in Forbidden Planet, Star Trek TOS, Revolution, and other sci-fi properties.

Bonus: depending on the details, this model of magic could support a plot line where the super science of the future “contaminates” the PCs and starts manifesting in the present day…
 
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There are two settings from Monte Cook that could work really well here.

Numenera is a setting that is a billion years in the future and technology is mostly seen as magic. The locals have roughly medieval technology, but a scavenged piece of tech fashioned into a belt might let you levitate for a minute. There are a few who understand that what they are seeing is technology, but how to work any of it on a large scale is more trial and error than anything else. It can work as a destination for your portals and you can either use the Cypher system that it's built on or take the inspiration and hack it into another system. The Cypher system is certainly lighter than 5e and characters have far fewer things to track.

The second setting is The Strange. It is a portal setting based on Earth. Characters can go through portals that take them to other worlds/demi planes (it's been a while, I don't remember exactly). These other places can be anything, though they are usually based on some idea found in the world. A portal in Norway could take you to Asgard or a portal in New Mexico could take you to a steampunk wild west. Anything goes. Besides the changing destinations that players can find themselves in, each character also changes their Focus based on the world they are going to. On Earth a character's focus might be Moves Like A Cat, Defends The Weak, Entertains, or Learns Quickly. Step through a portal into knock off ancient Greece times and your focus might change to Masters Spells, Performs Feats Of Strength, or Slays Monsters. If you are using WWN then you could be a normal person on Earth, but in the future you gain all the abilities of WWN class.

I'm also having a flashback to a series of books I read ages ago. I didn't read all the books in the series but it's called Everworld by K. A. Applegate and Michael Grant. Fortunately, a piece of the first book's summary can explain the interesting bit better than I can.
The teenagers who have also been transported to Everworld, David, Christopher, April, and Jalil, are swept along for the ride as the gods wage war, pillage, torture, and scheme. Compounding these already life-threatening problems is the mystery of their now dual existence. When they crossed over into Everworld, they somehow split in two, with one half remaining in the real world going about their regular lives and the other half battling for survival in Everworld. When they sleep in Everworld, these two halves merge in the real world where they swap memories with themselves. This allows them to brush up on ancient mythology in the real world, but it also brings up the question that haunts them throughout the series: If they die in Everworld, do they die in the real world as well? As if this weren't enough, each character also has their own real world problems to deal with.
The dual-existence thing could be a very interesting way to handle the back and forth aspect of the character's travels.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
There are two settings from Monte Cook that could work really well here.

Numenera is a setting that is a billion years in the future and technology is mostly seen as magic. The locals have roughly medieval technology, but a scavenged piece of tech fashioned into a belt might let you levitate for a minute. There are a few who understand that what they are seeing is technology, but how to work any of it on a large scale is more trial and error than anything else. It can work as a destination for your portals and you can either use the Cypher system that it's built on or take the inspiration and hack it into another system. The Cypher system is certainly lighter than 5e and characters have far fewer things to track.

The second setting is The Strange. It is a portal setting based on Earth. Characters can go through portals that take them to other worlds/demi planes (it's been a while, I don't remember exactly). These other places can be anything, though they are usually based on some idea found in the world. A portal in Norway could take you to Asgard or a portal in New Mexico could take you to a steampunk wild west. Anything goes. Besides the changing destinations that players can find themselves in, each character also changes their Focus based on the world they are going to. On Earth a character's focus might be Moves Like A Cat, Defends The Weak, Entertains, or Learns Quickly. Step through a portal into knock off ancient Greece times and your focus might change to Masters Spells, Performs Feats Of Strength, or Slays Monsters. If you are using WWN then you could be a normal person on Earth, but in the future you gain all the abilities of WWN class.

I'm also having a flashback to a series of books I read ages ago. I didn't read all the books in the series but it's called Everworld by K. A. Applegate and Michael Grant. Fortunately, a piece of the first book's summary can explain the interesting bit better than I can.
The teenagers who have also been transported to Everworld, David, Christopher, April, and Jalil, are swept along for the ride as the gods wage war, pillage, torture, and scheme. Compounding these already life-threatening problems is the mystery of their now dual existence. When they crossed over into Everworld, they somehow split in two, with one half remaining in the real world going about their regular lives and the other half battling for survival in Everworld. When they sleep in Everworld, these two halves merge in the real world where they swap memories with themselves. This allows them to brush up on ancient mythology in the real world, but it also brings up the question that haunts them throughout the series: If they die in Everworld, do they die in the real world as well? As if this weren't enough, each character also has their own real world problems to deal with.
The dual-existence thing could be a very interesting way to handle the back and forth aspect of the character's travels.
Thank you for the suggestion. I love the Nunenera aesthetic but I don't care for the Cypher system. I am going to use Worlds Without Number, I think, and lean into the Vancian feel of that game.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I once had an idea where the PCs wake up in a crypt and each find a corpse with their name plaque on it. The corpses are equipped with weapons, armor and items as appropriate for the respective characters if they want to loot them.
They emerge into a strange world and need to find out how they died, and how they can stop it and get home.
 

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
I'd probably do a Sens8 thing:



After a near death experience (I'd set it while in cryo-sleep in a retro-futuristic (ala Alien or Foundation) ark toward another galaxy, personally), the PCs awaken an Akashic link with another inhabitant of the same Zodiac sign in a post-post-post-future fantasy-ish planet ala Numenera. Their consciousness is borrowed from time to time by their Akashic partner to face various challenges. The PCs in the real world arent ''adventuring heroes'' neither are the Host in the other world; they become the heroes they are when their mind are melded. Together they stand strong.

What happen if the Host dies while the consciousness of the Traveler is within them? Is this real or just a cryo-sleep induced dreamscape? Who decides when the mind-switch happens? Is it their destination planet they were aiming for...or the future of Earth? Mystery!
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
My idea for the opening of the game is that the PCs all wake up in the ruins of what was obviously a Prisoner or slave caravan. They are the only survivors.

There are different Powers that want "travelers" like the PCs and they were being moved by agents of one. A different faction attacked the caravan and left, unintentionally leaving the PCs alive. The PCs don't know this, of course, but they can back track to the starting place of the caravan (something that looks like a creche) or follow the road to a village and look for help. That kind of thing.

I think I am going to handwave "common" as a language and invoke "a wizard did it."

The other idea I was toying with is letting the players build their characters in play. They get an array for stats and a couple free skill choices pee the rules, but they define that stuff as they go.

For example, the first time a player does something that requires a Strength check, that's when the decide on their strength score from the array. Same with skills (with the caveat that it has to make sense from there Now background or profession).
 
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