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D&D 5E Thoughts on 5E Portal Fantasy

Reynard

Legend
I am currently working out how I want to frame my upcoming campaign, which will be a sandbox in a specifically wonderous environment relative to where the PCs come from. My initial thought was the Wild Beyond The Wall type scenario, but as I was driving home today I considered the idea of using Portal Fantasy. There are lots of flavors of Portal Fantasy, but I am specifically thinking of the Narnia/Magicians sort: people from our real world sometime during the modern era (though not necessarily "now") finding there way to FantasyLand.

I was thinking about how to model that with 5E and I kind of landed on "0 Level PCs" in the "real world" and the whole set of options and level advancement in the fantasy world. I thought I would ask here for some ideas, and see what folks think.

One thing is that Backgrounds can be rough approximations of real world professions or professional categories, providing skill, tool and maybe even weapon proficiencies. So you might be a construction worker and get Athletics, masons tools and simple weapons as a proficiency.

I am not sure whether to "hold back" some attribute points and have there be a little bit of a boost when they choose their class after an introductory foray or lifepath character gen (I haven't decided what works best yet). So if the construction worker takes his first level in fighter, they can take a +2 in either strength or con, for example.

Has anyone done portal fantasy in 5E, or D&D in general? How did you account for the "real world" background? id you have them be able to travel back and forth, or was it a one-way trip? How did you deal with character death, if at all?
 

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aco175

Legend
Sounds like this book from the 80s- which I recommend and liked.

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Reynard

Legend
Sounds like this book from the 80s- which I recommend and liked.

View attachment 138633
The Guardians of the Flame was my first fantasy series after reading the hobbit. I was 10. yes, it was traumatic, why do you ask?

I love that series. it does not hold up well, of course, but it will always have a special place in my heart. In this campaign I probably wouldn't connect it to gaming, though, unless I wanted to go full meta.
 

Something to take into consideration, which I still have a problem with now, is player knowledge vs character knowledge. I'm not talking about the usual "player knows what the DM said to another player, despite not being there," but rather modern knowledge. I've had characters try to do advanced mathematics to solve a particular problem, despite the fact that such knowledge doesn't exist in the setting. If you have characters coming from the modern age, such as your construction worker, he may have knowledge on creating dynamite and other explosives unknown of in the fantasy world. If you want them to be able to access this knowledge, cool, but it's definitely someone to think about.
 

For a classic portal fantasy, I'd almost be tempted to introduce a new base class. My initial impulse was to call it the 'everyman' but that's a bit gender-specific (as is 'ingenue' which was my second choice). A class that's all about muddling though and getting by, with no special talents but the touch of fate and Being A Designated Main Character.

But a class based around luck and destiny, perhaps a few uses of the halfling's Luck ability, the persuasion skill would seem in-genre, the Action Surge ability, some reactive abilities to avoid or resist damage, and maybe a couple of 'hanging' proficiencies that the player could choose to assign at any time in play, when a portal-traveller 'discovers' their innate talent for stealth or animal handling or whatever at a dramatically appropriate time. The other class feature would be 'Training Montage' - the one-use-only ability to irrevocably swap all class levels in the class for the same number of levels in a PHB class at pretty much any story-appropriate time. That's a classic portal fantasy trope, when the wanderer from our world becomes part of the new world. The Pevensies becoming warrior monarchs in Narnia, Pwyll hanging on the Summer Tree for three days and three nights to learn magic, etc etc.
 
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Reynard

Legend
Something to take into consideration, which I still have a problem with now, is player knowledge vs character knowledge. I'm not talking about the usual "player knows what the DM said to another player, despite not being there," but rather modern knowledge. I've had characters try to do advanced mathematics to solve a particular problem, despite the fact that such knowledge doesn't exist in the setting. If you have characters coming from the modern age, such as your construction worker, he may have knowledge on creating dynamite and other explosives unknown of in the fantasy world. If you want them to be able to access this knowledge, cool, but it's definitely someone to think about.
As a surveyor, I have worked around a LOT of construction workers, and I don't thinka single one could make dynamite even if you gave them all the materials let alone if you left them to do it in 13th century france plus talking otters.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
We're a few session into a "level 0" game in one of my groups. Basically, we came up with a concept, assigned stats, and that's it. No skills, no proficiencies (other than daggers and clubs). 8+Con HP. And we did about 6 sessions like that. The DM would give us advantage or a bonus on a check if we agreed it fit the character concept, but other than that we just messed around trying to figure out a mystery in a druid grove and our home town. Once we had met some NPCs who could guide us and had a sense of what we wanted our characters to be, we fast forwarded 6 months and got to pick our level 1 class.

For a portal fantasy, I'd do something pretty similar. Come up with an overall real-world concept. I'd probably push them to do characters in their late teens or early 20s, because that fits the literary tropes best. It also means they're unlikely to have a lot of fantasy world applicable skills, and you won't get someone being like "Well, my character is a Navy Seal". :)

Give them a few sessions to explore the world, meet with mentors, develop some kind of storyline, and then they can pick a background and class that fits the story they've been developing.
 

As a surveyor, I have worked around a LOT of construction workers, and I don't thinka single one could make dynamite even if you gave them all the materials let alone if you left them to do it in 13th century france plus talking otters.
The point still stands though. Basically anything your players can know (or look up online) could be brought with them to the fantasy world by choosing the right background. I don't care what you choose to do, I'm just offering a friendly warning.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Love this idea! I think you are going about it the right way. I love the idea of the Ability Boost coming with the first Level Up.

It would be fun to have Downtime back in the real world too. I could see them reverting back to 0 level characters... But once you've slain a dragon, is it really that much harder to get that promotion?

You could even crib more from Narnia and have the first tier be them as kids / teenagers, then they return as young adults, as adults, as elderly versions of themselves...
 

Reynard

Legend
The point still stands though. Basically anything your players can know (or look up online) could be brought with them to the fantasy world by choosing the right background. I don't care what you choose to do, I'm just offering a friendly warning.
I think people vastly underestimate the amount of knowledge and supporting technology you need to make use of modern knowledge in primitive conditions. It's not Gilligan's Island.
 

I think people vastly underestimate the amount of knowledge and supporting technology you need to make use of modern knowledge in primitive conditions. It's not Gilligan's Island.
My concern would be fighting back too hard on this - if you don't let the players use modern knowledge, why have them come form a modern world at all? What does it add to the game?
 

Reynard

Legend
My concern would be fighting back too hard on this - if you don't let the players use modern knowledge, why have them come form a modern world at all? What does it add to the game?
Context. It's not about "I know how to make a catapult" it is about "I am a person from the mundane real world suddenly faced with the wondrous and terrible, and maybe I can finally be that here or villain I always felt I was inside" and the like. The Portal fantasy part is about looking at the fantasy world from a different perspective.
 

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