“Into the Another World”: Crossing Over Time and Place in RPGs


How many anime have present-day protagonists get sent backwards in time, or to another world entirely? Off the top of my head I can name Inuyasha, Fushigi Yuugi, Escaflowne, Magic Knight Rayearth, the Twelve Kingdoms without batting an eye. This theme is a beloved one of mine, and it isn’t surprising that many of the above are among my favorite series ever. It works so well as a television/manga trope, but I wonder if it can’t–or won’t–translate into the realm of pen and paper role-playing games.

The Magic Knights wear their Japanese school-uniforms underneath their arms and armor.

It certainly presents a number of challenges. Can the players believably role-play themselves, from the present time, faced with another era? It’s much easier to face magic and monsters at the table when the assumption is that these things are old hat, or at least believable to the characters. Once you insert that much reality into the game, is there a “fourth wall” of role-playing that is broken? And does it allow for too many openings of real-life drama? Or is this all kind of moot because we (consciously or not) base our characters on an aspect of our own lives anyway?

Right now I’m dancing around the idea of throwing the players interested in my Legend of the Five Rings campaign into the the world of Rokugan themselves. Character creation would be integrated with the first few sessions, starting literally with a blank sheet and then filling it in as the various clans and champions and dark lords race to win the Five Fallen Stars to their side. They would all start with a Gaijin disadvantage and Void ring bonus of one (for destiny), and their perceived strength in this would would translate to their rings.

Characters would initially gain skills by simply interacting with the world around them at first, within reason. Pick up that fallen branch to defend your friends from the lesser oni? Kenjutsu. Scout around your surroundings for possible clues to where you are and how you’ll get out? Investigation. Announce that you’re going to throw a fireball? Roll to see if you can summon the belief that you can (like passing through objects in Wraith/Geist) and exert the willpower to evoke it and we’ll see what goes down. The higher skills, the more specialized training, occur while the player characters enter a dojo together and train in the specialization of their choosing. And then they have to go out and be the heroes they were meant to be should they ever want to return–or not.

The hardest part I can see about such an arrangement is that L5R’s character creation assumes that they were raised apart and come together for the adventure. I would have to house-rule a lot, but if I can convert the starting schools to a sort of point-allocation to ensure balance, I think we’ll be okay.

Would they enjoy it overall? I think the number of otaku senshi made in our own image are a testament to our curiosity of inserting ourselves into a setting or world. I quickly texted Eric to see what he thought of the idea, to which he replied, “that’d be funny.” What do you think, gaming blogosphere? Balant self-aggrandizement? Defeating the purpose of “role-playing”? Or different, and potentially interesting?

3 Responses to ““Into the Another World”: Crossing Over Time and Place in RPGs”

  1. Honestly, I think that the suspension of disbelief would break down very quickly, and you’d end up with something closer to “Army of Darkness” than your desired anime.

    I mean, let’s think about this. I’m a high school English teacher, but I know a little bit about science. If I got teleported back into feudal Japan, what’s to stop me from furnishing them with electricity? Or gunpowder-based weaponry? Or totally screwing the pooch with the timeline, and building in items that blend technology and sorcery?

    I get the impression that the simulation that you’re hoping to achieve hinges greatly upon the players to have very little gamist (what do you mean, their armor deflects my P90 bullets?) or narrative control (what do you mean, I can’t make homemade gunpowder–my character was a research chemist!), which isn’t something that any player really wants to give up.

    Also, I don’t mean to nit-pick…but look at your title Very Carefully…

  2. lindevi says:

    Title is a tribute to the Earth Girl Arjuna first OST, “Into the Another World.”

  3. Okay, so anime’s STILL not my thing… Didn’t get the reference.

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