Today we depart from a traditional D&D character who was born into a fantasy realm, who is used to the idea of monsters and magic. What about a hero from Earth, plucked from our reality by magic or super-science and dropped into a sword-and-planet or high-fantasy adventure? Someone truly experiencing a “brave new world?”
While this is not exclusively an American trope, examples of this type of hero are all over American popular culture: Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, John Carter in the Barsoom stories, Buck Rogers, Ash Williams in Army of Darkness, John Crichton in Farscape, and even the old D&D animated show.
While some may think it would be dull to play an “ordinary human”, you can really have some fun role-playing your amazement at the fantasy tropes your group encounters, and puzzling your party members with your bizarre Earthling pop-culture references. A background is the obvious way to craft such a character, so we built one!
Fish out of Water
You are a human from modern Earth and have been transplanted to a fantasy world, either another planet or dimension. Though you were understandably shocked on arrival, you adapted quickly and have become an adventurer, a suitable profession for an outsider like yourself. This background can only be selected by humans by default, though the DM could adapt this to represent a time or space traveler of another race depending on the setting.
This background is also different than most others in that you effectively have a sub-background that determines proficiencies, with a common origin story and choice of features. Traits, ideals, bonds and flaws can be chosen based on your other selections from the other tables that follow.
Proficiencies: Choose one language of choice, then pick one or roll to determine your former Earth occupation and proficiencies:
1 – Explorer – Survival, Nature, navigator’s tools
2 – Military: Athletics, Survival, land vehicles
3 – Politics, business, or law: Insight, Persuasion, one set of artisan’s tools
4 – Law enforcement: Investigation, Intimidation, thieve’s tools
5 – Scientist or astronaut: Investigation, Nature, navigator’s tools
6 – Medical: Insight, Medicine, herbalism kit
7 – Athlete: Athletics, Acrobatics, one type of gaming set
8 – Criminal – Stealth, Deception, thieve’s tools or disguise kit
9 – Actor or performer: Performance, Persuasion and either 1 musical instrument or gaming set
10 – Farmer or laborer: Animal Handling, Athletics, 1 set of artisan’s tools
Equipment: One kit you are proficient with from the table above, but from Earth (cannot be replenished with supplies on the fantasy world, and draws attention if shown publicly), the clothing you were wearing on Earth, a cloak, and a pouch containing 10 gp.
The tables below help narrow down your backstory. We recommend picking a place of origin you are decently familiar with for role-playing purposes, but your character can be from any point in or around the 20th century or beyond to fulfill this trope.
Time Period: Choose one or roll to determine your decade or other time period of origin.
1 – Late 19th century/Early 20th century: Civil War, Native American Wars, Victorian England, Colonial Africa, etc.
2 – World War 1 era through 1920’s
3 – 1930’s – Depression era
4 – 1940’s – World War 2 era
5 – 1950’s
6 – 1960’s
7 – 1970’s
8 – 1980’s
9 – 1990’s
10 – 2000-present day
11 – Near future – political boundaries are likely similar to today, but you have knowledge of more advanced technology and maybe some odd cultural quirks not possessed by humans today.
12 – Far future – work with your DM to determine if you come from a utopian or dystopian society and what other strangeness may have occurred in the far future of Earth.
Attitude: Choose one or roll
1 – You love being in a strange new world, and view the experience as an exciting adventure. You never really fit in at home anyways.
2 – You desperately want to return to Earth, due to a loved one and/or unfinished business you left behind. The focus of your questing is to find a way back.
3 – You are haunted by misdeeds you committed on Earth, and view your transplantation to this new place as a chance at redemption.
4 – Your first experience on this alien world was unpleasant, and you are now very cautious among these strange and alien people. You usually try to hide your origin to avoid undue attention.
5 – You do not believe your experiences here are real, perhaps believing you are hallucinating or experiencing a virtual reality or even the afterlife. You act recklessly until the day cold hard reality sets in…
6 – You feel as though you belong here, and everything seems strangely familiar…and it turns out that you are actually a native of this place, but were transplanted to Earth as an infant or at least as far back as you can remember. Perhaps your parents sent you away to protect you, or maybe you were exiled and had your mind erased. Now you’re home, and it’s time to rediscover your heritage!
No one is quite sure how to react to your strange customs and speech (and possibly appearance, if humans in your setting do not look like Earth humans). In social situations, you are considered a curiosity and will often be treated as an honored guest and given the benefit of the doubt if you make a faux pas. Rulers will want to hear your tales of your strange planet and may elevate you to a position of status, though they may also try to keep you as a prisoner of sorts if they think they have something to gain from either your alien knowledge or just displaying you as an exhibit.
Alternate Feature: Modern Insight
Your knowledge from Earth means you can be much savvier than your fantasy-native counterparts on occasion, allowing you to compare your fantastic adventures to Earth fiction in character. You can also draw on real-life Earth knowledge to try and create equivalents of modern inventions of which your character has an understanding, though the technology and chemistry of the planet may not be able to accommodate you (for instance, there may not be petroleum for combustion engines, gunpowder for firearms, or silicon for micro-circuitry) but you can design equivalents using the planet’s available resources and even magic. Work with your DM on these “inventions,” they require downtime and must be constructed in the same way as magical items with similar effects.