When your party makes enemies with a red dragon, you’re likely to get eaten. Annoy an assassin, and you have to literally watch your back all the time. And if you cross a wizard who has power over time, you’re likely to be sent back in time without a phone booth to get yourself back. Yesterday’s Campaign Mastery features an article about time travel in the author’s super-hero campaign. Except for the notable Dragonlance Legends trilogy, I don’t recall a lot of fantasy settings sending heroes through time. Maybe this is because fantasy settings remain largely unchanged in technology for thousands of years, even as empires come and go. You don’t hear about D&D games where the heroes are thrown into the “future” either, but that might be because mixed technology/fantasy mechanics tend not to work out well unless the game is specifically designed for it, and even then, it’s not guaranteed.
But let’s say despite that your character makes a time-shift. In the standard 4e campaign, you might find your heroes at the start of the Nerath Empire’s rise. Even if swords, armor, and magic still work the same, your character is still going to be out of her element. She won’t know any of the people, places, customs, or perhaps even language. This is a classic fish out of water situation, which is good guidance for how you might play it. Depending on the tone of the campaign, encounters with the NPCs could be a great time to ham it up. If your character knows about History, Religion, or Geography you could use those skills navigate your way through the past. The one question remains… do you try to change the past or work to ensure that events transpire as they already did?
Just as exciting is being catapulted into the future. If you make your time travel known, you’ll probably be treated as a curiosity, but at least you can regale people with stories of the “olde days” and laugh at the various situations the historians got wrong. As a twist on the normal dungeon delve, you can offer your services to a patron to explore an “ancient ruin” that was once your childhood palace.
The other thing for your character to figure out is how your character is getting home, or even if he wants to. If you used a magic item or ritual, you might assume that you could reverse it… that might be a bad assumption. Fortunately as players we don’t have to think too hard about it, our GM should give us a way out.