Quantum Leap into Your Next 5E D&D Campaign
While talking with a friend recently I mentioned the idea of a fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign based on the totally awesome science fiction television series Quantum Leap. This is a friend who’s played in my campaigns many times over the years yet never stepped into the role of Dungeon Master. Our conversation was aimed at encouraging him to run a game sometime and after playing a session I showed him my notes to illustrate how it’s nowhere near as complicated as he suspected. I could tell he was still unconvinced but when I mentioned creating a campaign inspired by Quantum Leap his whole demeanor changed. If he’ll ever run such a campaign (or any campaign!) remains to be seen but it seemed like a cool idea so I’ll share it here too. Let’s get into it.
5E D&D time travel campaign
In case you’re not familiar with the show the premise is a physicist theorizes the possibility of time travel within one’s own lifetime and builds project Quantum Leap to explore the potential. After years without results the threat of losing funding looms so naturally the physicist tests the time travel equipment by himself. He gets yeeted back in time but with a huge twist — he leaps into the bodies of random people! The physicist retains his own consciousness (with partial amnesia). With the help of a friend from his own time who appears as a hologram the physicist comes to understand he must correct something that went wrong in the past in order to leap back to his own time. But he finds once the correction is made he continues to leap to other places and times and it seems he must keep “putting things right that once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.”
There’s a heck of a lot of awesome ideas to work with here right?
Naturally a Quantum Leap campaign increases the leapers from a single individual to the whole party as determined by the number of players in the game. Any similarity to a standard 5E D&D campaign goes sideways here and of course the most important part of this is session zero. We’re going to deviate tremendously from standard game play and everyone needs to be on board from the get go.
This step is going to be super easy. Players can choose their race and background and if I’m honest I’d stop right there. They’ve got cultural touchstones and personalities and this is about all we need from character creation. Maybe someday their next leap will be the leap home but that’s beyond the scope of this campaign concept. The interesting thing to note is in the show the physicist does physically travel back in time in his own body. He only appears to be the person whose life he leapt into while those people, called Leapees, travel to the Quantum Leap project where staff there keep them in the Waiting Room until the physicist leaps again.
If characters only choose race and background and stop after this point then what the heck are they supposed to do when they leap from place to place and how do players gauge their advancement? This is where it gets even weirder and I suspect a lot of fun for players.
When the characters leap they’ll find themselves as monsters. For each new arc of the campaign, which I imagine are essentially short unrelated adventures, characters take on the role of whatever creatures the DM develops a scenario around. Structuring a campaign in such an unusual way creates some intriguing opportunities. Initially I assumed advancement would be through leaping into creatures with increasingly higher challenge ratings but this needn’t be the case at all. Likewise there’s no reason for all the characters to leap into the same creature either. I would probably keep them all in the same tier groupings though.
- Tier One. Challenge ratings 0-4
- Tier Two. Challenge ratings 5-10
- Tier Three. Challenge ratings 11-16
- Tier Four. Challenge ratings 17-20
For the party’s initial leap let’s say the characters wind up as ettercaps and just for one one of them is a phase spider. Once they get over the initial shock what comes next? Ettercaps are humanoid spiders who lair deep in remote forests and tend, feed and watch over spiders the way a shepherd oversees a flock of sheep. Figuring out what problem needs correcting could be quite an adventure!
Once they complete this bizarre adventure maybe they’ll leap into cloakers or xorn or something other strange tier two creature. By the time the campaign reaches tier four you’re looking at things like androsphinx, balor and adult or ancient dragons!
Quantum Leap continued for five seasons for a total 97 episodes. While I don’t recall many of the details at all from watching it back in the day (I have neither an eidetic memory or an IQ of 267 like the series lead character) things got pretty crazy from time to time. This goes beyond even the situations the physicist leaps into. A leapee escaped the Waiting Room at least once and more than once the character leapt into his own life or the lives of people he knew in his present so things can get quite noodly.
The holographically projected character makes a fantastic NPC for the DM too, because they can be very helpful without being a crutch for the players or even a way out of trouble. This NPC isn’t physically there for one thing. They also weren’t sure why the leaper arrived in any particular scenario or what they were meant to do while there.
A Quantum Leap campaign like this for 5E D&D can also be a terrific way to let players explore the perspectives of monsters. Sure, plenty of them are evil whether this is through their very essence like in the case of fiends or by virtue of their moral compass. This could be a great way to explore those ideas. Sahuagin are listed as lawful evil but after swimming a mile in their webbed feet perhaps there’s more to these aquatic predators and the sea devils nickname is undeserved. That’s up to the group to determine.
At any rate I thought it would be fun to share this idea. Maybe other people out there have played a Quantum Leap campaign in their 5E D&D games and have their own stories to share. I’m certainly interested in hearing them. Likewise if this sounds like a cool idea and inspires you to explore further please let me know!