Myths are highly adaptable stories that can be made to suit your own story. We talked briefly about how to take a myth / legend and break it down so that it’s elements can be re-purposed, and now I have a spin for you, parallel myths as an example!
The tale of Urashima Taro from Japan and the tale of Oisín in Tir na nÓg from Ireland are practically the same story, only with different details for their elements. For us that makes them an existing example of how to adapt a myth to your own story.
Let’s look at Urashima Taro first to set our baseline:
The tale of Urashima Taro (浦島 太郎) is an ancient tale from Japan of a young fisherman. One day Urashima Taro is fishing when he notices a group of children harassing a turtle. Taro saves the turtle. As thanks, the turtle magically gives Taro gills and brings him to the Palace of the Dragon God at the bottom of the sea. There he meets the Emperor and the lovely Sea princess.
Taro stays there with her for a few days, but soon wants to go back to his village and see his aging mother, so he asks permission to leave. The princess says she is sorry to see him go, but wishes him well and gives him a mysterious box called tamatebako which she tells him never to open. Taro grabs the box, jumps on the back of the same turtle that had brought him there, and soon is at the seashore.
When he returns home, everything has changed. His home is gone, his mother has vanished, and the people he knew are nowhere to be seen. He asks if anybody knows a man called Urashima Taro. They answer that they had heard someone of that name had vanished at sea long ago. He discovers that 300 years have passed since the day he left for the bottom of the sea. Struck by grief, he absent-mindedly opens the box the princess had given him, from which bursts forth a cloud of white smoke. He is suddenly aged, his beard long and white, and his back bent. From the sea comes the sad, sweet voice of the princess: “I told you not to open that box. In it was your old age …”
Urashima Taro stripped to it’s core elements features an everyman hero, magical transportation (in the form of an animal), a magical kingdom, a lovely supernatural princess, time passing differently, and the sudden reckoning of age. In some versions of the tale, there is romance between Urashima Taro and the princess, and sometimes she is the turtle that he saves.
Compare that to the tale of Oisin in Tir na nOg:
The character in Oisín in Tir na nÓg is Oisin, a legendary poet and warrior of Ireland. In this tale, he is visited by a fairy woman called Niamh of the Golden Hair who professes her love and together they ride away to Tir na nÓg on a white horse.
They marry, have children and live for a while in Tir na nÓg. Eventually homesickness sets in and Oisín decides to return to Ireland. Niamh gives him her white horse, Embarr, but warns him not to dismount.
Oisín returns and finds his home abandoned and in disrepair. Oisin soon discovers that 300 years had passed and only stories remain of him and his kin. Later, while Oisín is helping two men move a stone, he falls from the horse and ages in an instant, becoming an old man just as Niamh had forewarned. The horse bolts, returning to Tir na nÓg leaving Oisín behind.
This tale shares almost every core element of Urashima Taro. Both feature magical transportation (in the form of an animal), a magical kingdom, a lovely supernatural princess, time passing differently, and the sudden reckoning of age. Oisin, however is a legendary hero, rather than an everyman and Oisin’s tale also features romance with the princess as a core element. Essentially Oisin’s tale is a retelling of Urashima Taro with a substituted hero and the relationship brought to the forefront (or Urashima Taro is a retelling of Oisin with a generic hero @_@).
For a game session it would be fun to turn this on it’s head!
Instead of using this normally with the heroes as the principle of the tale, let’s make the antagonist as the principle of the tale! A warlord from the past slips through a portal into an alien realm (caused inadverdently by our protagonists). There he becomes immersed in a fantastic alien realm with wondrous technology and is showered with adulation (for something he did not do). Despite the wonders and grandeur of this alien realm, he soon longs for his home and the lands he had claimed with his own hands. The benevolent aliens grant him a field generating device with which to return, warning him that to leave the field would be disastrous.
He returns home albeit 300 years later, and does not recognize it as home. His coalition and warband are no more, not even a footnote in history. The world is none he recognizes. He curses the alien trickery and wages a campaign of mayhem intent on carving out an empire to replace what was lost using the alien technology.
Unfortunately for our heroes, he is trying to found an empire in their backyard. The heroes must stop this maniacal warlord with alien power, fighting through the shadows of the warlord’s past to discover the secret to overcoming his alien power, disabling his field through technique or trick to set the ravages of time upon him.
Not even the warlord is immune to the march of time!
This sounds like a plot ripe for Gamma World or even Danger Patrol. I will probably just save it for a rainy day adventure with Risus.