On a forum I run someone opened a thread and explained how he tried to run the tale of Robin Hood in AD&D 2. He still plays that game, and it is still my favorite edition. So I thought about what went wrong and what can go wrong with that concept. Of course one of the key problem is: The players already know the story. The secound key problem is: if we focus on same characters then "good roleplaying" would mean they act as it was written in the original story.
How to fix both problems? If the players don't play the original characters or normal main characters of the legend, but play some character who already know the story. I remembered the book "Chronomancer" and one of the kits that is there. Someone who went back in history to experience some of the glorious battles in person. If we think about that Kit or let some NPC or item send the PCs back and forth in time we have exactly this opportunity. But how would I create a campaign based on time travel, visiting important moments of history, etc. based on Earth?
As the characters go back in time, and have read all the tales, I need a later period of time. I would start with Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death boxed set, but house rule a few things. As green cover books that detailed earth as AD&D setting allowed most standard races, I would allow most AD&D races, and for them, their racial pantheons. I would eliminate Ravenloft specific checks, but all the unspoken horrors you can imagine can stay in the setting. Would focus on the fact that time period was also important for exploration, and "expanding and populating the known world".
I would add an Evil Chronomancer to the picture, who "helped" certain legendary figures (good ones) to rise, to "change" the world to something he can conquer and corrupt easily. He needed everyone from Spartacus to Saint George. From Robin Hood to Robinson Crusoe, etc. to change the world a bit at right moment, so he can offer it all to an unspoken horror.
Our own world is this changed world. The characters are native to it. But they face a strange paradox. If they would kill the Chronomancer in time to stop his evil plans, his alterations of past would vanish, with most of the known world and with the characters and their loved ones. If they don't this evil one would win.
Their only good outcome is to "go back in time before the evil chronomancer would"... If they do it, that chronomancer don't have to go back in time and yet their world stays mostly stable. This way only going back in time, helping heroes to rise, protecting their legends would save their world, and at the end of the campaign they can face the evil chronomancer.
Of course between past adventures their tasks would be to "explore" areas they visited, and hide the "odd objects and tracks" they have left behind in the past. They helped a pharaoh? Now some items they have gave to the said pharaoh should vanish from his pyramid, but there is a mummy in there, etc.
I would start the campaign at 1st level, but the first time travel wouldn't happen at least till level 3, or preferably level 5-7. I would let the characters experience their own present day first and would run some adventures there. I would also give out low amount of xp for a more "realistic" rate of advancement and to provide more room for adventures.
The question is: Which legends (times, places, etc) would you use in the campaign?
Would you find a such campaign interesting? Would you play in one? And if you would play in one, what kind of characters would you bring?
And as I prefer a more sandbox way with a story: how would you expand the freedom of the player characters in this story (in their home time I can give them plenty of freedom already).