Fish Out Of Temporal Water
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Basic Information

A Fish Out Of Water situation is a the result of characters being placed in an unfamiliar time period. Most commonly, this is caused by Time Travel or being a Human Popsicle or taking a Rip Van Winkle. The effects of a Fish Out Of Temporal Water scenario depend on what eras a character moves from and to.

Someone from The Present Day ends up in The Future: In this case, the so-called "fish" will be humbled or perplexed by the wonders of the future, or horrified by the dystopian nightmare they are facing.

Someone from The Present Day ends up in The Past: This past is usually sometime before the "fish" was born, though often close enough (in time) that the language they speak can still be mostly understood in the era. In the most classic examples of the genre, the time-traveler utterly fails to fit in, and may try to make the Past more like the Present Day. Often they'll introduce A Little Something We Call Rock And Roll to the locals, or awe them with technological trinkets and pronouncements that This Is My Boomstick. This may result in a cargo cult being formed.

Someone from The Future ends up in The Present Day: In this case, the "fish" will be confused by the simplest elements of modern society. Often they'll have some futuristic technology (see Applied Phlebotinum) which they can use to impress the Present Day locals, establish their credentials as time travelers, or change history.

Someone from The Past ends up in The Present Day: As with the Future people who visit the Present Day, they'll be confused by the details and customs of our modern society. See Values Dissonance. In fiction, this tends to be played up for humor, such as by having people who'd never seen car before call it a "metal demon".

Someone from The Future ends up in The Past: Essentially combines The Present Day to Past and The Future to The Present Day tropes.

See also:

Other variations that don't involve simple time-travel include being Trapped in TV Land, or a Refugee from TV Land.
Sometimes the fish is canned. See Sealed Evil in a Can and Sealed Good In A Can.


Most of the above text was distilled and simplified from the TV Tropes Wiki. That site also has numerous examples of Fish Out Of Temporal Water in movies, tv, novels, etc.

Game and Story Use

  • The different variations on this theme might be better suited for various styles of game.
    • For a light-hearted and humorous game, hauling characters forward in time can be a blast. The players will have fun trying to look at the world through rather old lenses.
    • Moving characters into the past tends to work well for more serious games that involve a lot of problem-solving. Players can put their ingenuity and knowledge to work in a Connecticut Yankee scenario.
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