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Time Travel in yourgame?


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Jhaelen

First Post
Nope. I once included a 'flashback' episode where the PCs got a chance to play through a past event, but I'd never include actual time-travel.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I've done it once or twice, with mixed results.

If you can boot a character or party to a specific time - preferably a big leap from their current time - and provide the means to return only to the present time it can work quite well; and if you send them into the more-or-less-distant past they (and you!) get to live in a bit of that game-world history they otherwise only read about in your summaries.

One thing I did once that worked far better than I expected was to punt a party a few centuries into the future, where they could see firsthand what a complete mess the world had become; get told how things got that way; and get some instructions on how to fix things in their present time so the awful future they were seeing wouldn't end up happening. Then they just had to find a way back to their present time, which of course involved a lengthy bit of adventuring... :)

That said, if you give them the means to controllably blip around from one time to another it's bad news - says he, who once did just this as DM and really lived to regret it.
 

I once ran an adventure where the players had to go back in time to save the biggest douche bag in the world, because the fate of the world depended on it. That was fun. And then they accidentally caused a paradox that caused clones of themselves to spill into their own timeline. Fun times.

But my best time travel adventure was a Call of Cthulhu campaign I once ran:

The story took place in the present, and was about the players traveling to Evans City to investigate a series of strange goings on at the local elementary school (the kids were having head aches, nose bleeds, and making disturbing drawings). The school was a bit of a red herring, because far worse things were afoot. Upon arriving in the city, they passed through some sort of an invisible field, and then they hit an exposed concrete tunnel with the bottom of their car, that was hidden underneath a muddy puddle of water. This tunnel was part of a hidden underground network, used by a local cult. It connected various important locations in the campaign.

But the players were now stranded in the city with a broken car, and they gradually started to experience many bizarre events. They would receive phone-calls from the future, and the caller would give the answer to a question before they asked it. They would also see phantom images of future events passing through the city at night. They could even feel and hear someone getting into their hotel room at night. They would see the door opening, the sheets being drawn back, and feel the mattress being pressed down. A time-echo of a future hotel guest, as it turned out. And every now and then there was a minor earthquake. As it turned out, the city was a few seconds ahead in time. But each day this time difference became bigger. After a few days, the city was one whole day ahead in time, and they could see future events on the news. But this time travel effect was only in effect within the boundaries of the city (this is why they passed through an invisible field on the way in). The time difference also meant that passing through the time barrier became more and more harmful to anyone attempting to enter or leave the city.

I had carefully thought out the exact rules of the time difference, specifically in regards to modern communication equipment. For example, you could easily talk to each other within the city with walky talkies, as the signal never left the city. But if you used a phone or computer, the signal would leave the city limits, and by extension pass through the time wall. This would cause time differences in the signal, allowing you to receive phone calls and tv broadcasts from the future.

Eventually this event reached a critical point, where the city became more and more displaced in time and space. Now the voices on the other side of the phone were no longer of the person you called, but terrifying screams and wails along with loud static, from another world. The city was gradually merging with another dimension, thus bringing it into our world. And there were dangerous creatures living just on the edge of our reality; invisible, yet they would become aware of the players whenever the players became aware of them. Cracks would appear in the ground as the city edged closer and closer to complete disaster, and the cracks lead the players to a local church.

There in the basement deep below the church was a strange machine, an irregular shape of unknown metals, humming and buzzing loudly. Various wires and tubes were attached to the machine, with no obvious on or off switch. The players knew that they had to put a stop to the machine, to avoid the inevitable calamity.

Now here is where this story gets really interesting:

I ran this campaign with two different groups of players. The first group tried to destroy the machine, after killing the main villain. This caused an explosion, and a time rift sucked all the players back in time, into the late 50's. They awoke in a hospital with shards of the machine embedded in their body, as those same invisible creates from another world were drawn to the fragments. This was a set up for a follow up campaign.

The second group decided to carefully unplug the machine. They avoided harm to themselves, but it was too late to reverse the effects of the machine completely. They fled the church as the town was slowly sucked into another dimension. They also managed to turn one of the main villains into an ally, as she came to understand the danger she had unleashed, and she helped them escape.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
In my 5e D&D game, I'm not going to go there.

In my Ashen Stars game... well I have options. Ashen Stars is based on the GUMSHOE rules engine. And so is Timewatch. So, if I want to, I can easily just grab some bits out of Timewatch and go. Mechanically, I am all set to include time travel.

I don't have current plans to include it in the game. I think I've decided that if the PCs choose to seek it out, for some reason (and there are reasons aplenty in the game universe) I won't stop them. I will have to figure out what the Bogey Conundrum means in a time travelling context, but that isn't too difficult.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
I'd consider travelling back to the distant past (The Age of Myths and Legends) but not to visit your own grandfather. Because conundrums and paradoxes.
At the moment, I don't have any reason to design such a campaign, though.

And keep a bottle of brand-name aspirin handy: "Time Travel" is Excedrin Headache Number (SQRT(PI * -1))
 

Thomas Bowman

First Post
Time travel is both a way to visit places and to solve problems. Time Travel should be more a means for getting player characters to the location of an encounter rather than a means to solve the encounter, such as going back in time, creating time loops to multiply your selves. One could also go back in time and pick up the same gold piece over and over again, until one has a bag stuffed full of gold pieces.
 



My current 5E campaign has a bunch of time travel shenanigans in it.

I have an NPC who I wanted to kind of tell his story in reverse...he’s a wizard who has somehow managed to master chronomancy. The PCs first encounter him when he’s old and has gone mad and he attacks them from out of nowhere in the city of Sigil. They’ve never met him before and his ravings make no sense to them. They defend themselves, and ultimately, his attack results in the death of a pair of Dabus...which attracts the attention of the Lady of Pain. She shows up and sends him to one of her mazes.

Since then, the PCs have met younger versions of the character at different stages of his life. His story and why he ultimately winds up hating them has started to come together. Ultimately, they’ll need his help to undo a great wrong through the use of his time travel abilities....but the only way they can be sure to find him at a point in his life when he’s strong enough to do what they need will be to find the old madman in the Lady’s maze.

It’s been a lot of fun to use time travel and characters from the future...dropping a cryptic hint of what’s to come for the PCs is a sure way to get a strong reaction.
 

Thomas Bowman

First Post
How do the PCs travel in time? I'll admit, that its easier to handle time travel, when the agency for time travel is not in the hands of the PCs, but still how do they meet a chronomancer that is traveling through time? the Chronomancer has to visit them, the PCs can't look for them if they can't travel through time. How do you prevent the PCs from acting like Bill and Ted from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures? things like if the PCs are caught in an ambush, one of the PCs says, "once we get out of this situation then we will go back in time and help ourselves out, right at this moment!"
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
..., but still how do they meet a chronomancer that is traveling through time? the Chronomancer has to visit them, the PCs can't look for them if they can't travel through time.

A Chronomancer may be able to travel through time, but that doesn't mean they don't have a home place and time at which they can usually be found. They can go out, travel in time to do something, and then return home. Time travel is their day job.

How do you prevent the PCs from acting like Bill and Ted from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures? things like if the PCs are caught in an ambush, one of the PCs says, "once we get out of this situation then we will go back in time and help ourselves out, right at this moment!"

Well, Kevin Kulp's Timewatch game has a mechanic for this, a variation of the Preparedness rules used in other GUMSHOE games. "Okay folks, remember when we get back to HQ, we have to send someone back to last week to leave a blaster... under this rock!" *Makes roll* "Yes, here it is!"

But, in general, these things can be controlled by the mechanics of time travel. In a sci-fi game, maybe it takes a lot of energy. In a fantasy game, maybe it requires (and destroys) a ruby the size of your head to time travel.

What keeps the PCs from acting like Bill and Ted is the *player's* lack of knowledge of game world history, because most of that history does not exist. Time travel stories set on Earth have the benefit that we all have *HUGE* amounts of contextual information on real Earth history. We typically study it for years when we are young. And what we don't know, we can usually look up. We can each name dozens or hundreds of historical figures without blinking an eye. The player in a game not set on our Earth will have a much harder time - the GM has not written down the names of hundreds of historical figures for the players to know them. Bill and Ted can say, "We need a great scientist, let's go get Einstein!" and name the year and the city in which he's found. If your PCs need a potent wizard from 200 years prior to the current game, who would they name? Anyone?

You cannot make plans for time travel if you don't know the history in detail. And while we think of otu game-world histories as immense and well-detailed, I've yet to see one as well filled out or expansive as a middle-school history book.
 

How do the PCs travel in time? I'll admit, that its easier to handle time travel, when the agency for time travel is not in the hands of the PCs, but still how do they meet a chronomancer that is traveling through time? the Chronomancer has to visit them, the PCs can't look for them if they can't travel through time. How do you prevent the PCs from acting like Bill and Ted from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures? things like if the PCs are caught in an ambush, one of the PCs says, "once we get out of this situation then we will go back in time and help ourselves out, right at this moment!"

For my campaign, the ability to time travel is in primarily in the hands of 2 NPCs. One is the character I mentioned in my previous post. I have a rough timeline for his life sketched. It pretty much ends with his attack on the PCs. That’s the end of his life, but it’s at an earlier point in the campaign because he’s travelled back in time to attack them.

So then the PCs meet him as a young man days later. He has no idea who they are at this point, and is just learning to use his chronomancy. Then there are some additional encounters with him as the campaign’s gone on. I didn’t know why he hated the PCs...all I did was make it clear in their first encounter that he did hate them...and my players have been trying to figure it out...which has given me ideas on the reasons for his motivation. It’s been interesting to see how things take shape based on my players’ ideas and what they decide to have their PCs do.

When the time comes, they will know where to find him because they know he’s been sent to a maze by the Lady of Pain. Then, they’ll go back in time to try and save a group of people who were killed 5 years before. The question that’s come up is if they’re actually able to change the past or not...

All this has added a lot to our campaign. I don’t think it would be a good idea to grant the PCs carte blanche to use time travel however they want...not unless you’re playing a game that supports that concept...but I think having time travel being present as a concept allows the GM some interesting storytelling techniques.
 

Raunalyn

Adventurer
I've had several campaigns where time travel played a prominent role, but the PCs were very rarely directly involved.

In one D&D campaign (set in Dragonlance), I had the main villain travel back in time to before the War of the Lance and convince Verminaard to attack the city of Solace with his red dragonarmies before the Companions could begin their journey to restore knowledge of the Gods of Krynn. This created an alternate timeline where the characters in my game were able to run through elements of the Dragonlance modules. They eventually correct the timeline and are thrust back into the main timeline at the campaign's end.

Another campaign, one that was surprisingly successful, was a Mage campaign that I was running. FYI...Mage mixes very well with the Cthulhlu mythos, so that is what the campaign centered on. One of the characters was a Homicide detective that used her Time magic to see into the past to solve murders. The campaign is kicked off with a mysterious phone call to the player. The voice on the other end of the phone sounded familiar, but she couldn't point out where she had heard the voice before, and the only thing the voice said was, "You know what they say about the road to Hell?"

There just so happened to be a shop where the party would frequently purchase their magic supplies that was named "Good Intentions," and this triggered an investigation into a string of murders that led to a cult who was using these murders to trigger the return of some unspeakable monstrosity, etc. etc.

This campaign ran for several years, so it was a couple of years later that the same detective, who had just received a phone call. The group had just finished a major campaign arc that did not go well. The group had attempted to save someone out of the goodness of their hearts, only to learn that the person they were saving was a major Nephandus (a corrupt Mage working to bring about the end of everything).

Keep in mind, I had been manipulating things to get to this point, and I'm not entirely sure the players in my group knew what I was doing. While the detective picks up the phone, saying hello a few times to an empty line. Meanwhile, the party is discussing what had just happened. One of the other party members mentioned that this disaster had begun with the best of intentions. And, right on cue, the player of the person playing the detective says, "Well, you know what they say about the road to hell?"

I got really quiet. The detective's player's eyes grew really really wide when she realized what she had just said.
 


S

Sunseeker

Guest
It's possible, via magical accidents and even the good old "Teleport Through Time" spell, certain magical artifacts will get it done too.

However, I run "time" as a hybrid of "wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff" and "branching paths". Minor changes to the timeline will get "adjusted" back in line. Significant changes will create branching paths. However, "time" is still trying to reconcile these alternate paths into the main timestream. All paths will eventually converge into whichever path is is the "strongest", typically the one that is the most probable result for any given number of variations. The further back you go, the less likely minor changes will have any effect on anything, and the more likely major changes will have an effect on things.

Typically speaking, players don't see very interested in the time travel hooks. And I do not make them prominent elements of the story.

Except for the Time Wars...except that...
 

I made my initial post next year, and this response is from a week ago Tuesday.

I think if the party is up for it, then a GM should allow time travel. And it should be possible to change history, but not easy. For example, preventing the deaths of Lincoln or Kennedy should be possible, but about as difficult as collecting all the parts of the Rod of Seven Parts. Or about as easy as getting your hands on the Holy Grail. Likewise, time travel should be difficult, dangerous, and imprecise. The party cannot simply automatically drop in on the Oswald or Booth house hold the day before the assassinations.
 

Thomas Bowman

First Post
One rule is if the time traveler went back in time and saved John F. Kennedy, he would not have a reason for going back in time in the first place, so lets say he stops Lee Harvey Oswald, he still needs a reason to be there, why did he make the trip in the first place in Kennedy was never assassinated, so the timeline steps in to give him a reason to go back in time and safe JFK, so somebody else kill JFK. What if this time it is a KGB agent who confesses that he was sent by the Soviet Union to assassinate Kennedy in revenge for the Cuban Missile Crises, and this causes LBJ to declare war on the Soviet Union for this outrageous act. The United States wins this war, as the Soviets lack long range missiles, a few missiles that the Soviets do have get through and destroy American cities, Soviet bombers are mostly shot down, but the Soviet Union is devastated by the American response, Europe is devastated as well because the Soviets use their short range missiles so there is a USA to send a time traveler back to save JFK and to prevent World War III as well. World War III came as an unintended consequence of trying to save JFK, JFK is not saved, but World War III is added as an additional reason to go back in time to prevent.

The time traveler doesn't remember this change in history. the consequences for temporarily saving JFK's life aren't immediately apparent, he enters his time machine thinking that the mission has been accomplished, he still has the original timeline in his records and memory, he goes back to the present to find a world that is recovering from a nuclear war. Conservation of mass requires that the time traveler needs a reason to go back in time, and that the main reason for going back in time can never be fulfilled, but unintended changes to history can still occur during the mission, just so long as they are not the main reason for going back in time.

What do you think would happen if someone went back in time to kill Hitler before he starts World War II? Maybe someone else starts World War II instead, maybe by Joseph Stalin. A Soviet started World War II would probably occur in the 1950s. Without the Germans starting World War II, the United States doesn't perceive a threat, and does not build an atomic bomb, the jet engine is developed however and so is the Helicopter. FDR lives a bit longer without World War II, he retires after his second term in office.
The Soviet Union invades Europe, and it is only the fact that most European countries have disarmed and that the Great Depression took a great toll that the Soviets have a chance. The Soviets get stalled for a time at France's Maginot Wall, it takes them a while to figure out that they can go around it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I made my initial post next year, and this response is from a week ago Tuesday.

I think if the party is up for it, then a GM should allow time travel. And it should be possible to change history, but not easy. For example, preventing the deaths of Lincoln or Kennedy should be possible, but about as difficult as collecting all the parts of the Rod of Seven Parts. Or about as easy as getting your hands on the Holy Grail. Likewise, time travel should be difficult, dangerous, and imprecise. The party cannot simply automatically drop in on the Oswald or Booth house hold the day before the assassinations.

Another approach is to let it be easy... but not let it be easy to get desired (or even good) consequences.

For example, if Lincoln doesn't die, he doesn't become a martyr. It is by no means a sure thing that the process of putting the nation back together again goes well under Lincoln. Similar for Kennedy. What if, alive, he massively screws something up in relations with the Russians?

The potential unintended consequences of formative changes to the timeline are massive and unpredictable. If the PCs time travel except for very focused reasons, they get what they ask for.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
One rule is if the time traveler went back in time and saved John F. Kennedy, he would not have a reason for going back in time in the first place....

So, basically, if you dare to travel in time, your world will suck forever. Time travel is a trap, allowed by the GM, but which no player would ever want to do - and players cannot know the trap, because the information gets lost in timeline revisions and the attendant memory changes. Similarly, they cannot leave the trap, because the information on what they changed gets lost, so they cannot undo their own changes.

GM: "Here's a corridor. I won't tell you what's down it."
Players: "Okay, let us investigate!"
GM: "Rocks fall, everyone dies! I guess that was a bad corridor to go down."

It may seem logical, but unless your players like frustration and misery, it seems like a bad design choice for a game.
 

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