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Offline BeggarKing (Thomas)

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Time Travel
« on: May 19, 2014, 10:51:12 PM »
Seriously considering building a time travel game - anyone have tips on running time travel adventures, or some great play experiences to share?
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Offline Cory Magel

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2014, 12:42:11 AM »
We have long discussions about time travel.  Some of our group have vary concrete positions on the topic (i.e. "It's impossible!" to "It creates an alternate universe" and so on).

I'm going to keep it to how I would handle it in an RPG.

Time Travel, for me, all hinges on the specific moment in time you originate from.

I will not allow you to go BACK and time and change anything.  You can go back in time, but you can change nothing.  No matter what you do, or even possibly because of what you do, the same events will occur.  You can go back and see what happened though.  Additionally, you need to return to the exact moment you traveled back in time from.  Seems like an arbitrary rule, but it stops things from spinning out of control.  You can explain it to the players/character as something that MUST be obeyed or they will return to an alternate reality or, if you want to be even more hard and fast about it, they'll simply cease to exist due to messing with the 'space-time continuum'.  So, the "prime directive" if the players were given specific instructions from a time traveler would be "Observe only. Do not try to alter the outcome or you will only find yourself an accomplice to the destined result and always return back to the exact moment you traveled back in time from or the results will be catastrophic."  For example, if you go back to try and prevent a death your actions will, at best, be for naught and, at worst, might actually implicate you (I know, that's potentially changing things... but I warned the players not to mess with it!). :)

This stops things like "Crap! Bob just died! Quick! Travel back in time and tell him to dodge that round!"  If you allow the alteration of the past you are opening up a can of worms that you will likely regret as the GM.  Just don't do it.  Madness lies that way!

Now, you can play with things a little.  I'm going to use two very specific examples in how you can actually use backwards time travel to your own benefit (aside from just seeing what happened).

1. You are told to meet someone somewhere in a place not of your choosing.  They are already there and you must go now.  Let's say you have a favorite gun, but they tell you no weapons and (for arguments sake) set it up so there's just NO WAY you'll be able to sneak any gun, let alone that one, in.  So... you go back in time, go there when no one is there, plant one or more weapons or grenades or cameras or whatever the heck you want there.  You then travel back forward in time and show up, on time, obeying all the rules.  You have not altered your past in any way.  This is how players can use backward time travel to their advantage.  (Yes, someone might see you do it or randomly find the things you hid, but you get the basic premise).

2. Get a little more creative with it if you want to allow it:  You want to do something for yourself based on events that have already occurred, but due to the nature of time cannot alter your current reality in any way.  Let's say I wish I'd invested in Microsoft when they were being run out of Bill Gates garage (or wherever he started).  I can't just go back in time, invest, then come back already a bazillionaire.  That would be changing my current reality.  You need to have to do something after you return that accomplishes this.  So, let's say I go back in time, invest money in Microsoft, then come back, go to that investment firm (or whatever) and act as if I'd known about that account all along.  I haven't changed my past.  I was still just as rich or poor up to that point.  Any notices, emails, phone calls or anything else related to it don't reach you for one reason or another over the years.

So, forward travel.  That is a completely different ball game.  So long as you are traveling from the past to the future and back again you will be able to change future events because they have not happened yet.  So, you need to know if someone planning on invading your country?  You zap forward, see what happened, zap back, and take whatever steps (if any) are needed.

The first reason I do things this way is because it doesn't create a nightmare for the GM.  You really don't want players messing with the past unless you want to hand them the ability to completely wreck havoc within your campaign.  But allowing them to travel forward and gathering information can help you 'encourage' them along certain paths or, at the very least, not unravel everything you've done.
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Offline Cory Magel

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2014, 02:02:49 AM »
So, forward travel.  That is a completely different ball game.  So long as you are traveling from the past to the future and back again you will be able to change future events because they have not happened yet.  So, you need to know if someone planning on invading your country?  You zap forward, see what happened, zap back, and take whatever steps (if any) are needed.

Oh, and if you really want to mess with your players, keep in mind other people or events could alter that reality too.  So a rival time traveler may have already altered things you were going to try to... the future is not set, only what's already happened.
- Cory Magel

Game design priority: Fun > Balance > Realism (> = greater than).
(Channeling Companion, RMQ 1 & 2, and various Guild Companion articles author).

"The only thing I know about adults is that they are obsolete children." - Dr Seuss

Offline BeggarKing (Thomas)

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2014, 12:58:25 AM »
Some good arguments for the "you cant change the past" paradigm. I think changes could be allowed in some campaigns - maybe they end up being small in scope (the "imagine time as a giant river and your change is a pebble making a small splash" - even big changes have little effect on the overall timeline), or if there are technical limitations (your travel device can't pinpoint the exact location/time to drop the gun to your past self, and it ends up a few decades and a continent off).

I really like the "prime directive" idea, especially if its just a social contract and the party needs to enforce it and you have captain kirks running around the players need to deal with. Hmmm.

Also, running a game where players could seriously effect the past would be extremely challenging, but could also be crazy-fun.

How about adventures and settings? What would be cool time-travel adventure fair? What would be interesting side quests? Have you played in such a setting, and what was memorable about it?
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Offline Hurin

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2014, 01:25:37 AM »
There are a number of good RM sourcebooks for different historical eras. Mythic Greece, Rome, Vikings, and Robin Hood come to mind...
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Offline Cory Magel

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2014, 01:43:39 AM »
True, I should put the caveat on my comments that if you don't mind the players potentially re-writing large portions of what's already happened in your world then it could be great fun... but if you want to retain control without just having to resort to just saying "I'm the GM and that's how it is!" being able to alter the past is often a real can of worms.  I suspect you'd need to be a pretty good improv GM.  Knowing things past groups wanted to do just makes me cringe at the horror they could bring down on an unsuspecting GM.  What if I have this legend that is a big part of the campaign.  Most people in the world know, at least roughly, when and where it happened.  Imagine the players going back and potentially changing the outcome of that legend.  Most GM's don't want to have to deal with that kind of wrench being thrown into their campaigns gears.  Yes, you can stop them, but wouldn't that accomplish the same thing as just telling them they can't change history?  At least if you tell them in advance they'll never succeed they won't see it as the GM merely 'pulling rank'.  As you mention you could also say that they 'land' far away or years apart from the event... that's basically the same thing as saying "You just can't change history".

I guess one other thing to mention is there may be times when you want the players to interfere with the past.  The whole "What you did back then created the situations (good or bad) that you're in now" type thing.  If I ever run a campaign in Middle Earth it will be just after the sinking of Numenor and the ring will have sunk with Sauron's body and must either be recovered or re-made - it wouldn't just magically appear back in his possession.  The idea of the campaign is that they are trying to stop the re-making of the One Ring and all the various rings can be put into play without being the flame that draws moths (bad guys).  However, even if they succeed in preventing the re-making of the ring it will obviously eventually come to pass unless I want to say "Yeah, the whole Lord of the Rings story didn't end up that way..." :)  Basically, it gives the players the opportunity to do important things in the past without being tied to a story line and without re-writing 'history'.

Somewhat of side track there... the point is you can use them to run a mission that will be part of what resulted in whatever situation their current reality is in.  The only downside is (if you go with 'the past can't be changed') they'll know that, technically, even if they don't accomplish their goal something will compensate to make sure history does not change.

Maybe I just like to be prepared too much and backwards time travel scares the heck out of me as a GM as a result. :D
- Cory Magel

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Offline Thom @ ICE

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2014, 02:09:44 AM »
Personally I go with the idea that changes in the past change the present from that point forward.  If a character goes back in time from 5/21/2014 to 7/4/1776 to impact the signing of the Declaration of Independence then that's fine, but if they return to 5/21/2014 it will no longer be the same.  One of the great aspects of time travel then is realized as others also using time travel to modify the past in hopes of changing the present in a certain direction, while others try to prevent it.


Classic storylines -
* Assassination attempt - can go either way, heroes try to eliminate a power-hungry tyrant, or the evil time travelers are trying to eliminate a hero before he becomes one (Terminator).  In the end, even if the bad guys are successful in killing that hero, the GM can always rule that after his death, another took up the cause and was even more successful (or extreme in the other direction)


* Introduction of Anachronisms - learn a lesson from Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - what happens when modern technology is introduced into an ancient setting


* New Colonies - Terra Nova (TV Series) - when the world is no longer fit to live in, where can the people go... to the ancient past to live with dinosaurs, but even their technology may not be enough


* Steampunk - what happens when technology gets redirected at a critical point during development, and mystical elements are incorporated rather than dismissed? 

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Offline Cory Magel

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2014, 03:01:40 AM »
Personally I go with the idea that changes in the past change the present from that point forward.  If a character goes back in time from 5/21/2014 to 7/4/1776 to impact the signing of the Declaration of Independence then that's fine, but if they return to 5/21/2014 it will no longer be the same.  One of the great aspects of time travel then is realized as others also using time travel to modify the past in hopes of changing the present in a certain direction, while others try to prevent it.
That's usually how people describe the whole parallel universe/time-branch thing.

12 Monkeys and Looper (both Bruce Willis) are ones where all you do learn you were just part of the scenario as a result of the time travel.  Most of them pretty much end with nothing have been changed at all or everything going completely wrong (Butterfly Effect).  You just don't ever see the happy ending the characters were going for...
- Cory Magel

Game design priority: Fun > Balance > Realism (> = greater than).
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Offline Thom @ ICE

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2014, 03:16:45 AM »
It seems many of your comments are for having a character in a game have access to time travel, while my reference was more to the whole campaign being time travel oriented.  Effectively I use time travel as a means of changing the setting for each adventure, but inside each one the characters live in the time.  I guess you could do time travel for an individual, but it's an awesome power if you can change time by even as little as 10 seconds.  There was something in the Prince of Persia movie with a Dagger of Time that allowed him to go back in time for a short period (until the sands of time were consumed) and that gave him some great options.   Or if you want to stick with time travel movies.... go with Groundhog Day. :)
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Offline Cory Magel

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2014, 12:57:13 PM »
A game would be interesting that the entire point was to travel through time and change things.  The TV Show "Seven days" (or maybe it was Six Days) was about a time machine that was invented but could only send you back six or seven days.  Modern setting.  We were always laughing about the fact that he could come back and tell wild stories about what he'd done to save the world again and they'd have no idea if he was telling the truth.  They wouldn't even know for sure WHY they'd sent him back in the first place in some cases.
- Cory Magel

Game design priority: Fun > Balance > Realism (> = greater than).
(Channeling Companion, RMQ 1 & 2, and various Guild Companion articles author).

"The only thing I know about adults is that they are obsolete children." - Dr Seuss

Offline Marrethiel

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2014, 10:22:04 PM »
A friend of mine ran a Time Riders game which was tonnes of fun watching (work commitements.. Bah).
I think the game basically runs that time is "sticky" and certain parts have more inertia than others. It was fun watching characters go through ground hog days where they had messed up the time line and were re doing the same day to try and fix their errors.

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Offline Thom @ ICE

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #11 on: May 21, 2014, 11:32:28 PM »
I completely forgot about that book...  :o


Between your post and Cory, I may just have gotten my inspiration for an upcoming PBP campaign to test out some rules ideas. Thanks!
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Offline Marrethiel

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2014, 12:01:03 AM »
An interesting real world time travel device that I watched a doco on could work as a game.
Basically you set up a portal (had to be in outer space) and then after it is created you can go back in time but only until the day the portal was created. So if it was created today, in 50 years time you could time travel through the portal back to today or any day in-between... Apperently his math supported the theory but we could never build it.
Of course, if the enemy ever destroy the portal you have to build another one and can't go as far back in time...
Gatekeeper to the Under-Dark: "Why are you seeking passage?"
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Kal El: A tourist

Offline Cory Magel

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2014, 12:17:36 AM »
I forgot about one of our early RM experiences.

So, we'd become strong enough in D&D that we took on two dragons at once (which we thought was ridiculous).  When we moved over to RM and read up on the dragons we wanted to run a test fight with one.  The GM at the time had a session where the players were sent on a scouting mission by a powerful NPC (can't remember the exacts) but he was pretty sure we were going to die.  So, he setup a 'rewind' type spell where in 24 hours we would revert backwards 24 hours, remember what all had happened, and report to him what we found out.

Towards the end of the mission we came upon a dragon.  I think we had a party of six and it took it 3 or 4 rounds to kill us all.  That thought that was awesome. lol
- Cory Magel

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(Channeling Companion, RMQ 1 & 2, and various Guild Companion articles author).

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Offline BeggarKing (Thomas)

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2014, 11:28:32 AM »
Hm - I love the idea of a "groundshog day"  scenario - thinking of your dragon Cory, where the PCs have some impossible task, and they keep looping till they get it right.

really great ideas here - thanks all.
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Offline markc

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Re: Time Travel
« Reply #15 on: May 22, 2014, 04:14:13 PM »
 What I did in a game with TT, was buy stuff and bury it, then long in the future did it up as artifacts. I also game a lot of the $$ I made from that operation to the poor.
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