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Reliku
2018-07-15, 06:03 AM
Hi guys,

I'm new here, I just registered because I'm looking for some advice on a campaign I'm working on... It's a DnD game with a custom setting.

Basically, to keep it simple, I have introduced time travel into my story, and a rather unlimited version while at it. I know, horrible idea and all, but I have some really cool plans for it and the PCs will have very limited access to it, so they can't abuse it too much. Furthermore, I have invented "guardians of the timeline" who will interfere with anyone trying to modify the natural flow of time. The bigger the offence against the timeline, the more powerful the guardians coming after the offender.

Now there's a BBEG who has access to time traveling.

The BBEG is obviously very powerful and the party will not be able to challenge him yet (they're level 4 at the moment). While their struggle against the BBEG continues, the PCs rise in power and the BBEG becomes more desperate, eventually engaging them in combat. Obviously I'll tailor the encounter to make sure the PCs actually defeat him after a difficult battle.

Now here's the plot I'm considering:

Once he is about to die, he will teleport back through time and to the PCs at the current time (while they are still level 4), planning to kill the pesky adventurers before they can do harm to his evil plans. This would be such a great violation of the temporal law that a very powerful guardian intervenes and kills the BBEG before the eyes of the level 4 PCs. The level 4 PCs at this point don't even know who the BBEG is, they just see a wounded, seemingly powerful wizard appear and threaten them, shortly thereafter a powerful demonic-like guardian who says some stuff in infernal, kills the wizard, breaks the wizard's staff (which enables time travel) and disappears again with the corpse and broken staff. The PCs will have no idea what just happened.

In the actual BBEG fight, many sessions and levels later, the BBEG will simply disappear at the end by some temporal teleport, and be returned shortly after, dead, by the guardian who killed him. The guardian, having done its job, disappears again. The PCs will finally be able to piece together what happened after that encounter.

My question: what do you think? The PCs will meet the BBEG for the first time in the next session, I plan to have him die BEFORE they meet him. Obviously they're not stupid and understand that the evil wizard they just met is the guy who was killed in front of them a few hours ago.

This means that during the adventure, they know the BBEG is going to die, and how he is going to die (teleports through time and gets killed). This also means they immediately understand the consequences of messing with time when you shouldn't, and will prevent them from breaking the timeline. Well, they can still try to break it, but they have gotten a very clear warning that their characters will die if they go too far, and I wouldn't hesitate to kill a character if they truly try to break the timeline (going back in time and trying to kill the BBEG as a child would get everyone participating killed for example).

What do you think? Yay or nay?

I'd love to hear some other peoples' thoughts! Obviously I can't discuss it with my DnD group for spoiler reasons :P

Cheers, :)
Reliku

Reversefigure4
2018-07-15, 06:58 AM
You'll have a better understanding of your players and whether they'd enjoy a 'foregone conclusion' story better than us.

I have to say I see a few holes.

- First off, the PCs don't get to heroically kill the big bad. After defeating him, their thunder is completely stolen by the all-powerful Time Guardian, who simply kill-steals the guy the PCs have spent the entire campaign chasing. It's pretty de-protagonising.

- And why do the PCs pursue the big bad? They already know what happens to him - he's killed by a Time Guardian. What's their drive to try and oppose him, since he'll just get himself killed anyway inevitably?

- You're allocating for a lot of actions here. The PCs have to inevitably oppose the wizard (what happens if they try to convince him "Stop your plan, man, we just watched you get killed by a Time Guardian?"). They can safely assume they're immune to all threats the Big Bad can throw at them, since he came back to confront them for their future actions, and they know he fails to stop them (or what happens if the PCs die, and are replaced by other PCs - why does the Big Bad come back to threaten the originals?). There's any number of places they can fall off the rails inadvertently, unless you have a literal Time Guardian shadowing them and telling them "Do X, or I'll kill you."

NichG
2018-07-15, 07:19 AM
Nay. Time travel as a plot device is interesting because of the implication that things can be changed - and the degree to which characters interact with the particular necessities and difficulties of actually trying to do so. Making an inviolable timeline can work, but in doing so you have to be prepared for and to welcome people trying things like 'I make sure that we have only very specific and limited knowledge of the future, such that when we interfere in time to create self-fulfilling prophecies we avoid the catch'. Making a changeable timeline can work, so long as you engage with the exploration of possibilities. Making a timeline that acts like it's changeable, but where attempting to engage with that premise means that a deus ex machina shows up and kills you, betrays the potential which you're offering by offering a time travel story in the first place.

If you want to do something very similar, but keeping with the actual exciting aspects of playing with time travel, make bodily time travel simply be highly lethal in 95% of cases, period, regardless of the insult to the timeline. The wizard is in such bad shape that they make the attempt, hoping to be in that 5% (they were previously going to send skeletons or some other non-living carrier of their will, but they became desperate). So the wizard shows up in the past having not rolled a crit success on their Fort save (or equivalent) against time travel system shock, and shortly thereafter dies in a place where the PCs will find them. However, on the wizard are some hints which suggest their future origins, and their potential role as a BBEG. Furthermore, injuries sustained in the battle are suggestive of some iconic attacks the PCs like to use.

Now, from that point, fresh start and the timeline goes forward with no guarantees about how things went the first time around. Maybe the PCs end up in that fateful battle again, or maybe they decide not to investigate the BBEG, or maybe they kill the younger version of the wizard before he becomes a threat - but in all cases, just go with it wherever it ends up going. You've got plenty of material there to mess with the PCs reasoning - if they decide the like the future where they kill the wizard that way, then they're forced to try to prevent other PCs from allowing the timeline to diverge, and so on. No need to be heavy handed with 'because I say so' time guardians.

Reliku
2018-07-15, 08:25 AM
Those are some great points. Thanks guys!

I do not intend to prohibit time travel altogether, I simply mean to make it harder to do stuff that have more impact. I plan to give them a device to go back in time, but using it drains "time crystals", which are obviously gonna be pretty rare during the campaign.

Furthermore, time hops will anger the guardians, which are controlled by a god of time who wants things to go with the natural flow of time. If you hop the entire party back 12 seconds in combat to redo the last two rounds, it will only moderately annoy the guardians, it'll summon a guardian but one not too powerful so the npc's can defeat him rather easily. If they go back an entire day to change something they didnt know back then, it'll anger them more and they'll have one or more strong ones to deal with. Still nothing the party can't handle, but it may be a tough fight depending on what shenanigans they're trying to pull.

If they go back years and try to kill the BBEG as a child, it will seriously piss off the god of time and something very powerfull will come after them.

I just realized though, that doesnt necessarily have to kill them. Maybe have the guardian overpower them and reverse the time hop before they can do harm to the timeline, theyll have wasted a valuable crystal and got nothing in return.

If they can kill the guardian or maybe even convince him, they're free to do as they please. But that becomes harder if they try to do more harm to the timeline.

I came up with this to allow time travel as a cool gimmick (****, that went bad, lets re-do the last few rounds of combat), but to discourage outright game breaking. It can be done, but you'll piss off the god of time and it'll be very hard.

I thought that was more fun than a "roll a d% and maybe the time hop goes without bad side effects" :P

I realize now that killing the BBEG with a time guardian is a bad idea. Too much can go wrong along the way, they could indeed lose the drive to fight the BBEG and I definitely do not want to have an npc steal the players' shine. Good point, thanks!

How about, in the final fight, he hops back to the level four players, wounded and weakened, the guardian shows up and says something like "you've gone too far this time", and then proceeds to abduct the BBEG back to the players in the final fight, after which the players can still kill him (or spare him even! Maybe the guardian will still kill him if they do so, so many options!)

The guardian doesn't kill the BBEG directly, but does foil his escape plan, restoring the natural outcome of the final fight. That still leaves the "dont mess with the timeline too much or the guardians will stop you" philosophy, but doesn't set events in stone at this point either, it can still go either way.

Unless the final fight doesn't happen, but I will not allow the PCs to befriend the BBEG, and if the PCs get killed along the way then I can always reason that the original PCs set things in motion, so if the BBEG kills the original PCs, he stops his doom (but he obviously gets prevented from doing that).

Sorry for the wall of text! :P

NichG
2018-07-15, 08:56 AM
You're still looking too much along the lines of what 'you' will or will not allow, which is the sort of thing that makes this go awry. Think about it like this - if there's a player who says 'I want to jump to the moon' or something like that, when it turns out they can't it's a natural consequence of the way the world is presented to work and whatever the current state of their character is. Even without the DM's intervention, the player could e.g. read tables of 'how high can you jump if you hit this DC', etc. But if instead you say 'well, anyone can jump as high as they want' but then when they jump too high the reality auditors show up and give them a citation then suddenly you've anthropomorphized the reason that the player can't do what you've suggested they could.

If its nature saying 'no', then that's impersonal. If its an NPC saying 'no' on behalf of nature, it sends a mixed message. Nature can't really be 'unjust' or 'corrupt' or 'a jerk', but an NPC certainly can. By putting a sentient face on things, you're basically saying that the reason for what is happening is driven by motivations, not be fundamental truths of reality. And, if you're not careful, a player may decide that the motivations driven things are your motivations as the DM rather than the motivations of characters actually within the universe. If the time guardians are intervening only for sake of preserving your plotline that you've set up ahead of time (or if you permit it to appear that way), you open yourself up to the players reading that the situation is adversarial and behaving accordingly. Which basically means you get a pushback proportional to whatever pressure you try to apply to get things on track.

Jay R
2018-07-15, 09:11 AM
"Hey, everyone! I have a great idea for an adventure railroad. You'll know from the beginning that you can't kill him, and that his plans will keep going for awhile. You'll already have watched the powerful NPCs fulfill your quest because you can't! Then we'll run the quest!"

I just don't think this will seem as much fun from the other side of the DM screen.

Anymage
2018-07-15, 09:41 AM
If players think you have some sort of grand plan, expect at least one of them to try undermining it just to be contrary. If this involves a particular key NPC, expect somebody to try and kill them just to see if it's possible.

In a game with as many moving parts as D&D, expect four players to be able to put their heads together and outsmarts you. Unless you counter with open DM fiat (which tends to upset players when you make it clear that your holy plot is sacrosanct and that nothing they can do will change that), expect something to go off the rails ASAP.

noob
2018-07-15, 09:50 AM
Do the guardians resurrect people too?
Because else if the bbeg is also an anima mage the bbeg can kill the low level adventurers in the instant before he gets killed by the guardian(thanks to an immediate action meteor swarm) therefore obtaining exactly what it wanted.

Reliku
2018-07-15, 12:12 PM
If the time guardians are intervening only for sake of preserving your plotline that you've set up ahead of time (or if you permit it to appear that way), you open yourself up to the players reading that the situation is adversarial and behaving accordingly. Which basically means you get a pushback proportional to whatever pressure you try to apply to get things on track.

This is not my intention. The guardians are not intended to protect the plotline, they are intended to prevent characters (whether they're PCs or NPCs) from changing the original timeline. This is a rather "fixed" rule of nature in that sense: if you go back in time to change events, bad things will come after you. As long as you're consistent with that, that's the same as "you can't jump to the moon", in a sense.

The difference is that there's an npc telling them "no" instead of a clear rule (you can't jump higher than X with DC Y). But do the PCs have to know this? If they try to change the timeline, the time guardians are simply enemies they have to defeat to achieve that goal, just like they have to defeat normal monsters if they want treasure.

If they succeed, then I will of course allow them to do as they please, but if they try to do something too outrageous I will make it as impossible as it can be. Want to prevent the creation of the universe? Sure, here's the god of time himself, fight him first!

That's a fair rule, isn't it? It works both ways. Or do you think the PCs would still experience that as unfair?

But I agree it is probably a bad idea to have the BBEG killed in front of the players. I think I'll scrap that from the next session.

Still, my PCs aren't dumb, if they eventually do kill the BBEG (assuming it comes to that, of course), I'm afraid they'll go "why didn't he just travel back in time and kill us all while we were still level 1?"

Maybe I have to use another method to explain that you can't hop back 1000 years and kill the BBEG before he becomes a threat... using a different npc villain or something that doesn't have a long running plot involved.

Appreciate the feedback guys! I'm relatively new to DnD and this is my first attempt at building an entire campaign from scratch :P

TheStranger
2018-07-15, 12:39 PM
My advice is this - don't let time travel happen in your game. Just don't. I've never seen it work well, but I've seen it work poorly in different ways. It's much, much better in theory than it is in practice.

In your example, the BBEG has a plot to go back in time and do Bad Things. The PCs (mostly) stop him, but he goes back in time and gets killed offscreen by DM fiat. Which is clearly less satisfying for the players than successfully killing him themselves, and so probably isn't the way to go. I get that the original idea was to provide context for a prior death scene, but the problems with that have already been pointed out.

But maybe you're thinking that the threat of time travel serves as the McGuffin to drive the plot. It's a part of the BBEG's plan, but functionally he might as well be opening a portal to Hell, building a death ray, or whatever else is driving the apocalypse of the week. The problem with that is mostly that if the PCs win, they'll want to play with time travel. Or, instead of opposing the BBEG directly, they'll decide that since time travel obviously exists in this setting, it would be easier to go back in time and kill him as a baby. Anyway, you end up trying to adjudicate increasingly complex time-travel schemes, or coming up with a reason that the PCs can't do time travel but it was a credible threat when the BBEG was doing it.

The bottom line is, time travel, more than any other plot device I know of, results in fridge logic that either detracts from the story or sends it off the rails. It works reasonably well in movies because the storyteller only has to hold things together for a couple hours. In a tabletop game, where the players have entire weeks to reflect on it, things fall apart fast.

Anymage
2018-07-15, 12:44 PM
That's a fair rule, isn't it? It works both ways. Or do you think the PCs would still experience that as unfair?

Dropping an elder dragon on the party if they go off the rails is pretty archetypal immature DM behavior. There's little practical difference between "if you do this, something overwhelmingly powerful will try to kill you", "if you try to do this, I will flat out fiat kill you", and "you just can't do this".

Plus, there's a massive difference between being time crooks trying to dodge the time cops as one of the core tenets of the campaign, and kinda-sorta allowing it but having time gods pop down if they try to do anything fun with it.


Appreciate the feedback guys! I'm relatively new to DnD and this is my first attempt at building an entire campaign from scratch :P

Let's start with some real basics here first. Like, super basic.

First, rewinding time in combat is a bookkeeping nightmare. Do you really feel like tracking the result of every dice roll? Try to avoid combat time rewinds for your own sanity.

Second, while players tend to like subtle rails so they have some guideline where to go next (sandbox is popular in theory, but causes option paralysis in practice), they tend to blow up any but the vaguest of plot outlines. Partially due to orneriness when the rails are too obvious, partially because they don't happen to know how you have everything planned out. Don't worry about the high level culmination of your campaign right now. There's no guarantee that the campaign will even last that long, and player action will certainly throw about a factory full of monkey wrenches into your plans. Focus more on the immediate surroundings and more local adventure hooks, so you can concentrate on things with more immediate payoffs. Your priority should be the players enjoying themselves in the nearer term more than the ultimate payoff.

If you really want time manipulation to be a part of your campaign, you can have crystallized time that allows certain cool effects (casting certain time-related spells, negating unwanted consequences, etc.) to when used. You can even have the PC's first encounter with this being when some mysterious entity, badly beaten and disfigured from some unknown effect, vows to stop them before launching an all-out attack. Just try to make it clear that the players' goal is to survive this stronger creature's attacks while it burns out instead of taking it head on. But try to avoid having the heavy handed time cop step in here, except at most as an unobtrusive good samaritan to help heal up a PC who got hit a little too hard. Definitely avoid making it obvious just who launched themselves back to stop the PCs, or how much of the damage they took was from the process of going backwards, so you can change details if you need to. And to repeat what I said above - it's that important - make sure that there's plenty of stuff to entice fourth level PCs in the surrounding area so that people don't get bored and/or burnt out well before you can really do anything with your bigger plot ideas.

NichG
2018-07-15, 01:22 PM
This is not my intention. The guardians are not intended to protect the plotline, they are intended to prevent characters (whether they're PCs or NPCs) from changing the original timeline. This is a rather "fixed" rule of nature in that sense: if you go back in time to change events, bad things will come after you. As long as you're consistent with that, that's the same as "you can't jump to the moon", in a sense.

No, it reads totally differently. 'You can't jump to the moon because it isn't possible' is a message that, in the worst case, the player simply misunderstood the way their character functions mechanically or how the world works. 'You can't jump to the moon because the moon lord doesn't like it' is a very different state of things - it's putting a sentient face on that limit. 'It's not possible/it doesn't make sense' vs 'something actively does not want you to do this' are very different messages. 1+1 not equaling 3 no matter how much you'd like it to versus 'I'm going to punish you if you're bad'.

In the case of the second, especially when you take pains to show that the resisting agent is much more powerful than anything else going on in the campaign, it reads strongly as 'I (the DM) do not want you to do this' - and whether you actually intend that or not is totally irrelevant.


The difference is that there's an npc telling them "no" instead of a clear rule (you can't jump higher than X with DC Y). But do the PCs have to know this? If they try to change the timeline, the time guardians are simply enemies they have to defeat to achieve that goal, just like they have to defeat normal monsters if they want treasure.

I mean, you're basically talking about opening the plot arc with the PCs seeing these NPCs in operation in a major intervention and being able to easily deal with the antagonist who is intended to be the BBEG of the arc without a sweat. So yes, the way you're doing it, you're making sure that the PCs know it. Furthermore, you're saying that meaningful changes (e.g. those that are plot relevant) will necessarily involve tangling with something that is by definition going to be more powerful than the most difficult thing they could reasonably expect to face if they just play along.


If they succeed, then I will of course allow them to do as they please, but if they try to do something too outrageous I will make it as impossible as it can be. Want to prevent the creation of the universe? Sure, here's the god of time himself, fight him first!

That's a fair rule, isn't it? It works both ways. Or do you think the PCs would still experience that as unfair?

It's not whether its fair or not, its transparently an avatar for your influence as the DM - you don't want the PCs to do outrageous things, so you will make it as impossible as can be. You're doing so via a puppet, but of course everyone at the table is going to be aware that that's your puppet to control. This is especially the case when you take something that would normally be a natural force (time, etc) and personify it as an active agent who is involved in the events of the campaign - but only when the PCs appear to be deviating from some kind of bounds of normalcy. And that reads a lot like someone who is trying to exert dominance, push the players around, generally get them to show submission, etc. This is highly likely to rile people up, and you can be almost certain to get some kind of rebellious and destructive behavior as a result.

I would only ever put a god of time like that into a campaign as an intentional antagonist whose active purpose for being there was to be cathartically slaughtered by the PCs at some point.

If on the other hand, the way time travel works simply makes those kinds of shenanigans logistically impractical, then the players can understand that directly from the way in which they learn how time travel functions in your campaign, and they simply won't try if it doesn't look like it will be possible.

Reliku
2018-07-15, 03:09 PM
I mean, you're basically talking about opening the plot arc with the PCs seeing these NPCs in operation in a major intervention and being able to easily deal with the antagonist who is intended to be the BBEG of the arc without a sweat. So yes, the way you're doing it, you're making sure that the PCs know it. Furthermore, you're saying that meaningful changes (e.g. those that are plot relevant) will necessarily involve tangling with something that is by definition going to be more powerful than the most difficult thing they could reasonably expect to face if they just play along.

I think I phrased it wrongly, but I do not intend to prevent the PCs from using time travel to achieve their goals. In fact, I would love it if they do use it. They could hop back a day with the knowledge of tomorrow to prevent or make something happen for example, or hop back 1000 years to talk to someone from an ancient civilization to gain some knowledge. The drawback is, they have to deal with guardians who don't like it when they jump through time. If they don't pull too crazy things, the guardians won't be too much of a challenge, so it wouldn't be more difficult than playing along. I don't want to railroad them into not using time travel to solve their problems. But I do not want it to be a magic problem-solver for everything either.

The problem is, if I want to allow them to travel through time, I have to figure out a way to restrict them from preventing the creation of the universe, because I have several players who will try to pull shenanigans like that. The only foolproof way to do that is to remove time travel altogether. Now the plot doesn't need time travel in the grand scheme of things but I really do like it and I've got some great ideas that will (hopefully) challenge the players and allow them to come up with some creative solutions using time travel. But I don't want them to go for the obvious cheese and say "I jump back, kill the bad guy when he's a baby and I've fixed the problem", because stuff like that causes paradoxes and finding workarounds for paradoxes sucks, it's a lot of work for me and it's probably going to result in something the players aren't happy with.

"Guardians of the timeline" seemed like a pretty good solution for this. What other way could I use to prevent time travel cheesing? I want to allow it to be useful, so making it impossible with a 95% failure chance would kinda be a dealbreaker for me. And for the players too (I think), they may feel cheated because the BBEG can use it and they can't. I'd have to limit the time traveling power of the BBEG too, and well, at that point there's no point in including this particular villain anyway, there are more interesting villains and plots in my campaign already.

I've just got an idea though, what if I rule that longer jumps take more energy, therefore they need a bigger time crystal or something, and those are rarer. This would allow hopping 10 minutes back to re-do the entire combat should the players want to, but makes hopping back a day much harder and a month just about impossible because there aren't enough time crystals in the world.

This foils the BBEG's ultimate escape plan that I had planned, but...


Your priority should be the players enjoying themselves in the nearer term more than the ultimate payoff.

I understand where you're coming from and I think this is a good philosophy. So I'll change that :)


And that reads a lot like someone who is trying to exert dominance, push the players around, generally get them to show submission, etc. This is highly likely to rile people up, and you can be almost certain to get some kind of rebellious and destructive behavior as a result.

That is NOT my intention at all!

The idea was to give them the sense that there are bigger things in the world than the BBEG they're dealing with right now and that they can't just march in everywhere and expect to win every encounter. If they do stupid things and piss off the wrong beings, be it powerful wizard, time guardians or even the lord of the local area, they can certainly die.

I'm not trying to downplay the players or force them to go in the direction I want, so in that sense I (now) understand that my original approach of deciding they would end up fighting the BBEG was wrong.

I was just trying to build an interesting adventure for my players, giving them a taste of the villain I have built for them, letting them know they are not powerful enough yet to deal with that villain, and that the villain isn't the most powerful being in the world either. There are bigger fish out there, and what cooler way to demonstrate that is to have the fish trying to eat you get eaten by an even bigger fish? Don't worry, I see the flaws now and the idea is off the table :)

I think I'll revise my time traveling mechanics to restrict it to short hops only, with longer hops requiring more crystals, making paradox-inducing distances impossible to travel by nature. The PCs could "reset" the last ten minutes for example, and try something again, with the knowledge they gained ten minutes later. They wouldn't be able to travel back 100 years and then travel back to the present, because they don't have enough time crystals, but they could reset a combat scenario and try a diplomatic solution instead for example. Without long distance time travel, the timeline will be much harder to break (no paradoxes), even though I expect some creative solutions from my players :)

I want to encourage those creative solutions, not discourage them. I just don't want them to snap my campaign in half :smalleek:

I had already planned a few cool things for the BBEG which would now become impossible, but that's too bad I guess.

It would limit time traveling power and have clear "natural" rules that wouldn't be interpreted as "unfair" because I'm controlling a powerful NPC to prevent them from doing things I don't like. The rules don't have a face or motivation, so that problem would be solved.

Any thoughts? (If anyone is still reading after such a wall of text!)

Reversefigure4
2018-07-15, 05:35 PM
It's well worth noting that Time Travel is HARD to put into a roleplaying game. You're inherently playing on Hard Mode by introducing it as the central campaign conceit.

What works in a novel or a movie or a video game does not necessarily work in a roleplaying game. In other media, a single author controls everything. Bob's father was murdered by a sinister cloaked man. Bob builds a time machine, and goes back in time to prevent his father's death. Now, the story allocates for several things already (Bob will succeed, creating a hellish landscape in which his father is a Tyrant. Bob will ultimately realise the futility of his actions and go back in time to kill his father himself, making him the Cloaked Stranger). As soon as you introduce a player - whose actions you no longer control - you can't guarantee Bob will take the 'correct' actions to make the time travel storyline work. As soon as he fails a Grapple check and doesn't prevent his father's death, the storyline falls apart. As soon as he decides he wants to live in New Tyrant world, the storyline falls apart. If he goes back in time, but then decides to become a pirate, the storyline falls apart. Times that by 4 players, and you have 4 times as many opportunities to go wrong. Players can do this entirely unintentionally. Players who deliberately push at the walls to see what will happen - or are intentionally disruptive - will shatter a campaign with ease.

I've done time travel. It's hard (and I've never used it as the central conceit for the campaign). There's a lot of ground work to consider.

jindra34
2018-07-15, 06:07 PM
My advice is kinda simple and shows what your doing wrong: Don't plan MEGA-PLOTS that indicate PC actions as nessecary. And generally don't hard plan plots for content thats not within one level. SO many things can go wrong.

TheStranger
2018-07-15, 06:14 PM
Reversefigure4 has it exactly right. Once you invoke time travel, you're inherently screwing with causality. In addition to working in media because the author can determine what the characters to maintain the timeline the author has decided on, it works because the audience is (usually) focused on seeing what happens next, not trying to figure out how the rules of time travel can be manipulated. Lots of (otherwise pretty good) time travel stories fall apart fast when you start thinking about how the characters *could* have used time travel to better effect, depending on exactly how time travel works.

For instance, suppose the players have an upcoming difficult battle. So, they decide to be their own reinforcements. They announce that, after they clear the dungeon, as soon as they're fully rested they'll go back in time to right now and help themselves in the upcoming fight. And of course, their future selves would already have the loot and XP from that fight, right? So you say no, of course that doesn't work, and you make up a reason. But whatever reason you come up with for that not working, they'll either find a workaround or come up with a way to use it against you sometime later on.

If you do want to use time travel, I think you're on the right track keeping it very limited in scope. Basically, the closer you get to a glorified re-roll mechanic, the easier your life will be.

kinglinus1
2018-07-15, 06:19 PM
Have you heard of the webcomic Homestuck? It does a lot of stuff with time, but during its intermission, there are a group of enemies called the Felt Gang, which have time control powers. Hilarious shenanigans ensue.

You might be able too get something from them I don't know.

Anymage
2018-07-15, 06:33 PM
Unless Homestuck happens to be written by multiple authors with conflicting goals but an agreement to not overrule what another one said, it's nothing like implementing time travel in an RPG. Narratives under one person's control are intrinsically much easier to plot out than ones with a group storytelling effort.

If OP really wants to have time travel be a thing, he could go Chrono Trigger style, where you can only jump to specific places at specific times, and changes to other points in time can be figured out after the adventure is finished. It also requires a certain amount of historical inertia, so that going back and killing a bunch of random encounters doesn't turn the characters present into a nightmare dystopia. But frankly, time travel gets tricky under even the best of circumstances. Especially for a newbie DM, those are headaches best avoided.

NichG
2018-07-15, 11:08 PM
The problem is, if I want to allow them to travel through time, I have to figure out a way to restrict them from preventing the creation of the universe, because I have several players who will try to pull shenanigans like that. The only foolproof way to do that is to remove time travel altogether. Now the plot doesn't need time travel in the grand scheme of things but I really do like it and I've got some great ideas that will (hopefully) challenge the players and allow them to come up with some creative solutions using time travel. But I don't want them to go for the obvious cheese and say "I jump back, kill the bad guy when he's a baby and I've fixed the problem", because stuff like that causes paradoxes and finding workarounds for paradoxes sucks, it's a lot of work for me and it's probably going to result in something the players aren't happy with.

"Guardians of the timeline" seemed like a pretty good solution for this. What other way could I use to prevent time travel cheesing? I want to allow it to be useful, so making it impossible with a 95% failure chance would kinda be a dealbreaker for me. And for the players too (I think), they may feel cheated because the BBEG can use it and they can't. I'd have to limit the time traveling power of the BBEG too, and well, at that point there's no point in including this particular villain anyway, there are more interesting villains and plots in my campaign already.

I've just got an idea though, what if I rule that longer jumps take more energy, therefore they need a bigger time crystal or something, and those are rarer. This would allow hopping 10 minutes back to re-do the entire combat should the players want to, but makes hopping back a day much harder and a month just about impossible because there aren't enough time crystals in the world.

This foils the BBEG's ultimate escape plan that I had planned, but...

In my current campaign, time travel is openly on the table and there are major setting elements based around it. The cardinal rule of time travel is that 'edits' tend to find ways to become irrelevant as you move away from the moment of the intervention unless they're associated with something called an anchor. In that setting, time travel is a personal power, so each individual with that power is capable of acting as an anchor for a single edit of their choice (meaning if they time travel, they can allow it to have zero consequence to the timeline simply by not choosing to anchor it, and if they wish to they can at any point in time 'let go' of their current edit and have time revert). In your setting, these could be specific artifacts that allow the processing of the time crystals into temporal displacements, with each artifact only being able to maintain a single change.

Someone who doesn't care about the shape of history as a whole but does care about themselves can of course travel back in time and just live out a new trajectory - they end up being a worm trail of little deviations that basically heal over around them. All of the impacts to them are still meaningful, so this is still a useful tool. For example, if you have a deadly disease whose cure was lost to time, you could go back in time to be cured of it without having to anchor that change. You can also of course kidnap people from different eras in time or get up to all sorts of shenanigans that way. I'd recommend requiring an anchor to 'bring things back' in your campaign if you used this idea though it's not the case in mine, since loot duplication would be a game-breaking issue otherwise. You can also use history's invariance against most small details to make changes to details that matter to you without using an anchor, but that's a more subtle art - and example would be, if a party member dying would just lead the party to resurrect them by the next session, you can freely change the timeline to prevent them from dying in the first place and it wouldn't need to be anchored because you've basically picked something that has convergent outcomes to change. If you want to make it a bit easier to work with for the players (and probably a bit more fun), just say that anyone who has ever participated in time travel acts as though they're self-anchoring their own timeline at all times - so a PC who goes into a time machine makes themselves immune to being paradoxed out, but the consequences of their existence can still be erased 'around them'. Anyhow, the catch is that in order to act as an anchor, the thing maintaining the timeline divergence has to exist. So no preventing the creation of the universe.

So that's one way you can do it, as an example.

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Another way I've done time travel in a campaign in the past was to say that all time travel events need to have someone on both ends of the time interval cooperating to set up the event. So you can't just decide to hop back 153 years 2 days and 7 months or whatever, you have to actually say first 'okay, I'm going to set up a landing spot for myself from 20 minutes from now', and then that character (or whomever the specific target of the landing spot is) can initiate a time travel event 20 minutes later. That works well for your 'I want players to be able to revert combat mistakes' idea - before a big fight, the characters create a 'save spot' which is a landing pad for their future selves to send back an 'all clear' message saying that they didn't TPK. If the message fails to show, the characters can interpret that to mean that the fight isn't one that they're going to win, and do something else.

Whatever the original timeline was, the information gained means that time isn't required to unfold the same way again, so you don't have to worry too much about self-consistency. You do have to worry about duping though; when I ran it, the time travel mechanism could only send messages, not physical objects.

It would take a bit of twisting to fit this into your wizard plot, but it's also a relatively straightforward (as time travel goes) way of having non-game-breaking time travel via natural law.
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For a third example, a campaign I was in simply had characters 'accumulate Paradox' in proportion to the changes they made. You could duplicate an item or pile of wealth or whatever, but that would cost you 1 Paradox. It was very hard to get rid of Paradox, and by its nature attempts to 'take Paradox to remove Paradox' by e.g. having a younger version of yourself take your place after you make the edits, or getting someone else to act on your behalf, generally didn't work because Paradox distributes itself along your entire timeline and will accumulate on anyone who is part of the chain of causality leading to the edit (so a committee all deciding to invoke time travel to win an election all suffer the Paradox associated with that edit).

Up to a certain amount of Paradox, there are no consequences at all aside from a blue phosphorescence that can be seen in pitch black areas. But there's a threshold where the universe basically just ejects the time traveller under the stress of trying to maintain all of contradictory edits. At which point the time traveller finds themselves in a sort of solipsistic bubble universe that appears to be reality, but their actions no longer have causal impact on the true course of history (everyone else just sees them evaporate in a puff of blue light, or if you're being nastier, forgets that they ever existed).

So this basically says 'over the entire course of your adventuring career, this is how much you're going to be able to alter, so you've got to budget it well'.



It would limit time traveling power and have clear "natural" rules that wouldn't be interpreted as "unfair" because I'm controlling a powerful NPC to prevent them from doing things I don't like. The rules don't have a face or motivation, so that problem would be solved.

Yeah, that should basically solve the issue.

Anymage
2018-07-15, 11:40 PM
While NichG has some good points, I want to stress again that OP is a newbie DM who is already having problems balancing the different tastes and experience levels at his table. Grand overarching plots and temporal metaphysics should probably be backburnered until he has a more solid grasp of the fundamentals.

Reversefigure4
2018-07-16, 07:37 AM
I believe the OP is saying new to the GitP forums, not a new GM altogether.

Jay R
2018-07-16, 08:13 AM
If the old BBEG comes back to try to kill them all before they become great heroes, then the characters (not just the players) know that they will not die before they become great heroes.

Braininthejar2
2018-07-16, 10:53 AM
You used "keep it simple" and "time travelling" in the same introduction.

noob
2018-07-16, 11:26 AM
Also which kind of time travelling do you use?
if it is terminator like time travel then there is no such thing as a time loop and if the adventurers became great heroes it does not means you can not travel back in time and kill them when they are young.
In fact it is easy: if you know the exact location in space and time where the adventurers were you can just go with a bunch of delayed blast fireball that triggers right after you time travel to get at the right spot.
The guardians will be super strong but the adventurers will die with you in a giant explosion in the instant you appear among them.
Then the young villain never needs to time travel because we are in a new timeline were the adventurers died so the young villain never needs to suicide.
You could argue that the new villain is not the old one and so that in fact the old one is dead but if the objective of the old villain was not a personal objective then the old villain might not care he is dead if the young villain can do X to release y he worshipped or whatever.

So basically you did not describe enough about the time travelling system for the people to make any meaningful conclusion.
But if there is no causality(basically most non terminator time travel systems) then absolutely everything the adventurers do is entirely and completely pointless no matter what you say or think which means that you should tell your players to leave the table to save time for everyone involved.
Because if it is time travel without causality nothing makes sense afterwards because stories are built on causality.
In fact a lot of stories pretends to have no causality and then try to explain how a time loop started while by definition time loops in acausal time travelling systems have no reason to exist apart from the fact it exists but human minds are causal and so the writer does not see how much dumb he make itself sound.
When you have acausal time travelling and time loops then time loops exists only because they exists(or else it would probably not be stable and so would no longer be a time loop) and in fact it makes pointless stories and "a red elephant appears turn in an infinite mass black hole one second later which then sends a red elephant back in time to turn into an infinite mass black hole" is as much meaningful and likely to happen as "a man travels back in time and have a kid with his mother which travels back in time"

Spore
2018-07-16, 11:02 PM
Basically, to keep it simple, I have introduced time travel into my story,

HAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, *deep breath* oh wow, sorry. I got myself. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA...I'm so sorry.


Once he is about to die, he will teleport back through time and to the PCs at the current time (while they are still level 4), planning to kill the pesky adventurers before they can do harm to his evil plans. This would be such a great violation of the temporal law that a very powerful guardian intervenes and kills the BBEG before the eyes of the level 4 PCs. The level 4 PCs at this point don't even know who the BBEG is, they just see a wounded, seemingly powerful wizard appear and threaten them, shortly thereafter a powerful demonic-like guardian who says some stuff in infernal, kills the wizard, breaks the wizard's staff (which enables time travel) and disappears again with the corpse and broken staff. The PCs will have no idea what just happened.

In the actual BBEG fight, many sessions and levels later, the BBEG will simply disappear at the end by some temporal teleport, and be returned shortly after, dead, by the guardian who killed him. The guardian, having done its job, disappears again. The PCs will finally be able to piece together what happened after that encounter.

That is not what I envision when someone says 'satisfying boss battle'. It's a gimmick. Maybe depending on how often the PCs benefitted from time travelling themselves, have the 'cleaner' demon go after the PCs then as well because they 'have seen too much' and might corrupt the time stream.

ElChad
2018-07-17, 09:49 AM
Admittedly just saw the premise and wanted to put my two cents in. Probably already said, but :

Perhaps the BBEG warps back to the party, and have the level 4 party face an incredibly weakened version of the BBEG (having used up all his spells in the previous fight, and with a reasonable amount of HP to make it a decent boss fight for a party of level 4s), then have him give a long winded final villain speech before falling dead. The temporal guardian show up and takes the body and the staff, explains that it will explain later, and leaves.

In the final battle, have it extremely epic, have him drop to 0, with the satisfying cut scene that looks like they got him. Then, at the last second, he warps back in time. Give the party some time to take in what happened, then the temporal guardian arrives again, with the body and the staff as proof that the BBEG is done for. (Maybe it reminds the party that they were the ones who got him originally).

Reliku
2018-07-17, 10:57 AM
Admittedly just saw the premise and wanted to put my two cents in. Probably already said, but :

Perhaps the BBEG warps back to the party, and have the level 4 party face an incredibly weakened version of the BBEG (having used up all his spells in the previous fight, and with a reasonable amount of HP to make it a decent boss fight for a party of level 4s), then have him give a long winded final villain speech before falling dead. The temporal guardian show up and takes the body and the staff, explains that it will explain later, and leaves.

In the final battle, have it extremely epic, have him drop to 0, with the satisfying cut scene that looks like they got him. Then, at the last second, he warps back in time. Give the party some time to take in what happened, then the temporal guardian arrives again, with the body and the staff as proof that the BBEG is done for. (Maybe it reminds the party that they were the ones who got him originally).

That'd be cool too, but for all the reasons stated above I think I'll refrain from doing that...