4 Tips for Using Time Travel in Dungeons and Dragons

Ever since we introduced a Chronomancer complete with his time travelling spells into our 2nd ED AD&D game Arachnophobia, time travel has been on our game group's mind. It is just so complicated, particularly in a tabletop game setting. And if you are going to use it in your you had better be ready.

As a group, we have talked about the implications while playing other games and through that we have a figured a few tips and tricks for handling Time Travel.

So here are 4 tips to help you better host Time Travel in tabletop RPGs.

1. Use Encounter Tables

The Chronomancer's Handbook tells the DM that time travel should never work out exactly as intended, and that things should always be slightly different. I have a found a way to make those slight differences meaningful in game is to create small 4 option encounter tables for each minor event I want to throw at my players.

This way, when my Chronomancer goes back in time, some of the smaller details about the game are changed ever so slightly, simulate a "butterfly effect". This makes things interesting, and of course can lead to better or worse encounters for the players depending on what was rolled. I find this gives them a different experience for each use of time travel, keeping things fresh.

2. Talk it Over with the Group

I have said this many times before about hosting your game, but it stands true for time travel as well. Talk with your group. Make sure everyone understands what is happening, and listen to their thoughts on the effects of the change that the time travel event will have on the game, and the timeline itself.

The exact details of how time travel is supposed to work out is a very hazy subject, debated by futurists, authors and scholars alike. So use your full pool of knowledge and talk to your group; they can help you sort everything out, and keep time travel reasonable and fun.

3. Don't Rob Your Players of XP

The first time Dave went back in time using his Chronomancer's Time Slip Spell, I could see that look on my players faces. That concern that only happens when fighting a monster that deals level damage: Will I lose my experience for this?

We decided no. That is far too much power for a player character to have, so while they may lose physical possessions, their experiences in the other timelines permeate into the new one, as a sort of aftershock. Everyone accepted this as a good compromise, and it helped not waste everyone's time by having their player progress erased.

We also agreed that this was dependent on how far we went back in time. So if one character went back to the beginning of the campaign... say from game 24... and met the others, there is enough of a time disparity there to justify having those players start back at their lower levels, however of course getting that far back in time is no easy task, so likely the player party will need to accompany Chronomancer anyways.

So keep notes and talk it over, make sure no one feels robbed.

4. Just Let it Happen

At the beginning of JADE's Arachnophobia Campaign, when the other guys learned that Dave was going to be a Chronomancer they all asked me the same question.

"(As DM) You are going to limit that right?"

They figured that the ability to re-do a failed part of the adventure was far too much power for a player to have, and that it would likely slow the game down as Dave endlessly retried events. Despite their fears I told them I was going to let Dave handle it himself, and we would see how it went. Begrudgingly they accepted it, but as soon as they started to use time travel things didn't exactly go their way.

To account for the increased game length, I simply started writing the games to account for the fact that they could go back in time. So that structure allowed the game to proceed at a regular pace. However, Instead of being too powerful time travel has been just the opposite. Dave has attempted to save the life of an NPC named Allison Rey twice, and now she has died for a third time. They lost another NPC in an encounter with an owl bear and a player character is now trapped in the Temporal Prime due to an argument over the ethics of time travel based resurrections.

It comes down this: time travel is complicated, and will never be as simple as going back and "just re-doing it" over and over until you get it right. Changing the past has major consequences and these even came to light in game without me having to step in with some deus ex machina brought in by the Dungeon Master; The chaos just happened. While one of the NPC's was killed by an Owlbear, the other, Allison Rey, was actually murdered by the player character who is now trapped outside of time. And thus, they went from a party of 9 at the start of the game down to a party of 6 by the end.

So even in a Dungeons and Dragons game,time travel is messy, and Dave has learned to not use it as lightly as he has in previous games. But in the end, just letting it happen and the players sort it out was the only way they could learn how to use it properly and responsibly in game.

With any luck that helps you sort out your Time Travel based issues, and I hope enjoyed some of the art from the Chronomancers book in 2nd ED AD&D.

Written by: Andrew Gregory

4 Tips for Using Time Travel in Dungeons and Dragons 4 Tips for Using Time Travel in Dungeons and Dragons Reviewed by JADE Gaming on 12/07/2016 02:05:00 am Rating: 5

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