December 30, 2019

Time Travel in Tabletop RPGs

We’re discussing time travel on today’s #worldbuildingMonday post. As we’ve seen in books, comics, movies, and TV shows, travelling through time has serious ramifications on the world(s) involved in the story.

In Back to the Future II for example, when Biff discovers the sports almanac from 30 years in the future, he’s able to profoundly alter the timeline Marty is accustomed to thus setting off the conflict & plot of the film.

In your stories, where time travel is a real possibility, keep the following in mind with your worldbuilding:

  1. Continuity
  2. Dimensions/Timelines
  3. “Fabric of reality”

In your story, the timeline of your world has a degree of continuity. When you open that timeline for edits upstream, you need to be cognizant of the various threads each aspect those edits touch downstream to facilitate that continuity. Continuing with the Back to the Future example, the “dark timeline” where Biff is in charge is entirely predicated on the effects of his acting on the sports almanac. The writers mapped out these effects to create the world Marty saw and worked to destroy.

We’ve seen in the recent Star Trek films a whole separate dimension/parallel universe open up when Nero & Spock travel to the past and profoundly change history. Are Vulcan and Romulus lost forever? Does the timeline we followed in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager exist? How do we rationalize the effects in one timeline vs. another? In your worldbuilding, where the character time travel, you need to have an answer for that question.

To continue the metaphor that happenings within a timeline are threads, it stands to reason that there’s a “fabric of reality” entirely comprised of those threads. In all tabletop role playing game worldbuilding, your worlds can/will operate in a similar fashion. You need to be aware of the extent that pulling on those thread could threaten to unravel that fabric. Put boundaries in place for your players to ensure – assuming you want it to! – your universe continues to exist!