Elvish: awaiting-first-breathing-created-arises-from-all-impelled-and-all-impelling-and-flung-above-was-unfurled-and-throughout-carpeted-below-rolled-out.Dwarf: Stillness and nothing before the all-maker's forge fires, a newborn air seed, his hammer, herald of our world, womb of stone.Orc: once-dark-empty-wakened-light-full-old-powerful-busy-thoughtful-the-thundrous-high-stormy-after-busy-thoughtful-the-green-bosomed-stony
Wednesday 1 November 2023
The Time Travel Dungeon (and Competition Results)
One of the last frontiers of the OSR is a proper treatment of time travel. By this I partly mean that I am not aware of a set of rules for time traveling adventures founded on OSR assumptions (sandbox, emergent narrative, etc.). And I partly mean that I am not aware of an OSR or OSR-adjacent campaign setting in which time travel is a major element. Am I simply pig ignorant and wrong? (Yes, okay, but am I pig ignorant and wrong about this?) Or am I right to have noticed this gap, and can it be filled?
Fiction has different ways of treating time travel (Google 'species of time travel' and the first hit suggests there are eight), but it seems to me that when it comes to making gameable material - which is, I repeat, founded on OSR assumptions - there are really four roads down which one can go.
The first is Cheat Mode. Here, there is no time travel, strictly speaking, but rather a way to access perfect or near-prefect presentations of the past while remaining in the present. My model for this is the otherwise obscure (and pretty bog average) Alastair Reynolds novel Century Rain, in which in the far future archaeologists who live on Mars travel down to an Earth which is, if I recall, pretty well preserved as it was when a plague of nanobots long ago got loose and basically wiped out all multicellular life. So the archaeologists in question go there to collect artefacts and conduct research while trying to avoid the bot swarms. I may be misremembering the novel or confusing it with another - it's decades since I read it - but the basic idea is I have here described it is I think solid, and can be made more interesting by replacing bot swarms with e.g. demons.
The second is the Time Travel Dungeon. The PCs are specialist time travellers who go back in time to particular periods/locations (the dinosaurs, the belle epoque, the vikings, etc.), try to find treasures, and bring them back to their own time to sell them to collectors. Perhaps each time they do this they create branch timelines; perhaps that is hand-waved; the important point is that it replicates the way in which an OSR campaign classically operates - the only difference being that the PCs are not delving into a tentpole megadungeon or mythic underworld, but the past itself imagined as a dungeon. (You could of course flip this and have the PCs act as specialist time travellers who raid the future to bring useful things back to the past to sell/deploy for nefarious ends - as in the the Star Trek: TNG episode, 'A Matter of Time'.)
The third is Strangers in a Strange Time. Here, the PCs begin in media res, as people from one era who have for some reason found themselves in a different era with no way to get home, and have to make the best of it. This could be because they have gone into exile in a different time, a la Saga of the Exiles (this makes more sense logistically, as it allows dead PCs to be replaced through a vaguely plausible method), or it could be by genuine accident (a group of vikings falls through a time warp and they end up in...the time of the dinosaurs!). Either way, what we are really interested in here is the juxtaposition of PCs and setting.
And the fourth is Time Grenade. Long, long ago ago I played a PC text adventure whose conceit was that time itself had fragmented into shards due to a fight between time-travelling soldiers who had accidentally created irreparable rifts in the timeline. Everything had become jumbled, with the result that it was impossible for the main character in the adventure to develop a coherent narrative. One wouldn't have to go that far; one could instead create a setting that was something akin to that of Rifts - a jumble of different periods of time all bundled together in one geographic location. Romans, Neanderthals, Napoleonic armies and medieval knights all neighbouring one another in different parts of a single hexmap.
The most interesting of these in terms of mechanics is clearly the second, as it would require some inquiry into how time travel itself would work in terms of rules and dice rolls, and this I think makes it the most intrinsically appealing - but YMMV as they used to say on rpg.net.
I would also like to take the opportunity of this blog post to announce the winner of the Elves = Verbs, Dwarfs = Nouns, Orcs = Adjectives Competition that has been running for the past two weeks or so, in which entrants were asked to transliterate the first verse of the King James Bible ('In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth') into languages comprising first only verbs, second only nouns, and third only adjectives. The winner, I am pleased to announce, was Andrew Wright, for these efforts:
I was pleased with the rhythmical and poetic quality of the results here, although I think he cheated a tiny bit on the Dwarf one by using a coordinating conjunction. In any case, well done Andrew! Please email me at noismsgames AT protonmail dot com and I will hook you up with your PDF reward.
Posted by noisms at 07:16