Just in Time
So you’ve finally done it. With the best of intentions all around the table, your PCs have finally blundered into the blender like curious gerbils, and now they are hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. They are doomed, unless you unleash Secret GM Gambit #4 on them.
So your lovable, incompetent PCs are doomed. They are cornered and facing the might of the entire orcish horde at once. Or, they’ve managed to somehow combine all three encounters in your dungeon into an single skull-crushing reaping. Or, the party wild card insisted in attacking the transdimensional death lord who they were supposed to negotiate with. For whatever reason, you decide that you don’t want to make all of your friends tear up their character sheets. Because it is Not Yet Their Time. Here’s what you do.
Start writing down everything the characters say in-game.
The party appears—but it is the party from the future. They’ve gained a few more magic swords, and the wizard has glowing eyes now for some reason. It’s pretty obvious that they’ve gained a few levels, too.
Anyway, the party-from-the-future proceeds to win the fight for the beleaguered PCs. It’s a tough fight, even with their additional levels and powerful gear, but in the end, they triumph over certain doom.
“Don’t ask us questions. You’ll only invite a paradox,” says the wizard-from-the-future.
“What if we took their gold?” asks the thief-from-the-future, twirling two adamantine daggers as he regards the party-from-the-present.
“Were you paying attention to anything that was said before we came here?” scolds the wizard-from-the-future, looking at the greedy thief incredulously.
As the thief-from-the-future loots all the corpses, he turns to the thief-from-the-present and says, "I'm just going to hold on to this for a while, okay?"
“Hey, Fighter,” says the fighter-from-the-future, who is now missing an arm. “When you get to the red lever, don’t pull it, okay?”
“Aagh! Just forget he said that,” says the wizard, and the party-from-the-future disappears after taking all of the party’s loot.
The party is left confused and hurt, but alive.
Later in the Campaign:
If you know what sort of equipment the party is going to pick up ahead of time, be sure that the party-from-the-future has it visibly equipped. Not only does it give the party a sense of “heehee, we are destined to loot this tomb”, but you can also use it to inject some foreshadowing into the game.
For example, if the wizard-from-the-future was wielding a staff shaped like a three-headed snake, and the party later sees that the vizier has a staff that looks like a three-headed snake, they might assume that the vizier is a bad guy that they will kill and loot later. Or they will do a great favor for the vizier and he will give them a staff. Or the vizier will die in a merfolk attack. Either way, they’ll pay more attention to the vizier later on.
Sooner or later, too, the party will be faced with the Red Lever. It will seem like a good idea at the time to pull it (except for the extra-temporal knowledge the party has). If the fighter pulls the lever, he will lose an arm and preserve the time continuum. If he doesn’t pull the lever, he creates a paradox, and is instantly turned into a Time Zombie. Bear in mind, that the Red Lever can be anything that seems like a good idea but has a bad consequence. Such as: freeing the imprisoned dragon; drinking from the Cup of Roil; reading from the Book of Black Portals.
This takes place as soon as the party is high enough level to overcome whatever dire situation you used Gambit #4 to originally save them from.
It is early one morning. The party has just overcome some huge obstacle the night before. The party is tired, their reserves are depleted, and they are looking forward to a well-earned rest.
Time seems to stop. The party watches an enormous tortoise—six feet tall—crawl up to the party and deposit a letter in the wizard’s pocket. Then, slowly, the tortoise walks out of the room. The party is frozen in time (indeed, the whole world is frozen in time) and can do nothing else except watch the tortoise take his sweet time delivering the letter.
As soon as normal time resumes, the party is all excited. The bard drops the eggs he was making into the fire. Even the fighter rouses himself halfway to yell at the party to keep it down.
The wizard reads the letter from Tovavel, the Tortoise God of Time.
“Remember when our future selves saved us from Hell’s Armada?” asks the wizard.
Everyone nods. It’s tough to forget when you were saved by your future selves.
“We need to go do that. If we don’t, we create a paradox, and we’ll all turn into horrible time zombies.” The wizard explains.
“Should we tell our past selves about the zombie-thing?” asks the bard.
“No, tell them nothing,” says the wizard.
“I said keep it down!” grumbles the fighter.
“Well, let’s get to the chapel. We need to heal Fighter. How long do we have?” asks the bard.
“About 90 seconds, starting from when this letter was delivered.”
When the party goes back, be sure to recreate the fight down the smallest detail. If you wrote down what was said the first time, the party-from-the-past will say those same lines during the combat. Be sure to give them all the loot that they stole from themselves earlier. Remember, that if they try to give the loot to their past selves, they will create a paradox, and turn into horrible shuddering zombies.
Of course, none of this explains why Tovavel, the Lord of Time, went out of his way to save a bunch of unwashed adventurers. Perhaps he just want to preseve a certain timeline. Or maybe he's about to ask for a favor.
Disclaimer #1: I don’t like heavy-handed DM caveats. I believe that if the PCs make their bed, they should have to sleep in it. I also don’t like fudging the dice—but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t done it.
Disclaimer #2: I still maintain that time-travel is a silly idea. Stable time loops are no match for a lively chaos theory butterfly.
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? Responses (8)
This sounds like so much fun, I'm tempted to work an adventure around it rather than waiting for the players to get in a jam. Dr Who aside, I generally don't find time travel in games or fiction very engaging, but this is good. Maybe it's my love of messing with my players' minds.
I would probably make the fighter's injury something less horrific than the loss of an arm, simply because most players would outright refuse to pull the red lever. Especially since the punishment for not doing it is so severe. It would have to be something uncomfortable, though, just to keep the tension up. Of course, I would throw a number of false red levers in just to keep him on his toes.
I'm a bit torn here. This is a really interesting plot, and I think that it could run pretty well in a game, but depending on how you work it, I think it could very possibly come out as a bit too much of a deus ex machina. I suppose that that's what it is, really. Anyway, it's got a bit of a Bill and Ted feel to it, which is neat.
Hmm. What if the party did a favor for the God of Time beforehand, and he was all like, 'Sure, I'll do you a favor down the road. You'll know it when you see it.'
It's not a daring DM gambit anymore, but it's still awesome.
This is really in the wrong category. It is actually a plot.
As plot goes, it is sort of interesting, but it is very, very hard to pull off. You need to keep people alive (explain how we had thief from the future, when our thief got gicked by that orc band?) Foreshadowing is a nice idea, and something to deal well with, but again hard to pull off. Having played TimeMaster and C0ntinuum (the Time Travel game), this is harder to pull off than you think.
That aside, there are only a few lead ins... and needs some more. There are loose ends. And you need to explain the Time God in your pantheon (which in some worlds will be easy and in others, hard).
Stable time loops in fiction, by definition, are impossible. You can't sent a single molecule of nitrogen back in time without creating a different state in the present-day. Time loops, then, depend on the DM handwaving the 'small stuff'. In campaigns where time travel is a possibility, resurrection magic shouldn't be out of reach either.
But you bring up a good point. This particular brand of nonsense isn't for every campaign (especially not campaigns without time gods). And it is difficult to pull off, and may backfire. But, then again, that's why it's called a gambit.
There is only the single lead in, because I'm not interested in developing this as a plot. Simply a tool that can be used by the DM with delusions of grandeur (and I think DMs could use a couple of delusions) and are willing to employ heavy-handed machinations to preserve their PCs.
Also, you gave me a 2. Now I have a sadness. I will try harder, next time.
As typical with more and more subs lately I read and have comments but due to something that doesn't set with me I am having issues voting in them.
A few points from me. When reading this something didn't sit well. I was expecting details or rules on how to implement ways to railroad impatient players but instead, like Moon said, this is more a plot. It seems far to specific for an article. Far to specific to be put into any campaign, and much like a campaign would almost have to be built around it. Which if that is what the intent is than it isn't bad.
Something else that gets me. All the quote blocks. I understand that you use them to change from point to point to separate them but I think it is over done a tad. This is just a personal peeve of mine and I find the over use of them extremely distracting from subs.
I can't say if this is a good sub or not as it isn't an article but as plots go it needs more information to complete it. Not saying other people won't like it but as for me. I I were to vote at the most I would vote is a 2 but since I have chosen not to vote on subs unless I fnd them very useful I won't derail those who like it by voting low.
Maybe I'm not jaded yet, but I rather like this. It's a last ditch effort, sure, but it's still a new tool for my toolbox. If my party ever does get into a certain death situation, I now have at least one thing I can try to save them (and my glorious campaign along with them!). I say well done!
I think this is good, though obviously would fit better in some campaigns.