Archives of Nethys

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Time Travel

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 145
Related Media: Back to the Future trilogy (films), Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book (novel), Doctor Who (TV series), Time Bandits (film)
The heroes of a time-travel story move through time, freely between the past and future. They might use a time machine of their own invention or naturally occurring temporal phenomena. The heroes could be confined to the timeline of a single world, but GMs and players ready for the creative challenge can install a time machine in a starship to travel through both time and space. Regardless, the PCs have adventures throughout history, fixing the timeline when it goes astray, pursuing and capturing temporal thieves or terrorists, and tracking down the occasional extinct creature for an eccentric collector. They might be dispatched into a given time through some kind of portal, through which they must return by a certain date; be equipped with personal time machines; or simply be castaways, leaping through time in a never-ending quest to get home. The PCs in such a story come from many different historical periods and can include everything from distant biological ancestors to androids from the far future.
In a time-travel campaign, a world’s attributes tend to change over centuries, so accord and technology typically begin low but increase over time, while religion and magic begin high but slowly diminish. In addition, there are flash points in history where attribute shifts occur, and these flash points can become the scene of adventure. For example, you might decide your setting began with chaos as the dominant alignment, but that something happened in the past that caused chaos to decline until lawful alignments became more common. Now, outside forces—perhaps rival time travelers or evil beings from another dimension—want to travel back to that critical moment and change it, so that chaos never wanes. The PCs discover this change when, suddenly, the world is transformed into a chaotic, lawless place. Now they must go back and fix history, or they’re sent back by an organization that monitors and protects the timestream. If your heroes are castaways adrift in time, they can land at these flash points by coincidence, though perhaps with a subtle, persistent hint that the PCs are just pawns of destiny and that time itself is using them to heal temporal wounds.
Use the biomes described in this book to represent how a place changes over time: forested environments slowly yield to urban ones, and prehistoric civilizations live in subterranean caves while those of the far future live in aerial biomes or in the void of space. The character options associated with each biome give you the tools to make the inhabitants of every time distinctive, including player characters who come from these far-flung time periods. The optional rules for tech categories (page 126) will help you represent technological progress over time in specific, concrete ways.
In another classic time-travel trope, PCs from the modern era (or the near future) are cast back in time with no way to return. Trapped in the past, they use their knowledge of history and science to change the world in ways both large and small. When the heroes in a time-travel game change history—or fail to prevent the changes enacted by their antagonists—they’ve created a parallel world; see the Parallel Worlds section (page 143) for more guidance on campaigns of this sort.