[RPG] How to consider when creating a time travel adventure


I'm sure that many would advise against doing so at all, but knowing that I will likely try to do so anyway, what are the factors I should consider when creating a time travel adventure? Specifically, what spells might accomplish this feat, what effects might time travel have on memory or spellcasting, and what paradoxes would I have to take steps to avoid (ie characters killing themselves), and what resources might already be out there to help me with this attempt? I am working in a Dungeons and Dragons v3.5 setting, but any other systems with elegant solutions/resources/mechanics that you could point out would be appreciated…

Best Answer

I have been DMing a Time Travel campaign since quite some time, with characters having the power to travel in time more or less at will (but only as a group), and here is what you should be careful about.

Timeline Alteration

My players are surprisingly responsible and are trying to avoid to change the timeline as much as possible, even when I encourage it. Basically you can allow it, warn them beforehand of the possible consequences, and allow only one in every "era" they are in.

So if they travel to medieval Japan, they might accidentally (or willingly) do something that would shame the image of katanas, and no one would ever dare use a katana again in Japan. If later they accidentally kill the Emperor, I would use the "Well, someone else take his place, and that's who History remembered" trick.

The only kind of alteration you need to be careful about is:


One way of handling it is the "Time protects itself" trick. Alterations are allowed, but if you do something that would cause a paradox regarding the previous events, Time prevents it. You shoot a bullet at your father before you were born, the bullet disappears. You try to stab him, the knife disappears. You try to strangle him... Well...

It's also a good way of leading the PCs. Sometimes in a fight, they realize that they can't kill their opponents because of Time Self-Preservation, but they don't have any idea of who those opponents are exactly, or why it would cause a paradox if they died. One of the PCs also got hunted by one of his ancestors who was disappointed in him, and tried to murder him repeatedly. That PC was unable to fight back, as it would have caused a paradox. Fun times :)

As said above, you can also use the "Rubber band History" method. They can do changes, but whatever change they make ends up being smoothed over by History. They could kill their grand-father, but their grand-mother actually found someone else, who is who they remembered as their grand-father. Or a character kills himself when he was a baby, only to realize that he was actually a clone from the beginning. You can get more options here, but for a RPG game "Enforced Immutability" and "Rubber Band History" are your best bets.


This is the easiest one: there is no way to do it in RAW. Done. So, invent what you want! A trip to the Astral plane gone wrong, two "Time Stop" spells interacting.. The parameters you have to consider are:

  • Do you want the Time Travel method to be easily reproductible?

  • Do you want it to be one way? Two-way (to past and back, or to future and back)? Flexible (from whatever point in time to any other point in time)?

  • How accurate do you want it to be? Can characters travel two seconds in the past if they want? Or one day? Or are they limited to specific "nexus" in time?

Final Advice

DMing Time Travelling is awesome and very rewarding, but you will have to plan a lot and be very flexible in your scenarios. Take advantage of it and plan relations and links between different characters and places:

"The witch you just captured has the exact same eyes as the old lady you met yesterday! And you remember the old lady telling you she didn't remember her past and was found injured at around the same age than the witch, years ago..."

...but keep it open and vague, and be ready to have to change it at the very last moment, and to adapt seamlessly:

"So, you killed the witch... Congrats. You go to deliver the human sacrifices, and realize two things: the only one alive is a gravely injured little girl, and she has the exact same eyes as the old lady you met yesterday! You also remember the old lady telling you she didn't remember her past and was found injured at around the same age than the little girl, years ago..."