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Adventure April: TimeStress: A Timetravel Fate Adventure

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For all you Chrono Trigger and Doctor Who fans, here is a campaign starter for a time traveling adventure. We’ve talked about it, hinted at it, and touched on it long enough. Now let’s take a look at how to actually do it with an example you can pick up and use yourself!

The campaign is based on Fate Core, and there is a little bit of set up involved. We’ll walk you through all of that and offer some tips for character creation in your world building. The actual adventure brings everyone together and sets them off in the direction you choose for world building.

If you would rather just use this as a one shot to bring a lot of wacky people together from across time, just skip the next section and ignore the part about the “something more out there” at the end.

World Building a Timeline

All of time is the world, and each location is a specific point in time. So when your group sits down to make the world, they are actually making the timeline. Keep this in mind when looking at things like “Movers and Shakers” for example, as not everyone is going to exist in multiple timelines. Most won’t be in every one, unless your group wants something akin to Timelords or a Watcher or even a cult that grows through the ages.

Ages and Locations

The game is divided into different ages based on which point in time they take place. An age can have multiple locations based on what age it is. Traveling between locations in the same age is not really time travel but rather mirror-universe and multiple-dimension traveling, so we won’t really cover that here.

For the locations themselves, we recommend doing 10 instead of 9. Have one at the beginning (like prehistoric times) for Age 1, 2 with early civilization for Age 2, 3 with middle-age kingdoms for Age 3, and 4 with modern alternative settings for Age 4. Each location should be unique, have a great aspect, and an appropriate face (just like any other game you make in Fate Core). We also recommend a helpful secondary aspect of “Leads to X and not Y” where x/y are locations in the next age.

Age 5 would be the future age, but that is not needed for planning at the beginning. If the group wants to talk about the possible futures that the locations in Age 4 lead to for the aspects, that is fine. Utopia, dystopia, science fiction or science fantasy, space travel or evolution, anything is fair game. The GM may want to jot down ideas for future campaign adventures, but for the first session we will only be dealing with the first 4 ages.

For Our Example

Here is the starting 10 locations we have for the game. You can tinker with them to better suit your campaign if you wish. The name of each location is followed by its age and Main Aspect. Then there are some details on the age followed by a face. We end with the “Leads to X, not Y” aspect for each location.

timestress

Pangea (Age 1): Day of the Dinosaurs. This is an age before civilization. Any intelligent beings hide in family clusters or small tribes of a dozen members at the most. The world is a dangerous place. The face for this location is TK the T. Rex, who tries to eat the party on site as is fitting for this location. Leads to Human Sapiens, not Dino Sapiens.

Human Sapiens (Age 2): Roots of Civilization. This is the start of civilization, where dinosaurs are rare and mankind’s tribes are discovering the world. The invention of fire and basic tools are easy enough, and shamans attempt to reach for power that is beyond them. The world is fully of undiscovered mysteries. The face for this location is Ugga the Hunter, a simple Neanderthal that is trying to feed and protect his tribe. Leads to Dark Renaissance, not Feudal Demigods.

Dino Sapiens (Age 2): Reptiles Rule. This is what would happen if dinosaurs evolved into a reptilian bipedal race to survive and continue their domination of Earth. The world is a dangerous place for humans who are herded as food for the reptiles. The face for this location is Akana the lizardess, who can carry on a decent conversation when she is not hungry. Leads to Reptech, not Dark Renaissance.

Reptech (Age 3): Here There Be Dragons. The reptile race continues to thrive with their kingdoms ruled by large mighty dragons. Humans are an endangered species. The world is filled with advanced solar technology and great stores of reptilian wealth. The face for this location is Dovakin the blue-scaled scientist, who is obsessed with stars and other planets. Leads to Alien Enslavement, not World at War.

Dark Renaissance (Age 3): Art, Culture, and Turtles. This is an age of ignorance and enlightenment. Violent kings are growing bored with wars and now sponsoring musicians and artist. Horrible plagues are inspiring research into healthy living and medicines. The world is seeing a dawn after a very dark night. The face for this location is Juliet, who has the social connections to get the group invited to parties in exchange for helping her find her true love. Leads to Steampunk Boom, not World at War.

Feudal Demigods (Age 3): Titans Rule the Earth. This is an age of powerful beings ruling over samurai and peasants alike. They bicker and indulge like greek gods while honorable men and women swear their lives to them. The world is in constant chaos as the demigods are often bored and have no qualms about using mortals to make life interesting to watch. The face for this location is Samurai Jill, who is on a personal quest of vengeans against the demigod Yorgon. Leads to Gift of Gaia, not Steampunk Boom.

Alien Enslavement (Age 4): One Master for Another. In this age the reptiles’ advanced technology attracted the attention of aliens that came and conquered them. Most of the reptile people were wiped out, and humans continued their role as slaves to the dominant species. The world is dying as the aliens harvest every resource they can. The face for this location is Yorkyl the Racketeer, who is always willing to make a deal in exchange for a service or special item. Leads to Starting Over, not Dystopia.

World at War (Age 4): War Never Changes. It seems as though all the humans know is fighting. The world is in a constant state of war with guns, missiles, and bombs going off daily. People are either fighting or hiding. There really is no other alternative. The face for this location is Edgar the Soldier, who would probably have been a poet in another life. Leads to Dystopia, not Utopia.

Steampunk Boom (Age 4): Modern Victorian Civilization. This is an age where steam, not electricity, inspires all of the great inventions from transportation to home products. The world seems delightful, but terrible dangers sleep in shadows just out of sight in the form of monsters, mad scientists, and the elder ones (titans from an age past). The face for this location is Stewie the Mad Statter, who is always looking for help in testing his latest inventions. Leads to Utopia, not Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Gift of Gaia (Age 4): I Can Be Your Hero. This is an age of comic book heroes and villains. The world is a wonderous place. The face for this location is Mookie the Klutzy Sidekick, who dreams of one day being a true hero in her own right. Leads to Where No Man Has Gone Before, not The End of Time.

Character Building Tips

Player characters can be from any of the 3 “middle” ages, and really from any of the locations except Pangea. That being said, the later the age a player is from the easier it will be to have them work with the party. Language was invented after Pangea, but Human Sapiens did more grunting than actual talking. The caveman smashing the car he thinks is a monster is only funny once. You can play characters from those ages, but please be aware of the challenges they will bring going in.

If you want a character that seems to better fit a future time zone, try to make them fit into the fourth age for the adventure’s beginning. An android, for example, could be a prototype instead of a popular model. An alien humanitarian could just be a minority among harsh overlords. A starship pilot could be an airship pilot that dreams of flying a spaceship. Later in the campaign, changes can be made with a visit to the future. The robot could get an upgrade, the alien could find like minds, and the pilot could get her wish.

An easy way to bring the party together is to have them all start from the same time zone location. A group of teenagers from the Steampunk Boom could be unwitting victims of an experiment gone wrong and just be trying to get home. Or a group hoping to prevent Alien Enslavement may be purposefully trying to change the timeline in hopes of letting humanity achieve Utopia. If everyone comes from the same location, then every new location is equally strange and wondrous to them all.

Try to make sure there is at least one person for every role in the group. Someone needs to be good at fighting. Someone needs to be good at socializing. Someone should probably be educated enough to figure out which age the group finds themselves in. And someone should have a chance to use the technology/magic that the group discovers in each location. On a larger scale, knowing if you are playing rubber or glue (see previous article) will help a lot.

GM Tips

When you want to change time based on how the group interacts with a location, try to think about what sort of impact the group made. Changing just the location its self is as easy as changing the main aspect. But if their actions affect the future, change the “Leads to X, not Y” aspect instead by swapping X and Y. That’s why these aspects are worded that way.

For example, if the players convince the lizard fold to be kinder to their human slaves, that is a big enough change to make Dino Sapiens a nicer place by changing the main aspect to Reptiles Rule Softly but With a Big Stick. On the other hand, if the party leads a human revolt, then changing the age aspect to “Leads to Dark Renaissance, not Reptech” completely alters the timeline. As it should, since the reptiles are no longer around to make their civilization.

At the start of the adventure, there are only 4 blue time portals (1 for each age), and they are relative to each other. Thus if you leave the Steampunk Boom and spend the night in Pangea, coming back through the portal means you reemerge from the blue portal in Steampunk Boom the morning after you went in. This keeps the decisions you make in each time location important and impactful.

As you progress your campaign, you are encouraged to find ways around this to explore all the extra tropes that time travel has to offer. Maybe there are green portals that lead to fixed points in time, allowing you to keep repeating a day until you get it right. Or maybe you discover/create a time machine and end up interacting with yourself but without letting your past self discover who you are. Or maybe the dead time locations that are not part of the current timeline can be traveled to using red portals in the same age, allowing you to meet Cthulu or smuggle dragon eggs into the Dark Renaissance.

Just be sure not to introduce these too early into your campaign. There is a lot of fun to be had with just traveling and changing the locations you already have. Once the party gets the hang of it, then consider adding the new elements so that they can better appreciate them. And by all means add more locations to earlier ages and future ages as your campaign allows. Swapping the “Leads to X, not Y” is just a helpful starting place. Radical changes could always lead to Z.

If you have more questions or ideas, please share them with us. April is a big month, and we have a LOT of adventures to share, but we want to do everything we can to make certain these adventures are useful to you in inspiration and practicality.

Seamstresses and Timestresses

Now that we are all on the same page, let’s talk the actual startup adventure. We assume that the characters do not know each other (although that would be a GREAT way to start the campaign as mentioned above) and are from different ages. If that is not the case, adjust the first scene so that the group can interact with each other.

The first adventure is divided into 3 scenes: Once Upon, Mad Science, The Seamstress. Each scene is explained with its overall plot, goals, and skill challenges for the group. There are some notes just for the GM and also some seeds to plant for future adventures if you are interested. And we start off with a fictitious quote from an NPC just to spice up the flavor.

Scene 1: Once Upon

“Time wants to happen, but it rarely happens the way we wish it to!” – The Steward

The adventure starts off with the characters doing whatever it is they normally do. Have each player introduce themselves by describing what sort of life they are about to be pulled from. Give everyone a little bit of narrative time and one appropriate skill check each to help set how good/happy they are in their current life. Then have the portal open up and suck them in.

If you want to plant some seeds for future adventures, have NPCs sucked into the red portals with the PCs but not come out with them. Friends, enemies, and even complete strangers can make life interesting for time travelers when they pop up into their lives after having their own strange time traveling experiences. And “I still have to find Joe!” makes a great hook to keep PC’s adventuring.

A Day in the Life

This is an introduction, so the challenge should be relatively low. If the player wants to create and advantage that they wish to carry into time, keep the standard Good (3) difficulty requirement. Otherwise set the difficulty at Average (1) and let them start off as good (or bad) as they wish. If players have ideas for the skill check they want to use to introduce themselves, and it actually seems reasonable, go ahead and let them at it. Otherwise here are some suggestions for each location that an individual is likely to be at.

Some players want to be pulled from mundane lives. If people are working at a profession, then give them a Crafts or Lore check depending on if their job is more physical labor or intelligent work. If they are spending their last day with a friend or family member that they are about to be separated from, Use Rapport or Contacts.

Other players are immersed in the conflict of a location. If they are a soldier from a war era, give them a Fight or Shoot check. If they are running from aliens or reptiles, a Stealth or Deceive is probably better. If they are trying to solve a crime or find out someone’s secret identity, an Investigate or Notice works.

Portals Suck

Life is suddenly interrupted when a Red portal emerges near each player character. Have everyone roll a Notice check with a Good (3) difficulty. If they fail, the PC does not notice that something is wrong until it is too late and they are pulled in.

If a character does succeed their Notice check, they have one action to take before they are pulled through. An Athletics, Burglary, or Resources check will let them grab something to take with them. Set the difficulty based on the size and usefulness of the object. A small camera that fits in your pocket would be Average (1), a weapon like a sword or pistol would be a Good (3), and a backpack filled with various mundane items would be a Superb (5).

A character that is determined to resist the vacuuming red portal is grabbed by what looks to be red lightning but behaves more like a tentacle. Advise the player that they are going in no matter what, but if they want to fight it for story purposes then they can do so. No vehicles travel through the portal. Anything not worn and bigger than a backpack does not arrive at the other end of the portal with the player characters unless they rolled for it and the GM approves it.

Scene 2: Mad Science

“Science is absolute. Anything that exists beyond Science must be made to serve it.” – Mad Statter

The red portal dumps the party in the lab of Stewie, dubbed the Mad Statter by his foolish colleagues. They are in the 4th age in the Steampunk Boom location. The party will have to suffer through his monologue and somehow find a way out of this time location before they are dissected and/or experimented on.

Stewie the Mad Statter is merely a patsy for a much larger plot to alter time. The plans for is time portal machine were given to him, and he can slip clues to this during his monologue or when the group destroys/activates his machine. “This is not what she promised me,” or “I memorized the plans so carefully, but I should have written them down,” are great seeds for driving players mad.

Emerging From the Portal

The player character arrive almost at the same time in a glass cage near a whirling machine with blinking lights that sprays hot steam up in the air. The crazed Mad Statter, in all his mad scientist glory, rejoices loudly in his victory that the machine actually worked.

Any attempt to discern where or when the party is at requires a Great (4) Overcome action no matter what skill is used (Empathy, Investigation, and Lore are all possibilities). Success will tell them if they are in the future or an alternate timeline as is appropriate for their character’s origin. If they are actually from the Steampunk Boom location, then they instead recognize the Mad Statter by reputation.

If anyone tries to break out of the cage, have them make a Physique or Burglary check to move. This is opposed by the area barrier base of 10 plus Stewie’s opposed Crafts roll (his crafts are Good +3). A player that fails takes 2 points of physical or mental stress, their choice. They can also search a pile of junk collected from different time eras to find a simple weapon or device at a Fair (2+) success or a laser pistol (or sonic screwdriver if you’d rather) for a Great (4+). The laser ignores the barrier’s base 10.

Enduring the Monologue

The Mad Statter’s monologue is a social combat challenge, though physical violence may ensue. Their glass prison (see above) is thick enough that breaking it should not be likely. Stewie attacks everyone with his Provoke (+3) for mental stress each round, defended with Will. Anyone taken out focuses on escape and hears nothing he is saying.

For his first attack, Stewie will explain that his machine has plucked them from their times and brought them here. “From a thousand years ago to 15 seconds ago!” he will declare, though if anyone is from age 2 that would be ten thousand years ago. The 15 seconds is for anyone from Steampunk Boom that would be wondering why a time portal pulled them into the same age.

On his second attack, Stewie will talk about alternate time lines and reveal that he stole other things from time besides people. “And time changed through the portal,” he explains. “I took a painting from the dark ages, and suddenly the world was at war. I took a laser gun from that future, and suddenly the future held an alien invasion,” and so on.

Before the third attack, where Stewie reveals his plot to reach far enough back in time to steal the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs and use it as a power source for his cappuccino machine, the party may be prompted by that last attack to search the pile in the corner. Finding the weapon now only has a difficulty of Average (1) since they know to look for it. The weapon breaks after one use.

Fight or Flee

If the party gets out of the cage, the Mad Statter flees the scene and his lab. If they take him out socially, he offers to send them back home with his machine if they will tell him more about where they come from. A Craft or Lore of Good (3) will turn the device on again. No matter who starts the machine, this time it opens a blue portal that does not suck anyone inside but can be walked into.

If the party cannot get the device working or wants to look around this location, have a friendly NPC scientist meet them and try to help them get home. You can make this a couple of scenes if the players seem interested, ending your first session at this point and continuing next time with them trying to find a portal home. Or if you want to move things along quickly, have a blue portal open up in the cage and compel everyone through it.

Scene 3: The Seamstress

“Time is woven together like a fine dress. It will tear if you hurt it with too much stress.” – Ashe

The blue portal sends everyone to the Human Sapiens age where an cranky young triceratops attacks them. They meet Ugga the hunter who takes them to his tribe where he believes Ashe the seamstress can help them get home. Ashe must be convinced that her magic is a gift before she will use it.

The crystal in Ugga’s hut is a fraction of a very large crystal of pure mana. Make sure to give it some attention so that the party can realize its significance when they travel to the Feudal Demigods location.

Dinosaur Dinner

The party emerges in a sparse wasteland with brown grass and small trees. It looks a bit like the world is trying to start anew. No need for skill checks to determine their new time. A cranky young triceratops attacks them. The dinosaur gets +1 to attack and +3 to defend. It has 4 physical stress, and although it is not really interested in eating anyone it does fight to kill.

If anyone is taken out or the fight lasts too long, have Ugga the hunter join in and help. If the group defeats the triceratops before Ugga arrives, he will try to negotiate for the meat to feed his tribe. He is very friendly towards the group if they don’t attack him or threaten his tribe, but he is very simple minded and will not understand complicated questions. No social checks needed either way. “Maybe Ashe know?” will be his response to questions, and he will gladly lead the group to his tribe.

Threads of Time

Ugga’s tribe lives in caves because…well, because they are basically cavemen. They have made some advancements as far as fire, tools, the wheel, and basic sewing. Ashe the seamstress works the thread to make clothes for everyone. The others say that she can see the future and is very wise.

Ugga is currently making a simple one piece outfit out of a saber tooth tiger pelt and some flax thread. A Great (4) Lore check will date her techniques as 2nd age. A Good (3+) Notice will reveal that the needle is doing the sewing and Ashe is only pretending to hold it with her hand. Ashe does not like to talk about her talents, being ashamed of being different. She does not know that her mana crystal is what has been giving her powers, but she will not part with it willingly as it is her only treasure.

Ugga will confirm that she can see the future with just an Average (1+) Rapport check. For a Good (3+), she will admit that she can use magic. For a Superb (5+), she can be convinced that her talents are not something to be ashamed of. She can date the earliest born member of the group (4,599,364 sunsets from now) and, once convinced that her magic is helpful, can actually open portals to take the group back to the 4th Age where they came from: Steampunk Boom.

If the group wants to explore or have adventures in the 2nd age, go ahead and give them a chance to do so. The difficulty setting for most skill checks should be at least a Great (4) since there is very little to work with, but if things are working to their advantage you can give them a Fair (2) difficulty instead. The story cannot really move on until they convince Ugga to accept her magic, so make sure you keep that option open and emphasize it for the sake of the story.

The Next Adventures

Convincing Ugga to accept her magic actually changes the lead aspect of Human Sapiens to “Leads to Feudal Demigods, not Dark Renaissance”. And Feudal Demigods specifically “Leads to Gift of Gaia, not Steampunk Boom.” Meaning that by convincing Agga to embrace her magic, the group has changed history so that now many people are embracing their powers for good or evil.

If you can, end this first adventure with a the group emerging in a modern setting (on a street filled with cars) and then have a couple of super heroes or villains fly/zoom by them. Let them know that they are indeed in the right time, but somehow time has been altered. They will have until the next session to figure it out.

If you are planning out a campaign, you probably have some great ideas about where to go from here. But here are a couple of suggestions for adventures in our time locations just to make sure we don’t leave anyone out to dry.

Pangea (Age 1): The portal opens up at the top of a mountain, and the party rolls down to the bottom. To get back to the portal, they have to climb up after alerting dinosaurs to their presence by the fall. Or perhaps aliens came to visit the world at this early age, friendlier ancestors to the time location Alien Enslavement.

Human Sapiens (Age 2): The group may wish to change history back by taking away Ashe’s crystal or convincing her to be more secretive about her gifts. They could also hunt for the much larger crystal that her piece came from to obtain their own means of making portals.

Dino Sapiens (Age 2): The human slaves may need rescuing, or perhaps the reptiles socialized with to the point that they do not eat humans any more. Or maybe the group needs muscle for a future age and want to recruit some strong lizard folk allies to walk through the portal that they think is just a convenient hole for them to dump their waste into.

Reptech (Age 3): The group helps a young scientist advance her research to help them find a way to more easily travel through time, but the surge in technology is what attracts the conquering aliens. Or the group decides to raid a dragon’s lair for helpful treasure.

Dark Renaissance (Age 3): A young woman wants to kill herself because she believes her true love is dead, but it turns out she is an ancestor of one of the PCs. Then, when she does not kill herself, her death does not inspire people so that Utopia is no longer a possibility. Or a witch with magical powers tries to overthrow the kingdom and put an end to the renaissance.

Feudal Demigods (Age 3): The demigod of time senses something off about the party and tries to kill them so that they stop meddling in his domain. Or a samurai offers to give their magical sword to a pc if they help the samurai kill a demigod who tries to save themselves by offering to open portals to their home.

Alien Enslavement (Age 4): The party realizes that if they can steal a small spaceship and combine it with magic/technology from other ages, then they could make a time traveling ship. Or the party is captured by the aliens and separated from their means to time travel, and the other prisoners will only help if the party takes him/her with them to escape this time location.

World at War (Age 4): A twisted general wants to weaponize time travel and so hunts the party down for their secrets. Or a nuclear holocaust must be prevented before it not only destroys the world but also creates a fixed point in time.

Steampunk Boom (Age 4): The Mad Statter tries to convince the party to help him fix his time portal machine and run some tests on them so that they can all better understand how time travel works. Or the party travels back to prevent the Mad Statter’s initial experiment that pulled them from their timelines but are thwarted by a future version of themselves.

Gift of Gaia (Age 4): The party can help a hero take down a villain that is trying to make a time portal machine to go back and kill the hero before they are born. Or a super powered individual is convinced that one of the player characters is his parent (in the PC’s future but clearly in the individual’s past).

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Author: Burn Everything Gaming

Website that mostly produces Actual Play Podcast as well as game reviews and other musings on the topic. Hope you enjoy.

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