Pitch: The Undeath of History

Mondays are when I typically post a series on different items, characters, or something else from my games. I can’t decide what to write at the moment so I am going to pitch several of the campaign ideas floating in my head over the next several weeks. Let me know if anything interests you and I’ll write more about it.

The Undeath of History

The future is change, fluid and transformative. The past is stasis, constant and dead.

Between the instants of time lie the patchworks: a realm of forgotten worlds, shattered fragments of what might have been and decaying shreds of what was. Haunted by “ghosts”, “vampires” and the “living dead”, this realm can be used by time travelers to traverse time or access one of the many dead ends, parallel timelines where something went wrong and the world died.

Entering the patchworks is as simple of finding a part of the world touched by entropy: a cemetery, a decaying building, a dying circle of trees. Wait until darkness is greatest and take the right turn or the correct door. Once through you enter a world of decaying ruins snatched from across time. Navigate to a spot that resembles the era you seek and reverse the process to enter the past or future.

Apocalypse

But a chill wind blows through the patchworks, an icy breeze that digs into the bones of all who pass through. The wind of time changes a time traveler, shredding their attachment to the normal flow of time, isolating them and turning into something not truly alive.

Traveling through time is inimically opposed to life. Those who travel the patchworks come back colder, immune to aging, no longer needing to breath, or even worn down to incorporeality. They become the monsters that haunt the patchworks. They see history as it is: a moth-eaten veil hiding the bloated corpses of worlds that died and a fragile dying heart of time itself.

Some seek to save the world, steering time away from uncounted apocalypses. Others seek power and the immortality that time travel brings them. Others simply hope to forestall the plans of the elder dead, things from ages far beyond human ken, monsters that belong to societies that were never human.

Some of the divergent timelines include:

  • Land of the Pharaohs: the ancient pharaohs of Egypt discovered the secret of the patchworks and used the necropoli to unnaturally extend their lives. Now they control an empire that spans Europe and Africa that threatens to bring all under their dominion.
  • Grim Discovery: This timeline saw a much more urbanized civilization develop in the Americas, roughly on par with Europe. When the two discovered each other there was a cultural exchange…of diseases. Now both sides of the Atlantic are dying of the plagues unleashed.
  • Not So Little Ice Age: an alternate 18th century Europe is slowly being ground down by ever-growing glaciers as the planet slowly cools and freezes.
  • The Second Pacific War: an incursion by forces unknown infested the Pacific with giant sea monsters whose poisonous blood has destroyed the Pacific basin and threatens to kill off all natural sea life. The nations of the Pacific Rim seek to repel the horrors before humanity and perhaps all sea life perish.
  • Black Rain: After a nuclear war between the USSR and USA, a radioactive Europe is ruled by a secret cabal of time travelers who feed off the survivor’s temporal energies.
  • Age of Rust: after a devastating war between humanity and the AIs, a few mutated and increasingly sterile survivors hide from rusting killbots.

Themes:

The River of Time. Time is a vast river, slow and meandering. Despite this sluggishness, it is hard to divert and will crush anything in its path, changing and transforming it. Its many branches drain in salty lakes of death.

Life and Death. Just as the many horrors of time reflect the death of timelines, the main timeline can bring new life. The heroes can shift time and restore dead timelines.

Mood: Bleak Twilight. Time travel is inherently hazardous and will eventually turn you into an immortal undead thing. Worse history seems doomed, every branch leading to literal dead ends. But is the twilight the sign of approaching darkness or a new day? Can the heroes rise up and change history for the better?

System: TimeWatch (i.e. the GUMSHOE system). One major alteration would be to alter the consequences for failed Chronal Stability rolls. When you reach a Chronal Stability pool of 0 or less, you are pulled out time and your body and soul transformed. Choose one of the following options:

  • You are unaffected by the passage of time for the purposes of aging. You never grow a day older naturally, though further exposure to temporal paradox can cause you to age in strange ways.
  • You no longer have basic metabolic needs like blinking, eating, or breathing.  You cannot starve or suffocate. Rolls to hide your inhuman nature are at +1 difficulty.
  • You become unnaturally aged as if you were well over a century old. This does not affect your skills though it does affect NPC reactions.
    • You can take this option again but you become a wasted, clearly dead thing.
  • Your wounds no longer visibly heal. While your Health pool recovers the damage remains visible.
  • You become partially out of phase from reality. All general abilities suffer +1 difficulty but your Hit Threshold also increased by 2.

If your Chronal Stability reaches -6 or lower the aspect becomes permanent. If you reach -12 you are pulled fully out of time and flung through the time stream. Your character experiences millions of years passing while paralyzed leaving them hopelessly insane. They might return later as one of the undead horrors of the setting.

Commentary

This idea bubbled up into my mind one wet fall day as I sat in my local Starbucks. As I watched the rain smear my view of the street, I was struck by the mixture of death (Autumn) and change (Water). The concept of water washing away the old world and leaving an unknown unformed future seemed very appealing. It was at once bleak and timeless and full of change and renewal. Also I love rain and miss living somewhere other than the dryness of northern California.

There are many ties between water, life and death. The west bank of Nile was once the land of the dead, according to myth vampires can’t cross rivers, the primordial tidal pools may have been the origin spots of life, and modern sea life is still tied to the tides just as the flooding of rivers fertilize future harvests. When water ebbs away it brings death to those things left stranded.

This game is about facing change and risking being changed by it. The PCs can try to profit and rule reality but that way lies inhumanity. Or they can risk it all to save the world.

8 Comments