Once again, let’s look at Edge of Tomorrow as inspiration for your game. I’m having a lot of fun doing this, so I think I might continue on with other movies. Suggestions are always welcome.
Okay, so you have time travel in your game similar to the involuntary time travel from Edge of Tomorrow – why is that? I’m not asking why it exists in the game world, I’m asking what purpose does it serve in your game. There were likely many design reasons for time travel in the movie, but the narrative purpose was to allow Cage to go from a coward to a hero through intense training over a long period of time. It was a training montage, but actually lasting one day . . . one day that occurred over and over again.
You can use this conceit as well. As discussed in earlier articles, this might be to train up characters or to change their intent or outlook. They might live the same event over and over again, unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to reach the preferred outcome, until they find a solution with which they are happy. This might be teaching them skills, or forcing them to examine their own motivations – which also happened in the movie. Cage didn’t just learn to become a warrior, he accepted self-sacrifice as necessary. He became willing to give it all to save the human race, something he had not accepted at the outset of the movie, in contrast to even the worst of the soldiers which appeared as supporting characters.
How else might you use involuntary time travel in a game? This might not be Groundhog Day, rather you might have the involuntary time travel move the character’s back or forward a set amount of time each time a character dies. It could be moving them back to the ultimate cause of the event that set the time travel in motion – maybe they all died during an epic confrontation with the being or power that initiated the jumps.
The time travel could also send them forward, jumping past events or situations on a road to a final confrontation. They might already be ready for the confrontation skill- and attitude-wise, but must leap over otherwise insurmountable barriers. Imagine your group faces a Balrog with no Gandalf in sight.
“Who’s turn is it?” asks Aragorn.
“Mine, I guess,” says Merry, reluctantly.
And Boromir cleaves off Merry’s head. BOOM. It’s a day later and they are in Lorien. Or, the fight the Balrog and someone dies. BOOM. Lorien.
In this case, it might almost be better as a total party kill triggers the jump. You might even go kind of videogame on this – if a character dies, there will be a jump, but the remaining characters need to complete the scene to trigger the jump. In the fight with the Balrog, even after Merry goes down in the fight, the fight continues until either everyone is dead OR the Balrog is overcome and this triggers the jump with dead characters brought back to life.
A kind of off-the-wall version of this would be fighting some kind of chronologically powered enemy and characters encounter periods of nul-time – time does not pass. The PCs, outside of time, are unaffected, but they cannot make progress – they are traversing time rather than geography to reach the opponent – and they must restart the movement of time by sacrificing one of their own. An interesting twist on this is having that PC permanently gone. A new PC needs to be created. You would need a lot of buy-in for that, and I think it works as a one-shot but nothing more.
I think time travel works best as it is used in the movie – as a method to allow characters to advance or otherwise learn and grow while experimenting with solutions to an apparently insolvable problem. This is much more a one-shot or single adventure rather than a campaign. I think this could wear thin relatively quickly.
You can read my review of Edge of Tomorrow here.
You find more Edge of Inspiration articles here.