What Even Is Time (Travel)? (Ronin Roundtable)

With the 20th anniversary of Green Ronin Publishing and the 18th anniversary of Mutants & Masterminds this year, we’ve been doing a lot of looking back at the past. But what about visiting the past or, for that matter, changing the past? Well, that’s where the Time Traveler’s Codex for M&M comes into play, arriving “just in time,” so to speak.

Time travel is a favorite sub-genre of mine, and the superhero genre is especially fertile ground for it, given the “anything goes” approach of my comic book universes. It’s not all that unusual for a character to be someone else’s potential offspring from an alternate future, or for one’s nemesis to be someone you haven’t even “met” yet, but who is trying to erase you from history! Naturally, when M&M Developer Crystal Frasier proposed the Time Traveler’s Codex, I was first in-line to write part of it!

Time Traveler's Codex on sale now!

 

The parts of the Codex I got to write include: The overview of time travel as a sub-genre, temporal mechanics and rules options, the role of time travel in a series, creating characters with time travel in mind, Gamemaster advice on handling time travel and running time travel adventures (or series), time travel in the Earth-Prime omniverse, and a revisit to the Silver Age of Freedom City as a time travel destination. Here on the Ronin Round-Table, in this installment and the next, let’s take a sneak-peek at a few of these in more detail.

Infinite Possibilities

Well, there wasn’t room in the sourcebook for infinite possibilities (if there is later, maybe I’ll jump back and revise). Still, the beginning Time Traveler’s Codex takes a good look at how time travel might work, and at the various staples of the sub-genre, including alternate timelines (and alternate selves), non-linear time, paradoxes, fixed points in time, and temporal enforcement agents (both natural and supernatural). Gamemasters can decide for themselves what time travel options exist in their own games, with some guidance as to the possibilities and repercussions.

Temporal Mechanics

The first chapter of the sourcebook also looks at optional rules systems for handling things like temporal navigation, temporal drift, temporal mishaps (complications specifically related to time travel), temporal transformations (either from revisions in history or exposure to chronal energies), and retroactive continuity. It’s a place where some of the M&M game systems get to shine, from transformative afflictions to time-related complications. I particularly like the following extension of the hero point mechanics for time travel:

Hero Points and Retcons

Temporal manipulations allow for an additional option for hero points, using the Edit Scene ability to “retcon” changes in history! Essentially, so long as the player can come up with a time travel scenario that explains it, they can spend a hero point to edit the scene to make it the case. For example, heroes might find themselves trapped and without their devices; a player suggests their hero will, at some point in the future, come back into the past and leave an extra set of equipment behind a false panel nearby! The GM approves, the player spends the hero point, and voila! The heroes open the panel to find the gear that they need.

In addition to the normal limit imposed by the number of hero points they have to spend, the GM may wish to impose temporal consequences for an excessive use of this option, perhaps causing a character to start to develop time sickness (following) with the DC of the resistance test based on 10 + the number of hero points spent retconning that game session (or over a certain number that session).

Next Up: Mastering time travel, time in the Omniverse, and a look back at the Silver Age!

Steve Kenson

Steve Kenson has been an RPG author and designer since 1995 and has worked on numerous book and games, including Mutants & Masterminds, Freedom City, and Blue Rose for Green Ronin Publishing. He has written nine RPG tie-in novels and also runs his own imprint, Ad Infinitum Adventures, which publishes material for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying. Steve maintains a website and blog at www.stevekenson.com.