The Time Travelling GM

Games Masters are a powerful breed. Far too many fall into the trap of thinking (wrongly) that they’re Gods and the players merely bit-part actors in worlds of their creating. You can usually tell this type of GM by the copious notes about their gameworld and over-engingeered scenarios chock full of NPCs, all completely stated out with Epic backstory. Woe betide the poor player who deviates from the scenario’s path, for That Way Leads To The GM’s Wrath. The story should always revolve around the players – in many ways, it’s they who are the Gods in the gameworld. Just don’t tell them I said that, ok?

But there’s one thing that the GM can do that’s truly superheroic.

They can Time Travel. And they don’t even need be Doctor Who to do it.

Sometimes the best way to create a series of adventures is to travel backwards in time, plotting the final, climactic adventure first then working in reverse to figure out how the players could reach that outcome. Remember that you’re not God, so allow a little wiggle room and be prepared to improvise along the way. For example, if the third adventure is set in a library but the players want to visit the Raven Queen’s Temple, then just decide that the Temple has a Library, and run from there.

Here’s a quick example how to put your Time Travelling powers into action.

A while ago I had five sessions to fill before the start of a new campaign, and was itching for the chance to run a d20 Modern game. I wanted a Supernatural-meets-Die Hard vibe, and decided that the climax would involve some kind of chase across a rain soaked landing strip at O’Hare Airport, complete with landing planes, bombs and SWAT teams on standby. Maps were easy to get hold of too, which is always a bonus for this Lazy GM :)

Working backwards, this meant the fourth adventure would involve a high-risk car chase to the airport as they race after the bad guys. I figured there’d be enough action in this scene to fill an entire evening – but who were they chasing, and why?

Travelling backwards in time again, I worked on scenario three – the museum. This is the Big Reveal session when the adventures discover the bad guy and his motives. I planned for this scenario to end on a cliffhanger with the museum windows all shattered by a massive explosion as the villains make their getaway, and the players in hot pursuit. The actual session didn’t go quite as planned (no explosion – the players defused the bomb), but the end result remained the same.

Skipping the plans for the second session for a moment, I time travelled back to the plans for session one, and countless centuries into the past. This is a D&D session with the characters attempting to recover and destroy a powerful artifact before a Mummy Lich gets hold of it. The players have no idea this is all just a setup for what’s to follow, and the look on their faces was priceless when they hit session three and realise that the Artifact in the Museum is the same item they thought they’d destroyed in a D&D game a few weeks earlier. Cue one undying Mummy Lich in modern day Chicago, and all this time travelling paid off, in spades.

FInally, I set up the second session (the first using d20 Modern) as a straightforward meet-and-great scenario with the players pulled together on a subway train battling an ethereal evil entity – the Mummy Lich’s essence, weakened but returning. At no point did I reveal this was in any way related to the last session. Let’s save that surprise for later, and let them work it out themselves :)

Overall, I used my awesome GM time travelling powers to skip backwards through the adventure path and cross untold millenia – and best of all, I took my players with me by using both D&D and d20 Modern to create something with more depth and history than your average “let’s destroy an evil artifact” story.

Next time you’ve a few evenings’ entertainment to plan, don’t forget your ace Time Travelling powers; you don’t need to plan the session in the order they’re played, and sometimes it’s fun to bring the players along with you too with a foreshadowing (or even far-future wrap-up!) scenario as well.

Now, where did I leave my TARDIS…………

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