It’s looking like I may not get a chance to run that time travel campaign I wanted. But even if I eventually do, I figure I may as well share some more of my ideas for it.
There are six main eras for the PCs to visit. To make things interesting I’m going to list them in the order that the PCs will likely visit them, not in chronological order. I’m sure there will be repeat visits to the different eras, though — more on that later.
V: High Medieval Era: Gonland
This is the era that the PCs will come from, although any PC who joins partway through the campaign will likely come from whichever era the party happens to be in. It’s a pretty standard D&D world, with access to all the normal sorts of magic. (The major exceptions, as I mentioned in another post, are that dragons are long extinct, and planar travel is utterly impossible.) Gonland is one of two major powers in this part of the world, the other being Arcus. Historically speaking, this is an age of relative enlightenment. Magic is being rediscovered after a long absence, new forms of government (i.e. parliamentary monarchy) are being worked out, and society is surprisingly tolerant. State religion is a big deal, but not a driving force in most people’s lives. Peasants are enjoying limited civil rights, although of course they’re still peasants.
The major conflict in this era is the cold war between Gonland and Arcus. They have different national deities, and Arcus is much more lawful than Gonland is. The territory between Arcus and Gonland is generally full of much smaller nations that must take sides or be annexed, and are then obliged to fight as proxies against nations that back the opposing state. Rumors say that a secret society of mages and clerics is attempting to discover the art of planar travel, something which is usually considered impossible, and it is whispered that this society is attempting to do this on behalf of one of the two great nations, intending to use the magic as a weapon. Most people agree that this is just a rumor, however.
IV: The Dark Ages: The Kingdom of Gon
Five hundred years before era V, Gonland is the kingdom of Gon, a much smaller nation, and one amongst many. Magic, in all its forms, is effectively lost in ancient tomes that nobody remembers how to read except for an extremely small number of learned folk. The martial arts rule now. Petty wars for territory prevent any one kingdom from gaining dominance, and a strict system of feudalism prevents the lower classes from anything but subsistence farming. Cities are small and weak, as the wealthy, noble landowners have all the power. There are a few big international churches that are highly corrupt, except for the monasteries and convents (and even they wield some little political power). However, Gon in particular has a rich culture, and some of the biggest cities and holy sites on the continent.
The current king of Gon, unfortunately, is particularly brutal and corrupt, caring little for his own people and starting more wars than he can handle. There is a very real chance that Gon will be overrun by a neighboring kingdom that the king has angered, if it is not destroyed from within by his own scheming lords. The players, coming from the future, know that history records that neither of these things happen, and that Gon is supposed to grow into a superpower some day. But that seems like the least likely of all possible outcomes, given what is happening when the players get there — indeed, the kingdom surviving another 10 years would be a miracle.
III: Late Classical Era: Holy Gideon Empire
Long before era IV, the Gideon Empire rules over the entire known world, stretching from what is, in era V, Gonland to Arcus. Ruled by an Emperor who is also the head of the all-powerful Pantheon (a polytheistic church), Gideon is characterized by widespread superstition and religion an incredibly important part of daily life. The average person makes sacrifices to five gods a day, if not more. Divine magic is much stronger now than in era V, but arcane magic is almost entirely absent, and respect for nature is nil. There is a Senate, but it does next to nothing. The upper class contains wealthy landowners, senators, and clergy, and is extremely decadent. Slaves or heretics are thrown to beasts or made to fight each other in great arenas for their amusement. The upper class is also responsible for the creation of a huge amount of infrastructure that the players have only ever seen as ruins — great aqueducts, temples, and roads. The empire is held together by religion and the will of the Emperor himself. And by a large mercenary army of orcs.
Beneath all this, an underground alliance of rebels intends to kill the Emperor and create a new, empowered Senate to represent the will of the people. History says nothing of these rebels, although it does say that the current Emperor will be the last before Gideon is dissolved and breaks into a number of smaller nations, which continue to divide over the next few centuries until era IV is reached. Is this rebellion meant to succeed? And if it does, why does history not say anything about a new Senate?
VI: The Future: Apocalypse Yesterday
An indeterminate amount of time after V, the world is a shambles. The power of mortals is broken as demons and undead roam freely throughout the planet, killing and pillaging, destroying everything. Their goal is apparently to reduce the world to ash. The few clusters of humanoids who survive in walled cities are too weak to do anything other than hope to hold off the monsters as long as possible, for all the good that will do. Almost nobody is willing to venture outside city walls, and those who do are seldom heard from again.
Nobody from this era knows anything about history at all, although names like “Gonland” and “Arcus” are remembered as great, and destroyed, nations. Nor do they understand how the apocalypse began — suddenly, one day, demons appeared everywhere and started attacking. A strange cult of corruption in the cities preaches that destruction should be heralded and that all should welcome death, while others seek desperately for some hint of a way to destroy the monsters, impossible though it seems. They say legends speak of an ancient, sleeping creature that could defeat the monsters, but very few people believe such myths, and of those that do, most agree that whatever creature this is would probably just join in the wholesale extermination of all life.
I: Prehistory: The Age of Dragons
Way before any of the other eras, in a time that history does not speak of, the world is an untamed wilderness, ruled over by dragons. Many humanoid races, including humans and elves, exist. Of these, many people live in tune with that natural, primal magic of the world, much more than in era V, though the more complex arcane and divine arts are unheard of except by the dragons. There are nations of dragons and societies of dragons, but humanoids are mostly hunter-gatherers, second on the food chain to the great reptiles. Humanoids are in awe and fear of dragons. How dragons view them differs. Some kind dragons take care of the pockets of forest-dwelling people they encounter, seeing them as favored pets. Others permit them to live in their domains only as a source of food. In either case, humanoid society is stagnant. People are largely happy to live in forests and hills, under the shadows of their draconic masters.
Whatever conflict there is in this age is known only to dragons, though metallic and colored (good and evil) dragons are always at war. A certain plant known in human speech as the Ambrosia flower is highly valued by the dragons, though humanoids know not why. Though history says nothing of this age, paleontologists agree that dragons all died off at almost exactly the same time, and that time is now. Considering that nobody is willing to challenge them, this is something of a mystery to the players.
II: Early Classical Era: Mage Republic of Gideon
Gideon exists well before era III. Before the empire, it is a republic, with senators who actually run the goverment. Philosophers and mages are considered the pinnacle of society, and in fact only those proficient with arcane magic are permitted to run for the Senate, or to vote. Arcane magic here is even more plentiful and powerful than in era V. All others are second-class citizens at best, or possibly slaves. While blood status (as in Harry Potter) is unimportant here, mages see non-mages as barely human, and treat them as such. Religion exists and is important, but is considered a private matter. There is no church, and clerics are seen as inferior to arcane mages in all respects. The Republic of Gideon is not quite as large as it will be in era III; in particular, the lands to the south, where the orcs live, have not yet been conquered. But in Gideon, magic conquers all.
This is the age when the books of philosophy and magic that sparked the enlightenment of era V are written. History books survive from then as well, so the story of the fall of the Republic is well known. A powerful and charismatic mage warrior will be given power by the Senate to raise an army to subdue the orcs, and when he returns in victory, the people acclaim him their first emperor. When the party gets there, however, that very army has just set out, and under the command of someone completely different!
So those are the eras. While one big question for the players should be what happened between eras V and VI to cause the apocalypse, that isn’t precisely what the campaign is about. The key pattern, which the party should notice on their own, is that the party arrives right before an upheaval in each period (although it’s not obvious in periods V and VI). And yet, in each period, no such upheaval looks likely. It should seem, at first, that the portals that open to each era are giving the party the chance to fix history, although why they’re being opened should remain a mystery.
This revelation should not come until the party has gone to all 6 eras, but in fact, that’s not true. Even if the party stayed home, all the unlikely changes would definitely happen (at least the ones in eras I–IV). The party has a good chance of changing history by meddling, but they won’t be able to affect any of these big changes without doing so intentionally.
At the beginning of the game, the party knows nothing at all about these portals, and can take them only when they appear. The first part of the game will mostly be about trying to get back to their proper era. Once they do get back, they should have seen enough to interest them in continuing to journey through portals. At this point, it should become fairly straightforward to journey back to eras the party has already visited.
There are a bunch of questions I’m not answering here, because they should be real plot twists. But I will tell you what these questions are:
- Who or what is opening up these time portals?
- Why are the portals bringing the party to only times of upheaval?
- If the party meddles with one of these big events, what would happen?
- Who or what caused the apocalypse in era VI, and can it be prevented?
- If not, is there anything that can save the world from the demons?
- One more I didn’t mention anything about — who is the faceless man who seems to be following the party from era to era?
I probably will put these in posts eventually, but I do want to hold some stuff back for the theoretical campaign.