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Dungeons & Dragons 3e: Chronomancer - Time Travel for Everyone

Chronomancer: Time Travel for Everyone

Obviously intended to be the definitive work on time travel in at least Dungeons & Dragons if not role-playing in general, this book looks in great detail at every aspect of time travel in fantasy adventure. The Introduction explains, by a detailed overview of what comes later, how both DMs and players are equipped to cope with the use of time travel. For players there are a range of character classes, spells, feats and magical items to enable them to manipulate time, while the DM gets advice on how to keep a grip on things as well as monsters and places and even sample adventures to put in front of the characters. The DM also can determine how time works in his game world, and can even alter the mechanisms to reflect the differing natures of different planes. To keep check on meddling, there is an experience-based system called Fate's Fee, where - in a similar manner to spending experience points to create magic items - characters have to spend them to alter time and create paradoxes.

Chapter 1: Classes starts with a short story about a mediaeval lad fascinated by counting, a skill that eventually led him to develop into a powerful chronomancer. Then on to the real meat, the classes. To start with, chronomancy is a closely-guarded secret as it is far too easy to cause terrible problems by carelessness or by intent. It is designed as a specialism of existing classes, rather than by the the creation of wholly-new ones - mostly those which can cast spells, although there is an ancient barbarian who's somehow wandered out of the mists of the far past. An arcane chronomancer is a wizard who has chosen to specialise in this type of magic, while the chronomancer sorcerer comes to it naturally and has just discovered this natural ability that are his temporal talents, often not meeting with other chronomancers until he starts to travel in time. Divine chronomancers are clerics who either serve a deity connected with time, or else they are followers of a deity who has decided that there's a need for a time-manipulator and so grants the powers to a chosen cleric. Whichever route is chosen, the powers come from the deity and the divine chronomancer is directly answerable to the god for their use. There's an interesting psionic class, the nega-psychic, whose special ability is to prevent an opponent from using magic or other supernatural power. Then there's the quantum mechanic, who brings a scientific approach to the study of time; while the temporal psychic is in tune with the timeflow and able to navigate it. Between these you could equip a whole time-travelling party, or just create a solitary time-dabbler amidst a more normal group.

Next, Chapter 2 presents some Prestige Classes. The first is the Adept of Luck, who does not necessarily have to be any kind of chronomancer, but he does seem to have Fate on his side. The Dying Star is an old - the requirements for the class include being in the 'venerable' age category for your race - fire-wielding spell caster or psion who is determined to go out with a bang rather than a whimper. The Edgewhen is normally a hunter (often a ranger) who uses 2 swords and whose very swordplay shifts in time, hitting before or after he strikes, while the Educated Adept prizes knowledge above all else, especially brawling ability. Eternal Guardians receive limited temporal powers and longegivity by pledging themselves to guard the land, and are often druids. Forgotten Monks seek to restore that which is lost by changes made to the timeline, while Forgotten Ninja manipulate time to enable assassinations, thefts and whatever else they're tasked to do. Masters of Shuriken are good at hurling small sharp things and the Metamage ponders how else he could cast that spell. National Defenders are paladins who are sworn to the service of a state rather than a deity, and the Necronomancer seeks to master death as well as time. And there's more... plenty to choose from depending on your particular interests.

Chapter 3: Skills presents the usual mix of new skills and reanalysis of old ones in light of the terms of this particular text. Essential reading for all pyromaniacs, time travellers or not, is the Craft (Fire) skill, including details of how to burn down houses... or use firefighting techniques to save them. Knowledge (Future History) has a lot of potential for fun too, while the new skill of Prophecy deals both in the interpretation of prophecies as well as the ability to make prophetic utterances of your own. The chapter ends with another short story about a fellow who notices change, and attempts to record these little changes, temporal shifts, before he too forgets. Chapter 4: Feats provides a selection of new feats useful for chronomancers, and often everyone else as well.

Next, Chapter 5: Time explores the nature of time itself... or at least, time as it can be applied in a game world in which chronomancy exists. Primarily aimed at the DM, it explores such matters as paradox and lost time. Chronomancy spells are divided by what they affect - the present, the past and the future - and the DM may prefer to limit those that can alter other than the present to avoid the creation of paradoxes or other hard-to-handle effects. There are three main varieties of time, and the DM must choose in which one the game will be run. In simple time, even chronomancers cannot alter the past and so change the present or future. In moderate time some simple paradoxes with clear solutions can occur, while the very brave may accept the challenge of complex time where anything can happen... and usually does! After introducing these concepts, the discussion moves on to Fate's Fee - in essence, anyone who causes a paradox might find themselves, at the DM's discretion, parting with quite substantial amounts of experience points. It's a mechanism intended to make players think about what they are doing, and only meddle in the time stream for good reason, not just because they can. Next come more detailed discussions of the three types of time, and what sort of games can be run within those constraints. There are even some ideas about modelling the passage of ordinary time during the game, as well as the causes and consequences of paradox and how you can encourage players to think of other things to do when time travelling than alter their own time to something unrecognisable! If you are going full-bore into complex time, several different ways of running it are described, based on what time-travelling characters can and cannot do while roaming the forth dimesion. This gets very complex and needs careful study... not helped by an increasing number of niggling typos, mostly of the sort due to over-reliance on a computer spelling checker rather than using the Mark 1 eyeball.

Chapter 6: Troubled Time delves deeper into the problems that time travel can cause, beginning with yet another short story demonstrating how a minor chance encounter can have catastrophic effects. Again this chapter is mostly for the DM, and can be taken as either points to guard against or the very stuff of which your time-travelling adventures will be made, depending on whether or not you wish to wrestle with paradoxes. The concept of a few powerful characters being able to resist the effects of temporal change, perhaps even realise what has taken place, is introduced - something that could be used to launch an adventure, if you decide that one or more of the characters notice that something an NPC chronomancer has done has altered their current reality. There's a whole raft of ideas and examples for dealing with paradoxes, which can be viewed as trouble-shooting or adventure ideas. The chapter also looks at ways of defending against the depredations of chronomancers, by careful use of magic by non-chronomancer spell casters as well as by employing your own chronomancers to act in oppostion to those that you perceive as a threat. It's a complex chapter and will need time and thought to understand the concepts well enough to make wise decisions and handle time travel competently - so it's apt that it ends with the suggestion that if you don't understand something, don't have it in your game!

Next comes Chapter 7: Temporal Horizon. This explains how time travel 'works' as far as the characters are concerned - what they will see and experience, what they have to use their powers to manipulate. The detail is such that the DM can give evocative descriptions to the players when they attempt time travel, make it something significant that is a true experience rather than just a quick casting and hey, you're elsewhen.

This is followed by Chapter 8: Gaffer's Chaos. Just when everything seemed nicely ordered and you'd found the Temporal Horizon, along comes this chaotic aglomeration of alternate realities, planes and places jumbled up together where literally any weirdness might be found. Some chronomancers like it as a place to hide in or to create more unusual effects than they can in more ordered places. Its core, however, is a static - even stagnant - society that never changes; and again some seek this out because it appeals. Quite a few of the other realities are also described, all weird and most falling into the category of interesting to visit but you wouldn't want to live there.

Now on to more practical aspects, and Chapter 9: Equipment brings many of the things a chronomancer just wouldn't be seen without. Natuarally, some things attract risk - and one of the greatest risks a chronomancer faces is that someone realised that he doesn't belong in the time he presently occupies. It can prove quite difficult to arrange for the correct money and local looking clothing, especially if you did not plan your trip meticulously. Of course it can prove entertaining to pick up items during your travels as well. Hints are provided for the likely effects of moving items from their own time, but it's best to think about each case on an individual basis.

This is followed by Chapter 10: Temporal Combat. It wouldn't be D&D without a few good brawls, after all. The emphasis is on the extra dimension added by individuals able to manipulate time, and guidance is provided to enable the DM to adjudicate the antics they might dream up to improve their chances in combat. Things like going back in time just one round to amend things, or using foreknowledge of what will happen to take the initiative. Of course, if both sides in a fight boast chronomancers, the brawl could get bogged down and never reach a resolution! The chapter ends with an awful warning of how such a combat could go horribly wrong, with suggestions on how to resolve such situations.

Then Chapter 11 looks at Campaign Settings. It starts off by discussing the merits of converting existing characters to play in a game where time travel is possible, and how to go about it. It might be that an existing batch of characters just had never encountered the concepts of chronomancy, and when an NPC reveals it some might wish to take it up. The best routes are through multiclassing or by taking an appropriate prestige class, unless the DM wants to allow characters to be rewritten... which can in this case be explained by pointing out that chronomancy can change the past! Next comes a whole bunch of ready-made NPC chronomances of different classes and levels, who can be incorporated into the campaign as necessary. Several are based on characters in the short stories scattered through the book, which gives an interesting glimpse into personality. For those seeking truly epic campaigns there are notes on the End of Time, the Beginning of Time, the Abyss and more. Then there are various chronomancer organisations, locations and other ideas to spice up a campaign where such things exist, and perhaps to help or hinder the characters as they find their way into these novel concepts. This is followed by a discourse on disease - for a start, what happens if you take a modern disease back to a time when there is no resistance to it, or encounter a new disease that you don't have immunity to (or even know a remedy for)? Dragons, 'tis said, by and large don't care for chronomancy but a few study it, while more mysterious individuals called time guardians attempt to thwart more obvious meddling with timelines, and act to prevent major paradoxes. Then the concept of convergence magic is introduced: sometimes in old worlds instead of discrete spells to create effects, magic has converged so that a single spell will suffice to do anything you can expect to be able to do at your level.

With this somewhat jumbled collection of what are individually interesting ideas out of the way, the chapter moves on to look at the sort of campaign you might run and how to sustain it long-term. Both gods and a massive future organisation by the name of Multicorp can play a part. If that's not big and faceless enough, try the Bank of the Temporal Horizon which provides services through both space and time... at a cost. A few things that might well prove to be bad ideas, such as time-travelling NPCs who attempt to railroad players or the introduction of what is popular in one era to another 'cold' - try playing well-amplified heavy metal to a royal court more familiar with the lute and the madrigal, or feeding live prisoners to the lions in a 21st century national sporting stadium.

Next, Chapter 12: Spells presents a whole host of new spells. Most are chronomancy ones, with the restrictions implied earlier - only students of chronomancy can learn them, some require access to the past or the future so depending on how you've chosen to handle time may or may not be available, and many have an experience point cost as well as the more conventional costs. There's also the intriguing thought that it is possible to jerry-rig a teleport spell into moving you through time rather than space, but naturally it is rather dangerous! For example, a wizard attempting to teleport into his own laboratory might end up in another wizard's lab, at the very an least embarrassing esperience. Then follows full listing of all the new spells, ranging from handy tricks like Clock, which causes an item to display the time as if it were one, to Devolution, which causes a sentient being to regress to a more primitive form. This doesn't work on elves, but if cast on a barbarian makes him revert to the ancient barbarian described amongst the classes - being one way for ordinary barbarians to take levels in that class if they so wish. These are followed by an equally diverse collection of time-related psionic powers. Also presented is a variant form of magic called power magic which is intended as post-holocaust magic to be encountered by people travelling into the far future. It's a point-based system, consuming mana as you cast spells; and is accessed by taking a Power Magic feat.

Chapter 13 then presents some new Magic Items. New time-based properties serve to create the building blocks of these items, and give you the tools to design your own items. Examples of armour, weapons, shields, potions and other artefacts follow in profusion. And at last, we find out what a chronosuit is - it's been referred to countess times earlier in the book, mostly in the stories, but now the details are to hand! While the main thrust of this book is time travel through the use of magic, there's some detail here about time machines - generally built by people from times or places in which magic is non-existant... but should your players wish to try, all the necessary rules to construct one are given.

In case you felt the need for some opposition, Chapter 14: Monsters should supply all that you require, diving straight in with an ancient red dragon, who has gained wisdom with her years and is being groomed for a place amongst the gods themselves, although players are more likely to encounter her when she's engaging in her hobby of eliminating dragon-slayers. Her familiar is a Great Dane dog, and this introduces the idea of a dog as a familiar, something rarely seen. Refreshingly, although powerful these two are far more likely to talk than brawl. The next lot, ancient skeletons, are much more combatative - and smarter than regular ones. Other monsters range from chronolichen to a flying cow and the dodo, also the lab rat and various beasties which have innate time-travelling abilities. Like the dodo, there are other extinct or endangered animals which might be encountered if you visit their time, and they are popular picks for familiars amongst chronomancers.

Chapter 15: Epic Time Travel provides information and career paths for those who wish to practice chronomancy at such a high level. Each of the specialist classes presented earlier is taken to 30th-level, with appropriate expansions of power. Naturally, there are some high-powered magic items that such folk might wish to use, and as you'll need suitable opposition there are some epic-level NPCs ready-created for your use. Some are generic and others are based on the characters in the short stories raised to these extreme hights.

Finally, an Appendix talks about movies and TV shows in which time travel features, and which might come in handy for inspiration and story ideas. Each is analysed in terms of what sort of time is depicted, using the classifications presented earlier in this work. The book rounds off with a glossary of terms and an index.

Never mind epic characters, this is an epic treatise on time travel within Dungeons & Dragons. Unmatched in its comprehensive analysis of what can be done and how, and likely pitfalls, it bodes fair to be the definitive work on the subject. It could be improved by some proof-reading, and perhaps an adventure idea or two, but if you fancy a spot of chronomancy, this is the book to read!

Return to Chronomancer: Time Travel for Everyone page.

Reviewed: 9 May 2009