May 13th, 2015
|03:59 am - Write-Up of Becca's Time Travel Campaign|
The latest RPG campaign I've been playing in ended recently, and it occurred to me that long campaigns mostly just peter out or stop rather than having an a well planned and executed ending. Also, games involving time travel where the goal is to change the past are far rarer, so I've decided to write up an overview of the campaign. The campaign, run by my awesome partner teaotter started in mid 2012, and so ran for nearly 3 years (of weekly gaming, with a few breaks – at least 44 games a year, and somewhere in the rough vicinity of 120 session), making it one of the shortest campaigns I've been in, but a very good and very unusual one.
Like many of our games, much less time passed in the game world. In the course of the 3 years campaign, the game-world went from June 1, 2011 to October 7, 2011 – 4 months and 1 week. In addition to all of the time travel and the fact that the PCs utterly transformed the world, another unusual aspect of the campaign was that there were a total of three (fairly brief) scenes which could be remotely considered combat in the entire campaign, which is a remarkably small amount even for our group. It was also a hell of a lot of fun.
Here's an RPG.net post about the campaign I made almost 2 years ago and
The basics are that the PCs were 5 people from a world that initially looked just like this one, who were selected by a magical crystal to help the world adjust to having more magic. The game used a diced freeform system. All of the characters developed magic powers as well as having access to time travel and various other advantages. The campaign was set in the city of Grimsby, which was basically a version of Boston, which started out almost identical to Boston in our world and rapidly became very different.
- Jo (played by me) a 35 year old multi-media artist who started out as an ex-Wiccan atheist (she had been Wiccan in college) who worked at a museum doing restoration. By mid-point of the game, she had never stopped being Wiccan and was not merely a billionaire, but exceedingly famous and was for most of the game the public face of the Crystal Foundation. Jo's magic power – talking to and being able to reshape and modify objects and devices. Later, after much work to accomplish this goal, Jo also became able to transform into a winged bird-person.
- Ton (played by Charles) a 19 year old activist who when the game started was in tech school learning to become an electrician. Ton's magic power – magical travel, typically via a magical subway that only existed when he needed it, but also could be used as teleportation, including between different realities.
- Sonya (played by Barry) a 43 year old nurse who was divorced and was devoted to the 6 year old son her and her partner (Sylvia, who had custody of their son) had before the divorce. Sonya started out as a rather strident libertarian and was always the most argumentative and visibly eccentric of the characters, but her politics mellowed a great deal over the course of the campaign. Sonya's magic power – communication (via cellphone) with anyone (regardless of whether they had a cellphone or not), at any range. This power being able to ask the ideal person for X task to call her or to have images of what someone was thinking appear on the screen of her phone.
- James (played by my other partner amberite) a 24 year old somewhat dilettantish opera singer who lived in an old house with his grandmother – James understood far more about various occult things than the other characters due to family traditions regarding such things. James' magic power – magical music that could be used for many different purposes.
- Sarah (played by Becca) a 20 year old college student studying documentary film making who became an activist. Sarah started out as a minor character, and not only became Becca's GMPC, but also became one of the time travelers who was connected to Crystal. Sarah's magic power – change into the form of animals with roughly similar mass & much later in the campaign, reshape reality in small but significant ways.
- Crystal (NPC) – an ancient sentient magical crystal that dwelled in a cave. Crystal (and people connected to her – ie the PCs) could open doors to or from the cave anywhere within a defined radius. This radius increased as the level of magic increased – it began as only a mile and a half in diameter, very soon expanded to twice that, and from there gradually grew to encompass around 90% of the planet. One of the advantages the characters had was the ability to have crystal open a door anywhere within her radius, allowing the characters to almost instantly travel anywhere within Crystal's radius.
The other (far greater) advantage was that the cave Crystal was in had five slabs (which started off merely as different colored areas of the floor and grew into raised slabs as the level of magic increased. If one of the PCs (or anyone else) lay down on one of the slabs, they could send their mind into the past or future, but only (initially) into their own body and also only to certain specific days (with the characters called Time Points). However, the characters could also choose to travel to possible futures, such as saying, I want to travel to a future where we did X, and then being able to see how X worked out.
Another side effect of raising the level of magic was increasing the number of accessible Time Points, and even more importantly increasing the distance into the past and future it was possible to travel. By the time the PCs began time traveling, the game was set in late June 2011, and our available Time Points were: Sept 5, 2010, Nov 18, 2010, Sept 30, 2011, & May 12 2012 – IOW, exceedingly limited time travel.
One of the most useful aspects of this form of time travel was that when the PCs returned to the present and left Crystal's cave, they gained all of the memories that the version of them from the new timeline possessed, as well as retaining their original memories. This allowed the PCs to fit into an increasingly strange and magical world with minimal problems, and also allowed several PCs to go back in time and study languages or other subjects and thus gain many years of experience in a very short time.
Crystal initially contacted the PCs after each one of them resolved some sort of haunting or other minor but problematic magical event. She (we soon began referring to Crystal as female) could only communicate in a very limited and non-linguistic fashion (images, maps, different flashes of light for yes, no, other…) and told us that magic was returning and that if not dealt with, various locations that were in some way problematic (we called them "dark spots" after their appearance on Crystal's map) would gain magical power and become increasingly destructive and malevolently haunted.
Very rapidly, the group agreed that travel to the past (which by its nature allowed the past to be changed) required a consensus vote, while people could travel to the future at will. To my knowledge, no character ever went against this.
The campaign had three major sections.
1) Initial Decisions & Dehaunting
The PCs found out that we could travel in time 9 months in either direction and that we could do things to raise the amount of magic in the world. Time travel involved jumping into your body in the past or future or potentially (if you went far enough back for forward), jumping into the body of specific other people. We also learned about the dark spots and that they become dangerous, and eventually really dangerous if not dealt with when magic increases. We also learned that there were two categories of dark spots – those which were already magically powerful (luminescent dark spots) and dark spots which had not yet gained magical power (ordinary dark spots). Our map of the dark spots was exactly the same size as Crystal's radius for making doors. Within this initial radius there were maybe 15 dark spots, of which two were luminescent dark spots.
After one character instantly caught severe pneumonia when investigating the most powerful dangerous of the two existing luminescent dark spots, the PCs backed off from messing around with luminescent dark spots and started attempting to fix the dark spots that was not yet infused with magic (at this point, magical areas were localized as well as still mostly quite weak).
Next, the child of a family James knew vanished, and we found that he'd gotten lost in a weird magical pocket inhabited by this magically powerful 9 year old girl (Ellorie, who was a member of a magical species we later learned were called the Oenhua, who were sort of elves) who had be placed there to keep her safe from a magical apocalypse, where the level of magic fell below the level that her people could survive.
We got both the child who had gotten lost and Ellorie out of the magical space, which then collapsed since it was no longer inhabited. James adopted Ellorie (who had sufficient magic that she could basically glamour any officials she talked to and magically create paperwork, so that went very easily). Although she was only 9, we learned from Ellorie, that many of her people had fled their world in similar bubbles and she hoped her relatives would arrive in our world.
After getting Ellorie settled, Sonya began taking trips into the future to look up information about patients at her hospital who would die from preventable causes and using this information in the present (and eventually the past) to save lives.
Next, we met someone who had been a time traveler in the late 1940s (Ingue), who warned us that magic was evil and lead to the destruction of the world (via a combination of a nuclear detonation and lots of magic). He said that to save the world he'd reduced the amount of magic down below the level that it was noticeable by humans and also below the level that the time travel crystal could exist (and that people like the Oenhua could survive), ending his career as a time traveler, and leaving him as the last person who still remembered that old universe. The group was split on how much to trust him and his information. We also learned we could easily increase the amount of time we could travel, but doing so meant increasing the amount of magic in the world, and it would start to increase from the further point back we could travel.
Still divided over Ingue's information, we turned our attention back to the dark spots, but decided to work on one that was not let luminescent (ie magically powerful). We started work on a mildly creepy and very down at the heels bookstore. Traveling back 9 months with perfect knowledge of the stock market allowed the PCs to make $60,000, so after Sonya accidentally knocked over about half the bookcases (even with almost no magic present, the bookstore was a focus of bad luck and most customers avoided it), we were able to purchase the business.
Organizing a block party, cleaning and painting an attractive mural on the outside of the bookstore dehaunted the bookstore, making it no longer a dark spot (some dark spots were easier to get rid of than others). In the midst of the dehaunting, an obviously magical deer showed up, turned into a cloud of glowing magic, and infused the area and some of the people present with its particular flavor of magic (making it a non-haunted but highly magical area, which we termed a luminescent spot). Laura, the person who had been managing the bookstore (not the owner), was one of the people affected by the magic deer, and soon found herself to be the proprietor of a magical bookstore (which Laura renamed The Remarkable Bookshop), where people could find the books they were looking for, even if these books existed nowhere else. Shortly after this, Laura and Sonya began dating.
Then, based on Ingue's information several of the PCs thought that we should avoid raising the amount of magic or changing the past and the game stalled for a couple sessions (because the PCs had agreed that all trips to the past must be agreed on by everyone), until a bunch of teenagers from 2032 jumped into the PCs, causing three of us to switch places with them, in a future that looked like a less cybertech (but still very high tech) and slightly less violent version of Shadowrun, with balkanized cities and a considerably higher level of magic, where different factions of magical creatures each held territory. These factions included a group of elf-like creatures that looked somewhat like Ellorie, who seem to have arrived (or at least made themselves know) around 2019. The various different factions seemed to get along very poorly.
The PCs all decided that this looked like a fairly crappy future and wished to attempt to avert it. Also, the fact that magic was going to increase at a fairly rapid rate meant that even the PCs who were reluctant to use time travel understood they needed to do so. Shortly after this point, Ellorie began having visions of one of her people trying to make contact with her, so the PCs and her worked together to create a portal for his magical bubble/magical space to arrive. The person turned out to be Ellorie's uncle (Reasna), who could not survive out in the normal world, because the level of magic was still too low for an adult of Ellorie's people to survive. At this point, we used what Ellorie had shown us to create a formattable magical space 100 or so yards across for him to live (we called these spaces Pockets and were basically magical bubbles that could be accessed via a single opening the size of a door).
Note: Because Pockets were formattable spaces, the PCs made a number of them, and eventually Pockets became an important feature of daily life. In time, we learned that food and water created by Pockets ceased to provide any nourishment outside the Pocket, but clothes washed or machines assembled in a Pocket (assuming both the clothes and the parts for the machines were made outside the Pocket) remained washed and assembled. After the magic level was considerably higher, Pockets began being used as free housing and free factories.
Reasna explained that he was one of a dozen or so of his people sent out to scout for a safe location and then to help call the flotilla of magical bubbles that held the vast majority of the survivors of his species. He said that other scouts would probably be arriving soon, but that this world was not hospitable for them, so unless things changed they would all be forced to live in Pockets (Oenhua ate magic directly, so the limitations on Pockets didn't apply to them).
When Reasna found out we were time travelers associated with Crystal, he reacted with horror and fear because the previous time travelers his people had encountered had been fighting in the huge war his people were fleeing from and were on the other side. Also, these time travelers were the people responsible for reducing the level of magic sufficiently low that many of his people died. However, Reasna also came from a timeline w/o any sort of magical apocalypse involving atomic weapons. It was rapidly becoming clear that there were many different timelines. However, we, and Ellorie, were able to reassure him that we were not like the previous time travelers.
A few days later, another of his people showed up (Jehnu, who was a skilled magical theorist and was able to explain a great deal about Pockets to us), and we travelled to several possible futures (each of which was a different scenario for how to help the Oenhua integrate into the world) to see what the various options were for helping Reasna's people integrate into society rather than having them balkanize like in the Shadowrun-like future. The best option turned out to be increasing the level of magic somewhat, so they could spend short periods of time outside of Pockets. Also, the best place for them to create their initial habitation Pockets was inside The Remarkable Bookshop (which was a luminescent spot and thus provided sufficient magic for them to indefinitely exist inside the bookstore).
The problem was that the PCs initially had no idea how to raise the level of magic and Crystal's limited communication on this matter left us baffled, so we started using what turned out to be our single most powerful technique. Some of us time traveled to a future where we had raised the level of magic and asked ourselves how we had accomplished this task.
This technique worked wonderfully , and so we went back and saved a group of tiny magical pixie like creatures from getting killed in a brushfire and then helped them move into the magical bookshop. This also started the PCs using traveling into possible futures as a method of finding solutions to problems. The PCs did this a vast amount and called it "running futures".
After saving the pixies, we found we could now travel back to early 2009 (2.5 years) and forward to 2014, and that the magical bookstore was now pretty darn magical. By traveling to 2014, we found out that the people working there were developing various magical features like horns or naturally blue hair, and that the bookstore was rapidly becoming bigger on the inside than the outside. Even in the present, it now had a second story inside (outside it was still a single story building).
Also, Sonya began her habit of contacting Laura and showing off various bits of magic whenever she traveling into the past, so that they met each other and had gotten involved earlier and earlier. Jo's version of this was going back and leaving herself messages that since magic was coming back, she should get back into Wicca – which she continued doing until she could travel far enough back in time so that she never ceased being Wiccan.
In short order, the characters all became multimillionaires via the stock market, and also started using time travel to prevent natural disasters. Up0n discovering we could send email through time when we travelled into the past, we made videos warning about the Fukushima earthquake before it happened. When we traveled back to the present and found that this earthquake had never happened – we eventually figured out that a group of Japanese magicians had defused the quake before it happened once they learned it was about to occur. Preventing Deepwater Horizon was next.
Then we set about trying to fix more dark spots and came up with an idea that worked exceptionally well. Crystal could display dark spots to us, but only within a limited radius (by this point encompassing most of the city of Grimsby), and this was also the only place magical was creating luminescent dark spots, but this region was expanding as magic increased. The PCs decided to hire someone to create a smartphone app that was a game that paid people in coupons and gift cards in return for performing actions that would help dehaunt non-luminescent dark spots (since they could not directly harm people, unlike the luminescent dark spots). Such activities included organizing block parties, painting murals, making public art, and similar endeavors which generally involved attracting positive attention to the region. We then ran a bunch of different futures trying different ideas and eventually figured out one version of the app that was moderately popular and which eliminated most of the dark spots. We then traveled to 2014 to look at the map of dark spots so use that as a guide for dark spots that would eventually exist, and also put them on the app.
2a) Other Creatures From Other Worlds
Around this point, the game entered phase 2. By this point, three more Oenhua had showed up and we discovered to our great dismay, that having learned that we were time travelers, the pair of diplomats who showed up prepared the magical Pocket they lived in so that anyone inside it would not be affected by changes in the past. As a result, we could no longer go back in time and try a different negotiating tactics if one set failed, since the person we were talking to would also remember the previous time-line. We later learned that this sort of cross timeline memory was true of many powerful magical entities.
Around this same time, the PCs had also (as a consequences of the PCs finding a way to have Sarah bond with Crystal) had raised the magic level again, so that we could now go back to early 2007 and forward to 2016. This was roughly when the rpg.net post linked to above is from – the PCs had newly become billionaires (trivially easy if you know the details of the financial crash and (like Jo & Sonya) had could liquidate savings, make cash advances on credit cards and otherwise acquire $10,000 of starting funds).
By this point, we also had started a large charitable foundation (which Jo named the Crystal Foundation) in early 2010, which had the goal of helping the world to adjust to magical coming back. Jo was also the public face of the Crystal Foundation. By August 2011 (ie the present of the campaign), magic was somewhat obvious and mostly publically known, but also quite new. However, since the Crystal Foundation predated magic being publically known, and we could run futures, we were able to help shape public opinion about magic fairly positively (the fact that magic was mostly not all that obviously powerful also helped).
The PCs also discovered that being exceptionally wealthy was extremely handy because it allowed us to call up various experts and throw sufficient amounts of money at them that we could immediately hire them to help with some task.
This became an exceptionally common tactic. Typically, Sonya had an individual with the requisite skill or knowledge call her, Sonya explained she was with the Crystal Foundation, which was already mildly famous, and offered to hire them, while explaining that she had used magic to get the person to call her. As the overall level of magic increased and the radius we could travel via Crystal's doors increased, after this call Sonya often simply opened a door into the person's office and offered to take them to the location where they were needed. Sonya was impressively pushy and doggedly determined, but was able to throw sufficient money and offer sufficiently odd requests that most people agreed. The fact that Sonya specified that the person that called her would be interested and able to perform the task in question also definitely helped.
Also, by this point we discovered that the greater the current level of magic, the greater the amount of low level magic in the past. Mind reading between twins, mothers having psychic bonds with their children, and faith healing working were all known and objectively provable if also minor phenomena from well before magic started to increase. These changes further aided the acceptance of magic.
By this point, the magical bookstore was now 3 stories tall (inside but not outside), and had an interior area of several city blocks, and Laura had naturally blue hair and was closely connected to weird fey powers from outside the world. She was also probably the most magically powerful individual on the planet. The Oenhua referred to her as "The Lady", and her magical faction was both known to them (although obviously she wasn't) and had been allied with them in the timeline they came from.
At this point, we started planning with the 5 Oenhua to help them bring back the bulk of their people (a total of roughly 30,000). One problem we had was that one of the 5 (a warrior and ship builder named Arro) didn't like most humans and really didn't trust us (both entirely understandable, given the whole being on the losing side of a genocidal war), and looking at the future indicated that she would become a terrorist. Several of the other Oenhua wanted to distance themselves from Arro. However, by running futures, we discovered the best way to keep Arro from becoming a terrorist to both keep the other Oenhua from rejecting her and also to have Arro swear fealty with Laura. After we talked to the other Oenhua into the first, we then convinced Arro to swear fealty to Laura. Part of accomplishing this involved a discussion with Arro, Laura, and the PCs about changing the nature of magic so that it worked as an active force to improve the world. While distrustful of humans, Arro trusted "The Lady" and loved the idea of a world where magical conflict would become more difficult
One side effect of Arro swearing fealty to Laura was that Laura became even more magically powerful, as did the "bookstore" (which as this point contained a small forest, a duckpond, and various other locations – it was now a fully magical realm. Fortunately, any books or whatever customers purchased still existed once they left.
2b) Changing Magic
At this point, the game got even stranger. As mentioned above, Ton had the idea that what we were doing was too small and piecemeal with regard to fixing dark spots and improving the world, so he wanted to reshape magic so that instead (as it previously was) of being channeled by strong emotion, it would naturally work to increase the wellbeing of intelligent beings. By talking to Crystal, we eventually figured out that we could do this and to give this change extra power, we performed this change at the same time that the Oenhua brought their people back. The PCs also went back to 2007 and set spent years and lots of money designating that day World Happiness day, for extra power – time travel + billions of dollars proved to be a fascinatingly impressive way to accomplish many goals.
As with pretty much everything else of import that the PCs tried, changing magic also raised the level of magic again. The PCs could now go back to 2004 and forward to 2021. Also, in this new timeline, in June 2011, some people have started being able to transform into animals or magical creatures. So, the world now had werewolves and vampires, and suchlike, and Jo was able to transform into her winged form.
Because to what the PCs called the "Wellbeing Magic" or "Happiness Magic", none of the new magical creatures were innately hostile or malevolent. Werewolves simply became magical wolves and vampires drank blood but strongly preferred taking it from willing donors or drinking animal blood, and none of the supernatural creatures were filled with inhuman rage or hunger.
Also, except for the worst (and oldest) magical haunt spot, none of the other haunted spots ever became luminescent (ie filled with magic), so the problem of luminescent dark spots was entirely solved. In addition, human lifespans had always been roughly a decade longer and in a variety of small ways, the world was in general a kinder and more humane place. Basically, the PCs had created an urban fantasy world which was also a moderately OK place. However, wars, income inequality, pollution, and various similar issues still existed, they were simply noticeably less bad.
The one downside we discovered was that roughly 3,000 of the Oenhua, including Ellorie's parents, never showed up. However, by using their magic together, James and Ton were able to learn which metaphysical direction they were in. At this point, the PCs embarked on a hair-brained scheme to rescue these lost Oenhua. The big downside was that this endeavor involved traveling outside their own reality, and by doing so we were traveling outside of Crystal's control. As a result, anything that happened to the PCs there was final – if they died or vanished, then no amount of time traveling would save them. This started the third phase of the game.
3) Dealing With Places Beyond Reality
With help from Laura (who provided us with a magical guide as well as a gateway to a transitional reality) the PCs travelled to the Land of the Dead – a truly hideous place, since it was technically the City On The Edge of the Land of the Dead (ie the last place anyone living can go and return from), which seemed to be created so as to convince the dead to travel across the vast chasm and into the actual afterlife (the PC's best guess was that the actual afterlife included options ranging from reincarnation to magical afterlives to gods know what).
Most of the PCs spent quite a while in the seriously creepy city, while Sonya had remained behind to act as our communications, so we could get advice from various magicians and occultists we knew (and Sarah remained behind because Arro went with us and Becca could only play so many major characters at once). Eventually, we found the lost Oenhua, frozen in time in a crystal embedded in a wall. Various odd magics got it free, but in the process resulted in James getting stuck inside this crystal. Inside the crystal, there was an inner and an outer section. The outer section was a small plain of stone floating in a void, and on it was one of Ingue's old time traveling group who was moderately insane due to having been stuck alone in this realm for far too long.
There was a church near the center of the plain. It could not be entered by normal means, but various magics got James inside, where he found a large group of Oenhua frozen in time, while above also frozen in time was a burning zeppelin that looked to be in the process of dropping a bomb. We contacted Ingue (relayed via Sonya) who mentioned that while his group used an airplane rather than a zeppelin, this was the mission where they dropped the atomic bomb on a god and destroyed the world (Ingue had not previously admitted that he and his fellow time travelers had actually dropped this bomb), resulting in Ingue believing he had to wipe out all magic. While inside the church, James could think and communicate in this realm, but could not move. Ton got him out, but also ended up with the crystal embedded in his spirit. We eventually learned that this crystal was effectively crystalized, frozen time, which wasn't all that different from what Crystal (the entity that the PCs worked with) was.
Rather as the characters expected, leaving the City On The Edge of The Land of the Dead was far more difficult than entering it. We found a ferryman to take us across the river, but made the mistake of paying the ferryman when we boarded, so it stopped the ferry in the middle of the river and attacked us. Arro killed it with ease, but Jo, Ton, and Arro all got bits of ferryman on us, and that proved significant later. Also, inky tentacles continued to attack the boat even after the ferryman was dead, so Ton used his magical travel powers to get us the rest of the way across the river. This worked, but not in any expected fashion.
The PCs ended up in what appeared to be empty of intelligent life. Since we could still phone and send email and photos to Sonya, we were able to determine (via hiring astronomers and paleontologists) that we were 2 million or so years in the past, but in a world with lots of magic. Ton's next attempt at magical transport got us on a magical train (his standard method of magical transport, except that this was an above-ground train and not his standard magical subway), but it couldn't take us back home. The closest we could manage was a realm that Laura told us was connected to her realm (the magical bookstore). We called this realm The Emerald City. It was ruled by The Emerald Lady, who in many ways was a creepy version of Laura. Everyone in the city laughed when she laughed, liked what she liked, and did what she wanted w/o question. She didn't seem malevolent, just clueless, bored, and exceedingly used to instant obedience.
The Emerald Lady was overjoyed to have visitors – no one had ever arrived on the train before. She was fascinated by us and obviously reluctant to let us go, especially since we discovered that we could not use the train to get back to our world. Asking Crystal (via Sonya's phone) revealed that our best ways to get home were to either ask The Emerald Lady to send us home or for us to use the train to travel to the White City, which Crystal told us was the home to the people who constructed her. Crystal had a strong preference that we ask The Emerald Lady for help and clearly wished to avoid contact with the White City.
We asked the Emerald Lady to transport us to our Lady (Laura), and at this point, The Emerald Lady became fascinated by Laura. In return for a promise to visit her three times, she sent us home via a magic mirror, which opened to a mirror in Laura's bookstore/realm. Laura being rather clever broke this mirror the instant all of us had come through it, to prevent The Emerald Lady from also coming through.
At this point, we needed to get the crystal out of Ton and the people out of the crystal, without restoring time in it before we had gotten rid of the nuclear bomb which was frozen in the moment of being dropped. Ton fairly rapidly figured out how to remove the crystal from his spirit, but decided to leave it there until we discovered how to safely open it. We also learned that letting the crystal join to Crystal would make it part of our reality and start time in it again, which was great, except for the world destroying nuclear bomb.
We ran futures where we had successfully opened the crystal and discovered that Sarah was the key – in addition to being able to shift shape, she could alter reality in subtle but profound ways. We also found out that the crystal contained countless different versions of the same event, all frozen at the same moment.
Sarah needed to draw a version of the scene out of the crystal where the bomb wasn't actually dropped. We were all rather surprised to find that Sarah could do this, and her first step was to shift herself into a version of herself who was better at doing this. She transformed herself into a different version of Sarah, from a different timeline (which was considerably more action-y and more like a conventional RPG). Leaving the Crystal Chamber allowed Sarah to gain memories of our current timeline, but she remained somewhat different after this. Then, before she "tuned" the crystal, Ton traveled to a future where we encountered the worst possibility caused by Sarah doing this. It turned out to be one where Sarah had been kidnapped by the people from the White City, because they considered her power to be too dangerous.
We also checked out more distant futures and found the world was a bit of a mess. Because of the Land of the Dead stuff on Jo and Arro, our worlds' connection with the Land of the Dead was much higher than before, and this meant that in addition to ghosts coming back, the recent dead physically rose for one day, sometime within the first year of their death. This caused all manner of social problems, especially since some of the dead were upset. Even worse, while dark spots were no longer a problem, we had a problem with "soft spots" where too much magic would "seep up" and overwhelm the structure of reality, leading to odd events like people being spontaneously transformed. The "Wellbeing magic" meant that no one died, but among other events, Sonya's ex-wife Sylvia ended up being transformed into a sentient grove of trees in 2018. Sonya visited her in the future and came back very creeped out.
Crystal told us that the problem was that the levels of connection between both the Land of the Dead, and the Emerald City and our world were much higher, since we had visited them, and that the level of influence the White City had on us was somewhat higher, meaning that they were paying more attention to us.
We got the Oenhua to help ward and hide Sarah and performed the "tuning" inside their Pocket. Then Sarah managed to successfully tune the crystal so that was safe. We then attached the crystal to Crystal, and both the level of magic increased and we now had 3,000 additional Oenhua. This level of increased magic meant that the PCs could now travel from December 2000 to March 2025.
We decided that the Land of the Dead issue was the most immediate problem, and went to look for how we had solved it in the future. We found out that simply having Arro give the Land of the Dead stuff on her legs to someone who was dying would allow this person to become the new Ferryman, which would stabilize the level of connection to the Land of the Dead to the point that ghosts would still exist, but that the dead would no longer physically rise and the level of connection to the Land of the Dead would not be too high.
At this point, Sonya used her magic to have the person who was most willing, interested, and suitable for becoming the next Ferryman call her. We found a very nice, very elderly man named Cedric who was dying of cancer. Once we explained all this to him, was interested. We needed to accomplish the transfer before Samhain 2011, and it was currently mid September 2011, so we had a bit of time. In the midst of this, Cedric and Arro became good friends, which was useful because Arro passing the ferryman duties to Cedric involved adopting him into her clan.
Next, the PCs travelled back to December 2000, became ever wealthier, stopped the September 11 attacks, and then proceeded to stop the Iraq War (which was quite easy once September 11 had stopped). By this point, we had a world which was rapidly becoming more peaceful, and where income inequality was down and there had been no 2007 economic crash, but which still had most of the existing problems, just at a significantly lower level. Also, the Crystal Foundation was even wealthier and had existed since 2003 and was impressively famous.
In the midst of all this, Jo (and other people) started being able to transform into other forms in 2004, and in 2005 Jo became stuck on a mysterious new Caribbean island that (at first) could only be found occasionally. She remained on the island until it came back (roughly 4 months). Efforts to avoid being stuck on the island all failed, and efforts to have people rescue her resulted in more people getting stuck on the island. Jo found this both comical and annoying. It also turned out that the island grew larger as the overall level of magic increased and most likely eventually became the size of New Zealand (around 2020 or so).
Also, the future still looked problematic. Cedric would die and become the new Ferryman before Halloween, which was the deadline before what that change needed to be made, but soft spots remained problematic. Also, the group was rapidly approaching Sept 30, which was the next Time Point, and the first ones the characters had experienced in the present rather than as memories of the past. Since Time Points where the only places the characters could jump to, living through a Time Point meant past and future versions of the characters jumping into them.
Once we had solved but not implemented the problem with Cedric, we decided how we would change magic next. We had talked about making magic so that it promoted peace, and Jo wanted to add in magic promoting free will, since she was worried about magical mind control, which even with the well-being magic change could still transform someone into a happy and contented slave (which fortunately seemed rare).
We ran a bunch of futures about different ways of changing magic, many of which made very little difference. Then we tried a change where magic inclines towards peaceful solutions – we visited an extremely peaceful world, where both the increase in the power of magic and the speed of social change had slowed to a crawl. Also, as mentioned earlier, we could only see futures which looked like this change suddenly started at the present, while in reality the changes started much earlier and became more important and noticeable as the power of magic increased. We assumed that this version of magical peace would roll back most social change by decades and so abandoned it.
Then we tried one where magic inclines towards free will (Jo's idea) and constructive solutions (James' idea). The overall rate of violence was significantly down (but slightly higher than in the peaceful solutions future), the level of magic was unchanged from before, but the problem with uncontrolled transformations (into groves of tress and suchlike) and soft spots both no longer existed. Also, the last single remaining luminescent dark spot ceased being a dark spot. It was overall a very clearly a significant improvement over the current timeline, so we decided to go with it. However, as mentioned earlier, we could not implement it until after September 30, since after one change in magic, we needed to wait until the next time point passed to try it again.
September 30 was odd and chaotic. Each of us presumably had many different iterations of that day, but as the people who other versions of ourselves were jumping into, only remembered the last version. Sonya and James remembered a version where the versions of themselves they switched with sent a few emails to prevent some legal problems later, Sarah didn't have anyone jumping into her, and Jo and Ton had people from a timeline who tried a different change in magic do something to eliminate the island Jo had been stuck on. Jo was initially happy with this, but when she returned to her present realized that doing this had both somewhat lowered the overall level of magic and also that she missed the idea of being stuck on the island, so she wanted to reverse this change.
Then Sarah called everyone – Sarah was in the magical bookshop, where the Emerald Lady (now calling herself Emma) had come to visit. Emma wished to meet Laura, but both Laura and Crystal agreed that doing so would be bad for Laura, since Emma might be able to subsume or at least strongly influence her. So, Sarah, and then the rest of us kept Emma busy. We also learned from Crystal that Emma would gain a considerable foothold in our world if she left the bookstore before sundown (Time Points are times of great magical importance, which is why Emma was able to visit then, but the risk of Emma influencing the world greatly decreased once the Time Point was over. So we spent the next several hours keeping Emma entertained, and then Sonya and Sarah took this over, while Jo, Ton, James, and Laura attempted to find a way to send Emma back after sundown, and Jo complained about wanting "her" island back.
Jo, Ton, and James constructed a portal back to the Emerald City, and to help it along, Ton specifically used his connection to Crystal. This proved unfortunately significant. Then, while waiting for sundown, Jo went out and got Arro to take her to the island (which still existed, but could only be reached by someone who could perform certain types of magical travel, which Ton had refused to do). Then, Jo opened a door to Crystal and returned, which was also all that was necessary to reconnect the island and raise the level of magic to its previous level.
Jo arrived back with Arro, and then sundown occurred. We knew sundown happened, because at that moment pit opened up in the floor underneath Emma (and Sonya and Sarah, since they were sitting near her), and they all slowly fell into some caves that had mysterious appeared in the bookstore since Emma arrived. Oddly, Emma's (vast) powers did not work in this cave. Sonya and Sarah eventually convinced Emma to go home, promising her that Sonya would call her using Sonya's phone magic. However, when Emma stepped through the mirror, she and the mirror vanished, to be replaced by a children's fantasy book titled The Emerald City. Also, Laura was no longer The Lady and in fact the world no longer had any connection to the fey magical beings who Laura had been been connected to.
After much work, we found that Crystal had cut Laura's connection to the Lady and deleted Emma's existence from our worked because the people from the White City found The Lady a disruptive influence and if the opportunity arose (as it did when Ton used Crystal's power to help him make the gateway to the Emerald City), Crystal was forced to do this. Needless to say, the group's opinion of the people from the White City fell even further and we wished to free Crystal from their control. Checking the future also revealed that the White City played an increasingly major role in world events and that the world's connection to the White City was much higher than it had been. Oddly, while the magic level was unchanged, this extremely strong connection also gave Crystal more power, so we could travel all the way from 1982 to 2046 and open doors almost anywhere on the planet.
We searched for a way to reconnect Laura so she could become The Lady again, and found a few useful objects, but no obvious way to do this. So, Laura decided to hold a big ritual with all of the bookstore staff to do this, while the PCs did the free will and constructive solutions magic. We hoped that the free will portion would help free Crystal from the White City's control.
Jo's part of this was making a sculpture, which was all about replacing conformity and destruction with freedom, joy, and constructive solutions, and she placed and image of Crystal in it.
Both because this was the second big change and also because this change involved to changes at once (the focus on free will + the focus on constructive solutions), the amount that the world changed was huge. To work, it turned out that the world actually had to start changing in large and obvious ways around 1890, even though magic didn't start returning until 1982.
The World Remade
The result was a largely unrecognizable world. Laura was again The Lady, but the powers she was connected to selected her via some sort of election, rather than by appointment. Also, the equivalent of World War I was a spreading revolt against colonialism, and after this war, the move to racial and then gender equality came to the developed world and spread rapidly. In this world, the US had 46 states (North and South Dakota had become a single state under native Lakota control, Hawaii and Alaska were never annexed, and because the US supporting independence for the northern Native American controlled portions of Canada, Canada and the UK supported independence for Maine essentially out of spite). So, the US flag has 46 stars.
The world population was less than 3 billion, since acceptance of contraception and the demographic transition both came decades earlier. Technology was also highly advanced – phones had holographic interfaces, and since magic had started returning in 1982 (even though the overall level of magic was unchanged in 2011), people, laws, and technology had all had decades to adapt to the presence of magic.
Technological AIs were currently impossible, but creating artificial intelligences with magic was relatively easy for people with the correct talents, so the equivalent of Google (Ask) was run by a magical AI that had gained its legal independence 15 or so years ago, and was the first magical intelligence to do so. Also, dolphins, several, species of whales, and elephants were all intelligent and could communicate with humans using magic, and they all had seats on the UN.
The characters also directly encountered two major differences – in this reality, the Crystal Foundation was founded near the end of the 19th century, and initially promoted mental and physical health. After shrinking for most of the next century, it shifted to promoting the peaceful use and acceptance of magic in the 1980s. The characters were all consultants of the Crystal Foundation, but Jo was no longer its public face. Also, because income inequality was so much less, the characters were still among the 100 wealthiest people in the US, but had the equivalent of several hundred million dollars apiece, rather than many billions.
The one place where technology was less advanced was space travel. Space stations existed, but only robot probes had ventured further than Earth orbit, because magic was different past Earth orbit, and even before magic returned, the laws of physics were somewhat different back beyond Earth orbit, so sending people out there proved difficult and unsafe.
War and inequality still existed, but were all well more than an order of magnitude less than in the previous (notably improved) world – the US, like almost all of the planet had a guaranteed minimum income. The free will clause in the change in magic also had strange and unexpected effect. Personal adornment and style were far more idiosyncratic as was interior and exterior decoration.
Gaudy colors and lots of blinking LEDs were popular with some, while other people and other shops and homes had radically different styles. The world was somewhat overwhelming and strange, despite the PCs all having memories of growing up there (in addition to all of their other memories of other timelines). Also, one result of the free will change was that Crystal was initially split into four versions who could not communicate with one another (but could each communicate with the PCs).
The PCs helped Crystal resolve this while still retaining the same out of free will. We also discovered that all forms of mind control were now impossible. Sonya could no longer force someone to call her, instead she could magically request that someone call her, and most of the time they would - they knew Sonya wanted this person to contact her and they had the choice to do so or not.
One downside of this reality is that we encountered Cedric, who had benefited from decades of advanced magic and somewhat better technology and was in excellent health. Because of his tie to Arro, he also remembered the old reality, and to reduce the connection to the Land of the Dead, he planned to commit suicide before Samhain. Arro quite liked him and being nearly immortal and of great power, she offered instead to go and be the ferryman for the next decade or two until Cedric died of natural causes, but Cedric objected to this idea and they argued.
Shortly after that, a projection from the White City arrived (since they also could no longer jump into any of the PC's bodies w/o permission), and warned us that Crystal was becoming a fully sentient entity and that if we didn't stop that from happening, then the White City would be forced to cut our timeline off from their control and influence.
The projection seemed perfectly reasonable and very helpful, but reading between the lines it was clear that what changing magic to focus more on wellbeing and constructive solutions was great from their PoV, the inclusion of free will made this realm anathema to them, since it was difficult for them to control. We also learned that being cut off would prevent anyone from changing the past- travel to the past was still possible, but no changes would remain. Also, travel to the future was still possible, but only to the most likely future. Crystal was separated from the rest of the White City's network of dimensional technology, meaning that she could no longer interact with anything but the closest timelines and neither Crystal or us would ever need to deal with the White City again. We were more than happy with this.
After the campaign ended, we got together for a one-session epilogue where we discussed what the various characters ended up doing.
Sonya made a life with Laura, both of them had kids, and Sonya basically retired as a multimillionaire. James spent his time raising Ellorie and working with the Oenhua. Ton remained an activist and attempted to help the world be an even better place. Sarah became a documentary film-maker, just like her earlier ambition, and Jo left the world to go traveling to other realities.
After much arguing with Cedric, Arro decided that the best plan was simply for both of them to leave the world and travel to other timelines (which several powerful magical people, including both Arro and Laura could manage). If Arro was not in our world, then she would not increase the level of connection to the Land of the Dead. Cedric insisted on coming along, and thus an expedition was born. Arrow eventually ended up taking along several dozen people, the two gryphons who had accompanied the Oenhua, and Jo. Jo considered it in part a collecting trip for the planed Museum of all Worlds she eventually planned to build.