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Fill In The Gap

Free-Will

by Matt Turnbull
Dec 29,2004

 

Welcome to Fill in The Gap, a column devoted to individual, "one-off" scenarios, that any GM can run for his/her group.

So far, if you've read our other columns, we've explored together a sci-fi world of moral dilemmas and emotional responses, and a morbid take on fantasy adventure which looked into the issue of trust amongst liars. Today, we're exploring an entirely new theme, and with it, a whole new setting! A dark world of the future, and the Old West!

If you need to know more about the FITG(Fill in The Gap) system/column, please check out the first of these monthly columns. Without further ado, I bring you today's scenario:

Free-Will

As like the other scenarios we've presented for you, this scenario does depend on some secrets being kept from the players. As such, reader caution is suggested if there's a chance your favorite GM will do you the honor of running this scenario for you.

Free-Will is a scenario for only 3 players.

A priest, a sheriff, and a barmaid are all in the Church on a Wednesday afternoon in the small town of Temple on the frontier, in the Old West. The barmaid was found furiously studying mathematics, and the sheriff has brought her to the priest to determine if she is possessed, possibly by the comet that's been in the sky for the last few nights. Then, some strange things begin to occur...

The Premise

Three characters from the Old West are going to have to make some very important decisions early on regarding some hostile time-travelers. What decisions they make will cause a series of events to occur in the past and future, and thusly reshape both. Depending on their foresight, the characters have the possibility of returning to their own time unscathed. It's more likely than not however, that they'll through inaction or a wrong action they'll damn the entire human race. The point of all of this is to explore the idea that no decision is made in a vacuum of knowledge, but the full consequences of any choice are often lost on the person making the choice. If that's the case, what measure of free-will does anyone have?

Important thing to note about this scenario: This one's more about the story and less about the characters. While their actions are central, they're more of a catalyst for a horrendous situation, than they are a group of heroes sent in to make things right. If your group is the sort that can enjoy seeing something unfold before them and desperately trying to affect it/hang on, then this is for them. If they're the heroic types, who want to be ungodly powerful and have the world at their whim, this scenario will infuriate them to no end.

Before we get to the actual meat and bones of this scenario (the characters, the events, etc.,) it's important to discuss the nature of time-travel as it pertains to this scenario. As we all know, there are many conflicting theories of time-travel. If you did not know this, you should, because it is REALLY interesting.

One theory states that as soon as you go into the past, the future you've come from is GONE. Period, no coming back. You may immediately step out of your time-machine, breathe a little bit, and then leave in a hurry, affecting nothing to any significant degree. Even if that's the case you've irreparably changed the timeline. The instance you've interacted with the past, even by just converting a few O2 molecules into CO2 molecules, things are changed and where you came from is gone. This is where things get tricky with this one. In some versions of this theory, since the future is something incredibly fragile, even the tiniest change can affect things dramatically. This is known as the "Butterfly Effect," and is named such for a segment of Chaos Theory with a similar basic premise. Their example is of a butterfly flapping it's wings somewhere, setting into motion a chain of events that re-writes all events that occur after it, due to the inherent number of variables in the universe. In other versions, it takes significantly more work to change the timeline, but once again, it is possible. For the purposes above however, these two portions of this theory are practically identical, as the definition of something being a significant or insignificant is determined by the series of events the individual participates in, and the events in this scenario are very significant. The most problematic portion of this theory is that if it is the case, then it is not only possible but likely that one could go into the past before they made a time-machine, and kill oneself. At that point, we would have what is known as a paradox on our hands.

Many theories exist as to what happens when a paradox occurs, but my favorite has always been the "it can't happen." theory. Anything that would've caused a paradox cannot and will not ever occur, no matter how determined the individual time-traveler is to cause one. Other theories determine the death of the universe occurring, and still others see that paradox as an eventuality with time-travel. Eventually someone will cause a paradox, which will result in time looping infinitely. Another theory is that if a paradox occurs, other rules of reality start to break down, such as gravity, and physics, until some higher power steps in to correct things.

Luckily for you, you get to be that higher power today! You GM you.

Unrelated to paradox, but still important, is another theory of time-travel. This one is generally about pre-destination. It states simply that yes, time-travel is possible. However, the world that we exist in, interact with and all that jazz is in fact a world completely cultivated by ALL the time-travel that will ever occur. Everyone who will ever time-travel into the past before the moment we live in already has, and what we're left with is what we've got. This doesn't mean one can't travel through time. It just means that if one does, their actions have already been determined by the universe, and the future that is occurring coincides with whatever they were planning on/had done already in the past. This is where we get pre-destination paradoxes from. The idea that if I were to go into the past and kill my father before my conception, things would've turned out that that individual wasn't actually my father, and my actions actually result (no matter what I try to do to change things,) in my birth.

That one's hard to swallow too, as it states some very definitive things about free-will. For the purpose of this scenario, we're going with something a little bit less heavy handed than the 2nd theory, but still more firm and reality affirming than the first.

With this theory of time-travel, yes you can go into both the past and future to change things, and yes you can engineer the world so that you've never existed. However, to prevent paradox, all time-travel occurs when the traveler is in a sort of stasis state, where they are not considered a time-space event. This means that the second you become a time-space event again either by travelling back to where you came from, or to somewhere else in time, you are in fact not what you once were, but are instead a new space-time event. I.E. if you're travelling through time, when you're travelling (and presumably until you leave whatever vehicle it is that you used to travel through time,) you don't exist as an event in time, and neither does your time travel machine. However, as soon as you've arrived somewhere, you exist in that timeline as a new event. You are a new creation unrelated to your original state. For example, this means that if I were to go back in time and kill my father, preventing my conception, I would not in fact cease to exist. I'm a new event in space-time, simply the old event (what got me here) has ceased to be. The timeline re-writes itself, however it rewrites itself with my having never existed as the previous event I prevented. I now only exist as a new space-time event, that has in fact prevented and thusly destroyed that previous space-time event. This means that yes indeed, rampant time-travel could be occurring all the time around us, but in each case things are rewritten both backwards and forwards as significant time-travelling events are created and prevented. Yes the "butterfly effect" is in residence in this theory, the only major difference between this theory and the first is in the effects on the time-traveler. Pre-destination paradoxes do not play a role in this theory, unless you really stretch their meaning.

No matter what theory of time-travel you subscribe to (if you even think it's possible, which it probably isn't,) that last one is the one we're running with for this scenario.

One other quick thing to note about this scenario, some religious themes are touched on, in a faint non-obtrusive manner. If you find this offensive, then you should probably not run this scenario. Frankly, if you find this offensive, I'm doubting you should be playing RPGs at all.

The Characters

Sara Thomas

Sara is a barmaid in the little town Temple, out on the west side of the Mississippi. In all reality, she's a brilliant woman (intelligence of 9), with a strong grip on the math and sciences of her era. She was married to an abusive free-mason in the New York territory, when she finally got away from him to start a new life with a new name somewhere else. She managed to steal a great deal of his writings and has been attempting for sometime to solve some of the higher trigonometry problems that the free-masons have had trouble dealing with, hoping that she'll be accepted by them if she can only prove her worth. This backwater town she's in however is not too big on the maths, or sciences. All of her skills and attributes not related to the higher sciences are at a 4, though her abilities in most scientific disciplines rate at a 7. Keep in mind this is a contextual 7, meaning that she doesn't know anything about quantam physics, as that science didn't occur when she was born. Sara is stunningly beautiful with short auburn hair, pale skin from spending most of her time indoors.

Cleavon Tomias

Cleavon is a hellfire and damnation preacher of the most stereotypical order. All of his attributes and skills are average (5), except for his knowledge of religion (7). He has a deep sense of faith, and truly believes in demons, witches, and that all those who don't follow the word of their God to the letter are doomed. Cleavon is in his early thirties, but has already lost most of his hair, and what remains is dabbled with grey. He's only about 5'9", and is not particularly imposing, unless delivering a sermon.

Jack Thompson

Jack is a Sheriff, who's had his run-ins with many outlaws and bandits. Temple is a good little town, but occasionally he's had cause to pull out his trusty rifle. Jack rates at a 5 in most areas, but in the realm of his expertise with a rifle, he's at a 7. Also, he's relatively stronger than most around town, keeping in great physical shape, so his strength is around a 6. He's a worldly man, and as such, doesn't believe in a lot of the mystical side of church doctrine, but he's open minded. Jack is 6' even, with a dingy duster and a wide-brimmed hat. He keeps his rifle slung on his back at most times. He also wears a short black beard.

The Theme

The theme of this scenario is pretty gloomy. It's exploring the nature of choices, and how they can truly become irrelevant if their made without the right information.

The Setting

Three major settings for this one.

1st, we've got the Old West town of Temple. West of the Mississippi, but near it, it's a small town with a population rapidly approaching 65. There are a series of farms on it's outskirts, but most of the general business is conducted in the city center. There's a saloon, a general shop, a sheriff's office, and all the other lovely stereotypes one would expect to find.

2nd, there's the TimeShip, which we'll get into more detail on in the events section of this scenario. It's full of futuristic high-tech type gadgets, and the air is exceedingly dry, to the point of being almost painful to breathe. The Miqua robots journeyed on this ship, as did Michaels. The TimeShip can travel to any point in space, as well as in time. The only real problem with it, is that it can only travel to pre-selected points, programmed into it. As it exists outside of time at all times however, it has all the dates it will ever have programmed into it, programmed into it already.

3rd, there's a number of alternate futures, in which both the humans and Miqua are extinct, or just one is extinct. There are futures where the Earth is a shattered husk, and the Ri-Sha roam the Earth in droves, feeding on whatever organic matter is left. There are still other lovely futures where the Golden Age continues, and Michaels is dead. Just keep in mind how you think things would look in any particular case.

The Events

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the actual occurrences in this scenario, and their consequences, let's play out what exactly would occur if the characters didn't get involved at all, or never existed. That way, it'll be fairly clear what's going to happen based on what they decide to do.

There exist only two other star-faring races in the galaxy of the far future (2131 would be the year they'll be coming from, and the most likely place the characters will go if they decide to go to the future,) the Miqua, and the Ri-Sha. All other sentient races had either died out before they could reach a point where space travel would be a possibility, or the Ri-Sha have devoured their worlds. The Miqua are a relatively benign race, with many of the same emotions and drives as humanity such as compassion, curiosity, and a fearsome survival instinct. Their skin is a deep red, and they have 2 large protruding horns that grow out of their foreheads. They are similar to humans in that they are bi-pedal, with hooves instead of feet. Unlike humans every Miqua has a long forked tail. They're bodies are extremely sensitive to water, and as such it has the capacity to dissolve their flesh on contact, even in small amounts. The Ri-Sha on the other hand, are far more alien than the Miqua. They are quadrupeds, with wickedly sharp claws and paws covered in suction cups (which also serve as mouths for communication,) a blue tinted scaly skin, 3 large black eyes, and they stand about 4 feet tall on all fours. The Ri-Sha are a race of predatory scavengers, that move from planet to planet consuming all organic material before moving on.

In 2131, time-travel was developed by a coalition of humans and Miqua, (who had both lost a number of colonies to the exponentially growing Ri-Sha.) Before the Ri-Sha could descend and destroy the Earth & Miquan (the Miqua homeworld), the plan was to send back a group of intelligent machines, to destroy the originator of the Ri-Sha before it could create them. It was discovered through human historical research, that in the small town of Temple in the Old West, in the cellar of a general store a scientist was about to have a breakthrough discovery that would cure most of the world's disease. Unfortunately, the discovery got out of control, and escaped into the sky, flying away. Many cited seeing this egg-like shape shoot away from the Earth, but no one believed their fanciful tale. Without the character's intervention, this effort was successful. A pre-destination paradox would occur (or so it would seem) as the world's diseases were not cured, but the Ri-Sha never existed, thusly ending up with a timeline where a golden age occurred. Human and Miquan relations were sound and principled, and both species experienced the longest golden age in either of their collective histories. That is of course, until the humans betray the Miqua.

A human from the future (2160), a racist xenophobe Name Cyrus Michaels, who irrationally hated the Miquas steals their TimeShip from a museum, and travels into the past. He goes to the primordial era on Miquan, and poisons the single-celled organisms there responsible for the development of that species. When this occurs, all of history is rewritten again. Michaels heads back into the future to see what he's wrought, and sure enough, in his time, the Miqua never existed and the human race is extinct, wiped out by a plague in 2125 that Miquan anti-bodies had unknowingly protected most of the human race from. Michaels makes an attempt to stop himself, but tragically fails, being killed by the first rendition of his time-travelling self in the process, not believing his lies when he says what his own actions will do. The "then having fought himself" version of him decides not to find out whether or not he was successful, and settles down in his favorite period in history, the Old West. He chose a town called "Temple" out on the west bank of the Mississippi.

So, without the characters, The Miqua and the Humans work together to prevent the Ri-Sha from ever occurring and destroying the humans, however Michaels manages to get both races destroyed by the 2100s anyhow. With the characters, any number of events could occur...

Where do the characters come in? Well, wherever they want. The TimeShip is the comet in orbit, and it's landing at high noon outside the Church. The characters are the only ones who haven't gone inside and boarded themselves up, and as they stand there watching this, robots developed in the image of the Miqua (I.E. red machines shaped like devils with metallic voices that don't speak English.) Come out of the TimeShip. They begin to search for the scientist, breaking into homes and slaughtering individuals. There are only three robots, and one rifle shot is generally enough to make one inoperable. The controls for the TimeShip are in English, and the barmaid should be able to figure them out enough to get them into the past (the creation of the Miqua) the future (2131) the timeframe of the Ri-Sha creation (the present for these westerner folk,) or 2160. Depending on their actions with this time-machine, a number of things could occur.

Maybe they stop these robots, but then head to 2160. In 2160, if these robots did not destroy the Ri-Sha, both the human race and the Miqua are gone, and the Ri-Sha roam the Earth in bands, sucking the last of it's organic life away. This is scenario 3. The Ri-Sha present a toughness rating of a 6, being more than a match for the characters. Several rifle shots could take one down, but attempting to fight the planet full of them would be suicide.

Perhaps the characters head to 2135 after stopping the robots. There, they'd be greeted by a coalition of human and Miquan scientists, disappointedly staring at them, and then locking them up and trying to send another team back to kill them and the scientist this time, inferring (or gently interrogating the characters) that this was all their fault! If that's the case, play the first part of the scenario again, but this time, add a second group of armored robots to the mix.

Maybe they didn't stop the robots, and just witness everything occur. If that's the case, have a distressed Michaels appear in this time, asking to become a part of the town. At that point, one TimeShip would've left, and another would appear within minutes. Michaels would ask to be able to destroy the ship, not really understanding the superstitious and in general untrusting nature of the time. He's not a historian, he's a raving loon. This could lead to other problems, if the characters decide to travel into the future or past from this point, as things will be very different.

I think by this point, you should be starting to get the idea. There are too many specific actions the characters could take that would change things drastically, just remember the basic groundrules of the temporal physics laid out above, and you should be fine handling any permutation they come up with.

If you'd like some help with this however, and need guidance as to exactly what would happen in "X" case, please E-mail me at msturnbull@comcast.net, and I'll be happy to fill in the blanks. The most important thing to remember is that just because a time-traveler has caused himself to cease to exist in the time he originated from, doesn't mean his time-travel is somehow undone. He's a new event when he's a travelling, thusly all bets are off.

FIN-

Let me know what you thought of this scenario by E-mailing me at Msturnbull@comcast.net

See you next month!

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