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TTRPG Stock Sessions — The Time Loop

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Salutations, nerds! Today I’m going focusing in on Groundhog Day. Not the movie but the concept of being stuck in a time loop as a tabletop roleplaying game stock session. This episode comes up in a lot of places. The first one coming to mind right now being the Supernatural episode where the brothers Winchester die repeatedly and have to live the day over. The time loop TTRPG stock session comes with a warning label — It’s frustrating to deal with. The time loop is a concept you want to make sure players are okay with before bringing it to the table. All the advice you see about how parties need clear goals is really hard to pull off in a situation like this so proceed with caution. After you’ve cleared it with your TTRPG group here are the things you have to hammer out.

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Cue the TTRPG time loop

First of all it’s vital to consider how the characters get out of the time loop. Be prepared for the potential for a group to figure it out quickly. For now we’re going to put a pin in what happens if they get out of the time loop too fast. That aside in an instance like a time loop there’s usually a specific thing in need of resolution before time can go back to running like usual. It should be something simple like keeping a particular creature alive or making sure an antagonist doesn’t get the MacGuffin.

It’s important to make very clear from the get go what character must do to get out of the time loop. A flat out explanation works but any guidance should be enough to show the bad thing happening before characters wake up to the same day all over again.

Cause of the time loop

This is the Hail Mary play if the players solve the problem too fast. If they do don’t try to weasel out of it but instead plan for it. Time loops don’t just happen — if a wizard didn’t do it there’s probably something donked up with the natural order of things.

If characters solve the time loop quickly the bulk of the adventure is either going to entail fixing the root cause of the time loop or kicking the butt of the wizard or other creature who caused it in the first place unless the aforementioned wizard specifically came to the party asking them to go into this time loop and solve the problem. Although I suppose if the characters enter into it consenting to a time loop this makes the circumstances far less frustrating to deal with so this is also something to chew on.

Ultimately a time loop makes for a very simple adventure structure with a lot of pit falls. Clarity becomes a best friend to avoid frustrating players — they have to know what they’re trying to do. A time loop doesn’t make for a good mystery because so many things can happen in a given day and real people don’t work like the characters on TV or movies because you can’t just make them figure out the dilemma at the 11th hour.

Be clear about the time loop scenario and consider a back up plan in case things go too smoothly out of the gate. For a two hour session where characters break out of the time loop within the first 15 minutes this means there’ll be an hour and 45 minutes to fight the wizard or other inciting creature and restore balance. This is an extreme example but I’ve seen it happen.

Has your TTRPG Game Master ever put you through a time loop? Is this a stock session you have run or been tempted to run? Please let me know in the comments below or feel free to tweet at me @pyrosynthesis to let me know how wrong I am. And of course, stay nerdy!

*Featured image — A weatherman (Bill Murray) is trapped in a personal time loop on the worst day of his life in Groundhog Day

Robin Miller

Speculative fiction writer and part-time Dungeon Master Robin Miller lives in southern Ohio where they keep mostly nocturnal hours and enjoys life’s quiet moments. They have a deep love for occult things, antiques, herbalism, big floppy hats and the wonders of the small world (such as insects and arachnids), and they are happy to be owned by the beloved ghost of a black cat. Their fiction, such as The Chronicles of Drasule and the Nimbus Mysteries, can be found on Amazon.

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