Time After Time

You know the Time Loop story? Where the protagonists are stuck repeating the same events over and over? You may remember it from Groundhog Day, Star Trek, or Dark Matter. It’s everywhere.

I wanted to run a time loop session for my Predation group, and make it fun. I’ve seen a bunch of these, but the one that really made me want to do this in a roleplaying game was Dark Matter’s All the Time in the World. Instead of focusing on one or two characters who knew they were time-looping, it started with one and added a character each loop until the whole gang was in on the secret. Perfect for a roleplaying group.


“I’m Going to Mess with Your Agency.”

For many games, messing with player agency is the worst thing a GM can do. So of course I wanted to do it.

I started out announcing I was going to do it before we got going. I did this to let them know this will be a different session and that I was going to do commit a terrible GM sin. 4 out of my 5 players were fine with this announcement. The 5th gave me a baleful stare. “This better be good.”

The Setup

I started with the newest edition to our gaming group, and told her she was gesturing wildly and talking nonsense, then told the heavy of the group “You can’t stand her raving so you hold her off the ground and clamp your hand over her mouth. Now you can hear the others decide what to do.”

As the rest of the group decided what to do about the strange sleeping aliens (think shape-shifting mind flayers who ride dinosaurs) and the shoggoth who was advancing, I sprung the first TPK. A secret door popped open, an arm came out holding a gun that shot a black hole into the chamber with the PCs. The black hole errupted with terrible damage, sucked the PCs to it and then let them fall down a giant hole and into the maws of a hungry shoggoth. Everyone dies.



I run the same scene again and this time let the new player go, telling her she’s been stuck in this loop and died over and over. “What do you do different this time?” I let her know she can attempt to convince one other PC the truth. I let the other players know they have no memory. My players are great, so those who have no memory ham it up, telling her to “calm down and take a chill pill.”

She convinces another PC, and they steal the black hole gun and throw the mind flayery creature to the shoggoth.

Then the way out gets blocked by a giant plug and the shoggoths eat everyone. TPK.


I randomly choose another PC to remember. Now there are 3, and they know the secret door is about to open. Old squid head loses his black hole projector and the whole group runs out before the plug closes. The party sees strange transdimensional beings ripping apart the high tech lab they were in last session. Everyone shrugs and runs out and hears one of the strange creatures say “Ut oh.” Then everyone dies in a thermonuclear explosion as the fusion reactor gets torn up and goes boom.


We start with the secret door, throw the squid-head to the shoggoth, run past the plug, and drive off the creatures ripping apart the reactor. In the jungle, there is an ambush by mind flayery creatures riding upgraded Utah raptors. TPK.

mind flayer on a giant croc
Not a Utah Raptor


I had one more time loop ready to go, but reading the table I could see enough was enough. They used the black hole projector on the shoggoths and found a secret subway out of the area and I ended the loop. We had some more fun, but the time looping came to an end.


I asked the players if was fun or frustrating. “Both.”

“That was really fun! Frustrating to die again and again, sure. But the pace… was absolutely perfect. Great job with the distracting glimmer of hope that we might actually escape!


I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was almost a riddle we had to solve. Or do trial and error – as we did.”

As a GM I loved it. So many TPKs! 😉 I won’t use this again this campaign. Maybe in a time travel game like TimeWatch it might work multiple times, but in a normal campaign I think once and done is great.

Piggybacking Part II

Before we steal Piggybacking from GUMSHOE, check out how it works there in Piggybacking Part I.

Atlantis_on_Shuttle_Carrier_Aircraft_2 800w

The Noisy Cleric Problem

The problem piggybacking solves can be found in all sorts of roleplaying games with all sorts of skills, but the example that comes to mind is sneaking into a castle in a fantasy game like Dungeons and Dragons. In fantasy books and movies, the heroes sneaking into places is a staple of the genre. In D&D games, sneaking is left to the rogue and the ranger for scouting. Once the GM tells the entire table to roll dice to see if they sneak into the castle, somebody always misses, and the exciting infiltration turns into a frontal assault.


In games like TimeWatch, Nights Black Agents, or Trail of Cthulhu, the whole spend resources to piggyback fits perfectly, since they are all GUMSHOE games. Most of my players have points to spend in Infiltration, but some have zeros. Every general skill is like that. You aren’t giving the party something for free, they are spending resources they might need later to succeed now.

Let’s look at other systems. I haven’t tested these, but I will.

Cypher System Piggybacking

In games like Numenera, Predation, and The Strange, GUMSHOE style piggybacking is easy, since you’re already spending the resources of Might, Speed, and Intellect to do anything.

The expert spends from their pool as normal, but the difficulty is harder because they are pulling the rest of the party with them. For a sneak into the castle test, the expert has their difficulty raised (+2 sounds good, +1 for less than 3 followers) and uses Speed. While the expert can use their Edge to lower their costs, the followers can not. They each spend one point, no discount.

If the expert succeeds, everyone sneaks in. Move on with the adventure.

Nothing to Spend Piggybacking

In games as varied as Call of Cthulhu, 13th Age, and Dungeons and Dragons, you don’t have resources to spend to sneak into castles or climb up icy cliffs. You’ve got hit points, and while spending those might make sense in a few cases, usually not. Same with Sanity, Recoveries, or Spell Slots. These games are not about spending resources on skill tests, so it seems wrong to try and force them do that just for piggybacking.

In these games I’d boost the difficulty for the expert (+5 for d20, +25% for Call of Cthulhu), but then I’d require the rest of the party to roll just to assist. And if someone fumbles, well then, we’re right back where we started from. That’s the cost right there, the more players rolling, the greater the chance of a fumble. 🙂