By Howard Ingham and Nick Middleton
A note of explanation: Howard wrote the original version of this as a draft chapter of The Multiverse and How to Get Around It for an Eternal Champion book that never happened, and I approached him about reworking it for a Stormbringer fanzine project (that also never happened), which he generously agreed to. The version presented here is the one that would have seen print if that project had happened, but remains substantially Howard’s work. Howard’s original draft can be found in the files section of the Yahoo Eternal Champion Group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/eternalchampion/). NDM
The sword struck back and forth, up and down, as if it battled invisible enemies. Elric scarcely kept his grip on it. It seemed that Stormbringer was frightened of the world it had detected and sought to drive it back but the act of seeking had in itself set them both in motion. Already Elric could feel himself being drawn through the darkness, towards something he could see very dimly beyond the myriad eyes, as dawn reveals clouds undetected in the night sky
Elric thought he saw the shapes of crags, pointed and crazy. He thought he saw water, flat and ice-blue. The stars faded and there was snow beneath his feet, mountains all around him, a huge, blazing sun overhead – and above that another landscape, a desert, as a magic mirror might reflect the contrasting character of he who peered into it – a desert, quite as real as the snowy peaks in which he crouched, sword in hand, waiting for one of these landscapes to fade so that he might establish, to a degree, his bearings. Evidently the two planes had intersected.
Chapter 2, “Elric at the End of Time”, Legends from the End of Time
It has been argued that there are at least as many methods of travelling through the multiverse as there are travellers. This makes travelling between planes or times (often the same thing, and often inexperienced travellers mistake one for the other) an insanely complicated business. But if a traveller knows what they are doing and when/where they are going their options are as wide as the multiverse itself.
Most people in the multiverse are only ever aware of one timestream, where they will spend the whole of their lives. Some rare individuals, however, find themselves, through circumstance, association, or simple accident of birth, able to explore the timestreams, the infinite planes, spheres and branches that form the multiverse in its infinite complexity. Some are flung against their will from one age into another. Others blend into their surroundings, forgetting for a time that they were ever anyone else. Others still transfer their very being from alternate self to alternate self, switching across scales of existence and changing by their actions the very nature of existence.
The rules – what rules there are – change from case to case. Indeed, by changing the rules, a talented time traveller (or “chrononaut”) can earn herself immortality, or lose her soul.
The Multiverse is comprised of an infinite number of universes, some more simple than others. They exist in a multitude of different shapes and characters, and have been pictured in many ways – as spheres, as branches on an infinite tree, as paths on an infinite moonbeam road. Every universe has its own timestream, which, although usually cyclical, might not run concurrently – or even in the same direction or at a constant relative rate – as other planes. These universes are often referred to as the “Million Spheres”, mainly because a million is easier to picture than an infinite number. And somehow, “Infinite Universes of Indeterminate Shape” just doesn’t have the same ring. Depending on who’s talking, a parallel universe might be referred to as a timestream, a branch, a plane or a sphere. The names are interchangeable. For clarities sake, each discrete universe or world will generally be referred to from here onwards as a plane or timestream, depending on whether we are discussing moving between different worlds (as happens at various times to Elric and Hawkmoon) or changing temporal position within a particular world (as happens to Oswald Bastable, amongst others). But the reader is cautioned that such distinctions are, in a sense, entirely artificial…
A plane can coexist in the same space as another plane, surrounding and enclosing it, with the inhabitants of both planes unaware that the other is there. Those who know how can travel to adjacent planes, either by natural ability, through the effect of crafted devices or natural phenomena.
Each plane can be separated from the nearest adjacent plane by minute differences – temporal or geographic differences between adjacent planes can be so small as to be negligible as when Corum escaped Earl Glandyth in the Knight of Swords (I, 6). In other parts of the multiverse, apparently adjacent planes can appear incredibly different.
Some parts of the multiverse are “granular”, where planes clump together very densely such that precisely distinguishing between two immediately adjacent planes is difficult if not impossible. In other parts of the multiverse it can be remarkably easy for those with the right skills or equipment to enter adjacent planes.
To further complicate matters, some planes for want of a better phrase “move” relative to others, such that they are only periodically (or even randomly) adjacent, whilst others (such as Corum’s Fifteen Planes) seem to exist for significant periods in a fixed relationship.
The Fifteen Planes are an example of a region of the multiverse that is both “granular” (like planes are exceptionally close together), easily traversed (Vadhagh can shift basically at will in to an adjacent plane) and affected by the wider dynamic of the Million Spheres: the basic fixed relations between the Fifteen Planes are distorted by the approaching Conjunction, making travel beyond the local five planes exceptionally difficult, and even shifting across to one of the adjacent five planes is difficult (hence Corum’s difficulty escaping Glandyth).
Planes often intersect with other planes at certain points in space and time. These joining points are rarely static – sometime they move – nor are they limited to adjacent or similar planes. In some areas of the multiverse a group of universes can intersect for centuries at a time; on other occasions the intersections between two or more similar planes can fluctuate, appearing and disappearing over time. Once in an eternity, there is a full Conjunction, in which every plane, just for a while, intersects every other, plane within plane, along every timestream. When this happens, great and possibly catastrophic changes affect every plane in the multiverse.
Intersections are not limited to adjacent planes, and can lead to vastly different worlds. Intersections appear in a multitude of ways. Sometimes they are obvious, sometimes you just need to know where to find them. Finding an intersection is the easiest possible way to travel between the planes, since all you have to do is walk across it.
The catacombs beneath the Temple of the Future Buddha contain a gateway to every parallel Earth in which the temple exists. Those who have travelled through the Temple claim to have experienced bizarre nightmarish hallucinations, triggered in part by the inhuman and hideous carvings with which the temple walls are covered, before finding themselves in another timestream entirely. There is no way to control to where and when the Temple sends you, as at least one time-traveller has found out to his cost. You simply walk into the catacombs. When you come out again, you are somewhen else. The temple is situated in the ancient walled city of Teku Benga, capital of the tiny state of Kumbalari, situated at the meeting point of India, Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. Although Teku Benga is destroyed in 1902 by an earthquake occurring in every scale in which it exists, the catacombs remain, and still have their power, although, as before, their effects are at best random. Before 1902, the Temple is in the hands of the High Priest of the Kumbalaris. At the time of the earthquake this was one Sharan Kang, an impressively unpleasant individual. No one knows what happened to Sharan Kang after the earthquake. (see The Warlord of the Air for more details)
There are various places, where, if the right conditions are met, one can cross over to the closely related scales known as the Mittelmarches. Some of these can only exist under certain circumstances, and at certain times of the year. One exists in or near the city of Mirenburg around the time of the Autumnal Equinox, and leads to an alternative Mirenburg that exists in perpetual twilight, known as the City in the Autumn Stars. Another gateway exists in the side of a mountain near the city of Hamelin. This leads to the realm of Mu-Ooria, inhabited by a peaceful Eldren race known as the Off-Moo. Near Crema, in Eastern Europe, there exists a gate to a realm where the Carthaginians defeated the Romans, conquered Europe and converted to Judaism. Intersections with the Mittelmarches occur in most countries in Europe. Seasons in the Mittelmarches run contrary to those on the Earth, so that when it is summer on Earth, it is winter in the Mittelmarches, and vice versa. (See The Warhound and the Worlds Pain, the City in the Autumn Stars and the Dreamthief’s Daughter, amongst others, by Michael Moorcock for further details).
The Seas of Fate and Eternal Tanelorn
I am not sure if it was at that point, or at some later time, in another dream, that I found myself standing upon a rocky beach looking out into an ocean shrouded in thick mist.
At first I saw nothing in the mist, then gradually I perceived a dark outline, a ship heaving at anchor close to the shore.
I knew this was the Dark Ship.
“Prologue”, the Dragon in the Sword
While most planes intersect with at least one or two others, only the area of equilibrium know as the Seas of Fate or the Grey Fees intersects with them all. The Fees stand at the centre of everything, intertwining with every plane, every branch of the moonbeam road between the worlds, every timestream in existence; and yet the Seas of Fate surround all the myriad planes of the multiverse and some (including the Captain the Dark Ship) have hinted that the seas know other, stranger shores than “our” multiverse. The reason the Grey Fees are so called is not because of their colour or nature – far from it – but because they’re an area of perfect Balance, where Law and Chaos, Black and White are evenly distributed. They are the nearest thing the multiverse has to a perfect plane. The Grey Fees change according to how you perceive them, but it is fair to say that for one who would approach the Grey Fees as a friend, the Fees always appear as the best possible environment or place for that person to be: see Oona’s cottage in “The Dreamthief’s Daughter” (The Dreamthief’s Daughter II, 13). And yet, when Elric journeys to the end of time, the space between planes is described as Limbo – a hostile and deadly void in which he could be lost for eternity.
The Grey Fees meet with the planes in the Eternal City of Tanelorn, the inevitable destination of all those who truly long for balance and peace. As long as Tanelorn exists, equilibrium – and therefore the hope of peace, if not the reality – can be maintained in the multiverse. It is perhaps significant that Agak and Gagak’s assault on the multiverse was launched from an island in the Seas of Fate apparently haunted by the ghosts of failed Tanelorns.
An attack on the Grey Fees is an attack on the Multiverse itself, and an attack on Tanelorn is an attack on the Grey Fees. Both the Lords of Law and the Lords of Chaos in their aspects of Singularity and Entropy have assaulted Tanelorn many times through the ages, since the maintenance of true equilibrium makes it impossible for Chaos or Law to entertain their ambitions of multiversal conquest.
It should be noted that The Grey Fees are only documented in Michael Moorcock’s fairly recent fiction (first appearing in the Second Ether Trilogy, and being linked to the Elric saga in The Dreamthief’s Daughter). In previous works the space between planes has been more often, and less concretely, described as a sea, on which sails the Dark Ship crewed only by the Captain and his blind brother the Helmsman (See Sailing on the Seas of Fate, the Quest for Tanelorn, or The Dragon in the Sword). The Dark Ship and her crew are described for Elric! / Stormbringer in the Chaosium supplement Sailing on the Seas of Fate. From the invasion of Agak and Gagak foiled by the four aspects of the Eternal Champion in Sailing on the Seas of Fate, it is clear that there are realms beyond the ‘familiar’ multiverse, but whether the serious chrononaut should take the Captains assertion that Agak and Gagak came from a different multiverse at face value is left to the readers judgement.
Getting There (the Hard Way)
The most labour intensive way to get from one plane to another is to break through the barriers by force, either by creating a gate or by building some sort of time machine or plane shifting device. Note that from here on, assume that by “time-machine” we might equally well be discussing a plane-shifting device (albeit the designers and operators of such a device may not realise this…) Although gates and time machines can be created by magic or science alike, they operate on the same basic principles, smashing through the fabric of time, space, and probability in order to get a result. They break the rules, and inevitably create disturbances. With disturbances come consequences, the most important consequence being the Morphail Effect, which is discussed in detail below.
The main difference between most machines and gates is that they are used to travel in different directions. Gates are used to travel to different planes, while most time machines are intended to travel back and forth along the timestream of a single plane. Plane-shifting machines are rare, and time-gates are even rarer, if only because the people who build such things rarely understand enough about the wider multiverse to realise that the functions of such devices are interchangeable.
Time machines come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the spherical fluid-filled travelling womb of the twenty-first century to the far more sophisticated time craft manufactured by the Armatuce in the ninety-fifth century, which is capable of carrying several people in relative comfort (see “Ancient Shadows” in Legends from the End of Time). Very few time machines are designed to travel to different planes, instead being confined to moving back and forth along one timestream. The problem with this is that by travelling back in time, most time-travellers are going to create paradoxes, unless they are being very careful indeed.
Taragorm and Kalan’s Pyramid Vehicle (from Count Brass) was clearly a sophisticated vehicle capable of travelling both between planes and up and down timestreams, albeit closely related ones. However, it was also erratic and delicate, implying that its ability to slip across planes and timestreams was related to its apparent ability to negate the Morphail effect – at least until things came to a sufficient crisis that, as it were, the Multiverse took note. Scholars might speculate that the Time Winds are a different phenomenon to the Morphail effect, but the evidence suggests that they are very similar phenomena, both being physical and psychic force exerted to re-establish the integrity of the threatened timestream(s).
Gates are far easier to use. Normally, gates are created in order to travel into other planes. They appear in many different ways. A gate might appear as a rip in the fabric of space, through which its destination can be seen, or it might appear as a portal of light, shadow, or hyper dimensional liquid. Whether created through chaotic magic or science, all gates work on the same principle – they simply force the creation of an intersection, across which anyone can step into another scale. The problems with this aren’t quite as obvious – but it should be borne in mind that if a character is going to travel to a closely parallel universe, they may still incur the Morphail Effect. While it’s less likely than it is if the character is just travelling along the one timestream, it’s important to be careful.
Paradoxes (from travelling the Multiverse)
All time travellers run the risk of creating paradoxes – and as a result, falling foul of the Morphail Effect.
Simply put, a temporal paradox results when a series of events which cannot possibly exist without contradicting itself comes into play.
For example, if Jerry, in a fairly normal fit of anarchic self-loathing, went back in time, tracked down his father, and murdered his poor old dad before he (Jerry that is) was ever conceived, a paradox would result. If Jerry kills his father, before his father and mother have a chance to conceive him, the natural result is that Jerry was never born. But if Jerry was never born, then he could not possibly go back in time to murder his father, meaning that he could be born after all. If he could be born after all, then he could murder his father, but…
You get the picture. The murder of one’s own forebears is a fairly obvious example, but paradoxes can result from the subtlest of events. Any change of the past – particularly if the change is important to world history – can create a paradox – Certainly, a character could go back in time and prevent the Nazis from gaining power in Germany in the 1930s, but how do they know that, if history changes, the sequence of events in their life that leads to their getting a time machine is necessarily going to happen? If one were to meet a past version of oneself, or a closely parallel version, who knows what the psychic ramifications could be? And what if a character were to die before they were ever born? Of course, not all of these things are guaranteed to create paradoxes, and, certainly, with some of these situations, there’s a chance that a paradox can be avoided. It should be pointed out that it doesn’t matter if the character is not native to the future – as long as they have been there, they are subject to the Morphail Effect.
Time doesn’t allow these things to happen. The Morphail Effect is a result of time’s resistance to paradox. The moment the timestream detects that a paradox is unavoidable – the moment the trigger is pulled, the noose is tightened or the corner is turned, the Morphail Effect kicks in and the paradox’s culprit is flung to a future era or another timestream entirely.
The Morphail Effect
The one resident of the End of Time who called himself a scientist, Brannart Morphail, discovered through conversations with the many time travellers who have found themselves at the End of Time that time frankly resists being meddled with. With characteristic modesty, he called this the Morphail Effect. Morphail’s theory is fairly simple: Time doesn’t allow anyone to travel backwards.
Backwards movement across time is possible, but staying in the past is not. Within a few minutes of arrival in the past, time snaps back into place like a rubber band, flinging the traveller back into the future. Usually, this means that the traveller overshoots, ending up in their future, rather than in their past. Sometimes, victims of the Morphail Effect disappear from the timestream altogether, no doubt erased completely from the timestream. Worse still it also means that if the traveller has been to the future and knows what the future will be like they will no longer be able to travel to their own time. Most chrononauts end up going ever forward against their will. Most eventually end up at the End of Time.
The Morphail Effect cannot be avoided. Attempting to resist (by propelling a time machine against the effect, for example) is dangerous, since time will violently react, creating intense chronological friction. The heat produced by this friction is enough to reduce most beings to cosmic ash. “Ancient Shadows” in Legends from the End of Time describes the phenomenon.
Some time-travellers do find themselves able to remain in the past for a short time, but, since they will inevitably find themselves in a position where a paradox will inevitably be created, time will eventually resist and propel its hapless victim forward, with or without his time machine. The more one travels in time, the further forward one ends up going. Most time travellers end up dead or at the End of Time, where they get snapped up by the decadent inhabitants of that era as collector’s items.
What Brannart Morphail Doesn’t Know
Although it is commonly regarded as a Well-Known Fact among most time travellers, the Morphail Effect isn’t nearly as incontrovertible as Brannart Morphail thinks.
There are quite a few ways to avoid the Morphail Effect, actually – they’re just not very well known. Morphail won’t be contradicted, however. In fact, while people have tried to tell him otherwise, he hasn’t believed them, even when faced with plain evidence. First, Morphail never realised that there are alternative timestreams. Those people who appear to have been erased from time have in fact been flung effectively sideways in time, into a different timestream altogether.
While the Morphail effect still applies to a degree across parallel timestreams, it is a lot harder to create a paradox. It may be possible to get away with changing a parallel history, at least for a while, providing that the plane is far enough away from one’s own and that it doesn’t cause a massive disturbance in a timestream’s history.
Second, Morphail didn’t know that some people – those born with a natural ability to travel in time – are at least partially immune to his Effect. In fact, the Morphail Effect only really applies to people who use machines to travel through time. Time machines tend to get their results using brute force. On the other hand, people who have a natural ability for travel across timestreams and planes travel with time, exploiting natural currents and gaps in the megaflow.
If they are very careful, these natural time travellers have the ability to remain in the past indefinitely. This depends upon them blending in so well to their new era that they temporarily forget that they are not natives. Many time travellers can even induce a kind of amnesia in themselves at will; others merge with their other selves in other parallels, allowing them to operate without the Morphail Effect happening at all.
Morphail’s third mistake is to assume that time runs in a nearly infinite straight line with a beginning and an end. Actually, it’s cyclical, meaning that if one were to travel far enough, one can overshoot. Although risky, since it is very easy to end up overshooting into the wrong timestream, this is the easiest way to travel into the past, since time can be fooled into thinking that one travelled forwards, even though ones destination is the past. Great care also needs to be exercised with this technique because, as the fall of the Doomed Folk shows, there can be substantial differences between cycles.
The Morphail Effect is both wider and subtler than Morphail suspects. His theory is correct that the phenomenon is time’s way of repairing itself, but what that really means is that time avoids paradoxes and will not allow the impossible to happen. But there are always exceptions: while one can’t theoretically die before one has been born, the variations in some timestreams mean that time simply isn’t comparable in some places. While a traveller technically can’t meet them self, it’s certainly possible that alternate versions of oneself may be so different that meeting an alternate aspect may, in some circumstances, not be a problem: Oswald Bastable, Karl Glogauer and Jerry Cornelius are all indicated at times in Michael Moorcock’s works to be incarnations or versions of the Eternal Champion or his Companion, and all are in the League of Temporal Adventurers, and frequent the Time Centre. But in contrast, Jhary-a-Conel’s reaction to the three aspects of the Champion considering staying together, or seeking the same version of Tanelorn suggests that some individuals must always be cautious: “A look almost of terror spread over Jhary’s features then. He said sadly: ‘My friend – already much of time and space is threatened with destruction. Eternal barriers could soon fall – the fabric of the multiverse could decay. You do not understand. Such a thing as has happened in the Vanishing Tower can only happen once in an eternity and even then it is dangerous to all concerned.’” The King of Swords III, 2
Of course, while changing the past history of ones own timestream is Right Out, it may sometimes be possible to radically change the history of a parallel stream without triggering the Morphail Effect.
Spot Rules for Time Travel
Using a Time Machine
Time machines can be anything from fairly straightforward and user-friendly to insanely complex – but most operate on the same basic principles: one sits in the machine, sets the temporal and spatial co-ordinates one wants to arrive at, and presses the button/pulls the lever/flicks the switch. Simple.
For most time machines, the real difficulty lies in getting the co-ordinates right before even leaving. Under normal circumstances, a successful Million Spheres or Timestreams skill roll will enable a chrononaut to get to his destination in one piece. Failure indicates that the time machine ends up in the wrong era and the right plane, or the right era and the wrong plane. A fumble might mean that the chrononaut has ended up in a plane and/or era that is so far from the intended destination it is completely alien. If a fumble has occurred, the hapless chrononaut’s player should roll again – failure indicates that the time machine has broken down and needs to be repaired (see the Appendix to this Article: Weird Science for ways to deal with building and repairing time machines). Most fumbles end up at the End of Time.
If the GM is in a particularly nasty mood, she should feel free to make the roll secretly and allow the time-traveller to find out for himself if he ended up in the right era or scale.
Of course, all too often the circumstances under which a time-traveller has to operate are anything but “normal”. If trying to operate time machine in a hurry, or in a dangerous situation (like, for example, trying to operate a time machine which is teetering on the edge of a bottomless chasm), the GM should feel free to impose a penalty (of say 10-30%, or perhaps halving the PC’s skill before rolling) on the initial Million Spheres/Timestreams roll.
Some Time Machines have controls that enable their users to adjust their speed and direction through time. A character that is using one of these machines has the chance to rectify an error in setting coordinates. If the original roll failed, a chrononaut using a time machine with controls can, with a successful Pilot skill roll, end up in the right place, or turn a fumble d roll into a simple failure.
The GM should consider in advance the issues of fuel and frequency of use: does the time machine require fuel (and if so is it as mundane as petrol, or something exotic like powdered Beryllium?) and how frequently can it be used? Do delicate crystal components require several hours (days?) retuning between uses, or can the vehicle be re-used indefinitely at a moments notice? In general, in the “core” Eternal Champion stories (the Elric, Hawkmoon and Corum saga’s) it is an occasion of some moment when characters successfully travel the planes, especially in any significant fashion. In other Moorcock fiction (the Second Ether Trilogy or the Dancers at the End of Time for example) such travel is more commonplace. Individual GMs should make their own decision based on what they think will suit their campaign. But as a general piece of advice, given how much easier it makes the GM’s life to have plane hopping at a minimum, keeping Time-travel difficult, unpredictable and risky is the wisest course, unless one is fully prepared.
The Morphail Effect
The Morphail Effect comes into play when time’s rules are violated. For people without immunity to the Morphail Effect, travelling back in time in a time machine is enough to trigger it. The moment that a character that is not immune to the Effect arrives in a past era using a time machine, he must roll POWx1 or be flung into the future and possibly into a different scale. If he succeeds, he must roll POWx1 every few minutes until he is ejected. If the era is in a different plane, things are a little easier.
Arriving at an historical era in a different plane, a character needs to make a Luck roll (POWx5) to avoid the Morphail Effect on arrival. Every time a paradox looks like it might happen, like a change of history, meeting of oneself, death in a past era etc, the chrononaut must make a roll to avoid the Effect – the first time after arrival rolling POWx5, the second rolling POWx4, and so on until the fifth time and every subsequent time, when the character has to roll POWx1 to avoid being rejected by the timestream and propelled somewhen else.
No matter how lucky a time-traveller is, if he finds himself in a situation where a paradox is definitely going to happen (so, for example, going back to before he is born and causing enough hit points of damage to his own father to kill him, or if you are likely to meet yourself in the same aspect) the Morphail Effect automatically kicks in and sends him flying through time.
Where he ends up is technically random, but since it’s impossible to randomise an infinite Multiverse, the GM is advised to simply wing it. A good start is to have a few eras lifted from Moorcock novels handy in case of this happening. Further advice is provided in Appendix Two.
Innate Time Travel: Shifting
Some characters have a natural affinity for the timestreams, allowing them to travel backwards, forwards and sideways across time without difficulty. Very few characters are so blessed, although characters with this ability do tend to find themselves flung together by Fate. Ultimately, it’s the GM’s call as to whether her characters have this ability, but if they do, it’s probably sensible if all the characters in the group are so blessed. Vadhagh have this ability automatically in Darcsyde’s excellent Corum supplement: GM’s are recommended to consult this work if at all possible.
A character that discovers that he has an innate ability to travel through time can develop the Shifting skill, which has a base chance of POWx2.If he knows when and where he is going; all a chrononaut needs to do is to make a Shifting roll to get there. Shifting across time and planes can appear to an outsider in many different ways – the chrononaut might conjure up a hole in space-time, locate and step onto a moonbeam road, or simply vanish. The amount of time it takes to shift across time and scales varies, depending upon how favourable the flow of the timestream with its tides and eddies are to the traveller – as a result, a Shifting attempt normally takes 1D8 rounds.
The Shifting skill roll may be influenced by different circumstances. If trying to do something else while shifting (like parrying a blow, for example), or having to shift without thinking about where one wants to go, there could be anything from a 10-50% penalty on the Shifting skill roll (this is the GM’s call).
A failed Shifting skill roll simply means that nothing happens and the chrononaut has to stay in the same place and time for at least another 1D8 rounds after the attempt failed. A fumble means that the chrononaut is flung somewhere drastically different from where she should be. Again, where exactly is up to the GM.
Shifting probably ought to consume magic points, at the GM’s discretion. In Corum it costs 5 magic points per round simply to shift to an adjacent plane (as Corum does to avoid the further attentions of Earl Glandyth and his men at the beginning of the Knight of Swords). Again, a GM should consider in advance the nature of her campaign and how easily she wishes characters capable of Shifting to be able to use their skills and the scope of the skill. In a free-wheeling, multi-planar campaign, it may only cost a few magic points to shift oneself permanently to another plane. Alternatively, in a typical Young Kingdoms campaign it is generally impossible to “phase out” as Corum does and any journey to another plane requires the intervention of substantial magic; as in Elric’s encounter with the Dark Ship (Sailing on the Seas of Fate) or the device of the Doomed Folk Theleb K’aarna uses to summon the reptilian men of Pio (“Three Heroes With a Single Aim”, The Sleeping Sorceress III, 3).
Innate Time Travel and the Morphail Effect
As far as the Morphail Effect is concerned, characters with a natural aptitude for temporal travel have an easier time of it, on the whole. On arrival in a past era, a character with the innate ability to travel through time only needs to roll POWx10 to avoid being rejected, and then POWx10 the first time a paradox might look likely (a change of history, for example), POWx9, the second time, and so on down to POWx1 the tenth and every subsequent time. Of course, when a paradox is definitely going to happen, the culprit is flung out of the timestream, just like everybody else, temporal affinity or no temporal affinity.
Example: Oswald Bastable decides that the only way to stop the bomb going off in the British Consulate is to travel a few minutes in the past. His Shifting skill is 55% and he rolls 39, a success. Rolling 1D8, he can tell that he will only take 2 rounds to shift. However, as he runs into the consulate, he nearly runs into his past self, as of ten minutes ago, coming out. Time doesn’t allow you to meet yourself in the same aspect, and this makes Bastable vulnerable to the Morphail effect. The merciful GM allows Bastable a Luck roll to see if he can avoid his past self’s notice by diving behind a bush. Unfortunately, poor old Oswald rolls 98, and bumps straight into himself, creating an irreparable paradox and flinging him into another timestream entirely. Oh dear.
Example: Oswald, having learnt his lesson, is now in another timestream, where he has the opportunity to stop the Nazis’ attempted invasion of Britain in an alternative 1940. He succeeds. Because he has seen many, many futures at this point, he might create a paradox in doing so. This is actually the sixth time that he has found himself in this situation while in this particular timestream, so he needs to roll POWx5 to avoid creating a paradox and being flung out of this period. Bastable’s POW is 15, so he needs to roll 75 or less to succeed. He rolls 52, thus allowing him to meddle with history on this plane for a little longer.
Innate Time Travel: Elective Amnesia and Merging with Alternate Selves
Most chrononauts who are lucky enough to have an innate ability to traverse the scales learn to avoid the Morphail Effect by a number of techniques.
The most common of these is the tactic of developing elective amnesia, through which the time-traveller deliberately becomes so immersed in the identity she assumes when she arrives in a scale that she forgets she was ever anyone else, anywhere or anywhen else. Elective amnesia comes naturally to most advanced time-travellers, and does not need to be taught by anyone, although a chrononaut must have a Shifting skill score of 40% or more before she can attempt to try it.
The other common tactic is to merge with the parallel versions of oneself that exist in the different scales, joining life-forces and splitting identities until it’s time to move on. Merging is a fairly advanced skill. Although fairly natural, it can only be attempted by a chrononaut with a Shifting skill rating of 65% or more, and only after a more experienced time traveller has showed him how to do it.
In both cases, while the chrononaut’s personality is subsumed in that of an alternative version of herself, she will still work towards whatever motivation brought her here in the first place. This doesn’t usually create much conflict, because the concerns of most parallel versions of oneself are normally working to similar concerns anyway, albeit in unfamiliar settings.
Both methods of avoiding the Morphail Effect work roughly the same way in game terms. They’re just role-played differently. As stated previously, GMs should consider some level of “cost” for this in terms of Magic Points, either to achieve the merger in the first place, or a “tariff” levelled to maintain the merger (say 3 magic points per day). The scenario “the Suffer Glass” in Chaosium’s Melnibone supplement for Stormbringer may provide GM’s with ideas, as might re-reading some of the Eternal Champion books: The Eternal Champion, first of the Erekose sequence, and The Dreamthief’s Daughter are good candidates, as might be The Champion of Garathorm.
On arrival, a character wishing to induce elective amnesia or merge with one’s alternate self must roll to avoid the Morphail Effect, and then succeed in a Luck Roll. Having succeeded, the character is now wholly into his new role – and doesn’t need to roll to avoid the Morphail Effect again. He loses any skills that are not appropriate for this era (although some might be swapped with other, more appropriate skills – for example, a character with a skill in Heat Pistol might, when arriving in 1902, be perfectly justified to swap it for Revolver). Characters that have merged with their alternate selves have the chance, if they wish, of retaining their memories of other worlds – in order to do this they must succeed in a successful Luck Roll.
Appendix One – Weird Science
The following is influenced by Chaosium’s original Hawkmoon rules; now long out of print but available in secure PDF form from DriveThruRPG.com. Alternatively, Darcsyde’s Corum supplement contains rules for Contriving (Lawful inventions) that can provide inspiration and there remains faint hope that their long awaited new Hawkmoon may yet see the light of day. What follows is thus a sketchy set of suggestions for GM’s to elaborate on as best suits their campaigns.
A science system requires a body of theoretical knowledge: a set of ideas about how, and to some extent why, things work at a fundamental level. This is best represented by a Lore skill, or group of skills (the Physics, Chemistry and Biology skills in Call of Cthulhu for example). In general, something as outré as a Time Machine will require understanding that is an order of magnitude different to the normal understanding, whether in domain or degree – again, as an example, think of Call of Cthulhu’s Cthulhu Mythos skill which reveals fundamental truths about the universe that the conventional science skills do not. In order to conceive a Time Machine a character will need the appropriate Lore Skills, and to succeed at a number of skill rolls determined by the GM, dependent on how difficult a challenge she feels it will be: A Vadhagh thinking in terms of a contrivance to allow others to shift between the 15 Planes would merely have to make a Fifteen Planes roll; a character whose player wishes them to emulate Kalan and Taragorm’s feat in creating their Pyramid vehicle would have to conduct an extensive research project and probably make multiple rolls against Million Spheres and several related Lore skills.
But this will only establish the theoretical concept – the character will now need either to craft the components themselves, or specify them to suitably skilled craftsmen and have them make what is required. In as unusual a device as a time machine, the GM is encouraged to require strange and exotic materials: they may not be (initially) hard to obtain (unless that’s what the GM wants) but constructing such a device should never be a routine affair. In the right or, rather, wrong technological and cultural setting things as trivial as pig fat or petroleum can be hard to obtain, but in general exotic materials should be suitably, obviously exotic: Dragon blood, powdered ruby etc. If the time machine requires consumables (some sort of fuel, or materials that are used up during operation), the GM should consider carefully what those materials are, to balance the risk of stranding PC’s somewhere inconvenient against the risk of them becoming blasé about travelling the timestreams. Also, picking sufficiently exotic materials provides opportunities: the need for six rods of perfect shalatrin crystal only obtainable from a mysterious source in the Unknown East, for example, is too good a hook for a quest for any self respecting GM to pass up without careful thought.
The GM should reasonably require further rolls for the crafting and assembly of components, and assess a suitable period of time for this to take: days or weeks at a minimum, unless the character is an experienced Chrononaut assembling a known design from recognised, familiar parts.
The various rolls along the way should allow the GM to make a secret judgement as to the robustness, reliability and accuracy of the final machine. These should significantly inform any rolls made in using this time machine. If the device is a new invention of the characters, give them an initial skill in Time Machine equal to one half of the lowest of all the skills you have been assessing their efforts against in building it. If it is a device the character has just encountered, decide on the degree of congruency with the characters understanding of the multiverse, science and technology and from that determine how difficult it will be to deduce particular functions and so on. A character from 1960’s Britain stepping in to the Armatuce Time Machine (from “Ancient Shadows” in Legends From the End of Time) would have a fair chance of realising it was a vehicle and making at least a few deductions about controls and so on, but in Kalan and Taragorm’s Pyramid (from the Chronicles of Castle Brass) she would be completely flummoxed.
A broken, faulty or non-functioning device can be as fixable or otherwise as a GM wishes – but if it is to be fixed, the GM should consider the time period required for the necessary work (a few minutes, a few hours or a few days?), the resources required (a few wires, three kilo’s of sulphur or a few grams of powdered garnet and mercury and a two day sorcerous ritual of enchantment?) and the skills necessary (three Electrical Lore rolls, One Million Spheres and two craft Crystal rolls or Four Mechanical repair rolls?). Fumbles will generally make things worse, but GM’s should be wary of permanently stranding Characters far from home, or of inflicting truly disastrous consequences without them being aware of the possibilities – don’t secretly decide the Time Machine they have stolen from the Nazi’s in 1950’s Fascist America will go off like an atomic bomb if they fumble a repair, make it clear that there are warning signs all over the machine and drop enough hints so the players feel they can make an informed choice… or at least don’t feel hard done by if it DOES go off.
Appendix Two – Nice place for a holiday, but I wouldn’t want to live there…
The difficulty with creating random parts of the multiverse for wandering or misdirected characters to arrive in is that the range of possibilities is TOO great it simply staggers the imagination. The trick of course is to cut that set of possibilities down to size. Darcsyde’s Corum addresses this very issue with a brief two pages (pages 113 – 114). What follows should be considered as either an alternative or supplement to that material.
Consider the alternate planes Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon or Oswald Bastable visit: whilst several blatantly contrast with the home plane of the protagonist (Garathorm is a world of trees with barely any geography and a single unified culture, compared to Tragic Millennium Earths varied cultures, languages and geography for example), they also in a sense “fit” the hero: Garathorm is a world oppressed by dark forces but ultimately rescued by the Champion(s), where as some of the planes Elric’s visits he has nearly as a devastating an effect on as the Young Kingdoms and Corum’s planes are for the most part ever more baroque and fantastical. These features are of course the result of authorial choice and in an RPG could seem a little convenient and suspicious to a bunch of players (“Oh, so we just happen to arrive in a world like this did we?”).
Any GM must realise however that they will have to exercise some selection on the nature of the planes characters visit, whether by choice or randomly (as the result of mishaps whilst plane shifting). Whilst there are implicitly worlds or planes that are inherently inimical to human life, where merely arriving could be fatal, such worlds obviously have limited role playing potential, especially as possible random destinations (“Ok, you arrive and breathe the hydrofluoric vapour, everyone takes 50d6 damage…”). Conversely, worlds and planes that are indistinguishable from the characters home plane are (unless in specific circumstances, e.g. a Vadhagh shifting to an immediately adjacent plane) rather a waste of the potential of the multiverse…
GM’s should consider what they think are the key features of the character’s plane of origin. Come up with a short list of no more than a half dozen features that characterise the characters “home” setting; for example, Tragic Millennium Earth one could select the following features: Balkanised, Post-Holocaust, Sorcery-Science. Then the GM should decide how similar or different from the plane of origin they wish the destination to be, considering each feature in turn. So, if a party of Tragic Millennium adventurers have a mishap whilst trying to highjack a prototype of the Pyramid vehicle, the GM would consider whether the destination plane is politically familiar to the Characters (is it balkanised, ruled by a few or single authority, is the government benevolent, democratic?). Next, has the destination plane suffered an apocalypse (as Tragic Millenium Earth has) and if so, how recently (more recently than Hawkmoon’s world, or is further in this worlds past?). Finally the GM would consider the Sorcery-Science feature: will the PC’s equipment and skills even function on this plane, and how well will their understanding of such things map to how things work on this plane? Corum and Elric always seemed to live in worlds that were quite similar in this regard, whereas Hawkmoon would have been somewhat baffled by Corum’s Fifteen Planes one suspects.
If the GM wants a random factor to provide inspiration and save them some head scratching, simply generate a positive or negative value for each feature on the list. Positive values indicate that in terms of that feature the new plane is similar to the characters plane of origin (with higher values indicating greater degrees of similarity, and lower values lesser degrees of similarity). Conversely, a negative value indicates that in terms of that feature, the two planes differ, the greater the negative value the greater the degree of divergence. One can obtain these values randomly be selecting two dice of the same number of sides but different colours, designating one as positive and the other negative and rolling the pair once for each feature on the GM’s list and noting the total after subtracting the negative die result from the positive die result.
An example: The PC’s, having realised that their hosts in the strange underground city in the Silent Lands are planning to eat them, flee in to a large chamber which has an arch way full of swirling mist and weird lightning flashes (suitably ominous the GM’s thinks to discourage them). The PC’s, realising that overwhelming numbers are approaching eschew the idea of surrender and jump in to the randomly set gate… The startled GM calls a pause and hurriedly draws up a list of features for the Young Kingdoms, relevant to her campaign and characters: Sorcery, Law dominant, Balkanised, medieval technology. She selects two d20s, one red (negative) one blue (positive), so a +19 indicates a plane which in terms of that feature it is identical to the Young Kingdoms, and a –19 indicates it is radically different. The GM rolls as follows:
|Feature||Blue (positive) d20||Red (negative) d20||Total Value|
So Sorcery exists in this world much as it does in the Young Kingdoms (Sorcery +16) to the extent that practitioners from the two planes probably could exchange notes relatively easily. But Chaos is distinctly in the ascendant here (Lawful dominant –5), albeit this is still a world of nations and human governance. Politically, whilst there may exist numerous nation states, international relationships are largely the manoeuvring of large alliances and power blocks, a matter of international treaties and common worldviews (Balkanised –9). Technologically the world is quite different to the late medieval/early renaissance technology of the Young Kingdoms (Medieval Technology –7): perhaps on the cusp of an industrial revolution powered by Sorcery rather than science, with the issue of the age being disputes about using elementals in primitive steam engines and the like as opposed to “cheap” demonic labour?
The supplements to Stormbringer / Elric! over the years have included a number of variant planes, although not as extensively as one might at first suspect. The seminal campaign, Rogue Mistress, is a plane-hopping epic that is well worth a look. Most of the other scenarios have been small, or only touch upon multi planar issues: “The Eye of the Theocrat” (from the first Stormbringer Companion) sends the characters to the Shadow Plane, Ken Rolston’s The Black Sword includes the Bubble Maze of Pemmnetr the Dharzi (which could be encountered on a number of worlds…), and in Perils of the Young Kindoms whilst only “The Man Who Sold Gods” has distinctly extra-planar overtones, they are also present in “Stolen Moments” and “The Floating Realm” would make an entirely plausible water world. More recently Jason Durall’s Slaves of Fate (for Dragon Lords of Melnibone) takes the adventurers in to a half-world…
Other sources of inspiration for GM’s wishing to craft their own unique planes are available by adapting material from other sources. For example, Malhavoc Press’s Beyond Countless Doorways describes a “planar cosmology” of countless worlds in a constantly varying arrangement of intersection and disjunction that was specifically inspired by Michael Moorcock’s concept of the Multiverse. It includes a number of detailed planes complete with plot ideas and NPC’s. Although ostensibly for the latest edition of D&D, and distinctly “fantasy” oriented, it is a great resource for GM’s wanting outré planes for their players to visit and can be fairly easily adapted to Stormbringer. Another resource that GM’s might find useful is Stargate SG-1, not only the TV series itself (not so much plots as settings), but the First Steps sourcebook for the d20 based RPG has a set of worlds generated using the system from the core rulebook (sadly not reproduced in the sourcebook), complete with plot hooks. And of course there are numerous other such resources that could be mined for ideas for planes: TV shows like Sliders, Doctor Who or Star Trek as well as games like Traveller, GURPS, and Star Wars that have world generation rules. Provided the GM is prepared to adapt what such systems give her to fit the feel of her game, all can help provided inspiration.
As a further spur to the beleaguered GM’s imagination, we offer the following four thumbnail descriptions of planes to inspire your creativity:
The River Kingdoms
This world is peopled with beast headed humanoids in a river valley culture whose sun follows the river down stream every day, with high mountains on either side. Dog, cat, horse and Ibis hybrids are the most common, with a smattering of buffalo, and legends that speak of ape headed people, for whom the PC’s will initially be mistaken. Proud, clannish people, the beast headed inhabitants of the river Kingdoms are fiercely loyal in their worship of the Beast Lords and dimly aware of the Elements. Law and Chaos are unknown as separate forces, but recent unrest and the spread of necromancy may well point to a growing stain on this world. “Demons” haunt the blasted wastelands of the high plateaus beyond the mountains on either side, but whether they are simply hostile savages or are actually chaos-tainted interlopers from another plain can only be determined by visiting them. Fortunately (or not), The Palace of the Silent Ones, an ancient structure that pre-dates the river kingdoms and purportedly contains doorways to other worlds lies some distance in to the high plateau lands so PC’s who arrive via a Dimension Travelling mishap may be in a position to disprove the plateau dwellers status as demons and or meet any surviving Silent Ones.
The Last Refuge
The characters find themselves in a vast underground complex where the human survivors of a holocaust (the details long forgotten and shrouded in myth) struggle to survive in the baroquely complex society that has developed, despite its failing grasp of the sorcery (or is it science? Or both?) that keeps the refuge habitable and secure from the unspeakable horrors above on the surface; well, tradition and the Satraps and Seneschal’s SAY they are still there… Intricate social ritual and rigid adherence to the rule of law is enforced everywhere. Yet the Satraps and Seneschals, who rule the Refuge, hide behind this façade an insatiable lust for power that threatens to erupt and engulf the entire Refuge. They are apparently oblivious, if not positively hostile, to the rumours from the ‘Neers and Magic Men that the great Machines are failing; and no one truly credits the whispers from the Prole levels, that things are entering the Refuge from below, stealing Prole children and, incomprehensibly, sabotaging already broken parts of the Great Machines. (Inspired by Eric van Lustabader’s Sunset Warrior and William Hope Hodgson’s the Night Land)
The Age of Miracles and Wonder
An England under Good Queen Bess (self styled “friend of the Fey Folk”) defies the mechanist, rationalist Catholic might of Europe, but what price the Fey Folks aid? And what has happened to the burgeoning colony of Roanoke? Kit Marlowe and the Corporation of the Masters for Defence (Henry the Eighth’s secret anti-occult Order, disguised as a duelling school and created in the 1540’s) plays a deadly cat and mouse game with the forces both rigidly religious and rampantly pagan that would destabilise England and her allies. Meanwhile Dr Dee and his disciples dabble with forces they barely understand and somewhere in the Mittelmarches a faceless man laughs mercilessly.
The Empire of Shadows
Characters find themselves in a vast cityscape that stretches across a twilight continent, populated for the most part by bestial tribes of Neanderthal like humanoids scavenging a life amidst the ruins of a vast technological civilisation, whose wraith like survivors hide in hidden enclaves, lost in unending regret for the hubris that brought their empire down. What secrets do they guard or conceal? And what stalks the city at night that both tribe’s folk and wraith folk flee in terror?