Tabletop Game: Continuum

Cover of Further Information

Hello. What time is it?

Ah, so you want me to describe Continuum here. You've picked the right chrony to frune with, then. I'll tell you what's what.

Cºntinuum is a Time Travel Tabletop RPG by the folks at AetherCo. It starts with the question, "If you could learn to span time at will, what sort of civilization would you be entering?" It moves on from there, and the results are very well thought out — but since it requires four-dimensional thinking, it can really mess with your head. This has led to some calling it "The best time-travel game you'll ever read, but never actually play."

Basically, all of human history leads up to us inventing time travel; this includes all of the time traveling going on before that, making sure history turns out right. That's the job of the Continuum: to keep history working smoothly.

If you'd like to join up, always remember to follow the Five Maxims. In particular, information is all; knowing too little or too much of your Yet (your subjective future) can bite you. When meeting yourself, always respect your Elders. Never let the levellers know what's going on. And never, never try to change the known. That's what the Narcissists do, and you don't want the Foxhorns after you.

Past that and the list of tropes below, well, further information is not available here.

Has nothing to do with Stargate Continuum besides also being based on time travel. Not to be confused with the webcomic or the TV series of the same name.

Time Travel Tropes:

  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Joan of Arc is a spanner; you might even get to meet her a good ways from her historical era. Other historical figures might be spanners, or be replaced by spanners if the need arises — the Thespians specialize in this.
  • Can't Take Anything With You: 'Darter' Narcissists use old or crippled tech and therefore cannot take anything with them while traveling time. Not even Magic Pants. In the less naked version of the trope, carrying technology Down from its original time zone is frowned upon. Trying to bring powerful nanotech Down before its invention tends to result in a visit by the Engineers or Inheritors before you leave.
  • Clock Roaches: The Inheritors can act like this sometimes. They look a lot like The Greys and they tend to show up exactly where and when things get really messy.
  • Contemporary Caveman: Rare, due to population pressures, but not unknown. Most tend to learn English further Down.
  • Delayed Ripple Effect: A Narc can frag you and your favorite book to oblivion years Down from your birthdate, but neither will feel the frag until it's time to deal with the Frag and the Narcissist.
  • Fashions Never Change: Averted. Ones and Twos can only travel a year and a decade at once, respectively, but most clothing will still attract attention. Threes and higher usually end up running from an angry mob if they aren't careful about keeping with the times.
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water: Unprepared visits to unfamiliar levels are not recommended.
  • For Want of a Nail: Since more overt actions like killing an opponent's grandfather in Time Combat tend to frag hundreds if not thousands of spanners, most Time Combat mechanics focus on smaller stuff. Stealing an opponent's newspaper three days Down is a surprisingly effective way to frag them into non-sentience, with really ugly long-term effects for every other spanner the now-fragged target had in the Yet.
  • The Future: Up to AD 2221 is fair game, albeit a little heavy on the nanotech and implied Crystal Spires and Togas. Going past AD 2222 is not advised, and all eras beyond AD 2400 are the realm of the Inheritors and the Exalted. Further information is not available here.
  • Future Badass: The advantages Favored Exalted, All Too Easy, and Death At Span Four all can be earned by Span Threes and mean a known Gemini with a future and extremely powerful version of themselves. To a lesser extent, GMs may elect for a Gemini to come with a higher Span version of the character, but this is rarely done.
  • Future Me Scares Me: Most Threes and all Fours or Exalted are not friendly things to encounter as a One's Gemini. At best, they've experienced decades or centuries of the spanning life and count as human only by the loosest definition. And that's ignoring the possibility a future Narcissist self or of seeing your own demise...
  • Have We Met Yet?: While spanners normally ask for the time before talking to even familiar spanners, encounters can sometimes be muddled enough for this to occur.
  • Help Yourself in the Future:
    • The goal of pretty much any planned Continuum Gemini incident. Remember to respect your Elders.
    • Really, really problematic for Narcissists. Narcissists don't respect their elders, partly because they consider their Yet to be mutable, partly because any supposed elder might be a Continuum plant.
  • Historical In-Joke: Strongly encouraged. See Ki-Kung-Shi's airplane, Joan of Arc, the Count Saint-Germain, most Persons of Note from the fraternities.
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: Better known as the Maxims and enforced by entire teams of the protagonists of the Continuum. When killing Hitler risks the vigintillionsnote  of lives of the Inheritors, the decision of the Atlantean Council seems a lot more relevant.
    • Lampshaded in the rules book: the description of the Thespian fraternity says something like "Please don't ask us how many times we've had to impersonate Hitler." Further information is not available here.
  • I'm Mr. Future Pop Culture Reference: Narcissists and Thespians love this.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Not all fragging actions are successful; span Down a few years and take a book from the library first, and it might not stick if the variation is trivial or if the targeted spanner replaces it. The Narcissists can and do make small changes to their Yet, since the Inheritors only change back rather than change and don't put much emphasis on nonhuman things.
  • Meanwhile, in the Future: Doesn't apply for levellers or physical combat, but Time Combat sweeps can quite easily involve six spanners in a half-dozen different levels.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: The Scorpiod Kings do this intentionally to protect Antedesertium from the Continuum (as well as for ideological reasons). They know that to spanners, information is all, so they ensure that spanners have access to a lot of possible histories and no way to verify any of them, making spanners prone to fragging themselves when they try to attack.
  • Never the Selves Shall Meet: Averted to hell and back. Meeting yourself is called a Gemini incident, and they're expected of spanners. Quite often, actually. Joan of Arc makes up 98% of the police force of Atlantis.
  • Ontological Inertia: Not actually a physical attribute of the universe, but when the entire future from AD 2400 onward and every habitable planet in the universe wants history to stay the same, it will stay the same. In fact, the knowledge that everything gets fixed is a necessary element of the Narcissist methodology, because it allows them to safely change the known and leave it for Continuum spanners to clean up.
  • Out of Time, Out of Mind: Averted. An Exalted-Span One Gemini incident might have the two looking near identical, but the Exalted's centuries of experience will show up, even if the telekinesis doesn't.
  • Retroactive Preparation: The game calls it "slipshanking," and while it is useful, your DM will insist your Elder self actually set up the preparation if he doesn't just deal you a Frag penalty.
  • Screw Destiny: Worse than blasphemy, this is a Narcissist's attitude, going against reality itself. According to the physical laws the Inheritors created, at least. According to the Narcissist previews, Alternate Universes are a bit more lenient.
  • Stable Time Loop: Setting these up and fulfilling them makes up almost all of the action in the game. It's common enough, in fact, that a particular koan used to describe the phenomenon is "The Universe is." This means that information can exist without a first cause, such as being told something by your future self, and later telling it to your past self without ever independently learning the information.
  • Temporal Paradox:
    • "Frag," the results of trying to change the known, or of someone changing your known Age or Yet. It starts with your memories getting mixed, then you start to fade out and the Quicker have to clean up after you.
    • The Grandfather Paradox is specifically mentioned in one table. Short form: yes, you can kill your own grandfather. It'll immediately frag you to the same extent as nuking a city out of turn. Not a good idea.
    • A specific situation occurs when an individual is fragged and a second individual then makes them late for the fragging event. The first individual takes both frags (the original As/As Not, and the As/As Not relating to whether or not they make it to the first frag), but the second individual may also fix a point of their own frag by doing so, so long as the point of frag was picked up in the current Time Combat. This is either called "the Statue of Liberty" or "the Fix," depending on which side you're on; for Continuum spanners, it's considered a trick play, but for Narcissists, it's a staple of their arsenal.
  • Time Crash: If you die twice (barring cheats or odd circumstances), you immediately frag out and cause a point of nearly-unfixable Frag for anyone who witnesses both deaths.
  • Time Dissonance: Exalted tend to start thinking of a century of Age as a few birthdays ago. Late Aquarians and Inheritors don't even think of time linearly in the first place.
  • Timeline-Altering MacGuffin: A wide variety of possibilities. Oddly, some things that seem to be Almanacs are actually predestined. No one cares about Ki-Kung-Shi getting a working airplane. Just don't let a Narcissist bring more than a quarter tank of gasoline back. Just don't lose your span book.
  • Time Master: Spanners are these, especially at higher span levels.
  • Time Police: The Foxhorns specialize in taking down Narcissists, while it's the Quicker's job to clean up hopeless Frag-ups. However, the idea of a monolithic Time Police is averted; it's everyone's job to fix Frag where they can find it.
  • The Time Traveller's Dilemma: The reason the Inheritors won't let anyone change the future.
  • Time Travel Tense Trouble: Averted. The past and future only count from your own perspective, so if you've done something or will do it, you say that. For everyone else, you use the present tense, regardless of "when" it's happening. Since, in a second, that could be your "now" too, this makes sense.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Averted. The rules of time travel are fairly straightforward and don't deviate. However, the rules for Narcissists are slightly different than the rules for Continuum spanners.
  • Tricked Out Time: The only reliable way to cure frag. Simply preventing the fragging event itself generates more frag instead, since the character knows that the fragging event was in their Age or Yet.
  • Trust Password: Narcissists try this, although most don't respect their Elders even if they are in the Narc's Yet. Continuum spanners have their versions, as well.
  • Unstuck in Time: Possible, but not the worst thing Frag can do.
  • Wayback Trip: Essentially the goal of the Continuum.
  • Write Back to the Future: This is a common solution to being "stuck" in the past while your Span recovers; the Scribes specialize in this. Also, taken to extremes, a way of "instant messaging" with fellow spanners. Example.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Your job is to make sure reality runs smoothly. If something tries to change the known, you have to step in. If you screw up, things only get worse; then the Inheritors show up. Except when they don't. Multiple timelines can be a bitch.

Other Tropes:

  • A God Am I: The Scorpiod Kings of Antedesertium indeed call themselves gods, and they have the mastery of time and space to back it up.
  • And Man Grew Proud: Antedesertium is an entire time span of thousands of years where Africa is ruled by Narcissist kings of time and space, granting Schizo Tech to the population, and performing experiments on causality itself. Eventually, they come to look nothing like humans, and then their whole civilization collapses at Interregnum, a massive Temporal Paradox-laden no man's land, where time travelers instantly Frag out if they try to span. Interregnum caused a massive axial shift that left the Sahara a desert.
  • Atlantis: This is a Continuum city and, though chronologically close, is not part of Antedesertium. It's a meeting place where the council decides on all the rules and guidelines of time travel. Strangely enough, after obeying these rules for most of their lives, the player characters might sit on this council and decide on those very same rules.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Neither the Continuum nor the Narcissist views of morality have much to do with leveller morals. The Continuum exists to preserve the sanctity of the timeline, but its behavioral rules only apply to spanners, sadism in hunting Narcissists is lauded, and levellers have no rights that a spanner is bound to respect. A random leveller in 1950 saw you pull out your iPhone? You could hypnotize him into amnesia, or just kill him. Crashers, meanwhile, have no overriding morality at all, only their own goals and a loose ideology of crashing free and trying to find Yrne, and not only levellers but other crashers may be used freely as tools towards that end.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The distinction between in- and out-of-character is completely smashed in the rules for advancing between Spans, since one of the requirements for advancing (which the GM is specifically instructed to not waive) is a certain amount of real-world time on the player's part playing Continuum, including requirements for game session length. Not necessarily with any one character.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Depending on your perspective and goals, the game is either this or Lovecraft Lite. The universe is governed by nigh-omnipotent alien beings operating by rules that have nothing to do with leveller morality, though they're quite interested in Earth and humanity, and their victory is absolutely impossible to stop. While it's not really a bleak universe for Continuum spanners, Narcissists are stuck fighting a Hopeless War where destiny itself seems to be out to screw them over.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: If Continuum spanners decide that a Narcissist has to be dealt with, that Narcissist will be fragged into non-sentience before he even knows he's under attack, and that's if he's lucky.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: The Isolate stratagem, better known to Narcissists as "the Swarm": a carefully coordinated attack to frag someone multiple times in a short timespan.
  • Deus ex Machina: The Inheritors serve this purpose but really only come out to work when things get really, really bad. Since their mere existence back in our time could screw things up, they never want to get involved, ensuring Deus Exit Machina.
  • Easily Forgiven: If a Narcissist who was originally a Continuum spanner isn't killed or fragged out and they're willing to be rehabilitated, they'll usually be freely brought back into the Continuum after some correctional therapy. Incidentally, this does not apply to anyone who didn't start with the Continuum. Those are handed to the Foxhorns for disposal.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Most of the Scorpiod Kings of Antedesertium look like this. One looks like a tear in reality; another looks like a massive dome several kilometers wide. The scary part? All of them started out as human Narcissists. The Inheritors are "good", but match up to the trope as sheer alien, unstoppable, and incomprehensibly more powerful beings.
  • Fake Memories: A possible result of telepathy or hypnosis, which can be useful to fix Frag if what people remember and what actually happens don't quite match.
  • Faking the Dead: Possible. Using it to Trick Out Time and cheat your own death is illegal, not because it will frag anyone, but because if everyone did it, nobody would die.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Fragmentation from paradox leaves one looking and interacting with the world like a ghost, so much like a ghost that almost all ghostly phenomena could be attributed to someone with a high level of frag.
  • Figure It Out Yourself: "Further information not available here" is spanner lingo for this. In a time-travelling civilization, the importance of controlling information is axiomatic, and there are many reasons for not revealing what you know to someone else who might want to know it.
  • Future Slang: Technically "spanner slang," since past and future are all the same to them...
    • Time travelers are called "spanners," and yes, they know that means "ditz" in British slang. Down from the Industrial Revolution, they call themselves "spinners."
    • Your fellow spanners are your chronies. Spanners that try to change history are Narcissists, since they don't think for anyone beyond themselves (and maybe close friends), relatively speaking.
    • Your Age is your subjective past, and your Yet's what you haven't done yet.
    • Meeting yourself is called a Gemini; your Elder is the one who's gone through this before, and your Junior is you the first time around (if we're talking just two of you).
    • Up is further into the external future and Down is further into the external past.
    • Levellers are non-time travelers, since they exist on the same "level" of time.
    • Wherever you call home (in whatever part of time you frequent most) is your corner.
  • The Greys: The Inheritors, who are actually post-Singularity humans.
  • Hand Wave: Hypnosis gets used a lot when people screw up. Also, the explanation for time travel feels a lot like one of these, due to the bizarre physics. Of course, it could also just be false information, since the book is supposedly meant to help ease levellers into accepting time travel.
  • Hopeless War: From the crasher perspective, the war against the Swarm is this; even the Kings and Gods cannot defeat the Singularity. A crasher's objective is not to win but to escape.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: Foxhorns are essentially a hunting club, not a police force; the stereotypical Foxhorn is a sadist who happens to be on the Continuum's payroll, and many of them take trophies from their kills.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal - Spanners can pull a Bill and Ted (in game terms, "Slipshank") and have their future self leave an item just where they need it.
  • Instant Expert: Not exactly, since you have to study for it, but the rules for it are there. To your chronies it just looks like you vanished and came back a second later, and with a few more months of Age and experience.
  • Koan: "The Universe is." This doesn't directly convey any new information, but it's still an important concept with ramifications for time travel. One of the most important ramifications is that it's possible to have a Stable Time Loop without an independent cause.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: The Fifth Maxim states "Never Fight For A Lost Cause." If someone is fragged too badly, step back and let the Quicker handle it.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: One of the powers of telepathy (and for some reason, hypnosis). A tool used to protect reality and the Continuum. Also, all player characters start with amnesia, since they don't remember what happened during the months of training they had learning to span.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: The Continuum RPG was, in-universe, released in 1998 by order of the Atlantean Councils to assist humanity in acclimating to the time-travelling civilization that they'll enter 224 years later.
  • Living on Borrowed Time: If you die, the GM can rule that you spanned out... but you still saw how you died. It's in your Yet. You Can't Fight Fate this time. At some point you have to span back to that moment, close the loop, and die. In game terms, the character can gain one more rank, but eventually they're either going to have to make the trip or be fragged out of existence - there's no escaping it. Unless you engage in shenanigans to reconcile your survival with the information. These tricks are illegal for Continuum spanners, but widely practiced by Narcissists.
  • Mana Meter: Your Span denotes how far you can travel through time before you need to sleep. It costs the same to travel Down as to travel Up.
  • Masquerade: The whole point of the Fourth Maxim: don't let the levellers know if it's not time yet. Obviously, things happen, and you have to make an Invitation to Dance; this is how new spanners enter the fold.
  • Meaningful Name: Due to all of the spanner activity in the Geminid Era, there are a lot of Gemini incidents that occur there.
  • Mentors: The job of most mid-rank (Span 3) spanners is to serve as a mentor to fresh spanners.
  • Mind Screw: The whole game, some would say; there's plenty of examples here. Thinking in four dimensions can cause massive headaches.
  • Muggles: Call them levellers.
  • Nanomachines: Used extensively near The Singularity, which may or may not have something to do with time travel. Further information is not available here.
  • Not Afraid to Die: It's expected that a Continuum spanner will accept his fated death with good grace if the information has been revealed to him.
  • Off the Rails: One of the creators of Continuum related this story about an early beta Narcissist session: His character had successfully crashed out of the main Universe and was trying to evade Quicker by going further out, but got captured. His crib-mates came to rescue him but found a junior version of him pre-capture near the first crash gate and spirited him to safety. This effectively split one character into two: the one who got captured and the one who was rescued from something that hadn't happened to him yet. It was at that point the group realized there was nothing in the rules preventing this. Take that, causality!
  • Omniscient Morality License: The Exalted and Inheritors are not bound by the Five Maxims and can do whatever they need to do to protect the timestream. To look at it another way, they have a different understanding of the Five Maxims. They can be trusted with perfect information of the future because they won't act improperly with it, they don't have to keep a span book because they all have perfect memory, they have full discretion when dealing with Masquerade breaches, and if they rehabilitate or execute a badly-fragged spanner, they're not fighting for or against an individual Lost Cause, they're fighting for the Continuum.
  • Painting the Medium: So much. One of the more subtle cases: several footnotes on the Inheritors advise the reader to look for further information on page 210. That's the end of the GM section, but it's also labeled "Time Travel in the Real World." Use of "further information is not available here" and the warnings about crasher propaganda throughout the rest of the book are less subtle but still very effective.
    • Further Information is also the name of the game's sole supplement.
  • Perspective Flip: Narcissist: Crash Free. Don't buy into the propaganda of the Swarm! This Universe may be lost to a joyless, devouring inhuman horde, but it is still possible to make a Gate and crash out of here! Yrne awaits those with the courage to seek it...
  • Physical God: Even the weakest of the Exalted can travel 10,000 years in an instant, is immortal unless killed, and has enough mental powers and Aquarian supertechnology to kill someone or erase their mind with a thought. An individual Inheritor is, at a minimum, orders of magnitude more powerful than that. The same goes for the masters of Antedesertium.
  • Power Levels:
    • For Continuum spanners, Span serves as both power level and rank in the hierarchy, and the two are interrelated; spanners with higher Span can not only span farther and carry more than those with lower Span without having to rest, but they also receive access to better tech, longer lives, the potential for higher attributes, and (most importantly) access to further information.
    • Narcissist averts this; a crasher with low Span can easily have more and better toys and powers than one who's spent all his favors and crash points on better Span (though he should beware Phlebotinum Breakdown if his spanning tech is too crude).
  • Psychic Powers: Telepathy, telekinesis, and a few others are available to those with the right tutors.
  • Railroading: This game has to examine it thoroughly, both from an in-character and out-of-character standpoint. Because You Can't Fight Fate, polite spanners avoid giving away too much about someone else's future (the number one reason to say "further information is not available here"). The GM, meanwhile, is advised to go out of his way to avoid filling spanners' Yets. The one big exception, however, is with the Yet of the In-Between, where you can be destined to die, betray the Continuum, or become an Exalted because of what you learned while you were first learning to span, which is hypnotically kept from you until you need to know.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Supernatural Powers!:
    • It's mentioned that, since leveller authorities have no hope of constraining a spanner, some spanners decide to abuse them freely, including theft, rape and murder. The Continuum is more or less okay with this, so long as you don't break their laws (which govern social behavior within spanner civilization, not between spanners and levellers or crashers). However, the book also mentions that there's a short step between abandoning social taboos and abandoning the Maxims.
    • The Inheritors operate on Blue and Orange Morality and couldn't care less about something so minor as committing a felony if it's necessary for the timestream. They're usually not actively malevolent towards anyone but Narcissists and Lost Causes, however.
  • Shaped Like Itself: The following paragraphs appear in an example of Time Combat:
    [Alice] looks at Gary [the GM]. "Here's a question. We're allies at a Rendezvous. Can I let Ben Oracle first, then use that information to Go Down and target the guy?"
    Gary looks over the rules. "Well, it's not spelled out, but that question does show up in the example of Time Combat."
    "And?" Alice asks hopefully.
    "The GM in the example points out that Oracle has a minimum duration of 7 days. If you were to wait for Ben's Oracle, Amber would have to Stay Level this Sweep, too."
  • The Singularity: Time travel itself is the end product of one of these, taking place some time in the early Aquarian period — sorry, around AD 2222.
  • Spy Speak:
    • "What time is it?" and other variations are a callsign; other spanners know what you're supposed to respond with. Levellers will just answer how you'd expect.
    • The phrase "Further information is not available here" could count, too. It's considered to be an information-neutral statement; you're simply telling the other person that no further information will be given to them at this place and time. In practice, it usually means that the other person knows something, but is not telling the other person (for any number of reasons).
  • Splat: The Fraternities, which all specialize in something specific.
    • The Antiquarians specialize in historical objects,
    • the Engineers in technology,
    • the Midwives in who's born when,
    • the Moneychangers in currency (and making sure all spanners start out rich),
    • the Physicians in medicine,
    • the Scribes in storing knowledge and communication,
    • the Dreamers in communicating through dreams across eras,
    • the Foxhorns in Time Policing and taking down Narcissists,
    • the Quicker in looking into hauntings and strange phenomena and cleaning up after hopeless cases of Frag,
    • and the Thespians in disguise and the replacement of levellers or other time travelers.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Every spanner can teleport some distance in space, whether or not they travel through time. This is treated as time travel with a length of 0, so it's "free" as far as their Span is concerned.
  • Transhuman Aliens: The Inheritors are post-Singularity humans.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Taken together, the Continuum and Narcissist books present the same world with somewhat different time travel rules. Each side has theories and explanations for the other side's time travel rules, but ultimately one side is telling the truth and the other isn't.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses - Running/playing a game that requires 4-dimensional thinking is very hard. And then there's Narcissist...
  • What Measure Is a Non-Super?: Levellers have no rights that the Continuum respects and are often reduced to pawns in spanner games. Those who find out about the Masquerade get Laser-Guided Amnesia. By the way, humans who were taught to span without Continuum approval, even if they had no choice in the matter, are Killed to Uphold the Masquerade. (They're never Invited to Dance because the risk that their masters may have planted time bombs in their heads is just too great.)
  • Winds of Destiny, Change: "Destiny" isn't a force in itself in this world, but there is a system for fate manipulations. Some successes (for spanners) and failures (for crashers) occur as a result of "Graces" or "Jinxes," where some spanner pre-arranges the success or failure through temporal manipulations. (It's stacked this way because the Continuum has effective control of the timeline.)
  • You Will Be Beethoven - This is par for the course for the Thespians.