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Multiple timelines and ego forks

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  • Multiple timelines and ego forks

    "Just so you know Jeff, you are now creating six different timelines."

    In Mage and elsewhere, multiple timelines are often cited as a way of resolving the paradoxes of time travel. You aren't changing anything if you go back in time--you're just starting a new timeline that branches off from the time you went to, and the original timeline continues as usual. This does resolve logical paradoxes that can come with backward time travel. But the discussion always seems to end there. For me, parallel timelines create some interesting problems of their own.

    First of all, if a Mage goes back in time, does he thereby create a new timeline that did not exist before? This would make a Master of Time essentially a god--just by traveling through time he creates a new universe with billions of people; that timeline could eventually diverge dramatically and become very different. Or maybe the timeline eventually converges on the old one through some kind of Entropic law. But if that's the case, if changes are only temporary--is it really necessary to make a new timeline in the first place? If time tends to even out changes to itself, maybe traveling up and down a single timeline is not so prone to overwhelming change after all.

    But maybe the Time Master does not create new universes. Backward time travel merely allows him to shift to an alternate reality that was there all along, as all possible realities were there all along. Metaphysically these worlds could be the Mirror Zones. The problem with this is that when everything exists, nothing matters. This might actually be the case in our cosmology, but ours is unfortunately not subject to the laws of heroic narrative. A theme of Mage is that humans are important. What your character does is important. When every possibility already exists, every possible course you could take has been taken, it is hard to maintain that idea. Perceptive players will pick up on that implication.

    Maybe the character deals with these troubling metaphysical questions by treating alternate timelines as less real. But there is all kinds of potential for abuse when you believe the denizens of a universe you're interacting with are not real. Or say you pull someone out of the past or future. Keeping with the "alternate versions" metaphysic, they are just copies of versions of themselves that never left their place in your current timeline. How's that for a mind fuck. That label, "copy" immediately dehumanizes them. Maybe you cancel the spell that sustains their existence when they are no longer needed, effectively killing the "ego fork." Does it matter as much as if you'd killed the "real" version? Does it only start to matter if they've had time to diverge a lot from their original and become a different entity? Where do you draw the line?

    Multiple universes are not an easy "fix" for time travel. I would say they create more problems than they solve.

  • #2
    Oh man, I could write pages about this topic...

    Personally I think multiple timelines actually *do* solve more problems than they create.
    In single-timeline scenarios, you would bet that either the Technos, or the Traditions would work on grand rituals to send people back to key points in time to change the Ascension War. Over. And over. It'd end up as a time war.

    Multiple timelines explain why that isn't happening. Even more so, multiple timelines explain why so many Mages get lost in time on traveling backwards - they travel back, they enter another timeline branch by changing something, and on traveling back they arrive in a present they did not actually leave...and probably don't notice the fact, if they are naive. The only way to return to the present you left is by creating a Time 4 Anchor point first, and then the Mage might notice that nothing changed at all.

    But if they didn't, in the present they left, their friends wait for a return that never happens...and another Mage got lost to time.

    That said I don't see a big difference in new timelines actually constantly existing and being created naturally, or the Mage creating them on traveling back.
    Heck, I'd actually say that parallel timelines existing naturally, in a myriad of variations, offers more opportunities to the ST. 'Parallel worlds' that are simply parallel timelines that branched off hundreds of years ago, traveling 'through' time by not moving forward or backward, but *sideways*....

    And maybe there are big historical events in multiple timelines, and the more common and impacting they are across the parallel lines, the more inertia they have in the timestreams. Maybe all timelines converge towards the apocalypse, no matter what one does.

    ...heck, who knows. Maybe when a Mage casts an effect, they don't change their reality at all. Maybe their conciousness actually shifts into their body in a parallel reality where what they wanted to happen is actually happening, and Paradox is nothing but the backlash of stepping into drastically different lines...

    So many opportunities for creative weirdness, there.

    Last edited by Ambrosia; 02-20-2017, 07:19 AM.

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    • #3
      I think that all of the above and more possibilities of how to resolve time travel function in Mage.

      If your mage believes that everything is all planned out ahead of time, and that fate governs everything, then they have the single timeline model, they go back and forth, but it's all a closed loop unless you use Entropy to alter the course of fate, then the single timeline changes, and without mind magic you will start to forget aspects of the previous timeline, either way, you'd get a tonne of paradox for having memories that should not exist.
      For future travel, this model implies that there is only one real future to visit, and without powerful Entropy magic to alter it, the future is pretty fixed no matter what. Even with Entropy though, you might change a few of the circumstances or people involved, but the fate of the world will always remain largely unchanged without being an Entropy Archmage, e.g you could go back in time and kill Bonisaggus, but the Order of Hermes would still form in much the same way, you'd just have a different name attached to the house.

      If you believe that you create a new time line with every devision made, alla Back to the Future, then it's like you're climbing down one branch of a tree in order to climb up another. In this model, changeling the past is really easy, all you have to do is alter a few events and boom, change. This means there are key events which lead to big change out of a series of limited outcomes. Entropy will help determine what those events are, and how many possible outcomes there are.
      Going to the future then will shunt you into a random future assuming certain key events happened in certain ways, and Entropy would be needed to select exactly which ones you'd need.
      Going back in time would reset your point of reference, but if you don't mess with the key events, you should be able to return to familiarity, otherwise see future travel for results.

      Then there's the Community model where new timelines are created through pure chance rather then key events. Going backwards in time is easy, but going forwards is almost a literal crapshoot. Entropy is essential to know where the hell you're going to end up.

      The there's the Quantum Leap model which swaps out random chance for human decisions and requires Mind more then Entropy to figure out what's going on. In this model. There is a chance that you can only travel into the minds of other people, or your own mind at key decisions in your life.

      Now, if the above three models assume a single timeline that's being messed with, then you're pretty stuck with whatever timeline you make for yourself. If you believe that all timelines exist parallel to each other, then going back and forth is still possible, but so is Rick and Morty style jumping. If you start jumping across timelines, you'll definetly need Spirit 3 along with your Time 5. But it does also mean you can make anchor points in a particular timeline with Time 4.

      However, it may be that your paradigm does not allow for infinite timelines with infinite possibilities. Perhaps it's more the Homestuck model where there is a Prime Alpha timeline, and any deviation creates a doomed timeline which results in total destruction of everything.

      The model believed by the mage is the model that functions when the Time magic is cast. If multiple time Mages want to cast a cooperative time travel effect, then they will need to agree on a model or it just won't be possible.

      How's that?

      Keepers of the Wyck: A Chronicle I'm running FINALE: Chapter 39: Green Fairy


      • #4
        There's one other concept that is really important to this discussion: alternate pasts. Everyone assumes there can be only one, but even in our world historians keep coming up with different versions of key historical events. There are myriad event chains that could lead up to the present moment, especially once we accept that some of our historical information is flawed. Some may be more likely than others, but even the most ridiculous are valid as long as they conceivably lead to the present moment.

        So the question becomes, when a Mage travels back in time which past is he going to?

        Mage: The Ice-ension: An Epic Game of Reality on the Rink


        • #5
          And what about travelling to an alternate PRESENT? Those considerations are HIGLY important, and the idea of alternate timelines, althouth have many important considerations of alternative future and alternative past, but perhaps the most important would be the alternative presents.

          Why? Because that means that, you can travel in Time without leaving the present.

          Time 5 could be used to travel to an alternate present, were the USSR won the Cold War, or an alternate present that have Hitler's grandson as supremme chanceller of the "arian race" (the ONLY race, in that timeline). Or, he could go to an alternate present were the Order of Reason were never formed, and instead an Hermetic Paradigm took over as the first global Consensus, and the masses as instructed in Enochian and alchemy, and the High Wizards hunt down any witches or priests from those pesky "Traditions" that try to free the world from the control of the Order of Hermes... And so.

          By that view, Time would not be just an unidimensional Sphere, having only two possible directions, but would be, truly, based on a 4 dimensions directions (you can go back and foward in time, but also up or down, or sideways and even inside).

          And, in that way, Time truly becomes an illusion, just like many others, just like space


          • #6
            To me, the most narratively interesting option is that choices in the timeline create alternate possible realities. Whichever choice is made in "our" timeline is akin to collapsing a waveform - there may have been other possibilities, but now there are not. You can't travel to those alternate realities because your reality is defined as the absence of those others.

            That said, you can travel to the past, which is a solid line for the purposes of this model. Once in the past, the same process of choosing continues and can evolve a different way. That is the only way to end up on an alternate version of your present - travel back and choose differently. It's similar to the local "rewind a turn" sort of Time effect, just writ large.

            I freely admit that I choose this option not out of any sort of metaphysical truth or quantum science, but simply because it makes the game playable. It's no fun to have someone able to use Time 5 to choose whatever alternate reality most conforms to their preferences.

            This doesn't solve the travel-to-the-future problem. What timeline do you end up in? At the time you cast the spell, the choices haven't been made yet. Can you choose between the different forks on the road? My favorite for this is to imagine that the mage is just locking himself in a box for however long he travels for. The world will evolve just as it would otherwise, but without him as an active participant. Then, he'll climb out of the box and discover what choices everyone made.

            This is fundamentally different from the sort of divination you might do with Time. I think of the divination as feeling out the likeliest choices and the strongest threads in the future, whereas the actual future travel is nothing so subtle. Comparing it to spatial travel - you'd use Correspondence 2 to scry out the nearest gas station, and thereby get a set of coordinates. Then you use Correspondence 3 to teleport to those coordinates. If your scrying was off, the teleport won't correct for it.