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How would time travel work in your campaign? Does the very act of going back jump your players into a parallel timeline, meaning the future your players came from still exists somewhere else? Or would you keep it as the same timeline, and anything your players do could stop their own births from coming about if they’re not careful? Let me know in the comments below! As always, keep scrolling for the one-shot adventure written for this Frozen Alien Machine free TTRPG battlemap! ⬇
While traveling through a large, rough-looking city inhabited by surly-looking peasants and lavish nobles with private guards, you see a poster with an urgent bounty on it. It’s not hard to miss–there are plenty of them, all over the city, and the reward is HIGH. The original price has been crossed out a few times, and replaced with larger sums every revision.
The wanted man is a prisoner who escaped from the city’s jail, named Oswald the Artificer. The poster has a linework print of a thin man with his long hair drawn back in a ponytail, and a tattoo across one eye. The poster warns that though the man appears somewhat weedy, he is known to be cunning and incredibly dangerous—hence the high reward. Those interested in taking on the job are urged to speak with the jail’s warden, Old Ben.
Should you go and speak with Old Ben, he’s located in an office at the top of a high tower which overlooks the jail. He thanks you warmly for inquiring about the contract, and explains that almost no other bounty hunters have come forward–most likely due to the underworld’s influence, as Oswald the Artificer had a lot of friends. The warden doesn’t have any guards to spare in this near-lawless town, and of those bounty hunters who did apply for the job, he’s since lost contact with them and fears they may have been killed. He needs you to know that if you take this job you must hurry, for time is short.
Old Ben explains that the escaped prisoner, while not a mage, specializes in strange and ancient artifacts. He sold those skills to the underworld, and eventually ended up working as part of an elite thieving crew. The underworld has strong sway here in this city, unfortunately, and eventually he was involved in an attempted coup of the royal family here. Thankfully he was betrayed, and apprehended by the law–but the right people must have been bribed, because instead of being executed Oswald was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment.
He kept Oswald in isolated confinement, fearing he’d get something or other smuggled in which he’d use to escape. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what ended up happening–only, the corruption here is so deep that it was one of his own guards who gave Oswald the device, despite being in isolation.
The warden pulls out a map while explaining that his guards interrogated the traitor and learned that Oswald is likely traveling to a location marked on the map with a red X. The warden says that there’s supposedly an ancient artifact there of some sort. Powerful, and unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Old Ben is worried that the escaped prisoner is going to use the artifact to somehow finish what was started with the coup, to prove he wasn’t the betrayer and be accepted in his old thieving crew again.
Old Ben rolls up the map and gives it to you, saying that–due to his tattoo–Oswald is a highly identifiable man. He’s on the run, and will be taking a roundabout way to the location, and likely on foot. It’s been more than a week since he escaped, but if you take some good horses the guards are willing to lend you, you should be able to intercept him in time.
If you accept the job, Ben writes you a letter to take to the guards at the stables outside the prison’s gate, so you might borrow a fast horse. While handing it to you, he looks around quickly and lowers his voice. He tells you softly that he’ll pay you extra if you bring Oswald back dead. It’s highly irregular, he says, but the underworld in this city has far too much sway, and you can bet if he is apprehended again he won’t be trialed fairly. He doesn’t see any way the man won’t end up escaping again and start causing more trouble.
You’ll find the large, muscular warhorse Old Ben is lending you at the stables just outside the entrance to the jail. He is a fiery, gray stallion with a scarred hide. While there, one of the guards gives you a pouch of stimulant seeds to feed the horse, so that it will not tire—but they warn you not to stop feeding them to it until you’ve caught your prisoner, as the horse might well collapse for several days afterwards if you push it too hard.
The journey to the place marked on the map takes just under two weeks. The roads wind through towns up steep mountains, until eventually you go through a thin, frozen gully between two mountain peaks. The other side opens up to wide, open space and eventually drops off to a cliff. Much of the floor consists of a giant, metal cube, whilst rusted metal gears wait frozen around its edges.
However, at the center of the cube, standing on a dais, is Oswald the Artificer. When he sees you, he growls that Ben finally got some rats to do his dirty work. In-between pressing a number of different buttons on the machine, he throws something at you that skitters across the metal ground. It’s a small, jade turtle which suddenly turns into a giant, living–and very angry–alligator snapping turtle.
The creature attacks you immediately, trails of glowing green smoke coming from its eyes and nose. But if you’re on the huge metal cube while Oswald finishes clicking his buttons, you’ll feel a sickening sensation and suddenly you’ll no longer be on a glacier overlooking a cliff, but a similar cube structure that’s overgrown in a hot jungle. Water runs over its mossy surface, and Oswald will curse loudly.
Should you manage to defeat the giant turtle, it disappears with a pop as shattering jade pieces scatter across the ground. Oswald cries out in despair, saying “No, Snappy!” before grumbling and fumbling on the buttons even faster.
The sickening feeling comes over you again, and suddenly the air is supercharged–almost too hard to breathe. Spiked rocks surround you as heat radiates from lines of magma which run along a clean metal cube, while the metal cogs around it tick and shudder loudly. Large, metal golems turn and look at you angrily from where they were previously standing guard on the cube, and attack all life forms; yelling warnings of “Intruder! Alert! Alert!”
Over the next minute Oswald will desperately teleport everyone on the cube again (unfortunately including the golems), and you’ll arrive on a version of the cube that’s flying in a crimson sky. Violent winds whip around you, while red lightning streaks past angrily.
There’s another giant cube passing close above you, and a hoard of ragged looking people jump off it with angry yells. They land on your cube, attacking any remaining golems as well as anything else living on it.
Oswald will throw up a flying orb which shoots little streaks of light, fending off his attackers but not doing much damage.
When there are only a few enemies left, the sickening sensation will come over you once more and you’ll be on a broken cube, floating in a sea of green stars, amidst the nothingness. Any surviving people from the red cube in the sky will freeze in confusion for a few moments, before deciding it’s some kind of trick and continuing the fight.
Should you manage to defeat them and get to Oswald, he’ll draw a small shank and try his best to defend himself. It takes a lot for him to surrender, and it is only when captured or near death that he holds up his hands and yells “wait, wait!”.
He tells you that only he knows the coordinates to get you back to your plane of existence, and to get them you need to let him go! If you say that you can’t let him kill the royal family, he’ll look at you in confusion before saying that they’re not the royal family, he is. He’s the only one of the true royal bloodline left, and the people who sit on the throne of the city slaughtered his family when he was a child. He escaped, and when they found him later those New Royals sold him into slavery in distant lands, and his masters branded this tattoo over his eye.
It took him years to escape, and years more to journey back to his homeland. When he did, he was welcomed by his people, and formed a rebellion. They’re called criminals by the nobles, but that’s because all the nobles who were truly loyal to the royal family were executed alongside his family!
If you ask him why you should believe him, he’ll sputter and grow quiet, thinking. Then he’ll snap his fingers, saying that the warden must have told you about the guard who helped him escape! She knew he was of the old bloodline, which is why she helped him. He formed bonds with his people, you see, and they know him and care for him. Not like the New Royals, who have stepped on the peasants since the day they seized power.
The man tells you that, if used correctly, this device will allow him to travel back in time and stop his attempted coup from failing–but it only has enough charge to do it once.
If you ask why he doesn’t just go back in time to stop his family from being slaughtered to begin with, he’ll shake his head and say that it would be going back too far, it’s too risky and could change too much. All he’s comfortable doing is going back and stopping the man who betrayed him from doing so, so that the coup may succeed. You seem like a good person–in truth, if you let him go, the codes will be of little value to you as you won’t remember any of this, because none of this will have happened if he succeeds. But you will have his gratitude, and–perhaps–knowledge in your souls that you have done the right thing.
Should you let him go, he thanks you emphatically, before dialing in another sequence in the machine. There is a hum, and a flash of light, and suddenly you are traveling through a large city which appears to be undergoing some kind of celebration. Should you stop and ask any of the cheerful peasant’s what’s going on, they’ll say that a despot has finally been overthrown and their corrupt followers are being put to execution. There are posters all over the city showing a thin man with a tattoo over an eye, with flags behind him and the slogan “Long Live the Revolution”.
Should your players take Oswald back alive, the warden Old Ben will grumble that they didn’t do their job properly and try to kill him himself. If he succeeds, his guards will turn a blind eye to the murder, and everyone will believe that your players killed Oswald as he didn’t allow himself to be brought in alive.
If your players bring Oswald back dead, Old Ben will be relieved and pay them an incredibly high sum. Some might consider it a bribe to keep quiet and leave the town without causing a fuss…
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LUKE: The founder of Seafoot Games, Luke's been making maps and RPG games since he was a child, and spent over a decade creating his own game systems from scratch to play with his brothers. That was before he discovered other TTRPGs existed. Now, he paints the realistic grimdark fantasy battlemaps we're known for, helps write adventures as needed, and spends his free time printing and painting 3D minis, as well as working on his forever in-development TTRPG system.
BEB: Luke's wife, Beb's been writing, painting, and graphically designing things her whole life. She published her first book when she was 20, alongside a handful of sci-fi short stories, and was responsible for writing almost all of our adventures until mid 2022 when Steve joined the team. Now she mostly creates the outlines for the adventurer's guides with Luke, graphically designs documents, handles the bookkeeping (or as she likes to call it, bureaucrat wrangling), and manages the website—but she is slowly delegating these responsibilities, so she can focus on raising her and Luke's beautiful son.