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Changing History in an RPG via Time Travel 101

So your gamemaster (GM) has sent you and your party back in time (or to a low-technology parallel dimension) in your roleplaying game (RPG); and, for one reason or another, it’s become pretty clear that you’re going to be able to mess with the ‘true’ timeline however you like.  Your party has probably already decided to ‘invent’ gunpowder, distilling, and antiseptics, mostly because everybody usually does in these circumstances and a player can reasonably claim that his player-character (PC) might have that information carried around in his head, thanks to him having the relevant skill.  Which is perfectly fine, but what disruptive technologies can the rest of the party produce?

Well, let’s take a look.  Note that this list is hardly exhaustive, and probably cannot be exhaustive. Innovation happens in every field of human knowledge. What these are are mostly innovations that don’t require much in the way of specialized equipment; merely having the required skill should be sufficient. Also note that the assumption in this case is for the standard late Medieval European period, partially because many fantasy worlds in literature are associated to that technological setting anyway.

  • Accountant. Accountants can teach double-entry bookkeeping at any point prior to about 1250 (in Europe), but first they’ll need to introduce the concept of zero. An Accountant can also have an interesting career sniffing out corruption in an existing bureaucracy. Or just getting more money out of it for the local authorities.
  • Artist.  The first known examples of perspective drawing in Europe occurred in the 15th Century, and almost immediately caught on. Oil painting more or less became common in Europe about a century later.  An Artist who specializes in either painting or sculpture can plausibly claim that he’s learned how to draw the basic human form accurately: this will prove of interest to both contemporary artists and physicians.
  • Carpenter. Balloon framing and platform framing are extremely new innovations in building houses, but the first in particular requires nothing more, technologically speaking, than a plentiful supply of soft woods and iron nails. Sawmills are present in Europe in the 13th Century.  See the Craftsman for nails.
  • Craftsman. Most competent modern metalworkers should be able to find ways to improve medieval wire-drawing techniques, particularly since wire-drawing is an excellent way to get the iron nails that the Carpenter needs. Also: modern-style wheelbarrows appeared relatively late in Europe, and in limited areas. And, of course the average, say, plumber should know how to put together a toilet system that will function and not smell. At least, it won’t smell for the person using it.
  • Engineer. When the Engineer is done setting up the mass production of black powder and alcohol, he’s more than welcome to institute the use of interchangeable parts and reintroducing cement.

  • Historian.  This is the go-to skill set for any sort of historical “well, I learned in grad school about where and when the treasure ship sank,” of course.  The Historian can also be a treasure-trove of any sort of not-really-trivia about when Group A learned or invented Technique B.  Lastly: in any kind of time-travel scenario the Historian should always come up with a good reason why he’s heard of Random Real-Life Historical Character #5. Particularly if the party is known to be time travelers.  Everybody loves hearing that they ended up in the history books.

More examples on the next page.