In ‘The Name Of The Doctor’ it is revealed that the one place a time traveller should never go is his own grave. We’ve seen examples of this before. Rory Williams meets his end upon finding his grave in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ and the 6th Doctor virtually gives up when he believes he has found his grave in ‘Revelation of The Daleks’.
Time travellers are like Schrödinger’s cat once they are in the TARDIS. They are neither alive nor dead. Depending on when they travel they could either not have been born yet or been long dead.
Rose realises this in ‘The End of The World’, as does Clara in ‘Hide’. The 9th Doctor was frequently reminding people that everything ends and that everything dies. There is a world of difference between understanding this on an intellectual level and coming face to face with your own grave.
It is a harsh reminder that your future isn’t full of unlimited potential, like Clara’s leaf, but that it has a finite end. This collapse of quantum state could be why a time travellers grave becomes a fixed point in time.
Even the mere existence of dead body can be terrible foreknowledge. The time traveller will die, there is nothing they can do to avoid it. Indeed, preventing the existence of the grave based on this encounter would create a terrible paradox.
The more they learn about it the more fixed the moment becomes. Ingenious time travellers might be able to trick history, as the Doctor did in ‘The Wedding of River Song’ but this could only be a temporary measure.
The grave stone might not vanish, the date of death could simply change. They can’t escape their own mortality. One day it will happen and they won’t be coming back.
Introducing this into a campaign can have a dramatic effect on player characters. You may wish to simply use this as a jumping point to explore the characters own view on their mortality or create an event to avoid.
If you don’t want the player character to suffer the effects of paradox you can have them either fake their death or you can use the excuse of the character jumping a time track (as in ‘The Space Museum’) to explain why they can escape their grave without consequences.
If a player wishes to retire a player character this can be a good way to do it. Either their grave reveals a heroic sacrifice or they realise that they must retire from travelling through time and accept what the future holds for them.
In game mechanic terms you could prevent the player character from gaining new plot points. This reflects that they are living on bored time. Sooner or later their luck will run out.
Knowing the location of ones own grave can be a good Dark Secret. A player character might keep the information from others, despite the fact that if they should die in any way other than dictated by their grave they risk a paradox.
A variation of this is if another character encounters a travelling companions grave. Do they tell them or keep it to themselves. In effect it puts them in the position of Amy and Rory after ‘The Impossible Astronaut’.
Moving beyond the grave itself the idea of mortality can be explored with the player characters ‘haunting’ those who know they are dead. As Clara says in ‘Hide’ everyone is a ghost to a time traveller.
A good example of this can be found in the film ‘The Jacket’, where a man jumps forward in time to find out how he died in the past. To those who he meets he is a dead man, a ghost come to torment them.
This adds a supernatural horror element to what is normally straight science fiction. The definition of living and dead becomes blurred. The implications of someone existing beyond their demise can be creepy.
River Song is an example of how this can make a characters whole life tragic. When the Doctor first met River Song she died. Every encounter with her past that point was tinged with sadness, since her fate was inevitable. One day he knew he would see her for the final time, before she went to the library.
This also highlights the way that time travel changes the perception of the traveller, to those around them. Player characters can meet people and witness their death, only to travel back in time and meet them at an earlier stage in their lives.
We all know that the people around us with inevitably die but it can be burden to know when, where and how it will occur. It can really challenge a player characters resolve not to change history.
‘The Name of The Doctor’ takes this a step further, featuring the projection of the ‘saved’ River Song. She is just an echo of the real thing, a computer program with all of her personality.
Technology masquerading as a dead player character is another way, beyond time travel, to allow that character to continue in a campaign. It allows exploration of what makes us who we are and whether people should fool themselves into thinking the replacement is a continuation of the original.
While ‘Red Dwarf’ was certainly a comedy, Rimmer and his fate as a hologram was tragic. The early seasons did a great job of exploring his holographic state and post-death status. This is a great source of inspiration for player characters who take a similar route.
The discovery of a time travellers grave stone can have huge implications and serve as the beginning or the end (or both) to an epic campaign arc but it doesn’t mean there is nothing in the player characters future.
They still have plenty of adventures to have, legends to create and names to earn.