The Phantom Time Hypothesis refers to several (competing) theories that say that several centuries of history do not exist. Much of history is recorded by those who lived long after the eras and civilizations about which they wrote, rather than being first-hand sources. Some of these theories allege such histories are a deliberate falsification to suit some agenda of previous historians, poets and politicians. Other versions of the theories allege that the false centuries are complicated mistakes - duplicate recording of events stemming from multiple oral traditions and contradictory first-hand accounts that are now lost to us.
If these theories are correct, then the history books are wrong, and far less than two thousand years have passed since the birth of Christ. Evidence for these theories include discrepancies between the Julian Calendar and Gregorian Calendar, architectural similarities between Ancient Rome and the 10th Century, and inconsistencies in Dendrochonology. Such theories are generally not accepted by the scientific and historic mainstream.
Other versions of the theories abound. One proposes that 1,000 years of history is largely a misunderstanding and that Russia and Turkey were a single empire with two names that confused historians. Yet another supposes dates in the history of ancient Egypt, Israel and Mesopotamia are grossly inaccurate, and uses archaeoastronomy to relocate the 19th Dynasty of Egypt by 350 years.
Game and Story Use
- How do you have an Alternate History that looks (in the first session of the campaign) identical to our modern world? By saying the falsified years were part of a grand Conspiracy to shape our culture. Large swaths of history are a fiction perpetrated to keep the ignorant masses complacent and justify the power held by the few. Only as the PCs dig deeper into the Wheels Within Wheels do they realize how everything they've known is a lie.
- Why have an uber-cool alternate past if there's no way for the players to interact with it?
- You could set an entire campaign in the transitionary era, where the false centuries eventually get inserted, and have fun anachronistically combining eras that don't always go together. Pick your two favorite eras, and edit out everything in between.
- Break out the Time Machine or Portal to the Past!
- Bring along an Archaeologist to explain how "wrong" this all is, so your players don't miss the significance (or think you Did Not Do The Research).
- Awesome plot-trap for the PC Mad Scientist who invents the first time machine. His test drive overshoots, and he ends up in a different era than he'd prepared for. As he tests more and more, it slowly dawns on him that the consensus timeline is completely wrong, and only he can unravel the truth.
- Alternatively, steal an idea from Terry Pratchett - all the inconsistencies are the result of someone's frantic efforts to patch up the damage done by a temporal paradox at some point that no longer exists.
- Jumping directly from Ancient Rome to Knights In Shining Armor without those bleak times in between, lets you meld certain theories about King Arthur more fluidly.
- Could be combined with the greco-celtic chimerization of Where Troy Once Stood to create a really interesting past. Troy falls, Rome invades, and Arthur is crowned, all in the span of a couple generations and on the same little island.
- If nothing else, it's a fun throw away comment or red herring for a Conspiracy Theorist character to spout.