"I was born about ten thousand years ago;
There ain't nothin' in this world that I don't know.
I saw Peter, Paul and Moses
An' I'll whup the guy what says it isn't so!"
—"Just the Facts, Ma'am" — Woody Guthrie
Time Abyss is a Characterization Trope that refers to a person who's had a mind-bogglingly long life, like 5000 years or more. We just can't wrap our brains around everything they've seen and done, and they don't really know what it's like to be a mundane human any more (if, indeed, they ever were).
Good candidates for Time Abyss status are Immortals, Elves, Vampires, Precursors, plant people Gods, Dragons and Eldritch Abominations. See also Julius Beethoven Da Vinci. In some cases the abyss may also qualify as a living fossil, assuming that he is a unique (or almost unique) remanant of his species.
Game and Story Use
- In a Time Travel campaign, you present an NPC in the modern day who seems just a minor background character. Then the PCs travel far back in time, and see him there. They assume he's a fellow time traveler, and either approach him or investigate from afar. Turns out he knows nothing of time travel, he just can't die. If the PCs try to give him a Time Machine, he refuses and even rejects them. "All those centuries of loneliness and horror? Whatever makes you think I'd want to experience any of that a second time? What simpletons ye mortals be…"
- Even better, the PCs don't time travel (or before they do), the Abyss sends them off to find an accquaintance who turns out to be long dead or a location that hasn't existed for centuries.
- This Arcanist had PCs sent to track down the Abyss' former colleague living deep in a forest and finding only his wife. The wife turned out to be a dryad and showed them the tree she had planted on her husband's grave … a mature oak, showing several centuries of growth…
- Makes any creepy or mysterious character that much more creepy and mysterious.
- He's seen civilizations rise and fall, so he's just aloof from the current calamity that the PCs are up in arms about. This, too, will pass, and he will still be around in its wake. "Why struggle to save anyone? You know you can't save them all…"
- And even if non-apathetic, he may be excessively patient ("Why bother fighting them? Give it a century and they'll be gone - in a millenium they barely be remembered") or slow to act ("Sure, I'll get around to it…") or just wierd (being massively culturally dislocated and/or confused as to which of the many cultures they have encountered is currently dominant and what its social codes happen to be).
- Worse still, make them (partially) senile…
- More subversive abysses may have a very cynical take on official versions of the past - whether academic history, myths and legends or even religious texts (of the narrative variety). Especially those in which they appear themselves (or those from which they have been excluded for one reason or another).
- Particularly challenging time abysses may not speak any modern language (for example, a 7000 year old human could plausibly have Aryan or Sumerian as a native language and, if they've been out of circulation for a while, that might be all they speak) … and of course their cultural references may be completely different, meaning that any translation will need to be handled very carefully to avoid context errors. Of course, if you need an ancient language translated for you and happen to know a time abyss from that era that you can communicate with…
- Since "person" can be quite a promiscuous category, some of the sapient undead may qualify in the right setting - as, for some purposes, might extremely old spirits called up for questioning by a necromancer.
- Someone who has been repeatedly reincarnated and who retains memories of their past lives might also qualify for many aspects of this characterisation.