Timey Wimey Ball
rating: 0+x

Austin: Wait a tick. Basil, if I travel back to 1969 and I was frozen in 1967, presumeably, I could go back and visit my frozen self. But, if I'm still frozen in 1967, how could I have been unthawed in the '90s and traveled back to…
[goes cross-eyed]
Austin: Oh, no, I've gone cross-eyed.
Basil: I suggest you don't worry about those things and just enjoy yourself.
[to camera]
Basil: That goes for you all, too.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Basic Information

Timey Wimey Ball is a Time Travel Trope wherein a character explains that Time Travel (and the rules thereof) is very convoluted. He'll go on to explain that it's not something that can be easily explained to, or easily understood by, laymen. The subtext is clear - the viewer of the TV or movie isn't meant to understand what's happening. Now, with all due respect to Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, the Timey Wimey Ball is a bit of a cop-out, and not terribly useful in an RPG.

Sometimes in fiction and media, the trope exists by default, without ever being called out by a character. In such cases, it's clear that the author didn't understand all the rules of the setting, or They Just Didn't Care, or the editor missed a Plothole. Trust me, Mr. GM, you don't wanna be that guy.



The term comes from the "Blink" episode of Doctor Who, where the Doctor says:

"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff."

Game and Story Use

  • If time travel is sprung on the PCs, and functions as merely a short-term plot device, the Timey Wimey Ball explanation may be good enough. This is especially true in a one-shot, or a light-hearted or humorous game. Ignorance is bliss - it lets you bend the rules a bit, and provides a bit of rope to swing your Deus Ex Machina in on - just be careful not to hang yourself on that rope.
  • If the campaign revolves around time travel, or features one or more PCs who are experts in Time Travel, Physics, Alien Geometries or Philosophy, you'd best not try to get away with a Timey Wimey Ball universe. While Players don't need to understand the theoretical underpinnings of the sciences listed on their character sheets, they at least need to have a notion of how they can and can't use them in the setting. Time may be mutable, but if the laws of time are mutable, and twist in the wind, the PCs will be unable to figure out what they can and can't do. Most players can get themselves into enough trouble without the GM capriciously changing the basic assumptions of the campaign setting beneath them. Better if the GM figures out how things work, and makes that information available to the players.
    • Of course, there's nothing wrong with the characters starting ignorant, and having to learn things the hard way. As long rules exist, and the GM applies them consistently, figuring out how the universe works can be a lot of fun.
    • This pre-supposes that time travel is the result of predictable forces that are either quantified or at least substantially modelled and so are something physicists or alien geometers could reasonably be expected to understand. If it is a recent discovery (particularly an accidental one and/or the side effects from something else) and/or the processes involved are random or chaotic then the timey-wimey ball is probably justifiable, let alone if time travel is the product of magic, psionics or precursor artifacts.
      • There may still be some guidelines available, even if it's a whiteboard in a lab somewhere with a list of things that went badly wrong… of course in some models of time travel, that list may not help.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License