You have all the time in the world—and now you don't.
The final and most dangerous fantasy frontier lies not in space, but in time! At last, the dimension of Time is open to those few wizards who would risk everything, even their very existence, to visit ancient and forgotten lands or see the unbelievable wonders and horrors of the future.
These few wizards are Chronomancers, and this 96-page AD&D game accessory reveals the secrets of their lives. New spells, new powers, and new realms—as well as terrifying monsters—are brought to light in this stunning work.
Take time to study the mysteries of chronomancy… before someone else takes that time from you.
Chronomancer, by Loren Coleman, is a book about time-travelling wizards. It was published in August 1995.
A Puzzling Book. At first glance, Chronomancer is a bit odd. It's dedicated to a type of specialist magic-user, but it wasn't published as part of the "PHBR" series. It wasn't even published alongside DMGR7: The Complete Book of Necromancers (1995), a book similarly devoted to highly specialized magic-users that appeared several months earlier. Instead, Chronomancer is decked out in a plain and unassuming black-bordered cover, highlighting it as a “settingless” book attached to no particular series.
But as it turns out, there is a good reason for all this: Chronomancer was originally intended to be part of Mayfair Games' series of Role Aids supplements for AD&D.
The Role Aids Battle. The story that resulted in Chronomancer being published by TSR is a long one that begins 13 years previous, with the publication of Dwarves (1982), Mayfair's fourth Role Aids supplement. That book’s cover stated that it contained "A Complete Kingdom & Adventure suitable for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons." It was the first time that Mayfair had name-checked AD&D like this.
At the time, most publishers of unlicensed AD&D supplements instead claimed that they were "universal" or "generic," for use with any FRP. However, Mayfair founder Darwin Bromley felt that those other companies were being overly cautious. He even had a bit of standing for this: He was a lawyer. Using his legal background, Bromley concluded that it was within his legal right to specify that his books were compatible with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons—provided that he carefully obeyed trademark laws, so as not to confuse consumers.
This resulted in TSR’s suing Mayfair. However, TSR ultimately decided not to allow a judge to make a final decision, which might have gone against TSR. Instead, they made an agreement on September 28, 1984, that allowed Mayfair to use the "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" name in a very specific manner.
Jump forward seven years. In the interim, Mayfair had continued publishing Role Aids supplements, but they had violated their agreement with TSR in some minor ways. Meanwhile, two other things had happened: TSR had come under the new management of Lorraine Williams, and Mayfair had started publishing a series of "Demons" Role Aids supplement, which ran contrary to TSR's attempt in those years to be "mother friendly."
TSR opened a new lawsuit against Mayfair in 1991. This time, it wended its way through the courts for two years before a judge reached an initial finding on March 13, 1993. However, once more TSR opted not to wait for a final verdict. Instead they came to another out-of-court agreement with Mayfair. Since Mayfair was at the time on their way out of the roleplaying business, they sold the entire Role Aids line to TSR… including some unpublished manuscripts, one of which was to become Chronomancer.
Chronomancer might have been intended as part of a new magic-user line for Role Aids, spinning out of their Archmagic (1993) box set. Mayfair had similarly spun a whole Demons product line out of their original Demons box (1992). Yet Chronomancer would never be seen by the public in its Role Aids form.
A Tale of Three (or More) Authors. The Chronomancer manuscript was originally scheduled to be written by Lisa Stevens and Vic Wertz. At the time, Stevens was working for Wizards of the Coast, whose employees were scrambling to pick up freelance contracts in 1992-93 while the company was fighting its own lawsuit against Palladium Books. Then Wizards released Magic: the Gathering in 1993, and everything changed. Wizards bought Lisa out of her contract with Mayfair so that she could work full-time at the (now suddenly very lucrative) Wizards of the Coast.
That meant Chronomancer needed a new author, who ended up being Loren Coleman. It was his first major writing project. After he completed it for Mayfair, Chronomancer could easily have sat in TSR's vaults forever. Instead, it ended up being developed by Matt Forbeck, who brought it more in tune with TSR's publications.
Thus, Chronomancer had three (potential) authors and a developer, although only the last two contributed to the book as it appeared from TSR. Ironically, since TSR bought the Role Aids line, and Wizards later bought TSR, Chronomancer ended up owned by Wizards of the Coast just five years or so after Lisa Stevens of Wizards of the Coast dropped the original Chronomancer project!
About Schools of Magic. Chronomancer was one of several expansions on the eight traditional schools of D&D magic that occurred in AD&D second edition. The most notable were Chronomancer; Shaman (1995), which was another Role Aids refugee; and the aforementioned Complete Book of Necromancers.
However, there were also numerous new schools of magic that were less than book length, such as the wild magicians and elementalists in Tome of Magic (1991) and the runecasters from HR1: Vikings Campaign Sourcebook (1992). It was a popular topic of discussion among gamers that the TSR of the 90s was increasingly willing to move beyond its traditional foundation.
About Time Travel. This was not D&D's first foray into time travel, a notion that had been a part of the hobby since the earliest days, when it was used as one of several ways to introduce science-fiction tropes or elements into fantasy dungeons. At TSR, Basic D&D had placed time travel at the center of a few different adventures, including CM6: "Where Chaos Reigns" (1985), where players time travel across a world's entire history; and the "DA" Blackmoor series (1986-87), where players go back in time to visit the ancient kingdom.
However, Chronomancer was TSR's first (and last) major attempt to codify the rules for time travel and to discuss what happened when players did things like change history.
Expanding the Outer Planes. Jeff Grubb's Manual of the Planes (1987) introduced the Demiplane of Time as the Great Wheel's temporal terrain. It would get more detail just a few years later in A Guide to the Ethereal Plane (1998) for Planescape. Yet Chronomancer claims that the standard explanation for the realm is incorrect:
The phrase “demiplane of time” is simply a misnomer for something that is difficult for any but a chronomancer to fully comprehend. It's understandable that outsiders, trying to fit Temporal Prime into their own necessarily limited theories of how the universe is constructed, would make this mistake. Here, however, it is corrected.
Chronomancer instead defines Temporal Prime as "a pseudo-reality that permeates every plane of existence." This is a dramatically different conception for planes in the AD&D world, one more in tune with the "Spheres" of Basic D&D—which even include a Sphere of Time. One could consider Temporal Prime to be a major expansion for the Outer Planes, but it's more likely just a sign of Chronomancer's origins (i.e., as a non-TSR product).
Almost Web Enhanced. Chronomancer ends with a discussion of how it can be integrated into "Official AD&D Worlds." Following the publication of the book, this material was released online in a V1.1 form that was called an "updated and expanded excerpt." It would still be a few years before D&D saw a real Web Enhancement, with the publication of exclusive online material for Warriors of Heaven (1999), but Chronomancer's slightly updated excerpt was an historic first step.
Monsters of Note. Chronomancer includes several new "temporal" monsters, including a "time dimensional." A time elemental had previously appeared in Dragon #69 (January 1983) and Monster Manual II (1983).
About the Creators. Coleman is best known for his extensive work writing rulebooks and later fiction for FASA's Battletech. However, in 1995, he was just getting his start, having previously contributed to a few Mayfair RPG books.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons—a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.