For those not familiar with the TV Show Dr Who, the main protagonist is an alien from the planet Gallifrey. They built your typical highly evolved society which mastered the secrets of the time and in particular of time travel: they are finally known as the Time Lords.

Unfortunately for them, the Daleks, a martial alien society also achieved a control of the time. The Daleks are pretty vindictive. They essentially want to exterminate all life. This build-up to to a war known as the Last Great Time War.

Now I very much like this idea to push on the limit of science fiction into one of the most complex branch: time travel. But then I am not really satisfied by the answer provided by the show runners about the outcome of that war. And I think it could be interesting to take up on that idea for a fiction (or RPG).

Now, as in-universe, the time travel can be accomplished with special ships which require a very specific core. The show isn't very specific on it, but essentially the ships travels a certain vortex which lead the ship to the desired time and place. Small changes can be done: like it's OK to save the life of one of the victim of a tsunami. Larger changes are prohibited: the typical killing your grandfather, or stopping the tsunami as a whole. If said restriction are overlooked, the reality may break, ending all existence. Some say it might open to parallel worlds. In any case, we usually refrain from experimenting with it. The importance of the events is known to the time travellers (as part of their trainings) so they don't erase reality by mistake.

Each of the two species have their technology, but we might consider them equivalent. Weapons are mostly near-futuristic.

Problem is which tactics can be used effectively?

Typically someone who knows the future is used in battles to rewind time again and again. But if both opponents can do the same, what do you do?

How can such a war end on a victory for one side?

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    $\begingroup$ You're going to need to outline your version of time travel (how it works, handling paradoxes, etc) for this to be answerable. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Jun 22 '15 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ I haven't seen Dr Who, but I would guess you would want to prevent the opponent from being able to time travel. Once one side can destroy or capture all of the other side's time traveling devices, they can easily prevent future ones from being created, and ultimately win. Alternatively, maybe they can come up with some way to "block" time travel. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Jun 22 '15 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not very familiar with the Who universe, but if time travel can be detected, you wouldn't want to jump forward to hide in the future. Your transference would be detected by the enemy and you would be followed. Not very productive. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 22 '15 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble I am not sure why, but the concept of a time travel blocking device tickles my brain. $\endgroup$ – James Jun 22 '15 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ Another problem is that small changes NOW are the same as LARGE changes LATER: see the whole story behind Clara Oswald - her existence changed the Doctor (and time) in IMMENSE ways. Saving a single person means that you've also saved hundreds, if not thousands or millions of their descendents. So don't stop the tsunami, stop the thunderstorn that BECOMES the tsunami in a month. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 23 '15 at 17:01

Dr Who rules were always.. well vague doesn't do it justice. They were whatever the plot needed that episode.

So lets go with the simple version "you can't change things in your subjective past".

Under these rules time travel is still insanely powerful.

Want to win a battle but can't change events in the battle before the point from which you travel back?

No problem. Go back a million years(you can have all the time in the world to prepare), strap boosters and time machines to big rocks and accelerate them up to 99.99% of light speed such that they would have passed through the system hours before the battle. They then hop forward in time to all arrive the second you left targeting where you know the enemy ships will be at that moment. Apocalypse, no warning.

In a similar vein even if you can't change events that you've already seen you can still bury superweapons at the hearts of your enemies planets millions of years before your battles start. You can then set them to detonate at the moment you left.

Basically the side who strikes first has a pretty good chance of winning totally since they can strike their enemy everywhere in a single second and their enemy can't undo past events.

Hell why even stop there, why not drop by your enemies home planet during their stone age and spread high-tech highly contagious but harmless viruses genetically programmed to activate at a given time in the future after you left so that even the survivors of your planet busters start dying wherever they happen to be.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why stop there? Just throw a really big rock traveling .9 C at their planet a million years before their first ancestor crawled up on land. If it's you or them, and total annihilation for one or both sides is the only option, then why allow them to even get started? I say this specifically about the Daleks, where there are no good Daleks. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Jun 23 '15 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 I'm going with the rule of "you can't change things in your subjective past", think things that would negate your own existence or do away with the reason you went back in time in the first place . So if an enemy war fleet has already arrived in your system you can't do anything to make that not have happened but you can go back in time and arrange for their war fleet to suffer a cataclysm moments after you hopped in your time machine. $\endgroup$ – Murphy Jun 24 '15 at 10:52
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    $\begingroup$ I've never liked that rule. :) Just my own personal thing. If you can travel into the future, then it's as fixed as the past. Like, if I go forward a year and see that my car broke down because I was to busy time traveling to change the oil, then go back to the present and change the oil, am I changing the past? Is it any different than having the car break down because not changing the oil, and then traveling back 6 months to change the oil before it gets bad? Don't mind me... $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Jun 24 '15 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Well you're free to but then spacetime may rip at the seems due to the paradox of you choosing to change your oil due to seeing your car break down due to your oil not being changed hence you don't go back to change your oil so it never gets changed so you see it needs to be changed so you go back then... until Cthulhu eats you and all the spacetime around you in order to contain the paradox. $\endgroup$ – Murphy Jun 24 '15 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ If time travel exists and spacetime is that fragile, we're all doomed. If anyone, past, present, or future, does anything different from what anyone from their relative future knows, then it's a paradox. Due to the butterfly effect and chaos theory,even breathing would cause paradox. I don't think oil changing would be a paradox. Sure the oil is changed so the car wont break, but I know that it was broke. My personal timeline is unbroken, I know I went back and I know why, so no paradox. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Jun 24 '15 at 14:30

I suppose the main question is, what is the goal of each of the belligerents? e.g. the Daleks want to "exterminate all life", including themselves?

It's confusing, to say the least. So you can save the life of one person but not millions, this presumably is to stop it from becoming a race to go back furthest and just wiping out the enemy before they even know there's a war... Why would the Daleks not simply go back in time to before the Time Lords race even evolves and irradiate the planet while they are still just bacteria in a primordial soup? OK they'll cause the end of reality by it being a large change and violating the restriction you speak of, but I can't imagine them having a problem with that since it's their objective anyway!

But for the Time Lords to try to do the same would break reality and so still put them on the losing side. Even if the Time Lords have their planet well-guarded from the beginning of time, the Daleks really only need to make any significant change anywhere in the universe to cause the erasure of existence.

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Cutting off access to the Vortex, for one thing.

Part of the Daleks' strategic advantage was their contempt for any kind of life; tey are perfectly happy with collateral damage, whereas the Time Lords were not. This would be a massive factor, as the Daleks would have no qualms in using a weapon that blows up suns whereas the Tine Lords? Not so much. Like a nuke vs. cruise missile scenario.

Additionally, I doubt strategy and tactics are a thing; TLGTW was described to have more or less all the spacefaring empires involved (Minus the Sontarans) from the beginning of time until the end. In this scenario, the Daleks would be perfectly happy to go around blowing up galaxies as they see fit, (I'm pretty sure there's been at least one occurrence of technology in DW that could repair time and allow massive changes to the past without creating a paradox. This tech would be heavily active in the war) and the Time Lords would have to do the same or get utterly defeated, a thing which was evident in that special- the Lords were pretty much defeated.

The winner (The Time Lords/ Doctor) would have to then go around 'healing' time to stop the collapse of reality.

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