TimeWatch cover 300

A GAME OF TIME TRAVEL ACTION AND INVESTIGATION

BY KEVIN KULP

History isn’t written by the victors. It’s written by the people with the time machines.

“Well, that doesn’t look right.” All around you are the abandoned ruins of medieval Paris, with a hundred thousand rotted skulls piled up in a mountain. Your partner draws her pistol and checks the historical record on her holographic tether. “Looks like the Khan didn’t die of alcoholism, and his hordes didn’t stop at Vienna,” she says.

“Then we’d better find whoever decided to save his life.” You punch in the coordinates for Karakorum in the year 1241, and fire up the time machine. As you disappear from the 13th century, you silently hope that it isn’t the roaches again…

In the TimeWatch roleplaying game, your band of TimeWatch agents defend the timestream from radioactive cockroaches, psychic velociraptors, and human meddlers. Go back in time to help yourself in a fight, thwart your foes by targeting their ancestors, or gain a vital clue by checking a scroll out from the Library of Alexandria. But watch out for paradoxes that may erase you from existence… or worse.

If you’ve ever dreamed of going on world-changing adventures from the age of the dinosaurs to the end of the universe, the TimeWatch roleplaying game is for you! The game includes:

  • Rules for thrilling time chases, combat in every era, and the dangers of paradox, powered by the GUMSHOE investigative system.
  • Extensive GM advice for creating and running games where PCs can travel anywhere, anywhen.
  • Fourteen settings where you can face Mythos horrors, slide between alternate universes, steal the treasures of the ages, and more.
  • More than a dozen ready-to-play time seeds, iconic pregenerated characters, and three full adventures.
  • Plenty of options, so you can easily customize the game to match your group’s preferred style of play.

You’ve got a time machine, high-powered weaponry and a whole lot of history to save.

Welcome to TimeWatch!

Buy it now, and get a bonus ZIP file containing sound effects and music mp3s! Also available as part of a The Complete TimeWatch RPG Bundle with Behind Enemy Times and The Book of Changing Years.

Stock #: PELGTW01 Authors: Kevin Kulp with John Adamus, Heather Albano,
Kennon Bauman, Matthew Breen, Dave Chalker, Kenneth Hite,
Christopher Lackey, Cindy Maka, Belton Myers, Michael Rees,
Corey Reid, Paul Stefko, Jeff Yaus
Artist: Rich Longmore Pages: 392-page hardback

Buy now

Three Adventures for the TimeWatch RPG

Valkyrie CoverThe missions in this compendium were the proving grounds for making sure TimeWatch was fun. During a nine-month period of playtesting before the Kickstarter, and for the extensive development period before the game reached the printer, we had as many people run TimeWatch as possible in as many places as we could. That meant producing adventures that showcased the best of what the game could offer. One of these adventures (Recruiting Call) is in the core TimeWatch rulebook on p. 359. The rest are collected here.

In The Valkyrie Gambit we showcase the game’s pulp sci-fi roots alongside the classical historical investigation that GUMSHOE does best. This mission demonstrates chronal foreshadowing, methods for tying Agent backstories and secrets into active adventures, and reveals the ever-worrisome potential for time-traveling Nazis.

The Sphinx and the Madman offers the players tough roleplaying and difficult decisions. What happens when your future self turns out to be reprehensible? It’s not often that you can literally save the world by escaping from yourself, but this adventure gives you the opportunity. Time travel is central to the mission’s premise, and it’s only by unraveling and embracing time travel that you can save your future self and restore history to what it should have been.

Finally, The Misery Trumpets demonstrate how to introduce TimeWatch as a Parallel Realities game with no time travel at all. You’ll need to use the pre-generated characters for this, and it’s specifically designed as a one-shot adventure with a rigid beginning and an extremely free-form means of resolution. If you want to have the characters dimension hop (TW p. 282), this is a great way to introduce them to the GUMSHOE rules.

These three adventures aren’t linked, and in fact have different design goals. Take inspiration from them, change them in ways that seem like fun, and go break time.

Take your time, don’t waste it!

Stock #: PELGTW06 Authors: Kevin Kulp
Artist: Rich Longmore Pages: 48 Pages

In Development

The TimeWatch GM Screen and Resource Book features incredible new art from Rich Longmore and Lee Moyer, and 48-page resource book filled with advice and time seeds. The reverse of the screen is covered with all the important tables you need.

gm_revision

The resource book features detailed guidance on creating TimeWatch adventures and series. It suggests origins for your antagonists, new gear and advice on spicing up combat as well as time seeds (adventure hooks) and rebellion organisations. It’s the perfect companion for a TimeWatch GM, both for pre-game prep and for running the game.

Take your time, don’t waste it!

Stock #: PELGTW06 Authors: Kevin Kulp with Conan French, Jim Groves, Michael Rees and Jason Morningstar
Artist: Rich Longmore and Lee Moyer Pages: Screen and 48-page hardback

In Development

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from the forthcoming TimeWatch GM Screen and Resource Book by Kevin Kulp]

When you’re trying to figure out where your antagonists have come from, things can get confusing fast. Foes can be from the core or a parallel timeline, humans from Earth or aliens from another planet (or even entities who fit neither of those two descriptions), and either time travelers or contemporaries who are in their native time. It’s good to keep in mind who the antagonists are.

Core timeline origin

Creatures from the core timeline are ones from Earth’s unaltered history. That includes all the people and animals who have lived in the real world. Depending on your game, this may include “real world” alien incursions such as Area 51 or the existence of reptoids. Dinosaurs exist in the core timeline, but hyper-intelligent dinosaurs do not—unless you, as GM, decide to make that a secret part of your game history.

Creatures from the core timeline seldom have specific temporal powers linked to their origin, and usually lack the Tempus ability unless they’ve acquired time travel. Someone from our core timeline isn’t susceptible to chronal instability while they’re in their own native time, and they are unlikely to have any abilities that a regular person from that time wouldn’t have. For instance, psychic abilities are possible if the GM has decided that people develop psychic abilities in the future, but not otherwise.

In early 18th century London, Skegg throws a chronal destabilization grenade at Isaac Newton, who turns out to have secretly been an evil genius that TimeWatch needs to stop. Newton is in his own natural era and is unaffected by the blast, which only affects time travelers (people with Tempus or Chronal Stability).

Parallel Timeline Origin

In comparison, parallel timeline or parallel universe creatures are a hugely varied lot. They range from the stereotypically evil exact duplicate with a goatee, to individuals raised in an utterly different society (such as one where Carthage won the Punic Wars instead of Rome), to non-humans coming from a world that is mostly water, mostly ice, or an insect-controlled radioactive wasteland. As a reminder, creatures from parallel timelines tend to be more sensitive to chronal instability than usual, suffering from a 1 point penalty to the Difficulty and Loss of most Paradox tests until they adjust to our reality. That adjustment occurs solely at the GM’s discretion.

Skegg is from a parallel timeline that TimeWatch destroyed when they made sure an extinction-level meteor hit the Earth. Every time the rest of her team makes a D4/L4 Paradox test, Skegg has to make one that’s D5/L5. If her team somehow finds its way to Skegg’s fading home parallel, she’ll lose that penalty even as the rest of her team gains it. Around the point that both Skegg’s player and the GM keep forgetting about the penalty, the GM decides that Skegg has been in our reality long enough to have fully adapted. The penalty no longer applies to her.

Parallel timelines open up any tragic, ludicrous, imaginative, horrific or deadly possibility you can think of. You just need to be able to rationalize how it is possible. A world where neanderthals triumph over cro-magnon man? A world where the dinosaurs are not killed by a meteorite? A world where Tesla’s designs triumphed over Edison’s? All possible. Not only can supporting characters and antagonists come from these parallel timelines, with the GM’s permission player characters can come from them as well.

Such timelines are not always possible, and they’re not always self-sustaining. A parallel timeline created artificially when true history is altered exists for as long as that history stays changed. Timelines that are sufficiently well established (or that the GM finds interesting) may survive or slowly fade despite their separation from the main time stream.

Creatures from parallel timelines usually have a wide array of chronal powers that are powered by their Tempus general ability.

Human Origin

The type of foes will vary by campaign frame. A Conspiracy-style game, for instance, will feature more human antagonists (many likely employed by TimeWatch itself) alongside shape-shifting alien species who masquerade as human. Many TimeWatch games may never feature any non-human antagonists at all; let’s face it, if you look at human history, we make pretty good villains all on our own.

Just because you prefer to use human antagonists, however, there’s no reason you can’t use a variety of Tempus-powered chronal abilities. Pick and choose appropriate ones from the list later in this chapter.

Alien Origin

If it evolved on a planet other than Earth and it isn’t human, it’s most likely an alien. There are any number of different types of creatures this category could cover; innumerable TV shows, movies, role-playing games and science fiction novels are brimming with ideas to steal. For easy adaptation, borrow aliens such as the Kch-Thk and Vas Mal from the GUMSHOE game Ashen Stars. Humans from the future who were born on a planet other than Earth don’t usually qualify as aliens, unless there’s been significant changes in their physiology or psychology.

While space-faring aliens likely won’t possess chronal powers unless they’re also time travelers, there are plenty of Tempus-powered abilities or technology that your alien antagonists can wield. If you like, select chronal powers and simply explain them off as stolen technology.

Reptoids are shape-shifting reptilian aliens who have infiltrated human society, but they aren’t time travelers. Perhaps they’re waging a secret war against other aliens or time travelers here on Earth, a war that most humans never even notice. They possess the Tempus ability, which powers their unique capabilities.

Entities

We use “entity” to designate an intelligent creature that originated on Earth but is non-human. Hyper-evolved porpoises, radioactive giant cockroaches such as the Ezeru, and genetically altered intelligent dinosaurs all fall under this category. So do mysterious post-human beings from the end of time who have evolved into something far greater than our minds can comprehend. An entity could be an unnaturally intelligent dog, a sentient meme surrounded by a cloud of nanobots, an ephemeral time-ghost that possesses its prey, or a self-aware hologram projected from a distant corner of alt-history.ezeru

Entities have access to a wide array of Tempus-powered abilities.

Contemporary Origin

An antagonist with a contemporary origin is either a villain who has never time traveled, or one who has access to time travel but is not displaced in time at the moment. For instance, a TimeWatch agent who has returned to his native era to visit his family technically has a contemporary origin despite also possessing an autochron. This is an important distinction, because anyone with a contemporary origin cannot suffer from chronal instability.

Native era, in this case, is defined as “during an individual’s natural life span, so long as he is not overlapping himself.”

The GM decides that Mace Hunter was destined to die of disease five years after being recruited by TimeWatch in 1843. If he returns to the years 1843 – 1848 on a mission, he’s safe from additional chronal instability until he leaves, until he overlaps himself with another future or past Mace who is also visiting, or until he overstays his natural lifespan.

When someone with a Contemporary origin creates a time-related paradox, they don’t (and can’t) lose Chronal Stability. That paradox has to go somewhere, however, and local time and space are likely to do something unexpected; the GM is encouraged to be particularly clever and diabolical with the result.

Contemporary antagonists may still have access to a wide array of Tempus-powered abilities, and are arguably more dangerous than ever, because they don’t generally lose Tempus to chronal instability.

Time Travelers

If you’re existing in a time that you shouldn’t normally be alive in, or you’re overlapping yourself by existing in two or more places at once, you’re a time traveler. Congratulations! Hostile time travelers may target earth in the far future and far past and use their time travel to bedevil or influence events at different points in time.

Depending on GM fiat and the technology they’re using, time travelers vary in their access to the time stream. Some only have access to a very small sliver of history, while some have unfettered paths to all of time and the parallel universes that flow nearby.

It’s worth noting that not all time travelers have access to TimeWatch-agent levels of technology and science. They may use anachronistic weapons, suffer from no translator, and catch (or spread!) unexpected diseases; or they may bring weapons and technology to bear that even TimeWatch hasn’t encountered before.

As you would expect, time traveling antagonists likely have access to a wide array of technology and Tempus-powered abilities.

men-in-blackBy Kevin Kulp

The baby had been born three hours ago, healthy and beautiful, and now it was asleep in its mother’s arms.

The three men pushed open her bedroom door, stood there in the doorway, blocking the gaslight from the hall. All three wore identical black suits. Their skin was sallow, almost gray, their jaws were square, and when they spoke through fake-looking teeth it was in a dull monotone. “You have created new life,” one said to the new mother.

The second spoke. “It grows up to act contrary to our desires.”

“Look at it,” said the third. “Memorize its features. You will have less exceptional babies that will not depart. You will not remember this one alive, not when awake. Time is about to change.”

And it did.

By the time the mother started screaming, the three men were nowhere to be seen.

Servants of a False God

In the investigative space opera GUMSHOE game Ashen Stars by Robin D. Laws, one of the playable races is the vas mal. This race of psychic, grey-skinned, large-headed aliens used to be called the vas kra. They were mysterious psychic consciousnesses that spanned the stars, evolved beyond the need for flesh, playing with worlds on a whim and guiding mortal creatures’ development when they so chose. All that changed when the Mohilar War began and the vas kra were de-evolved into a loathsome, frail physical form named the vas mal.

One of the interesting throwaway lines in Ashen Stars is that at least one vas mal has directly interfered with Earth’s development over millennia, playing the role of the devil and possibly pretending to be divine in other religious and supernatural roles as well. That leads to an interesting question. What would Earth be like if the vas kra never intervened at all, and what (if anything) are they shaping our history towards?

At least one vas kra (and not one with humanity’s best interests in mind) has decided to interfere directly with humanity’s history. It does so by creating physical servants when and where they’re needed, using them to alter time and historical events. Their process is slow, but they’re patiently playing a very long game, even if no one but they know what the winning condition is. Challenging their actions can be as dangerous as challenging the servants of a God itself.

Enter La Kreitaj

The most common servants of the vas kra call themselves “La Kreitaj,” which is Esperanto for “The Created.” They often impersonate divine servants – and from their point of view, perhaps they aren’t pretending. La Kreitaj are typically tall men and women who wear black, with sickly skin and unnaturally perfect teeth. They often wear sunglasses to hide their pure black eyes. They speak in monotones, show no fear (it’s thought they can’t comprehend it), and can’t technically be killed; a La Kreitaj whose mortal form is slain forms an identical form somewhere nearby within 30 seconds, although their original corpse remains. La Kreitaj who are slaughtered multiple times leave multiple corpses, possibly confusing law enforcement to happen on the scene after the fight in complete.

La Kreitaj typically carry out their duties with their Rewrite Time power, allowing them to change the past in fairly minor ways while standing in the present. It makes their actions particularly difficult to pin down during a TimeWatch investigation. No one knows why they primarily speak Esperanto. That’s either a joke from the vas kra who forms them, or a clue to a secret no one has yet deciphered.

La Kreitaj Stats

Defense: Hit Threshold 4, Health 8

Offense: Scuffling +2, Shooting +2; Damage Modifier +0 (iron-hard fists), +2 (futuristic beam weapon), Stun 5 plus Destabilize (Rewrite Time – see below)

Abilities: Tempus 15

Special Abilities: Clock Out (cost 2, no time machine needed), Exile (cost 2), Regenerate (cost 0; an identical La Kreitaj appears somewhere nearby within 30 seconds, with full Health and Tempus), Technology (cost 2)

Special: La Kreitaj have a unique ability known as Rewrite Time (cost 3) that they prefer to use over physically injuring a target. A successful weaponless hit with Scuffling or Shooting (Close Range) allows them to change something small in the target’s past, triggering a Stun 5 test as well as a D4/L4 Paradox test. They will typically use this to weaken a target before using Exile to banish it into the distant past and remove it from the relevant time stream.

All La Kreitaj have identical DNA and fingerprints – even when they differ in appearance, sex and personality.

Using La Kreitaj

In the same way that many TV shows have a “monster of the week” interposed against longer-running secrets that last an entire season, La Kreitaj and the goals of the vas kra that backs them make for an excellent multi-session mystery. They typically act in the background, making small and unimportant alterations in the timeline that add up to a momentous change at some point in the future. They resent interference and will act to remove it, although they’re reluctant to kill anyone who isn’t one of their targets.

It’s unknown what goals La Kreitaj have, and what the GM chooses is affected by whether they wish to fold the far-future timeline of Ashen Stars into the TimeWatch timeline. Goals might include:

  • Turning humanity into a vast army to be used by the vas kra against an enemy
  • Ensuring that humanity never join the Galactic Combine (or ensuring that they do)
  • Taking actions that affect whether the Mohilar war ever occurs
  • Prepping humanity for ultimate peace and global consciousness (which might involve the removal of free will)
  • Using humanity as a vast biological computer to answer a philosophical question
  • Raising a psychic food source to later be plundered
  • Focusing all of history to create a single, uniquely talented individual
  • The pure egocentric joy of manipulating an entire species
  • Dismantling (or even creating) TimeWatch

It’s possible for GMs to have La Kreitaj in play without initially deciding on what the vas kra’s true goal is; perhaps it really is ineffable, and the Agents only clash with La Kreitaj when they act against TimeWatch interests. Use this antagonist as a mysterious foil to complicate other mysteries and missions, and let them develop slowly as background threats. With their abilities, there’s no telling who or what they’ve affected.

The TimeWatch Roleplaying Game pre-order is still on—but the war for this reality has ended.

Evil Pelgrane, our mirror-universe doppelgangers from an alternate timeline, invaded our timeline and wreaked havoc: hijacking our Twitter accounts, delivering bad GUMSHOE advice, and stealing precious items from other RPG settings. You joined the fight, casting your votes for Good Pelgrane or Evil Pelgrane. The result: evil wins!

timewatch-poll-good-vs-evil

Because Evil Pelgrane won the voting, the TimeWatch Resource Book will include a Time Crime heist, raiding a Spanish treasure ship.

After winning the war, Evil Pelgrane moved on to wreak mayhem elsewhere. Good riddance! We did rather like their version of our logo, however; so we removed its evil goatee and glaring eyes, and will be using it from now on. Behold the new Pelgrane Press logo:

Pelgrane Press logo

Thanks to everyone who joined the battle! We’re fine with the outcome, to be honest. The Time Crime heist will be tremendously fun, and we’re relieved that Evil Pelgrane is gone, never to be seen again…

EVIL-CAT-SIMON

 

Before I ran my first TimeWatch session, I was intimidated. The PCs can roam anywhere and anywhen, defeat their enemies before they are born and even get help from themselves. How can you do anything other than improvise if players have that scope?

In practice it was very straightforward, easy and fun.

So, like the Doctor, this article holds your hand and takes you through space and time, but without the ever-present risk of death and abandonment.

fighting

 

Bluffing the System

This article assumes you know the basics of GUMSHOE, both the Investigative side and the General ability side. You need to know what a Test is, what a Spend is and the combat rules and the use of Preparedness.

Snag these cheat sheets and read the summaries in this article.

Unlike more complex GUMSHOE games, there isn’t much work to offload onto players. Someone might like to keep an eye on Paradox tests for Chronal Stability rolls, found in the cheat sheets, and all players should read the descriptions and benefits of the Timecraft and Paradox Prevention investigative abilities.

Combat Summary

Most import of all, you need to understand the basics of combat, not because you’ll necessarily need to spend a lot of time in combat in the game, but because combat needs to be fast and thrilling. You should always know whose go it is, whether a test hits or not, and what your monsters can do. But combat is pretty straightforward in GUMSHOE.

  1. At the outset,  decide who the instigator of the combat is. Give them a token (we recommend a plastic dinosaur)
  2. To try to hit an opponent, make a test (d6 + point spend) against their Hit Threshold (almost always 3 or 4). Spend points from the combat pool before rolling. If you match or beat the Hit Threshold, you hit.
    • for lethal weapons roll the damage listed on your character sheet. There is no dodging.
    • If you hit with a stun weapon they need to make a Stun test, optionally spending Health points to resist being knocked unconscious. Even if they succeed, they are impaired, suffering a penalty on tests. Foes with 3 or fewer Health points do not get to make a test, which makes it easy to stun mooks
  3. Players can spend Investigative points in combat with suitable narration to get a +3 bonus on combats Tests (Timecraft and Intimidate are two good examples).
  4. Sometime during their go the instigator decides who is up next, and passes them the dinosaur.
  5. When it’s your go, if you want to fight, you make the same test against the PCs Hit Threshold.  Usually TimeWatch foes have simple bonus rather than a combat pool. Watch out for and use creature special abilities, usually powered with a pool called Tempus. There is a sample stat block with notes in this article to give you an example.
  6. The dinosaur is passed round until all players and the GM have had their go. The last person passes it to the new instigator for the next round.

Time Chase summary

Most TimeWatch games include a time chase – on dino-back in the Jurassic era, to Minis in Rome, through to hover bikes in 23rd Century.  The chase summary and track are available in the cheat sheets.

  1. The pursuers and the pursued decide secretly how many points they’ll spend, reveal their spends, then make a Chase test, usually Difficulty 4, but it can be different for each side
  2. Deduct the Difficulty from the test results.
  3. Compare the results, and the lead changes in favour of the winner.
  4. Agents can use their abilities to improve the odds, for example spending a point  of Paradox Prevention to will have arranged for a traffic jam to be in the way, or Preparedness to scatter caltrops behind them. They could even arrange for their future selves to be waiting in ambush for their pursuers.
  5. When the lead reaches point-blank, that’s the end of the chase.

timeriver

Stitches

Stitches are TimeWatch’s action tokens. Add three per player in a bowl at the beginning of the game. Whenever anyone plays their character well, makes a great suggestion, solves a clever clue or is other cool, any other player (including the GM) may give them a Stitch. Stitches let you refresh on the fly as well as giving you  other options – see the cheat sheet for these.

Abilities

TimeWatch features a very streamlined character sheet with few abilities. All the scientific abilities are subsumed into the pulp-flavoured Science! Being unnoticed and noticing are rolled into Unobtrusiveness. Burglary includes infiltration, concealment and filching.

Tinkering lets you  create, repair and upgrade gear and use explosives. Often combined with Science! it lets players peruse the gear section and chose chronal grenades, time slime and make a choice, at the cost of Tinkering tests.

So, which abilities are not familiar?  Well, Timecraft and Paradox Prevention on the investigative side and Chronal Stability and Reality Anchor on the other.  Timecraft is straightforward – it tells you when there is something up with the timeline and lets you spot and follow other time travellers, lets you makes Tests twice and use the result you choose in a scene.

So far, so simple, and it gives the correct impression that TimeWatch is  fast and fun.

Preparedness

Preparedness allows players to model their characters’ competence, without themselves knowing how to be a TimeWatch Agent. It also shortcuts lengthy planning meetings, and gives players a fallback in emergencies. This is how it’s used.

  • Make a test to have something relatively unusual you haven’t mentioned.
  • If you have a rating 8+ allows you to have all ready done something you describe in flashback. If the action requires another test by you or another player you need to make that too, afterwards.

Adventure Knowledge

There are lots of short, simple TimeWatch adventures to kick you off. Recruiting Call from the core book is good start, as is Axe and Hatchet from Behind Enemy Times. For your first game it will make you happier if you know the adventure pretty well. Get a basic grasp of the each featured historical era (think media rather than accuracy), prepare for any fights by checking antagonist special abilities and see if there are any chases. There is a little bit of added complexity in that players can meet foes for the first time who have already met them – this is usually flagged up.

Introducing the Game

Open by explaining they are TimeWatch agents, whose job it is to keep history on its fixed path. They can try all the tricks you see in time travel stories – getting help from yourself, defeating foes before they were born and trapping adversaries in time loops. They have all the gear they need to travel in time, blend in wherever they go and stun foes when they need to.

Character creation in TimeWatch is straightforward, so straightforward I wouldn’t recommend using pregens. Encourage them to create character concepts from anywhere in time and space, but offer suggestions so they don’t freeze up. Highlight and summarise Timecraft, Paradox prevention, Chronal Stability and Reality Anchor (the equivalent of Trail’s Psychoanalysis.) If a player finishes their character quickly, refer them to the gear section – and if they want to pay the Tinkering points – they can start the game with any gear which won’t spoil the adventure.

What to tell the players

  • Don’t spend much time planning One of the big problems with action games is planning inertia, so tell them about Preparedness and Timecraft – they give the benefit of planning without the planning. Their characters will know what to do, even if they don’t, and if they do get bogged down in an extended planning scene, remind them of Preparedness.
  • Try all the weird time stuff Even the most egregious time manipulation is possible – try it. Timecraft and Paradox prevention is your friend here. Once you are low on Chronal Stability – tread more carefully.
  • If in doubt, time travel Hunkering down is always a bad idea. Time travellers stay ahead of their opponents, or before them. There’s a small Chronal Stability cost, but worth it.
  • In the end, true history prevails after all the fun, it’s the real timeline the Agents want to protect, and that might well help you dial back any excessive meddling.

Going anywhen

Adventure design gently points players at choke points in history – times and places where history has diverged. These are player magnets – you don’t need to persuade them to visit these places. But they may well want to go elsewhen, too: that’s half the fun of the game.

First, consider what they actually want to achieve. Does it need a scene? The simple answer to that question is – would it be fun?

If it’s just getting information, let them spend History (narratively they could have travelled to the Library of Alexandria, and that might be worth a little scene)

Things which give you an advantage in the here and now, are straightforward: The mechanics are simple and flexible enough that if a player wants to talk their way past a receptionist and says “I go back in time and was his roommate for five years, ten years ago” a one point Timecraft spend just does that.

However, if they go back and try to prevent an important character being born – that’s probably a full scene plus some Chronal Stability. If they are having fun, shift some antagonists around. If necessary, have one of their characters from the future advise them to move on!

Thanks for reading, and let me know how your first session goes!

=======

TimeWatch is a time-travel adventure RPG where brave agents of TimeWatch defend the timestream from radioactive cockroaches, psychic velociraptors, and human meddlers. Go back in time to help yourself in a fight, thwart your foes by targeting their ancestors, or gain a vital clue by checking out a scroll from the Library of Alexandria. But watch out for paradoxes that may erase you from existence… or worse.. Purchase TimeWatch in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Using a plastic dinosaur substitute

Using an unauthorised substitute for the toy dinosaur

We’ve sampled characters and their gear, now let’s get into the thrilling action of TimeWatch.

In TimeWatch, when you determine who gets to act in a fight or other contest, author Kevin Kulp suggests you make use of a plastic dinosaur. It’s that kind of game.

The TimeWatch RPG lets players decide who goes in a fight or other contest – so-called “popcorn initiative.” The first person to initiate a combat goes first (even if that’s the GM)-  a player can spend a point of Notice to go first. The first character to act gets the toy dinosaur. Any time during their turn, they get to pass the dinosaur to the next person to act, which can be the GM. At the end of the round, the last actor gives the dinosaur to the first actor in the next round; if the GM acts last, they are likely to tag themself and get another go.

This lets you tag the medic before the unconscious character, tag distant enemies with no ranged weapons to act first, and tag the foes last (if you think you can beat them in one round). I also let players whose characters are not involved directly in a combat have a go, because it keeps them involved, and reminds me that they, too, are doing something, even if it’s not fighting.

In more serious games, I’ve used a mini egg timer from a board game in place of the dinosaur.

Borrowed from Night’s Black Agents, TimeWatch also features chases – but these are usually chase through time – jumping from Roman chariot race to aerial dogfight to literal roller coaster. The Agents time machine (the baton-shaped autochron) adapts to suit the environment.

In a chase, the pursuers and the pursued decide secretly how many points they’ll spend, reveal their spends, then make a Chase test. The results are compared, and the lead changes in favour of the winner. Agents can use their abilities to improve the odds, for example spending a point  of Paradox Prevention to will have arranged for a traffic jam to be in the way, or Preparedness to scatter caltrops behind them. They could even arrange for their future selves to be waiting in ambush for their pursuers.

Sample Antagonist – the Ezeru Drone

The GM has a host of easy-to-run fearsome antagonists, some of whom have special abilities. These are listed in the rules summary.

The ezeru are TimeWatch’s go-to enemies – horrid human-sized cockroaches. Let’s take a look at an ezeru drone.

Defense: Hit Threshold 4, Armor 3, Health 15

All GUMSHOE GMs are familiar with these numbers

Offense: Scuffling +3 (+2 when impersonating a human), Shooting +1; Damage Modifier +2 (hideous clacking pincers), +3 (jagged mandibles), +1 (pistol), +4 (acidic bile), Stun 6 (psi-active bile)

Instead of keeping records of Scuffling and Shooting pools, just roll and add the bonus when making an attack. Add the Damage Modifer to your d6 damage roll – so d6 + 4 for acidic bile.

Abilities: Tempus 12

Tempus is a pool which powers foes’ special abilites, listed below.

Special Abilities: Clock Out (cost 2), Extra Action (cost 2), Impersonation (cost 2 —psychically links the ezeru drone to a single human or animal encased in the ezeru’s paralytic bile), Lightning Speed (cost 2), Resist Stun; drones can attack by spitting acidic or paralytic bile within Close range

Clock Out – time travel away from the scene, often resulting in a time chase

Extra Action – spend two points to act again in around

Lighting speed – move twice

Resist Stun – decreases the Difficulty of a Stun test by two – this usually means ezeru only need to roll a 3 to avoid being knocked unconscious by a standard issue TimeWatch PaciFist.

Misc: Alertness Modifier +1, Stealth Modifier +1

If you sneak up on an ezeru, or an ezeru sneaks up on you, the Difficulty of your Unobtrusiveness test is increase by 1.

Description: A standard ezeru drone is sly, deadly, reliable, but not particularly creative. They follow instructions superbly but usually lack the inspired planning or quick thinking of creatures that aren’t tied into a massive insectoid hivemind. When circumstances change quickly on an ezeru and it doesn’t have time to plan, it often responds with brute force.

You’ll notice that this beast is pretty fearsome – in a straight fight with creatures like this, TimeWatch agents can be in trouble. But with all the abilities a TimeWatch agent has to jump around in time, get help for themselves from the future, or have used Tinkering to create a super-science device which takes the edge of their special abilities.

Next article: The Quick and Clean Guide to Having Already Run Your First TimeWatch Game

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TimeWatch is a time-travel adventure RPG where brave agents of TimeWatch defend the timestream from radioactive cockroaches, psychic velociraptors, and human meddlers. Go back in time to help yourself in a fight, thwart your foes by targeting their ancestors, or gain a vital clue by checking out a scroll from the Library of Alexandria. But watch out for paradoxes that may erase you from existence… or worse.. Purchase TimeWatch in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

This article follows on from Part One, Characters, to give GUMSHOE GMs a picture of what the TimeWatch RPG has to offer.

With the whole of history to play with, the TimeWatch RPG is able to offer you an incredible selection of equipment. We’ll start with the standard issue equipment of the TimeWatch agent. All of it is chronomorphic; that is, it adapts to match the local place and timeline. All of this equipment was included in the game  to handwave obstacles to the narrative, move the game forward and make it more enjoyable. These descriptions highlight some of the TimeWatch-specific rules

  • Autochron – your personal time machine. It looks like a short long baton, but can change appears to be a handle bar or even reins.
  • Impersonator Mesh – makes you uninteresting to casual observers – it’s dull to be an obvious time traveller everywhere you go.
  • Translator – stops you worrying about learning every language in history.
  • Medkit – who wants to be laid up in hospital?
  • Tether – an AI with holographic projection and a huge array of data. It’s a way of accessing your more obscure Investigative abilities in field
  • Uniform – part disguise, part armour. Better than acquiring new outfits every time you jump.
  • MEM-tags let you send unconscious people back to the Citadel (TimeWatch HQ) to be memory altered and returned moments later. It’s more convenient and genre-appropriate than explaining that
  • The PaciFist Neural Disruptor – a stun gun. Stunning foes is a great option in TimeWatch, which lets you take people down without killing them; ideal if you want to rescue a mind-controlled Einstein. When you hit someone with a stun weapon, they need to make a Stun test, optionally spending Health points to resist being knocked unconscious. Even if they succeed, they are impaired, suffering a penalty on tests. Foes with 3 or fewer Health points do not get to make a test, which makes it easy to stun mooks.

gear

Agents can make Tinkering and Preparedness tests and occasionally a Science! spend to snag high-tech devices, and Here are Eight TimeWatch Devices Which Will Leave you Flabbergasted!

  • Grandfather Bullet – jumps through time and kills the target’s grandfather, forcing them to check Chronal Stability.
  • Codova Cryto-Tranposer, or Bigfoot Beam – summons up a bigfoot or other cryptid,  and dumps it near the target
  • Ezeru Infestator – a weapon which fires insect eggs at the opponent which then incubate and eat their host
  • Mindblanker – a pen light which knocks out a subjects recent memories
  • A Psyonic Stone – anyone wearing one of these looks like a large velociraptor for 24 hours, and can’t remove the disguise.
  • Punxsutawney Prime Perpetuation Device (Tri-P) – want Groundhog Day? You got it.
  • Stopwatch – just what you’d expect. In game terms – gives you an extra go in a round
  • Timebat – hit someone with it and knock them six days into the future

In the next article we cover thrilling fights and time chases

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TimeWatch is a time-travel adventure RPG where brave agents of TimeWatch defend the timestream from radioactive cockroaches, psychic velociraptors, and human meddlers. Go back in time to help yourself in a fight, thwart your foes by targeting their ancestors, or gain a vital clue by checking out a scroll from the Library of Alexandria. But watch out for paradoxes that may erase you from existence… or worse.. Purchase TimeWatch in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

twresourcesEach GUMSHOE game takes the background-neutral GUMSHOE core and makes changes to suit the game. Mutant City Blues has investigative abilities which let cops gather evidence of super-powered malfeasance. Night’s Black Agents has pools of points for spy networks, and thriller combat options. Fear Itself lets your group build and Escape Pool to flee the adventure’s horrors.

So, what new bells and whistles does TimeWatch add to GUMSHOE which support the tropes of time travel? TimeWatch has more tweaks and adaptations to GUMSHOE than any other system, but is nontheless straightforward to run and play. In part one, we’ll start with your character…

The first place to look with any GUMSHOE game to get a flavour of it, is the character sheet.

What’s perhaps surprising is that TimeWatch has fewer General abilities than any other game, and fewer Investigative abilites than most. All the scientific abilities are subsumbed into the pulp-flavoured Science! – that exclamation mark is doing all the work. Stealth, Shadowing, Sense Trouble and Infiltration are rolled into Unobtrusiveness. Tinkering incorporates Mechnical Repair and Explosives. So far, so simple, and it gives the correct impression that TimeWatch is simple, fast and fun.

Like Night’s Black Agents, characters with high General abilities get a little something extra – called a Booster. For Preparedness, you get Flashback – the chance to narrate a plan your group has already made, and for Disguise it’s the self-explanatory Don’t I Know You?

So, which abilities are not familiar? Well, Timecraft and Paradox Prevention on the investigative side and Chronal Stability and Reality Anchor on the other.  Timecraft is straightforward – it tells you when there is something up with the timeline and lets you spot and follow other time travellers, and lets you makes Tests twice and use the result you choose in a scene.

In the time travel genre, there are many examples of paradoxes – people doing things which conflict with known reality such as killing your own grandfather before your mother was born. These are fun to make use and explore in the game, but they can also break it if they are overused. Paradox is dangerous in the setting, but OK in small quantities. Paradox Prevention spends let you try clever time travel tricks such as gaining help from your future self, organising a parade to appear to interfere with a chase, but your attempts are limited by the amount of Paradox Prevention you have.

timewatch-disguiseIn our horror games, it’s seeing terrible things which causes you to lose humanity, and Stability measures your resistance to that. In TimeWatch, it’s paradox which can make you go mad or even disappear altogether. Chronal Stability is your ability to resist paradox and Reality Anchor is the equivalent of Shrink. Whenever you travel through time, it costs a little Chronal Stability – not enough to be a big problem, but just enough to stop jump after jump in a session.

These simple rules enable players to have fun with time travel, but not use it to solve everything.

While most characters are human, if you want your character to be a disembodied brain in a jar or a psychic velociraptor, you can. You can really make your character your own in  TimeWatch  – GUMSHOE doesn’t care how you describe abilities the use of abilities as Taunt or Disguise; and this is used to the full in character creation.Your Disguise ability is can be simple makeup, or a psychic or holographic projection.

You’ll also notuec a section marked Stitches. Stitches are tokens which players can award each other for great roleplaying, good ideas, solving clues or making everyone laugh. You can use these stitches to refresh a pool by a couple of points, reward teamwork, increase damage to a foe, or reduce damage to yourself.  You are limited to three stitches, which encourages you to spend them and not hoard them. Stitches represent TimeWatch agents ability to slightly manipulate time, and they reward good play, and keep the game moving forward.

The other thing to note about the character sheet is the big Gear section, which I’ll cover in the next part.

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TimeWatch is a time-travel adventure RPG where brave agents of TimeWatch defend the timestream from radioactive cockroaches, psychic velociraptors, and human meddlers. Go back in time to help yourself in a fight, thwart your foes by targeting their ancestors, or gain a vital clue by checking out a scroll from the Library of Alexandria. But watch out for paradoxes that may erase you from existence… or worse.. Purchase TimeWatch in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Evil Pelgrane Logo - WhiteGUMSHOE is the rules engine used in many of Evil Pelgrane’s products, from The Esoterrorists to Trail of Cthulhu to our newest (evil) release, Timewatch. (GUMSHOE is capitalised because it’s an acronym  – Generic Universal Mechanic Serving Henchmen Of Evil Why else would it be all-caps?).

It’s 10 years old this year, so let’s take the time to review the basics of Evil GUMSHOE.

If you want to take the advanced class, that’ll be $129.99, peons. And it doesn’t even come in a black cube.

NOTE: Pelgrane Press are happy and enthusiastic backers of the Invisible Sun Kickstarter, and are engaging in a bit of friendly teasing. Evil Gar’s opinions are evil, and are not shared by Good Pelgrane.

EVIL GUMSHOE FOR PLAYERS

Or, how to ruin your own fun.

USE YOUR INVESTIGATIVE ABILITIES!

Right there on your sheet, you’ve got a long long list of methods for gathering information. Use them all! All at once! All the time! I mean, the rules clearly say that if you use the right ability in the right place at the right time, you’ll always get the clue, no rolling. So, obviously, the right place is HERE and the right time is NOW and the right ability is ALL OF THEM.

 

Good Example of Play

GM: Ok, you time-travel back to the professor’s lab on the night before the explosion. It’s deathly quiet except for the occasional bleep from one of the instruments. The professor’s prototype time machine is still sitting there on the desk, hooked up to various monitoring devices. From the bluey science glow, you guess it’s already powered up and running, but hasn’t been activated yet.

Player 1: Can I tell anything more about the machine with my Science! ability?

GM: Are you touching it, or scanning it with your tether, or just looking at it.

Player 1: We know this thing is going to explode soon, so I’m being as careful as possible.

GM: OK, it’ll take you a few minutes to work out what it’s doing.

Player 2: Can I get the Professor’s emails?

GM: Do you have Hacking?

Player 2: Yep. I sit down at his computer and start using exploits that haven’t been discovered yet to get through his security systems.

GM: Do you want to spend a point to get it done faster?
Player 2: Nope.

GM: Ok, as you’re both distracted by your respective tasks, you don’t notice the presence of the night watchman until he’s right in the corridor outside. He’s about to come through the door – what do you do?

Player 3: I’ll disguise myself as one of the professor’s lab assistants and use my Authority ability to convince him we’re allowed to be in here.

 

Evil Example of Play

GM: Ok, you time-travel back to the professor –

PLAYERS (Overlapping): Anthropology! Charm! Architecture! Military Tactics! Streetwise! Medical Expertise!

GM: You’re using Charm on…

PLAYER 1: EVERYTHING!

 

GET CLUES BUT DON’T FOLLOW THEM

In fact, go in the opposite direction. Run away from those leads! Investigation only leads to fun, and Evil GUMSHOE isn’t about fun – it’s about torturing your GM and the other players.

 

Good Example of Play

GM: One of the professor’s emails is from a woman named Sybil. She wants to meet him at a café near the university – tonight, in about ten minutes. And attached to the email is a photograph of a weird symbol painted on what looks like the wall of a basement.

PLAYER 1: Ok, let’s go to the café and see what’s going on there.

PLAYER 2: Actually, I’m going to spend a point of Anthropology to blend in – I’m travelling back five years in time and getting a job in that café. I figure by now, I’m running the place and I’ve set up really good security and surveillance there.

 

Evil Example of Play:

GM: One of the professor’s emails is from a woman named Sybil. She wants to meet him at a café near the university – tonight, in about ten minutes. And attached to the email is a photograph of a weird symbol painted on what looks like the wall of a basement.

PLAYER 1: Ok, let’s ignore this obvious lead and obsess about something obviously irrelevant.

PLAYER 2: That night watchman had a moustache, right? WAS HE TIME TRAVELLING HITLER?
GM: No, he just –

PLAYER 2: FALSEHOOD DETECTION!

GM: That only works on NPCs!

PLAYER 2: TRUE. I go to Berlin anyway.

 

EVIL GUMSHOE FOR GMS

GUMSHOE’s core thesis is that the challenge of an investigative game shouldn’t be getting the clues, it should be deciding how to act on them. Evil GUMSHOE’s core thesis is that life is suffering and you can’t spell “frustration” without “fun” (and “tsr ratio”, apparently). So, as an evil GUMSHOE GM, your watchwords are:

LOVE MY NARRATIVE RAILROAD

If the players always get the clue, and the clue leads to the next scene, then you can just dispense with all that tiresome roleplaying and decision-making on the part of the players, and focus on what really matters – your unpublished novel. The players have two very important tasks – they need to use their investigative abilities to find clues, and they need to sit there while you explain what the clue means and how it fits into the story.

Good Example of Play

GM: Ok, you used Hacking to get into the professor’s computer and you’ve found that email from ‘Sybil’ talking about a meet in the coffee shop. What are you doing?

PLAYER 1: Let’s go and spy on them there.

PLAYER 2: One moment – that symbol. Do I know anything about it with any of my Histories? I’ve got Past, Contemporary and Future.

GM: It’s not from any of those, but you do recognise it from the Timewatch archives. There’s a parallel history where Earth gets invaded by aliens in the 1950s, and that symbol was used by the human resistance to mark the homes of collaborators. You know that the change point for that timeline was Roswell, in 1947 – a Timewatch team disabled the distress beacon on the Roswell saucer, so the alien mothership never came looking for it.

PLAYER 2: So, if someone wanted to change history back again, then Roswell 1947 would be the place to go?

GM: Yep.

PLAYER 3: I’m going to ask that night watchman if he knows this ‘Sybil.’

GM: He doesn’t recognise the name, but he does mutter about the car parked across the road from the lab. There are two people out there, and he’s convinced they’re watching the university. He describes them as sinister government-types. Men in black.

Look at that! Three possible leads for the players to follow. That’s far too much work. Railroads are much easier!

 

Evil Example of Play

GM: Ok, you used Hacking to get into the professor’s computer and you’ve found that email from ‘Sybil’ talking about a meet in the coffee shop. You go to the coffee shop, and you see the professor talking to the woman. Who has Spying?

PLAYER 1: I do.

GM: You sneak close enough to eavesdrop, and the woman’s saying that she knows the professor escaped from another timeline with alien time-travel technology stolen from Roswell and now you must go back to Roswell in 1947.

PLAYER 2: Can I talk to Sybil and –

GM: NOW YOU MUST GO BACK TO ROSWELL. LOOK AT MY SCENE DIAGRAM! IT CLEARLY SAYS THAT THE ROSWELL SCENE COMES IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE CAFÉ SCENE.

 

DEMAND THE RIGHT ABILITY!

GUMSHOE games have lots of highly specialised investigative abilities, allowing the players to interrogate the world in many different ways. When writing a scenario, note which clues can be found with which investigative ability, and stick rigidly to that note. Never relent, and never reward ingenuity on the part of the players.

Also, make sure you hide your clues in really obscure, non-intuitive places using inappropriate abilities. That’s always fun.

Good Example of Play

GM: Ok, you’re in Roswell air force base, disguised as military police. How are you going to find the flying saucer debris?

PLAYER 1: I could just order a soldier to tell me with Authority, right?

PLAYER 2: It’s probably top-secret. I’ll go to the base office and use Bureaucracy to find out where the restricted areas are.

PLAYER 3: It’s all probably been documented in history books – can I just check with Research or Contemporary History to find out which hangar contains the ‘weather balloon’?

GM: They’ll all work, although Research will take a few minutes. Which one are you using?

Bad Example of Play

GM: Ok, you’re in Roswell air force base, disguised as military police. How are you going to find the flying saucer debris?

PLAYER 1: I could just order a soldier to tell me with Authority, right?

GM: He doesn’t know.

PLAYER 2: It’s probably top-secret. I’ll go to the base office and use Bureaucracy to find out where the restricted areas are.

GM: They don’t tell you.

PLAYER 3: It’s all probably been documented in history books – can I just check with Research or Contemporary History to find out which hangar contains the ‘weather balloon’?

GM: No. It’s not in any of the books you check.

PLAYER 1: Ok… can I scan with Science for radiation emissions or –

GM: You don’t detect anything.

Two hours later.

PLAYER 2: Sigh. Ok. ANTHROPOLOGY! ARCHITECTURE! MILITARY TACTICS! CHARM!

GM: You can’t just shout out investigative abilities! You have to describe how you’re using them.

PLAYER 2: Ok, Military Tactics – I know how air forces bases work. If I was dragging in debris from a crashed object, which would be the obvious hangar to use.

GM: You can’t tell.

PLAYER 3: Can I find any tracks with, uh, Notice? Like, fresh tyre-tracks on the road from the ranch where it crashed.

GM: No.

PLAYER 3: Can I find any tracks on that road with Outdoor Survival?

GM: Yes! They clearly point at Hanger 3.

Don’t just make it a railroad – make it a painfully delayed and overcrowded railroad with a nightmarish ticketing system! That’s the Evil Pelgrane way!

There’s more bad GUMSHOE advice on twitter (look for #evilpelgrane), and we’ll happily give you personalised bad advice in the comments on this article, too!

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TimeWatch is a time-travel adventure RPG where brave agents of TimeWatch defend the timestream from radioactive cockroaches, psychic velociraptors, and human meddlers. Go back in time to help yourself in a fight, thwart your foes by targeting their ancestors, or gain a vital clue by checking out a scroll from the Library of Alexandria. But watch out for paradoxes that may erase you from existence… or worse.. Purchase TimeWatch in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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