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

More details about our Free RPG Day 2017 offering – a 13th Age/TimeWatch double adventure!

13th Age – Swords Against Owlbears

Where do Owlbears come from? A wizard did it.

Still does it, in fact. Her name is the Maker of Many. Her experiments push the boundaries of life and death, of madness and reason, of art and hideous biological abomination – and the player characters are trapped in her dungeon, the Twisting Gardens.

Swords Against Owlbears is a quick-start adventure for 13th Age, the d20 fantasy game of battle, treasure and epic story telling. Grab a pregenerated 6th character, decide your One Unique Thing, and get ready to fight for your life!

TimeWatch – Font of Knowledge

Time-traveling saboteurs just snuffed out all human life with – Comic Sans? You’re a member of TimeWatch, an elite organization of time cops who keep history safe. Find out what happened, track clues forwards and backwards in time, and save true history from those who try to erase it – like the hyperintelligent AI BREEN, which has distributed itself throughout time. Good luck, Agent. Everyone – and we mean everyone – is counting on you.

This scenario for up to six players is an introduction to TimeWatch – the GUMSHOE game of investigative time travel. Pregenerated Agents and handouts are included to launch the players into the mystery.

Stock #: PEL13AT01
Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Kevin Kulp
Artist: Rich Longmore, Gillian Pearce Pages: 48-page PDF

 

home-page-timewatch

by Daniel Fidelman

Surprisingly enough, one of the most epic and memorable battles I had a chance to run, was a battle of wits and historical knowledge. On one side sat about fifteen kids, classified as gifted and aged ten to twelve, armed only with an internet connection and the best spends that their TimeWatch character sheet could offer. Their characters were standing at the great hall of the palace in Khanbaliq, the early predecessor to modern Beijing, and their opponents were the various members of the great Khan’s court. It was a formal reception, where the courtiers tried to assess the new arrivals, supposedly ambassadors from distant lands, yet unsullied by the Mongol conquest, but actually – Agents of the TimeWatch.

But perhaps some cultural context may help here. Surprisingly enough, there are few hundreds of Israeli role-players that work as either full-time or part-time Tabletop RPG Gamemasters for elementary school kids. Those activities are almost always paid by the parents, as RPGs are widely considered to be an educational tool developing teamwork, self-expression and imagination, and take place in various schools and day-care centres.

For better and for worse, this model has some implications for our playing culture. The advantages of this phenomena include the instant recognisability of Role Playing Games in most middle-class settings and the general benevolent attitude of the society to such games, as well as a certain pool from where future adult role-players are drawn (The numbers are hard to get due the fierce competition between the companies involved, but I would estimate that at least 5,000 Israeli kids are playing a Fantasy d20 Roleplaying game on a weekly basis with a professional Gamemaster).

The widespread criticism, at the other hand, is that such a monetization of Gamemastering sometimes encourages the creation of huge player groups – in extreme cases containing as many as twenty players per one Gamemaster, but often ranging from eight to twelve. Consequently, managing and entertaining such is group is a task that requires high performative and group management skills from the Gamemasters, that in turn may accustom potential young role-players to see role-playing as a service offered to their parents by trained professionals rather than a sustainable adult hobby they can try for themselves. It also may accustom them to a very simplistic version of roleplaying, where personal quests and initiatives are nearly unmanageable and where roleplaying scenes depend mainly on the theatrical skills of the Gamemaster. That factor, together with the game sessions being only ninety minutes long – lends itself to a huge reliance on battles, and violent solutions in general.

Thus, young players in such organized settings are often considered combat oriented and bloodthirsty to the extreme, tending to bypass role-playing and plan-making to get to the part which gives them the most amount of agency – rolling dice in order to kill monsters. I believe that the TimeWatch game mentioned here provided me with some insight towards fixing that problem.

So, info dumps aside, we are now flashing back to the recent past. It was the summer of 2015, and I was sent by my manager at the Cortex company to provide six roleplaying courses for a few weeks long summer camp for gifted children. Usually I try to avoid running games for more than twelve kids, but the format of the camp demanded me to accommodate groups of 15-20.

After submitting descriptions for the Harry Potter and the Hobbit games, as well as a GMing 101 course and a Nilfgaard military academy LARP for the older kids, I’ve stopped to consider my one remaining slot on the schedule. “You are a history teacher. Why wouldn’t you run a history game?” asked Shacked, my manager “We are supposed to be educational, after all”.

The Jurassic Editon of TimeWatch has just landed on my Hard Drive few weeks before, so the decision was made, and I’ve submitted “TimeWatch in the Court of Kublai Khan” for the summer camp’s program.

“TimeWatch recruits people from all over the history. Who do you want to be?”

Character generation is not a procedure you can easily perform with fifteen kids, most of them are unfamiliar with points distribution systems. So, in the purpose of this mission I’ve created six pre-made versions of the character sheet, using Character Competencies as the basis – The players picked their choice between Analysts, Diplomats, Gadgeteers, Marksmen, Spies and Officers, then distributed few more points between the General abilities and picked a couple of investigative ones. Investigative abilities were binary – you either had it or hadn’t, while the abilities you had allowed you to make investigative spends at their behalf, A system close enough to that presented at Gumshoe One-2-One.

Then came the personalization part. “Now tell me where have you came from exactly”, I’ve asked them. “What have you done in your career before getting picked up by the Watch?”

Some kids had an immediate answer. Others seemed lost. Incidentally, we were situated in a computer class, and I decided to use it. “You can turn the computers on and use the Internet. Write me a short biography of your character. He would get cool powers based on the quantity and quality of the knowledge you would gather”.

This kind of personalized, almost system agnostic phase of character creation took about half an hour. The pupils worked on the computers while I checked their work, directed them to interesting persons and concepts, and distributed cherries per their choices, either drawing from my memories of those mentioned in the TimeWatch or the Night’s Black Agent books, or making up some appropriate ones by myself, in consultation with the kids.

Kid: “Can I be an ancient Greek gadgeteer?”

Me: “Sure thing, google up Archimedes. You can be an apprentice of him”

Kid: “What can I get then?”

Me: “It depends. What kind of work have you did for him”?

Kid: [Reads Wikipedia article] “The Heat Ray sound really neat”

Me: “Well, the you have a set of hand mirrors and lenses, that allows you to set things on fire from afar given some time”.

Another kid, that managed to acquire much more Mongol lore than I’ve thought possible in twenty minutes on the Hebrew version of Wikipedia said that he wants to be a Prince of a razed city in Rus, secretly bent on revenge.

“Well,” I said “then you have probably researched the Mongol tactics and culture very well during your TimeWatch period, so you have a dedicated Academic ability for that.”

Most of the rest of that first session spent planning. Their mission was to infiltrate the court to find what have mobilized the great Mongol march that destroyed Europe in early 14th century and they needed a good cover story for about fifteen new people showing up at Khanbaliq. I’ve divided them to groups of four, gave each group the map of the Mongol empire and gave ten minutes to think about cover stories, then vote.

Quickly enough, they decided to be a delegation from a faraway country, ambassadors bearing gifts of respect and submission to the great overlord. Then they spent the next few minutes arguing which country should they represent, and just when I was about to put it to a simple majority vote, an eleven years old girl intervened:

“We should come as three different delegation, from three different countries. We should pretend we do not know each other, thus allowing us to make different allies among the opposing factions at the court”

Wow, that’s so crazy and brilliant, I’ve thought, let’s totally go for it.

Then an opposition raised: “But why should three previously unknown delegations arrive at the same day? That would be really suspicious”

He had a point too, but I really liked the first idea, so I’ve decided to quell the dissent: “Usually you are right, but today this is a gathering for the Naadam festival, so there are a lot of new folks around here”

Thus, it has come to pass, that the delegation from Java, Ophir and Ireland entered magnificent Khanbaliq in very much the same hour.

Enter the Matrix

That much was originally planned. Beside my work as a Gamemaster, I am an active educator and work to professionally combine those activities. So far, the activity was a classic operation of Education by Roleplaying as I understand it. The following part, on the other hand, was pretty much improvised, and in a very Gumshoe way, as I understand the term.

I had ten more minutes left to the end of the class, and decided to end on an upbeat note. Thus, after using Authority on some guards to get an audience, and witnessing some rough Mongolian justice delivered, the delegation finally found themselves before the solemn eyes of the Khagan.

Me: “He is looking at you with a keen interest. Now it’s the time to properly present yourself, and the gifts” – Then I point at the boy sitting to the right – “You should begin, what gift have you brought for him? You can make anything up. The resources of TimeWatch are unlimited”

“A really big Diamond” he says.

“The Khan is visibly impressed, he reaches his hand, and his Heshig bodyguard takes the diamond from your hand and places it in his”

Then, wishing to show the impact his action made, I drew a vertical line on the whiteboard. “After the last execution for theft, you have caught the Khan in a rather foul mood. A – 10 mood. Your diamond raised his mood by five points. Let’s raise it to – 5”

The entire class cheered, and I’ve explained the implications, making them up as I spoke. “Right now, the Khan is quite inclined to threw all of you from the city. If you shall raise his mood to a 10, he shall allow you to stay. If you should get him to a 15, you would get an invitation to stay in the palace, if it would be 20 – you would also get a personal guide to the palace – a high ranking courtier of your choice. Each of you have a one point to say, a one gift to deliver, a one chance to make a first impression”.

Then I’ve landed the treacherous blow.

“A man rises from the cushions beneath the throne. Although drabbed in Mongol cloak, he is clearly European.

Ireland, you say? I’ve heard of Ireland. An island so poor and forlorn, that even the pathetic English can accomplish holding it under their thumb. Where from, I would wonder, can the Irish get such diamonds? My liege, I assure you that this man is lying. He can be from no Ireland. But he surely can be a spy

The Khan’s face darkens. He sets the diamond back to the Heshigi’s hands.

Is it true, he asks, or can you say defend yourself versus the allegations of our loyal son Marco?”

The I reached once more for the whiteboard and set the Khan’s attitude to a -12, before adding another parameter: Marco Polo = -15.

I stared at the kid, and asked, in the off-character, helpful moderator voice: “So, do you have something to answer?”. He looked unsure and I’ve added. “You do have History (Past) as an investigative ability. You can probably spend a point to find some fact that can help you”

He did, so I gave him some geography facts. “You know, Ireland is located at the western edge of the world. Colombus is not yet born, so who knows what kind of wonders may the Irish fishermen find sometimes behind the horizon. They sure have a load of legends about it. Also, there are real diamonds in Africa, supposedly where the Ophirian delegation are from”.

He used the American lead immediately, spinning a tale a land of wonders and riches that the Irish has found recently and exploiting to the fullest.

The Khagan’s attitude rose to – 2, while Marco’s plunged to -22, Since as they were about to discover shortly, his Overt Motivation was to “Ensure that he is the best and most interesting source of stories about the Westlands”. Than a tall, yet unnamed Mongolian raised to ask the Irish delegation about the methods they use to produce such diamonds and I’ve added a new Dramatic Person to the growing complexity of the whiteboard – “Treasurer. Attitude: +6. Overt Motivation: A Keen newly found interest in the assumed riches of the west”

End of class. Dismissed. If you want, you can research stuff at home.

They did, and the next session was a grand-bataille. Each investigative spend served to give them some potentially relevant ammunition of social understanding and historical knowledge. Each remark, each gift, each question served to unveil yet another aspect of the Mongolian court, change the attitude of most participating NPCs to each of the two delegations involved, to create new enemies and new allies. Each word had a weight of its own, a chain of implications clearly visible at the whiteboard.

The Crusader Kings grand strategy game surely served as one inspiration for the social web that emerged on the whiteboard, together with the point based attitude system (Which may have been also influenced by Bioware type CRPGs). The investigative spends helped this web of intrigue become real, sustentative and mechanically related to the characters, a part of the crunch, the gamey part of the RPG, rather than the fluff you need to bypass to get to the action.

What happened here was a complete opposite. I had some fights planned later in this scenario, and was clearly surprised when all of them were cunningly bypassed by the players, that used the Overt and Covert motivations discovered by their social spends to surround themselves with a thick armor of temporary allies. The whiteboard web had officially become the board on which the game was played, a tactical map to be explored and changed by the players, and I’ve discovered that when people’s attitudes toward their characters were stated in front of the players, it seemed they are trying to avoid offending anyone, including the real baddies (A rogue prince of the Genghis dynasty, some Hashishin and a bunch of Sophosaurs).

Around here, the common perception is that early role-players, especially in a paid entertainment based role-playing environment, would usually choose the way of more violence, preferring to hack and slash their way through various plot devices and holders of information. What I’ve learned from my Kublai Khan experience is that maybe, what kids are really looking for is a meaningful engagement with mechanics. When their character sheets are full with damage dealing abilities and the mechanic representations of the fiction they encounter would usually be monster statistics, they would rightfully assume that the game is about dealing damage. If, at the other hand, the mechanical representations are dealing with meaningful knowledge and human relationships, they can engage learning, planning and roleplaying with about the same gusto. The Gumshoe way of putting information pieces in the mechanic core of the game serves to promote engagement with, and manipulation of, knowledge.

The version of TimeWatch that I used in educational settings (after Kublai Khan I had a French Revolution and a Galileo’s Trial scenarios) was much less zany than TimeWatch as presented. I’ve found that my aspiration to show a historical situation, limited the kinds of crazy stuff that may influence it. But it needn’t be the case in your game. Maybe you would like to go further than me and immediately show on whiteboard the temporal implications of every major player action, without the need to go forth in time to check it. This open sharing of information may indeed harm some sense of mystery and surprise and thus immersion, but at the other hand can serve to emphasize themes and stakes. And what emphasizes better the sheer epic scale of a time travel plot than to see possible futures flower and whither with your every step.

Three Adventures for the TimeWatch RPG A trio of TimeWatch Roleplaying Game adventures: face Nazis, dinosaurs, power-crazed Egyptian gods, and—worst of all—yourself!   The Sphinx and the Madman Why does the Great Sphinx of Giza suddenly have your face? In an alternate history, you may be your own worst enemy…and your future self has a lot to answer for! Can you restore the true timeline? The Misery Trumpets A peaceful autumn hike in northern Vermont turns into a cross-dimensional raid to save the sanity of everyone you know. When your own world is one of many, where do your allegiances lie? The Valkyrie Gambit Someone changed the outcome of World War II, using methods that defy TimeWatch’s warning system. Now it’s up to your team of time cops to solve the mystery, stop an assassination, prevent nuclear war, and maybe corral a stray rampaging dinosaur or two along the way. To the time machines! These one-shot adventures showcase what the TimeWatch RPG can do, and show GMs how to create their own time-traveling adventures. Face your past to save the future. Take your time, don’t waste it! Stock #: PELGTW05 Authors: Kevin Kulp Artist: Rich Longmore Pages: 72 Pages Pre-order […]

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TimeWatch designer Kevin Kulp has traveled into the future where he’s already completed the TimeWatch Game Master’s Screen and Resource Book, and brought it back for your use and enjoyment! He probably did not catastrophically disrupt history in the process! The TimeWatch GM’s Screen is three-ply and portrait-oriented, with all-new art on one side by TimeWatch artist Rich Longmore and enhanced by 13th Age artist Lee Moyer. On the other side is the essential information and tables a GM needs to run a TimeWatch game. The Resource Book includes advice, guidance and rules for: Making combat in TimeWatch even more fun Pre-made Rebel organizations to bedevil or ally with your time-traveling Agents 16 new time seeds for near-instant missions, organized by the Adversaries and Antagonists that each mission seed uses. If you read the Adversaries in the main book and thought, “that sounds fun but how would I use it?”, you’ll like this section. Protect the secrets of the future, present and past until the time comes to reveal them 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: […]

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[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!

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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.

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.

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