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!

=======

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.

twresourcesFire up your time machine, and hunt down your evil double with these TimeWatch RPG resources.

All official downloads as a zip file.

Articles

Running your first TimeWatch game

An Overview of TimeWatch for GUMSHOE GMs – Part One, Characters

An Overview of TimeWatch for GUMSHOE GMs – Part Two, Gear

An Overview of TimeWatch for GUMSHOE GMs – Part Three, Thrills

Adventures

Official

The Font of Knowledge – Free RPG Day 2017 adventure

Character Sheets and Pregens

Official

Static low-res character sheet

Static print-resolution character sheet

Fillable PDF with character templates

Iconic characters in a fillable PDF – landscape

Iconic characters in a fillable PDF – portrait

Iconic characters on individual pages

Excel character generator


Fan-Created

Fillable PDF by Jargogle Bamboozle

 

Play Aides

Official

TimeWatch theme by James Semple

GM and player cheat sheets for TimeWatch (layered)


Fan-Created

TimeWatch Playmat by Jargogle Bamboozle

Other

Errata for The Font of Knowledge print book

Evil Pelgrane Logo - WhiteThe TimeWatch Roleplaying Game is now available to pre-order! But this happy occasion is threatened, as sinister forces from a dark timeline launch an attack on our reality. TimeWatch needs brave recruits to help defend it!

Vote in the survey below to strike a blow for either side. But remember: your vote has the power to change our future, by altering an upcoming TimeWatch RPG release – the GM Screen and Resource Book!

A Shocking Foe

We are locked in a life or death struggle against…ourselves. Our enemy is Evil Pelgrane.

These vile miscreants hail from an alternate timeline in which the entire run of the TimeWatch RPG was washed overboard during shipping. This catastrophe sent Simon and Cat over the edge into bottomless rage and nihilism, and Pelgrane Press became the most evil games company in the world. Now, the ruthless* Evil Pelgrane works to undermine our timeline and ensure that their terrifying future comes to pass!

You can spot our mirror universe doppelgangers by their jet-black goatees and bizarre behavior. If you see Simon smashing sastumas with a hammer, Cat pouring coffee down the sink while disparaging LARPing, Kevin disparaging barbecue or complaining about his dog allergy, or Wade making the dark arts of spin even darker, you are very likely in the presence of an Evil Pelgranista.

(They also tag their Tweets with #evilpelgrane, which is rather less than cunning.)

EVIL-CAT-SIMON

Choose Your Side

If Good Pelgrane gets the most votes, the upcoming TimeWatch GM’s Resource Book will include an adventure seed and illustration featuring TimeWatch members battling robot pirates

If Evil Pelgrane wins the most votes, the Resource Book will include a Time Crime heist, raiding a Spanish treasure ship

The war will rage (and pre-orders last) until September 21st, when the survey closes. Join the battle to determine whether Pelgrane Press or their counterparts at Evil Pelgrane prevail!

Which version of Pelgrane Press do you support?

View Results

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*Technically not ruthless, because they have an Evil Ruth.

Jungle_350The Tree People: TimeWatch Adapts KARTAS

By Kevin Kulp

If you haven’t already, consider seeking out the ENnie-winning podcast Ken And Robin Talk About Stuff, where GUMSHOE authors Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws opine about history, time travel, and creative game design. Here in See Page XX, we’ll periodically show you how to further develop a KARTAS topic for use in the GUMSHOE time-travel RPG TimeWatch.

In Episode 176: Shut Up Fungus, Ken and Robin create a sci-fi plant-based alien race on the fly. Let’s adapt it for TimeWatch.

THE BACKGROUND

August, 1926. Rural Iowa. A lonely teenage boy installed one final vacuum tube and turned on his new homemade home-made ham radio. It was 1am on a hot summer night, and he expected to hear the distant crackling voice of European radio. Instead there was a flash of purple electricity, and a 100 meter-long flying seed-ship materialized above his house in a shriek of torn reality. It would have been an understatement to say he was surprised.

The ship hovered over the house and the corn field. Dogs barked. His parents fled. And in awe, the boy slowly walked out to meet the glowing, inhuman aliens who emerged from the side of the vessel. They moved like trees in the wind, and their suits shone with brilliant ultraviolet light.

Their encounter didn’t last long, though; the boy’s elderly grandmother emerged with a shotgun, the aliens retreated back into their organic wooden vessel, and the massive ship silently spun upwards into the dark sky. By the time the authorities arrived, the only “proof” was jumbled eye-witness accounts and a melted ham radio that never worked again. The boy couldn’t even find the old dusty store in Cedar Rapids where he bought the ham radio parts. It broke him; he’d end up being incarcerated in three years, institutionalized in five (with the derogatory nickname “rocket boy”), and dead in a sanitarium by the age of 25.

And my, had he lived, he may have felt better in 1938 when the alien invasion begins in earnest.

WHAT HAPPENED

The boy’s home-made ham radio actually contained a primitive Everett Bridge, a device used to tear open doorways between parallel dimensions. It had been sold to him by a disguised time traveler who is a member of the Church of Reinvention, a religious sect that believes mankind will reach their peak through advanced technology; the sect’s members travel through the past to secretly distribute and spread anachronistic super-science. The time traveler and his family folded up shop five minutes after the boy left his store, and they left behind a blank brick wall where the door to his shop had stood a few minutes earlier.

The Everett Bridge had opened a gate to an alien planet in a parallel universe, and the race of plant beings developed in KARTAS episode 176 were on the other side. The aliens found themselves trapped in our world and timeline instead of their own. Faced with infinite unknowns and possibly under attack, they quickly withdrew to gather more intelligence.  The aliens piloted their seedship into the largest mass of plants they could find, the heart of the Amazon jungle, and they settled in to try and understand where they were and how they got there.

The plant-based creatures never named themselves in a human tongue, but once contact was made Central Americans quickly began calling them La Parra: “the vine.” This name became corrupted to Laparra, Lampara, Parra, Vines, and others, but was adopted worldwide as the species’ official name.

Growing undetected and undisturbed in the Amazon, the motile plant creatures spent twelve years budding, sprouting, and reproducing in the bright equatorial sunlight. They split into philosophically aligned groups as described in the podcast, including one particularly hostile to human life. They’d never seen mammals before coming to Earth, and most of the La Parra found them meaty and repugnant.  In fact, most mammals (including humans) are difficult to tell apart for La Parra, and all look pretty much the same.

When the aliens were ready to make contact, they grew new, smaller ships and flew across Central and South America, seeking the sun and colonizing as they traveled. Not all expedition ships destroyed humanity in the places they settled, but humans couldn’t easily tell a hostile tree-creature from a potentially friendly one, so any attempts at diplomacy quickly failed.

Mexico, Central America, and most of South America fell to La Parra largely due to famine and crop failures after human crops become corrupted by the Parra’s more viable seeds. In Europe, Germany and the Axis powers used the distracted West as an excuse to step up their own warmongering and barbarity. By the time Americans fled their country for Canada and England, abandoning the USA to La Parra now seeded and growing in America’s breadbasket, official history was in shambles.

ENTER TIMEWATCH

TimeWatch first hears about the problem when the Axis wins World War II. Agents are quickly tasked with investigating the problem, tracking it back, and preventing the initial change from having occurred. That takes some doing, as an Axis victory doesn’t immediately imply an alien invasion, and the story of the Iowa boy and the ship’s first appearance has already become nothing more than an urban legend with no names and only loose locations attached.

To prevent the accidental invasion, the Agents will need to discover who sold the boy “ham radio parts” that actually functioned as an Everett Bridge. Tracking the rogue time traveler and his religious cult down in his disappearing alley shop and arresting him should solve the problem – so long as none of the La Parra in the far future have found a method to time travel themselves or reach backwards through time, thus are there lying in wait to protect their own existence on Earth.

LA PARRA AS ANTAGONISTS

La Parra Thorn

Defense: Hit Threshold 3, Armor 1, Health 3 (Mook) or 8 (Antagonist)

Offense: Scuffling +1, Shooting +1; Damage Modifier +1 (thorny strangling vines, range Close)

Abilities: Tempus 7; Outdoor Survival 1

Special Abilities: Lightning Speed (cost 2), Regenerate (cost 0) 1 Health per round in bright sunlight only, Technology (cost 2)

Misc: Stealth Modifier +2; Difficulty Target Numbers for all Tests drop by -1 in bright sunlight and rise by +1 in darkness; all La Parra technology is organic in nature

Fast-moving and thornbush-like, able to roll like tumbleweeds, La Parra Thorns rely on stealth and subterfuge to explore new areas and identify possible threats. They make decent assassins but due to their relative fragility they seldom pursue such goals unless tasked to do so.

La Parra Sapling

Defense: Hit Threshold 4, Armor 1, Health 12

Offense: Scuffling +2; Damage Modifier +1 (thorny strangling vines, range Close)

Abilities: Tempus 12; Outdoor Survival 1

Special Abilities: Regenerate (cost 0) 1 Health per round in bright sunlight only, Technology (cost 2)

Misc: Stealth Modifier +1; Difficulty Target Numbers for all Tests drop by -1 in bright sunlight and rise by +1 in darkness; all La Parra technology is organic in nature

Saplings are the primary workers and laborers of the La Parra. They have decent social skills, keen minds, strong curiosity, and seldom hesitate to investigate new surroundings.

La Parra Seedtree

Defense: Hit Threshold 4 (5 in bright sunlight, 3 in darkness), Armor 2, Health 18

Offense: Scuffling +2; Damage Modifier +2 (coiled thorny strangling vines, range Near)

Abilities: Tempus 20; Outdoor Survival 2

Special Abilities: Flashback (cost 5), Regenerate (cost 0) 1 Health per round in bright sunlight only, Resist Stun, Stony (well, Woody; immune or resistant to most weapons, takes full damage from fire), Technology (cost 2), Universal Attack (cost 2)

Misc: Stealth Modifier +1; Difficulty Target Numbers for all Tests drop by -1 in bright sunlight and rise by +1 in darkness. The seedtree’s Hit Threshold rises to 5 in bright sunlight, and drops to 3 in darkness.

Seedtrees are tangled, slow, 3 meter tall masses of thorny vines wrapped around a central flexible trunk. Typically the oldest La Parra in a group (or a “grove”) is a seedtree, and it is rare to find more than one in any given grove. If they choose to do so, when in bright sunlight they literally can spread their species by seeding the ground they walk upon. Seedtrees are dangerous due to their tactical knowledge, robust defenses (fire excluded), and exceptionally long reach.

Chakk

Defense: Hit Threshold 3, Armor 1, Health 1

Offense: Scuffling +0; Damage Modifier -1 (vaguely sharpened appendages)

Abilities: Tempus 5

La Parra are tended to by “fungus lemurs,” slavishly loyal arthropods coated in a moderately sentient and telepathic fungus that obeys all La Parra requests without hesitation. Chakk, named after the clacking and clicking sound their exoskeleton makes while moving, do everything from groom and tend La Parra to perform needed labor.

LA PARRA AS PLAYER CHARACTERS

Not all of the Parra are intrinsically hostile to mammals. If a player expresses interest in playing one, here’s what to use.

Starting characters:

  • An Agent’s standard 1 free point of Timecraft is replaced with a 1 free point of Outdoor Survival
  • With the GM’s permission, Outdoor Survival points can be spent for plant-related special abilities, such as regrowing from a seed in order to be smuggled into a hostile location, or gaining Regeneration (1 Health per round when in bright sunlight) for one scene.
  • In extremely bright sunlight, Difficulties for Athletics, Shooting, Scuffling and Vehicles are reduced by one point (making these activities easier). In darkness or in dimly lit conditions, Difficulties for Athletics, Shooting, Scuffling and Vehicles are increased by one point (making these activities more difficult). For player characters, other General ability Tests are not affected by the presence or absence of light.

GMs: if there’s ever any question of “is this extremely bright sunlight?”, then the answer is probably no.

  • Specialized spacesuits that flood the wearer with infrared light can typically be acquired with a Difficulty 8 Preparation or Difficulty 6 Tinkering test.
  • The Medic ability is less effective on La Parra, restoring 1 point of Health per 1 point spent. This worsens if the Agent lacks a medkit or the La Parra is trying to use Medic on themselves.
  • Spending Stitches to reduce damage is more effective for a La Parra. Spending a Stitch in this way reduces Scuffling and Shooting damage by 2 points per Stitch instead of 1. This models the La Parra’s hard-to-injure woody nature. Stitches cannot be spent to reduce fire damage.
  • The GM may provide ad hoc penalties or modifiers to the character’s Unobtrusiveness Difficulties. It’s simplicity itself for them to go unnoticed in a forested area; a high society party, however, a walking tree may be a different story. Disguise will come in handy here.

These changes in character abilities are designed to model a plant alien’s strengths and vulnerabilities, while remaining balanced with other player characters. GMs are encouraged to tweak these abilities to match their own vision of the species.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

behind enemy times cover smaller

Behind Enemy Times is a series of missions for the TimeWatch RPG. Run them separately or as a linked campaign.

Insects are everywhere, in their millions, roaches, scarabs and ants and mosquitos. Now imagine them human-sized,  with a chip on their carapaces, add psychic powers and you have the ezeru: huge, advanced beetles forged in the aftermath of a self-inflicted human extinction event. But TimeWatch engineered history so that never happened, and only a few ezeru remained, caught in the time stream outside of reality. They want to restore their species and their history, and only you, the agents of TimeWatch, can stop them.

Behind Enemy Times features:

The Gadget

An obsessive 24th-century collector (and disembodied brain) tries to steal the first working atomic bomb for his own personal museum. As Agents work to stop him, ezeru slip in to steal his collection of nuclear warheads.

Thief in the Night

Sophosaurs (sentient velociraptors from an alternate history) destroy human culture by systematically stealing the creativity and memories of history’s greatest thinkers. Agents must unravel the scheme to prevent it from ever occurring.

Time Will Tell

A rogue TimeWatch memory technician has teamed up with William Tell to destroy oppression throughout history. The Agents must undo Tell’s actions in a way that does not create paradox, never letting him know they’re saving his victims, or they could inadvertently destroy TimeWatch’s Citadel.

Rebel Heart

Against their will or knowledge, the Agents are burned by their own superiors and put into deep cover to infiltrate a rebellion against TimeWatch.

Hatchet and Axe

Ezeru spies trigger nuclear war in the 1960s with an unexpected change to history, helping 19th-century social reformer Carrie Nation in a way that creates catastrophe 70 years hence.

The Hatching Time

Ezeru plan to hatch millions of eggs in the heart of New York City, and they’re willing to flood the city with radiation to do so. It takes careful investigation and tricky alliances to defeat an ezeru queen once and for all.

Also available as part of The Complete TimeWatch RPG Bundle with TimeWatch and The Book of Changing Years.

Stock #: PELGTW02 Authors: Kevin W. Kulp, Matthew Breen, Michael Rees, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artist: Rich Longmore Pages: 108 page perfect bound 8.5″ x 11″

Buy the standard edition

Buy the complete TimeWatch bundle

Book of Changing Years front cover_350On 1st May 1895 a young gentleman — a recently admitted solicitor from the West Country — called upon the offices of Pelgrane Press bearing a manuscript loosely bound in waxed paper and string, together with a small steamer trunk packed with an assortment of curios. Acting under instructions from his anonymous client, he passed these items to me together with a banker’s draft drawn on the Bank of England for a substantial sum.

The book itself is a work of scientific romance, a gallimaufry of fables in the manner of The Time Machine by H.  G. Wells. To what end it was written, and for whom, I may never know, but I hope you, Gentle Reader, find it of use, whoever you are, wherever you may travel and whenever you read it.

The Book of Changing Years is a collection of time travellers’ tales and curios put together on the quiet by agents of TimeWatch and secreted in an innocuous drawer in the Citadel – TimeWatch HQ.  It’s an in-world book of clues and mysteries for players of the TimeWatch RPG in the style of The Book of the Smoke and The Armitage Files.

  • Why are there too many cats in London in 1840 and no dogs at all, and how does that relate to the pyramids of Kush?
  • Why is Edward V scouring the time lines for  Caravaggios?
  • Who time-pranked Alexander Graham Bell into thinking he’d heard spirit voices on his new invention?

Fire up your autochron, unhook your tethers and dive into the gaps between the chimes.

 

Also available as part of The Complete TimeWatch RPG Bundle with TimeWatch and Behind Enemy Times, or in a cloth-covered, hardback, limited edition format.

 

Buy the standard edition

Buy the complete TimeWatch bundle

Buy the limited edition

 

 

Stock #:PELGTW03 Authors: Heather Albano, Kennon Bauman, Emily Care Boss, Stephanie Bryant, Emily Dresner, Marissa Kelly, Emma Marlow, Epidiah Ravachol, Rebecca Slitt, Ruth Tillman and Kevin Kulp
Pages: 224 pages, perfect bound Artists: Juha Makkonen, Sarah Wroot

DisruptorsStunning Weaponry in GUMSHOE

Most GUMSHOE games discourage the use of TASERs and other real-world stunning technology. They’re incredibly effective in law enforcement, but it’s less exciting for play if either player characters or their opponents drop instantly after a single hit. Robin D. Laws’ investigative space opera Ashen Stars is a notable exception, where (in the model of good sci-fi and Star Trek episodes everywhere) disruptors have the ability to drop an unprotected target immediately unconscious.

The time travel game TimeWatch takes a slightly different approach. Stunning technology was important to the game—when Genghis Khan is coming at you, you’ll want to protect yourself without necessarily killing him and changing history—but I wanted rules that both felt satisfying and gave characters some difficult choices in terms of staying conscious. You can easily adapt these rules to any TASER or stun-gun in any GUMSHOE game.

The PaciFist Neural Disruptor

Future, Chronomorphic, Hackable, Subtle, Standard; Close range, Stun 5

PaciFists are ranged stun-guns usable with both the Scuffling (for point-blank use only) and Shooting abilities, and are specially designed for covert TimeWatch agent use. They are chronomorphic, blending in to a historical era by changing their physical shape and appearance. Agents can usually decide what shape their PaciFist assumes: a walking cane, a six-gun revolver, a mobile phone, a pipe, or whatever appropriate form the agent wishes.

PaciFists have a rating of Stun 5 (see below). They only work at point-blank and (if used with the Shooting ability) close range, and are ineffective at farther ranges. That’s their tradeoff for making no noise and having no visible beam; the only way to tell a PaciFist has been fired is by the slight scent of ozone and a toppling, unconscious body, which makes them perfect for undercover work.

Making a successful Tinkering test (typically a Mechanics or System Repair test in other GUMSHOE games) can overcharge a PaciFist, boosting its effect up to either Stun 6 or near range, your choice, for its next shot. Rolling a 1 on the d6 during an overcharged attack burns out the weapon regardless of whether the attack was successful. Fixing a burned out weapon requires 10 minutes of work time and a successful Tinkering test.

Non-PaciFist disruptors (such as you might find in Ashen Stars) typically work at longer range but aren’t subtle, making both light and noise when they fire (as any good raygun should!) TASERs and stun guns (such as you might find in Esoterrorists or Night’s Black Agents) work at the same range as PaciFists do, but are visible and make noise.


GM Advice: Neural Disruptors and Fun Gameplay

The rules for non-lethal fire represent a compromise between genre fidelity and playability. In classic science fiction stories, future technology such as stun rays typically take out a target in one shot. Writers always contrive to keep this satisfying.

In a game, limiting firefight shots so that they either result in a miss or in instant victory is generally unsatisfying. It‘s fun to mow down insignificant opponents in one shot, but not to be taken out with one hit or to do the same to a central opponent.

Accordingly, the rules are configured to allow you to still instantly zap minor opponents, but to require several attacks to down a PC or major antagonist (depending on how much Health they’re willing to spend, and how lucky they get). This still feels faster and more decisive than the standard RPG combat, and thus retains a touch of futuristic flavor, while still keeping tabletop play fun.

Neural disruptors such as PaciFists are useful in a time travel game, because the players have more creative options when they know they can surreptitiously knock a mind-controlled Albert Einstein out cold while not killing him in the process. If your TimeWatch campaign is grittier, focus on firearms and beam weapons and be willing to accept some accidental and history-changing lethality.


How Does Stunning Work?

PaciFists, TASERs, stun guns, tranquilizer darts and neural disruptors work by knocking you unconscious without causing extensive Health damage. Resisting stunning works much like resisting unconsciousness. The Difficulty number, however, is set by the Stun value of the weapon used against you instead of by your current Health.

When hit with a stunning weapon, you must make a Stun test. Roll a die with the Stun rating of the weapon as your Difficulty. You may deliberately strain yourself to remain conscious, voluntarily reducing your Health pool by an amount of your choice. For each point you reduce it, add 1 to your die result. If you strain your Health below 0 or below -5, you will also have to make a Consciousness test after the Stunning attack is resolved. If you are attacked by more than one stunning weapon in a single round, you make a separate Stun test for each attack.

If you succeed in a Stun test, you remain conscious but are briefly impaired; you suffer a non-cumulative 1 point penalty to the Difficulty of any actions (including other Stun tests) you attempt until the end of your next turn. If you fail a Stun test, you are knocked unconscious for a period that varies by weapon, but which is usually 10-60 minutes or until awakened by someone spending 1 Medic point on you (which does not otherwise restore Health.)

Dr. Leah Breen is mind controlled by a parasitic alien hive-mind, and she is trying to stun Mace Hunter with her PaciFist so that she can infect him as well. Mace’s Hit Threshold is 4, but Dr. Breen spends 3 Shooting points to make sure she hits him. Dr. Breen’s PaciFist is a standard Stun 5, so Mace must now make an Stun test at Difficulty 5. Mace trusts his luck; he spends 2 Health, dropping his Health pool from 8 to 6, and rolls a d6. Luckily he rolls a 3, and with the +2 bonus from his expended Health he exactly makes the Stun test.

Mace tries to run, but is briefly impaired from the Stunning attempt, and fails his Athletics test due to the 1 point penalty he suffers until the end of his next turn. Dr. Breen catches up with him quickly. Her player asks the GM if she can make a Tinkering test to boost her PaciFist up to Stun 6 for one round. The GM thinks that seems reasonable, but warns her that her weapon may burn out on a particularly bad roll. Dr. Breen overcharges her weapon, then spends her last 2 Shooting points to shoot Mace again, rolling a 5 and hitting easily.

Mace’s Stun test is now Difficulty 6, but Mace still has a 1 point penalty from the first shot that applies to anything he attempts for the next round. Worried, he burns 5 Health and brings his Health pool down to 1, gaining a bonus of +5-1=+4 on his Stun test. With a target Difficulty of Stun 6 and a net +4 bonus, he’ll only be stunned on a roll of a 1… and that’s what he rolls. Mace Hunter falls to the ground unconscious for 10-60 minutes, and Dr. Breen moves in with an eager and squirming parasite.

Creatures with a Health rating of 3 or less immediately fall unconscious when successfully hit by a neural disruptor, no Stun test allowed. (In other words, GMs who want mooks and minor supporting characters to go down in one shot should give them 3 or fewer Health.)

Stunning works well on humans, but may be less effective on large animals, monsters, mechanical devices, robots, humans from parallel universes, and aliens—most commonly due to the creatures’ increased Health, but rarely due to a natural resistance to stunning. Don’t try to use a neural disruptor on a rampaging wooly mammoth. It will only end in tears, tusks and trampling.

Bill and Ted the agents_350by Kevin Kulp

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is actually a TimeWatch game about two agents who never bothered to put any build points into their History abilities.

Okay, it’s not. But it could be. It’s no secret that TimeWatch‘s use of the GUMSHOE Preparedness ability is modeled after Bill and Ted. Rewatching the movie while writing the TimeWatch chapter on funny, lighthearted games, it’s interesting to see how well the movie might convert to a game—and where it doesn’t work at all. The best lesson from this movie is that if you want to run a humorous or funny game, you play the straight man and let the players be the funny ones. As long as your world rewards their hilarity and doesn’t punish them for being funny, you’re going to have a game with a huge number of laughs.

Warning: you’re about to read spoilers for a 25 year old movie. But you probably knew that.

Dateline: 2688 AD, the future. The Three Most Important People in the World (and you know they are, because that’s how they’re listed in the credits, capitals and everything) realize that their reality might disappear due to a change in the time stream. If teenagers Bill S. Preston and Ted “Theodore” Logan don’t pass their history class, Ted gets sent to military school in Alaska. They’ll never form their fledgling band Wyld Stallyns… but their future music turns out to be a historical tipping point that ensures a future of peace, prosperity and love! It’s not going to happen without some help, so an agent named Rufus is assigned to make sure that both teens get an A+ on their oral history report. Rufus is given a time machine that changes to look like a phone booth, and is sent on his way to help Bill and Ted.

Clearly, this entire adventure is written by a peeved GM reminding the players that they really should have assigned build points to their History (Ancient) and History (Contemporary) abilities. The characters then go on a mission to earn enough build points to save their grades, and thus save all of future history. We get to go along for the ride.

And it makes for an interesting question of mission design: what would happen in a TimeWatch game if all future history depended on an agent having, say, a point of Architecture or Charm that they never bothered to assign? It’s hard to engineer, but Bill and Ted makes for a good example.

This utopian future seems to be an alternate reality from the get-go. It won’t exist without Rufus’s intervention, and Rufus can’t intervene unless it exists, so its very existence is a paradox. The GM clearly doesn’t give a damn about a funny game needing to make sense. It opens up some interesting possibilities for TimeWatch, though. How many enemies (or saviors) of humanity are from a potential future timeline, just waiting for the opportunity to come back and ensure their existence? And if this were a regular TimeWatch game, would the player characters be assigned to stop Rufus before he interfered with Bill and Ted?

The time machine he brings is a little bigger than a standard TimeWatch autochron, but it seems to be able to fit a great number of people inside it at once. It’s also not portable; after its chronomorphic circuits disguise it as a late 20th century phone booth (and *cough* not a TARDIS *cough*), it stays that way. The time machine drops in from the sky and then exits through the ground in a display of circling lights, a particularly nice special effect that you can use for a standard TimeWatch autochron as well.

Rufus meets the boys outside the Circle K, shows them the time machine, and introduces them to the concept of time travel. When they’re hesitant to believe him, their future selves show up to convince them. You can see that they have passengers in the booth, but not who; and the future Bill and Ted give vague hints about what’s to come, including “say hi to the Princess for me” and “don’t forget to wind your watch.”

In TimeWatch they’d pay a point of Paradox Prevention and perhaps make a Difficulty 4, Loss 4 chronal stability test to meet themselves; the test wouldn’t be a particularly hard one because they aren’t helping themselves out in combat. Future Bill and Ted keep clues vague, just as a TimeWatch GM would have to do (particularly when they don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen during the adventure.) Note that older Ted reminds himself to wind his watch, which younger Ted completely forgets to do. Good thing, too. If Ted had acted on his own advice and changed the future so that he and Bill never met themselves, that’d be a paradox and they’d have chronal stability tests to make. They’ll also need to make a chronal stability test if they never run into the princesses that future Ted mentioned.

There’s not actually any sign that chronal stability matters one bit in the movie, not like it does in Back to the Future. The GM is probably ignoring the entire concept because the game is meant to be funny. We don’t blame her; you’ll want to hack the TimeWatch rules to adapt to whatever sort of time travel genre you love most. If you’re going for funny, don’t sweat fine details. Life-or-death resource management isn’t really the point.

One last thought before moving on. Rufus tells the teens that “Time in San Dimas is always ticking,” and that even when they time travel, time passes at home. That’s not quite true for TimeWatch’s headquarters. You can spend 20 years on assignment hiding yourself as one of Genghis Khan’s mongol chieftans, but you don’t return back to base 20 years later. You’re not allowed to cross into your own past or future back at base, though; TimeWatch’s headquarters are located inside of the quantum singularity that triggers the Big Bang, and they’re fairly certain that too much paradox is what eventually sets it off. You probably wouldn’t want to use the “clock is always ticking” rule in a TimeWatch game unless the characters maintain active secret identities in their own timeline, and unless you don’t mind relatively short missions that don’t overly disrupt the characters’ home lives.

Off they go with Rufus to visit Napoleon, who gets caught in the chronal field when the time machine heads back to San Dimas. He gets pulled after them through time. That gives Bill and Ted the inspiration to go after other historical figures as well and use them for their history oral presentation. They leave Napoleon in San Dimas with Ted’s brother, deal with Ted’s angry father who accuses them of stealing his keys, and set off to find Billy the Kid and Socrates.

Autochrons in TimeWatch have a similar effect to Bill and Ted’s phone booth: get too close to one when it’s time traveling and you go along for the ride. Note that there’s no translator for Bill and Ted, so their discussions with Socrates depend solely on hand gestures, vocal tone and (of course) song lyrics. That would work for a TimeWatch game, too; NPCs are no damn fun if you can’t communicate with them at all. Bill spends a point of Reassurance here to gain Socrates’ friendship.

Bill and Ted have little or no combat abilities, so their role in the Old West bar fight is mostly to get thrown through a wall. We see that Ted has multiple points in Charm when the saloon girls immediately express interest.

It’s also worth noting that Bill deflect’s Ted’s furious father with a faked phone call from the police station, claiming that he’d left his keys there. Ted’s father is a cop who clearly has points in Falsehood Detection; so how did Bill lie to him? Assuming that the GM didn’t want it to simply succeed, in TimeWatch he’d probably create a convincing lie by spending a point of Falsehood Detection himself.

In 15th century England they leave their new companions with the time machine and head off to the nearby castle, where they see and flirt with two princesses who are being forced to marry two “royal ugly dudes.” They put on armor, have a mock swordfight, Ted falls down a set of stairs, his armor is stabbed through the chest, and Bill goes berserk in a fight until Ted reappears — explaining that he survived because he “fell out of his armor” when he fell down the stairs. They’re captured, almost beheaded, and saved by Billy the Kid and Socrates at the last moment. A mad chase ends with them escaping but the time machine being damaged.

Lots of ability spends here. Ted spends a point of Charm to have the princesses fall for them, there’s a little (VERY little) Scuffling spent when Bill and Ted spar, Ted flubs an Athletics test when he falls down the stairs, and then spends a point of Paradox Prevention to “fall out of his armor” and avoid being stabbed. When Bill runs amok, he’s spending what little Scuffling he has along with a point of another ability (Military Tactics, perhaps?) to avenge Ted. And when they’re about to be beheaded, either they’re spending another point of Paradox Prevention (“We haven’t seen the executioners’ faces. Can we work it so that they’re our friends?”) or using the Flashback ability from a high Preparedness score to get them into place. It’s exactly what you’d want to see in a RPG. The 15th century scene ends with a Vehicles chase through the forest on horseback, one that Bill and Ted barely win. Their time machine is damaged, but much less disastrously than it would be in a TimeWatch game.

The movie progresses as they pick up more passengers, visit the future, see some neanderthals, and fix the broken antenna with some chewing gum. They return to visit their past selves in San Dimas, are reminded that they forgot to wind Ted’s watch and are almost out of time, try to track down the lost Napoleon, during which their new friends are left at the mall to cause a near-riot and get arrested. They’ll need to bust their historical visitors out of jail in order to make their history presentation in time.

It’s the end of the game, and time to bust out the general and investigative abilities. Tinkering to fix the broken time machine antenna with chewing gum (and probably a spent point of Trivia to know how to do it, since we’re pretty sure neither Bill or Ted have points in Science! or Timecraft); Streetwise to guess that Napoleon has gone to the Waterloo’s water park; and in the most influential scene of the movie — well, influential to TimeWatch, at least — they realize that they can go steal Ted’s dad’s keys in the future and leave them for themselves now. They know to avoid paradox and not to put them anywhere they’ve already looked, of course. They use the rest of their Preparedness to set up a tape recorder on a timer, and to drop a garbage can on Ted’s father’s head. It’s an egregious abuse of time travel, and that makes it the best part of time travel. We’d argue it’s one of the things that’s kept this movie so much fun for 25 years. Let your players use the same techniques in your games.

Spying, Burglary, Unobtrusiveness, and one more point of Paradox Prevention (creating a note telling themselves to duck) get spent during the breakout. Their final history presentation guarantees them an A+ grade by each of Bill and Ted spending their newly-acquired points of History. This guarantees that their historical friends are convincing and well-received — and true, correct history snaps into place.

I think the most important rule from looking at Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as a TimeWatch adventure is that the GUMSHOE ruleset is exactly as flexible as you want it to be. The movie certainly doesn’t have a lot of traditional investigation in it, so it doesn’t play to the things that GUMSHOE does best, but it’d be easy to duplicate with funny players and a GM who rewarded for playing against the heroic type. Mostly, it’s a great reminder to make your games ridiculously fun… even if you don’t need to make the game ridiculous to do so.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s still fun.

TimeWatch is a GUMSHOE game of investigative time travel, planned for Q1 2015. It’s written by Kevin Kulp.

 

Dr BreenTimeWatch pledging is now closed. The TimeWatch RPG will be available for pre-order from the Pelgrane Store in a few months.

 

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