Swords of the Serpentine, by Emily Dresner and Kevin Kulp, is Fantasy GUMSHOE as seen through a lens of classic swords and sorcery. That means different things to different people, though, so we wanted to share with you the set of collected guidelines we’ve used when writing the game.

  • Adventures are episodic. Months or years may pass between when adventures are set, and a Hero’s fortunes may rise or fall from one adventure to the next. Adventures may occur out of chronological order.
  • The actions of Heroes change the world around them in fundamentally important ways.
  • A Hero’s own abilities are far more important than their gear. Gear gets lost, abandoned, and stolen, but when you’re shipwrecked or taken captive, you can always rely on yourself.
  • The gear that’s most important is the gear that’s named.
  • Sorcery is rare and dangerous, and seldom can be trusted. Sorcery corrupts and has a cost. Its rules and origins are little-known.
  • Not all secrets in the world should, or need to, be known.
  • There are few, if any, non-human societies. Those that exist tend to be horrific or alien.
  • A Hero’s motivations may start out simple: survival, vengeance, and wealth. Motivations and Drives likely grow more complex and sophisticated over time.
  • The world is hard and seldom fair. All too often, “justice” varies based on your wealth and importance.
  • The world (and Heroes) are filled with moral shades of gray and are seldom black and white.
  • The great Heroes carry their reputation before them.
  • The phrase “mighty thews” shows up way more often than you would probably expect.
  • Quests tend to be small, personal, and centered around self-interest and small groups instead of saving a nation or the world.
  • Wealth is transitory. Heroes live for today; they may find great wealth, but they’re impoverished again before you know it. Money slips away or is squandered, and Heroes must seek risks to capture more.
  • The sly and clever villain is not necessarily puissant in combat. That, of course, is why they hire protection.
  • Villains linger, as do their plans.
  • The unknown conceals horror, and is seldom safe.
  • The boundaries of kingdoms are fluid and are seldom set in stone. They vary based on the actions of the strong.
  • The world is old and crumbling, and lost history abounds.
  • Whimsy lurks in unexpected places, and cleverness is everywhere.

In the comments below, let us know if there are aspects of swords & sorcery in your own game that you’d add or change on this list.

In the coming months we’ll talk more about what Swords of the Serpentine does, including the Sorcery rules, a brand new combat system designed to make fantasy combat as exciting and cinematic as you’d dream it could be, player narrative control, and how the core mechanics handle everything from dungeon crawling to manipulating the most important people in the city. Thanks for staying with us.

For more information, follow Emily (@multiplexer) and Kevin (@kevinkulp) on Twitter at #serpentineRPG or #gumthews, and look for more articles in See Page XX leading up to next year’s release.

We’ve worked with Jérôme Huguenin on many of our covers, and he never fails to amaze and astound us with beautiful art. His latest creation is the cover for the upcoming GUMSHOE core game Swords of the Serpentine, by Kevin Kulp and Emily Dresner, which you can see below.

To see more of Jérôme’s art, like and follow his Facebook page, and check out his Patreon Architecture for Adventure, where he posts his hand-drawn isometric RPG maps.

A GUMSHOE roleplaying game of swords & sorcery!

by Kevin Kulp and Emily Dresner

When it’s summer, you smell her before you see her. As you come around the curve of the Serpentine river the scent of the open sea is replaced by the stench of low tide, of boat tar, of rare spices spilled from a smuggler’s ship; of cooking smoke and human waste. Bells ring out across the water and echo like the song of ghosts, loud enough to almost drown out the chanted prayers of your ship’s rowers.

You round the bend past the lower fort and there she is: the great city of Eversink, sprawled out on scores of islands across the sheltered water. Her jeweled and crystal turrets are reflected in a shimmering bay full of hundreds of brightly colored boats. Architecture from a dozen eras towers above a tangle of grand plazas and narrow canals. Temples to her goddess rise above the mansions and tenements, calling her people to prayer. She may be ancient and corrupt, slowly and inexorably swallowed by an endless bog; but she’s alive in a way most cities aren’t. She’s a melding of faith and stone and wood and water – and mud – that’s unique in all the world. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve come to kill a rival, earn a fortune, learn a secret, or hire an army. You’re home now, and the Sinking City will embrace you. All you need to do is survive.

Swords of the Serpentine is a sword & sorcery game of investigation, heroism, sly politics and bloody savagery, set in a fantasy city rife with skullduggery and death. The rules adapt the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system to create a fantasy RPG with a focus on high-action roleplaying and investigation inspired by the stories of Fritz Leiber, Terry Pratchett, Robert E. Howard, and others.

Your characters will discover leads that, if followed, propel them headlong into danger and forbidden knowledge. A lead might point the way to sunken treasure, jungle ruins, the missing key to a sorcerous trap, or the true identity of a notorious murderer. The GUMSHOE game mechanics ensure that you’ll always notice leads if you look for them. It’s up to you to choose which one you’ll follow into whatever perils lie ahead, in hopes of fortune, glory, justice, or just staying alive another day.

If you want to track down foul sorcerers in a corrupt and decadent city, clamber through underground ruins to sneak into an enemy’s home and rob them, or wage a secret war against a rival political faction, you’re in the right place.

Swords of the Serpentine offers:

  • A fantasy city of mystery and magic inspired by Lankhmar and Ankh-Morpork
  • Tools for fast and effective character creation
  • A customized combat system that opens the door for cinematic, heroic battles
  • Social combat that targets your enemy’s morale, letting you defeat some foes through wit, guile, and threats
  • Sorcery that allows you to rip apart a tower with the flick of a hand—but are you willing to pay the price in corruption to body and soul?
  • Powerful allegiances that give you influence in one or more factions across the city, but which can earn you equally powerful enemies…
  • Streamlined abilities that power four distinct types of heroes, and which you can mix-and-match across professions to customize your character further
  • Gameplay and rules mechanics that encourage players to help build the world they’re adventuring in
  • Rules for death curses, true names, alchemy, sorcerous items, ghostly possession, political manipulation, and more!

Limited edition with bookplate

Only 100 copies of the limited edition exist. 50 are available to customers in the U.S. and Canada, and 50 are available to customers outside the U.S. and Canada. The limited edition books are faux-leatherbound with foil, and each one includes a sticky-backed bookplate signed by Kevin Kulp, which you can add to your book.



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.


Buy the limited edition


Stock #: PELGTW01L 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

Limited edition with bookplate

On 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 timelines 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.

Only 100 copies of the limited edition exist. 50 are available to customers in the US and Canada, and 50 are available to customers outside the US and Canada. The limited edition books are hardbound and cloth-covered with foil, and each one includes a sticky-backed bookplate signed by Kevin Kulp, which you can add to your book.


Buy the limited edition

Stock #:PELGTW03L 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

By Kevin Kulp

Owl Hoot Trail is a fantasy steampunk Western game (reviewed here and here) published by Pelgrane in 2013. Clinton R. Nixon wrote the core of the game that Matt Breen and I developed. Our aim wasn’t to make a Western-flavored fantasy game that felt like D&D with spurs; it was to make a game just as deadly and cinematic as your favorite Clint Eastwood movie, except with giant steampunk monstrosities, gun-slinging Orcs, Dwarvish prospectors, and blandly smiling grifters who demolish you in a hand of poker while they chat secretly with each other in Elvish. If we ended up with female halfling marshals gunning down owlbear rustlers at high noon, we were hitting our design goals.

We hit our design goals.

It’s been a while since we’ve revisited the game here at See Page XX, so here’s a few alternate ways to play alongside some great game hooks for doing so.

Low Magic, High Grit

Someone says “fantasy heroes” and you squint suspiciously; you want your western game stripped down and all human, maybe with some supernatural weirdness to confound the players. Can do!

Keep the Mechanics, Change Out the Appearance

Keep the game mechanics for all the character races, but toss the appearances and cultural hooks (if any.) Pick a half’in, for instance, and you still get +1 to DRAW, Amity and Defense – without having to be small or have hairy feet. The players can describe their character’s appearance however they wish, and use the mechanics from any race that fits their character concept.

Think Twice About Supernatural Character Classes

If you want to cleave closer to classic Western tales, limit how much steampunk, spirits, mind control and word of the Almighty makes it into your game. You’ll want to keep the classes Gunslinger, Marshal, Ruffian, and Scout. Take a close look at Gadgeteer, Mentalist, Preacher, and Shaman. I love those classes and consider them incredibly fun to play, but they break the mold of the traditional Old West.

You might pick and choose as well, keeping some classes and eliminating others – or keeping the abilities in a class while describing them differently. Perhaps a Mentalist is a huckster or incredibly persuasive singing cowboy. Perhaps a Preacher’s abilities (some of them, at least) have incredibly mundane and non-supernatural explanations. Keep what you love, jettison the rest.

Make the Foes Match Your Tone

You probably don’t want the characters attacked by a chupacabra or giant ants if you want a classic western! Or maybe you do. Hey, I’m not judging. What we recommend is that you save time by using pre-written monster stats and just reskin them to look like whatever or whoever you want. Instead of goblins, you have feral children. Instead of a hellhound, you have a vicious trained attack dog.

Or better yet, introduce a small amount of horror or fantasy into your game by carefully picking and choosing non-human foes. The Marshal’s going to get a huge and unpleasant surprise the first time she tries to arrest a graverobber who turns out to be an honest-to-goodness ghoul…

Steampunk and Sorcery Extravaganza

Serious and conservative games are for weenies, you declare, and you plan to make your game sing by turning the “wahoo!” volume up as far as it can go.

Over-the Top Villains

No one likes a boring villain. No one. So make them memorable, clever, infuriating, and multi-faceted – even most of those facets just makes them more dangerous and conniving.

To do this, don’t ever have a villain with one driving goal. In the real world, few people are mono-maniacal. Sure, they may have a particular life goal (or two, or three), but they also may have families, loves, hates, and hobbies that help make them unique. Your villains can follow the same pattern. Perhaps the notoriously lethal gunslinger paints portraits of the men and women she kills, and delivers them to her victims’ families – and it’s nothing but a rumor that late at night those portraits can be heard sobbing. Or maybe the crazed steampunk inventor of clockwork monstrosities loves to knit, and sends all of his mechanical terrors out into the world with a nice little knitted shawl or bonnet. Why? Because he finds it hilarious, most likely. If there’s another reason, the characters will have to find it out.

It’s also fine to make great villains fallible, with visible weaknesses and flaws. That’s usually a much better choice than making a “perfect” villain; your players are going to want a handle on the bad guys to manipulate or goad them, and that’s most fun when they can detect a villain’s ego, pomposity, pride, or fear. Players feel justifiably clever when they spot their enemy’s obsession and then lure that enemy into a trap by preying on the knowledge.

Embrace the Weirdness

Cackling inventors drive giant clockwork spiders across the llano, stalking intelligent prey; a punchcard-driven sheriff metes out clockwork justice in a small town where even the worst ruffians call themselves his friend; and some miscreant is adding robotics to the local livestock, turning bison into steam-powered weapons platforms. Those cows and sheep aren’t actually going to combine into one hideous robotic cow-sheep amalgam that’s a 30’ tall baaing, mooing, clanking menace, are they? Well, yes, they probably are. Somebody should probably get right on stopping that. And by “somebody,” I mean “your players.”

If you love the idea of the weird west and want to differentiate this game from a traditional western, turn the knob up to 11 and embrace the unusual nature of the setting. Look at the four more unusual character classes and consider basing something interesting around them. To focus on Shamans, create a town (or even the entire Old West) where spirits are known by everyone to walk the earth and can be summoned, manipulated, allied with.. and feared. Not only are there nature spirits, the Rotting Marshal commands undead vampires and zombies from her corpse ranch out in the blasted deserts. If you’re going to carve out a space for civilization, you may want to start by eliminating the threat of your own dead kin betraying you.

For Preachers, consider a setting where there’s an apocalyptic battle going on between heaven and hell, and it’s being played out through the unknowing inhabitants of a small corner of the Old West, with only a few Preachers in on the secret. Hidden angels and demons walk amongst us, and every conflict symbolizes the fate for a portion of humanity. In this setting, when the Preacher tells you she’s a servant of the Almighty, there’s a damn good chance she’s speaking literally.

For Mentalists, think about mind control, con men, and controlling people through their information and emotions. You may picture a vast Shee conspiracy of mind-controlled lawmen across the Old West, an autocratic secret government just begging to be shattered by brave and independent heroes… unless, of course, the shee buy them off or kill them off first. Or you might imagine newsprint that quite literally changes the emotions of anyone who reads it, allowing a secret manipulator to turn whole towns into spies and secret soldiers, without the locals ever guessing how they’re being manipulated.

And for Gadgeteers, grab every steampunk trope you can think of and don’t limit yourself only to powers and inventions that are available to the player characters. Perhaps a massive metal, steam-powered spire is rising out of the prairie, and its only when the supernatural drill pierces a hidden cave system that the heroes decide to intervene. Perhaps clockwork knights are riding mechanical bison across the land, spreading word of the coming of a terrible new Iron Warlord. You can even mix genres: cowboys versus Far East robots or battle-suits in a roving, glorious battle to control the West.

Tying It Together

Whatever approach you decide to take, ask your players what they like best about the setting, and focus on that. Some people might love the clothing, inventions and trappings of steampunk. Others might be in love with the stark brutality and heroism of a classic western. There’s no wrong answers here, but you want to make sure you’re giving your players the mix of roleplaying, action and danger they crave.

That brings up a good point. We’re not going to say that Owl Hoot Trail has a high mortality rate among heroes, but you can fill up Boot Hill nice and quickly if you’re incautious. That’s not a bad thing. Just let your players know so that they set their expectations accordingly, and use the rules for Hardened characters on page 9.

We recommend you use Owl Hoot Trail for short series of 3-5 games, just like an arc in your favorite television show. The game runs beautifully with this structure, allowing you to end sessions on cliff-hangers and raise the tension until the heroes are able to resolve the dilemma (or die trying) in the final session.

And however you use the game? Don’t pull punches. Make your villains worthy of the title. Have an amazing time. And give the players hell.


confidential2Cthulhu Confidential, the flagship title for GUMSHOE One-2-One, is now available for pre-order! GUMSHOE One-2-One is designed for two players: a GM and a player who takes the role of a solo investigator, solving Mythos mysteries. In Cthulhu Confidential our PCs are hard-boiled shamus Dex Raymond, investigative journalist Vivian Sinclair, and private eye Langston Montgomery Wright.

We asked the Pelgranistas—as well as some friends of Pelgrane—which fictional characters they’d most like to have a GUMSHOE One-2-One mystery adventure with. This is TimeWatcher Kevin Kulp’s:


Constable Peter Grant

A young half-British, half-West African officer with London’s Metropolitan Police, Constable Peter Grant is on a miserable overnight stakeout when he learns that there’s such things as ghosts. He’s soon recruited into the one-person branch of the Met that deals with magic and the supernatural. Before he knows it he’s negotiating a peace deal between the bickering gods of London’s many rivers, solving horrendous supernatural crimes, and training to be the first new apprentice wizard in over 70 years.
Peter is eminently practical, looking at the supernatural through the eye of science and deconstructing what generations of wizards have taken for granted. For all that he’s not a particularly talented wizard, his stubbornness and talent as a good cop pay off. He tries to use good, solid police work and investigation work to forestall supernatural horror and tragedy — if not always successfully.
Peter Grant appears in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, beginning with the novel Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the US). He’d be a superb character in a Cthulhu Confidential game; his dogged stubbornness, reliance on proper protocol, and nearly unique ability to combine mystical knowledge with traditional police work make him an ideal person to encounter Lovecraftian mysteries and monstrosities without losing his sense of self.

Preorder Cthulhu Confidential at the Pelgrane webstore, and get the PDF plus a preview of the first Dex Raymond adventure, straight away!


GUMSHOE One-2-One retunes, rebuilds and re-envisions the acclaimed GUMSHOE investigative rules set for one player, and one GM. Together, the two of you create a story that evokes the classic solo protagonist mystery format of classic detective fiction. Can’t find a group who can play when you can? Want an intense head-to-head gaming experience? Play face to face with GUMSHOE One-2-One—or take advantage of its superb fit with virtual tabletops and play online. Purchase Cthulhu Confidential and future GUMSHOE One-2-One products in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Parallel Universe ImposterBy Kevin Kulp

Independent, self-reliant TimeWatch troubleshooter teams are generally given discretion to execute, imprison, punish, mind-wipe or even recruit the chronal miscreants whose schemes they thwart. Sometimes the difficult decision of what to do with a prisoner resolves itself; certain alien species such as the parasitic Europans or roach-like Ezeru receive a “destroy on sight” designation. When the enemy is human or a more sympathetic race, however, the decision becomes more challenging.

Memory Modification

The simplest solution is usually the best. If a miscreant can have their memory altered and return to their normal life, that’s often the best solution for all concerned. The challenge is that memory modification can change what people remember, but it can’t change a person’s base nature. If they’re intrinsically evil, dissatisfied, and intelligent enough to discover time travel a second time, this might not be an effective resolution. If the criminal only acted out of opportunity (such as finding and stealing another person’s anachronistic time device before committing a crime of passion), simply erasing their memory of the event might be all that’s needed.

Time Exile

When you want someone accessible after the fact, but don’t want them mucking around the time stream, you exile them in time. This most commonly occurs by dropping prisoners on isolated prehistoric tropical islands. The goal is to find a location where a prisoner can easily survive, but where they’ll never be accidentally found (easier when humanity hasn’t evolved yet!) and where they won’t develop enough technology or tools to escape. Even if they do get off the island, it’s believed that one person with no technology can do very little damage to the historical timestream in a prehistoric era.

For particularly dangerous prisoners who are given this treatment, geosynchronous spy satellites and high-flying drones might be used to keep an eye on the prisoner.

It’s not unheard of for time exile to occur in locations that are less pleasant than a tropical isle. While against regulations, more than one prisoner has been abandoned in the age of the dinosaurs. A few of these have managed to survive and thrive, but so far none have altered history enough to have their power removed.

Prisoners might also be placed in traditional prisons, squirreled away in a back corner of the Bastille, Alcatraz, Devil’s Island, or the Tower of London. They live out their lives futilely trying to convince the guards around them that they’re from a different time. They’re seldom successful.

The Floating Mountain

TimeWatch maintains a prison back in the “Boring Billion,” that period of Earth’s early history when geological upheaval ceased for a billion years and the Earth was covered with vast mats of biological sludge. The Floating Mountain is a levitating fortress that hovers over the bacterial mats, a traditional prison with no access to time travel and nowhere for escaping prisoners to flee to. It’s used for violent offenders who need to be controlled, and whom TimeWatch doesn’t feel comfortable inflicting on a prison parallel.

The Citadel

The Citadel is TimeWatch’s headquarters, located in the quantum anomaly that precedes both time and the Big Bang. A real advantage to time traveling is that at least a few agents have seen Loki’s plan in The Avengers movie, so very few if any prisoners are kept imprisoned at the Citadel. It’s just not worth the risk. Em-gram brainprints of enemies are occasionally brought in and catalogued, however; on one occasion one of these was imprinted on a new clone, resulting in a brief but deadly manhunt through the Citadel’s many halls. The practice has since been disallowed.

Prison Parallels

One option available to every team is to banish a prisoner to a prison parallel, a distant parallel timeline that is easy to time travel into but very, very difficult to leave. There are dozens of these, generally discovered because agents and probes who have ventured there have not yet found their way home. Exile to a prison parallel is chosen when the prisoner is too dangerous to risk any chance of escape, but when executing them is cruel or unwarranted.

Mechanically, a prisoner can be exiled to a prison parallel by one agent spending a Timecraft point. This allows them to hack their autochron and transport a prisoner without the autochron itself remaining behind. Once in a prison parallel, a prisoner is free and unfettered to make her way about the world –but it would take a time machine and an expenditure of at least 9 Timecraft and Science! points, all from one person at one time, to escape. That’s theoretically possible from one person who grows to great power over an extraordinary amount of time, but no one has managed it yet.

A prison parallel is as alien or earthlike as the GM wishes. It may be a virtual paradise or a brutal and dangerous hellscape; its one constant quality is that once someone time travels in, they’re probably not leaving. An agent has no way to determine the qualities of a given prison parallel before they exile a prisoner to it. For better or worse, there are three prison parallels that TimeWatch primarily uses for banishment.

Chronal scientists theorize that our own timeline may act the same way for creatures originating in other distant timestreams. If so, TimeWatch may find themselves dealing with a pseudo-human warlord with significant technological and personal prowess, who is literally unable to travel in time to return home.




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 timelines 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

TacticsBrought to you by experienced players and GMs, this is the advice novice TimeWatch agents wished they’d had before they were swallowed by a chronal anomaly, infected with clock plague or unexisted in a Ray-Jar Vu.

TimeWatch offers players some subtle tactics that it’s possible to miss, especially when playing for the first time. Here are some strategies that you’ll want to
come back to, especially when your agents are in trouble and you’re looking for some creative solutions.

You’re going to get hurt a lot. Plan accordingly.
Attack pools means that even mooks often hit you the first time they attack; enemies’ accuracy will decrease as they get more tired. Expect that a
significant adversary is likely to hit you, so have enough Health that you’re not going to drop right away. If you never increase your Health over the
default value of 6, and since you drop out of a fight at -6, you’ll be able to withstand at least two or three typical hits. Bumping your Health to 8 or 10
points during character creation, increasing your Hit Threshold to 4 (by having an Athletics of 8 or higher), having a dedicated team medic, using evasive
maneuvers (see p. 109), or increasing your armor or Hit Threshold through Preparedness or Science! spends (such as with a personal forcefield) will help
you stay alive.

Stitches speed things up.
You can use stitches to do more damage, take less damage, avoid making a travel test when time traveling, refresh pools enough that you can guarantee
success on an important roll, and offer teamwork that helps an ally succeed. Do so. They’re around to make the game more convenient for you, so you should
spend them accordingly.

If you don’t have enough pool points, hand out more stitches.
The frequency at which you gain stitches, and thus the frequency in which your character is able to refresh their pools, is almost entirely in the hands of
the players. If it feels like you don’t have enough, other players feel that way too; set a standard by rewarding behavior that you think is fun, clever or
awesome. This might be as simple as tossing one to someone who is kind to another player, or giving a stitch to the guy who brought snacks. Once your group
gets the hang of positively reinforcing awesome behavior, you’ll probably find you have enough to make interesting tactical decisions.

And hey, if you don’t, your GM can always award stitches to the group (or allow you to refresh combat pools) to make sure you can stay in the fight. Remind
her if necessary.

If you’ve hit your Hoarding Limit but are given a 4th stitch, spend one of the ones you have.
Having more stitches than you can use is a good problem to have. If you’re at the max of 3, and you get more, use your existing stitches immediately to
refresh pools that aren’t maxed out. If you need to, use Medic or Reality Anchor to help a fellow agent recover damage, then refresh your pool. In a worst
case scenario, use Preparedness to establish that you have a piece of particularly cool or useful technology that you expect to need—who doesn’t need a ray
gun?—and then refresh your Preparedness pool.

Don’t hang on to stitches greedily. The game is most fun when they come and go quickly.

Remember your armor.
If you’re wearing your TimeWatch uniform, subtract 1 point from every instance of Shooting and Scuffling damage you take.

When you absolutely positively don’t want to get hit, try Evasive Maneuvers.
Every 2 Athletics points you spend boosts your Hit Threshold by 1 until the beginning of your next action, up to a maximum of +3. Of course, you probably
aren’t going to hit anything—your enemies’ hit thresholds go up by +2 every time yours goes up by +1—but who cares? Your job for the round is surviving. If
you’ve just spent a point in Taunt to get your foes’ attention, and you’ve used evasive maneuvers to boost your Hit Threshold to 7, they’re all going to be
too busy trying and failing to shoot you for you to mind your own inaccuracy.

Use Stitches to reduce damage.
Even with your armor, are you getting smacked for more damage than you want to take? Each stitch you spend reduces damage by one point. It may save your

Don’t charge a gunman.
A foe who has a ranged weapon drawn and ready will get a free bonus attack on you if you try and rush him. That’s why people in movies don’t charge gunmen.
If you don’t want to get shot, wait until he’s distracted by something before closing, or try to create a distraction yourself (possibly with time travel
or by spending an investigative point) before closing in.

If you can close with him, he’ll be at a disadvantage unless he switches to Scuffling. As noted on p. 104, Shooters in close combat have a 1 in 6 chance to
shoot themselves or an ally by mistake.

Use Taunt to draw an enemy’s fire.
The investigative ability Taunt does more than just make people so angry at you that they reveal what they know. Spend a point in a fight, and you can draw
an enemy’s attention (and attacks) away from someone else. They may even chase you. If you can survive it, it’s a good way to draw someone into an ambush.

Make ludicrous chronal stability tests, just make sure you have friends with Reality Anchor there to back you up.
We’ve found in playtest that players are often very conservative with their chronal stability and reality anchor points. They exist in part so that you can
use them to do cool time tricks when avoiding paradoxes can’t solve your problem, so don’t be afraid to use them when your back is up against the wall.
Reality Anchor restores other peoples’ chronal stability by 2 points for every point you spend, and it’s an efficient way of restoring someone who’s just
endangered himself to try something clever.

Time heals all wounds.
If you can get away from combat and time travel without being followed in a time chase, you can go to a future hospital and get medical treatment. A day or
two of rest and recovery, and you can return to the fight with full Health and full pools of Athletics, Scuffling, Shooting and Vehicles. The tricky part,
of course, is getting away from the fight safely.

In a pinch, and assuming that you have a Medic rating of 1 or higher, don’t forget that you can exchange an investigative point of Medical Expertise for 3
points of Medic. That’s enough to heal allies 6 points of damage.

You could also trade Preparedness or Tinkering for Healing. It’s not unreasonable to assume that a technological device could provide you with a temporary
medical-related benefit in case of emergency—either restoring a small amount of Health points, or keeping you automatically conscious for a Consciousness
test. An agent with Flashback (the booster gained with 8 or more points of Preparedness) can even state after-the-fact that such a medical booster
was acquired and in place. It’s not much, but it’s much better than dying.

If the GM gets lucky and rolls well, fall back and regroup.
You’re exceptionally competent agents, but you aren’t invulnerable and you aren’t superhuman. You’re much better off negotiating or retreating than you are
dying. Sometimes, combat is far from the best solution.

Recruit Allies.
Spending Investigative points from History or Anthropology might allow you to recruit allies from out of history. If your plan depends on an extinct and
ancient Pacific Island tribe that worships you as a god, or a doomed spaceship crew from the far future, you might as well get use out of them by leading
them into battle. Likewise, you can make friends with the best and brightest minds in history. Nothing’s more amusing than discovering that the Mona Lisa
is actually a painting of your own character, just because you spent a History point and turned out to be an old friend of Leonardo da Vinci.

Play the long con.
TimeWatch agents gain an extended lifespan, so don’t be afraid of the long path to success. Need to live with someone for a few years as their roommate so
that forty years hence they’ll tell you what you need to know? Need to go back in time a few months and get a job as a laboratory guard, just so you’re
there at the right time to let in your friends? If you can spare the time, it’s sometimes a creative solution.

Boost your damage with Tinkering.
If you have points in Tinkering and are worried you won’t have cause to use them, never fear. A tinkering test on your ranged weapon during downtime will
increase the amount of damage the next shot does by 1 point. If you tinker with a PaciFist, you can raise the Stun level from 5 to 6. Better yet, if you
have 8 or more points in Tinkering, you can do this quickly enough that it becomes part of your combat action. Combined with spending stitches for extra
damage, it’s a good way to quickly inflict pain on your foes.

Spend Investigative points to boost attacks.
If you can justify it, you can spend any Investigative point to gain +3 on a General ability test. Out of Scuffling points and need to hit someone?
Spending a Military Tactics (“I’ve studied tactics”), Intimidation (“I raise my fist and while he’s flinching, I hit him”), Streetwise (“I know dirty
fighting; I’ll kick out his knee”) or even Authority (“He’s ex-military? I scream ‘Attention!’ like a drill sergeant and hit him while he’s trying not to
instinctively salute”) point can boost your roll by +3—and if you’re clever about how you do it, the GM or one of your fellow players will probably toss
you a stitch as well for doing something fun.

You may also be able to use Investigative ability spends to boost your damage instead. Spending a point of Medical Expertise, for instance, reasonably lets
you know the most painful place to hit a foe, letting you raise all the damage you inflict by +1 for the rest of the fight.

Spend investigative points to disrupt combat.
Losing a fight horribly? Want to pause it long enough to get a word in edgewise with diplomacy, or to try to escape? Spending one or more points from a
social skill might cause hostilities to cease for a minute against all but the most determined foes. Of course, make a hostile move and you can expect the
fight to spring back up.

Use the initiative system to your advantage.
You have great control over who goes when in a round. Ask your fellow players who wants to go next, and you can make sure they do. Be wary of letting the
bad guys go last in a round; it means that if they want to, they’ll be able to go twice in a row.

Flee into time.
You can use the initiative system to escape a fight in your autochron without risking its destruction from stray fire. If the bad guys have already gone in
the round, fire up your autochron, and then just make sure that your character goes first in the next round before your adversaries have a chance to act.
It’s a little sneaky, but it’s completely legitimate. Just hope that your enemies don’t have the ability to chase you through time; if they do, ready
yourself for a time chase when they come after you.

Use Science! points for concentrated awesomeness.
Want nifty gear—force fields, more powerful weapons, smoke bombs or concentrated explosives—but you’re short on Preparedness and don’t have time to use
Tinkering to build them? Spend a point of Science!. With the GM’s okay, it’s a fast way to confirm that you have an item you want without having to roll
for it.

Imagination Counts.
You have access to the future, and that means you can describe just about any technology you want to the GM. She’ll increase the Preparedness cost for
acquiring more powerful gear, of course, but feel free to consider high-tech solutions to simple problems. Night vision contact lenses, portable EMP
generators, zero-point gravity guns, jetpacks; fun and useful! Acquiring something like this is a good use of Preparedness, especially when you
have more stitches than you need and can immediately refresh your Preparedness pool.

Adopt a signature weapon or piece of gear.
As noted on p. 140, you can spend build points to start each game with a piece of unique tech that you particularly love. If your character is always known
for his disintegrator pistol or jet pack, that’s how to always have it around.

Help Yourself — Literally.
When you’re in dire straits and need backup, you can be your own backup. Declare that you’re going to remember to have your future self show up and save
you. You’ll need to spend a Paradox Prevention point and make a chronal stability test, but it means that you can double your attacks. Sure, if your
younger self dies anyways you’ve created massive paradox (and triggered a chronal stability test for your fellow agents), but you’ll probably be beyond
caring at that point, and the extra help may just save the day.

Help Others.
Is your friend dying, but you can’t get to him in time? Pay a point of Paradox Prevention, make the chronal stability test, and your future self can show
up to heal him. This is just like duplicating yourself to help be your own ally in a battle, but it lets you provide tactical support to an ally instead.

Save a few build points.
If you can, save a few build points when creating your character or after each mission. These don’t disappear if you don’t immediately assign them;
instead, you can assign them on the fly during a mission to immediately get access to an ability.

Paradox Prevention points: your wild card.
If want a clever time-or causality-related effect, but it’s a little too powerful to do casually, ask your GM if you can spend a Paradox Prevention point
to do so. These serve as “wild card” points for temporal effects, letting you take unique time-related actions without over-balancing the game. Paradox
Prevention points, like all investigative points, don’t refresh until the end of the mission; plan their use accordingly.

Spend Paradox Prevention to save chronal stability.
You can sometimes get in a bind with low chronal stability, needing to spend chronal stability in order to make a test that you can’t afford to fail.
Consider spending an extra point of Paradox Prevention instead. This gives you +3 on your chronal stability test, making it automatically in all but the
most dire of circumstances, without spending any more points.

Note that this is different than the point of Paradox Prevention you’ll need to spend for certain chronal hijinks like duplicating yourself in a scene.

Finish off foes.
Badly injured supporting characters are at a disadvantage in combat, but not a huge one. If your enemies aren’t mooks, your team is best of focusing fire
to drop one target before moving on to the next. You’re better off having 1 downed foe and 2 uninjured ones than 3 slightly injured enemies.

If you’re fighting mooks, unnamed supporting characters with low hit points (you’ll probably be able to guess by the GM’s description), take out as many as
you can as quickly as possible. They hit hard but drop fast. And hey, as you’d expect in a cinematic game, eliminating the unnamed characters before taking
on the main villain is practically traditional.

Stun those mooks.
Unlike more important adversaries, mooks don’t even have the opportunity to make a Stun test when you hit them with a neural disruptor. If you hit them
with your PaciFist, they’ll automatically go unconscious. It’s a good tactic when you want to damage history as little as possible. This is an especially
good tactic for agents with 8 or more points in Shooting, who can fire twice in a round.

You may fight an enemy more than once.
The tricky thing about time travel is that you may fight an elderly adversary, then later on fight a younger version of the same person—and you can’t kill
him without triggering a major chronal stability test, because doing so would create paradox. You may have to think creatively to get around this

Make sure someone knows how to drive.
You need to put physical distance between yourself and anyone chasing you through time, and that means outrunning them during a time chase. These get much
easier and much more fun when at least one agent has 8 or more points of Vehicles. You won’t need it every mission, but you’ll be grateful for it when it’s

A closed door is your friend.
Why? Because thanks to Preparedness and time travel, it hides exactly what you need right now, and are going to put behind it later.

Beam weapons are deadlier than firearms.
They’re also a lot more obvious, as you’d expect when shooting a laser pistol in a science fiction game. Nevertheless, beam weapons do more damage on
average than other weapons, and can have some handy improvements like disintegration. They’re a reasonable use of Preparedness points.

Use weapons when Scuffling.
Just like in real life, smacking someone with a weapon does more damage than hitting them with your fist. You’re encouraged to describe grabbing weapons
from the environment to use, but you’ve got a fallback. A deactivated autochron is nice and sturdy, and serves as a handy club.

When to stun, when to kill.
Stun attacks are mechanically balanced with firearms. Shoot or hit someone with a PaciFist, and if they’re not stunned it may seem like you wasted your
attack. Not so. Three things happen when a foe successfully makes a Stun test:

  • They’re dazed, so the Difficulty goes up on any other tests they make (including more Stun tests) between your attack and their next turn, making them
    easier for other agents to stun.
  • They’ve likely spent some Health points in order to boost their chances of success, so you’re about as well off as you’d be if you shot them with
  • Mooks drop immediately when shot with a neural disruptor—no Stun test required.

PaciFists keep the target alive, and are great for stealth. Bullets, beam weapons, knives and fists leave the target marked and bloody, and (beam weapons
aside) don’t run the risk of appearing like magic or future technology to less advanced societies. Which you choose depends on the effect you want to

Think outside the box.
This is a time travel game. If the building gate guard doesn’t let you in, time travel in. Or go back in time and get a job in building security yourself.
Or go back in time and become a family friend of the gate guard. Or spend a point of architecture to go back and alter the building blueprints, giving you
access that no one else knows about.

Similarly, you’ll have multiple options when taking down a bad guy. Go back to stop him before he ever started his plans, or in the middle of them before
they succeed, or right at the key moment; just be careful not to risk severe chronal stability tests by causing paradox. You can often get around that with
some clever planning that makes history work out correctly, but you’ll want to consider your line of attack.

Research locks in reality.
When history has changed, you usually have the option of time traveling into the future and reading about an event in (alternate) history books. Doing so,
however, locks it in as an established fact; change it after that, and you’ll need to make a chronal stability test as time shifts away from what you know
is true.

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