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

Bast_350“What fully civilised soul but would eagerly serve as high priest of Bast?” She Who Scratches, the Lady of the Ointment Jar, the great cat-goddess of nighted Khem comes alive in all her varied forms: as a Trail of Cthulhu titan (complete with her monstrous Brood of Bubastis), mysterious Ashen Stars entity, TimeWatch cult leader, and 13th Age Icon. Good kitty!

Bast is the eleventh installment of the third Ken Writes About Stuff subscription and is now available to subscribers – it will be available to buy in the webstore in February. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Bast is now on the Subscriptions tab of your bookshelf.

Stock #: PELH38D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Melissa Gay
Pages: 12pg PDF

Buy now

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.

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
life.

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
restriction.

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
needed.

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
    bullets.
  • 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
achieve.

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.

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.

 

ArmouryWho runs TimeWatch?

by Kevin Kulp

TimeWatch isn’t just the name of the recently Kickstarted GUMSHOE time travel RPG, it’s also the name of the elite organization of time cops for whom the PCs work. It’s worth a few moments for GMs to consider who founded TimeWatch, who runs it, and how that might set the tone for your entire campaign.

It’s an important question. You won’t find it as relevant during a one-shot game, but an organization’s mission, tactics, and ethics are often set from the top down. That’s true for extra-temporal troubleshooting organizations as well, and your choices as GM create significant consequences for the agent in the field, as well as for the type of NPC agents that TimeWatch recruits. Even more interestingly, what happens if management changes during the course of your campaign? Navigating a chronal coup is something that can shake up a game delightfully.

The Ground Rules

TimeWatch is headquartered in The Citadel, a vast futuristic base that exists outside of the normal time stream; alterations to Earth’s history may occasionally prevent agents from reaching the Citadel during a mission, but they seldom prevent Citadel-based TimeWatch agents from entering whatever history is currently extant. That means you can easily leave the Citadel and head to a variant 1492 where velociraptors rule the Earth, but you may have trouble getting back to the Citadel if the changes to history stop TimeWatch from ever being founded.

When they say the Citadel is self-contained, they aren’t kidding. It’s the very definition of self-contained: no windows to the outside, no doors to the outside, and it’s even possible that there is no outside. Whether the headquarters exists in a separate time-isolated bubble universe that calved off during the Big Bang, within a massive Klein bottle, or somehow between the ticks of a clock on February 29th, 1972, the Citadel has so far remained impervious to attack from without. The only way in or out is through time travel.

Regulations forbid agents from time traveling into the Citadel at any time that is earlier than the time they last departed. Violating this rule typically leads to suspension, disciplinary hearings and reams of paperwork; the rule is in place to protect the agents from paradox and chronal instability on a grand scale. Perhaps due to its location upon the shore of time’s great river, paradox within The Citadel has a nasty habit of rippling forwards and backwards like a heavy stone thrown into a very small pool. Agents are urged and trained not to take any actions that may sabotage already completed missions. This admonition also prohibits agents from time-traveling forward to find out if their mission was successful, or time-traveling to the past to warn themselves about useful facts. Some agents cleverly work around this — for instance, more than one team has subtly arranged for an already-prepared clone of a team member who just died during a mission — but by and large the rule remains inviolate. It is reinforced by the autochrons themselves, the agents’ time travel devices, which are programmed not to return to any part of TimeWatch’s past. A 2-point Hacking spend is typically required to circumvent this.

Orders From On High

Most agents are never told the identity of TimeWatch’s secret masters. It’s widely believed that TimeWatch is run by hyper-evolved humanity, humans who have transcended physical boundaries to become ageless and eternal energy beings. Some agents believe that TimeWatch is run by aliens who have humanity’s best interests at stake, while others think that a vast human-cyborg conglomeration tracks histories and corrects ripples in the time stream. Whether you believe that TimeWatch is correcting history for the greater good, or that the leaders have an agenda of their own, the common view is that TimeWatch missions work to restore true history, history as we know it without the interference of time travel. It’s up to the GM as to how much of this is actually true history.

The Tone of TimeWatch

There are any number of ways to handle the framework of personnel and management who keep TimeWatch running. GMs should pick an approach they find most interesting, possibly changing it mid-campaign should internal strife causes a change in leadership.

The Bureaucratic Maze

In this Orwellian and moderately humorous vision of TimeWatch, the Citadel is full of bureaucrats, huge quantities of human and alien office workers from throughout history. Quantum computers and trained analysts spend their days tracking and analyzing historical changes, projecting these ripples through the ever-evolving timeline and dispatching agents to make fine (or coarse) adjustments. There’s a surprising amount of red tape. Agents largely operate on their own recognizance; they can expect poor leadership, slow change, automatically assigned benefits, a stack of procedures to follow, and groupthink committees who usually mean well. . . Usually. Smart and independent agents usually have to contend with office drones from throughout time who work in compartmentalized tasks in order to ensure that the field agents — the PCs — can function, succeed, and thrive.

In other words, think Brazil, Portal or Paranoia, but (perhaps) without an insane computer running the show. Browne Chronometric from game designer Epidiah Ravachol’s time travel RPG Time and Temp falls into this category. In a dystopian setting like this, TimeWatch agents might fight the corporate bureaucracy as much as they fight enemies of the timeline, and the Bureaucracy ability becomes essential for cutting red tape back at HQ.

It’s interesting to consider what happens when a bureaucratic TimeWatch is dismantled, revitalized, and rebuilt by an energetic go-getter who decides that TimeWatch will fail without some sort of renewal. Perhaps she includes the PCs as key members of her team. The bureaucratic old guard doesn’t take well to change, however, so this sort of re-invention always carries the risk of chronal civil war.

The Elite Agents

This campaign structure assumes that the PCs are superb at their job, and they get treated accordingly. They aren’t second-guessed or questioned by their supervisors and case agents unless things go horribly wrong; instead, their superiors assume that they’re going to succeed. There’s no micro-management in this sort of game, which might be a delightful change compared to some players’ real jobs, but there’s also no expectation of backup or strong support systems. Elite agents make their own luck, and can’t always rely on TimeWatch mid-mission for help.

This type of game is ideal for one-shots because TimeWatch management is hands-off and has little effect on the organization’s culture, other than by recruiting superb agents. If you want to stay focused on adventures instead of internal politics, this is a good way to go.

The Rowdy Adventurers

Less coolly professional and more enthusiastically adventurous, TimeWatch agents in this sort of a game are more akin to Remo Williams, Indiana Jones and Doc Savage than they are James Bond. There is little or no organizational bureaucracy within TimeWatch’s loose confederation of agents, and the agents may only see a handful of support personnel who send them on missions. There’s a culture of excitement, adventure and exploration as they tackle chronal problems, and a lack of particularly useful intelligence-gathering. This is TimeWatch in its early days, when much about history remained unknown and unregulated.

To run this sort of game, make the agents’ direct supervisor even more adventurous and gung-ho than they are, perhaps a risk-taker who has been forced to retire. When they have strong support for taking absurd risks, players are more likely to go for broke. Hopefully those risks will pay off, but either way the agents won’t get in trouble for making a difficult call. It’s likely that this sort of organization slowly changes to a more conservative, bureaucratic structure over time, leaving elite teams who rebel against the additional regulations and red tape.

Top-Down Treachery

Conspiracy-focused games involve TimeWatch management who almost certainly don’t have the agents’ best interests in mind. Whether there are much bigger stakes in play that the agents don’t know about or understand, or because secret power groups within TimeWatch are clashing with one another for control of the timeline and control of history itself, the agents become expendable tools in the eyes of their supervisors. They have to look out for themselves and choose their own sides, and they live with the risk that they might not be able to trust even the people who are closest to them. This sort of game feels like the best episodes of The X-Files, and works best in medium to longer-length campaign arcs. Any other type of TimeWatch management may become briefly tainted by conspiracies, breaking up the routine and making sure the players stay on their toes.

Balancing the Campaign

Whoever controls TimeWatch, you probably want their management style to flavor your games instead of being the core plot. Subverting bureaucracy or manipulating a conspiracy is a fantastic side plot while the agents are fixing history, but it gets a little self-referential to consider during every game. Pick an approach, build your game’s secrets and its hidden backgrounds, and go have a blast.

TimeWatch is an upcoming RPG from Pelgrane Press, recently Kickstarted and expected in stores in Q1 2015.

 

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

 

 Bile roachAvoiding the Gimmick

by Kevin Kulp

TimeWatch, Pelgrane Press’s recently Kickstarted game of investigative time travel, falls into the same category of games that play quite differently as a one-shot than they do as a continuing campaign. Feng Shui, Trail of Cthulhu, and Night’s Black Agents fall into this category as well, as does Paranoia… okay, who am I kidding? I’m having a little trouble imagining a game of Paranoia that isn’t a one-shot. I’ve played several games where the character death count was 35 out of 36.

But I digress.

In these games, the assumption and goals for a one-shot game may be very different than for a campaign. Loot and (most) character development doesn’t matter, and neither do the long-term consequences of the characters’ actions. It doesn’t matter if five of your six Lovecraftian investigators die or are driven screamingly insane, so long as the hideous evil is thwarted. It’s okay if your secret agents blow up Cartagena; law enforcement heat doesn’t carry over into the next one-shot. And your Feng Shui everyman hero probably isn’t going to be all that different at the end of a one-shot adventure than he was at the beginning of play.

If you’re in a long-term campaign, however, these things matter. Your investigator will probably prefer to keep her sanity and a portion of her health. Those agents discover that any massive assault that makes international news has consequences. Your everyman hero may fall in love, develop allies, and decide there are things in this world he’d give his life for.

That brings us to TimeWatch. I designed the game to provide an intuitive and self-contained one-shot adventure. That’s evident in the default mission structure: get a mission, time travel, investigate the time disturbance, try to fix history, and take down the bad guys before they use time travel to detect and assault you first. It’s fun, allows huge amounts of flexibility, and (surprisingly for a time travel game) like any one-shot has a minimum of real consequences. Each mission is self-contained, and there’s not necessarily much character development in the process. History is restored, but have the characters fundamentally changed? You had to replace Abraham Lincoln with a cyborg after accidentally getting him killed early, but will anyone notice before Ford’s Theater?

That’s where the concept of a TimeWatch continuing campaign comes in. Here are three rules to remember as you settle into a TimeWatch campaign:

  • Relationships and secrets matter
  • Enemies remember and multiply
  • Small changes add up

Relationships and Secrets Matter. If you’re playing more than a game or two, pay attention to whom your character meets, trusts, and loves. Maybe you live embedded in the normal time stream while not working, with a normal job, boss, family and set of friends who care for you, and from whom you need to keep secrets. Perhaps you have relationships with TimeWatch coworkers, never quite knowing who in the vast organization is on your side and who may be subtly working against you. Do hidden secrets turn allies to enemies — and are you the one to blame? This is why characters have secrets, and GMs are encouraged to exploit and draw on them for adventure ideas.

Your GM may include factions, secret organizations or cabals within both TimeWatch and history as a whole, giving you and your group secret and personal missions to accomplish alongside your normal history-saving work. When you aren’t quite sure why you’ve been asked to accomplish something, the long-term ramifications of your actions become a lot more interesting.

Enemies Remember and Multiply. You may have to fight an arch-nemesis long before you’ve ever met her for the first time. You may have the allies of an enemy come calling at the time when you’re the most vulnerable. Any history you let be known might conceivably be exploited by your foes, and don’t be surprised if unexplained and mysterious enemies show up at exceptionally inconvenient moments. They’ll strike to eliminate you from TimeWatch if you let them, and that may mean a tactic as insidious as ensuring that you have an incredibly happy childhood, just so you’re never tempted to lead a life of adventure.

You can use this same game feature against your enemies. Try to discover the earliest point when they might be vulnerable. Strike against their friends, relatives, or history. Harass them at a half dozen different places in their life, in the hopes of stopping their ultimate plans. Just be cautious not to be the cause of their hostility in the first place.

Ultimately, continuing play becomes personal. It becomes more about the agents and what they experience during their missions, than it does about solving the mission itself and saving history. The best games are a combination of the two.

Small Changes Add Up. If you end up with some sloppy solutions to alternate history, enemies may try to leverage and exploit these for their own gain. Say, for instance, that you teach some jolly Austrian children baseball while on a mission in the 19th century. That’s the sort of thing that history usually takes care of on its own, reabsorbing the knowledge back into the river of time until Abner Doubleday reads about the Austrian game and decides to re-invent it. A clever GM might have your enemies try to pry that small shift into a much larger breach, changing the timestream in unexpected ways just to try to open some weaknesses in the flow of history. Continuity in multiple missions is a joy, mostly because you may find yourself dodging and hiding from your younger selves from three missions ago, just to reduce the chance of paradox.

Work to avoid the gimmick. That’s really what time travel is —  a fabulous gimmick, but it’s a means to an end just as much as it is an integral part of your everyday adventures. Once you get used to the flexibility and problem-solving that a time machine gives you, you should break the pattern and experience a mission or an adventure that might be solved almost completely without your time machine. As your missions transition to become more personal, and you find your character changing in both power and attitude as a result, you’ll be well settled in for long-term campaign play.

Just remember, unlike Paranoia, every TimeWatch character doesn’t start the game with six disposable and identical clones. Your character development may benefit as a result.

You can still pledge to TimeWatch until April 1st 2014; see details at http://site.pelgranepress.com/?p=14572.

 

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