GUMSHOE doesn’t care. It doesn’t care whether a clue is easy to interpret, like a matchbook with a phone number on it, or as hard the Van Gaal code. It doesn’t care what a clue is; a physical object, a realisation, an NPC’s throw-away comment or a simple signpost. It doesn’t care where it is in space or time. A trail of clues can lead you back to the very place you started, with enough extra information gathered on your journey to find something new. GUMSHOE doesn’t care which ability you use to get a lead, only that there is at least one ability which can do the job.
GUMSHOE doesn’t care whether benefits gained from characters’ abilities are pre-determined, offered by the GM, or suggested by the players. It doesn’t care what those abilities are, or how they function. It only cares that there is a match between abilities and information, benefits or interpersnal interaction in the games’ fiction.
GUMSHOE doesn’t care if your character is getting attention by intimidating a suspect, researching a discarded coin or mixing a reagent. It just cares that all players get their chance to shine in the spotlight.
GUMSHOE doesn’t care whether your adventure is pre-planned or improvised, whether it’s a published adventure with carefully crafted scenes, a structure like a peeled onion, a single page with bullet points, or just an idea in the GM’s head. It doesn’t care if abilities lead you into trouble, difficult moral choices, or the wrong direction entirely. It doesn’t care if the game is about players interpreting clues or characters interpreting clues. It doesn’t care if the use of the system is to get the flow of information out of the way, or make it central. It only cares that information that all players want to make available, is made available, to the person who should have it in the game’s fiction.
GUMSHOE takes care of information. You take care of the rest.
Bifrons. Glasya-Labolas. Marchosias. Names to conjure with – literally! This GUMSHOE Zoom takes you inside the pentacle and introduces you to the hierarchy of Hell. Historical European demon-summoning magic just got easier and more realistic. Um … yay?
GUMSHOE Zoom: Goëtia is the eleventh installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription available to subscribers now – it will be available to buy in the webstore in February. If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, GUMSHOE Zoom: Goëtia is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).
|Stock #: PELH25D
||Author: Kenneth Hite
|Artist: Anna Rogers
|Pages: 15pg PDF
Continuing Ken’s theme of looting 13th Age for GUMSHOE twists, let’s talk about monsters. In 13th Age, monsters have a sort of rudimentary AI – instead of the GM deciding to use their special abilities in advance, they’re triggered by the result of the attack roll. So, for example, if a ghoul gets a natural even hit, it gets to make its target vulnerable. If a frost giant rolls a 16 or higher when attacking, it also gets to freeze its foe.
For example, here’s a basic human thug:
13th Age Human Thug
1st Level troop [Humanoid]
Heavy Mace +5 vs AC – 4 damage
Natural even hit or miss: The thug deals +6 damage with its next attack this battle. (GM, be sure to let the PCs know this is coming; it’s not a secret.)
PD14 HP 27
Automating monsters like that makes the GM’s life easier. Instead of having to make decisions before rolling the dice, the GM can just attack and let the triggered abilities make the fight more interesting and complex. The thugs, for example, encourage the player characters to focus their fire or dodge away from the ones who have extra damage lined up for next round. Some of the work of making the monster cool gets shifted from the actual play part of the game to pre-game preparation, leaving the GM free to concentrate on evocative descriptions. tactics and other immediate concerns. (Triggered powers can also surprise the GM, which is always fun.)
GUMSHOE monsters and foes have a limited number of points to spend on their attacks, possibly mediated by an attack pattern. While the attack pattern does take some of the heavy lifting away, the GM still has to make decisions about when to spend the bad guy’s ability pools. Let’s try taking away as much resource management as possible from the GM. For general abilities, for every 4 points a creature has in its pool, give it a +1 bonus, to a maximum of +3, and modelling special abilities as special-case rules or powers triggered by a dice roll instead of the GM having to make a choice. Health, obviously, is unchanged.
Obviously, GUMSHOE’s smaller range of random results means that you’ll have to be a little more restrained when it comes to special powers – there’s a big difference between a power that triggers on a natural 20 in 13th Age and a natural 6 in GUMSHOE. Possible triggers for powers include:
- Natural even or odd rolls – good for alternate attacks or special effects
- Natural 1s or 6s
- 5s & 6s – generically ‘good rolls’, useful for foes that have a chance of doing extra damage or inflicting some special condition, like stunning or knocking prone
- Health reaches a certain threshold – perfect for countdown mechanics, where the fie gets nastier towards the end of the fight
- The attacking player character has no points left in a pool – if you’re out of Shooting, the alien monster breaks from cover and rushes towards yo
You can also have a power be limited to a certain number of uses – a ghoul in Night’s Black Agents might get an extra attack on the first three times it rolls a natural 6, but no more.
All these rules are just for monsters and NPCs – player characters still get to juggle points and manage their resources as per the standard GUMSHOE rules.
Esoterrorist Security Guard
General Abilities: Scuffling +1, Shooting +2,
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +1
Stealth Modifier: +0
Damage Modifier: +0 (Pistol), -1 (nightstick)
Freeze!: +2 bonus to Shooting in the first round of combat if the security guard isn’t surprised.
Natural 1: The guard calls for backup. If help’s available, it’ll arrive in the next few minutes. The guard misses his next attack. Treat further natural 1s as simple misses.
Night’s Black Agents Thug (pg. 70)
General abilities: Athletics +2, Driving +1, Hand to Hand +2, Shooting +1, Weapons +2
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +0
Stealth Modifier: -1
Damage Modifier: -2 (fist), +0 (club), +1 (9mm pistol)
Wall of Fire: If three or more thugs shoot at the same target, the last thug gets +1 Shooting
Gang Assault: If three or more thugs attack the same target with Hand to Hand or Weapons, they all get +1 damage.
Night’s Black Agents Bodyguard (pg. 69)
General abilities: Athletics +3, Driving +2, Hand to Hand +3, Medic +1, Shooting +2, Weapons +2
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +2
Stealth Modifier: -0
Damage Modifier: -2 (fist), -1 (flexible baton), +1 (9mm pistol)
Armor: -1 vs bullets
Protect the Principal: On a natural 5 or 6 when making an Athletics, Driving or Shooting test, the Hit Threshold of whoever the bodyguard’s guarding increases by +2 for the rest of the round.
Stunning Blow: On a natural 6 when making a Hand to Hand attack, the target loses their next action unless they spend 3 Health or Athletics.
Ashen Stars All-Shredder Klorn
General abilities: Athletics +3, Scuffling +3
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +2
Stealth Modifier: -3
Damage Modifier: +6
Natural Even Roll: +2 bonus to Scuffling
Natural Odd Roll: Smash! The klorn destroys some obstacle or object nearby – it breaks through a wall, kicks over a computer console, smashes its spiked tail through the engine coolant tanks, knocks over a nearby ground car or something equally cinematic.
Natural 6: The klorn’s target is impaled on its spear-teeth; +4 bonus damage
Frenzy: When the klorn’s reduced to 10 or less Health, it immediately makes a free Scuffling attack on the nearest foe.
Special: Refreshes health pool when struck by non-lethal disruption fire
See P. XX
A column on roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
As a general rule, writers learn to avoid repetition. In the immortal words of David Byrne, say something once, why say it again?
When writing roleplaying material I have to keep reminding myself to strategically violate that general rule.
If there’s one thing playtesting has taught me, it’s that you can write a rule or piece of guidance once, twice, or even three times and still have readers miss it. And roleplayers belong to a pretty elevated class of readers.
But roleplaying texts are dense, and are often read in a non-linear order.
Also, some best practices, even ones we all think we know deep down in our gaming bones, remain elusive in the heat of the moment. Basic common sense they may be, but playtest comments remind us that they need constant hammering home.
One of them is that, although scenarios link clues to a specific ability or abilities, the players can always get the clue if they present you with a credible alternate method. This means credible for the genre, not for our prosaic reality.
Another point you might consider basic to the hobby but nonetheless frequently requires reinforcement is that the GM may have to improvise new material, from minor details to whole scenes and branches, in response to unexpected player choices.
Along with these, here are two more things I often find myself writing into GUMSHOE scenarios, wondering if I should prune them back in favor of a general word in the introduction. In the end I wind up putting each reference back in. Because they can’t, it turns out, be repeated quite enough.
In Response to Specific Questions
A block of scenario text will often provide a set of bullet points a particular witness, suspect or other target of Interpersonal abilities might provide. For example:
After enough Streetwise to convince him you won’t rat him to the cops, Lou says:
- He was down at the docks to collect a debt from a guy. You know, the kind of debt you collect at 2 am on a lonely pier.
- He found the mope he was looking for and was in the middle of applying persuasive means to his sensitive parts when a strange glowing figure flew overhead.
- It had arms and legs and a head, like a person, but was real long and stretched out, with a set of what looked like freaking moth wings.
- The glow reminded him of a firefly, except it was all over and not just coming from one place.
- He was so distracted he let the guy go to chase after it.
- It looked like it landed between the warehouse and the propane depot over there, but by the time Lou got to the spot it was gone already.
I always wind up inserting a phrase into that intro line, so it goes like this:
After enough Streetwise to convince him you won’t rat him to the cops, Lou answers specific questions as follows:
This serves several purposes.
One, it encourages you as GM to break up the information into bite-sized pieces. The scene becomes a back-and-forth between you and the players and not a pause to paraphrase or read text from the scenario.
Two, it requires the players to do more than name the Interpersonal ability they’re using and sit back for a flood of exposition. They still have to ask the right questions to get the info they need.
I’d like to treat this as a given but the lure of text on paper makes it all to easy to forget to keep it interactive.
No Need to Squeeze the Rind
The basic area-clearing adventure many of us cut our teeth on instilled certain expectations about the amount of scenario text that actually comes into play at the gaming table.
In a dungeon crawl, the PCs might miss out on entering particular rooms. But once in a chamber, you expect most of the stuff listed in its entry to happen: the heroes fight the monsters, encounter the traps, and strip the room for loot. Later innovations, like “taking 20” in D&D 3E and its heirs, go further to ensure that everything that can happen in a room, does.
In an investigative scenario, the writer needs to cover more material than any one group will ever uncover. GUMSHOE gives players lots of information, requiring them to sort out the incidental and flavor facts from the core clues required to move to the next layer of the mystery. It must anticipate the most common questions a group will ask.
But that doesn’t mean that any one group will ask all the questions the scenario answers. Some may efficiently ask only the one or two germane questions and move on. Others will pose every query they can think of. No two groups will come up with same list of queries. In a well-designed scenario the logic of the situation leads the players to ask the question that prompts the witness to mention the core clue.
By its very nature, any adventure genre scenario that allows for plot branching has to include text for more scenes than any one run of that scenario will touch on. If it gives you the option to form a bond with the vicar over your mutual interest in pagan sculptures, but no one in the group chooses to pursue that, that’s the price of true choice. Even if the scenario writer included some really cool stuff featuring the vicar.
The players haven’t failed to engage in all possible interactions. They’ve made the choice to interact with other things—the family who live near the graveyard, or the folklorist staying with them at the inn, or whatever.
Nor has the scenario failed to force them to do everything. If an adventure eventually requires you to exhaust every alternative, they’re not really alternatives.
A scenario that provides freedom and choices must include more material than any single group could possibly activate. If that means you as GM see the potential for cool scenes that your players never touch, that’s not just acceptable. That’s a non-linear scenario working as designed.
The Invisibles, more than spirits and a little less than gods, can fit inside stones, trees, and their servitors’ heads — but not into just one issue of KWAS! Whether you call them Loa or Orisha, these mighty beings demand your attention and your sacrifice, but give you hidden knowledge and awaken your interior fires. This second issue of our two-issue Voodoo series gives you plenty of Invisibles to summon, battle, invoke, and ally with whether you’re hunting Dagon in Haiti or rogue programs on your starship.
GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 2 – The Invisibles is the third installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription (if you are a previous subscriber, you will need to buy a new subscription to see this), or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store.
If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 2 – The Invisibles is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).
|Stock #: PELH17D
||Author: Kenneth Hite
|Artist: Melissa Gay
||Pages: 16pg PDF
The first of a new series of GUMSHOE Zooms looking at historical magic traditions — and giving you the tools and rules to evoke these puissant powers in your own game! This first issue in a two-issue series examines sympathetic magic and zombies, and Zooms in on the Afro-Caribbean magical-religious complex encompassing Vodoun, Candomble, Santeria, Obeah, and Palo Mayombe. The loa ride in May!
GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 1 – Magic is the second installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription (if you are a previous subscriber, you will need to buy a new subscription to see this), or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store.
If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 1 – Magic is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).
|Stock #: PELH16D
||Author: Kenneth Hite
|Artist: Melissa Gay
||Pages: 16pg PDF
In The Zalozhniy Quartet, there’s a scene (not really a spoiler) where the PCs are outmatched and are ‘supposed’ to flee, leading into a tense chase. Expecting player characters to take a particular action is always hazardous design – you can set up a situation where there’s only one valid route for the PCs to follow, and they’ll still stall and try a hundred alternate approaches before doing the obvious. In this case, waiting for the players to decide the situation was untenable and choose to retreat wasn’t an option – the scene involves a direct confrontation with… things they’re not equipped to deal with.
In my initial draft, I suggested a bunch of ways for the Director to make it clear to the PCs that running away was their best – indeed, only – option. Sense Trouble rolls. Having the bad guys beat up the PCs with ease. Having the NPCs soldiers accompanying the mission heroically sacrifice themselves, giving the PCs a chance to escape.
The solution, as pointed out by Robin, was to make the overwhelming odds a Core Clue, obtained with Military Science. The player character – a veteran of a hundred black operations and brush wars – instantly sizes up the situation, and realizes that hanging around is suicide. They’ve got to run. Making it a core clue changes the dynamic from “the GM forces the PCs to act” to “the PCs, by dint of their superior skills and experience, fight their way out of a lethal ambush and escape to safety”.
What makes this especially interesting, from a scenario design point of view, is that Military Science isn’t often used passively. It’s the sort of skill that a player brings up when they’re spying on a furtive meeting between two mercenaries, or when they’re trying to bluff their way onto a military base. Writing a scene that takes a skill normally used as an active, ‘I ferret out the clues thusly’ and just handing a clue to the players can produce interesting results.
Esoterrorists – Document Analysis: While paying for take-out at a nearby diner, you spot a cheque in the drawer of the cash register. The handwriting on the check matches that of the author of the Esoterror manifesto you’re in town to find. The check was right on top of the drawer – the target might still be right here in the restaurant.
Recalled Information & Flashbacks
Revealing facts to players as Core Clues (or as a benefit for spending points) is the core of GUMSHOE. A Mutant City Blues player uses Ballistics, and you describe how they work out that the killer must have been standing on the third floor balcony of the building across the street. Searching CCTV camera footage with Data Retrieval gets them a photo of the gunman, and running that through a police database with Research gets them a name.
Or, in Trail of Cthulhu, they use Occult, and learn that the owl sigil they found is associated with the Minervan League, and then use Credit Rating to get an invitation to a League-sponsored lecture.
You can go further than that. A Ballistics clue could equally point the characters towards a roleplaying scene.
“At that range, with the weather that night, it would have been a hell of a shot. You know one guy who could have pulled it off – an old army buddy of yours, an ex-sniper who’s now a shooting instructor. He probably knows all the good marksmen in this region. Maybe he knows the shooter; it’s definitely worth talking to him”
“You’ve seen this symbol before. You remember reading a book in the restricted stacks of the Orne Library, back at good old Miskatonic. The owl sigil is used by a sect called the Minervan league. In fact, you recall that that particular book was donated to the library collection after the death of its previous owner. Thinking about it, he lived near here. Maybe his family know more.”
More ambitiously, you can embed scenes inside other scenes, by means of a flashback. Keep flashbacks short, and be prepared to improvise in response to player actions in the ‘past’.
Occult: “You recognise that symbol – it’s the sign of the Minervan League. You know that because in your youth, you were acquainted with a member of the league. You even applied for membership, but weren’t accepted – did an existing member blackball you, or did you back out at the last minute?
Anyway, you remember your friend hinting about the league’s secret purpose. He started to say something about a Great Work… then he fell silent, as if suddenly frightened. What did you do?”
NPCs as Clues
A clue – especially an Interpersonal one – can be incarnated in the form of an NPC from the PCs’ past. Instead of, say, getting information from the waitress at the bar through Flirting, maybe the waitress is an ex-girlfriend of the Flirting player character. She’ll tell you what she overheard – but only if you apologise for what happened the last time she saw you.
If a PC has a high Intimidate, then presumably they’ve intimidated people in the past. So, when the PCs are combing the dark streets of the city, ask who’s got the highest Intimidate – the PC with the second highest rating is the one who gets jumped by the vengeful goons. (Of course they don’t go after the highest rating – that guy’s scary). Beating up the goons yields the next Core Clue.
A Core Clue points the way to another scene. It doesn’t have to be evidence interpreted by the PCs. Anything that opens up a new avenue of investigation works. Mix up the way you present core clues whenever you feel your game is getting repetitive!
In the various mystery sub-genres, suspects shadow, spy upon and track the detectives at least as often as the investigators stake them out. Yet roleplayers react to being watched with less sang froid than do their fictional counterparts. Like imprisonment, enemy surveillance falls into the category of plot elements that players resist, because they seem to deprive the group of choice. If you can’t take an action because you fear your powerful foes will catch you at it, you feel hemmed in—a sensation adjacent to, if not really analogous to, the dreaded railroad. Yet plots can turn stale if the bad guys never come after the heroes. To use Antagonist Reactions, adversaries have to know enough about the investigative team to strike out at them.
Fight this tendency by giving players a sense of agency over the extent to which the bad guys watch them. Remind them that Infiltration applies even when they’re not technically sneaking into a particular location. Any action undertaken at any point in the investigation can be obscured by the same set of skills that let them creep into bank vaults, server farms, or underground cannibal hideouts.
In some games, like Trail of Cthulhu, Infiltration is called Stealth. This slightly different framing may do much of the work for you.
Don’t just let the players stew in the thought that the bad guys have every means of locating them and anticipating their moves. Give them opportunities to overcome surveillance techniques, presenting them as obstacles to be knocked down with successful Infiltration tests. Pose the problem and let the players, after you’ve suggested they use this ability, propose the specific solutions.
GM problem: You notice the security camera on the nightclub wall turn toward you as you pass by.
Player solution: I note the locations of all the cameras on the street and attempt to plot us a course through their blind spots.
GM problem: A couple of ill-complected sailors stand on the docks of Thalarion, clearly watching you.
Player solution: I call attention to myself, trying to lure them into an alcove, so the others can get the drop on them. Then we’ll find out who put them up to this.
GM problem: When you boot up your laptop, the camera light goes on for a split-second.
Player solution: I set up a bot to generate false search activity, and hide what I’m really doing under a fractal firewall pattern.
Successes in evasion needn’t completely derail all enemy action against the heroes. That would be boring. But it can delay it, or leave the visiting henchmen at a disadvantage when they do arrive to mess matters up.
This is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful GUMSHOE Zoom I’ve ever known in my life. Presenting detailed rules for brainwashing, memetics, telecontrol, and brain hacking, and for gear from the Microwave Auditory Effect gun to subliminal flashers to tinfoil hats, it brings the fight inside your head.
GUMSHOE Zoom: Mind Control is the tenth installment of the Ken Writes About Stuff subscription, or it’s available as a stand-alone PDF from the store.
What is a GUMSHOE Zoom?
Not everything can support a game of its own, or even a big sourcebook. For those things, we present the GUMSHOE Zoom, a sort of supplement focused on a key game mechanic and its possible applications. In general, Zooms are interesting potential hacks, or intriguing adaptations of the main rules. Some apply to one specific topic or sub-sub-genre. Others cross all manner of GUMSHOE turf; you can slot them in and adapt them to tales of Cthulhuoid investigation, mean superpowered streets, or alien colonies alike.
Zooms are experimental. That does mean that they haven’t been playtested, necessarily. (If something in here is really really broken – and it’s not, as this ain’t our first rodeo – we’ll fix it in post.) But that also means we encourage you to experiment with them. Changing the cost, or prerequisites, or point effect, or other mechanical parameters of a given Zoom changes how often it shows up and how much drama it drives. The dials are in your hands.
Zooms will change the focus of your play if you use them. Putting a mechanic on the table puts it into your game. Adding a Zoom means more actions, possibly even more scenes, using those rules. Since the Zoom mechanics are intended to encourage specific actions or flavors, to force a card in your storytelling hand, they aren’t “balanced” against “normal” actions or rules. In general, if you don’t want to see more of it, don’t Zoom in on it.
Zooms are optional rules. You can and should ignore them if you don’t want them, or change them at will. After all, if a given Zoom turns out to be crucial to an upcoming GUMSHOE game, we’ll change it to fit that specific genre or form of storytelling.
|Stock #: PELH11D
||Author: Kenneth Hite
|Artist: Jérôme Huguenin
||Pages: 12pg PDF
See P. XX
A column on roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
With Kevin Kulp’s TimeWatch RPG blasting through Kickstarter as only a chronoton can, you may be asking yourself if you can put time travel in other GUMSHOE games. We at Pelgrane are not in the business of telling you not what not to do with GUMSHOE. (Unless you want to use it to light your Hibachi indoors. In which case, don’t do that.)
That caveated, here’s how you might do it in the various existing GUMSHOE settings.
The Esoterrorists/Fear Itself/Trail of Cthulhu
One of my favorite treatments of time travel comes, of all places, from an old Batman comic. And not during a cool Batman phase, but from the kooky silver age. In that story, the details of which my memory is doubtless mangling, Batman and Robin go back in time hypnotically. (In fact, now Googling “Batman time travel”, I find that I like this idea because I’m remembering it wrong.) In my memory’s mistaken version of how this works, they possess the bodies of their ancestors, who happen to be conveniently located and remarkably similar in appearance in ancient Rome, the old west, the Viking era and so on.
Lovecraft likewise treats time travel as a mental journey, making it the specialty of the Great Race of Yith. In a Trail game you need go no further than to have a series of weird murders committed by a victim of Yithian possession. When the investigators capture the first suspect, the Yithian simply jumps to someone else—perhaps a PC whose player is absent that session—and forges ahead with the mayhem. To really shut down the Yithian menace, the group must figure out what the entity is trying to accomplish, and then take action to ensure that it is no longer possible. Otherwise the body-hopping from the ancient past continues.
Scrubbing the Mythos detail from this idea for The Esoterrorists or Fear Itself allows you to reverse the direction of travel. Outer Dark Entities come from the future, when they have already breached the membrane, to create the conditions that will later allow them to breach the membrane. They can’t travel directly into this time, but possess those emotionally destabilized by Esoterror provocations. Again the problem is that stopping one meat-form merely slows them down, requiring them to find a suitably vulnerable replacement. The definitive solution depends on rendering what changes they’re trying to wreak in the timestream impossible. After the Veil-Out, the Ordo Veritatis might take temporary relief in the thought that they’ve prevented a future in which their demonic foes win. But plenty of additional ways for them to do it remain, as a fresh manifestation quickly demonstrates.
Mutant City Blues
The conceit in this mutant-powered police procedural is that all weird abilities are already well explicated by science. If you do want to invent a mutant time travel ability you have to find a spot for on the Quade Diagram. Somewhere out near sector F00, where the weirdo dream manipulation appears, might fit the bill. You also want to establish the effects of time manipulation as already measurable, if not fully understood. So perhaps a time distortion field might emit some sort of radiation that enters the bloodstream, or induce over-production of a particular preexisting hormone. As members of the Heightened Crimes Investigation Unit you can perform tests on tissue samples to determine whether victims, alive or on a morgue examination table, were exposed to time altering energies. Finding out who committed the time crime would then be a matter of finding out which local mutant miscreant has the mutation in question. That said, given the down-and-gritty reality level of Mutant City Blues superheroics I would be inclined to make time travel something that tantalizingly almost seems to exist, until the detectives get to the real truth of the matter. Perhaps false rumors of time travel could be connected to the alien beings some people in the world credit with the Sudden Mutant Event that created all weird powers.
The space opera setting of Ashen Stars seems tailor-made for timey-wimey activities. Like several sources of its inspiration, it includes godlike aliens. Or at least there used to be godlike aliens, the Vas Kra, who have devolved into the all-too-moral vas mal. And with those in the mix, even if only in the setting’s past, anything can happen. That allows you to nod to this key genre element without introducing brain-cracking paradoxes that rightly belong in TimeWatch territory. Needless to say the shift from universe with time travel to universe without would be an outcome of the Mohilar War. We might take a cue here from the current, degraded morphologies of the Vas Mal, the former godlike aliens. Now they look like classic UFO grays, which hook up to the motif of missing time. Perhaps in the Ashen Stars universe, missing time derives not from hypnosis or erased memories but from proximity to time travel and its contradictions in minds not capable of handling it. Back in the 20th century, when the Vas Kra came to earth to meddle with the human mind, those taken up into their vessels suffered gaps in understanding because they brushed too close with their transtemporal natures. This leads to the theory, oft-mooted by residents of the Bleed, that the Vas Kra ended the Mohilar War by interfering massively in the past of those forgotten beings. It explains how the war ended, how the Vas Kra lost so much energy that they had to devolve, and why no one remembers that this happened. The fear that this is so leads at least one powerful movement to oppose all efforts by the vas mal to reconstitute themselves, lest time travel come back, unleashing chaos throughout the cosmos—maybe bringing back the Mohilar, too.
Night’s Black Agents
What if the vampires are time travelers? They’re humans who, sometime in the future, discovered how to move through time. Problem: doing so warped their bodies. They became vulnerable to sunlight and had to drink the blood of humans uncontaminated by chrono-energy to survive. Their added strength and resistance to damage (except to the brain or heart) hardly counts as a fair trade. So they send agents back to the past, to prevent the chain of events that leads to their own development of time technology. Stopping those events requires a grand upsetting of the geopolitical power structure. To achieve this they must penetrate and destroy the world’s intelligence agencies. The PCs know too much about this, even if they don’t believe the truth, and hence find themselves on the run from somewhat sympathetic vampires from the future. Who still want to pulp them and take nourishment from their juices.