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.

 

 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://www.pelgranepress.com/?p=14572.

 

TimeWatch cover 300Scenes from TimeWatch:

An adversary flees across the pristine diamond-bearing beaches of South Africa, ocean on his left and TimeWatch agents far behind. “It’s a shame that I’ll be going back to last week and covering that area with stun mines,” says an agent. roll roll The sound of an explosion echoes across the beach, ending the easiest chase ever.

– o –

“You!” taunts agent Mace Hunter, screaming up at a rogue T-Rex summoned by Nazi scientists into 1940s Berlin. “Stop eating my teammate!” The massive dinosaur swallows what’s left of Dr. Breen, swings its ponderous head towards Mace, and lurches forward like the predator it is. Its roar shakes the building. Mace raises his high-tech elephant gun, squints his eyes, and smiles.

– o –

“You can not trust these people!” claims a rogue time traveler from the future, hoping to influence the Great Khan. “They are unnatural witches who you barely know!”

“These people?” growls the Khan. He slaps a grizzled TimeWatch agent on the back. “They have been my friends, commanders, and bodyguards for almost 20 years. It is YOU who can not be trusted. Guards, kill him.”

“Best long con ever,” mutters one of the agents to the others. They palm their PaciFists and move in.

– o –

A TimeWatch agent arrives in ancient Egypt, only to see the Sphinx bearing her own face. “Why does the sphinx look like you?” asks the rest of the team.

“I don’t know?” she hazards. “I look pretty good up there. But we better go see what my future self has gotten up to. Something, I think, has gone horribly wrong.”

“Guys? There’s a 27th century starship hovering over that pyramid,” says their scout. “That might be an understatement.”

– o –

“Stay away from that — kzkt! — body!” The Russian soldier starts to move, but is held back by Altani, a TimeWatch agent with a drawn pistol and a bad attitude.

“This body?” asks Dr. Breen innocently, and she rips off another hunk of the psi-active bile that coats the unconscious form. The Russian soldier’s face bulges as a giant mandible swells and pops through the skin, mottled brown chitin reflecting dully in the overhead fluorescents. An extra arm bursts through the front of the soldier’s chest, followed by several more. Flesh splatters. Now the soldier’s flesh-mask is hanging loosely from its head, and the ezeru’s true eyes can be seen behind the disguise. They are entirely inhuman.

“Poor choice,” buzzes the insectoid ezeru, and its limbs move faster than a human eye can follow. Altani screams.

– o –

Three days left to join 1500 other fans and back the Kickstarter! Forget these; go make your OWN TimeWatch stories.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kevinkulp/timewatch-gumshoe-investigative-time-travel-rpg

 

 

TimeWatch cover 300The Future Us Knew TimeWatch WOULD Be Successful…

…but apparently to avoid any paradox or chronal instability, we failed to tell our current selves exactly the extent to which that would be true. The GUMSHOE game of investigative time travel has had a great start on Kickstarter, raising close to $28K in funding over the first 48 hours. That’s unlocked ten stretch goals, including three mission hooks, with one from Kenneth Hite. Two campaign style expansions have been unlocked, Pulp Action TimeWatch and a Quantum Leap-style solo campaign, but there’s still lots to go.

What’s The Pitch?

You’re an elite TimeWatch agent from somewhere across time, working to prevent alternate histories and chronal disaster. You’ve got a time machine, high-powered weaponry, and a whole lot of history to save. Better get started.

That makes for a fun premise, but one of the things we’ve been surprised about is how flexible the concept is. Want to emulate your favorite TV show or time travel movie? The game should be able to handle it. That’s true from killer future cyborgs like the T-1000, to parallel universe jumping in the style of Sliders, to touring the future and past of alien planets as a tourist in a larger-than-expected time machine. Of particular note are the possibility of a Conspiracy campaign, where you never know who to trust and your own team could be infiltrated by aliens or the people who work for them, and the Horror Campaign, where time travel itself releases chronal monstrosities across time that you may have to deal with… even if it makes the problem worse in the process.

Want To See It?

We’ve added a $1 pledge level to the Kickstarter under the theory that some people will want to see the playtest rules before deciding whether the game is right for them. That will get you access to the Jurassic Edition, a 260-odd-page PDF copy of TimeWatch’s playtest documents. Grab it, argue about it, and play it if you’re at all curious.

What’s Next?

Revealed stretch goals include:

  • A specially-commissioned TimeWatch theme from composer James Semple
  • The above-mentioned Tourist-style campaign that captures the joy and the themes from your favorite time traveling TV show—jelly babies and robotic dog optional
  • A Rebellion-style campaign where you’re the people trying to change history and make it a better place, while TimeWatch is cast in the role of the evil empire trying to stop you
  • Hardcover rulebooks!
  • Building an actual time machine (mind you, the amount to hit this stretch goal is a bit high)

Swing by, take a look, and say hi. Unless you already did last week. Sometimes, it’s a bit difficult to be sure.

TimeWatch cover 300

13th century Europe is enslaved, there’s an army of Mongol warriors burning the city of Paris, and the Supreme Khan is alive and well in Mongolia? Someone is changing history again, and it’s up to your team to fix it.

 

Welcome to TimeWatch.

TimeWatch, by Kevin Kulp, is a GUMSHOE game of investigative time travel. You are a defender of history, an elite TimeWatch agent plucked out of your native era and trained to stop saboteurs from ripping history apart. Your training allows you to diagnose disruptions in the time stream and track down the cause, making conclusions that less capable investigators might just guess at. The TimeWatch rules presume that you are a highly competent badass. Who are you to prove them wrong?

If you’ve played other GUMSHOE games like Night’s Black Agents and Trail of Cthulhu, TimeWatch’s mechanics will look familiar. It uses a pared-down ability list (Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics, and various engineering abilities are all grouped under the ability “Science!”, whose exclamation point tells you quite a bit about the game’s tone) and can be played in a variety of different styles. You can play it in Pulp style if you want more dinosaurs and aliens, Rebel style if you want to be the people changing history for the better, Cinematic style if you want to emulate your favorite time travel movie, and more. The default is Patrol style, acting as time cops to save the timeline.

 

Status: In development

 

T-rexby Kevin Kulp

One of my favorite things about GUMSHOE games is the Preparedness ability. It’s an ability that’s designed to eliminate gearing-up at the beginning of the play session. Instead of trying to guess at what weaponry, gear, explosives and devices you’re going to need for the mission, you’re assumed to bring a bunch of things with you that you can use on the fly. When you need an item, make a Preparedness test. If you’re successful, you pull the item out of your kit and you’re ready to go.

I love this because it rewards improvisational creativity. My friend Adam drove this home when, as noted in the p. 184 sidebar in Kenneth Hite’s Night’s Black Agents, Adam’s character produced a rocket launcher and blew my escaping bad guy’s helicopter right out of the sky. Bastard.

In TimeWatch, this conventional use of Preparedness still holds true, but hey — it’s a time travel game! That means you have carte blanche for Bill-and-Ted-style tactics. Sitting at a table in a restaurant when being confronted by an adversary, it’s perfectly legitimate to say “When this mission is over, I’m going to time travel back here in disguise and strap a pistol to the underside of this table.” Spend a few points, make your Preparedness test, and the pistol’s just where you expect it should be.

That’s true, at least, as long as you haven’t previously looked at the underside of that table. If you had, paradox would have prevented this trick from working. That makes a closed door a TimeWatch agent’s best friend, because until that door is open, your team could use Preparedness to put whatever they need on the other side. Once you’ve seen what’s there, though, you’ll have to be creative to get new items into that scene.

This ability has gotten used extensively in playtest, mostly because it’s a classic time travel trick and because it’s so much freakin’ fun to create weapons and tools on the fly. If you have 8 or more points of Preparedness, your character also has the Flashback booster, which lets you state that this sort of countermeasure is already in place. “Oh, he’s running from us down the beach? Later, remind me to travel back here and bury a few neural disruption landmines under the sand over there.” (roll, roll, WHOOMP.) “Ah, there they go now.”

The other reason I like Preparedness is because TimeWatch is a game where you may be jumping forwards and backwards in time during the same mission, and the disruptor rifle you need in the 24th century won’t be tremendously popular back in the witch trials of colonial Salem. If you want to get a chronomorphic weapon instead (a weapon that changes shape to match the time period), or a local weapon, no problem; make a Preparedness test. Just try not to get accused of witchcraft in the process.

TimeWatch is an upcoming Pelgrane Press GUMSHOE RPG about time cops, by Kevin Kulp, due to be Kickstarted in January 2014. Stay in touch at @timewatchrpg. To be notified when the Kickstarter goes live, click http://bit.ly/1hSd99K

The world has changed. Again.

China wasn’t supposed to colonize 15th century North America, right? And yet you find yourself being attacked by eunuch swordsmen in what should be San Francisco. Some time traveler told the Golden Fleet about the Pacific oceanic gyre that would lead them to a rich new land. Someone you’ll have to stop.

Welcome to TimeWatch.

TimeWatch cover 300TimeWatch, by Kevin Kulp, is a GUMSHOE game of investigative time travel that Pelgrane Press is about to Kickstart. You are a defender of history, an elite TimeWatch agent plucked out of your native era and trained to stop saboteurs from ripping history apart. Your training allows you to diagnose disruptions in the time stream and track down the cause, making conclusions that less capable investigators might just guess at. The TimeWatch rules presume that you are a highly competent badass. Who are you to prove them wrong?

If you’ve played other GUMSHOE games like Night’s Black Agents and Trail of Cthulhu, TimeWatch’s mechanics will look familiar. It uses a pared-down ability list (Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics, and various engineering abilities are all grouped under the ability “Science!”, whose exclamation point tells you quite a bit about the game’s tone) and can be played in a variety of different styles. You can play it in Pulp style if you want more dinosaurs and aliens, Rebel style if you want to be the people changing history for the better, Cinematic style if you want to emulate your favorite time travel movie, and more. The default is Patrol style, acting as time cops to save the timeline.

Traditionally, the two big road blocks to time travel games have been game research and handling paradox. The former has gotten to be surprisingly simple over the past few years; with Wikipedia for research and innumerable, excellent alternate history message boards and podcasts (such as Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff or Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History) out there, it’s easy to track down good ideas. The TW rules will contain a number of mission hooks, of course, and our plan is to offer superb guest designers the chance to write missions as part of the upcoming Kickstarter’s stretch goals.

In TimeWatch, paradox is handled through an ability called Chronal Stability, which takes the place of Stability in other GUMSHOE games. Cause paradox and you lose chronal stability; lose enough chronal stability and you become unanchored in time. This allows fun flexibility when solving missions; you can time travel forward to check the work of historians fifty years hence to figure out what happened in this timeline, or even have your future self leave you a cryptic note about what happens, but doing so risks chronal instability. You can plan your investigation accordingly, solving conundrums while keeping paradox to a minimum. Whether you’re dealing with a rogue time traveler who gave Hitler nuclear weapons, or mongols who sacked and burned all of western Europe, you may want the extra help.

The biggest change between TimeWatch and other GUMSHOE games are stitches (as in “a stitch in time”), an action point mechanic that rewards fun play and allows players to decide for themselves when to refresh their ability pools. If you find yourself getting nervous about how many Shooting points to spend because you can’t predict when they’ll come back, you’ll want to give stitches a try.

We’ve also worked hard to get all the joy of breakneck chases matched with time travel. Chase someone through time on your personal time machine, and you’ll find yourself slipping from historical chase to historical chase as you try and catch up; from Roman chariots, to riding a stegosaurus during a dinosaur stampede, to racing high altitude fighter jets after them.

Above all, TimeWatch is a game that embraces everything that time travel should be. Want your future self to come back and help you in a fight at the OK Corral? You can do that. Want to play a caveman, or a starship pilot, or Amelia Earhart, all figuring out why the Titantic didn’t sink? You can do that. Want to produce a disintegrator rifle with Preparedness, just by reminding yourself to come back later and hide it under a floorboard? You can do that. This leads to some interesting solutions when solving mysteries. When you end up arranging the very same mysterious ambush that almost killed your earlier self last session, just to prove to a local bandit king that you have prophetic powers, you know you’re a member of TimeWatch.

The Kickstarter launches soon, so you’ll hear from playtesters and see lots more about TimeWatch in the next few months. For a one-time only, no-spam email alert when TimeWatch goes live, please follow this link. http://bit.ly/1hSd99K

Kevin Kulp is a Boston-based game designer and the co-author of Owl Hoot Trail. His work appears in Pelgrane supplements and adventures for Night’s Black Agents and Ashen Stars.

ShamanNew Character Races for Owl Hoot Trail

by Paul Stefko

The west is a wide and mysterious place, home to all sorts of folks. The half’ins, hill folk, orcs, and shee you’re used to aren’t the only people out there.
The following races may be available for characters if the GM is willing.

Centaurs

Never tell a centaur that he’s half-horse. “I’m my own beast,” he’ll say. “To equate me to any other race is to diminish centaur, man, and horse.” Centaurs are counted among the greatest thinkers in the world, students of philosophy and the sciences. They have founded great academies and forged schools of thought that have stood for centuries.
It is true that centaurs possess features of both men and horses. The powerful equine lower body gives them great strength, speed, and grace. The human torso lets them use tools crafted for the other common races and to converse with them as well. They are at home in the great cities as well as the endless prairies.
Many centaurs are marshals, scouts, gadgeteers, preachers, and shamans. Few have the temperament to be ruffians or scoundrels.
They get +1 GRIT and +1 Learning. Centaurs present a bigger target in a fight, so they have a -1 modifier to Defense. However, they are Hardy 1, like orcs. Centaurs always use the movement rules for traveling by horse.

Drakes

Back East, dragons are long extinct, hunted for sport for ages. On the frontier, there are still the terrifying sand dragons, but most folks know it’s a matter of time before some general sends his army to wipe them out too. So it came as quite the shock when a team of miners dug into a caved in chamber and discovered thousands of eggs that soon hatched into a race of humanoid dragons.
Drakes are a powerful but primitive race. Only a few have been raised in the great cities; the rest have formed native clans and roam the west, searching for clues to their history. Drakes are slowly forming their own customs, borrowing liberally from the other races.
A drake will usually be a gunslinger, ruffian, scout, mentalist, preacher, or shaman.
They get +1 GRIT and +1 Wilderness. A drake can attack with a breath weapon, which can be a blast of flame, a spray of acid, or arcs of electricity. This attack uses the drake’s melee bonus, deals 1d6 damage, and can target 1-3 creatures in the drake’s zone. A drake’s breath weapon can burn out just like a 3rd rank gadgeteer power. The cost to recharge is the price of a hearty meal and a few stiff drinks.

‘Flings

‘Fling is short for “tiefling,” which is what people call these folks Back East. A ‘fling is the child of a human and a devil, but contrary to what most preachers will tell you, ‘flings aren’t born evil. Raised right and given half a chance, a ‘fling can be decent, loyal, even righteous. Unfortunately, folks see the horns or hooves or red eyes and get all ornery toward them. Most ‘flings you’ll meet grew up on the frontier, away from the judgment of other folks.
A ‘fling will tend toward gunslinger, ruffian, scoundrel, scout, mentalist or shaman.
They get +1 DRAW and +1 Wile. They suffer a -2 to Amity. In exchange, ‘flings are Deadly 1. That means any injury they inflict is +1 on the 2d6 roll. In addition, ‘flings only roll every 30 minutes when exposed to extreme heat and cold, instead of every 10 minutes.

Gnomes

Gnomes are small like half’ins but have a touch of magic about them that puts folks in mind of the shee. Many are flamboyant, dressing in bright colors and performing as acrobats or stage magicians. Other gnomes are quiet tricksters, making valuable objects “disappear” without letting their owners in on the fun.
Gnomes tend to be scoundrels, gadgeteers, mentalists, and shamans. Gnome scouts tend to attract burrowing critters like badgers or prairie dogs as companions. The few gnome gunslingers are feared in the duel, as they tend to have conspicuous good luck. Gnome marshals are so rare that any gnome sporting a badge should be ready to prove it’s real.
They get +1 WITS and +1 Wile. Gnomes can cast the common mentalist tricks, even if they aren’t mentalists. Gnome mentalists can instead choose an extra 1st rank trick as a signature power. (Even though they’re as small as half’ins, gnomes don’t get the Defense bonus. Go figure.)

Halos

Folks Back East may say “Aasimar,” but on the frontier, everybody just calls ‘em Halos. Halos are what you get when a human makes a baby with an angel. Preachers don’t like to answer when folks start asking questions about it. Halos mostly look like humans, but each has a unique feature that speaks to their heavenly ancestry: electric blue eyes, feathery white hair, or just a healthy “glow.”
Halos are often gunslingers, marshals, scouts, mentalists, and preachers.
They get +1 GRIT and +1 Amity. Halos also get +1 to Mental Defense, as their spiritual connection protects them from powers.

Spiritfolk

Long ago, the spirits of the elements wanted more power in the world of flesh. They decided that they would create their own race of mortal beings, so the spirits imbued the unborn children of humans, shee, hill folk, and orcs with their essence, creating the first spiritfolk. In the ages since, these spiritfolk have bred true, forming a true race among themselves.
There are four distinct branches of spiritfolk, one for each of the traditional elements, but they can interbreed with equal chance for the baby to take after the mother or father. Each branch has different traits. Physically, a spiritfolk could resemble any of the four parent races with the addition of some otherworldly feature that gives away its spirit nature.
Any spiritfolk is likely be a member of any class. Spiritfolk can be greenhorns or native, as the race has had ages to spread across the land.
An air spiritfolk gets +1 DRAW and +1 Wile. They can cast spirit veil as if they were a shaman. An air spiritfolk shaman gets spirit veil as a bonus signature power.
An earth spiritfolk gets +1 GRIT and +1 Toughness. They have Hardy 1, like an orc.
A fire spiritfolk gets +1 DRAW and +1 Toughness. They can cast minor flame spirit as if they were a shaman. A fire spiritfolk shaman gets minor flame spirit as a bonus signature power.
A water spiritfolk gets +1 WITS and +1 Amity. They are immune to drowning, meaning they can stay underwater indefinitely.

Gambling group

by Kevin Kulp

 

My first mistake was in thinking Owl Hoot Trail was D&D with guns. I was just starting to develop and polish Clinton R. Nixon’s remarkable, streamlined game of old western fantasy, and I thought I was on well-trodden and familiar ground. I set up a sample encounter, one which I expected would make an easy and light-hearted introduction to the system. I took 15 minutes to stat up a party of four PCs and took the encounter for a test drive. If everything went as planned, this introductory romp would be the first gunfight that introduced people to Owl Hoot Trail. Piece of cake, right?

Ten minutes and three rounds of combat later, two of my PCs had been shot dead and another was twitching on the ground, gut-shot and unconscious. Three of the four bandits they’d just met were happily riding away up the trail, uninjured and whooping and waving their hats as they escaped. It was not, one might say, a romp for the good guys.

And really, that’s appropriate. “To ride the owl hoot trail” is an old western aphorism meaning “to take up the life of a bandit.” I quickly realized that the feel of this game wasn’t D&D with guns; this was a gritty Clint Eastwood western with fantasy and steampunk. Shee and half’ins and hill folk might exist in this world, but bullets hurt. It’s a lesson I carried with me through the development process.

I love the result. Owl Hoot Trail has five races: humans, shee, greenskins, hill folk, and half’ins. It uses iconic western archetypes for classes: gunslingers, marshals, ruffians, scoundrels, and scouts. There are four classes with special powers as well: gadgeteers, mentalists, preachers and shamans. We leaned heavily on the side of flavor and theme; a preacher can literally use her faith to rebuke a wrongdoer into stunned repentance, a gadgeteer can activate his crank-operated electroprod, ruffians get a bonus for smashing whisky bottles over their foes’ heads, and gunslingers are particularly good at facing down an opponent on a dusty street at high noon for a life-or-death duel.

PCs aren’t the only ones with local flavor. There are a lot of monsters out there on the lonesome prairie, and it’s a fair bet that you taste better than their normal fare. Dog-gobblers head after children after they clear out the local watch dogs. Harpies are vulture-like scavengers who choose to make their own carrion by corrupting fresh water, and then following travelers across the desert who then die of thirst. Ogres have been known to singlehandedly wield Gatling guns, and the haunting cry of the owlbear may sing you into the arms of death.

Owl Hoot Trail is half rules book, half adventure. Pages 65-128 showcase the adventure They Rode To Perdition, a multi-part mystery and starting campaign setting that’s centered on the little town of Perdition. The adventure is designed to be as non-linear as possible; antagonists and allies all have their own goals and time tables, and how (or if) the heroes upset those plans determines how the adventure goes. With as close to an epic storyline as you’ll find in a western setting, the PCs can change Perdition for good with their actions. Let’s just hope they like it when they’re done; ‘Ole One-Eye’s Saloon has particularly good drinks, and it’d just be a shame to burn it down by mistake.

Owl Hoot Trail, by Clinton R. Nixon and Kevin Kulp, is a 136-page, 6″x9″ book that sells for $19.95 US, now available in the store.

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