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, 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.
Christian is very close to being finished with the layout for Hillfolk, and it’s really capturing the feel of the game. We’ve also had a picture from the printers of one of the bags for the Hillfolk tokens. Here are some initial mock-ups of how the books, the cards and the bag will look.
I am very pleased to report that editorial for the core Hillfolk book has been completed. The last submissions are in, edited, and proofed, and the text and illustrations are now in the hands of graphic design supremo Christian Knutsson. That final straggler of a Series Pitch is now in hand at last. Barring unforeseen calamity, that means that Blood in the Snow should be ready for layout by the time Christian has finished with the core text. He estimates that layout will take three weeks. After we sign off on the layout, we’re looking at an eight week turnaround for printing.
We will fulfill electronic editions as soon as layout is ready, so everyone will have the PDFs in hand even as the presses are rolling on the print copies.
So raise your cups of mead, raiders. The snows of an overlong winter have delayed us, but we have finally equipped our forces. We now ride off into the badlands, to claim our victory.
If you missed the Kickstarter but want to jump on board now, stay tuned for pre-order details.
And here, apropos of nothing in the first paragraph, is John Kovalic’s illustration for his Blood on the Snow Series Pitch, “The Dagon Bar and Grille,” which brings to DramaSystem the vibe of an animated sitcom. Plus tentacles, natch.
If it’s mid-April it must be time for another Hillfolk progress report. Here’s where the project stands.
I am still awaiting submissions from three Series Pitch writers. Once those are in I’ll be know how the actual word count compares to the goal. This will allow me to edit two other pitches that came in over the requested length, because I’ll then know how much of these I have to cut.
That’s the work of a few days. Once everything’s in and proofed, layout will take about three weeks. We can’t assume that Christian can immediately clear his schedule of other projects when I drop the manuscripts on him, so there’s an indeterminate amount of time there. Once he’s able to start work, we can estimate a hard release date. Turnaround from layout to print is eight weeks. Then the shipping starts.
So our current timeframe looks like [waiting for final submissions] + approximately 1 week final editing + [deck-clearing for Christian] + 3 weeks layout + 8 weeks printing.
Absent a hard release date, let me see what else I have up my sleeve…? How about the long-teased identity of Hillfolk’s mystery contributor?
That would be Ed Greenwood, whose pitch “For Queen or Country” mixes espionage and faery folk in Elizabethan England. Ed surprised me with this over-the-transom submission of piracy, subversion and the Horned Man. This will appear in the main Hillfolk book. The illustration is by Aaron Acevedo. Looks like the original inspiration for Tinkerbell preferred Tudor-era court dress to a miniskirt made of leaves.
After a brief break to complete another commitment, I am once again at work assembling Hillfolk. Here’s an update for backers and future buyers.
All of the key art for Hillfolk and its companion volume, Blood on the Snow, is now in. We’ll need a few spot illos for the LARP and Master Class sections of the latter, but I have an ingenious plan for that and it shouldn’t impact the schedule. This project not only allows for, but requires, a range of illustration styles as great as the range of settings you can bring to life in DramaSystem. So you’ll see a much greater visual variety in these books than any one RPG project would normally accommodate, from line drawing to digital manipulation to painted work to photo collage. At right appears Aaron Acevedo’s evocative illustration for Lester Smith’s ghostly series pitch, “The Spirit Is Willing.”
As of this writing, I have 96% of the text for the core book in hand, and 93% of Blood on the Snow. Almost all of this has already been copy-edited. Two pitches from each book have yet to come in. These include pieces from key names I greedily wish to keep in the books, rather than shifting them to the Pitch of the Month Club. Two of the submitted pitches exceed the standard length; I can run them in extended form if outstanding submissions remain in the wind too long. A fun pitch from an aforementioned and unannounced gaming guru also grants me flexibility to shift the line-up if need be.
I’ve been discussing with graphic designer Christian Knutsson how to handle the presentation of the two books. He’ll be creating two layout styles for us: the Hillfolk theme previewed during the Kickstarter, and a more generic DramaSystem look for the series pitches in the main book. The latter will also appear throughout Blood on the Snow. Christian has valiantly agreed to go above and beyond his original commitment to complete both books for us and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.
When we launched the Kickstarter, for a 128-page book from a team of five people, I estimated an April delivery date. I had hoped, against all logic, that we could stick to that after stretch goals expanded the project to two books of twice that size, and a team of approximately eighty contributors. (Eighty? Good grief!) Reality has now set in, and I’ll get a revised publication date out to you when we have one nailed completely down. I don’t want to issue a series of guess dates and then keep having to revise them, so please bear with us as we finalize our duck alignment.
People have been asking how they might support the project now that the Kickstarter has closed. We’ve suspended orders for the moment, in order to concentrate on making the books. When we draw nearer to the final release date, we’ll open a new round of pre-orders for those who missed the crowdfund. Watch this space for further announcements.
Although the stellar roster of writers and designers drafted to create Series Pitches for Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow have until the end of January to get their drafts in, an early bird brigade has already begun to submit their pieces. I’m happy to report that they all live up to the promise of their loglines—the only frustration being that, perhaps like me, you’ll want to play them all.
Jason Morningstar does the brilliant job you would expect from him with “Hollywoodland”, infusing his saga of Tinseltown’s silent-cinema infancy with glitz, corruption, and a battle between money old and new.
Cédric Ferrand splendidly evokes 1866 New York in “Grave New World,” finding a fresh angle on vampire intrigue by making it a metaphor for the immigrant experience.
Andrew Peregrine’s “Vice and Virtue” gives Jane Austen fans all they need to launch a whirlwind of lunches, balls, and passion within the tightest of social constraints.
With expertise honed in the creation of actual TV series, John Rogers zeroes in on the many clashing societies and factions of “Shanghai 1930.” This is one of history’s richest settings, and John shows you how to cut to the meat of it.
James L. Sutter’s “The Throne” draws on Milton, Blake, and Vertigo comics with his war in heaven, triggered by the sudden disappearance of the big boss. Come for the angelpunk, stay for the chance to remake the cosmos.
Allen Varney’s “Bots” delightfully realizes its hardscrabble, post-organic premise in a piece that could only be described as Fox Animation’s Robots as rewritten by Upton Sinclair. It’s been a long time since anyone lured Allen back to straight-up RPG writing, and I can report that he hasn’t lost a bit of his satirical edge.
Both of our revisionist superhero pieces are in, as well.
Michelle Nephew’s “Mad Scientists Anonymous” lets you choose between Dr. Horrible-style humor or a darker spin on pulp mythology as its titular characters struggle together to stay sane and institutionalized—but what about the strange machinery humming away down in the basement?
Gene Ha and Art Lyon (concept by Lowell Francis) tackle matters from the opposite end of the genre food chain in “Henchmen,” in which no-powered criminals crewing for a costumed madwoman try to survive in her absence, in a city swarming with masks who hopelessly outmatch them. They wound up taking a straighter, crime-drama inspired approach than originally envisioned. This loses the wonderful original title, “Witless Minions”, but will result in a much richer game experience.
Gene has also turned in his illustration for the piece, the awesomeness of which speaks for itself:
Meg Baker has finished “Under Hollow Hills”; likewise Jason L. Blair with “Inhuman Desires.” I look forward to reading them.
Art assignments for all of the Series Pitches have been made already, and we’re starting to get sketches and preliminaries in. So all is on schedule on that front as well.
The on-time delivery of these pieces represents the main scheduling question mark, so I’m taking these early arrivals as a positive omen. I’ll continue to update Kickstarter backers and punterdom at large as the books continue to take shape.
The Hillfolk Kickstarter has been an unprecedented success, we never thought it would reach $25,000, let alone the $85,000 it’s currently on (13 hours to go), with over 2000 backers, so thank you all for your support. The kickstarter has some fantastic deals, from just $10 for the PDF version, $25 for the print and PDF bundle, and $55 for the book, the pdf, the companion book, playing cards, and semi-precious stones. A lot of these deals won’t be available after the Kickstarter ends so get in on it while you can.
The Hillfolk Kickstarter is flying along, smashing through stretch goals.
This post is for you graph and stats afficianados from the delightful Kicktraq.
After much preparation and furrowing of brows on the badlands, the clan council has decreed it: the Kickstarter campaign for Hillfolk has now gone live! Throw in with the Lion clan or the Wolf clan and help bring this labor of love from the manuscript stage to finished product. Backers of the project receive a complete draft text of the game, so you can get started right away. For much more on the game, the book, and the goodies, hop on over to the freshly activated Kickstarter page.
Update: The first stretch goal is funded!
The 13th Age Kickstarter finished with over $70K raised. It’s been a wild ride, and now 13 True Ways includes contact we never invisaged originally. Thank you so much for all your support.
Rob is supping energy drinks, chained to his desk to get the manuscript polished up; chapters are in layout, and all the art is done. We kept the creative time away from Kickstarter minutiae as much as possible.
The book is taking much longer than I expected. It is, with the possible exception of Eternal Lies, the most ambitious book we have published. I was hoping for a December release, but that might slip. To get a book in retailers for Christmas, it needs to be with the distributors by 12th December at the latest. In addition printers all have a big break over Christmas – any other month and I’d be fairly certain of the printing time line. So, I’m afraid, January is looking more likely as a hard deadline.