Stunning Weaponry in GUMSHOE
Most GUMSHOE games discourage the use of TASERs and other real-world stunning technology. They’re incredibly effective in law enforcement, but it’s less exciting for play if either player characters or their opponents drop instantly after a single hit. Robin D. Laws’ investigative space opera Ashen Stars is a notable exception, where (in the model of good sci-fi and Star Trek episodes everywhere) disruptors have the ability to drop an unprotected target immediately unconscious.
The time travel game TimeWatch takes a slightly different approach. Stunning technology was important to the game—when Genghis Khan is coming at you, you’ll want to protect yourself without necessarily killing him and changing history—but I wanted rules that both felt satisfying and gave characters some difficult choices in terms of staying conscious. You can easily adapt these rules to any TASER or stun-gun in any GUMSHOE game.
The PaciFist Neural Disruptor
Future, Chronomorphic, Hackable, Subtle, Standard; Close range, Stun 5
PaciFists are ranged stun-guns usable with both the Scuffling (for point-blank use only) and Shooting abilities, and are specially designed for covert TimeWatch agent use. They are chronomorphic, blending in to a historical era by changing their physical shape and appearance. Agents can usually decide what shape their PaciFist assumes: a walking cane, a six-gun revolver, a mobile phone, a pipe, or whatever appropriate form the agent wishes.
PaciFists have a rating of Stun 5 (see below). They only work at point-blank and (if used with the Shooting ability) close range, and are ineffective at farther ranges. That’s their tradeoff for making no noise and having no visible beam; the only way to tell a PaciFist has been fired is by the slight scent of ozone and a toppling, unconscious body, which makes them perfect for undercover work.
Making a successful Tinkering test (typically a Mechanics or System Repair test in other GUMSHOE games) can overcharge a PaciFist, boosting its effect up to either Stun 6 or near range, your choice, for its next shot. Rolling a 1 on the d6 during an overcharged attack burns out the weapon regardless of whether the attack was successful. Fixing a burned out weapon requires 10 minutes of work time and a successful Tinkering test.
Non-PaciFist disruptors (such as you might find in Ashen Stars) typically work at longer range but aren’t subtle, making both light and noise when they fire (as any good raygun should!) TASERs and stun guns (such as you might find in Esoterrorists or Night’s Black Agents) work at the same range as PaciFists do, but are visible and make noise.
GM Advice: Neural Disruptors and Fun Gameplay
The rules for non-lethal fire represent a compromise between genre fidelity and playability. In classic science fiction stories, future technology such as stun rays typically take out a target in one shot. Writers always contrive to keep this satisfying.
In a game, limiting firefight shots so that they either result in a miss or in instant victory is generally unsatisfying. It‘s fun to mow down insignificant opponents in one shot, but not to be taken out with one hit or to do the same to a central opponent.
Accordingly, the rules are configured to allow you to still instantly zap minor opponents, but to require several attacks to down a PC or major antagonist (depending on how much Health they’re willing to spend, and how lucky they get). This still feels faster and more decisive than the standard RPG combat, and thus retains a touch of futuristic flavor, while still keeping tabletop play fun.
Neural disruptors such as PaciFists are useful in a time travel game, because the players have more creative options when they know they can surreptitiously knock a mind-controlled Albert Einstein out cold while not killing him in the process. If your TimeWatch campaign is grittier, focus on firearms and beam weapons and be willing to accept some accidental and history-changing lethality.
How Does Stunning Work?
PaciFists, TASERs, stun guns, tranquilizer darts and neural disruptors work by knocking you unconscious without causing extensive Health damage. Resisting stunning works much like resisting unconsciousness. The Difficulty number, however, is set by the Stun value of the weapon used against you instead of by your current Health.
When hit with a stunning weapon, you must make a Stun test. Roll a die with the Stun rating of the weapon as your Difficulty. You may deliberately strain yourself to remain conscious, voluntarily reducing your Health pool by an amount of your choice. For each point you reduce it, add 1 to your die result. If you strain your Health below 0 or below -5, you will also have to make a Consciousness test after the Stunning attack is resolved. If you are attacked by more than one stunning weapon in a single round, you make a separate Stun test for each attack.
If you succeed in a Stun test, you remain conscious but are briefly impaired; you suffer a non-cumulative 1 point penalty to the Difficulty of any actions (including other Stun tests) you attempt until the end of your next turn. If you fail a Stun test, you are knocked unconscious for a period that varies by weapon, but which is usually 10-60 minutes or until awakened by someone spending 1 Medic point on you (which does not otherwise restore Health.)
Dr. Leah Breen is mind controlled by a parasitic alien hive-mind, and she is trying to stun Mace Hunter with her PaciFist so that she can infect him as well. Mace’s Hit Threshold is 4, but Dr. Breen spends 3 Shooting points to make sure she hits him. Dr. Breen’s PaciFist is a standard Stun 5, so Mace must now make an Stun test at Difficulty 5. Mace trusts his luck; he spends 2 Health, dropping his Health pool from 8 to 6, and rolls a d6. Luckily he rolls a 3, and with the +2 bonus from his expended Health he exactly makes the Stun test.
Mace tries to run, but is briefly impaired from the Stunning attempt, and fails his Athletics test due to the 1 point penalty he suffers until the end of his next turn. Dr. Breen catches up with him quickly. Her player asks the GM if she can make a Tinkering test to boost her PaciFist up to Stun 6 for one round. The GM thinks that seems reasonable, but warns her that her weapon may burn out on a particularly bad roll. Dr. Breen overcharges her weapon, then spends her last 2 Shooting points to shoot Mace again, rolling a 5 and hitting easily.
Mace’s Stun test is now Difficulty 6, but Mace still has a 1 point penalty from the first shot that applies to anything he attempts for the next round. Worried, he burns 5 Health and brings his Health pool down to 1, gaining a bonus of +5-1=+4 on his Stun test. With a target Difficulty of Stun 6 and a net +4 bonus, he’ll only be stunned on a roll of a 1… and that’s what he rolls. Mace Hunter falls to the ground unconscious for 10-60 minutes, and Dr. Breen moves in with an eager and squirming parasite.
Creatures with a Health rating of 3 or less immediately fall unconscious when successfully hit by a neural disruptor, no Stun test allowed. (In other words, GMs who want mooks and minor supporting characters to go down in one shot should give them 3 or fewer Health.)
Stunning works well on humans, but may be less effective on large animals, monsters, mechanical devices, robots, humans from parallel universes, and aliens—most commonly due to the creatures’ increased Health, but rarely due to a natural resistance to stunning. Don’t try to use a neural disruptor on a rampaging wooly mammoth. It will only end in tears, tusks and trampling.
Brought to you by experienced players and GMs, this is the advice novice TimeWatch agents wished they’d had before they were swallowed by a chronal anomaly, infected with clock plague or unexisted in a Ray-Jar Vu.
TimeWatch offers players some subtle tactics that it’s possible to miss, especially when playing for the first time. Here are some strategies that you’ll want to
come back to, especially when your agents are in trouble and you’re looking for some creative solutions.
You’re going to get hurt a lot. Plan accordingly.
Attack pools means that even mooks often hit you the first time they attack; enemies’ accuracy will decrease as they get more tired. Expect that a
significant adversary is likely to hit you, so have enough Health that you’re not going to drop right away. If you never increase your Health over the
default value of 6, and since you drop out of a fight at -6, you’ll be able to withstand at least two or three typical hits. Bumping your Health to 8 or 10
points during character creation, increasing your Hit Threshold to 4 (by having an Athletics of 8 or higher), having a dedicated team medic, using evasive
maneuvers (see p. 109), or increasing your armor or Hit Threshold through Preparedness or Science! spends (such as with a personal forcefield) will help
you stay alive.
Stitches speed things up.
You can use stitches to do more damage, take less damage, avoid making a travel test when time traveling, refresh pools enough that you can guarantee
success on an important roll, and offer teamwork that helps an ally succeed. Do so. They’re around to make the game more convenient for you, so you should
spend them accordingly.
If you don’t have enough pool points, hand out more stitches.
The frequency at which you gain stitches, and thus the frequency in which your character is able to refresh their pools, is almost entirely in the hands of
the players. If it feels like you don’t have enough, other players feel that way too; set a standard by rewarding behavior that you think is fun, clever or
awesome. This might be as simple as tossing one to someone who is kind to another player, or giving a stitch to the guy who brought snacks. Once your group
gets the hang of positively reinforcing awesome behavior, you’ll probably find you have enough to make interesting tactical decisions.
And hey, if you don’t, your GM can always award stitches to the group (or allow you to refresh combat pools) to make sure you can stay in the fight. Remind
her if necessary.
If you’ve hit your Hoarding Limit but are given a 4th stitch, spend one of the ones you have.
Having more stitches than you can use is a good problem to have. If you’re at the max of 3, and you get more, use your existing stitches immediately to
refresh pools that aren’t maxed out. If you need to, use Medic or Reality Anchor to help a fellow agent recover damage, then refresh your pool. In a worst
case scenario, use Preparedness to establish that you have a piece of particularly cool or useful technology that you expect to need—who doesn’t need a ray
gun?—and then refresh your Preparedness pool.
Don’t hang on to stitches greedily. The game is most fun when they come and go quickly.
Remember your armor.
If you’re wearing your TimeWatch uniform, subtract 1 point from every instance of Shooting and Scuffling damage you take.
When you absolutely positively don’t want to get hit, try Evasive Maneuvers.
Every 2 Athletics points you spend boosts your Hit Threshold by 1 until the beginning of your next action, up to a maximum of +3. Of course, you probably
aren’t going to hit anything—your enemies’ hit thresholds go up by +2 every time yours goes up by +1—but who cares? Your job for the round is surviving. If
you’ve just spent a point in Taunt to get your foes’ attention, and you’ve used evasive maneuvers to boost your Hit Threshold to 7, they’re all going to be
too busy trying and failing to shoot you for you to mind your own inaccuracy.
Use Stitches to reduce damage.
Even with your armor, are you getting smacked for more damage than you want to take? Each stitch you spend reduces damage by one point. It may save your
Don’t charge a gunman.
A foe who has a ranged weapon drawn and ready will get a free bonus attack on you if you try and rush him. That’s why people in movies don’t charge gunmen.
If you don’t want to get shot, wait until he’s distracted by something before closing, or try to create a distraction yourself (possibly with time travel
or by spending an investigative point) before closing in.
If you can close with him, he’ll be at a disadvantage unless he switches to Scuffling. As noted on p. 104, Shooters in close combat have a 1 in 6 chance to
shoot themselves or an ally by mistake.
Use Taunt to draw an enemy’s fire.
The investigative ability Taunt does more than just make people so angry at you that they reveal what they know. Spend a point in a fight, and you can draw
an enemy’s attention (and attacks) away from someone else. They may even chase you. If you can survive it, it’s a good way to draw someone into an ambush.
Make ludicrous chronal stability tests, just make sure you have friends with Reality Anchor there to back you up.
We’ve found in playtest that players are often very conservative with their chronal stability and reality anchor points. They exist in part so that you can
use them to do cool time tricks when avoiding paradoxes can’t solve your problem, so don’t be afraid to use them when your back is up against the wall.
Reality Anchor restores other peoples’ chronal stability by 2 points for every point you spend, and it’s an efficient way of restoring someone who’s just
endangered himself to try something clever.
Time heals all wounds.
If you can get away from combat and time travel without being followed in a time chase, you can go to a future hospital and get medical treatment. A day or
two of rest and recovery, and you can return to the fight with full Health and full pools of Athletics, Scuffling, Shooting and Vehicles. The tricky part,
of course, is getting away from the fight safely.
In a pinch, and assuming that you have a Medic rating of 1 or higher, don’t forget that you can exchange an investigative point of Medical Expertise for 3
points of Medic. That’s enough to heal allies 6 points of damage.
You could also trade Preparedness or Tinkering for Healing. It’s not unreasonable to assume that a technological device could provide you with a temporary
medical-related benefit in case of emergency—either restoring a small amount of Health points, or keeping you automatically conscious for a Consciousness
test. An agent with Flashback (the booster gained with 8 or more points of Preparedness) can even state after-the-fact that such a medical booster
was acquired and in place. It’s not much, but it’s much better than dying.
If the GM gets lucky and rolls well, fall back and regroup.
You’re exceptionally competent agents, but you aren’t invulnerable and you aren’t superhuman. You’re much better off negotiating or retreating than you are
dying. Sometimes, combat is far from the best solution.
Spending Investigative points from History or Anthropology might allow you to recruit allies from out of history. If your plan depends on an extinct and
ancient Pacific Island tribe that worships you as a god, or a doomed spaceship crew from the far future, you might as well get use out of them by leading
them into battle. Likewise, you can make friends with the best and brightest minds in history. Nothing’s more amusing than discovering that the Mona Lisa
is actually a painting of your own character, just because you spent a History point and turned out to be an old friend of Leonardo da Vinci.
Play the long con.
TimeWatch agents gain an extended lifespan, so don’t be afraid of the long path to success. Need to live with someone for a few years as their roommate so
that forty years hence they’ll tell you what you need to know? Need to go back in time a few months and get a job as a laboratory guard, just so you’re
there at the right time to let in your friends? If you can spare the time, it’s sometimes a creative solution.
Boost your damage with Tinkering.
If you have points in Tinkering and are worried you won’t have cause to use them, never fear. A tinkering test on your ranged weapon during downtime will
increase the amount of damage the next shot does by 1 point. If you tinker with a PaciFist, you can raise the Stun level from 5 to 6. Better yet, if you
have 8 or more points in Tinkering, you can do this quickly enough that it becomes part of your combat action. Combined with spending stitches for extra
damage, it’s a good way to quickly inflict pain on your foes.
Spend Investigative points to boost attacks.
If you can justify it, you can spend any Investigative point to gain +3 on a General ability test. Out of Scuffling points and need to hit someone?
Spending a Military Tactics (“I’ve studied tactics”), Intimidation (“I raise my fist and while he’s flinching, I hit him”), Streetwise (“I know dirty
fighting; I’ll kick out his knee”) or even Authority (“He’s ex-military? I scream ‘Attention!’ like a drill sergeant and hit him while he’s trying not to
instinctively salute”) point can boost your roll by +3—and if you’re clever about how you do it, the GM or one of your fellow players will probably toss
you a stitch as well for doing something fun.
You may also be able to use Investigative ability spends to boost your damage instead. Spending a point of Medical Expertise, for instance, reasonably lets
you know the most painful place to hit a foe, letting you raise all the damage you inflict by +1 for the rest of the fight.
Spend investigative points to disrupt combat.
Losing a fight horribly? Want to pause it long enough to get a word in edgewise with diplomacy, or to try to escape? Spending one or more points from a
social skill might cause hostilities to cease for a minute against all but the most determined foes. Of course, make a hostile move and you can expect the
fight to spring back up.
Use the initiative system to your advantage.
You have great control over who goes when in a round. Ask your fellow players who wants to go next, and you can make sure they do. Be wary of letting the
bad guys go last in a round; it means that if they want to, they’ll be able to go twice in a row.
Flee into time.
You can use the initiative system to escape a fight in your autochron without risking its destruction from stray fire. If the bad guys have already gone in
the round, fire up your autochron, and then just make sure that your character goes first in the next round before your adversaries have a chance to act.
It’s a little sneaky, but it’s completely legitimate. Just hope that your enemies don’t have the ability to chase you through time; if they do, ready
yourself for a time chase when they come after you.
Use Science! points for concentrated awesomeness.
Want nifty gear—force fields, more powerful weapons, smoke bombs or concentrated explosives—but you’re short on Preparedness and don’t have time to use
Tinkering to build them? Spend a point of Science!. With the GM’s okay, it’s a fast way to confirm that you have an item you want without having to roll
You have access to the future, and that means you can describe just about any technology you want to the GM. She’ll increase the Preparedness cost for
acquiring more powerful gear, of course, but feel free to consider high-tech solutions to simple problems. Night vision contact lenses, portable EMP
generators, zero-point gravity guns, jetpacks; fun and useful! Acquiring something like this is a good use of Preparedness, especially when you
have more stitches than you need and can immediately refresh your Preparedness pool.
Adopt a signature weapon or piece of gear.
As noted on p. 140, you can spend build points to start each game with a piece of unique tech that you particularly love. If your character is always known
for his disintegrator pistol or jet pack, that’s how to always have it around.
Help Yourself — Literally.
When you’re in dire straits and need backup, you can be your own backup. Declare that you’re going to remember to have your future self show up and save
you. You’ll need to spend a Paradox Prevention point and make a chronal stability test, but it means that you can double your attacks. Sure, if your
younger self dies anyways you’ve created massive paradox (and triggered a chronal stability test for your fellow agents), but you’ll probably be beyond
caring at that point, and the extra help may just save the day.
Is your friend dying, but you can’t get to him in time? Pay a point of Paradox Prevention, make the chronal stability test, and your future self can show
up to heal him. This is just like duplicating yourself to help be your own ally in a battle, but it lets you provide tactical support to an ally instead.
Save a few build points.
If you can, save a few build points when creating your character or after each mission. These don’t disappear if you don’t immediately assign them;
instead, you can assign them on the fly during a mission to immediately get access to an ability.
Paradox Prevention points: your wild card.
If want a clever time-or causality-related effect, but it’s a little too powerful to do casually, ask your GM if you can spend a Paradox Prevention point
to do so. These serve as “wild card” points for temporal effects, letting you take unique time-related actions without over-balancing the game. Paradox
Prevention points, like all investigative points, don’t refresh until the end of the mission; plan their use accordingly.
Spend Paradox Prevention to save chronal stability.
You can sometimes get in a bind with low chronal stability, needing to spend chronal stability in order to make a test that you can’t afford to fail.
Consider spending an extra point of Paradox Prevention instead. This gives you +3 on your chronal stability test, making it automatically in all but the
most dire of circumstances, without spending any more points.
Note that this is different than the point of Paradox Prevention you’ll need to spend for certain chronal hijinks like duplicating yourself in a scene.
Finish off foes.
Badly injured supporting characters are at a disadvantage in combat, but not a huge one. If your enemies aren’t mooks, your team is best of focusing fire
to drop one target before moving on to the next. You’re better off having 1 downed foe and 2 uninjured ones than 3 slightly injured enemies.
If you’re fighting mooks, unnamed supporting characters with low hit points (you’ll probably be able to guess by the GM’s description), take out as many as
you can as quickly as possible. They hit hard but drop fast. And hey, as you’d expect in a cinematic game, eliminating the unnamed characters before taking
on the main villain is practically traditional.
Stun those mooks.
Unlike more important adversaries, mooks don’t even have the opportunity to make a Stun test when you hit them with a neural disruptor. If you hit them
with your PaciFist, they’ll automatically go unconscious. It’s a good tactic when you want to damage history as little as possible. This is an especially
good tactic for agents with 8 or more points in Shooting, who can fire twice in a round.
You may fight an enemy more than once.
The tricky thing about time travel is that you may fight an elderly adversary, then later on fight a younger version of the same person—and you can’t kill
him without triggering a major chronal stability test, because doing so would create paradox. You may have to think creatively to get around this
Make sure someone knows how to drive.
You need to put physical distance between yourself and anyone chasing you through time, and that means outrunning them during a time chase. These get much
easier and much more fun when at least one agent has 8 or more points of Vehicles. You won’t need it every mission, but you’ll be grateful for it when it’s
A closed door is your friend.
Why? Because thanks to Preparedness and time travel, it hides exactly what you need right now, and are going to put behind it later.
Beam weapons are deadlier than firearms.
They’re also a lot more obvious, as you’d expect when shooting a laser pistol in a science fiction game. Nevertheless, beam weapons do more damage on
average than other weapons, and can have some handy improvements like disintegration. They’re a reasonable use of Preparedness points.
Use weapons when Scuffling.
Just like in real life, smacking someone with a weapon does more damage than hitting them with your fist. You’re encouraged to describe grabbing weapons
from the environment to use, but you’ve got a fallback. A deactivated autochron is nice and sturdy, and serves as a handy club.
When to stun, when to kill.
Stun attacks are mechanically balanced with firearms. Shoot or hit someone with a PaciFist, and if they’re not stunned it may seem like you wasted your
attack. Not so. Three things happen when a foe successfully makes a Stun test:
- They’re dazed, so the Difficulty goes up on any other tests they make (including more Stun tests) between your attack and their next turn, making them
easier for other agents to stun.
- They’ve likely spent some Health points in order to boost their chances of success, so you’re about as well off as you’d be if you shot them with
- Mooks drop immediately when shot with a neural disruptor—no Stun test required.
PaciFists keep the target alive, and are great for stealth. Bullets, beam weapons, knives and fists leave the target marked and bloody, and (beam weapons
aside) don’t run the risk of appearing like magic or future technology to less advanced societies. Which you choose depends on the effect you want to
Think outside the box.
This is a time travel game. If the building gate guard doesn’t let you in, time travel in. Or go back in time and get a job in building security yourself.
Or go back in time and become a family friend of the gate guard. Or spend a point of architecture to go back and alter the building blueprints, giving you
access that no one else knows about.
Similarly, you’ll have multiple options when taking down a bad guy. Go back to stop him before he ever started his plans, or in the middle of them before
they succeed, or right at the key moment; just be careful not to risk severe chronal stability tests by causing paradox. You can often get around that with
some clever planning that makes history work out correctly, but you’ll want to consider your line of attack.
Research locks in reality.
When history has changed, you usually have the option of time traveling into the future and reading about an event in (alternate) history books. Doing so,
however, locks it in as an established fact; change it after that, and you’ll need to make a chronal stability test as time shifts away from what you know
by 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.
Who 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.
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.
TimeWatch pledging is now closed. The TimeWatch RPG will be available for pre-order from the Pelgrane Store in a few months.
Avoiding 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.
Scenes 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.
The 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.
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.
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
by 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