Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What have prehistoric butterflies done for us recently, anyway? / TimeWatch

TimeWatch main rules

I've been playing a lot of Gumshoe recently, so much so that I've failed to post anything to this blog of any import. 
One of the Gumshoe games that I have been playing has been TimeWatch, written by Kevin Kulp. 
It's not out yet, I've been taking part in the playtest cycle for the game, running it for my weekly group and laughing my ass off. 

Now it's gone to Kickstarter, and I have broken my KS virginity on this book. I even paid $40 for the privilege. 
I don't regret it. 
I feel more of a man now. Like I can look other men in the eye...

You can go on the Kickstarter page and see why the author and publisher think you should back TimeWatch... In fact, do that. Watch the video and read the updates and consider the cost. 
Now, let's talk about cool shit. 

Ezeru - alt history radioactive mutant cockroaches from a false future
Ezeru - Shapeshifting mutant psychic
radioactive cockroaches from a false future
Cool Shit
I like cool shit. Love it, in fact. And this game has so much cool shit in it that ... um... look, I'm not going to dive deeper into this metaphor. You'll thank me for it. 

Instead I'll put this into context... I, as a teenager and as a 30+ year old 'adult' have spent actual hours discussing the temporal paradox resulting from the Terminator movie. 
How can Skynet possibly think that ganking Sarah Connor is a good idea? If John Connor isn't born, then a there will be no resistance so Skynet won't need to send a Terminator back in time, so John Connor will be born...
Then Terminator 2: Judgement Day introduces the fact that Cyberdyne Systems used tech from the T-800 to create hardware that would later be used to create Skynet, meaning that Skynet propagated itself.

Any game featuring time travel is going to have this problem - players or NPCs change history, a paradox results and people start getting shirty just because they've ceased to exist or are now their own father. 
A TimeWatch agent activates an Autochron
by Andy Mason
There are ways to approach the problem:

  • Ignore it, like Dr Who normally does and like Terminator did
  • Have history slowly assert its new form by deleting people like Marty McFly in Back to the Future
  • Have people go a bit mad as their memories change, like Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys
  • Go completely the other way and revel in the possible chaos like in the Futurama episode Roswell That Ends Well - become your own grandfather, blow shit up and screw with people
TimeWatch wants you to screw with time - either to fix it or to make it better. It wants you to alter events that you have just seen happen, to appear next to yourself in a fight and help defeat the foe, to save a colleague from death by flying in the opposite direction of the Earth's rotation at  the speed of light, to murder Hitler or convince him to breed hamsters instead of go into politics.

To do this it gives you three pertinent stats:

  • Chronal Stability - How real and stable you are. If this dips below zero you start remembering alternative histories or fading into nothing
  • Reality Anchor - The ability to focus yourself and others on 'reality' and restore lost Chronal Stability
  • Paradox Prevention - A technical skill that allows you to mitigate paradox through cunning and knowledge. 

A TimeWatch team - a gunslinger, a neanderthal, a Mongol princess,
a psychic Sophosaur and a 22nd Century space pilot
The game takes the stance that due to an infinite number of branching timelines, alternative realities, parallel dimensions and sentient beings with time travel capability screwing with stuff, anything can and has happened. 
Therefore you can play just about anything, and the rules support them. 

My players chose:

  • A Wild West Gunslinger
  • A sentient cyborg T-Rex (Prof. Doctor Thaddeus Rex M.D.)
  • A Viking
  • DB Cooper, posing as a legit TW agent
  • An evolved, sentient mathematical algorithm housed in an artificial robot body
  • A 1930's wise guy 
I've run four sessions with these characters, with the fifth due on Monday, and they've all been hilarious, tense, challenging and creative. 
In the first session, in prohibition era Chicago, one of the players opted to use time travel to move all other cars out of a street two minutes before they arrived 'in game time' to ensure that they got the best parking spot outside of a speakeasy. Later on in that session another player teleported to five minutes ago and just outside the back entrance to the speak easy so that he could catch the bad guy by surprise as she made good on her getaway sticks.
As soon as you introduce time travel into a game you force everyone participating to think in an additional dimension, and that makes for some weird and unusual fun. 

What would be the repercussions of going back and stopping the villain from killing that small child just now? Maybe they were 'supposed' to die...
Maybe there's a whole moral quandary to work through before you kill an infant Hitler.

Maybe you should fund the book and find out.