I ran TimeWatch yesterday afternoon online. It’s a game I scheduled a few weeks ago, and I’ve had a lot of interest– not just because I accidentally sent the Google Hangouts invite to everyone I know on Google+ (about 270 people… oops).
This game group is a public one, which means I let anyone join, but you RSVP for single sessions as they become available. So if you’re reading this and it sounds like fun, pop over to our space on Tavern Keeper and sign up for the Timewatch agency!
Over the course of the past 2 weeks, I’ve had players RSVP, select characters, create characters, etc. And I found myself, as of last weekend, with a handful of gender-benders. All my players so far are men, and all the characters at that point were women. I thought this was delightful and decided to run with it.
In my “pitch,” the intro I post about the upcoming game, I hinted that this would be an Ides of March game. In the pitch, Julius Caesar tells the agents that he has some recruitment for them to do.
TimeWatch is a game about solving time mysteries, usually violations against the timeline, so a recruitment story seems like it’ll be a little more heavily weighted towards action, rather than sleuthing.
In the end, I had the following agents signed up:
- Altani, one of the iconics, a 13th century Mongolian warrior princess
- “Angel,” also known as Clara Barton, a doctor and founder of the Red Cross from the mid-19th century
- Dariya, a street thief from 9 BCE in Persia
- Vid, a female-formed T-1000 from 2043. Her fellow agents do not know she can shapeshift.
- Anthony Grey, a high society cat burglar from the 1970’s.
I decided that, with so many women, I had a perfect opportunity to put them in a space where there are more women than men. No, not a yarn shop, though that would be interesting. Instead, I had them recruit one of the most badass time agents of all:
The agents for this mission had never worked together before, and because most of them have a similar “type” (soloists, thieves, etc.), it definitely showed in the mission. They were brought together by John Connor who gave them the assignment. The parameters included not trying to stop Judgment Day (“I’ve tried it– the best I can do without completely messing everything up is change the date…”), and not using MEM-tags (the shapeshifting cockroach enemies known as the ezeru have some MEM-tag tracking tech and will be on your ass faster than you can say “what’s that chittering sound?”)
Sidebar: This was, honestly, in large part due to the overpowerful combination of PaciFists and MEM-tags in my last game. I also read up more on PaciFists and resisting stuns, which helped some.
They decided that their best course of action was to infiltrate the prison, and they each decided to do so in different ways. Aside from Grey, they all could have easily slipped into the prison over time as prisoners, but we had some more creative ideas around the table:
- Altani got herself arrested, sentenced, and transferred to the prison.
- Angel infiltrated by getting a job as a medical professional in the infirmary
- Dariya found a job as a prison guard– we determined that, in the course of their history, Dariya and Altani’s personae had encountered each other a few times and had been in a few altercations.
- Grey became the head security consultant hired to install the newly upgraded system for the prison
- Vid… became a gurney in the infirmary. The one with the wonky left wheel. The one that’s been there for decades but the prison is underfunded and the gurney hasn’t completely broken yet.
I had sort of planned this to be a crossover of Orange is the New Black and Sarah Connor Chronicles. In essence, Sarah has become somewhat lost in her timeline, and has started to believe that maybe she really did have a psychotic break, and perhaps John was never even real (the nature of John’s birth while Sarah was in hiding makes it unlikely that he has a birth certificate). But since most of the agents were not close enough to Sarah, it ended up being much more like a strike team.
A strike team of very, very disorganized individuals.
Each one seemed to have a plan. None of them had coordinated. This was completely in character for a group of experts who have never worked together before– everyone thinks they’re in charge.
Altani decided that she would bring as many of the agents together as she could by starting a fight in the cafeteria during dinner. She picked a fight with “Kelley,” a scrawny, half-crazy (think Pennsatucky from OitNB) girl that no one likes cause she’s a snitch. She picked this fight while eating dinner with her cellmate “Hoochie,” an enormous black woman who told her quite frankly that she should close her mouth about things she’s got planning. It never quite came up, but Hoochie was part of a normal prison break plot that would have been very put out when Sarah’s prison break happened, as it would scuttle their plans.
The fight happens, and Altani wants to lose, just barely… but she’s also a proud warrior who can’t believe she’s letting this scrawny girl with a fork win. She just can’t resist getting a few punches in on Kelley. Eventually, though, Dariya steps in and Altani is struck thard in the head and has her bell rung pretty good. The gurney is brought, and Dariya takes Altani down to the infirmary, where Angel stitches her up. Altani was hit in the head by another guard and was given a Stun check of difficulty 4. She can resist it by rolling a d6. If she rolls 4+, she resists being knocked out. She rolled a 3 and goes down.
Grey steps in at this point and side-steps through time to use his considerable expertise to manipulate the prison architecture and existing security system. Although I won’t let him have the upgraded system in place already, I do put him on the original team of architects who designed and built the place, which gives him a panic room, backdoor access to the existing security system, and an ongoing monitor feed. As a result, Grey doesn’t technically have to be present at the prison, though he chooses to hang out in the panic room for now.
This will come back to bite him in the ass later.
Vid rolls quietly away around a corner, then turns into “the intern” who works in the infirmary and returns so she can talk to Angel more effectively. Angel uses terrible smelling salts to wake Altani and makes sure Altani is properly strapped to the patient bed (“Smells like a yak…”) Altani starts riffing on the prison being haunted, and demands (via subsonic vocalization tether) that Angel provide her autochron (the idea being that Angel should have brought her autocron). Angel asks what the status is of the cameras… I ask Grey, who has taken control of the camera system and is claiming that there’s a technical fault.
“Oh, good, then there’s no one here to see me hand over your autochron.”
Except the intern standing behind you.
“Oh, right. You, intern. Go find that gurney and bring it back.”
“It’s me. It’s Vid.” I determine that they’ve had the same intern since Angel started working here. Vid doesn’t need to use Disguise in the case… she’s kind of always in disguise.
Out of character chatter: “To me, you’ll always be a gurney… with a wonky wheel.”
“We call it Lefty!”
I’m losing it so much at this point, laughing my butt off. We make a few dozen more jokes, riffing on the characters’ pasts, like Angel preferring stinky smelling salts and ether….
Dariya comes up to escort Grey to the technical glitch in the infirmary, and the team is reunited in the infirmary. Angel says that we need to get Sarah in here. She grabs the non-wonky gurney to summon Sarah Connor for a routine checkup. However, I point out that Connor has refused medical attention, categorically. Her lawyer may not be great, but he did make sure she could refuse medical attention when she’s not incapacitated.
Hmm…. So, who is she sharing a cell with? Ah, Andi McCollough, who works in the laundry and is friends with an inmate named Sparks. Vid suggests that she might impersonate Sarah and force a psychotic break. Grey suggests that her having a psychotic episode might not be the best way to recruit her…
Angel decides that she will side-step into the past and have the cook slip a drug (carefully calculated to overcome Sarah’s resistances) into Sarah Connor’s dinner tonight. It required a bargain with the cook, who is also an inmate, to provide some “painkillers” for the inmates. Chemically non-addictive, though there’s no accounting for behavioral addictions.
This scene happens right after dinner, so Sarah might have been disrupted by the fight in the cafeteria (spoiler: she was).
Grey will be hiding in the server room and will hide in the panic room, which the guards don’t even know about, during the nightly lockdown procedure.
Dariya has some perspective on the inmates, and notices, with her rogue’s senses, that Andi communicates on the down-low with Hastings (a guard) and Sparks. Dariya moves to confront Andi about this, but Andi kind of bluffs her away. Dariya decides to keep an eye on her.
Vid wonders if she’s come into physical contact with any of the guards, and indeed, she has been in contact with Johnson, one of the guards who is rather disliked among the inmates. Vid decides she needs to knock him out and impersonate him. This is where we discuss how the gurney disguise was a brilliant and hilarious suggestion, but we’re finding that it has certain limitations, socially.
Vid shares her plan with Angel, then goes to find Johnson, as the intern, armed with her PaciFist. Johnson likes the intern in a rather creepy way. Vid gets up nice and close to use the PaciFist on him in the guard post (the “fishbowl”). Johnson makes a pass on “Maria,” touching her arm inappropriately, etc. “Maria” sidles up to address him and uses the PaciFist to cleanly zap him.
I explain that Vid will need to use Scuffling to overcome Johnson, whose hit threshold is probably 4 because he’s a prison guard, though most normal people have a 3 (in truth, Johnson should probably have a 3, because athletic or not, he’s totally not expecting this). Vid wants to spend a point of scuffling to do this, but I warn her that doing so will lose the Booster effect of That’s Gotta Hurt. I am incorrect about this, by the way. Spending your General Abilities points does not negate your booster unless otherwise stated.
She decides not to spend the points on this one, since PaciFist doesn’t do damage. She pokes him with the PaciFist, gets a 6, and he has one die roll to resist the stun. To resist a stun, you roll 1d6 and need to roll above the Stun value of the weapon being used. A PaciFist has a Stun value of 5, which he does not roll, so he folds like a cheap table.
Vid asks: How long will he stay unconscious? My reply is that he will stay asleep as long as it’s narratively appropriate.
Vid asks Grey where to hide Johnson’s body. Grey starts checking around and sees that the laundry chute is down the hall and suggests that as a good location. I have an investigation scene in the laundry room, so I’m kind of hoping that this can lead Vid to check that out.
Vid decides to strip him of his clothes and hides the clothes. Now, moving him from here to the laundry chute unseen is a Burglary maneuver, and I mention that this is hard to do. She spends 2 of her Burglary points, and wants to look like Johnson as she moves him. So, I alert Grey that Vid has just shapeshifted to look like Johnson, and let’s familiarize ourselves with one of the main Adversaries of our setting: the ezeru, shapeshifting cockroaches who want to turn the world into a radioactive wasteland.
Grey now has reason to suspect that Vid might be an ezeru.
Now, meanwhile Vid has screwed up on being stealthy, so Hastings comes around the corner, sees her, cocks his head, and runs towards him rapidly at an unnatural speed.
Vid transforms her arm/hand into a giant liquid metal hammer. Hastings skids to a stop a few feet away, cocks his head again, and then speaks a series of syllables in clicks and chitters. I forgot here that the agents have universal translators, though it’s likely that Vid doesn’t have one right now.
Vid decides to try and mimic it, and replies using Disguise to bluff Hastings that she’s on his side, perhaps one of his own.
Grey is watching the whole thing and patches out just to Angel and Dariya, “I think we have a bit of a problem. We have at least one shapeshifter in the hall…. and a prison guard.” Locking Vid out of that communication, obviously.
Vid tries to bluff and make it sound like she’s speaking through mandible as she says “clickety clack– don’t worry, I have this under control!” She spends all her Disguise points to convince Hastings, who helps her dump Johnson into the chute and says “let’s go downstairs to the laundry to take care of it.” He calls on the radio and says they’re going on a sweep. They head to the laundry room, which is chronically dusty with piles and piles of laundry bags, everywhere. Andi works here, but she’s obviously never caught up. On the way down, Hastings comments that he didn’t know there was another one of them here.
They get to the laundry room, and Hastings pulls out a laundry bag for Vid to put Johnson in and seems to be waiting for Vid to do something. Vid tries to bluff that she’s dry mouthed and suggests why doesn’t Hastings do it, etc. Finally, Vid’s player seems to be at a loss. I mention a piece of trivia that everyone in the future knows, which is that the ezeru are keen on radiation and require it for their environment. Vid’s player is stumped. I suggest some preparedness spend to leave a pack of stage goo to bluff Hastings. Vid might suggest this is a private act. Could just kill him with some stabbing in the throat. Could use authority to force him to leave.
Vid likes bossing Hastings around, and uses that investigation skill to make Hastings leave the laundry room. Muttering something about how he doesn’t know how she’ll keep impersonating him. He points to the pile of old laundry and identifies that that’s where they keep most of them. The core clue in this scene is, in essence, that Andi is an ezeru, though the way it played out, the core clue became that Hastings is an ezeru. Because Vid spent a point of Authority, she also got additional clues– notably, that the rest of the victims are in that pile of laundry bags over there.
Meanwhile, Dariya has heard on the radio about the shapeshifter and is now heading to Andi and Sarah’s cell. Wants to do a surprise inspection on the cell. Dariya grabs another officer, a rookie whose last name is Alexis, which is just really unfortunate and he gets teased for it a lot.
Angel is prepped to receive Sarah when she arrives at the infirmary, non-wonky gurney in place.
Grey decides to go check out the laundry.
Altani is frustrated by being locked in her cell. Grey does have the override, and Altani knocks out her cellmate Hoochie with the PaciFist. The cell door unlocks, and Altani slips out to find a utility closet, but it’s not especially difficult for her to move quickly and hide.
Now Dariya uses her plan. She wants to pre-plant some contraband in the cell beforehand using Preparedness. She spends all 3 points to side-step into the past and plant something incriminating in the cell, a shank or shiv.
However, Sarah and Andi’s cell has more Core Clues in it, and I want Dariya to find them. So when she goes back a few days to plant the shiv, she instead finds some unusual contraband in Andi’s bunk. Specifically an extremely heavy metal rod about a foot in length. This rod is so heavy, it is difficult for Dariya to pick up. If Dariya had any points in Science! she would be able to detect that it is, in fact, highly radioactive uranium. She doesn’t. She’s a street thief from 9 BCE. In her day, Science! meant you wiped your hand on your shirt between going to the bathroom and eating.
I do ask for Dariya to make a Chronal Stability check for the preparedness side-step. I really shouldn’t do that, but I feel like this party should really have their Chronal Stability challenged a little bit more. I give Dariya an athletics check just to pick it up. She spends 2 points, rolls a 6 anyway.
So now she has a finely manufactured, extremely heavy rod. She decides to take it to the panic room and hide it there. She’s worried that taking it will result in a paradox, but it hasn’t been revealed in the future, so I rule there won’t be a paradox. Grey confirms that he did tell the rest of the team about the panic room. Grey describes some of the cabinets and things in the panic room with storage cabinets, a cot, and a couple of chairs. It’s a bit cramped in there, but you could hide out for a few days. Dariya sneaks in and stashes the rod inside one of the locking storage cabinets. She then side-steps back.
Grey cuts in with “so, I’m basically locked in a room with a processed uranium rod. Great.” At this time, I have his tether alert him to high levels of radiation in the panic room.
This is a good time for Grey to panic. He asks if “anyone stashed something in there? Like a rod of radioactive uranium?” Dariya stays quiet for a few minutes then a little quiet “er, well, it was me. Sorry.” Grey starts asking about where it came from and how dangerous it is. I mention that it would be a good idea to flood this room with water, actually.
Grey decides to leave the panic room.
This is a perfect example of “we have never worked together before.”
At this point, we are in full “keystone time cop” mode. Here are some of their own plans that the agents have had and foiled:
- Grey builds the prison and creates a panic room near one of the security rooms. No one knows the panic room exists except him and, later, his team.
- Angel arranges for Sarah to be drugged at dinner, but Sarah might not have finished eating when Altani started a fight at dinner (she didn’t).
- Vid shapeshifts to take over Johnson’s identity and is spotted by Hastings. Who turns out to be an ezeru and takes Vid to the laundry room.
- Dariya plants a shiv in Andi’s bunk and steals a uranium rod. She hides it in the panic room where Grey has spent most of today, and possibly several other days previously.
- Dariya moves into the cell to do the search, but Sarah doesn’t move. Because she’s been drugged.
This adventure could be subtitled: “We are our own worst adversaries.”
Moving right along, Grey heads to the infirmary to get some iodine pills and maybe a bit of MedKit help from Angel. Dariya continues heading into Andi and Sarah’s cell to announce the surprise inspection. Alexis calls for medical help and a gurney because they now have a medical emergency. Dariya can’t complete the inspection. Andi is now defensive and claiming innocence.
Dariya waits for the med team to arrive.
Vid overhears the call on the radio she stole from Johnson, calling for a gurney. She opened the laundry bags and shows them to the video cameras in hopes of showing the victims. He finds, coated in a nasty, foul-smelling goo, is Hastings the guard, Sparks, another inmate named Zero, and Andi. Definite confirmation of the meta-knowledge that Andi has been replaced by ezeru.
We move back to Altani, who decides it’s time to move out. She activates her impersonator mesh to look “like a guard, from a distance.”
Vid, meanwhile, is going to assume that Grey is still in the panic room (incorrectly, as the player knows), and she heads down the hall and transforms into the gurney… outside the infirmary. Angel grabs her and heads down to Sarah’s cell. Normally she has a guard escort, and Hastings does join her to escort her. Vid did relay that Hastings was one of the bodies found… of course, that was after Grey informed them that Vid is “a shapeshifting weirdo.”
Altani is listening through the crack in the door of a utility closet, in which all the supplies are in a locked cabinet. The hair on the back of Dariya’s neck stands up straight. As they turn the corner, they see a pool of spreading blood, and then they see Andi and Hastings charging towards them.
Dariya is armed with a PaciFist, a baton, and a radio. She is escorting Sarah, the gurney, and Angel, but no one else seems to be in the immediate vicinity. She draws her Pacifist and shoots Andi with it. This is a Shooting check, and the ezeru can resist the Stun. This is normally a challenge of 5, but Andi and Hastings are ezeru, who have Resist Stun, giving them a +2 on their ability to resist the stun effects.
Vid wants to shapeshift and attack back, so she drops Sarah Connor to shapeshift into a humanoid and engage them in the fight by thrusting an arm out into a giant blade. I say that Grey has been very prepared and can get around seamlessly. I tell him he can drop in via any secret passageway he built into the prison, back in the day.
Altani remarks, “Thank god Sarah is out cold for this.” Oh, is she? Maybe if you hadn’t started a fight during dinner, she’d have finished her drugged supper?
Angel grabs Sarah as she falls to the floor. However, Sarah isn’t as unconscious as she ought to be, and she starts screaming like the worst nightmare is happening to her, right now.
Altani leaps out of the closet to join the fight and Andi lunges for her, breaking out her many massive limbs to fight. Andi and Hastings start tearing through the agents, who do manage to hold their own until they can cut and run.
As Sarah continues to scream, Grey arrives, leans down and holds out his hand. He can’t resist and says “come with me if you want to live.” She nods, grabs his hand, and runs with him, Angel, and Dariya when they flee.
At this point in the story, I have made a grievous error with the ezeru and have given them four attacks apiece. I misread their stats in the book, and nearly destroy the party with the ezeru mince-meat-making mandibles and pincers. On the up side, it does lead into the chase sequence, with Angel, Grey, Dariya, and Sarah being chased by the ezeru, who are in turn chased by Vid and Altani. And while nearly everyone is badly injured, even the -1 to their physical skills does not force them to lose the fight.
The chase rages through the running of the bulls in the 1920’s, then onto a 16th century Spanish pirate battle, where Team Altani destroys a ship’s mast to slow the vessel. Vid and Altani attempt to slow the ezeru as much as possible, which gives Team Sarah, ultimately, a chance to get away. Altani uses preparedness and a lot of underhanded side-dealing to grab a beam weapon that does paralytic damage to the ezeru. Altani and Vid fight. In their final leap, Team Sarah makes it to Antarctica and sees they have escaped their pursuers. Altani and Vid see Team Sarah leap out, but they don’t register on the autochron, so they could bounce out if they want to, or they could continue to stay and fight. Altani throws her pistol to Vid and they agree to meet up at HQ later.
They leap separately, and Andi and Hastings chase Altani. I narrate an ending in which Altani gets roughed up quite a bit by Andi and Hastings, but ultimately she takes out Andi, but Hastings gets away. Vid makes it back in one piece. Grey, Dariya, and Angel make it back to HQ in one piece with Sarah. They don’t exactly make it back within their mission parameters. However, they do manage to recruit her. Her first order of business is to attempt to stop Judgment Day, but the story of that is a tale for another day.
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Summary: I say “um” too much when I’m GMing. Also the word “basically.”