Blog for Stephanie Bryant, a writer with too many hobbies and not enough time.

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Timewatch Buddy Cops!

The Gadget, the first atomic bomb, 1945 (2)I ran the first third or so of Kevin Kulp’s Timewatch adventure “The Gadget” last night for my weekly group. It’s published in Behind Enemy Times, the adventure supplement for Timewatch. We only had a couple of hours– we might actually finish the rest of the adventure next week.

We’re in a kind of limbo while 2 players are absent and only have 2 players available. So we’re filling in with some time-travel buddy cop fun.

Our investigators are a 24th century “reformed” time criminal, and a Roman Praetor (very law-and-order) from 200 BC. It’s interesting running a GUMSHOE game where not all of the investigation skills are covered. Especially when one of those skills is “History: Contemporary” and your game starts out at the Trinity test site in New Mexico in 1945.

Not advised, mind you. But interesting. I decided to run with it and see how it goes. So far, there’s been a little bit of “fish out of water” silliness, but I’m sure they will get more into their element when they travel to more distant times and places as they track down what happened at the Trinity site just days before the first test detonation of the atomic bomb.

The cool part is that I’ve been able to easily grab images from history to use in the adventure. Like a woolly mammoth, which I was able to turn into a Roll20 token pretty quickly!

Mammoth

RPGaDay #2: Kickstarter I’m Most Pleased I Backed

55f70f0ffd42adf2585167d3a1bb0c38_largeThe answer to this one, after over a hundred kickstarters, is still Timewatch, but for different reasons than last year.

Last year, my reasons for loving this game were fairly simple: it’s an awesome game that has huge potential and an amazingly fun sense of humor in the writing. The setting is evocative but open-ended enough that you can change it. You can even change it mid-game because the nature of time travel is such that one change could alter the future culture significantly.

You can take it silly, in a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure way, or a serious as the original Terminator movie. I’ve used it for an Aliens “bug hunt” style adventure, a wildly gonzo adventure, and a historically-drenched Viking saga.

But that’s not why I love this game. I love this game because it helped me finally take the step into writing games for pay. I’d already started writing Threadbare before Timewatch went onto Kickstarter, but I hadn’t really understood what I was doing, and although I’d been a writer for over fifteen years by then, I hadn’t done anything serious in game writing.

The Book of Changing Years is my first real contribution to the world of gaming. I added a zombie plotline to the book, one which is based on a trilogy I ran at last year’s GenCon. I was then tapped to write Day of the Wehrwolf for Pelgrane Press (which publishes Timewatch). I’ve been contacted for other projects as well. This all gave me the confidence to reach out to Mark Diaz Truman at Magpie Games and finally talk about Threadbare. I just finished writing my contribution to the Epyllion supplement, the Encyclopedia Draconica.

Basically, I can track a lot of my game writing activity to backing Timewatch, running it at the Contessa online event while the Kickstarter was still active, and continuing to run it and write stuff for it and other games afterwards.

Timewatch: Little Boy in the Snow, part 1

TO: Dariya
FROM: Sarah Connor
DATE: August 16, 2098
SUBJECT: Don't Follow Me
D-- Got caught in 2098. Underground bunker. 
Miscalculated Judg Day. 
Not sure, but I hear rumors that weird aliens 
are responsible. 
Don't know-- surface too hot to investigate. 
Stuck here till my autochron works again-- radiation interfering. 
The machines aren't smart enough here. Something went wrong. 
Fix it before 2075 when the bombs go off. --S.C.

55f70f0ffd42adf2585167d3a1bb0c38_largeIt’s another day at Timewatch, and another attempt by Sarah Connor to stop Judgement Day. And, naturally, it went south somehow, so an extraction team has been sent to pick her up from the 22nd century.

Meanwhile, Dariya receives a strange email message from the distant past, from Sarah Connor, asking her to investigate something not-quite-right about Judgement Day. Namely: the machines didn’t rise, and there might be aliens. John Connor asks Dariya to check into it, rather “off the books” this time, and directs her to a bar, where Mace Hunter is drinking, on a 2-week suspension for doing something against Timewatch rules (“All I can say is, there was a prince, there was a princess, some kind of castle, and I’m not allowed in a certain small European country anymore….”)

In the course of this two-part adventure, Dariya and Mace Hunter travel through time to the 1990’s to discover that President Dan Quayle has fast-tracked the construction of several nuclear plants… which degrade and leak resulting in a toxic radioactive buildup within 150 years.

While there, they discover that Little Boy, the bomb that was originally supposed to be dropped on Hiroshima, was discovered recently and is being transferred to the Smithsonian. Interesting information, and they do some research into it. This leads them to conclude that Little Boy was stolen in the 1940’s before being dropped. They hop back in time to stop the bomb from being hijacked on its way to the Enola Gay.

That showdown results in them facing off against a bunch of ezeru who are trying to hijack the bomb. This leads them to the secret ezeru base in the South Pole, which Dariya and Hunter infiltrate to kill monsters and steal back Little Boy’s nuclear core.

The video sequence is somewhat long, due to spanning two sessions, but full of hilarity and hijinks. This is a really good example of tailoring a time cop adventure to two players, leading to a kind of “buddy cop” story. We don’t have a lot of science in this group. We don’t have hacking. They have an AI, but when they’re separated from each other, the AI is split and doesn’t have the full set of its knowledge. That works great, because it leads them to some humorous moments, and some great examples of how playing to your weaknesses really helps the story.

As a GM, one of the things I did with this adventure was specifically look for two very important scenes I wanted to put into it. First, I wanted Dariya to have an Amazing Heist scene, where she just slips in and does a great little stealthy theft thing. Second, I wanted Mace Hunter to have a Fabulous Hunt scene where he gets to hunt down monsters in the manner of a big game hunter.

Both of these came to pass in the same point in time, where the agents split up so Dariya could retrieve the core and Hunter could cause an enormous, bloody distraction.

It was beautiful and the players did a great job of coordinating their teamwork, while sticking to their strengths.

[Spider_Video_Player id=”4″]

How I write a Timewatch Adventure

This is just my basic formula for writing and running a scenario to run in Timewatch.

Step 1: Play Historical What-If 

First, I start with an historical “what if” scenario. It might be a cause or an effect.

A “cause” would be something that happened and ripples forward in time. This is the most common “historical what if” that you’ll find, and there are hundreds of them posted every day right here(Reddit.com/r/historicalwhatif) if you need some inspiration. A cause scenario might be something like: “What if Little Boy had never been dropped on Hiroshima?”

An “effect” scenario starts with something I want to have happened, which will be the big clue to the PCs that the timeline changed. Effect scenarios are less plausible, maybe, than cause scenarios, but they’re also flashier. “What if cowboys rode dinosaurs in the Old West instead of horses?” Now, obviously that’s a big change to the timeline and it is also a cause, perhaps of things going strangely in the 1880’s in the U.S. But it’s mainly an effect– it’s the effect of dinosaurs not dying out (perhaps) and existing with humans into the 19th century, and even becoming domesticated. That’s a huge effect, very cinematic, and very implausible. But fun and lends itself to an over-the-top storyline.

The “what if” should be big– big enough that it changes the fabric of history enough to matter. It should alter the course of a large group of people– maybe a city or even an entire civilization. In my mindset, Timewatch doesn’t send people back in time to fix up their parents at the winter dance. However, if you are playing a more personal storyline, one where the autochron is not issued by Timewatch…. then a smaller scenario would be fine. However, in this case, you absolutely need to know the timeline you’re working with. That’s why, when I want to get personal (such as in my Sarah Connor session), I use a well-known fictional character whose timeline you could research on the Internet.

Step 2: Research and Speculation

If you have a “Cause” scenario, then step two is to figure out its effects– what are the timeline ripples you’re going to see due to this thing happening? Conversely, if you’re using an effect scenario, you need to be saying “and that happened because…” to work backwards from this really evident change in the timeline.

This is all part of the research phase. You’ll need to have a good knowledge of the timeline before you sit down to change it, and that means going on a guided tour of history. Whenever you change time, you need to know, as the GM, what the change was. You need to know the history and culture of up to about 20 years before the event happened, just in case the PCs show up too early or want to set something up in advance (they always do). And you need to know the timelines, both real and altered, of the world from the day it changes until about 100 years later. I like to go every major milestone for about 50 years, then space things out for a few generations until either the timeline recovers and, oh yeah, we have dinosaurs and they just kind of blend back into the normal fabric of human life. Or the timeline doesn’t really recover and we’re looking at psychic dinosaurs taking over Timewatch in about 20,000 BCE. Either way– it’s good to have a chronology of both what *really* happened and what happened in the alternate timeline.

Step 3: Make Stuff Up

By the way, this often means you are Making Stuff Up, especially for the timeline for the future. Yeah, you’re making up both the real and the invented timelines– there’s a reason I like to use pre-existing fiction for that. It’s much easier for me to pull the timeline from The Terminator than it is to make one up completely.

Step 4: Invent and Kidnap Your NPCs

The best part about Timewatch, in my mind, is that there is already a huge host of NPCs waiting to be used. They are historical figures, and believe me when I say that players who would normally stab Elminster in the eye with a spork will go nuts over the opportunity to save Genghis Khan from dying of measles before his time. Use historical and famous people liberally– they’re the guys your Timewatch agents want to save, because they are the key people in the historical timeline.

You will also need some non-historical people, of course. Knowing a culture well (or “well enough”) means you’ll already know how prevalent the art and antiquities industry was in 14th century Florence, when your friends go wandering around looking for clues about an ancient firearm that isn’t supposed to exist.

Step 5: Set up Some Clues and Scenes

Timewatch is a game of investigation, so you need to know the core clues that your Timewatch agents will be looking for, and where those clues might lead.

It is absolutely important in Timewatch to help the players steer clear of red herrings, so keep your clues focused on the actual Thing That Happened so they can go to that time and place as quickly and efficiently as possible. Don’t worry– once there, they are certain to muck around a while trying to figure out who the other time traveler is who’s trying the change the timeline!

Any time your players are in a scenario that could be solved with time travel and they think of a way to break time to do it– let them. Make them pay a cost, usually in Chronal Stability and Paradox Prevention points, but let them bend time to their will. That’s the point of this game, and it’s what makes the game insanely fun.

Step 6: Plan a Few Non-Investigation Scenes

I like to have at least one chase scene in every Timewatch game. The chase rules are fun and lightweight and players love them. Chase scenes usually resolve within 2-3 “rounds,” and sometimes I will set things up so the agents have to chase down the perpetrator, or sometimes the perps are hunting them. And sometimes, the party splits and half the party is protecting a key person and being chased by the perps, who are themselves being chased by the other half of the party trying to apprehend them.

Chase scenes are the one area where I don’t try to drop clues on the players. There’s enough going on as it is! The only clues you want to put into here are interpersonal, perhaps witty banter between the agents and the perp where they might taunt them into revealing too much.

If you have a lot of combat-loving characters or players, include a fight scene. I often write the adversaries as being rather willing to throw their hands up when they’ve been caught– not every confrontation has to end with beating the bad guy into submission, after all. But sometimes, you have one or more players or characters who don’t feel like the story is over until there’s blood on the floor.

Step 7: Sidestepping, a House Rule

I use a house rule called “a sidestep” when players want to jump out of the timeline, do something, and jump back in a second later. They’re usually doing this as a solo quest, and it can be detracting from the main plotline.

If they’re not going to be mucking about too much, and they’re not doing it to avoid the base resources of health, chronal stability, and paradox prevention, I let them make these sidesteps with just one chronal stability check, and I don’t role-play out the side scene too heavily.

I’m nice that way.

Step 8: Be Ready for Changes

As always, be ready to roll with the changes when your players go somewhere else. Move clues where you need them to appear. Make sure they have solid threads tying them to where to go next. If you have to create a new clue on the spot to join their unexpected visit to 4 B.C.E. to the time-jump into the post-apocalyptic moon base, do so. Keep your eye on the goal of the scene, which is to reveal enough information to cause the characters to move onto the next scene you want to set up. If they do so by going a little bit sideways and detouring for more clues, give them more clues that point to that scene.

Does that sound like railroading? That’s fine– Timewatch is a little bit railroady, in that you have a timeline that has been changed and needs to be fixed. By its very nature, Timewatch is a somewhat linear story– it’s just a linear story that can go pretty much anywhere and anywhen!

TimeWatch: Sarah Connor Edition

55f70f0ffd42adf2585167d3a1bb0c38_largeI 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:

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Continue reading TimeWatch: Sarah Connor Edition

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