Hannibal’s Triceratops

A couple of weeks ago, I ran TimeWatch for the online convention, ConTessa. ConTessa is a con organized and run by women (must be female-identified to run a game, and must run apolitical games).

I had actually run into problems with the “apolitical” charter when I realized that the adventure I had started writing was too close for comfort (the death of Elvis Presley in 1952 meant segregation persisted into the 21st century, but was bolstered by the black empowerment movement… a little too political for this con). So, I fell back to my original concept, which started with “Hannibal crosses the Alps with several triceratops.”

Writeup and the full video (2h45m) are below the cut.

We begin the session with introductions. In our party, we have Kelfala the starship pilot from the 14th century, Uurrk the Neanderthal, and Mace Hunter, a Victorian-era big game hunter.

We open our adventure in a time chase sequence, chasing down Hannah Red, the inter-chronal antiquities thief, who has just stolen Boccaccio’s original Decameron. The party chases her through Carneval in Rio in the 1980’s (so much big hair), so our skilled hunters use their hunting skills to find her in the crowd and chase her down. They chase her as she jumps through time onto a lakeside dock, with jetskis, onto which Kelfala leaps and leads the party on the jetskis (his eyes widen excitedly and he runs ahead). As he leaps for her from the jetski, she activates her autochron, and they’re almost at point-blank when she leaps up and keeps running.

I messed up the mechanics at first and gave everyone in the party the hunting check, but I was supposed to designate a lead for the pursuers, and only have that person make checks– everyone else gets to use their other skills (like shooting, etc) to try and stop her. I did let everyone know in advance that they will refresh all their points at the end of this scene, because I want them to feel free to spend their points to try things out and see how the system plays.

The party follows her to a crowded space station. Mace uses his Authority skill, and he shouts to the crowd that this woman has stolen his wallet.

This is an interesting part of the playtest, because Authority is an investigation skill, and I’m not sure how to handle that in a non-investigation scene. I offer to Mace that he can spend the investigation point to make it as if he had critted on the roll. I offer that bargain because spending investigation points is way more powerful (an over-the-top success) than spending a general skill point (a +1 to the roll). They also only have 18 investigation points, vs 50 general skill points.

Just as they apprehend Hannah Red, a time ripple occurs and when they open the satchel containing the stolen property, it contains the Decameron…. in Chinese. Obviously, history has been altered, and the TimeWatch agents are sent back in time to find and correct the error. They are innoculated against Black Death, because they will be sent to Florence, Italy, in 1351, 3 years after plague ravaged Europe.

Florence is heavily influenced by Chinese culture and language, which indicates an earlier time point may have occurred. The party now needs to go investigate history, as known to the 14th century Florentines. “We ask people. We find man,” is the great plan from Uurrk.

We take a detour into the rules about the History skill, which covers specific points in time, rather than “contemporary to me.”

They start looking for Boccaccio in the nicer, artisan district of the town. As they move through the area, Uurrk checks for other historical and cultural artifacts, being a student of anthropology. He spots a painter’s studio where the painter is working on a piece featuring an army, crossing a mountain pass, with triceratops in the background of the Carthaginian army. Uurrk knows what a tri-horn is, and he is a deeply curious person and turns and walks right in without even pausing.

The artist is distracted, but offers to help in a moment. Uurrk asks for explanation of drawing. The artist introduces the work, explains that the great beasts, while controversial, were certainly instrumental in taking the peninsula. Mace Hunter is leaning in the doorway, watching the show, with a drink in his hand. Kelfala has come back and is also watching in the doorway. They’re letting Uurrk stumble through this social encounter. They observe before moving in for a bit to glance at some of the other sketches, including a sketch of the battle of Cannae with a few dozen Smith & Wesson rifles in the foreground. He waves his friends over to the sketchbook and points these artifacts out. Kelfala remarks that rifles shoot bullets, and we should maybe be careful of such things. But they haven’t seen such here in 14th century Florence. These seem to be artifacts. The painter exclaims, when questioned, that the fireworks sticks, while controversial, that Hannibal brought these amazing devices over the Alps. The de Medici family claims to own one of these artifacts. Uurrk says “firework sticks” is too long, and should be “fire-stick.” The painter introduces himself as Antonio Robrucci, and says if the party gets in to see the de Medicis, he’d love them to put in a good word. Robrucci serves the party some Chianti, hopeful of a commission. Mace makes off with the bottle.

The party goes to the de Medici manor house and chat up the gate guard. The family is out, but the guard, Mario Verona, is charmed by Kelfala, and brings them in and shows them the artifact before rushing off to bring them wine. The artifact is a thousand year-old rifle which Uurrk gnaws on to “test its authenticity.” This gun functioned a thousand years ago, but is no longer viable. Mario is being bear-hugged by Mace. Kelfala stands by, shaking his head… “not again.”

Mario now realizes Mace Hunter is the chief sommelier (point spend: Reassuring).  He sends Mario for wine, then steals the gun and takes it to Smith & Wesson (“I know them… I like Wesson better.”) for restoration/repair. When he gets back, he puts the case away before Mario returns and they all enjoy more wine before heading out.

The party now knows that Hannibal crossed the Alps and returned with two anachronisms– what will they do? They go back to the crossing and observe them heading into the Alpine pass. They see them go into the pass with a depleted elephant unit, then come out with triceratops and a better-fed army.

They go back in time much further to 65 million years before, roughly the same area, and find a picket line of triceratops, with bridles, prepped for delivery. There is a single guard wearing Carthaginian soldier garb. He appears to be guarding the mounts.

They approach and hail him in an unassuming manner, and Kelfala IDs him as being of Chinese descent, and then he takes off running as fast as he can– Kelfala sets up preparedness to throw himself up ahead in time to trip the guy. Uurrk’s instincts to pursue kick in! They chase him through time. Kelfala is in the lead due to preparedness (2 point spend). He runs ahead with Jian Ma (the Mongol saboteur) using a rockfall to slow Jian Ma down.

I hand out more stitches, retroatively so they can more safely leap through time.

They leap through time into one of the moon landing sites, and arrive just in time to see a lunar rover tearing off across the landscape. They realize that the TimeWatch uniforms cover their atmosphere needs. Kelfala jumps into the second rover and tears off after him. In fact, he uses a couple of points of Preparedness to boost the fuel in his vehicle and empty the other fuel out.

This slows Jian Ma, and they head to 1940 Berlin, which is a common place for TimeWatch agents in training, who usually spend their time trying to stop Hitler’s many would-be assassins. They finally run Jian Ma down in a 24th century Beijing in a bicycle race through the city, where they capture him and take him back to TimeWatch.

Since they’ve stopped him before Hannibal can go back in time to get the mounts and reinforcements, the history of Rome proceeds as normal. Things aren’t 100% back to normal– the Mongols still conquer part of Western Europe…. but stopping that event is an adventure for another day.

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Link to video on YouTube.