The world has changed. Again.
China wasn’t supposed to colonize 15th century North America, right? And yet you find yourself being attacked by eunuch swordsmen in what should be San Francisco. Some time traveler told the Golden Fleet about the Pacific oceanic gyre that would lead them to a rich new land. Someone you’ll have to stop.
Welcome to TimeWatch.
TimeWatch, by Kevin Kulp, is a GUMSHOE game of investigative time travel that Pelgrane Press is about to Kickstart. 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.
Traditionally, the two big road blocks to time travel games have been game research and handling paradox. The former has gotten to be surprisingly simple over the past few years; with Wikipedia for research and innumerable, excellent alternate history message boards and podcasts (such as Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff or Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History) out there, it’s easy to track down good ideas. The TW rules will contain a number of mission hooks, of course, and our plan is to offer superb guest designers the chance to write missions as part of the upcoming Kickstarter’s stretch goals.
In TimeWatch, paradox is handled through an ability called Chronal Stability, which takes the place of Stability in other GUMSHOE games. Cause paradox and you lose chronal stability; lose enough chronal stability and you become unanchored in time. This allows fun flexibility when solving missions; you can time travel forward to check the work of historians fifty years hence to figure out what happened in this timeline, or even have your future self leave you a cryptic note about what happens, but doing so risks chronal instability. You can plan your investigation accordingly, solving conundrums while keeping paradox to a minimum. Whether you’re dealing with a rogue time traveler who gave Hitler nuclear weapons, or mongols who sacked and burned all of western Europe, you may want the extra help.
The biggest change between TimeWatch and other GUMSHOE games are stitches (as in “a stitch in time”), an action point mechanic that rewards fun play and allows players to decide for themselves when to refresh their ability pools. If you find yourself getting nervous about how many Shooting points to spend because you can’t predict when they’ll come back, you’ll want to give stitches a try.
We’ve also worked hard to get all the joy of breakneck chases matched with time travel. Chase someone through time on your personal time machine, and you’ll find yourself slipping from historical chase to historical chase as you try and catch up; from Roman chariots, to riding a stegosaurus during a dinosaur stampede, to racing high altitude fighter jets after them.
Above all, TimeWatch is a game that embraces everything that time travel should be. Want your future self to come back and help you in a fight at the OK Corral? You can do that. Want to play a caveman, or a starship pilot, or Amelia Earhart, all figuring out why the Titantic didn’t sink? You can do that. Want to produce a disintegrator rifle with Preparedness, just by reminding yourself to come back later and hide it under a floorboard? You can do that. This leads to some interesting solutions when solving mysteries. When you end up arranging the very same mysterious ambush that almost killed your earlier self last session, just to prove to a local bandit king that you have prophetic powers, you know you’re a member of TimeWatch.
The Kickstarter launches soon, so you’ll hear from playtesters and see lots more about TimeWatch in the next few months. For a one-time only, no-spam email alert when TimeWatch goes live, please follow this link. http://bit.ly/1hSd99K
Kevin Kulp is a Boston-based game designer and the co-author of Owl Hoot Trail. His work appears in Pelgrane supplements and adventures for Night’s Black Agents and Ashen Stars.