The Tree People: TimeWatch Adapts KARTAS
By Kevin Kulp
If you haven’t already, consider seeking out the ENnie-winning podcast Ken And Robin Talk About Stuff, where GUMSHOE authors Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws opine about history, time travel, and creative game design. Here in See Page XX, we’ll periodically show you how to further develop a KARTAS topic for use in the GUMSHOE time-travel RPG TimeWatch.
In Episode 176: Shut Up Fungus, Ken and Robin create a sci-fi plant-based alien race on the fly. Let’s adapt it for TimeWatch.
August, 1926. Rural Iowa. A lonely teenage boy installed one final vacuum tube and turned on his new homemade home-made ham radio. It was 1am on a hot summer night, and he expected to hear the distant crackling voice of European radio. Instead there was a flash of purple electricity, and a 100 meter-long flying seed-ship materialized above his house in a shriek of torn reality. It would have been an understatement to say he was surprised.
The ship hovered over the house and the corn field. Dogs barked. His parents fled. And in awe, the boy slowly walked out to meet the glowing, inhuman aliens who emerged from the side of the vessel. They moved like trees in the wind, and their suits shone with brilliant ultraviolet light.
Their encounter didn’t last long, though; the boy’s elderly grandmother emerged with a shotgun, the aliens retreated back into their organic wooden vessel, and the massive ship silently spun upwards into the dark sky. By the time the authorities arrived, the only “proof” was jumbled eye-witness accounts and a melted ham radio that never worked again. The boy couldn’t even find the old dusty store in Cedar Rapids where he bought the ham radio parts. It broke him; he’d end up being incarcerated in three years, institutionalized in five (with the derogatory nickname “rocket boy”), and dead in a sanitarium by the age of 25.
And my, had he lived, he may have felt better in 1938 when the alien invasion begins in earnest.
The boy’s home-made ham radio actually contained a primitive Everett Bridge, a device used to tear open doorways between parallel dimensions. It had been sold to him by a disguised time traveler who is a member of the Church of Reinvention, a religious sect that believes mankind will reach their peak through advanced technology; the sect’s members travel through the past to secretly distribute and spread anachronistic super-science. The time traveler and his family folded up shop five minutes after the boy left his store, and they left behind a blank brick wall where the door to his shop had stood a few minutes earlier.
The Everett Bridge had opened a gate to an alien planet in a parallel universe, and the race of plant beings developed in KARTAS episode 176 were on the other side. The aliens found themselves trapped in our world and timeline instead of their own. Faced with infinite unknowns and possibly under attack, they quickly withdrew to gather more intelligence. The aliens piloted their seedship into the largest mass of plants they could find, the heart of the Amazon jungle, and they settled in to try and understand where they were and how they got there.
The plant-based creatures never named themselves in a human tongue, but once contact was made Central Americans quickly began calling them La Parra: “the vine.” This name became corrupted to Laparra, Lampara, Parra, Vines, and others, but was adopted worldwide as the species’ official name.
Growing undetected and undisturbed in the Amazon, the motile plant creatures spent twelve years budding, sprouting, and reproducing in the bright equatorial sunlight. They split into philosophically aligned groups as described in the podcast, including one particularly hostile to human life. They’d never seen mammals before coming to Earth, and most of the La Parra found them meaty and repugnant. In fact, most mammals (including humans) are difficult to tell apart for La Parra, and all look pretty much the same.
When the aliens were ready to make contact, they grew new, smaller ships and flew across Central and South America, seeking the sun and colonizing as they traveled. Not all expedition ships destroyed humanity in the places they settled, but humans couldn’t easily tell a hostile tree-creature from a potentially friendly one, so any attempts at diplomacy quickly failed.
Mexico, Central America, and most of South America fell to La Parra largely due to famine and crop failures after human crops become corrupted by the Parra’s more viable seeds. In Europe, Germany and the Axis powers used the distracted West as an excuse to step up their own warmongering and barbarity. By the time Americans fled their country for Canada and England, abandoning the USA to La Parra now seeded and growing in America’s breadbasket, official history was in shambles.
TimeWatch first hears about the problem when the Axis wins World War II. Agents are quickly tasked with investigating the problem, tracking it back, and preventing the initial change from having occurred. That takes some doing, as an Axis victory doesn’t immediately imply an alien invasion, and the story of the Iowa boy and the ship’s first appearance has already become nothing more than an urban legend with no names and only loose locations attached.
To prevent the accidental invasion, the Agents will need to discover who sold the boy “ham radio parts” that actually functioned as an Everett Bridge. Tracking the rogue time traveler and his religious cult down in his disappearing alley shop and arresting him should solve the problem – so long as none of the La Parra in the far future have found a method to time travel themselves or reach backwards through time, thus are there lying in wait to protect their own existence on Earth.
LA PARRA AS ANTAGONISTS
La Parra Thorn
Defense: Hit Threshold 3, Armor 1, Health 3 (Mook) or 8 (Antagonist)
Offense: Scuffling +1, Shooting +1; Damage Modifier +1 (thorny strangling vines, range Close)
Abilities: Tempus 7; Outdoor Survival 1
Special Abilities: Lightning Speed (cost 2), Regenerate (cost 0) 1 Health per round in bright sunlight only, Technology (cost 2)
Misc: Stealth Modifier +2; Difficulty Target Numbers for all Tests drop by -1 in bright sunlight and rise by +1 in darkness; all La Parra technology is organic in nature
Fast-moving and thornbush-like, able to roll like tumbleweeds, La Parra Thorns rely on stealth and subterfuge to explore new areas and identify possible threats. They make decent assassins but due to their relative fragility they seldom pursue such goals unless tasked to do so.
La Parra Sapling
Defense: Hit Threshold 4, Armor 1, Health 12
Offense: Scuffling +2; Damage Modifier +1 (thorny strangling vines, range Close)
Abilities: Tempus 12; Outdoor Survival 1
Special Abilities: Regenerate (cost 0) 1 Health per round in bright sunlight only, Technology (cost 2)
Misc: Stealth Modifier +1; Difficulty Target Numbers for all Tests drop by -1 in bright sunlight and rise by +1 in darkness; all La Parra technology is organic in nature
Saplings are the primary workers and laborers of the La Parra. They have decent social skills, keen minds, strong curiosity, and seldom hesitate to investigate new surroundings.
La Parra Seedtree
Defense: Hit Threshold 4 (5 in bright sunlight, 3 in darkness), Armor 2, Health 18
Offense: Scuffling +2; Damage Modifier +2 (coiled thorny strangling vines, range Near)
Abilities: Tempus 20; Outdoor Survival 2
Special Abilities: Flashback (cost 5), Regenerate (cost 0) 1 Health per round in bright sunlight only, Resist Stun, Stony (well, Woody; immune or resistant to most weapons, takes full damage from fire), Technology (cost 2), Universal Attack (cost 2)
Misc: Stealth Modifier +1; Difficulty Target Numbers for all Tests drop by -1 in bright sunlight and rise by +1 in darkness. The seedtree’s Hit Threshold rises to 5 in bright sunlight, and drops to 3 in darkness.
Seedtrees are tangled, slow, 3 meter tall masses of thorny vines wrapped around a central flexible trunk. Typically the oldest La Parra in a group (or a “grove”) is a seedtree, and it is rare to find more than one in any given grove. If they choose to do so, when in bright sunlight they literally can spread their species by seeding the ground they walk upon. Seedtrees are dangerous due to their tactical knowledge, robust defenses (fire excluded), and exceptionally long reach.
Defense: Hit Threshold 3, Armor 1, Health 1
Offense: Scuffling +0; Damage Modifier -1 (vaguely sharpened appendages)
Abilities: Tempus 5
La Parra are tended to by “fungus lemurs,” slavishly loyal arthropods coated in a moderately sentient and telepathic fungus that obeys all La Parra requests without hesitation. Chakk, named after the clacking and clicking sound their exoskeleton makes while moving, do everything from groom and tend La Parra to perform needed labor.
LA PARRA AS PLAYER CHARACTERS
Not all of the Parra are intrinsically hostile to mammals. If a player expresses interest in playing one, here’s what to use.
- An Agent’s standard 1 free point of Timecraft is replaced with a 1 free point of Outdoor Survival
- With the GM’s permission, Outdoor Survival points can be spent for plant-related special abilities, such as regrowing from a seed in order to be smuggled into a hostile location, or gaining Regeneration (1 Health per round when in bright sunlight) for one scene.
- In extremely bright sunlight, Difficulties for Athletics, Shooting, Scuffling and Vehicles are reduced by one point (making these activities easier). In darkness or in dimly lit conditions, Difficulties for Athletics, Shooting, Scuffling and Vehicles are increased by one point (making these activities more difficult). For player characters, other General ability Tests are not affected by the presence or absence of light.
GMs: if there’s ever any question of “is this extremely bright sunlight?”, then the answer is probably no.
- Specialized spacesuits that flood the wearer with infrared light can typically be acquired with a Difficulty 8 Preparation or Difficulty 6 Tinkering test.
- The Medic ability is less effective on La Parra, restoring 1 point of Health per 1 point spent. This worsens if the Agent lacks a medkit or the La Parra is trying to use Medic on themselves.
- Spending Stitches to reduce damage is more effective for a La Parra. Spending a Stitch in this way reduces Scuffling and Shooting damage by 2 points per Stitch instead of 1. This models the La Parra’s hard-to-injure woody nature. Stitches cannot be spent to reduce fire damage.
- The GM may provide ad hoc penalties or modifiers to the character’s Unobtrusiveness Difficulties. It’s simplicity itself for them to go unnoticed in a forested area; a high society party, however, a walking tree may be a different story. Disguise will come in handy here.
These changes in character abilities are designed to model a plant alien’s strengths and vulnerabilities, while remaining balanced with other player characters. GMs are encouraged to tweak these abilities to match their own vision of the species.