Each GUMSHOE game takes the background-neutral GUMSHOE core and makes changes to suit the game. Mutant City Blues has investigative abilities which let cops gather evidence of super-powered malfeasance. Night’s Black Agents has pools of points for spy networks, and thriller combat options. Fear Itself lets your group build and Escape Pool to flee the adventure’s horrors.
So, what new bells and whistles does TimeWatch add to GUMSHOE which support the tropes of time travel? TimeWatch has more tweaks and adaptations to GUMSHOE than any other system, but is nontheless straightforward to run and play. In part one, we’ll start with your character…
The first place to look with any GUMSHOE game to get a flavour of it, is the character sheet.
What’s perhaps surprising is that TimeWatch has fewer General abilities than any other game, and fewer Investigative abilites than most. All the scientific abilities are subsumbed into the pulp-flavoured Science! – that exclamation mark is doing all the work. Stealth, Shadowing, Sense Trouble and Infiltration are rolled into Unobtrusiveness. Tinkering incorporates Mechnical Repair and Explosives. So far, so simple, and it gives the correct impression that TimeWatch is simple, fast and fun.
Like Night’s Black Agents, characters with high General abilities get a little something extra – called a Booster. For Preparedness, you get Flashback – the chance to narrate a plan your group has already made, and for Disguise it’s the self-explanatory Don’t I Know You?
So, which abilities are not familiar? Well, Timecraft and Paradox Prevention on the investigative side and Chronal Stability and Reality Anchor on the other. Timecraft is straightforward – it tells you when there is something up with the timeline and lets you spot and follow other time travellers, and lets you makes Tests twice and use the result you choose in a scene.
In the time travel genre, there are many examples of paradoxes – people doing things which conflict with known reality such as killing your own grandfather before your mother was born. These are fun to make use and explore in the game, but they can also break it if they are overused. Paradox is dangerous in the setting, but OK in small quantities. Paradox Prevention spends let you try clever time travel tricks such as gaining help from your future self, organising a parade to appear to interfere with a chase, but your attempts are limited by the amount of Paradox Prevention you have.
In our horror games, it’s seeing terrible things which causes you to lose humanity, and Stability measures your resistance to that. In TimeWatch, it’s paradox which can make you go mad or even disappear altogether. Chronal Stability is your ability to resist paradox and Reality Anchor is the equivalent of Shrink. Whenever you travel through time, it costs a little Chronal Stability – not enough to be a big problem, but just enough to stop jump after jump in a session.
These simple rules enable players to have fun with time travel, but not use it to solve everything.
While most characters are human, if you want your character to be a disembodied brain in a jar or a psychic velociraptor, you can. You can really make your character your own in TimeWatch – GUMSHOE doesn’t care how you describe abilities the use of abilities as Taunt or Disguise; and this is used to the full in character creation.Your Disguise ability is can be simple makeup, or a psychic or holographic projection.
You’ll also notuec a section marked Stitches. Stitches are tokens which players can award each other for great roleplaying, good ideas, solving clues or making everyone laugh. You can use these stitches to refresh a pool by a couple of points, reward teamwork, increase damage to a foe, or reduce damage to yourself. You are limited to three stitches, which encourages you to spend them and not hoard them. Stitches represent TimeWatch agents ability to slightly manipulate time, and they reward good play, and keep the game moving forward.
The other thing to note about the character sheet is the big Gear section, which I’ll cover in the next part.
TimeWatch is a time-travel adventure RPG where brave agents of TimeWatch defend the timestream from radioactive cockroaches, psychic velociraptors, and human meddlers. Go back in time to help yourself in a fight, thwart your foes by targeting their ancestors, or gain a vital clue by checking out a scroll from the Library of Alexandria. But watch out for paradoxes that may erase you from existence… or worse.. Purchase TimeWatch in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.