[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from the forthcoming TimeWatch GM Screen and Resource Book by Kevin Kulp]
When you’re trying to figure out where your antagonists have come from, things can get confusing fast. Foes can be from the core or a parallel timeline, humans from Earth or aliens from another planet (or even entities who fit neither of those two descriptions), and either time travelers or contemporaries who are in their native time. It’s good to keep in mind who the antagonists are.
Core timeline origin
Creatures from the core timeline are ones from Earth’s unaltered history. That includes all the people and animals who have lived in the real world. Depending on your game, this may include “real world” alien incursions such as Area 51 or the existence of reptoids. Dinosaurs exist in the core timeline, but hyper-intelligent dinosaurs do not—unless you, as GM, decide to make that a secret part of your game history.
Creatures from the core timeline seldom have specific temporal powers linked to their origin, and usually lack the Tempus ability unless they’ve acquired time travel. Someone from our core timeline isn’t susceptible to chronal instability while they’re in their own native time, and they are unlikely to have any abilities that a regular person from that time wouldn’t have. For instance, psychic abilities are possible if the GM has decided that people develop psychic abilities in the future, but not otherwise.
In early 18th century London, Skegg throws a chronal destabilization grenade at Isaac Newton, who turns out to have secretly been an evil genius that TimeWatch needs to stop. Newton is in his own natural era and is unaffected by the blast, which only affects time travelers (people with Tempus or Chronal Stability).
Parallel Timeline Origin
In comparison, parallel timeline or parallel universe creatures are a hugely varied lot. They range from the stereotypically evil exact duplicate with a goatee, to individuals raised in an utterly different society (such as one where Carthage won the Punic Wars instead of Rome), to non-humans coming from a world that is mostly water, mostly ice, or an insect-controlled radioactive wasteland. As a reminder, creatures from parallel timelines tend to be more sensitive to chronal instability than usual, suffering from a 1 point penalty to the Difficulty and Loss of most Paradox tests until they adjust to our reality. That adjustment occurs solely at the GM’s discretion.
Skegg is from a parallel timeline that TimeWatch destroyed when they made sure an extinction-level meteor hit the Earth. Every time the rest of her team makes a D4/L4 Paradox test, Skegg has to make one that’s D5/L5. If her team somehow finds its way to Skegg’s fading home parallel, she’ll lose that penalty even as the rest of her team gains it. Around the point that both Skegg’s player and the GM keep forgetting about the penalty, the GM decides that Skegg has been in our reality long enough to have fully adapted. The penalty no longer applies to her.
Parallel timelines open up any tragic, ludicrous, imaginative, horrific or deadly possibility you can think of. You just need to be able to rationalize how it is possible. A world where neanderthals triumph over cro-magnon man? A world where the dinosaurs are not killed by a meteorite? A world where Tesla’s designs triumphed over Edison’s? All possible. Not only can supporting characters and antagonists come from these parallel timelines, with the GM’s permission player characters can come from them as well.
Such timelines are not always possible, and they’re not always self-sustaining. A parallel timeline created artificially when true history is altered exists for as long as that history stays changed. Timelines that are sufficiently well established (or that the GM finds interesting) may survive or slowly fade despite their separation from the main time stream.
Creatures from parallel timelines usually have a wide array of chronal powers that are powered by their Tempus general ability.
The type of foes will vary by campaign frame. A Conspiracy-style game, for instance, will feature more human antagonists (many likely employed by TimeWatch itself) alongside shape-shifting alien species who masquerade as human. Many TimeWatch games may never feature any non-human antagonists at all; let’s face it, if you look at human history, we make pretty good villains all on our own.
Just because you prefer to use human antagonists, however, there’s no reason you can’t use a variety of Tempus-powered chronal abilities. Pick and choose appropriate ones from the list later in this chapter.
If it evolved on a planet other than Earth and it isn’t human, it’s most likely an alien. There are any number of different types of creatures this category could cover; innumerable TV shows, movies, role-playing games and science fiction novels are brimming with ideas to steal. For easy adaptation, borrow aliens such as the Kch-Thk and Vas Mal from the GUMSHOE game Ashen Stars. Humans from the future who were born on a planet other than Earth don’t usually qualify as aliens, unless there’s been significant changes in their physiology or psychology.
While space-faring aliens likely won’t possess chronal powers unless they’re also time travelers, there are plenty of Tempus-powered abilities or technology that your alien antagonists can wield. If you like, select chronal powers and simply explain them off as stolen technology.
Reptoids are shape-shifting reptilian aliens who have infiltrated human society, but they aren’t time travelers. Perhaps they’re waging a secret war against other aliens or time travelers here on Earth, a war that most humans never even notice. They possess the Tempus ability, which powers their unique capabilities.
We use “entity” to designate an intelligent creature that originated on Earth but is non-human. Hyper-evolved porpoises, radioactive giant cockroaches such as the Ezeru, and genetically altered intelligent dinosaurs all fall under this category. So do mysterious post-human beings from the end of time who have evolved into something far greater than our minds can comprehend. An entity could be an unnaturally intelligent dog, a sentient meme surrounded by a cloud of nanobots, an ephemeral time-ghost that possesses its prey, or a self-aware hologram projected from a distant corner of alt-history.
Entities have access to a wide array of Tempus-powered abilities.
An antagonist with a contemporary origin is either a villain who has never time traveled, or one who has access to time travel but is not displaced in time at the moment. For instance, a TimeWatch agent who has returned to his native era to visit his family technically has a contemporary origin despite also possessing an autochron. This is an important distinction, because anyone with a contemporary origin cannot suffer from chronal instability.
Native era, in this case, is defined as “during an individual’s natural life span, so long as he is not overlapping himself.”
The GM decides that Mace Hunter was destined to die of disease five years after being recruited by TimeWatch in 1843. If he returns to the years 1843 – 1848 on a mission, he’s safe from additional chronal instability until he leaves, until he overlaps himself with another future or past Mace who is also visiting, or until he overstays his natural lifespan.
When someone with a Contemporary origin creates a time-related paradox, they don’t (and can’t) lose Chronal Stability. That paradox has to go somewhere, however, and local time and space are likely to do something unexpected; the GM is encouraged to be particularly clever and diabolical with the result.
Contemporary antagonists may still have access to a wide array of Tempus-powered abilities, and are arguably more dangerous than ever, because they don’t generally lose Tempus to chronal instability.
If you’re existing in a time that you shouldn’t normally be alive in, or you’re overlapping yourself by existing in two or more places at once, you’re a time traveler. Congratulations! Hostile time travelers may target earth in the far future and far past and use their time travel to bedevil or influence events at different points in time.
Depending on GM fiat and the technology they’re using, time travelers vary in their access to the time stream. Some only have access to a very small sliver of history, while some have unfettered paths to all of time and the parallel universes that flow nearby.
It’s worth noting that not all time travelers have access to TimeWatch-agent levels of technology and science. They may use anachronistic weapons, suffer from no translator, and catch (or spread!) unexpected diseases; or they may bring weapons and technology to bear that even TimeWatch hasn’t encountered before.
As you would expect, time traveling antagonists likely have access to a wide array of technology and Tempus-powered abilities.