by Eric Paquette
During my first TimeWatch campaign, I decided to use Backstory Cards to help define the group. Backstory Cards are a rpg tool which helps to establish links between the agents (PCs), other individuals, groups, places, and events in your group’s campaign. Backstory Cards were designed by Ryan Macklin and published by Brooklyn Indie Games (http://brooklynindiegames.com/games/backstory-cards/).
The first thing we did was “Step One” of the “Your Character” chapter from the TimeWatch core rules. Every player created a concept of their TimeWatch agent. We had the following team: a hacker; a scientist; an Egyptian goddess; a Russian cyborg assassin; a Martian brain in a jar; a steampunk tinkerer. Once every player had a concept, we delved into the Backstory Cards setting grid. This lays the groundwork which helps one use the Backstory Cards.
The setting grid is a 4 by 3 table where the four columns are defined with “Individual”, “Group”, “Place”, and “Event”. As a group, you decide which of those setting elements might become allies, antagonists, safe havens, etc. For our TimeWatch game, we have the following individuals: school teacher; far future forger; rogue TimeWatch agent. The following groups: time travelling Nazi; Black Ops military scientists; oracular group. The following places: Ancient Egypt; a diplomatic and mercantile space station (ex: Babylon 5); ape city (formerly Toronto). The following events: during training; fancy party; convention.
Now, we set about getting prompts from the cards. Each card gives a generic situation with some questions to answer. Your PC gets linked to another PC and/or to an element of the setting grid through a random draw from the deck. You may not use all elements of the setting grid. In our group, we didn’t connect to 3 elements (Black Ops military scientists; Ancient Egypt; ape city). Does this mean that those elements are not in your game? No. It just means PCs don’t have a personal connection with that element.
At the start, I didn’t have everyone on board about using the cards, however they were open to try it. As they answered the questions on the cards, they got more into it and I could see their character concepts getting a new dimension. Each character concept got altered and those players who didn’t have a solid concept idea found something to attach themselves to. I found it an amazing experience.
There was one card which linked everyone to the rogue TimeWatch agent and suddenly, this shifted the character from just a supporting character to an opponent in the campaign. Every PC has an opinion about this rogue TimeWatch agent whom we named Snake. When I weave him into the scenarios, I get to pull on those emotions they have of Snake.
After our campaign setup session, I mapped out the relationships between the agents and setting elements. I’ve found it a useful reference to see how the group flows and what element will entice which agent.
I’m running the Behind Enemy Times campaign and through the use of the Backstory Cards, I got story elements which I could weave into the main campaign’s plot. As the schoolteacher “M” turned out to be their trainer, I made her the team’s briefing officer replacing Galahad. Snake became a member of Restoration, replacing Flynt and adding a story where parts of Snake’s memory was wiped and there’s an interdiction device preventing him from visiting that time. During play, I’ve seem players refer to past events generated using Backstory Cards while using Reality Anchor to restore lost Chronal Stability. This personalized the campaign further for our group.
In my future campaigns, I plan to use Backstory Cards and they can easily be adapted for one-shots. For a one-shot, I recommend you show up with an already prepared setting grid and limit the amount of questions to one round and then just PCs with no link to other PCs. You wish each PC to have at least one link to another PC.
Eric Paquette is an eclectic gamer with experience in around 100 rpgs. He started GMing while babysitting as a teen and hasn’t stopped since then. You can find him talking rpgs on Twitter at @ericmpaq or organizing the rpg and children’s games sections at the CanGames convention.