TimeWatch RPG Playtest Story Hour (Updated 9-2-14)

Ladybird

First Post
Welcome to our TimeWatch Playtest Story Hour!

THE GAME: TimeWatch is a forthcoming RPG written by [MENTION=2]Piratecat[/MENTION]. You can find more information about it on Twitter @ TimeWatchRPG. If you're interested in supporting it, there will be a Kickstarter soon - watch the Twitter feed for details.

Because this is the chronicle of a playtest, I'll be talking more explicitly about the rules than I otherwise would. If you want to 'look under the hood' and see how the rules and stats operate, I'll be putting that discussion behind spoiler blocks. If you'd prefer not to break out of the story, you can just skip those bits.

Also, there will be lots of commentary by [MENTION=2]Piratecat[/MENTION] himself, since he's the one who's writing the rules! So, please ask questions - he's happy to answer.

THE SETTING: The PCs are agents of TimeWatch, charged with serving and protecting the integrity of the timeline. Ever since the invention of time travel, people have been trying to manipulate the timeline for their own purposes, causing paradoxes and complications throughout history. Therefore, TimeWatch was formed. Its agents travel throughout time correcting these paradoxes so that history can resume its proper course. TimeWatch agents can come from anywhere in history - or, in fact, anywhere in any history. Many are themselves from alternate timelines.

THE CHARACTERS (in order of historical appearance):
- @CerebralPaladin, our intrepid GM!

- Hypatia of Alexandria (c350-415 CE), played by [MENTION=3722]Orichalcum[/MENTION]. One of the most brilliant scholars of her age; she was a philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, and teacher. History records that she was beaten to death by an angry mob, and then her body was burned. The real reason that her body was never found, of course, is that she was rescued by TimeWatch. Her intelligence and research skills have become invaluable. Now in her late 60s.

- King Edward V of England, (1470-1483?), aka Edward Plantagenet, aka the older of the Princes in the Tower, played by me. Briefly King of England upon his father's death in 1483, but Edward's uncle deposed him to claim the throne as King Richard III. Edward and his younger brother (also named Richard) were imprisoned in the Tower of London; they later disappeared and were presumed dead. They were actually rescued by TimeWatch, and they've both grown to adulthood in TimeWatch's safety. Edward is deeply concerned with matters of justice and honor . Now 20 years old.

- Yves, a wealthy French libertine, c. 1770. He spent most of his life pursuing luxury in all forms: wine, good food, parties, sex. But still, he found himself sinking in the deepest ennui, and sought out even more novelty. Eventually, he found the ultimate remedy for ennui in TimeWatch - he had access to all of the new things that had ever been! Also, all of the parties that had ever been. Now in his late 20s.

- Dr. Michel Archembault, a French army medic, c. 1870. He served in the Franco-Prussian War and was horrified by the brutality that he saw on the battlefield. His horror made him try harder and harder to avoid violence, until he eventually deserted the army entirely. Shortly thereafter, TimeWatch picked him up. He's good at medicine, but even better at sneaking. Now in his 30s.

- Katarina Rasmirovna, an actress and adventurer, c. 1885. Born Katherine Ramsey in southern England in the mid-19th century, she moved to London and started a career on the stage. Kat's London was different from our London, though - hers was full of dirigibles and other steam-powered technology. Kat's London was also deeply flawed, and some time-travelers tried to set it right. In doing so, however, they ended the timeline, leaving Kat stranded in time, but an ideal TimeWatch agent. She's good at acting, shooting, and thinking on her feet. Now in her 30s. (A character from the steampunk timetravel books Timepiece and Timekeeper)

- Mace Hunter! Adventurer! c. 1890. A British archaeologist, but definitely not the intellectual sort. He's far more interested in going to faraway places, digging things up, and hitting people. Now in his 30s.

So that's who we are! Coming soon: our first foray into time!
 
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Ladybird

First Post
EPISODE 1: STARS AND BARS FOREVER

Chapter 1: Red White and Blue Alert

Sirens blare through TimeWatch HQ, and the team comes running.

TimeWatch HQ sits at the end of time, a floating citadel dedicated to preserving and repairing the timeline. The team runs past gleaming glass windows, past replicas of adobe houses and thatched-roof cottages used for training, past doors marked PARADOX CONTAINMENT: DO NOT ENTER, past doors they're sure they've passed before - or maybe doors they will have passed before?

The people who come running are Hypatia of Alexandria, Edward Plantagenet (also known as King Edward V of England, but hardly anyone calls him that, and he doesn't insist), Yves (he can never be bothered to give his last name), Dr. Michel Archembault, Katarina Rasmirovna, and Mace Hunter.

By TimeWatch standards, they're a fairly uniform group: not only are they almost all British and French, most are from the 18th and 19th century, and only one is from an alternate timeline. In TimeWatch, you can never take for granted that your fellow agents will even be human: not every Earth timeline was dominated by humans, so TimeWatch personnel include intelligent dinosaurs and insects from those alternate timelines as well as Neanderthals, other hominids, and non-Earthlings.

This team hasn't worked together before, and some of them are new agents - Edward has only recently grown old enough for fieldwork - but they've all been told that the next assignment will be theirs, and they're all ready for the challenge.

The briefing agent also happens to be human: Dr. Maria Gonzalez, one of the chronal technician specialists. She wears a white lab coat over her silver TimeWatch uniform, and wears an unusually agitated expression on her face. "It's the radiation alerts," is the first thing she says. "We've detected multiple nuclear explosions in the past." She clicks a button on a remote, and the huge viewscreen on the back wall of the briefing room throws up a map of North America. Red dots flare up as Dr. Gonzalez recites the name of each city: "New York. Boston. Philadelphia. Seattle. Portland. Buffalo. Chicago. Indianapolis…"

The team stares in horror as red dots bloom and spread across the map. "…and it's happening in 1938," Dr. Gonzalez finishes.

The date is almost as chilling as the sight itself. None of the team lived in the 20th century, but as TimeWatch agents they've all had at least a basic education in Earth history after their lifetimes. They all know that to have nuclear weapons that early is almost as serious a breach of the timeline as the destruction of those cities.

"1938?" Michel repeats. "Someone is trying to fight World War II several years early."

It's serious enough that the team has to act fast, but they can take a few minutes to assess the situation before they leave. They're time-travelers, after all - they can just hop back to whatever time they choose.

Edward frowns as he studies the map. "But…why those cities?" he asks. "They're all major cities, but Buffalo and Portland aren't on the same level as New York and Chicago. What do they all have in common?"

"Any particular industry that they all share?" Kat suggests. "Maybe someone's trying to take out their manufacturing. Or politics? Trying to destabilize the economy and the government?"

"If that were the case, they would have bombed Washington," Dr. Gonzalez observes.

"Wait," says Edward, looking at the map again. "They didn't bomb Washington. These are all Northern cities. They aren't trying to fight World War II. They're re-fighting the Civil War."
 

Azkorra

Explorer
Very interesting premise! Looking forward to further posts in this story hour.

On a side note (as Piratecat seems to be involved here): Will there also be an Owl Hoot Trail SH sometime?
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 1, Chapter 2. The Guns of the South

"There has been a serious breach of chronal integrity," Dr. Gonzalez says soberly. "You are authorized to go back in time and take any necessary measures to repair the timeline.

The team decides that the best date to start is the site of the first bomb, a month before the explosion: Philadelphia, July 15, 1938.

They pull out their Autochrons - personal time-travel devices, each keyed to its owner through the best biometric security system that has ever been developed anywhere in time. To the untrained eye, an inactive Autochron looks like a silvery metal bar about a foot long. One by one, each agent activates their Autochron. A holographic screen shimmers up from each device, full of complicated controls. Each agent sets their Autochron to the same time and place. The Autochron will do the rest - it chooses an unobtrusive place to protect the travelers from being seen or heard when they arrive.

Each date and time gets set; each Autochron springs into action, sending a sphere of purple light around the agent that controls it.

One by one, the agents leave TimeWatch HQ and reappear in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia, 1938

The purple spheres of the Autochrons whir, waver, and retreat, leaving the team in an alley between two sets of rowhouses in a quiet neighborhood in Philadelphia.

At first, the city looks exactly as they'd expected: the buildings look roughly the same as they did in the books the team consulted before leaving; there aren't any huge skyscrapers or wide-open fields or other major differences.

But as the disorientation of time-travel wears off, they start to notice a few differences. There are more cars on the roads than they expected, and many more olive-green military trucks. From time to time, a low unsettling boom can be heard in the distance, and closer by, the team hears the rhythmic pounding of hundreds of boots marching in unison. American flags hang from almost every building - but those, too, look slightly different.

Michel is the one who spots it first: the flag has only 25 stars.

Yves hurries down the street to a newsstand, and picks up a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Yes, he's still dressed in a silver TimeWatch uniform; yes, he's a native of 18th century France. But the standard-issue TimeWatch equipment takes care of that: not only do all agents have an automatic simultaneous translation device for spoken language, they wear clothing over their jumpsuits that can easily be adapted to numerous times and places. Agents who need more elaborate cover or are especially interested in fashion sometimes pick up new outfits while they're in the field.

Yves, in fact, is making mental notes about the quality of the suits he sees on his brief walk to the newsstand, and planning his new wardrobe in case of an extended stay in 1938. But not many people are looking at him, thanks to the Impersonator Mesh that's on his skin. It's not that Impersonator Mesh makes him invisible, it just makes him unobtrusive - people either glance past him or just assume that he's the sort of person who would fit into whatever surroundings he's in.

The rest of the team stays in the alley until Yves gets back with his newspaper, and they all gather around to start reading.

The whole front page is full of news of the war. And second. And third.

"ATTACKS ON CAPITAL PERSIST. Philadelphia. Southern forces continue to approach the capital in the third week of heavy fighting…"

"Does that mean that Philadelphia is the capital, not Washington?" Mace asks.

FIGHTING WORSENS IN NORTH SEQUOIA.

"Where on earth is North Sequoia?" Yves asks.

"Since sequoias are evergreens native to California," Hypatia explains, "it is presumably somewhere on the Pacific coast."

All of the articles add up to a very unsettling picture of the United States in 1938: there is a massive war going on, with fronts in Europe, the Pacific, and North America.

"World War II and the Civil War at the same time," Michel says, glancing over at Edward with an uneasy, unhappy look. "It appears that we were both right."

Kat rubs her temples. "Can we just find a sixth-grade history textbook? Something that will tell us what happened to make everything go wrong, in very simple sentences?"

"Oh, of course!" Hypatia says confidently. "This is Philadelphia! We will definitely be able to find a good library." And if there is anything that Hypatia knows about, it is libraries.

It's not too hard to locate a branch of the Philadelphia public library; and once there, it's not too hard to locate the history textbook that Kat has been longing for. We page back to the middle of the 19th century to see what happened in the first Civil War, and discover that the moment that the North lost was August 1863, when Britain and France recognized the clearly-ascendant Confederacy.

"Wait!" says Edward. "What? What happened at Gettysburg? That was July 1863. How did the South win? Did something happen with Pickett's Charge? Or was one of the generals killed? Or - " Edward trails off, realizing that everyone is staring at him as he recites detailed information about a battle that took place almost 400 years after he died (or, at least, left history). "Look, military history is interesting!"

Rules Sidebar:
[sblock](Edward has one point in Military Science. That much is enough to let him know exactly what happened at the Battle of Gettysburg, or any other important battle in history. Military Science, and other Investigative Skills, are very powerful. If you have a point in one of those skills and want to take an action related to that skill, you don't have to make a check: you just say 'I have a point in X skill' and automatically succeed. If you want to do something really huge related to that skill, then you can spend a point. So, for having a point in Military Science, Edward knows about the Battle of Gettysburg. If he were to spend that point, he could have actually been at the Battle of Gettysburg at the side of one of the generals. For a small challenge like this, it's not worth spending a point, but when the stakes are higher, spending a point can gain you effective and exciting results.)[/sblock]

Hypatia flips back to the textbook's discussion of the Battle of Gettysburg. "It says here," she reads, "that Gettysburg was won by the South's decisive advantages of superior manpower and technology."

Everyone blinks. "That's…the opposite of what was supposed to happen," Edward finally says.

"Then let us find out what this superior technology was," suggests Michel.

Hypatia, the expert at research, starts pulling down books that will tell us more than the basic history textbook. She discovers that the South had two key pieces of military technology: the repeating firearm called the Whitney Gun which was invented by Eli Whitney; and a kind of smokeless gunpowder invented by Whitney's son, Eli Whitney, Jr.

We quickly consult our tethers to see how that measures up against the master timeline.

The tether is one of our most powerful tools: it acts as a link to TimeWatch HQ's immense store of information, letting us check the world we're in against the master timeline. It also allows us to communicate with each other silently and securely so that we can coordinate our actions in the field.

According to the history that we access through our tethers, Eli Whitney spent a brief time in Georgia where he invented the cotton gin, then returned to his home state of Connecticut in 1797 to set up his firearms manufacturing business. In the biography of Eli Whitney that Hypatia finds, Eli Whitney stayed in Georgia and set up his gun manufactory there. Repeating rifles were lethal, but not very effective on the battlefield in the early 19th century - firing them created so much smoke that it was difficult for anyone else to see. According to our tethers, the invention of smokeless gunpowder in 1884 solved that problem. According to the history book that Hypatia found, smokeless gunpowder was invented in 1860, by Eli Whitney, Jr. The combination of smokeless gunpowder and Whitney guns won the war for the South.

It appears that history has been changed at least twice to bring about the version of 1938 where Philadelphia is threatened by nuclear war: once when Eli Whitney stayed in Georgia, and once when his son received future tech. Both of those changes made the South win the Civil War.

When should we intervene? And who might be responsible for this?
 

A couple notes from the GM:
The PCs were told at the beginning that this was a Class 1B timeline crisis--one that threatens the existence of TimeWatch, but does not threaten the existence of all human history after a certain point. Not sure it matters, but it's an additional bit of chrome.

Sequoia was, in the timeline in question, in fact the name of the CSA state that occupies the territory that became Oklahoma in our timeline. It's named after the great Cherokee leader, not after the trees also named after him; various Native American tribes and nations in the general Oklahoma area fought on the CSA side in the Civil War (in real history), so in the aftermath of a Confederate victory, instead of facing a particular stringent Reconstruction, the Cherokee and other tribes in the area had more political influence and status, so the state ended up named after Sequoia (who died a generation earlier). So the fighting in northern Sequoia was in fact fierce combat over the essential resource of oil, trying to control the oil wells of Oklahoma and Texas.

Also, Eli Whitney Jr. invented the Whitney gun, not Eli Whitney Sr. The Whitney gun was essentially technologically identical to the Gatling gun, which was fielded by the Union Army in the late days of the Civil War in real history. The usefulness of repeating rifles like the Gatling gun was limited until the development of smokeless powder, so it didn't have a huge effect on the Civil War. But Gatling gun like technology plus smokeless powder at Gettysburg...
 


Ladybird

First Post
Episode 1, Chapter 3. The First Date?

When should we go next? 1860, or 1797?

1860 has the advantage of being more precise: we know when Eli Whitney Jr. made his invention, but we don't know exactly when Eli Whitney Sr. made his decision. But 1797 has the advantage of being earlier in the disrupted timestream, and therefore both safer and more productive. In the end, we decide to go to July 1796.

Once again, we duck into an alley; once again, six Autochrons whir in unison, sending six purple spheres spinning through space and time.

Georgia, July 15, 1796

In the sweltering summer heat that is barely eased at all by the thick shade of live oaks towering above us, seven purple spheres shimmer into being.

…wait, seven?

Yes. Seven.

The seventh Autochron - TimeWatch standard-issue, keyed to its owner and only its owner - winds down, its purple sphere winking out. Standing there is a young black woman, probably in her late twenties, with the telltale flash of a silver TimeWatch jumpsuit peeking out from the cuff of her nondescript eighteenth-century clothes.

None of us have ever seen her before in our lives.

"Kat!" the young woman cries, her dark eyes lighting up with ecstatic relief. "Oh, Kat, thank God you're all right!" She flings herself at Kat and starts kissing her passionately.

We have no idea who this person is. None at all.

Which puts Kat in a rather awkward position at the moment.

Very gently, Kat extricates herself from the kiss; even more gently, she says, "Yes, I'm fine. Please don't worry about me. But…I'm terribly sorry, but I'm afraid I don't know you."

"I'm Elizabeth!" the young woman cries. "Elizabeth Jackson. Do you mean that you don't remember me?" She sounds somewhere between North American and British - maybe early twentieth-century upper-class New England, or someone born in Britain who's spent a lot of time in the US and Canada?

Kat squeezes the newcomer's - Elizabeth's? - hand, and shakes her head. "I'm so sorry." Elizabeth squeezes Kat's hand back, but something feels odd about the gesture - even though Elizabeth is clearly holding desperately tightly to Kat, her grasp doesn't feel as firm as it should be.

Elizabeth's face crumples as she looks from one team member to the other. "You really don't recognize me? Any of you? Your Majesty?" she asks, looking to Edward first.

Edward blinks in surprise - not many agents call him that - but shakes his head. "I'm very sorry," he says gently. "But no, I don't either."

"Michel?" Elizabeth continues, increasingly pained with each new blank look she gets from the team. "Hypatia? Mace? Yves?"

"No, I do not remember you," Yves replies with a flirtatious grin, "but I am very much looking forward to renewing our acquaintance. I am certain you were a priceless addition to our team."

Matching glares from Kat and Elizabeth cut him off before he can get any further. No, Elizabeth is not in the mood for flirting, and is clearly not interested, but hope springs eternal, and so does Yves.

As the rest of us look closer at Elizabeth, we're starting to notice that something looks a little off about her. Kat noticed it first because she was hugging her, but as time goes on, we can start to see that Elizabeth seems a little wavery around the edges. Plus, the instant that the newcomer said her name, Hypatia was on the tether checking TimeWatch records. There's no Elizabeth Jackson listed anywhere in TimeWatch personnel records.

This is the downside of time travel: if you do it too much, or too recklessly, you can change time so much that you'll erase your own existence. Fading, it's called, and it seems to be happening to Elizabeth.

The only reason that she's lasted this long is the strength of her relationship with Kat - that's what's tied her to reality.

Rules sidebar:
[sblock]This is a nifty game mechanic, and a way to prevent the potential for infinite time-travel, which would give GMs infinite headaches. PCs can travel anywhere in space and time, but every time they do, they need to make a Chronal Stability check. If they fail, they lose Chronal Stability points; if their Chronal Stability gets too low, then they start to Fade.[/sblock]

"I'm Elizabeth!" she persists. "I'm a member of your team! I always have been. But - but if you don't remember me," Elizabeth falters, tears starting to fill her eyes, "then that means we've truly failed to fix this timeline.
 


Ladybird

First Post
Kickstarter Update

The TimeWatch Kickstarter is now live! Check it out here, and help TimeWatch get out into the world!

...and it looks like CerebralPaladin traveled back in time to get his post in before mine! :)
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 1, Chapter 4. Queens, Knights, Prime Ministers, and Pits

"We have already failed?" Michel asks. "What do you mean?"

Elizabeth shakes her head. "I'm so sorry. I wish I could tell you, but I can't. I've already caused too much paradox as it is - if I told you what happened, it would cause even more."

The more Elizabeth speaks, the more her accent nags at Kat. She just can't place it - and for Kat, with her theater training, that's unusual. "Elizabeth," Kat ventures slowly, "where are you from? I'm sorry, but I don't remember that, either."

Elizabeth winces a little at the question, but she's getting used to it by now. "It's all right," she says, reaching over to squeeze Kat's hand again. "I'm from Boston, in 2014." For TimeWatch agents, 'where are you from?' always means 'when' as well.

Now Kat knows for certain that something is off, because Elizabeth's accent really doesn't sound like any variety of 21st-century Boston that she's heard. That's when Kat remembers one of the other things that can make someone Fade as badly as Elizabeth had: if your timeline gets erased. It nearly happened to Kat herself, before TimeWatch rescued her.

"You're American, then?" Kat asks. "2014 - that would be…President Obama?"

Elizabeth gives Kat a curious look. "That's an odd way of putting it."

Kat rephrases, around the sinking feeling. "How would you put it, then?"

"Well, Prime Minister Obama," Elizabeth says, as if it should be obvious.

Except to us, it isn't. That's not a title that we've ever heard attached to that person. It looks like there are three timelines in play: the one we came from, the disrupted one that we're trying to fix, and Elizabeth's.

"Prime Minister?" Michel repeats. "Does that mean that the American colonies never fought for their independence? Then what happened in 1776?"

"Um," Elizabeth flounders. "Not much? It was the middle of the Falklands War, I know that, but I'm not very good at history."

The Falklands War? That draws blank looks everyone else - if that phrase means anything at all to any of the other agents, it's a minor war in the 1980s, not the 1770s.

What else is different about Elizabeth's timeline? "Who reigns in England in 2014?" Edward asks, because of course Edward would ask that.

"Queen Anne," Elizabeth answers at once.

Edward blinks. "What? What happened to Elizabeth II? And Charles?"

Elizabeth shakes her head apologetically over her namesake. "They both died a long time before I was born. I'm sorry - as I said, I'm not good at history."

Hypatia says "So it would seem that we need to look even farther back than we are now to see where this timeline diverges."

"Wait!" says Edward. "I want to talk more about the English royal succession!"

"Yes, you would," says Hypatia dryly.

But something is off about this, and Edward keeps puzzling it over in his mind. In a royal dynasty that's otherwise known for being long-lived, in a time when science and medicine are very advanced, a monarch and her heir both die young?

The others are right, though: we need to look farther back, because the timeline that Elizabeth left diverged before 1776, which means it was long before where we are now in 1796.

But for our current timeline problem, we decide to stay in 1796 and start investigating. If we've already failed here, maybe we can fix it the second time around; if our previous selves are still here, maybe we can give ourselves backup so that we won't fail again.

Just then, we hear a noise in the distance - footsteps pounding, and men's voices shouting. At the sound, Elizabeth's eyes fill with terror. "It's the knights!"she gasps.

Edward perks up again. "Knights?" he asks hopefully. He really shouldn't be that hopeful, though - if there actually were knights in Georgia in 1796, it would mean that the timeline had been even more disrupted.

"Not real knights!" Elizabeth has already grabbed Kat's hand again, and is trying to pull Kat after her down the path. "They just call themselves that. They're - they're - never mind! We need to run!"

The running footsteps get closer, until they emerge through the trees. The 'knights' are Klansmen: half a dozen white men in white robes. There shouldn't be any Klan at all in the eighteenth century; it wasn't formed until after the Civil War. These Klansmen are even more out of place, though. They're carrying guns that were clearly made in the 23rd century, and are only lightly disguised as 18th-century muskets.

"They are calling themselves knights?" Edward froths, with the chivalric indignation that only a young medieval aristocrat can muster. "They spread hatred and bigotry and they call themselves knights? That's a travesty! That isn't what chivalry is supposed to be!"

Michel has no time for froth - he takes off down the trail after Elizabeth and Kat.

But Hypatia does not run, because she is Very Prepared. So prepared, in fact, that she figured that the agents might be pursued. So, just after we arrived, she set up a pit trap along the trail and covered it in vines. The trap is there, waiting for the Klansmen.

Rules Sidebar:
[sblock]Because really, what good is it to have infinite amounts of time travel if you can't do wacky stunts like this?

One of the General Skills in TimeWatch is Preparedness. Unlike Investigative Skill points, which are only spent to do extra-special big things, General Skill points are spent relatively frequently. If you have a high enough Preparedness score, you can do Flashbacks: you are so prepared that you can say 'Actually, I knew that this was going to happen, so I made sure to bring that with me;' or 'Two days ago, I set that up…'[/sblock]

Right on cue, the Klansmen charge down the trail - and with shouts of surprise and anger, they all plummet down through the vines and into the pit trap.

"You dare call yourselves knights?" Edward shouts as a parting shot, as we all escape to safety.
 

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