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

A little mind-bending, but I'm very intrigued. And since I live in Georgia, and have friends who are big Civil War buffs, I kinda want to run this myself for them. How many sessions do you expect it to run?
 

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It runs roughly 8 hours or so from start to finish. I have a cut-down version that can run in 4 hours that I've run at conventions; once the storyhour is finished, I'm happy to discuss both how to speed it up and a few more behind-the-scenes things for GMing (and if I can figure out a good way to get it to you, I'm happy to send you my GM notes).
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 1, Chapter 5. The Price of Doing Business

First: greetings to everyone who's joined this thread via the Kickstarter! Thank you for supporting TimeWatch. (and thank you to [MENTION=2]Piratecat[/MENTION] for the shout-out!)

Second: if you have not yet checked out the Kickstarter, here is the link: TimeWatch Kickstarter. It has already been amazingly successful, but the more supporters, the better! If we get to the last stretch goal, we all get pet dinosaurs! :)

And now, on with the show!

--
The shouts of the Klansmen die away behind us as we flee to safety.

"What was that?" Kat asks

"Shouldn't we go back and interrogate them?" Edward asks.

Yves shrugs. "They are no longer any harm to us. Why, as you English say, borrow trouble?"

"They probably won't have any information, anyway," Elizabeth agrees. "They usually don't. I - we - have tried talking to them before. They're just Forrest's goons, brought in from the 23rd century. They don't know anything about the plan."

"So Forrest is the one we're after?" Mace asks eagerly. A big villain counts as big game to hunt, and Mace thinks he's found a good target.

"Nathan Forrest," Elizabeth says the name with distaste. "He's the one I've been chasing. You too, even though you don't remember it."

That name rings a bell with Hypatia, even though the events we're dealing with are far out of her time period. She's an expert in all eras of history, even the history that hadn't happened yet when she was alive. "The founder of the Ku Klux Klan?" she asks.

"Not the same person, but part of the same family." Elizabeth explains. "And with the same ideas. He's from the 23rd century."

"It is beginning to be clear why he would wish to remake history in the way that he has," Michel says.

We decide to just leave the Klansmen where they are - they won't have any useful information, and they probably won't be coming after us. Instead, we go back to our main mission: see what Eli Whitney is doing here.

We head up to the main plantation house of Mulberry Grove and knock on the door. It's opened by a black man in a suit - clearly the butler, and undoubtedly a slave, which makes all of us feel uncomfortable.

Edward, having been nominated as the one who is most aristocratic and diplomatic, takes the lead. "Good morning. We're here to see Mr. Whitney."

"Mr. Whitney isn't here right now," the butler says, "but if you'll all come in to the parlor, I'll fetch Mr. Miller."

The cover story that we've decided on is that we're a group of British and French investors who are interested in the factory's work in general and the cotton gin in particular. This has the advantage of all being true except the investor part - we're even almost all British and French; even Elizabeth, if you use a pretty broad definition of British. (Hypatia isn't, but we can't really explain that to Miller.)

Rules Sidebar:
[sblock] Yes, Elizabeth, a black woman, is sitting in the parlor of a plantation house in 18th-century Georgia, and nobody is really paying attention. This is another effect of the Impersonator Mesh: everyone notices that TimeWatch agents are there, but the mesh makes the locals assume that the agents are people who belong in whatever context they're in.

Racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry are awful enough in the present day, and in the past they were even more common. This aspect of the rules lets you get around that: you can play any kind of agent you want without having to worry about encountering historical bigotry on your missions. TimeWatch is about having fun, and discrimination is never fun.[/sblock]

When Miller arrives, he's got a friend with him: a tall well-dressed white man with a face that seems to be settled into a permanent superior smirk. Elizabeth flinches, and we don't even need the introductions to know that this is Nathan Forrest. It isn't just the way that Forrest looks at Elizabeth with amused contempt; it's that timetravelers can almost always tell when someone else is out of their own time. Which means that he can tell that we're out of our own time, too.

Kat edges subtly in front of Elizabeth, getting between her and Forrest. Forrest notices, and smirks even more.

'New plan,' Kat texts over the tether. (They can work as communication links between agents as well as information links to the TimeWatch mainframe. Very convenient.) 'We need to get Forrest out of here. And get Forrest alone so that we can talk to him.'

'And also get Miller alone so that we can ask him about Forrest,' Yves texts back.

Edward, Michel, and Hypatia keep up a reassuring stream of business talk, with Michel and Hypatia (as the ones with actual knowledge of science and engineering) filling in the technical details about the factory and Edward playing the role of The Money in our fictitious company.

Meanwhile, Kat puts her acting skills into practice. Her years on the stage have made her very good at drawing and holding people's attention, and that's what she does now: she catches Forrest's eye with a look that starts out as a glare, but gradually shifts to something more enticing - almost flirtatious.

After a few minutes of silent encouraging glances, Forrest finally speaks up. "Ma'am," he says to Kat, with elaborate fake courtesy, "I believe I am in need of some air. Would you like to see more of the plantation grounds?" He offers his arm to Kat, and they stroll off.

Under any other circumstances, Elizabeth would finally be able to relax now that Forrest has left the room, but now that Kat is with him, she's almost more anxious than she was before. Still, all she can do is trust that Kat can take care of herself.

Mace Hunter casually watches out the window, using his knowledge of archaeology and landforms to take careful note of the plantation's terrain, so that if anything goes wrong, he can get there in a hurry.

Michel takes more direct action: he sneaks off to follow them. When he wants to be, Michel can be very very stealthy. "I'm worried about her being alone with him," Michel explains over the tether.

"I think he should be a little worried about being alone with me," Kat replies. She doesn't turn down the offer of backup, though.

So while Kat, Michel, and Forrest split off, the rest of us go to the factory. There, we finally meet Eli Whitney! He engages in an enthusiastic discussion of gears and mechanics: how all of the machines work, how he has this wonderful idea for interchangeable parts, and how he wants to move on to manufacturing muskets. Hypatia understands most of the technical stuff, and Edward is always interested in military things, but we're really just drawing him out so that we can ask him the real questions - the ones about Forrest.

Forrest joined the company as an investor three years ago, just when Whitney and Miller were getting started, and he's been remarkably helpful. "He's got such good business sense!" Whitney gushes. "It's like he knows what's going to happen in the market before it happens!"

"Really?" Hypatia asks.

"Fancy that," says Edward.

Fortunately, the dripping sarcasm does not gum up any of the machines.

Whitney explains that it was also Forrest's idea to start up a cotton-gin manufactory in Georgia - it was closer to the market, and it wasn't that hard to bring the expert artisans down from New England.

So now we know exactly when Forrest first intervened with Eli Whitney: 1793, when he started offering advice on investments and technology. But if Kat succeeds in her plan, we're about to find out a lot more.
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 1, Chapter 6: Why Forrest Should Be Afraid To Be Alone With Kat

As soon as Kat and Forrest are out of sight (from everyone except Michel, that is), Forrest's posture shifts. The stiffly proper eighteenth-century bearing and words fade away, leaving a more casual attitude behind. The smirk is still the same, though. "All right," he says, stepping away to look at Kat straight on. "Cards on the table. You're not from around here either, are you? I'm 23rd century. What about you?"

"Late nineteenth," Kat replies, relaxing out of her persona as well - although, like Forrest, she keeps her expression the same, and her smile is admiringly flirtatious. As much as it nauseates Kat to have to keep flirting with Forrest, she's got a mission, and she'll stick with it. Her goal is to get as much information out of him as possible while making him think that he's the one getting information out of her. It looks like flattering is the way to do it - he seems like the sort of person who'd be pretty easy to goad into boasting about his accomplishments. Maybe she can even get him to monologue. "You look like you're much more well-traveled than I am, though," she adds. "You've probably figured out all sorts of tricks."

Kat's guessed right: flattery will get her everywhere. Forrest preens as he nods his agreement. "Oh, I've traveled a bit. Made a lot of money off of war bonds in the 1780s - pretty easy to bet on the colonists when you know they're going to win."

"Well done," Kat says admiringly. "And you're clearly having a big influence on Whitney and Miller, too, getting them to set up shop here in Georgia instead of up North."

Forrest's smirk grows bigger. "Oh, that's not the most important thing I've done. I've shifted the timeline twice."

"Twice?" Kat repeats.

“Let me guess," Forrest begins smugly. "In the world as you know it, the South rose up against Northern oppression in the 19th century, fought a war, lost, and was oppressed brutally for the next century.  None of that happened, before I started.” He came from the 23rd century in a different timeline, one where not only did the Civil War not happen, the American Revolution didn't happen. Instead, the North American colonies remained under British rule, and when Britain abolished slavery, that meant the end of slavery in the South.

Which means that Forrest was born in Elizabeth's timeline.

"I couldn't stand for that kind of disorder," Forrest continues. "Nobody knowing their proper place? Everybody ignoring that some people were naturally superior to others?" He grimaces in disgust at the thought of equality. "Clearly something had to be done if there was going to be any kind of order in the world. Fortunately, a few right-thinking people in my time agreed with me."

So Forrest set out to make certain that the world conformed to his ideas. If British abolition meant the end of slavery in North America, then first he needed to make certain that Britain didn't rule over the South anymore. That meant that he needed to prevent - or at least diminish - another war.

Elizabeth remembered 1776 as an insignificant date in the middle of the Falklands War. In the timeline that our tethers tell us about, there was no Falklands War; in Elizabeth's timeline, it was a huge confrontation between Britain and France. The American colonies all rallied around Britain, and their patriotism outweighed their resentment about the taxation brought by the French and Indian War. So the American Revolution never happened.

"How did you do that?" Kat asks, stunned.

"A shot in the dark," Forrest boasts.

Kat blinks. "You didn't…shoot a messenger, did you?"

"No," Forrest replies, still smug. "In fact, I saved a life. I'm rather pleased about how things worked out."

"Really?" Kat pastes the impressed look back on her face. "That's very impressive." She steps a little closer, gazing up at Forrest. "How did you know which life to save?"

To Kat's great frustration, Forrest waves her off. "Oh, that's already taken care of. I'm much more interested in how I can change other things. And you know," he adds, with an appreciative glance at Kat, "I could use an ally. Someone I can trust to set things in the proper order."

Kat's eyes widen in theatrically surprised hope. "Could you really?"

"I think so," Forrest says. "If you were at my side, we could make this timeline even better than it already is."

"Really?" Kat says casually. "At your side? You know, there _are_ a few things I might want to change too. Little things. Could we maybe tweak a few things?"

Forrest smiles. "Oh, certainly. We could - "

And that's when Kat smacks him with her PaciFist.

Forrest staggers back, completely taken by surprise.

He's even more surprised by Michel shooting his blaster a second later.

With his last bits of strength, Forrest tries to shoot back, but in his flailing, actually manages to shoot himself. He tries to shoot back at Kat again, but he's too badly injured - just the effort of shooting makes him collapse, unconscious.

Kat slaps a MemTag on him and sends him back to TimeWatch. "Well," she declares, as Forrest disappears in a tachyon beam. "That's one change that I wanted to make to this timeline."

Rules Sidebar
[sblock]PaciFists and MemTags: two important components of a TimeWatch agent's equipment. PaciFists are stunners that work at close range. MemTags are little gadgets that help agents cover their tracks: stick a MemTag on an unconscious subject, and the person is picked up by TimeWatch HQ, where their memories will be wiped. Most of the time, the subject is then returned to their home time with only a slight sense of deja vu. Forrest will be kept at TimeWatch HQ. MemTags only work on unconscious subjects - if they're used on a conscious person, the subject's mind will crack.[/sblock]
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 1, Chapter 7: For King and...

As soon as Forrest has been dispatched, we all reconvene, because we really have a lot to discuss.

Putting together the pieces from Forrest and Elizabeth, we realize that our timeline is not the original timeline. The timeline that we left - that our tethers link to, that TimeWatch HQ is in - is the one that Forrest created. His changes created the American Revolution and the Civil War and all of the subsequent history that Yves, Michel, and Mace lived through.

It only takes Hypatia a moment or two of research to figure out whose life Forrest saved. It was King Louis XV of France: he was nearly assassinated in 1757, but because he survived, he was there to overrule his foreign minister, the Duc de Choiseul, when Choiseul wanted to go to war with Britain over the Falklands in 1770.

"I'm so glad you've finally gotten there," Elizabeth sighs in immense relief. "I couldn't tell you until you'd figured it out for yourselves! That's the mission where - where I lost you. We were trying to prevent Forrest from saving Louis XV's life, but we failed. Because the king lived, the Falklands War never happened, and the colonies rebelled."

"I must say," Hypatia murmurs, "I am more fond of democratic republics dominating in the 21st century than monarchies. I have seen the danger of absolute emperors."

"There's nothing wrong with monarchy!" Edward protests, surprising nobody. "As long as it's a good monarch."

"Well, yes," Hypatia replies. "It's the predictability that is an issue."

Yves sniffs skeptically at all of this. "I am sure that you are a very good person, Miss Jackson," he begins, with an inviting smile in Elizabeth's direction, "but how can we be certain that you are telling the truth about this? You are not allied with Forrest, that is clear, but how do we know that you are allied with us? The enemy of our enemy is not always our friend."

"I'm a TimeWatch agent, just like you!" Elizabeth persists. "I'm telling you, we worked together! I have all of the standard issue equipment - you've seen my AutoChron, and my tether doesn't work, but I can show you that too. Look, I'm even wearing the uniform!"

She pulls back the corner of her eighteenth-century blouse to reveal the shiny silver collar of her uniform. It does look just like ours, except for some very significant differences: above the TimeWatch logo is a crown, and above that is written "H.M. TimeWatch."

Not only is her timeline not our timeline, her TimeWatch is not our TimeWatch. The timeline never sets on the British Empire.
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 1, Chapter 8: A Royally Complicated Situation

"Oh, mon dieu," Michel groans.

Kat texts Edward over the tether: "Our duty is to whichever is the true timeline. We have to know. I'll take her for a walk. Figure it out."

Edward, his head spinning just as much as everyone else's, meets Kat's eyes and gives her a short nod. "I understand," he texts back. "We'll try."

"Mais comment?" Michel texts. And then, having run out of even questions in French, just says "Merde." He plunks down to the ground in the grove of live oaks where we've retreated, head buried in his hands.

Kat clears her throat. "Elizabeth? I think they need some time to process this." Elizabeth nods, her eyes full of uncomfortable sympathy, as Kat takes her hand and offers, "Let's go for a walk." Kat is still texting, though - she'll make her thoughts known.

Yves is the one who starts. "We are TimeWatch agents, and we are sworn to uphold the timeline of our TimeWatch. Our mission is to prevent the nuclear attacks in 1938, so we must prevent Forrest from altering the timeline in 1793."

"Our mission is to uphold the true timeline," Edward objects, echoing Kat's words. "No matter which one that is. We have to go back to 1757 and thwart Forrest then, because that's his first intervention in the timeline. That's what our other selves were already trying to do."

Hypatia raises a different question: "Do we really feel comfortable with assassinating an innocent man? Admittedly, one with a somewhat unsavory personal life, but…"

"I assure you," Edward retorts, "I'm really not comfortable with a scenario where victory means killing a king!"

Sidebar:
[sblock]The style changes here because the speeches I'm reproducing are actually what the players wrote themselves - we debated this over email. A Lot. :) Mace and Michel are quiet in this discussion because their players were super-busy that week.[/sblock]

Kat's text comes through the tether: "Moral dilemma, my sainted great aunt. You know I come from a vanished timeline. Did you somehow imagine innocents didn't vanish with it? Our job is to preserve the real timeline, whether or not it's the one we might most prefer. Once we start making decisions according to personal preference, we're no better than that moron white supremacist I just shot. There's no dilemma here. The only thing that matters is the truth. I'll keep her distracted. Figure out which is the real timeline, and then let's do what we have to do to fix it."

Yves lounges back against a tree trunk. "Ma cherie, you make it all sound so...noir et blanche.  We are tasked by Timewatch to restore the timeline, not HM Timewatch.  Shouldn't our loyalty be to them even if it isn't the original?  And who's to say what the original is?  Perhaps there is une belle French woman on our team who sadly disappeared due to chronal instability from the true original timeline...should we rescue her from the abyss of non-existence?  My dear Katarina, maybe you originate from the real timeline and Timewatch was set up by an aberration whose only goal is self-preservation.  The "real" timeline is whatever we think it is, n'est-ce pas?"

"In any case, aren't we rather putting the horse before the cart?" Hypatia objects. "Before we worry about 1757, shouldn't we first be concerned with 1793, when Forrest shows up and convinces Whitney not to move back to Connecticut? After all, we all agree that's the wrong timeline, and we haven't actually fixed it yet!"

Edward shakes his head. "The trouble with going to 1793 is that it's already in the timeline that Forrest changed in 1757. If we alter what happened in 1757 and capture Forrest in that time, then there won't be any need to change anything in 1793. It won't matter where Whitney sets up his factory, because there won't be any Civil War at all for his factory's location to affect. The bigger question is, do we change 1757? As TimeWatch agents, we're tasked with protecting the original timeline, but which is the original timeline? Is it the one we came from? From what Miss Jackson says, it sounds as if it's not. The timeline that we came from has already been altered by Forrest, and therefore it is not the original. So I think we may have to change what happened in 1757. Still, as I hope you'll understand, I can't entirely bring myself to declare that our goal should be to kill a king."

"Quelle surprise!" Yves snorts. "Le roi d'Angleterre thinks it's a good idea to have a British Timewatch.  I am sure your motives are nothing but pure, your majesty."

"That's not what this is about!" Edward snaps. "This is not about England or France; this is about which timeline is the original! And about killing an anointed king."

"Let me say again," Kat texts, "I think you are all missing the point. The issue has nothing to do with any preference any of us might have for democracy over monarchy, the metric over the imperial, or HM TimeWatch over TimeWatch. Or whether Elizabeth Jackson lives or dies. Trust me, I have some preferences myself on some of these issues, but preferences don't matter.

"Nor does it have anything to do with our willingness or reluctance to kill a king. Edward, I actually do understand your perspective, but... when we correct timelines, people fade out of existence as an unavoidable side-effect. People die. Kings and chambermaids and Napoleonic war veterans and Regency debutantes and mad scientists. And sometimes TimeWatch agents. We *have* to follow the rules we say we follow. Yeah, it's black and white, Yves. Sometimes that's the way things are. Our task is to preserve the main timeline. Therefore, our next step needs to be to determine which timeline that is. What I may personally hope for doesn't matter; I'll do my job either way. I don't say we should trust Elizabeth's word - in fact, I think we should not, as she is clearly compromised here. I think some independent confirmation should be sought.

"I would also accept Yves's argument that our duty is to preserve the timeline that commissioned us to preserve it, rather than to whichever was here first - you could persuade me of the merit in that approach. I do not accept the any plan that sounds at all like 'we should examine each timeline, decide which we like better, and preserve that one.' We don't get to make those choices. If we did, I would have altered the timeline before now to bring some other people back from the dead."

While the rest of us debate killing kings, national rivalries, lost timelines, and other issues that hit far too close to home, Hypatia has, of course, been doing research. "It occurs to me that attempting to find the person who attempted to assassinate Louis XV might give us a different perspective. His name was Robert-Francois Damiens, and I suspect that he might be a time traveler himself. The tether indicates no clear reason other than mental instability and vague religious grudges for Damiens' attempt. Or maybe a time-traveler convinced Damiens to do it somehow. If Damiens or his instigator was a time traveler, then that further suggests that ours is the original timeline." She starts to draw large complex diagrams of intersecting lines and circles in the red Georgia dirt, which most of us manage to follow, mostly. "So T1 = Life as we Know It; T2 = Louis XV gets assassinated, Falklands War happens, no Amer. Rev. (Jackson's timeline); T3 = Forrest eliminates assassin, creating (originally) something similar to T1; T4 = Forrest makes Whitney settle in Georgia, creating nuclear war in 1938."

This suggestion actually gives Edward a little hope. "If the assassin was a time-traveler, then yes, we should find him and address the matter, because the real issue," he says, with a pointed glare at Yves, "is which timeline is the original one! That is what I have been saying - that we need to determine which timeline is original and protect that one. We know that the one we're in at the moment was created by Forrest's actions - so now we need to figure out if Miss Jackson's timeline was the original, or if it was created by Damiens."

Yves is unmoved by glares or diagrams or arguments about lost timelines - he's back to lounging against the tree. "Mademoiselle Katarina, you seem to be under the delusion that there is one objective Truth to all of space and time.  Allow me to relieve you of that burden.  The first thing we learn as time agents is that time is relative, n'est-ce pas?  If your British poet Keats is correct in his presumption that truth is beauty and beauty truth, and beauty, as we all know, is in the eye of the beholder, then doesn't it logically follow that truth is just as intimate a quality?

"It is self-evident that I work for Timewatch, that is my personal truth.  You may believe Mademoiselle Elizabeth for I have no doubt that HM Timewatch is just as real.  But there is no external judge to tell us which is more valid over the other.  It is we who decide what is ultimately real, and you would be fooling yourself if you didn't think our preferences weren't part of that consideration."

"It seems as if we need more information before we can make a final decision," Hypatia says. "Our options are: to go to 1793 to try to prevent Forrest from influencing Whitney, to go to 1757 to find out more about Damiens, or to go to 1757 to try to stop Forrest from intervening then."

Consensus leans towards 1757 - and if we find out that the would-be assassin was in fact a time traveler, then that would allow us to bypass all of the arguments about killing kings and HM TimeWatch.

So we head off to 1757, to try to find out who wants to kill King Louis XV and why.
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 1, Chapter 9: Time To Say Goodbye

While the rest of the team prepares to jump, Kat takes Elizabeth aside one last time.

"We're going back to 1757 - " Kat begins.

Elizabeth finishes the thought for her. "And I can't go with you."

Kat steps back, equally surprised and relieved to hear Elizabeth say it before she can. "I was already unstable," Elizabeth admits ruefully. "I'm not sure I could take another jump, especially to a place where I've already been. The risk of paradox would just be too much."

That's all true, but the real reason that Elizabeth can't come with us is that we may end up trying to erase her timeline - which, of course, Kat can't tell her. Even though Kat can't remember her previous relationship with Elizabeth, there's still enough of the emotional resonance left over for her to feel strongly about wanting to keep Elizabeth safe, and to make this farewell very painful. They've just found each other again, but soon they may lose each other entirely.

While Kat and Elizabeth spend their last few moments together, the rest of us do some advance research on the assassin and his background. We suspect that he might be a timetraveler himself; but even if he isn't, we need to know more about him.

Robert-Francois Damiens was born in northern France. He served in the military for a short time, but spent most of his life as a domestic servant. He had trouble keeping a job, though - he was fired from several posts for misconduct. Nobody really knows why he tried to kill King Louis XV. It might have been related to a church matter? He worked for the Jesuits for a while (although they fired him too) and held some odd religious views. But Damiens also seems to have blamed the king for his own problems. After trying to assassinate the king, Damiens didn't try to flee, and was captured almost immediately. He was tortured, but didn't give up any info on accomplices - either he was protecting them well, or he acted alone. His execution was pretty gruesome, as you might expect for someone who tried to kill a king. He left behind a wife and a daughter, both of whom ended up changing their names and leaving France.

"So he wasn't a timetraveler," says Edward. "He has a past and a family. The tether knows the names of his parents and siblings, as well as those of his wife and daughter."

"Or, if he is a timetraveler," says Yves, "he's a very committed one, to have jumped back and forth to set up all that evidence."

Hypatia suggests, "Even if Damiens isn't a timetraveler, he may be working for one. He's got a history of instability, so he might be easy to influence, and someone must have planted the idea for the assassination in his head. It's a bit random to blame the king for getting repeatedly fired for being a bad cleaner."

"People blame kings for all kinds of things," Edward points out.

"If you say so, Your Majesty," says Hypatia.

Since the assassination is on Jan 5, 1757, Yves suggests that we jump in on New Year's Day. That might be close enough to the event that Damiens might have already gotten the idea.

So that's what we do. Happy New Year, 1757!

Now that we're here, how do we find Damiens? He's a religious person, so maybe we can trace him through church records? Maybe he made donations to his local parish?

Then Edward remembers something. "Yves, aren't you from Paris in the 18th century?"

"Why, yes I am!" Yves says. "A bit later than this time, but yes."

"Maybe we can have a home base with Yves' relatives," suggests Kat. "Just don't prevent your father from falling in love with your mother, or anything like that."

Yves smirks. "Even I have that much self-control."
 


Ladybird

First Post
Episode 1, Chapter 10: Finding a Lost Sheep

Yves parlays his family knowledge and resemblance to get us some fairly nice accommodations with his relatives, pretending to be a distant cousin. Privilege has its privileges! His local knowledge is useful to our mission, too: he knows exactly which neighborhoods to start looking in, and we soon find Damiens' parish church.

It turns out that the priest knows Damiens well, and is worried about him. "He is…he is not well," says the priest, a little uncomfortably and very sadly. "There is something that preys upon him. I might almost say something that possesses him."

Damiens rants the way some people rant while they're drunk, explains the priest, except that Damiens says those things when he's sober. He's pious, but says odd things about the church; patriotic, but says odd things about the country. It's starting to sound like Damiens is just mentally ill.

"Has he said anything against the king?" asks Hypatia.

"I don't want to bring a lost sheep to harm," the priest hedges - which is about the same as saying 'yes.'

Still, Edward reassures him: "We don't want to hurt him! We're trying to prevent him from doing harm to himself or others."

"Yes, he blames the king," says the priest, reluctantly. "For church policy, for national policy."

"Who does he work for?" asks Hypatia.

The priest hedges again, but this time, from uncertainty rather than protective instincts. "As best as I can tell, he has found it difficult to remain in service. He is a troubled man."

Damiens might be mentally ill, but that doesn't mean that he's acting alone. "Does he have any particular friends?" Yves asks.

The priest shakes his head. "None that I've noticed, other than his family."

Yves presses a little more, because this is one of the most important parts of our puzzle. "So you don't think he's being influenced in any way by a friend? Or a charismatic?"

"No," the priest repeats. "Not that I've seen."

"Has anyone else been acting strange in a similar way to Damiens?" asks Mace.

"Not really," says the priest. "Others become embittered, or have trouble keeping a job, but no, there is no one quite like him."

"How long has he been troubled?" asks Kat.

"As long as I have known him," sighs the priest. "And from what I have heard, longer than that."

"How very sad," Kat says, and she means it.

"I hope you can do well for him," says the priest.

"So do we," says Edward. "We very much want to do the right thing."

So we leave the church and retreat to Yves' family's house to discuss what we've found. All of the signs are pointing to Damiens being mentally ill and acting alone: he doesn't have many friends at all, let alone ones who could have planted the assassination plot in his mind; and his erratic behavior seems to be a lifelong pattern.

Now our question is: what did Forrest change to prevent the assassination? The tether says that the assassination failed because Damiens was using a penknife, and that Louis XV was wearing a really heavy coat. So either Forrest made sure that Louis was wearing heavier clothes (by influencing his valet?) or he made sure that Damiens had a really bad knife.

But Forrest still let Damiens try and fail. "What would happen if Damiens didn't try at all?" asks Edward. "What if we stopped him from getting anywhere near the king?"

"That might not fix everything,"  Kat says.

Hypatia agrees. "The most important thing to do is to stop Forrest. So we should watch both Damiens and the king." Which means that we should split up. "Some of us are better suited for dealing with kings, some for looking for lunatic domestic servants."

Edward is obviously on Team King, and so is Yves. Kat decides to go with them, while Mace and Hypatia volunteer for Team Lunatic.

Sidebar:
[sblock] Michel's player couldn't make this session. We are soon going to regret Michel's absence in more ways than one![/sblock]

But the first step in any plan concocted by Hypatia is, of course, to do Research. Now that we've learned more about Damiens, we want to figure out where Forrest might be and what he might be doing. We know that he made a fortune later in the 18th century by predicting financial markets, so Hypatia tries to search through financial records to see if anyone is following a similar pattern. She can't find any records, so we decide to see if court gossip turns up any information. That's definitely Edward's territory - he's very good at getting along with the nobility, and soon finds his way to the people who know everything about court gossip. There are a few notable winners and losers at court, but nobody who has the uncanny record of success that would match Forrest's pattern.

There is, however, someone who matches Forrest's description: the king's new valet. The person in charge of dressing the king is a noble, not a servant - because the position gives such proximity to the king's person, it implies deep trust. And in this case (as Hypatia and Mace suspected) it places Forrest perfectly to ensure that the king will be wearing a nice thick coat in a few days to turn aside Damiens' knife.

So Edward, Yves, and Kat stay at court, while Hypatia and Mace head back to Damiens' neighborhood. Hypatia trails Damiens as he goes about his daily business, but Mace is really not suited to being unobtrusive. Mace Hunter! is kind of the opposite of unobtrusive.

"Happy New Year!" Mace shouts as he bursts into a tavern. "The next round's on me!" Cheers erupt around him, and much festivity and alcohol ensues - followed by some leading questions about local gossip and neighborhood people, once everyone is in a thoroughly good mood. Local gossip about Damiens matches what the priest said: he's erratic, a loner, has trouble keeping a job, occasionally rants against the king and the church, and doesn't seem to be under anyone's influence.

Meanwhile, Hypatia is subtle enough to manage to track Damiens to his house. He's having a fairly ordinary day, it seems - he's celebrating the New Year with his wife and daughter, and nobody else. His wife and daughter look a little wary of him, but nothing terrible is happening. Plus, when Hypatia sees him, she can tell that he's local to this time.

So their investigations confirm what we've found so far: Damiens isn't being influenced by Forrest or anyone else that we can determine; he isn't a time traveler; and his hatred of the king seems to stem from mental illness alone.

Next up: Team King!
 


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