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

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 1, Chapter 15: Where Do We Go From Here?

Where do we go? What do we do?

We can't communicate with TimeWatch - we're not even sure whether there's a TimeWatch to go back to. All we can do is stay together. Even Yves wants to stick with the group.

In the end, we decide to find the one person we know is in this timeline: Elizabeth Jackson. We spin up our AutoChrons and head back to Georgia in 1796.

As soon as we land, Elizabeth rushes towards us, flinging herself at Kat in giddy joy. "It worked!" she cries. "It worked! Everything works. My tether is up again!"

"Oh," says Edward. We succeeded, but he's too numb and shocked to feel much joy at the confirmation. "That's…what I thought would happen."

[sblock]If you're the kind of person who likes a soundtrack to your RPGs, we decided that 'Where Do We Go From Here?' from Once More With Feeling would be playing over this scene.[/sblock]

Our tethers only work to let us communicate with each other. Kat texts to Edward: "We won. Hooray?"

Edward texts back: "I'm not feeling much of the joy either."

"Any timeline designed by Forrest is not one we really wanted to live in," Hypatia suggests. "Think of it that way."

We all agree - that's what most of us had been saying all along, after all. But it doesn't change the fact that we've erased our own timeline, and it doesn't make us feel any better about it.

Michel has at least some idea of how he can make himself feel better. "Du biere, Yves?" he suggests.

Yves nods. "The strongest possible, Michel."

Kat sees their drink offer, and raises them one more: "Gin. Lots of gin."

Hypatia's not interested in drinking, but ventures one more small suggestion: "I suppose the rest of you are against killing Churchill? We could stop Operation Unthinkable..."

"No," says Edward immediately. "No more intervention."

Where do we go from here? Well, Elizabeth can show us the way. She sets her Autochron to lead us back to the end of time - the end of her time. We spin through stars and time, past tiny glimpses of alternate timelines - alternates to this one, not the one we were born into.

We arrive at the end of time, at the headquarters of His Majesty's TimeWatch.

It looks like the place we left, and also not. Just like the TimeWatch we left, this room is full of agents in silver uniforms and scientists in white lab coats, all bustling in different directions as they coordinate dozens of missions at once. But the color of the carpet is different, the shape of the viewscreens is different, the corridors run off at different angles. And of course, there are crowns over all the logos.

But it's still TimeWatch, and it's all we have now.

As we step out of our Autochrons, still reeling with disorientation, Edward spots a familiar face: his younger brother, Richard. In a rush of sudden joy, he races towards his brother, arms out to embrace him…

…only to be faced with a look of utter confusion. "Who are you?" Richard asks.

Edward's heart sinks. "I'm your brother Edward," he says slowly, the painful realization starting to come over him.

Richard shakes his head. "I'm sorry," he says, sincere in his apology, but still blank with lack of recognition. "Are you…from another timeline where I wasn't imprisoned?"

"No, we were both imprisoned!" Edward struggles to explain. "I was the elder brother - I was the one deposed, and then we were both rescued…"

"Pardon, Your Majesty," a tech says as she edges between the brothers on her hurried way through the crowded room.

Edward starts to respond - he still responds to the title instinctively - but Richard is the one that the tech was addressing, and it's Richard who reassures her, "It's quite all right."

This is what it means to Fade from the timeline. Even though Edward and Richard were born long before 1757, when the timelines changed, Edward faded out. That means that in this timeline, Richard was the oldest son: he was the deposed king, and he alone was imprisoned in the Tower and rescued by Timewatch.

Edward is heartbroken. The one person he knew from home, the person he loved the most, doesn't know him. Yes, Richard is safe and happy, which is what Edward wanted, but now Edward is more alone than ever.

Our team may be confused, uncertain, and ambivalent about what we've done, but HM TimeWatch's commanders are unanimous in treating this mission as a success. For our heroic service to HM TimeWatch in rescuing the timeline, we're all named Companions in the Order of St. Michael and St. George.

Well, except for Elizabeth - she's named a Dame Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, and promoted to a desk job. With the pivotal role that she's played in the destruction and restoration of this timeline, it's just too dangerous now to send her out into the field anymore and risk having her Fade.

And, except for Edward. It's not clear what Edward's status is in the Order of St. Michael and St. George. He's not really in the line of royal succession, but does he still outrank knights? In HM Timewatch, these distinctions matter.

One kind of status is clear: the status of Kat and Elizabeth's relationship. "Please come back with me to the 21st century to meet my family?" Elizabeth offers. "You've met them before, but they don't remember you. And I want them to know you."

And so we move forward into the original timeline, which we've restored - in the service of His Majesty's TimeWatch.

***

Here ends Episode 1!

Thanks to Cerebral Paladin for GMing, thanks to Piratecat for creating the game, and thanks to all of you for reading! I hope you'll stay tuned for Episode 2 - we all had such a great time that we wanted to keep playing.

Any questions? Comments?
 
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Ladybird

First Post
Are you making a whole campaign out of this? And how much did you plan in advance for all the dead-end timelines and alternate realities?

The second question I'll leave to [MENTION=3448]Cerebral Paladin[/MENTION], but as for the first, we'd love to make it a campaign! We've got one more adventure that we've already played (GMed by [MENTION=3722]Orichalcum[/MENTION]), and I'm in the process of working up a new adventure that I'd GM as Episode 3.
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 2: The Glow of the Talisman Pillars

Here begins Episode 2!

There were a few changes in personnel for this one. [MENTION=3722]Orichalcum[/MENTION] is the GM for this episode, and [MENTION=3448]Cerebral Paladin[/MENTION] joined us as a new PC, Henry. Kat's player couldn't make it for this one, alas, so the team is a little smaller.

And now, on with the show!

--

Some time has passed (well, in a relative sense) and the team is settling in at HM TimeWatch. It's much like the TimeWatch we left, carrying out the same kind of missions and research, but more attention is paid to rank structure and social status. Management is still sort of debating where Edward fits.

Kat is still on leave in the 21st century, meeting Elizabeth's family, when the rest of us are called to the meeting room.

Our briefing commander is Dame Agatha, an older woman with short white hair and the businesslike manner that you'd expect from a senior TimeWatch agent. Edward notes that she bears a striking resemblance to an author photo on the back of some of the mystery novels he's been reading in the TimeWatch library in his spare time.

There's also a new person there: a young man whom Dame Agatha introduces as our new team member, Henry XJ37.

Edward blinks. "May I ask what the XJ37 stands for?"

"It's my clone line," Henry explains, unflappably.

Edward is slightly more flappable - he realizes that he's committed at least one breach of etiquette, possibly more, if asking about someone's clone status is a social faux pas. "Oh! I'm sorry. I haven't introduced myself. Edward Plantagenet."

Now it's Henry's turn to be disconcerted. "Er?"

Edward's had to do this explanation a few times by now. He sighs. "Richard's elder brother." Henry stares. "Alternate timeline."

Henry stares more. "Oh. Oh! Your Majesty? Your Highness?"

"Most people just go for Edward."

Once introductions are over, Dame Agatha calls up a map.

There are pins in various places around the Mediterranean, color-coded, and dated between 50 and 634 CE. "As you know," Dame Agatha explains, "TimeWatch keeps careful track of radiation. We have recently noticed a number of spikes in radiation that do not correspond with the expected local levels. We suspect that at least some of them may be connected."

Sudden radiation spikes? That sounds very familiar.

"Merde," says Michel.
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 2, Part 2: Familiar Patterns

Sorry for the long time between posts! Real Life got away from me, and unfortunately I couldn't hop backwards in time to post something more punctually :) But now, on with the show!

--

Henry double-takes at the reaction, and Edward sighs, explaining, "We've had some unfortunate experiences with radiation anomalies."

"Yes," agrees Dame Agatha. "That's why we're calling your team. You'll be relieved to know that for the most part, these spikes do not match what you saw before - except for last two. The ones in Mecca and Medina, around 634, come close. Not to the same degree as the ones you found in your timeline in 1938, but closer to that than the others."

Henry mulls this over. "So, not an actual nuclear explosion. A dirty bomb, perhaps?"

"Possibly," Dame Agatha says. "Certainly not the same magnitude as the bombs that hit London." Edward winces at that.

"What do the different colors on the map signify?" Yves asks.

"The difference in magnitude," Dame Agatha explains. "The ones in red are very small - we wouldn't ordinarily have noticed them at all, except that they begin in 50 CE, when we aren't expecting any radiation at all. They all fade out, but periodically return over the next 500 years or so." That the radiation levels would decrease makes sense to Mace - his knowledge of Science! tells him that that pattern is consistent with a radioactive substance being created and then fading out over its half-life.

Rules Sidebar
[sblock]Yes, there is a skill called Science! and yes, it has the exclamation point on it. If your PC knows about any kind of science, then you know about all kinds of science, past, present, and future. TimeWatch is not a hard crunchy sci-fi kind of game; it's a hand-wavey make-it-happen-for-the-sake-of-a-good-story kind of game.

Plus, it's fun to say "Science!" in an excited exclamation-point tone :)[/sblock]

Mace is less certain why they would return, though.

"The black pin in Rome in 113 CE represents a quite significant level of radiation," Dame Agatha continues, "but it fades out around 200 CE. Then there are two more spikes in Istanbul and Alexandria around 550. And, as I said, the largest ones are in Mecca and Medina in 634."

"Mecca and Medina?" Edward echoes, already unhappy about where this is going.

"Yes," Dame Agatha agrees. "Just after Muhammad's death."

"Forgive me," Yves says, "but why is Hypatia not with us? This is her home time, her home city, even!"

"Unfortunately, Hypatia is already on another mission," Dame Agatha explains. "Someone is selling scrolls purporting to be from the Library of Alexandria in 1920s Berlin. Her expertise is needed there, and she cannot be called back from the other mission."

[sblock]Also, obviously, her player is GMing :) [/sblock]

We turn our attention back to the map, trying to find patterns. "All the sites marked in red - are those major Parthian sites?" Henry wonders.

"A few Parthian," says Dame Agatha, "but mostly Roman."

"There aren't many Jewish or Christian religious sites," Edward notes. "There's Rome and Ephesus, but not Jerusalem."

"And Ephesus is a major Roman pagan site," Henry adds.

Edward tries a different angle: "Of those red sites, which one was the very first?" It's Kemerhisar, which showed its first radiation spike in 50 CE. It had a different name then, though - it was called Tyana. "Are there any notable people from Tyana?" Edward wonders. "Especially philosophers, or natural philosophers?"

As it turns out, there was one: a man named Apollonius, who lived from 3 BCE-98 CE, precisely the same time that that first radiation anomaly happened. He was a philosopher, and also a magician.

"A magician?" Edward asks skeptically. "So…someone with unexplained skills? Mysterious knowledge?" We can all tell where this is going.

"Who wishes to bet that Apollonius is a time traveler?" Yves asks.

Nobody's taking that bet.
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 2, Chapter 3: Hitting the Books

We've got a person and a place on which to focus our research, so Henry hits the tether's databases. He finds a summary of a third-century-CE biography of Apollonius - at least, it purports to be a biography, but many people doubt its truth. Here's what it says:

The developments start from his miraculous birth at Tyana in Cappadocia [today the village of Kemer Hisar, Turkey]…..Dressed - as Pythagoras before him - in a white robe, barefoot or in sandals, long-haired and striking-visaged, he observed the rules of Pythagorean asceticism in a more uncompromising manner than Pythagoras himself had...

In truth, his most faithful companion and observer of his acts was the already mentioned Damis, whom he met in Nineveh, the former Assyrian capital.  Wandering with his Pythagorean and religious mission from India to Gibraltar, Apollonius talked to high officials, and instructed common people...Called by Philostratus not only a divine man (theios aner) but also divine being or even god by virtue of his wisdom and supernatural abilities, Apollonius showed qualities to justify such claims. He possessed the extrasensory capability of prognosis (foreknowledge, foresight, or prescience) of future events. 

From this supernatural wisdom (sophia), from prognosis, from the purity of his life sprung his spiritual power, divine energy which enabled him to perform miracles, expel demons, unmask evil spirits such as the empusa or lamia, or creatures like the satyr. 

He was capable of bilocation, understood the speech of birds and beasts, commanded every human language, and could read the minds of those who were silent. 

His divine power and extrasensory perceptions Apollonius also used as a physician, a healer, a role that was directly related to his gift of prognosis….He relieved entire cities of plagues as was the case e.g. in Ephesus, where he recognized the demon of the pestilence. 

He participated in empire's political events and was a politically active philosopher. He met with emperors and instructed them on the correct way to exercise sole rule, fought against the tyranny of Nero and Domitian, while he supported the rulers Titus and Nerva. In the end he faced Domitian's trial on charges of goeteia (black magic) and of human sacrifice conducted with Nerva to overthrow Domitian. 

Miraculously, he disappeared from the imperial court without making the triumphal apology pro vita sua which he had prepared. 

He lived to be over a hundred years old and yet to the end he kept his vigor and fitness, and an appearance even more pleasing than in his youth….Nor was he without a posthumous episode. After his death he appeared in a dream to a young man in Tyana to confirm his belief on the eternal soul.
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 2 Chapter 4: Hitting the Road (to Rome)

By the end, Edward has his head in his hands. "Foreknowledge? Curing plagues? He is totally a time traveler."

"And bilocation!" Yves adds, groaning just as hard. "He could be time-traveling back to meet himself."

We have two choices at this point: do we want to talk to Apollonius directly, or go to one of the other sites on the map? Talking to Apollonius is probably our ultimate goal, but we think we want to try a later time first, to get more information about what these radiation spikes are and what changes Apollonius (or his accomplices) have made in the timeline and why.

We decide to head for 113 CE. That's the first appearance of radiation in Rome, and a very big spike. In our timeline, it's supposed to be the reign of Trajan - who knows what it's going to be when we get there.

Dame Agatha gives us two final things: a warning, and a special piece of equipment. "Rome is very crowded at this time, so be careful of your entrances and exits. You'll have to take more care than usual not to be seen."

The special equipment is a set of Geiger counters, one for each of us. "This can measure radiation, both for the purposes of tracking it and for letting you know when you're in danger," she explains. "Although I don't know if all of you are susceptible to radiation?" she adds, giving Henry a sidelong look.

"What?" Henry sniffs, somewhat offended. "I'm biological. Do I look like a robot?" We assure him that no, he's very human, and leap back.

We land in Rome, 113 CE. We're in a narrow alley between two stone and concrete buildings, both about 6 stories tall. Our feet hit the ground…then sink 18 inches to the actual street surface, through mud and muck and things we don't want to think about. Ew.

We wade out of the alley and onto a broad Roman street. It's dusk: a few people carry torches, and there are some litters going by with slaves carrying torches to light the way for the wealthy person hidden inside. There are so many people around that nobody pays much attention to us, and probably wouldn't even if we weren't Unobtrusive.

Henry does a quick check against his knowledge of Ancient History: do the people around us look like they're supposed to? Mostly, yes. They wear tunics, mantles, long robes - nothing immediately stands out as being odd or anachronistic. The only two unusual things are, first, that Henry expects to see more togas; and second, a lot of people are wearing circular brass medallion around their neck.

The medallions look like they have images on them, but it's hard to get a good look at them while everyone is moving. So Edward intercepts a passerby, and does what any tourist would do: asks for directions.

Edward: Excuse me? Could you please tell me how to get to the…[searches tether] Forum?

Random Roman: Which forum? The Roman Forum? The Forum of Augustus? The new forum of Trajan?

Edward: Yes! That one. It's my first visit to the city and I couldn't miss it.

And, if there is something newly built in this time, we want to see it.
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 2, Chapter 5: A Slightly Radioactive Thing Happens On the Way To the Forum

The Random Roman is only too happy to tell us about the new forum. "Oh, it's a marvel! It's going to be considered one of the wonders of the world! Our emperor is an architect himself, you know. Here, let me tell you how to get there. Keep going down this street, and then turn to dexter. Then…"

Edward isn't listening at all to the long string of dexters and sinister; he's looking at the medallion that the man is wearing. It bears a symbol that none of us have ever seen before: an Ionian column with two serpents around it. It sort of looks like a caduceus, except with a column instead of a staff.

Mace has noticed all of the medallions too, and figures that if there are so many around, there must be plenty of people selling them or giving them away. And, indeed, not far away, he sees a stall that's selling medallions, along with other kinds of jewelry and some crackers. The crackers are pretty yummy. (Mace's first priority is a snack.)

The column-caduceus isn't the only design on the medallions. Some have fish on them, and some have seven-branched candelabras. We recognize those as symbols of Christianity and Judaism - we're not at all expecting to see those religions so popular in Rome at this time. Some of the other medallions have symbols we don't recognize at all: palm trees, a woman, and…male genitalia?

While Mace peruses the offerings at the booth, Yves decides to take the direct route and just asks: "Pardon, but what is that medallion you wear?"

"Oh! This is a medallion of Apollonius of Tyana," Random Roman explains. "This one they say has the blessing to keep away rats and spiders. I'm really hoping it works, because my apartment is just plagued by rats!"

While Yves is distracting Random Roman, Michel is Unobtrusively scanning the medallion with his Geiger counters. There is a very very faint touch of radiation, but hardly any higher than would ordinarily be in the atmosphere - measurable, but not meaningful or dangerous. Henry can't see any signs that the medallion was made with anachronistic tech, either.

With all of our questions answered, we thank Random Roman and let him go, and instead move on to the booth.

"I'd like to buy one of those medallions," Mace says, joining Yves in the direct approach. "Could you tell me about them?"

The shopkeeper is very happy to tell us all about her wares. "Of course! This one helps you heal; this one protects against rats and spiders; this one protects against poison, and this one just gives general good luck.

Michel notes, a little uneasily, that the healing medallion registers slightly higher on the Geiger counter.

"I could use some general good luck," Mace says.

The shopkeeper smiles. "That will be 16 sestertii."

Yves and Michel double-take. They're Streetwise sorts of folks, and they can tell that she's totally trying to defraud Mace.

"Please!" protests Michel. "We may be from out of town, but you cannot fool us so easily. It is not as if we are from the Hebrides!"

The shopkeeper stares - clearly, the reference to the Hebrides has gone right over her head.

Edward hastily texts over the tether, "They won't have gotten to the Hebrides yet. Just say Britannia. You know you want to."

Michel tries again, happily casting scorn on England: "We aren't from Britannia!"

Except that the shopkeeper's blank look doesn't change.

Edward blinks. They should have gotten to Britannia about 75 years ago, in the reign of Claudius. And now they've never heard of it?

Michel tries again: "…we're from Gaul?"

Finally, a light dawns in the shopkeeper's eyes. "Well, you must be from Southern Gaul!" she concludes. "I'm surprised your companion can even speak Latin - the rest of Gaul is barbarian!"

Okay then. Clearly we're starting to find some differences in this timeline besides a different taste in jewelry and clothes.
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 2, Chapter 6: Making Heads and Fish Tails of New Religions

We're starting to see the differences between our timeline and this one, so Yves tests out a big one: "Have you heard of Jesus of Nazareth?"

The shopkeeper nods. "Oh, yes! You're one of his followers? Would you like a fish on your medallion, or a cross? They're very popular with the Jewish population."

"A cross?" Edward perks up, being a good medieval Christian boy. "Ooh, I'd like a cross." Going on a pilgrimage to Rome is a big deal for him, and he needs a pilgrim's token to mark that he's done it.

Way at the back of the stall, Yves notices a medallion with an image of a head on a plate. Michel and Henry and Edward all recognize this as the icon of John the Baptist, who did have an independent following in the early days of Christianity. But Yves doesn't recognize any of the rest. "What are these others?" asks Yves.

"This one is Mithras, this is Isis, and this is Priapus," the shopkeeper explains, pointing to several medallions in turn. (The last of these is the one with the penis on it.) "And if you follow the old ways, here's Jupiter's thunderbolt."

"The old ways?" Edward echoes.

"The gods of our ancestors," replies the shopkeeper. "Instead of all these new religions from the east."

Which Edward thinks is a very odd way to refer to the standard Roman polytheist religion. Henry realizes that all of the medallions are the symbols of religions that in our timeline, were considered mystery cults and secret religions in the second century CE, but now they're all out in the open. Not only that, but among all of the religions and holy people being venerated, there aren't any references to the emperor cults.

Clearly, the religious situation in Rome is very different from the one that our tethers tell us about. "At this point, a library would seem the appropriate course of action," says Michel.

As it turns out, the best library in Rome in 113 CE is in the brand-new Forum of Trajan - exactly where we'd decided to go anyway. Fortunately, Mace was paying attention to the directions, even if Edward wasn't.
 

Ladybird

First Post
Episode 2, Chapter 7: Title Track

As it turns out, the general flow of traffic is going towards the Forum of Trajan anyway. The Forum is a huge plaza full of people, and at its center is Trajan's Column: a giant column covered in carved depictions of Trajan's triumphs. That's what we expected.

What we didn't expect is the green glow.

Our Geiger counters click wildly as we stare at the glowing radioactive pillar in the middle of Rome, with hundreds of people draped over it as they pray for healing miracles.

Michel doesn't think that it would be immediately dangerous to get a closer look, but knows that we really shouldn't to spend extended time near it. Fortunately, Michel is Prepared, and has a camera with a telephoto lens so that we don't have to get close to get a better look. Yves is likewise Prepared with some radiation-absorption materials, hidden in necklaces, so that we'll be safe even if we do go closer.

So with all of that Preparation, we go to study Trajan's column. Once we're closer, we can see that the glow is coming not from the stone itself - that's marble, just as it should be - but from a thin layer of paint over the marble. (Or, actually, a thin layer of paint over the paint. The base is white marble, but the carved figures are painted in bright colors. The radioactive paint is on top of that.)

The story told by the column's images is one of Trajan's conquest with lots of scenes depicting battles against bearded fur-clad barbarians. Near the end, Edward and Henry notice something that doesn't map onto their knowledge of Ancient History: there's a cave opening with large numbers of people going into it, then large numbers of barbarians being herded into it, then rocks being brought out of it. The rocks being brought out are painted with even more glow-paint than the surrounding carvings.

"Great," Edward groans. "They found a radioactivity mine."

The other main difference is in the inscription. It says that this column is to commemorate Trajan's great victory in the Lachian Wars. Our tethers tell us that it should be in honor of his victory in the Dacian Wars. Lachia is slightly west of Dacia, and much farther north - farther north on the Continent than the Roman Empire ever got in our timeline.

So we know that the Roman Empire is aiming farther north and farther east than it actually did. They haven't conquered Britannia or Gaul, but they have conquered Lachia Why?

Henry wonders if something happened with Julius Caesar. Clearly Trajan and Augustus exist, so Julius Caesar must have existed too, but why didn't he conquer Gaul?

Michel wonders, based on our previous mission and his interest in military things, if there are some differences in military technology that are making the Romans change their geographical focus. He knows that the military campaign that Trajan undertook in Lachia would mean much more mountain-climbing than the one in Dacia would have. But we can't spot anything on the column that stands out. Edward spots a few more depictions of Romans using Greek Fire on the barbarians than there should be, but there don't seem to be any tech advances that would help them climb mountains more easily, or anything else that stands out as anachronistic. Whatever the timetravelers did to change the timeline, it wasn't in the realm of military technology.

Next, Henry thinks geographically. The major anomaly that we're tracking is the use of radioactive material, so he wonders, "Where are there deposits of radioactive material in the Roman Empire?"

Michel checks, and discovers that in Europe, there is exactly one known mine that contains radioactive elements. It's in a town called Jachymov, in central Europe, and in our timeline, it was first mined in the mid-16th century - there's silver in it, too, and initially it was only mined for silver. It wasn't mined for radium until the late 19th century. That's where Marie Curie got her radium samples.

And, oh look, Jachymov is in Lachia. And it's definitely big enough to account for all of the radioactivity that we've seen.

So something turned the course of Roman conquest towards Lachia, and away from Britannia and Gaul.

Finally, Michel says, "I would like to go to the library and find the history of Julius Caesar's great defeat in Gaul."
 

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