In the very near future time travel is created. Quickly placed under government control it was decided that altering time on a large scale could be disastrous. There was simply no way to predict how major changes to history would play out.
Instead the focus was changed to law enforcement. There were numerous incidences where cold cases were broken with new evidence but the police were unable to bring the guilty party to justice either because they couldn’t be located or because they’d since died.
It was proposed that time travel technology could send investigators back with key pieces of information, to secure further evidence in the past to enable the guilty to be convicted. Once their identity was confirmed their timeline could be examined. If it caused minimal disruption they could be arrested in their own time. If that would causes too many changes to established history they could be arrested in the present or as close as possible to the modern day.
The Chronos Crime Investigation Unit (CCIU) was established in secret. Assigned to work Cold Cases the first step was to establish evidence that could provide new leads, if not outright establishing the guilty party. A panel of temporal physicist and police investigators study cases that met this criteria and assign them to CCIU field units.
Field Unit agents are chosen for their expertise in the field or their experience. Older police officers have an easier time of blending in to the past, since they lived through it, while younger investigators reduce the chance of interacting with their own past.
The time travel technology establishes a transfer point between the present and the target time period. CCIU investigators step on to a specially prepared Time platform which is flooded with retro-chronos particles, hurtling them back in time. A total of 400 kg to 800 kg may be sent back, restricting the amount of people and equipment that can sent on a single trip.
Their arrival in the target time period is accompanied by a short range EMP pulse, disrupting local electrical equipment. While equipment taken back is shielded to protect against this the noticeable discharge (described as a flash of blue lightening) means that the arrival point is often in an isolated area.
The goal of the CCIU mission is not to prevent the crime they are investigating. To do so would create a paradox that would gravely affect the CCIU itself. Due to this they will arrive once the crime is reported to the police or shortly after the investigation is begun.
Thanks to expert forgeries and ground work laid by other CCIU officers the investigation team will become part of the crime team, in many cases taking over. The goal is to not only solve the crime but building enough evidence in the local time period to secure a conviction. This can be frustrating for some CCIU officers who know they have the DNA evidence to identify the killer but due to the time period are forced to find other evidence to tie them to the crime.
That doesn’t mean that the CCIU can’t use modern day investigation methods or evidence to advance their case. Indeed evidence collected in the past can be sent to the present for analysis in the CCIU labs, either by placing it in storage (to be examined in the modern day) or through transfer at the arrival site.
At the same time as CCIU investigators are in the past and modern day team can talk to witnesses and suspects in the present, gather information and investigate areas that officers in the past don’t have access to. This can be useful if an investigator can’t obtain a search warrant in the past but the premises is abandoned in the present.
Future knowledge and technology gives the CCIU an edge in their investigations. While the initial lead is a start there is still a lot for the CCIU investigators to do to solve unsolved crimes. All the while they must maintain their cover, to prevent others from learning their true identity as time travellers. Such knowledge could not only change history but hamper the investigation.
Once an investigation is concluded the CCIU return to the arrival point and signal for collection. Their signal devices release a signal that can be detected in the past. It allows technicians to lock on to a time period but not a location. If the investigator is not at their point of arrival they will not be collected.
The CCIU only get one chance to carry out an investigation. There are two reasons for this. Firstly the amount of energy required to transport people through time means that the resources allocated to any individual case must be limited.
Secondly it is very important that the CCIU’s own time line not be altered. This includes going back to redo a failed investigation, which would dramatically alter events for the earlier versions of the case who were carrying out the investigation.
In situations where a conviction is not possible in the past and the criminal is not alive in the present it is possible for the CCIU investigators to bring their prisoner to the present to stand trial. This is done only as a last resort and after it is established that their removal will not change history. More than once this has explained why the criminal vanished in the first place, convincing some that the CCIU investigators are pre-destined to solve some of their cases.
Pre-destination is certainly not to be taken for granted. CCIU have established that time can change. Shielded within their facility they are some of the few to be aware that history can be altered. The most dramatic example of this is when a criminal has been arrested, preventing future crimes the CCIU were unaware of.
It is hotly debated whether the CCIU should wait until the last crime is committed by a criminal before apprehending them but so far no criminal has been released to allow him to commit the original murders. The current stance is that they are saving lives first, protecting history second.
The CCIU are kept busy with decades of cold cases to investigate. They prefer to target those crimes that have occurred in the last 50 years but during every review period someone suggests going back to investigate famous historical mysteries such as Jack the Ripper. This has not been approved, yet.
This campaign allows for criminal investigations to take place across the years. The default setting is in the United States but there is no reason that the CCIU couldn’t be established in another country or given the mandate to operate world wide (although this would make blending in with local police officers more difficult).
Mysteries can be as easy or as complex as you desire. The investigators could begin the case knowing exactly who is guilty (due to new evidence or even a confession in the present), in which case the focus will be providing evidence in the local time period to put them away.
They could arrive with a single clue that was missed in the original time line. This could lead to avenues of investigation that simply weren’t followed. In this situation the identity of the guilty party still needs to be discovered. Upon discovering who it is the CCIU will need to establish what that person did between the local time period and the modern day, to discover what the consequences of their arrest or removal would be.
The crime being investigated will usually be a murder but can also include kidnapping, disappearances or robberies. Crimes are selected for their notoriety and the harm they’ve caused people. There is also the comfort in knowing that whoever has committed the crime has been apprehended.
Foreknowledge is a powerful thing. Not only do the investigators have evidence that wouldn’t be available in the local time period but they know what is going to happen. They know where the getaway vehicle is recovered from, they know when a storm will occur that will wash away evidence and they know where a missing girls stuffed animal is found. All of which allows them to get a head start on their investigation.
Not that everything will keep to the schedule that history decrees. It could be that facts were misreported or that witnesses where mistaken. This can make an investigation more complicated, as things don’t turn out exactly as the investigators thought it would.
The investigators presence can also alter events. If they are searching a location they might frighten off the killer who was due to go there. They might put pressure on the wrong person, causing a witness not to reveal information they should or change what they were originally going to do.
Player characters may only become aware of this when events change. Once they eliminate outside factors the only conclusion they can come to is that they were responsible. They must then endeavour to prevent further damage being done to time.
Another factor for them to consider is their own cover story. Most law enforcement officers will accept the arrival of the investigators at face value, especially if they have convincing documents. It is only when the investigators behave strangely that questions maybe asked.
If the PCs use futuristic technology (by the standards of the local time period), mention future events or otherwise reveal cracks in their cover story, they maybe the target of an investigation. They must make a choice between completing the investigation or preventing their true nature from being discovered.
To make a story more personal a case could bring a CCIU into contact with his own past. Will they be able to keep their focus on the job or will they be tempted to improve their past?
The default assumption of the setting is that the CCIU’s time travel capabilities is the only difference between our world and the setting. You may wish to include other strange elements, such as the supernatural, aliens or Lovecraftian beings.
If magic exists in your campaign you may consider having the CCIU time travel occur through more arcane means. For example, instead of physically sending themselves into the past they could travel mentally, projecting an investigator in the original case.
Game System & Character Creation
The majority of the available Gumshoe systems should work for this campaign setup.
Mutant City Blues is the closest fit, simply don’t use the setting specific abilities.
Esoterrorists focuses on using modern investigation techniques to investigate mysteries. If you wish to link this campaign to that setting the CCIU could use the weak points in reality to pursue Esoterrorists in the past.
Night’s Black Agents is designed to create spies not cops but as the PCs will be ‘undercover’ this can be appropriate. It stands to reason that investigators assigned to travel back in time would have more advanced training.
Ashen Stars is suitable if you wish to have the ‘present day’ further into the future, with more advanced technology available to the PCs. It could be that time travel technology was provided by one of the alien races. Non-human investigators could use holograms to disguise themselves while in the past.
Trail of Cthulhu is suitable if you wish to have CCIU to recruit investigators from the 1930s. This removes the more advanced techniques available to more modern members of the team but sometimes the old ways are the best.
Ideally all characters should be some form of law enforcement officer. The PCs will be in the field for the most part, although you could have a few who stay in the present to run tests or research.
The assumption is that CCIU are sent to a diverse number of time periods. Instead you may decide that they establish field offices in specific time periods. This means that only one of the PCs need to be CCIU officers, with the rest taking the roles of those native to the time zone.
Any police procedural show from yesteryear can provide inspiration for this campaign. Simply imagine what it would be like if a modern day investigator was involved, with information about the future.
Cold Case is of course the most obvious source for the types of crimes the PCs could investigate. The only change is that the main characters actually get to go back and live the time period for themselves.
Life On Mars (both UK and US versions) and Ashes to Ashes are examples of modern day police investigators having to work with cops from earlier time periods.
Quantum Leap is the definitive source of inspiration for how time travel stories can focus on making individuals lives better. The consequences of the PCs actions can have surprising and heat warming results.
Continuum is a show that focuses on a police officer from the future solving crimes in her past (our modern day). While her foreknowledge is minimal she does have the advantage of advanced technology to help solve her cases. This is particularly appropriate if you are using the Ashen Stars rule set.
Real life is sadly also a rich source of unsolved mysteries and crimes. Think how differently things would be if the investigators knew what we know now or were their to see critical events. The PCs can be put in that position, to make sure that justice is done.