I’d been looking forward to Time Watch by Kevin Kulp since it was first announced. I love time travel fiction and the GUMSHOE system (as should be obvious to anyone who has read my article crime time) so quickly backed the project the moment it appeared on Kick Starter.
I wasn’t the only one as it was fully funded within 24 hours, as detailed in this article from the Escapist.
One of the benefits of being a backer is access to the Time Watch Jurassic edition, a draft of the rules. Since it is a draft this isn’t a review, as there is still plenty more to come. I can, however, tell you that this version is not only playable but enjoyable to read. There is certainly enough material here to get you playing.
The concept is that the player characters are recruited across history to join Time Watch, an organisation that monitors, protects and repairs time. Keeping with the central concept of the GUMSHOE system that the PCs are competent people they are chosen for their skills and given the training they need to use time travel effectively.
The time travel presented uses the analogy of a river of time. Small changes don’t disrupt the flow of history but major alterations can divert its course or create branching parallel histories (there is some space given to discuss the possibility of exploring these other worlds and encountering enemies who originate from them). When Time Watch notice a disruption in time they despatch a team to investigate what has altered and put things back on track.
This is easier than it sounds as not only are the PCs experts they have access to a hand held time machine, with unlimited fuel. Point spends don’t just provide extra information but can represent PCs tweaking history to suit them. An architecture spend can have a PC go back and put a secret room in a house while an Anthropology spend gets you an ancient civilisation that worships you as a god.
The only limit is the players imagination and the possibility that they might loose chronal stability. This is primarily caused by creating paradoxes, so while they could nip back and help themselves in a fight or stop the villain before they’ve put their plan in motion they could fade out until they are erased (as in ‘Back To The Future’).
This risk is reduced with Stitches, this game’s version of action points. These can be given to players as a reward by both the GM and the other players. This encourages good roleplaying, player appreciation and allows the PCs to pull off some very clever time travelling.
This is just one way that Time Watch attempts to make life easier for PCs. Each Time Patrol member is provided with the equivalent of universal translators and technology that helps them blend in to allow them to travel anywhere and everywhere without their nationality, gender or race causing problems.
I like the time machine itself, the autochron, a metal bar that extends into a metre long staff when activated and can double as a bludgeoning weapon if need be. It can be used to escape combat but others using an autochron can lock on to your signal and pursue you.
If this happens those involved in the chase are slotted into an existing historical chase, each participant arriving the same distance apart as when they departed. While a goofy idea the sheer number of variations should be entertaining. GMs will probably want to think ahead so they can run a chase involving a dogfight in World War 1, Roman chariots or a foot chase through 1960s New York.
PCs are also provided with Tethers, a database and AI combined. There is a lot of fun to be had from having an extra NPC for each PC, as their Tether will have its own personality. While the default assumption is that the Tether will be loyal to the PC they might be arrogant, disapproving or even antagonistic.
The rules not only do a good job of conveying how this all works but include boxed sections that provide advice, tips and insight into why the rules are the way they are and how you can change them to suit your needs. This is invaluable to understanding a game like this, as the prospect of player characters zipping up and down a time line can be daunting.
The writing is humorous, with many a sly reference to popular time travel fiction. Even the rule examples are entertaining, illustrating how a typical Time Watch game should run. There is even a neat mini-story told within them about a Time Watch team unravelling a plot to prevent the Black Death.
The central concept is strong enough that you can tweak it however you want. It can be serious or pulp. It can have horror or science fiction elements. The PCs might fight advanced cockroaches from the end of time or intelligent psychic dinosaurs from an alternative timeline. You might be a rebel trying to make history better, an alien tourist with a time machine bigger on the inside or jumping into the bodies of others in the past. There is advice for emulating any time travel story and genre by adjusting the settings of the rules.
I’ve always felt that history provides the most material for game play and it is fun to learn about the past. Time travel games can make history come alive, which can give you a better appreciation for how things have come to be the way they are. Time Watch provides the perfect opportunity to make the most of that.
Wikipedia and other encyclopaedias and history books make researching historical incidents easy. Listeners of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast can also make use of the Ken’s Time Machine section for ideas how to sabotage time (even if it is for the better).
There is still time to back this kickstart project. My opinion is that this is another great addition to the GUMSHOE range and the draft rules make it worthwhile alone (although there are plenty of stretch goals and pledge benefits that make it even more worthwhile).