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Tabletop Game / TimeWatch

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TimeWatch is a tabletop RPG running on the GUMSHOE system written by Kevin Kulp and published by Pelgrane Press.

In a similar manner to other games using this system, TimeWatch is built primarily around investigation, finding clues and solving a mystery, albeit with an emphasis on time travel. The game's default setting involves a party of characters from throughout history being enlisted into the titular agency, whose job is to guard the timestream from any attempts to change established history.

Alongside the core rulebook, there is also Behind Enemy Times, a collection of various assorted mysteries to be used in campaigns; and The Book of Changing Years, an In-Universe collection of assorted adventures from past TimeWatch agents.

TimeWatch contains examples of:

  • Abnormal Ammo: The Bigfoot Beam literally fires Bigfeet at its target. Designed by the unethical geneticist and chronal experimenter Dansky Cordova, when activated, the gun opens a temporary one-way portal between Cordova's labs and whatever era the gun is currently in. Cordova has a cage linked to this weapon, and any living creature in the cage is instantly transported to the gun's location and kept there for as long as its chronal link remains active. Cordova fills the cage with one of his many genetically engineered monstrosities such as Bigfoot because he finds the results hilarious.
  • Affably Evil: Colonel Sir Bayard Caide is an utterly charismatic English baronet and career cavalry officer at the end of the 18th century. He leads his men with competence and dignity, charms the ladies (unmarried or not) with casual ease, and pretty much commands any room he happens to step into. He is also a ruthless and unapologetic cad, and enjoys ruining others' lives, breaking the law, flouting societal mores, and betraying others.
  • The Ageless: An immortal is a human who, for whatever reason, does not age. While they'll live forever if uninjured, they can be killed just like anyone so they work to keep their identities hidden.
  • Alternate Self: There are dozens or hundreds of versions of the Dimensional Master out there, some real and some from alternative branching futures. Capturing or killing one incarnation won't slow the others down, and even he is no longer sure what is real and what isn't. He's gotten into a competition and rivalry with himself more than once.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Time-bears are a result of the worst kind of experimental error. They are sentient, intelligent ursines that can intrinsically time travel, can close on you despite your drawn weapon, can attack more than one person in a turn, and whose unnatural existence is such a paradox that being hit by one risks chronal instability.
  • Beast of Battle: Chronal leeches can be trained to exile victims to a specific time and place, typically a jail. Packs are sent out by their mysterious trainers to hunt and retrieve time travellers.
  • Been There, Shaped History: The Dimensional Master tries to act like he really doesn't care about any recognition at all, even though that's exactly what he craves. He's responsible for killing off the dinosaurs; he lived for decades as Leonardo da Vinci; he holo-projected images of future events into a bowl of water Nostradamus kept looking at; he erected Stonehenge; he shot Hitler in the Führerbunker; he had the BBC make a TV show about a time travelling hero‚Ķ anything for bragging rights.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti: Genetically engineered and sent back in time to mystify humanity, the Bigfoot is crafty but not particularly intelligent. Its very presence disrupts electronics. It prefers avoiding human contact, but might react violently if forced into a fight. Occasional Bigfoot are geniuses capable of careful, competent, deadly planning against humanity.
  • Black Speech: Te'Pk is a sentient, parasitic, memetic language that colonises the brain of anyone who learns to speak it. Its phonemes and sentence structures rewrite and reorganise human thought patterns, granting great power over normal humans but degrading original thought and actual humanity. By the time a person becomes fluent in Te'Pk, their original personality is long gone.
  • Blob Monster: A sanguine is an immortal, churning, humanoid mass of sentient blood.
  • Body Surf: The worst and most dangerous walk-ins can casually hop from body to body, possessing new hosts easily and evicting or eradicating their souls in the process. They often use this power to commit serial murder or other untraceable crimes.
  • Brain in a Jar: By the 30th century, medical science has evolved enough to separate the human brain from its meat-shell and encase it in a transparent, nanotechnology-equipped braincase.
  • Creepy Cockroach: The ezeru, or clockroaches, are massive shape-shifting cockroaches. It's theorised that they evolved in a distant, highly radioactive postapocalyptic future from mutated cockroaches. Ezeru spread across time with the biological imperative of ensuring their own existence by infiltrating Earth's history and seeking opportunities to raise the level of background radiation, bringing about the approximate environmental circumstances that led to their evolution. When it comes to iconic TimeWatch Adversaries, it's difficult to beat giant mutant radioactive cockroaches that walk amongst us undetected by wearing human skin.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The wight compression cannon uses 27th-century spacial folding techniques to vastly compress soft tissues, while the skeletal structure remains unaffected, causing flesh to literally rip its way off of bone. The victim's screams may haunt you for years, but it's a stylish way to go.
  • Cyborg: Cyborgs are half-robot meldings of flesh (whether human, animal or alien) and machine. You decide whether they have humanity's best interests in mind, or whether they think of themselves as human, but it's a sure thing that the worst of them will be almost indistinguishable from humans until it's almost too late. Generic cyborgs are typically mass-produced for war and inhabited by the brains of insane or heavily mind-wiped remnants of humanity.
  • Damage-Increasing Debuff: The SherpaTech Thermal Stasis Apparatus uses zero-point energy to reduce the target to minimal energy, instantly lowering the surrounding temperature and generating considerable quantities of ice around the target area. When fired at a nonliving object, any damage inflicted on the object in subsequent rounds is doubled.
  • Demonic Possession: Sometimes, when incautious time travellers suffer chronal instability and become subsumed by the time stream, their flesh is physically ripped away from them as time attempts to erase them from existence, but they muster enough force of will to hang on to their sentience (if not their sanity). Their insane spirits find themselves in a new time and location, sentient but bodiless. Some of them can possess normal people, exiling or destroying their soul as they set up residence in a new body. If they're lucky, they forget their past life and live out their years in their new stolen body. If they're unlucky, they remember just enough to be dangerous.
  • Devolution Device: Some superintelligent gorillas have invented an anthropoid demogrifier, which forcibly evolves a human into a gorilla.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Keeper is a 5th dimensional entity that exists outside of normal time and space. It dwells across time, and likes to collect things across time and space according to an ineffable pattern. The human mind can't possibly comprehend the Keeper's appearance, and yet its existence forces it to.
  • Eyes Do Not Belong There: Blemmyes are headless creatures with eyes in their chests (at least, that is what the Libyans say). They are either mutations or genetic monstrosities from the future who have made a home in the past.
  • Fake Memories: When someone witnesses anachronistic events and can't be talked out of the memory in any other way, TimeWatch knocks them unconscious and places a MEM-tag that acts as a chronal beacon for TimeWatch technicians to kidnap the subject with a directed tachyon beam. The subject is then mind-wiped, given reconstructed memories, and returned to their same locations a few milliseconds later, after which the agent removes the MEM-tag. To local observers, the subject seems to flicker slightly; once woken, they will remember whatever variant memories installed by the technicians.
  • Feathered Fiend: Killer bird flocks (often passenger pigeons, for reasons no one at TimeWatch yet understands) effectively restrain their targets by blanketing them with their flapping and pecking bodies.
  • Festering Fungus: The Colony consists of fungal intelligences that arrived on Earth with the dinosaur-killing meteor at the end of the Cretaceous era. The Colony colonised the world during the icy darkness that followed, feeding off of the flesh of dying dinosaurs and psychic animal fear.
  • Gender Bender: K'horn are hermaphrodites and switch between male and female. This change is triggered by pheromones and is accompanied by a period of hibernation, with gender changes reoccurring in three year cycles. Their bodies transform during this process.
  • A God Am I:
    • Convinced that they are born from the blood of a dead god, ungodly sanguines are obsessed with being worshipped and will usually do anything to ensure proper obeisance from their cult.
    • When Ygg, the Gallows Tree, sprouted in 11th century Scandinavia, the local people regarded it as a god, and it wasn't long before the tree believed that as well and began demanding blood sacrifices.
  • Grandfather Paradox: Invoked with one of the weapons given in the book - a bullet that travels back in time, homes in on the target's ancestor using their DNA, and kills them, erasing the original target.
  • Great Big Book of Everything: ChronoFacts is a dynamic and temporally centered guide to all of known history (more or less), making it an invaluable tool for TimeWatch agents when dealing with paradoxes. It is constantly updated wherever or whenever you are, assuming that the ChronoFacts Corporation exists in that timeline.
  • Help Yourself in the Future: It's possible for players to check places they haven't looked under the assumption that their future self has left something useful there.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: TimeWatch safe houses, are designed to fit in seamlessly with local structures or geological features, and purposefully hard to find unless an agent knows exactly what they're looking for. This difficulty is often amplified by stealth technology that cloaks the property in a field of Unobtrusiveness; most people passing by simply never pay any attention to a safe house at all.
  • Historical Character's Fictional Relative: Born in 2054 in an alternate history London, Anika Babbage is the great-great-(etc.)-granddaughter of the union between Lady Ada Byron and Charles Babbage. In this timeline, Byron and Babbage had more than just technical conversations via correspondence. Ada ended up fleeing England prior to her dreary marriage with William King, and she was married to Charles in Italy.
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: The first thing a surprising number of new time travellers do is try to kill Adolf Hitler, to the extent that TimeWatch maintains a Berlin safe house where unfortunate teams queue up to handle one assassination attempt after another.
  • Hive Mind: All ezeru in a given time can, if desired, be connected by a hivemind, allowing them fine coordination across thousands of kilometres. There is a social drive encouraging them to do so, but it is not biologically mandatory.
  • Human Disguise: Most sophosaurs encountered by TimeWatch are vengeful urban saboteurs using psychic disguises to walk unnoticed amongst humanity.
  • Improvised Weapon: When inactive, an autochron can be used in combat as an improvised weapon with little risk of damage.
  • Intellectual Animal: Superintelligent gorillas who beat humans at science make for memorable and entertaining foes. They are typically found in hidden laboratories wearing lab coats, their nefarious plans almost brought to fruition.
  • It Only Works Once: King Tusk can time travel once only due to a sophosaur gift. He saves this for a dire emergency, and will use it to travel back to the glory days of woolly mammoths 20000 years ago.
  • Killer Robot: Killer robots excel at one particular task, which is definitely not vacuuming the kitchen floor while the rest of the household sleeps.
  • Knowledge Broker: Rodrigo Istalindir is a part-time information broker, a part-time spy, and a full-time hedonist. He time travels to soak in experiences, to learn new music and art, to meet amazing people, and to eat astonishing food. If he learns some interesting information along the way, he's happy to sell it to whoever wishes to pay him.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The team that erases the memory of any MEM-tagged individual administer this.
  • Living Dinosaurs: Sophosaurs are clan-based sentient dinosaurs from an alternate timeline where the meteor never struck Earth.
  • Mind over Matter: Psychic disembodied brains can telekinetically manipulate anything they'd normally use their hands for.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Snake-apes have the tail of a giant anaconda and the torso of a great ape.
  • Morph Weapon: PaciFist neural disruptors are chronomorphic, blending in to a historical era by changing their physical shape and appearance. Agents can usually decide what shape their PaciFist assumes: a walking cane, a six-gun revolver, a mobile phone, a short stick, a cigarette case, a pipe, or anything else appropriate.
  • Mutual Kill: The chrono-hound's attack destroys both hound and victim; while it's believed that some chrono-hounds regenerate after a fight, the same can't be said of the victim.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: The sophosaur Pristine Claw clan has more members working for TimeWatch than any other clan. They accept reality as what it is, and have adapted the practical belief that they should make reality as strong as they can even if it means working alongside humans. Other clans often consider them traitors and have sworn to destroy them.
  • No One Sees the Boss: Most agents are never told the identity of TimeWatch's secret leaders.
  • Not the Intended Use: Devolved future cave people might have scavenged high-tech gear, occasionally used entirely incorrectly.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Division Nine is a vast government agency similar to TimeWatch that suffers from the many flaws endemic to government bureaucracies. Mired in red tape, subcommittees and groupthink, Division Nine agents need time travel just to get all of their paperwork done.
  • Our Cryptids Are More Mysterious: Somewhere in history, one or more maniacs (such as Dr. Dansky Cordova) are breeding intelligent abominations and time-beaming them into the past. This is where yeti and the Loch Ness Monster come from, but it's far worse than just those. Hideous and unexplainable amalgams of normal creatures are also being sent back: bumblefrogs, snake-apes, sentient time-bears, and so on.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: Whether natural or human made, wormholes are usually semipermanent and unmoving. They link one era of time to another, and may be one way. Static wormholes might shift predictably, skipping in a pattern through destinations in space and time. By timing your arrival and exit carefully, you can use these as a means of chronal and spatial transport.
  • Parasite Zombie: A mold-colonised drone appears as a normal human or animal that is sprouting fungus from its flesh. The Colony uses these as their hands and feet.
  • Place Beyond Time: TimeWatch's headquarters is situated at a deliberately-unspecified point before the Big Bang, from which they can monitor the timestream without unnecessarily interfering.
  • Plague Master: A plaguebringer is a sanguine crossed with sentient Ebola and leaves plague and poison and hideous death in its wake. One can wipe out an entire country during a time period prior to competent healthcare.
  • Plant Person: Ygg's daughters appear to be beautiful women aged anywhere from childhood to crone, made entirely of solid animated wood.
  • Prison Dimension: Some enemies of TimeWatch are exiled to the Lockout, a prison parallel timeline that is simple to travel into but almost impossible to escape.
  • Protagonist Title: The name TimeWatch refers to the chronal enforcement agency to which the player characters belong.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: Europan master worms burrow into their host and launch a mental attack. Once that succeeds the Europans take control over the host until destroyed or removed.
  • Puzzling Platypus: The platypus is listed among the cryptids in the Antagonists section of the core book, with no stats provided and the following description:
    It's just a platypus. They don't do much. And anyways, we know from experience that TimeWatch let this one slip through.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: A TimeWatch agent may be a particularly bright Neanderthal, a Mongol raider, a famed aerial ace, a psychic cop from a futuristic megacity, a reprogrammed cyborg, or a notorious interstellar con artist.
  • Really 700 Years Old: King Tusk was born around 4000 BCE and has been living for almost 7000 years, given an extended life span and vast intelligence by an alien technological device.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: You know you've really screwed up at TimeWatch when you're assigned round-the-clock Hitler duty. You watch him from midnight to 7:59:59 a.m., clock out, get some rest, clock back in at 8:00:00 a.m., watch him until 3:59:59 p.m., clock out... ad nauseum for months. According to the in-world author of the Book of Changing Years, you'll never repeat the infraction.
  • Reptilian Conspiracy: Reptoids are an unimaginably ancient species of apparently immortal shape-shifting reptilian bipeds from a plane of reality beyond four-dimensional space-time. They can alter their physical forms into visually perfect copies of any carbon-based life form they touch by absorbing, modifying and replicating the creature's DNA. Their plots often focus on placing reptoid hybrids in positions of power, where they can deliberately manage cultural and technological developments to ensure long-term ascendance to a properly ordered society: to the reptoids, this usually means political or corporate autocracy.
  • Ret-Gone:
    • The direst consequence of accumulating too many paradox points has the affected character erased from existence entirely. The book even recommends that GMs illustrate this by using Find and Replace to censor all previous mentions of that character throughout the campaign.
    • A milder consequence has the timestream rewrite itself so that the affected character is rewritten to be someone who was always a part of the historical setting with no memory of their time at TimeWatch. This time, it is possible for characters with Reality Anchor to bring their old memories back.
  • Robot Buddy: The tether is a ring-sized personal digital assistant on overdrive. It serves as your encrypted communicator, your camera, your encyclopedia, your journal, your holographic research assistant, and your personal historian for any information you don't already know. It can observe and record your surroundings, talk directly and secretly into your ear through a subdermal implant, feed information directly into linked contact lenses, holographically display and rotate 3-D maps, translate any known language instantaneously, interface with your weapons, manifest a holographic screen, and help you run technical tests if you need to investigate a crime scene. The AI in a tether is even capable of having its own personality, although not all agents enable this.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: A swarm of cyber-bees is a thing to be feared. Tiny robotic assassins with molecular venom generators, they attack all hostile targets in an area and use their venom to prevent them from escaping.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The Jemdet Nasr is the prison of Pi'drak'ne'din, the war leader of the dreaded Kergaol warriors who plagued the galaxy over a million years ago until his defeat at the hands of the Haarnol Empire.
  • Sea Serpents: A deep-sea serpent is a cryptid over thirty metres long, hard to photograph and capable of taking down whales for food and swallowing a half-dozen sailors at once.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Due to paradoxes, some species will never exist if they don't act to ensure their own existence. The ezeru are one example; they seek to create enough radiation to begin their own evolution, an evolution that shouldn't ever happen if there is never enough radiation.
  • Spacetime Eater: Chronal leeches swim the time stream looking for potential reality to devour.
  • Spy Bot: A micro-drone is a flying, insect-sized, innocuous and hard-to-notice recording device that can be piloted through a tether by anyone with the Spying Investigative ability.
  • Stable Time Loop: Creating the illusion of this is one way of avoiding unnecessary accumulation of paradox points, by way of avoiding obvious changes to established events.
  • Time Machine:
    • The autochron is TimeWatch's standard issue time machine, issued to agents because it balances portability and flexibility with ease of use. Once activated, the rod extends one metre to act as a set of handlebars. Holographic controls project from the control bar, and the operator sets the destination time and location with voice, touch, or prerecorded tether command. The device then extends a brilliant purple sphere around the operator and up to one adult-sized passenger, calculates coordinates, charges its chronal field, and clocks out.
    • Inspired by Poul Anderson's iconic Time Patrol stories, the time cycle is typically a wheelless scooter designed to hold two people. There are no seat belts and no canopy. The time cycle can fly, appear at precisely any location and any time, and requires no special key to activate. As a vehicle, its main weakness is that it's obviously anachronistic and can't easily be hidden.
    • Time sliders are time machines that transport people through time, but not through space (other than compensating for Earth's movement). A GM should only use them when most missions happen in a specific, bounded geographical space.
    • A wormhole projector creates a tunnel through space and time. While this method usually has particularly good special effects, it's not particularly flexible as a means of surreptitious travel, and you can't easily bring another projector through the wormhole it's creating.
  • Time Master: Ritual magic can pierce the barriers of time itself. Ancient shamans or magicians have plenty of opportunities to change the time stream, particularly if time travel isn't their only magical power. Unique individuals may also have the ability to time travel and teleport, whether as a mutation or as a super power.
  • Time Police: TimeWatch functions as this.
  • Translator Microbes: The translator instantly translates any historical language that TimeWatch linguists have investigated and instantly allows an agent to correctly speak that language as well, in an accent if desired. The translator can also translate written text, if they are in a known language and are legible. Some languages cannot be translated until the translator has gathered a sufficient sample of data: extremely obscure languages, prehistoric languages, alien languages, and unique languages from parallel timelines.
  • A True Story in My Universe: The Book of Changing Years is presented as a genuine in-world document, written by agents of TimeWatch.
  • Uplifted Animal: King Tusk was given vast intelligence by an alien technological device. Over several months, he can raise an elephant herd's intelligence with his very presence, permanently turning them far smarter and wilier than the humans who hunt them.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Alexandrians use their time travel technology to try and bring about their utopia. They believe the moral imperative forgives them for whatever loathsome acts they must commit to save their dying timeline and turn history onto a better, kinder path. When they need to, they're just as brutal and good at assassination as they are at anything else.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Some people want to save the world from various loathsome and reprehensible events, some human made and some natural, and it's natural that someone with a time machine is going to try and prevent some of these things from occurring. These tend to be painful missions for TimeWatch agents; who really wants to ensure an assassination of a beloved figure who time travellers just saved?

TimeWatch's alternate campaign frames provide examples of:

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    Chronal Horror 
  • Achilles' Heel: All vampires have a bane that they are particularly vulnerable to; they can only be badly hurt by direct sunlight or that bane. Many vampires suffer from traditional weaknesses (sunlight, grave dirt in the coffin, mirrors, garlic, strongly presented objects of faith) but not all. Good luck finding out.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Some monsters appear or manifest autonomously, but the majority of chronal horrors are summoned by cultists praying for their existence. Even a cinema or literary audience that truly believes in a monster can inadvertently draw it into existence.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: This campaign borrows themes from Night's Black Agents, The Esoterrorists and Trail of Cthulhu. It matches traditional Lovecraftian or gothic horror against the forces of the future. You are clinging desperately to hope, attempting to save the world but knowing that every time travel attempt weakens the veil between reality and the outer darkness just a little bit more. Every new incident makes you choose between saving lives and endangering reality. Resources are scarce, and you do whatever they can to help humanity hang on a little bit longer.
  • Demonic Possession: Some seemingly normal people are possessed by a denizen of Hell, or quite possibly somewhere worse. They corrupt the people and area around them, and delight in bringing suffering to the kind and gentle.
  • Teleport Interdiction: Chronal horrors play poorly with the delicate temporal mechanisms within an autochron. It varies unpredictably, but autochrons tend to fail at the worst possible time when one or more temporal horrors is within 16 kilometres. The closer to the horror, the less likely that time travel will work. This makes it simple for Agents to arrive, but hard for them to escape when they're being stalked.
  • Wretched Hive: Instead of the normal campaign's Citadel, in Chronal Horror games TimeWatch's HQ is located in a 24th-century skyscraper within a polluted, crime-ridden megalopolis, fitting the general attitude of despair.

  • Hidden Agenda Villain: No one really knows what the masters of TimeWatch really hope to achieve, sending agents out to reshape history.
  • The Illuminati: TimeWatch agents are actually the tools of a vast conspiracy dedicated to the creation of a new history: a carefully engineered cabal designed to control every nanosecond of reality from beginning to inevitable end. Call them the Ascended Masters or the Illuminati if you must name them. You've heard they're not even human. Regardless, they are the secret masters, and you work for them. No one really knows what they really hope to achieve, sending agents like you out to reshape history, but you don't need secrets to protect pleasant truths.
  • Obstructive Bureaucracy: In a traditional game, TimeWatch has a mild but detectable bureaucracy. In a Conspiracy game, that bureaucracy is huge and elaborate, with an army of agents, archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, technicians and support personnel all working in separate or competing departments to identify threats to the time stream and dispatch agents to repair them. In the best case scenario, those departments are working in parallel; in the worst, they are at odds, pushing competing agendas on the agents and their missions.
  • Who Shot JFK?: The assassination of John F. Kennedy is simply too strange to be coincidence: everyone knows there were too many moving pieces for it all to come down to a lone gunman. They are right to believe in a conspiracy, but are wrong to think it is something so mundane like the Soviets or Cubans. A critical turning point in history, 22 November 1963 is a magnet for time travellers with competing agendas, and thus is perhaps the single most manipulated and chronally unstable day in human history, a target for everyone from well-meaning Cold War historians to time travelling aliens hoping to end the US space program before it can truly begin. Even the Agents' tethers cannot provide a single set of established facts about what really happened.

  • Crossover: The Mythos campaign frame merges TimeWatch with Trail of Cthulhu and allows you to use ritual magic instead of technology to thwart Cthulhian horrors across history. Time travel requires soul travel and body possession, and fleeing your host may not be enough to spare you from the sanity-numbing horrors of the outer darkness.
  • Grand Theft Me: In Mythos, mental projection is the only method of time travel. By putting yourself in an altered mental state, you send your mind backward or forward in time to inhabit the body of another intelligent being. You have access to some of your host's memories and knowledge, but as your Stability drops, you can become confused as to which memories are your own and which belong to the host. In extreme cases, the host's mind can overcome yours and incorporate you into itself, leaving your own life but a dream or distant memory.
  • Sanity Meter: To properly represent a Lovecraftian world and roleplaying game, this campaign frame uses Sanity rules adapted from Trail of Cthulhu.

  • Trapped in the Past: A Stranded campaign maroons heroes from the future in the past (or vice versa), and focuses on fish-out-of-water roleplaying while using future technology to defeat enemies in past-tech locations.