Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Player Character in Timeship

Signed by “C. A. Millan”

Timeship is one of those role-playing games where players are expected to portray themselves.  Since players are not adopting roles, it is more of a 'hypothetical situation' game than a 'role-playing' game.  However, 'role-playing' has fewer syllables and the Timelord certainly adopts roles during the course of the game.

Defining famous real or fictional people in terms of a specific game system can be entertaining if not instructive.  Yet famous people tend to be famous for a reason, usually due to one or several accomplishments.  Such accomplishments are typically the basis for translating a person into a set of game statistics.  Most players, however, are not famous and their accomplishments are of a more modest nature.  More to the point, many players (your humble host included) are not well-suited to a life of adventure.  After all, escapism is a major reason players turn to role-playing games.  Players are more-or-less “average individuals” most of the time and “average” is that which they seek to escape.  In a player-as-character game, the escapism takes the form of the extra-ordinary circumstances of the adventures in which the player characters partake.

I am not opposed to the notion of players portraying themselves.  (I once ran a campaign where some of the players played themselves as described in Hero System terms.)  The conceit can be entertaining in ways playing a different persona cannot.  I merely opine that quantifying players as characters can be difficult; especially so in achieving an objective, 'realistic' representation.  Depending on the game system, there may be few means to distinguish 'average' characters from one another.  On the other hand, depending upon gamemastering style, codification of players-as-characters may be of little importance; interaction may supercede game mechanics.

Nowadays, we have tools that can help define our game-selves; in the old school era, we were left to our own devices.  In Villains & Vigilantes, players are encouraged to play themselves.  This requires the gamemaster to assign scores on a 3 - 18 scale to Strength, Endurance, Agility, Intelligence, and Charisma.  “Smaller people tend to be more agile than larger ones” and “accept high grades in school as evidence [of Intelligence], but not as proof” are examples of the meager guidelines provided to assist with this task.

It's possible to learn something about a role-playing game through an examination of its character sheets.  Of course, in Timeship, players are represented by themselves – not 'characters'.  Therefore, Timeship has 'Personal Data Sheets' instead of character sheets.  For the reader's edification, an official Timeship Personal Data Sheet is presented below.

There is no name field.  It's easy enough to scrawl a name at the top of the sheet but a virtue of playing one's self is that one is intimately familiar with one's name.  However, the most prominent portion of the sheet is the 'To Hit Numbers By Weapon Type' section.  (Readers may recall that Man, Myth & Magic also uses 'To Hit Numbers' and they function similarly in Timeship.)  All Weapon Types have a default THN of 60; meaning that the result of a percentile dice roll must equal or exceed 60 in order to hit an opponent.  Players can reduce the THN for specific Weapon Types by distributing (at most) forty points.  No THN may be reduced by more than fifteen points; however, players may allocate up to thirty more points among Weapon Types (including Weapon Types that had previously reduced by the fifteen point maximum).  There is a cost for the (up to) thirty point allocation; every reduction point for a given Weapon Type requires a point be added to another Weapon Type's THN (thereby decreasing the player's chances to hit).  With the (up to) thirty point allocation, no THN may be raised or lowered in excess of ten points and “[n]o less than 3 points may be added to a single category so long as 3 or more points remain to be allocated.”

The next section of the sheet deals with tracking “energy” and the third – and largest – section is reserved for an inventory of “Weapons and Equipment.”  The position of “Physical Abilities” on the sheet is marginal (literally).  Perhaps they were an afterthought.  The instructions for filling out the Personal Data Sheet are presented in their entirety on the back cover of the Timeship book.  The section about Physical Abilities consists of a single paragraph.  The 'Speed' Physical Ability (sometimes called 'Speed Factor') is discussed in the parts of the rules having to do with movement and combat.  However, none of the other Physical Abilities are even listed in the rules, much less described.

So, the Personal Data Sheet identifies the Physical Abilities as:  Speed, Endurance, Intelligence, Strength, Dexterity, and Agility.  Intelligence is not typically grouped with 'physical' characteristics and – in a players-as-characters game – player intelligence would be manifest; it need not be expressed in game terms.  Anyway, each Physical Ability starts at a value of fifty.  Unlike THN, rolls that regard Physical Abilities succeed when the result is less than or equal to the ability value.  Players have up to fifty points to allocate among the Physical Abilities without restriction (beyond “an honest and sincere evaluation”).  The sheet also lists 'Running Ability' and 'Jumping Ability' in the same area as the Physical Abilities but they are derived attributes according to the “Time Lord Screen.”  (Timelord is usually treated as one word.)  Running Ability is the average of Speed and Endurance while Jumping Ability is the average of Speed, Strength, and Agility.


  1. I've been using the opening sequence of Time ship as a tool to focus my memory. The opening description of the timeship as an artifact actually works as a meditational tool!!

  2. I've been using the opening sequence of Time ship as a tool to focus my memory. The opening description of the timeship as an artifact actually works as a meditational tool!!