Sunday, June 9, 2019

Adventures in the 4th Dimension

Art by Jim Holloway

TRAVEL to any place, any time, in this universe and beyond!

FIGHT in the midst of any battle, and change the outcome yourself!

SEE the greatest people in history. . . Caesar, Cleopatra, Leonardo — whomever you desire to meet!


So reads some of the copy on the bottom of the TIMEMASTER Role Playing Game boxed set.  Other copy includes a listing of contents:  “64-page TIMEMASTER™ Travelers’ Manual, 32-page Guide to the Continuum, 16-page exciting adventure, 140 colorful counters printed on both sides, 3 durable ten-sided dice, and 1 large, full-color map.”

Looking at the components in reverse order, the map is 20.5" × 27" and displays one-inch hexes.  One side is colored and the hexes are numbered.  This side is rather versatile; the scale is variable as are the features.  There are three keys that can be used:  an elevation key where the different colors indicate various elevations, a terrain key where colors indicate terrain features, and a second terrain key where the same colors indicate a different set of terrain features.  The other side is black and white and represents a location from the introductory adventure.  On this side, each hex represents five feet.

The dice are indeed durable and come in a patriotic assortment of red, white, and blue.

The counter sheet contains sixteen 'colorful' counters.  These are shown below.  The remaining 124 counters are colorful only in the sense that blue is a color.  The reverse side is printed in black and white.

With regard to the adventure, “exciting” is open to interpretation.  While the booklet is sixteen pages, four of them are devoted to describing the eight pre-generated characters.  Also, the last page is meant to be cut apart to represent trenches on the color map.  (The adventure, “Red Ace High,” takes place during World War I.)

Among other topics, the Guide to the Continuum devotes 3 – 4 pages to each of six settings:
  • Athens:  5th Century B.C.
  • Rome:  61 B.C. – 37 A.D.
  • Angevin England:  1154 – 1216
  • Tudor England:  1509 – 1603
  • Napoleonic France:  1804 – 1815
  • France, 1940 – 1944
The Travelers’ Manual contains ten chapters:
  • The Game (4 pages)
  • Welcome to the Corps (4 pages)
  • Characters (7 pages)
  • Basic Action (14 pages)
  • Heavy Weapons (6 pages)
  • Battles (4 pages)
  • Skills (10 pages)
  • Paranormal Talents (4 pages)
  • Tools of the Trade (2 pages)
  • The People You Meet (4 pages)
Pacesetter was established by TSR veterans in January 1984.  By the end of that year, Pacesetter had published Chill, Star Ace, and Timemaster ; three role-playing games that share a common system.  While the 'Original Design Concept' is credited to Gali Sanchez and Garry Spiegle, the 'Design' of Timemaster is attributed to Mark Acres; 'Additional Design and Development' is ascribed to Andria Hayday and Carl Smith.  In Space Gamer #75 (July/August 1985), Smith discussed some of the design philosophy behind Pacesetter's role-playing games:
     Our games are aimed at a wide audience.  Many roleplaying games either consciously or unconsciously parallel the demographics of D&D.  In addition to expanding our demographics, we wanted to include greater use of investigation and interaction in roleplaying, positive ethnic role models, and emphasize plot-oriented adventures.  We chose game themes which were fun and which filled market positions that were largely empty or at worst, inadequately filled.
     Pacesetter games emphasize using wits and not just brawn.  In fact, player characters who act rashly without thinking often run afoul of the law.  Too many games ignore skills and devices which prove useful in a gamer's hands such as impersonation, modelling, acting, and forgery.  Often games dwell on skills which are strictly male and combat-oriented.
Although aiming “at a wide audience” and having a professed desire to provide “positive ethnic role models,” all of the settings described in the Guide to the Continuum are nonetheless European.

Smith continued:
     Some Pacesetter systems appear too clean to the casual observer.  A game should have simple and elegant mechanics.  After all, more complex is not necessarily better.  Some gamers equate massive charts and tables with a detailed game system.  We achieve detail through multiple use of some charts and tables.  It is more difficult to design an economical game system which allows the referee to handle many situations with one set of mechanics than it is to design a score of different tables which handle as many different actions.  Games with too many tables often reflect that the designer did not work on the problem long enough to boil it down.
The fundamental mechanic for the Pacesetter system is a check.  “Checks are percent rolls that determine how an action turns out,” according to Chapter One of the Travelers’ Manual, “when the outcome is in doubt.”  A general check offers a binary outcome, either success or failure.  If the result of the roll is equal to or less than an established score, the character succeeds.  A specific check offers a range of success outcomes.  If the result of the roll is equal to or less than a target value, the amount of the difference is referenced on the Action Table is consulted.  There are five possible grades of success for combat checks and four possible levels with regard to skill or ability checks.  These 'grades' or 'levels' are identified by letter codes as shown below.

With regard to Timemaster, Smith stated:
     Timemaster is a different kind of roleplaying game appealing to the gamer who likes more reality with his particular fantasy.  In general, the player who enjoys historical fiction or wargames also enjoys TimemasterIt is a game of historical as well as speculative fiction aimed at a different segment of the science-fiction audience than Star Ace...
     In addition to the investigative parts of a Timemaster adventure, many scenarios include a mass combat where a player character can affect the outcome of a battle.  To facilitate mass battles, Timemaster counters [that do not represent individual characters] have movement and identification factors printed on them...
Each of the settings included in the Guide to the Continuum has a 'military summary' of mass combat rules.

Timemaster is currently a property of Goblinoid Games.  Hardcopy rules are available as a print-on-demand product and most of the original assortment of Timemaster publications are available in digital format.

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