Sunday, October 26, 2014

Time Travel in Timeship

Salvador Dali     The Persistence of Memory (detail)     1931

As with many games, the back of the Timeship box provides a description of what the box includes.  In brief, the stated contents are a rule book (with “THREE Time Capsule Adventure Episodes”), a set of maps, a pad of character sheets, and a Timelord Screen.  Dice are not mentioned, although two twenty-sided dice (numbered 0 – 9) are included.  More specifically, they are “coloured spheres of many facets” says Brennan's translation of the TIMESHIP techniques.  They are the “Greater Sphere of Color” and the “Lesser Sphere of White.”

According to the translation, “By our arts we have embodied in the Spheres energy sufficient for each time trip.”  Voyagers (i.e., players) must “engage upon the Rolling of the Spheres” prior to traveling in time.  Results of the Spheres indicate “units of the ENERGY.”  Each Voyager rolls the Spheres three times, generating 3 – 300 ENERGY quanta.  This is the Voyager's PERSONAL ENERGY.  (PERSONAL ENERGY is generated anew prior to each time trip.)  Expenditure of PERSONAL ENERGY is necessary to transport personal equipment through time, to engage in physical activity once you've reached your destination, and – according to page 7 – to “[r]eturn from a Time Capsule.”  (However, there is no further mention about ENERGY costs for returning.)  Additionally, if your PERSONAL ENERGY falls to zero, you die.

The PERSONAL ENERGY scores of all Voyagers in a party are added together to determine GROUP ENERGY.  Although GROUP ENERGY is calculated from PERSONAL ENERGY, they form separate stores of energy ENERGY.  Use of GROUP ENERGY does not diminish PERSONAL ENERGY and vice versa.  Voyagers travel through time via Gateways; each Gateway opens upon a distinct time and place.  Before Voyagers can travel through a Gateway, it must be “activated” through the expenditure of GROUP ENERGY.

What happens when a party lacks sufficient ENERGY to activate a Gateway?  Voyagers simply re-roll their PERSONAL ENERGY until they have enough!  Duh.  In fact, Brennan implies on page 21 that Voyagers can re-roll their PERSONAL ENERGY anyway.  So, how much ENERGY is required to activate any given Gateway?  The Timelord makes up a number.  The rules speculate as to how Voyagers might prepare themselves differently when faced with a high cost Gateway as opposed to a low cost Gateway, but there are no examples from which a Timelord might learn to calculate a reasonable amount.

(I would have given each Voyager an amount of PERSONAL ENERGY equal to 100 plus the result of a percentile dice Sphere roll, maybe even allowing a player Voyager to transpose the tens and units in order to get a higher amount.  I would have made the activation cost for a Gateway equal to 100 multiplied by the number of Voyagers, optionally increased or decreased by as much as 25% depending on the Timelord's estimation of the difficulty of the adventure Capsule.)

The Voyagers may acquire collective equipment with any GROUP ENERGY remaining beyond the Gateway activation cost.  There is an ENERGY cost for acquiring equipment Voyagers wish to have on their expedition.  There may be further costs involved for actually using equipment.  For instance, the Gateway ENERGY cost for a Cadillac is 50; it consumes an additional 25 ENERGY “per base unit of movement.”  (Don't bother asking what a “base unit of movement” is.)  Weapons have a BASIC ENERGY cost which is multiplied by the number of centuries difference between the weapons' century and the Gateway destination.  Therefore, taking a bazooka to the Battle of Hastings would cost 1,350 ENERGY (each shell would cost 225).

“Voyagers may take through a Gateway, without PERSONAL ENERGY expenditure, any item of equipment they may have, physically, in the TIMESHIP.”  Stated another way, whatever a player brings with him or her to the game gets a free pass through the Gateway.  Otherwise, there is an ENERGY cost for equipment.  A club has a cost of 3 ENERGY, a dagger has a cost of 2.  A chain-mail tunic costs 40 ENERGY while a “Viking horned helmet” costs 10.  Although Voyagers can wear their own clothing through a Gateway at no cost, PERSONAL ENERGY can be used to obtain “specialized clothing.”  A complete outfit of period clothing suitable for the ruling class has a cost of fifty PERSONAL ENERGY; an outfit suitable for peasants costs only three.  Additionally, Brennan provides a list of items that cost 2 PERSONAL ENERGY each.  Among them are:  a blanket, flea powder, a 5-day pack of provisions, a fire extinguisher, a pencil, and period money equivalent to one ounce of gold.

Every attack that a Voyager makes costs one point of PERSONAL ENERGY.  Also, whenever a Voyager “travels a certain number of feet, one point of PERSONAL ENERGY is expended.”  (I assume the Voyager is traveling under his or her own power.)  Apparently, movement rates vary “from Capsule to Capsule; and will be calculated by the Timelord in advance.”  Running doubles “the normal movement rate” and also doubles the PERSONAL ENERGY cost.  Voyagers with a greater than average Speed Physical Ability can spend more ENERGY to go faster.  On page 20, Brennan suggests that a PERSONAL ENERGY cost may be levied when Voyagers attempt other sorts of activity.  Specifically, he reveals an “unwritten rule” which, as a result of being revealed, becomes a written rule.
In point of fact, when I'm running a TIMESHIP session, my unwritten rule is:  'If it's physically possible, they can do it.'  Especially if they're prepared to expend PERSONAL ENERGY doing it...
To assist in determining probabilities, the following 'Anything Table' is presented on the Timelord Screen.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

More Comic Book Creatures

In a previous post, I supplied several images of unusual creatures from comic books.  Here are more specimens for your delectation, just in time for Halloween.  All of the referenced comic books are now in the public domain.

Strange Worlds #7; 1952, Avon
Periodicals; Art by Gene Fawcette

The lavender being with the antennae and tentacles is a 'xill-monster' from Planetoid 50.  They tend to become a bit unruly during “the season of their growth.”  To keep them in check, one must construct barriers of 'alurium' which – fortunately – is plentiful on that planetoid.

The redhead is a 'space-goddess' (you know the type), but that's another story...

Baffling Mysteries #9; 1952,
Ace Comics; Art by Lin Streeter

This entity is the vile result of “cross-breeding a South American vampire bat and a vulture.”  For those of you considering adopting one, be warned that this “...ugly creation must be fed raw blood and cannot live on anything else!”

The person responsible for creating the vulbat states, “It will so startle and shock the Ornithological Society, they'll have to give me the prize!”

I can't help thinking there's a flaw in that logic.

Undersea Agent #3; 1966, Tower Comics;
Art by Mike Sekowsky/Frank Giacoia
Panther Whales

“They're three times the size of whales!”

“And as ferocious as panthers!”

“Obviously they're some Miocene bred species that's been disturbed by the bomb tests...”


Cyclone Comics #1 (King Anthony feature);
1940, Bilbara Publishing Co.; Art by George Papp


Beneath the ice of the Arctic region, there is a land called Artica [spelled thus with one 'c'].  “Strange and savage animals roam its dense forests...”  The lord of Artica's jungles is the Beaked Tyros.

“Besides being a savage killer, the tyros has a hide that a sword cannot pierce...”

Note the four-sectioned claws.  Are those suckers on the 'palm'?

Weird Comics #9 (Blast Bennett feature);
1940, Fox Feature Syndicate; Art by ?

Tentacled Globes

Hailing from Planet Alpo, these beings are large enough to carry humans.

“The monster spits out huge tongues of flame!”  However, the most effective way to destroy them is to bury them beneath tons of lava.  Be certain to keep several tons handy.

Midnight Mystery #4; 1961, American
Comics Group; Art by Ogden Whitney

From the dark vastness of outer space, “Rankars are a metallic from of life.”  Specifically, they “are made of duron, an incredibly powerful metal not even found in your galaxy!”

As can be seen in the image, they have “icy breath” and are so heavy that they sink several feet into the ground with each step.

Alarming Tales #4; 1957,
Harvey Comics; Art by Jack Kirby


One would hope that Martian colonists could come up with a better name than “Cat-Thing.”  Alas, one would hope in vain.

Its appearance suggests experimentation (or an accident) resulting in a genetic melange.

Ghostly Weird Stories #122; 1954,
Star Publications; Art by Jay Disbrow

Arcturan Horror

“One of the most horrible creatures imaginable,” this feisty fellow managed to kill three men before being felled.

There may be more efficient ways to despatch the thing, but a “space-ax” has been known to work (providing you have three expendable men).

If you don't have a “space-ax,” you could try a more prosaic ax; it probably doesn't know the difference.

Super-Mystery Comics vol. 1 no. 5 (Captain Gallant
and his Mini-Sub feature); 1940, Ace; Art by ?


This scene takes place near “the South Sea island port of Maloa.”  Our hero – Captain Gallant – manages to kill it easily but is “sorry to have to spoil such a fine specimen.”

Upon first seeing this sea beast, Gallant thinks, “I've been wanting some of its eggs for years for an experiment.”

Slave Girl Comics #2; 1949, Avon Periodicals; Art by Howard Larsen

The Slimy Monster of the Black Mire of the Time before Time

Shown here in a life-or-death struggle with a giant, wild boar from the Isles beyond the Northern Seas, this monster was last seen in the Tower of Indecision (“built by those of the elder race”) in Zarkhana during the reign of Shala the Merciless.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

There Are No More Barriers!

So reads the first line on the back of the Timeship box – in a type larger than any other save for the title of the game.  “You are free to roam the ages,” reads the copy...
Journey from the days of the dinosaurs, to the mystics of the ancient world, to the glory of Napoleon.  If the past is not enough, adventure in the present with its political intrigue, and brushfire wars; or, for those more adventurous souls, you may transcend the present and visit the future where man's home is the universe, populated with all manner of strange and alien beings.
The Timeship makes all of this possible, but what is the Timeship?

The Timeship rule book has 48 pages, including covers.  Author Herbie Brennan uses fully three of those pages to disclose the 'background' of the Timeship.  Seeing as that the adventures (or 'time capsules') encompass half of the book, those three pages represent a significant amount of space that could have been used for rules or advice.  Instead, Brennan constructs a conceit that the Timeship is a method of time travel derived from earlier sources – much earlier.  (Note that in the book, 'Time Travel' is capitalized and TIMESHIP is spelled thus, with all capitals.)  Brennan presents himself as a translator of ancient scrolls (originating “somewhere between 5,800 and 5,600 b.c.” according to carbon dating) that are at “the centre of one of the greatest archaeological controversies of the present century.”  Written in “a particularly archaic form of Sumerian cuneiform,” Brennan supposes that the scrolls were copied from Sumerian tablets which may have been “as much as 40,000 years old.”

“There can be very little doubt,” Brennan states, “that the content of the TIMESHIP scroll manuscript points toward an extra-terrestrial origin.”  Brennan imagines that the alien Timeship culture launched an object into space with the intent of preserving the Timeship technique they developed.  This object eventually found its way to Ancient Sumer.  Brennan writes...
How the Sumerians came to understand these techniques, I do not know.  Perhaps some form of mechanical telepathy was involved.
So, the Timeship is not a physical object, it is a set of 'techniques'.  Presumably, the Sumerians chose to refer to these techniques as 'Timeship'.

Brennan does not claim that his 'translation' is entirely accurate.  Indeed, he takes care to mention that the scrolls are damaged and incomplete, the archaic nature of the script precludes definite interpretation, and the alien Timeship culture would likely have psyches different from humans.  Brennan provides a “practical approximation” and includes “certain additional material” resulting from experimentation.  Ultimately, he concedes that the Timeship techniques may not result in actual time travel (at least with regard to human perception) but nonetheless result in “an experience which many find fascinating, educational, virtually addictive and quite unique.”

Brennan sustains the conceit to the point of claiming that the presentation of the Timeship as a game is intentional.
Our experiments have shown that the best possible approach to the TIMESHIP is within a game context.  Such an approach avoids the initial tensions of other routes and establishes a frame of mind in which the central techniques have the greatest opportunity of operating effectively.
As discussed previously, engaging the Timeship necessitates a ritual.  Of course, a game – any game – is a ritual of a sort; some are more formal than others.

*** *** ***

Product placement in role-playing games?  The image to the left is one of the borders used on the front and back of the Timeship game box as well as the cover of the rule book (although not in color).  It demonstrates a progression from the ancient to the futuristic, indicating the variety of settings available in the game.  Our present, materialistic culture is represented by four readily recognized trademarks.  Kodak seems out of place among consumable products, but it fits within the theme of the entire border image which includes other information preservation artifacts such as cave paintings and hieroglyphics.

Rather than trademarks, I would have used an automobile, a television, a mushroom cloud, and a lunar lander.  I think my choices better represent our era (as of 1983) in terms of historical significance, but perhaps that wasn't the point.  Perhaps the point was to engage the audience.  Sure, a mushroom cloud and a lunar lander are symbolic, but they are not part of our daily lives.  The trademarks are emblems of our media-saturated civilization; they are embedded in our consciousness.  The viewer identifies them as his 'reality' – a single portion of the panoply of history.  Other times are no less real, merely apart.  However, with the Timeship, there are no more barriers – all times are 'real' and accessible.

Alternatively, I may have thought too much about this.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Great Ritual of the Timeship

In a room illuminated only be candlelight, four youths sat around a modest, square altar.  In a voice of grim determination, one of them spoke...

“I am the Maze Controller; the god of this universe I created; the absolute authority. Only I know the perilous course you are about to take. Your fate is in my hands...[setting description]...Thus warned, shall ye enter?”


“Let the journey begin...”
This is a scene from the TV movie Mazes & Monsters, broadcast near the end of 1982.  (Interestingly, this scene does not appear in Rona Jaffe's book upon which the movie is based.)

When I first played D&D, it was in the lunch room of my elementary school.  The only associated ritual was the Liturgy of the Pudding Cups.  (Admittedly, we performed the ritual with less than pious solemnity and, occasionally, ignored it altogether.)  The way role-playing games were presented in the media was embarrassing, but I was young.  For all I knew, some people actually played the game in candlelit rooms, reciting strange phrases, wearing robes and/or funny hats, and perhaps even roaming through tunnels.  No one I knew played that way and the adults who worked at the game store scoffed at the notion.  Still, there had to be some basis in truth, right?  Like I said, I was young.

While some role-playing game rulebooks provide mood-setting advice for sessions, Timeship – published the year after Mazes & Monsters was broadcast – actually incorporates a non-optional ritual as a component of play.  Among the preparations for the Great Ritual of the Timeship, lights should be dimmed and a lit candle placed on the players' side of the Timelord's screen.

Scenarios in Timeship are called Time Capsules.  Players (i.e., Voyagers) enter a Time Capsule via a Gateway.  Each Time Capsule has a drawing (approximately 8½” × 11”) that represents the Gateway and displays the scene in which the Voyagers will appear.

After the preparations are complete, the Timelord and the Voyagers engage in the following litany.

Timelord: Now begins the Great Ritual of the Timeship. Is it your will to travel through the timestream?

Voyagers: It is!

Timelord: Are your preparations made to your utmost satisfaction?

Voyagers: They are!

Timelord: Is your equipment ready?

Voyagers: It is.

Timelord: Are your souls at peace?

Voyagers: They are.

Timelord: Are you ready?

Voyagers: Aye!

Timelord: By my authority as Timelord, by the arts of the TIMESHIP, I hereby bind you within the timestream, subject to its laws!

Voyagers: We are so bound.

Timelord: Behold the Gateway!

The Voyagers now stare intently for a moment at the Gateway, then, closing their eyes briefly, attempt to imagine the scene depicted on the Gateway as if it existed before them in literal reality.

Timelord: Let the adventure begin!

Here ends the Great Ritual of the Timeship.

Timelord: Step through the Gateway!

Herbie Brennan, the author of Timeship, stated that he based the Great Ritual of the Timeship on “an esoteric technique known as pathworking.”  Is such a ritual necessary to play Timeship?  Technically, no; however, Brennan devotes one of the forty-eight pages of the rulebook to describing the ritual.  For Brennan, the ritual is an essential part of the game; it effects the transition from the reality of the players to the experience of the Voyagers.  Since the players are the Voyagers, this transition is perhaps more useful in Timeship than it would be in games where players adopt the roles of fictional entities.

*** *** *** 

Bonus Thoulish Trivia:  The television production of Mazes & Monsters was “fully sponsored” by Procter & Gamble.  In 1985, P&G 'retired' its logo (shown below) because they were unable to dispel rumors that it was a satanic symbol.

Coincidence?  I think the reader already knows the answer.

*** *** ***

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.