Sunday, June 30, 2019

Know Your Enemy

Every drama requires conflict and every role-playing game needs some sort of opponent for the player characters to confront.  In Timemaster, there are renegades – “veterans from the Time Wars who pirate their way through history to enjoy a long and pleasant life.”  More importantly, there is an alien race against which the Time Corps is at war.  In Back to the Future, a DeLorean is used for time travel.  In Timemaster, published a year before that movie was released, the bad guy aliens are called Demoreans.  Physically, Demoreans have four arms and their “skin is a kind of sickening orange color.”  The text indicates they are “runts,” but in illustrations they are shown to be the same size as humans.  (Maybe the depicted Time Corps agents are little?)

All Demoreans have the Paranormal Talent of Shape Shifting, meaning they can duplicate the appearance of “a conscious creature of human or greater intelligence.”  The victim must be kept alive in order to “act as a constant model.”  Demoreans typically keep the victim unconscious once they have assumed the victim's form.  If the victim wakes, “The Demorean must render the [victim] unconscious again within 12 hours or be forced into its natural form.”  A Demorean can only perform one Shape Shift before it has to rest for a period in its home Parallel (A-227) and time.  (Any Demorean is referred to as “it” because a Demorean “can be either male or female at will.”)

All Demoreans have telepathy which they can use to communicate with one another “over any distance in space.”  They also have the Paranormal Talent of Dimensional Travel.  This allows them “to travel through time and across the Parallels.”  They “can carry absolutely nothing with them when using this PT” and once a Demorean uses this talent to travel to another Parallel, its next use of Dimensional Travel must be to return to its home Parallel.  Aside from the above talents that all Demoreans possess, there are other talents any given Demorean may have.  For instance, Domination “allows a Demorean in human form to slowly obtain mental and psychological mastery over a human being.”  The aptly named Demoralize talent permits a Demorean to reduce a victim's Willpower, causing the victim to feel “mentally weakened and humiliated.”

The Demoreans “seek to change our history enough to bend our Parallel towards theirs, toward a destiny of their own choosing.”  The Travelers' Manual informs us that, “Presumably, they hope to control us, becoming rulers over all things in our universe.”  Presumably.  This means we don't necessarily know the motivations of the Demoreans.  Maybe, just maybe, the Demoreans are engaged in what they consider to be self-defense.  A glimpse into history might easily leave the impression that humans can be violent.  Who knows?  Perhaps humans from another Parallel attacked the Demoreans.  Perhaps they were attacked by renegades.  Contact with Demoreans is invariably hostile, so it's understandable that the Time Corps' knowledge of the Demoreans is limited.

Apparently, the Demoreans are obsessed with perfection.
Demoreans believe that everything that was, is and ever will be is part of what they call 'the Great Oneness.'  That's not so strange a belief.  The nasty side is this:  The Great Oneness is perfect, and anything that isn't perfect has to either be made perfect, so it's part of the Great Oneness, or destroyed, so it doesn't mess up the perfection of everything else.
Evidently, “The Demoreans' goal is to 'perfect' our Parallel – that means changing it until it's just like theirs, until our history matches theirs.”  The Demoreans attempt to alter history in order “to bring about large, monolithic, totalitarian states or empires, which they can then secretly control or manipulate.”  According to “intelligence reports and field experience,” the Demorean “strategic objectives” are currently:
  • Eradication of the Time Corps – There are three lines of attack:  direct, indirect, and attrition (i.e., “the overtaxing of Time Corps resources by a constant series of seemingly random penetrations...”)
  • Establishment of Totalitarian States – “The more regimented and totalitarian a society becomes, the easier it is for Demoreans to influence that society by controlling a few of its key individuals.”
  • Destruction of Cultural Achievements – “Demoreans perceive cultural achievements, particularly great art, music, and literature, as deadly threats.”
So, you have imperfect humanity which needs to be made perfect or destroyed.  Why bother with numerous, complex time-travel plots with uncertain effects when you can just go to the dawn of humanity and kill everybody?  This is hardly a novel concept.

One-time Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork assists with the annihilation of humanity.
If the Demoreans balk at genocide, they could set themselves up as gods over prehistoric humans and thereafter carefully control history.  However, given their obsession with perfection, if a Demorean plot fails, they don't try to salvage or reimplement the plot.  “Any plan that ultimately fails is judged imperfect,” we learn, “An imperfect plan should not be repeated.”  (emphasis in original)  Therefore – although not mentioned in the rules – it's possible the Demoreans tried genocide and prehistoric religion but the schemes didn't work out.

Since Demoreans are fixated on perfection, newborns “who are 'imperfect' by Demorean standards are 'assimilated.'”  We are told that “assimilated” is a euphemism for being “turned into food for the others.”  Assuming they avoid the fate of being comestible, Demoreans mature through seven stages of thirty years each:  Child, Nurturer, Laborer, Technician, Military Service, Minor Official, and Theocrat (Priest).  After three decades as a theocrat, each Demorean chooses from among three options:  it can become a time agent, it can enter the Law-Giver lottery, or it can be assimilated.  “Law-Giver” is the highest Demorean official; one lucky Demorean is randomly selected to be Law-Giver from those who enter the lottery.  All of the Demoreans not selected are assimilated.

The Timetricks supplement states “there are approximately 40 billion Demoreans on Parallel A-227” and “this number stays relatively stable.” It further says, “At any one time, one-seventh of this number, or about 5.7 billion, are in the seventh stage of Demorean existence, and hence potential time agents.”  Of this number, “60% voluntarily submit to assimilation” and 30% enter the Law-Giver lottery.  However, we are not informed as to how often this lottery occurs.  So, the remaining 10% (about 570 million) become time agents.  Yet for every field agent, “nine others are required to instruct, support, regulate, administrate, and report on that agent.”  So, “57 million are actually active field agents.”  At any given time (so to speak), half of the field agents are engaged in planning.  As a result, “the Demoreans have in the field, engaged in active operations, only about 29 million agents...”

Demoreans “don't believe in medicine.”  Should a Demorean agent be seriously wounded, it is by definition imperfect.  Such a Demorean is tortured to death, then used as food.  Some Demoreans have a sufficient sense of self-preservation that, when wounded, they “surrender and give information in exchange for medical care and life in a Time Corps cell.”  Even though most of the Time Corps' “knowledge of Demorean life comes from defectors,” we learn...
Time Corps Regulation 2 specifically states that Demoreans should be destroyed.  Of course, it is allowable to keep a Demorean alive in the field for a short time for purposes of gathering information.  Generally, such Demoreans should be destroyed once their usefulness to the mission has ended.
Given that Time Corps operatives are outnumbered almost a hundred to one by Demorean agents, the strategy of reacting to incursions and refusing to take prisoners is untenable.  Yet the rules don't acknowledge this.  Logically, the way to gain an advantage over the Demoreans is through their agents who surrender.  Not only do they reveal important information, the potential exists to brainwash indoctrinate them and have them work on behalf of the Time Corps.  They can possibly sow dissension among the ranks of the Demoreans by exploiting the sense of self-preservation they are known to have.  Perhaps they could even cause individuals to doubt the perfection of Demorean civilization.  Eventually, the Time Corps might be well served by kidnapping “imperfect” Demorean infants before they are processed as food.  These could then be instilled with the ideals of the free races and trained to infiltrate Demorean society.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Time Corps

TIMEMASTER™ takes place in the Continuum.  In fact, the Timemaster equivalent of a Game Master is the Continuum Master – otherwise called “CM.”  We learn that the Continuum is...
     ...something far greater than any planet, any galaxy, any place.  The Continuum is every place at all times.  Earth and her history are no more than a tiny strand, barely discernable amidst its greatness.
     A universe includes planets, stars, and galaxies – all that we can reach without time-travel.  But that universe also has a history, and when we add this fourth dimension, the universe becomes a Parallel.  A Parallel is only one universe and its history.  There are many Parallels, and all Parallels make up the Continuum.
Parallels are identified by a letter and number code. The Parallel to which the Time Corps belongs, for instance, is called T-0.  (Actually, there are at least two other Parallels with their own Time Corps, but the player characters are part of the T-0 Time Corps.)  There are four categories of Parallels (T = Twin Parallel to T-0; M = Moderately different from T-0; R = Radically different from T-0; A = Alien to T-0).

Some Parallels are closely related to one another; if a historical event is altered on one Parallel, the other Parallels may be affected.  We learn, “Parallels M-1 and M-6 have a close relationship to T-0, and must be protected to maintain the integrity of T-0.”  In Parallel M-1, “many of T-0 Earth’s favorite historical fictions (such as The Three Musketeers, The Last of the Mohicans, Ivanhoe) are in fact reality.”  In Parallel M-6, “the poetry of Homer is the basis of reality.” Does that mean the Greek gods are real in Parallel M-6?  Yes, it does.

In T-0, the first time-travel machine was successfully tested on May 11, 7051.  Thereafter,
     Each of the major galactic powers obtained these machines.  Unfortunately, the governments began to see time travel as a weapon.  With these new devices, they could attempt to “erase” important events in the past in order to destroy or dominate their neighbors.  In 7054, the Time Wars broke out, beginning almost 100 years of chaos.  Whole cultures were destroyed, and many of man's worlds were reduced to Stone Age technology.  Several alien allies suffered the same fate.  Finally, all those involved realized that the wars were intolerable.
The Time Wars concluded in 7154 when the three major powers (i.e., “the Empire, the Federated Alliance, and the Confederation of Non-Aligned Worlds”) signed the Temporal Treaty.  An addendum to the treaty established the Time Corps for the purpose of restoring the history of T-0 to how it was before the effects of the Time Wars.  However, the activities of renegades – veterans of the Time Wars – and aliens provide the Time Corps with an ongoing mission of preserving the Parallels.
     The governing body of the Time Corps, the Time Corps Council, consists of 100 members, 33 from each of the major galactic powers, plus a Chairman elected by the other 99 members.  The Council has complete authority over all Time Corps activities: it establishes all top level policies, it hires and fires, it promotes, orders or cancels missions, and generally disposes of the resources of the Corps.
There are various “advisory bodies” that support the Council.  These bodies employ about five thousand personnel.  Most of the day-to-day authority over the Time Corps is entrusted to the Committee of Seven; consisting of the Council Chairman and two Council members from each of the three major power delegations.

The Operations Branch of the Time Corps contains about three hundred thousand agents.  The exact number at any given point “may fluctuate by more than 10,000 . . . given deaths, retirement, and variable success at recruiting.”  For each agent, there are seven “active workers” in support roles.  As such,
     The total size of the Time Corps at any given moment is about 8 × 300,000, or 2,400,000 active personnel.  When you add a few miscellaneous political activities (and the agents to perform them) onto the periphery of the Corps’ concerns, the total grows to about 2.5 million.
The Operations branch includes several divisions.  Player Characters belong to the Earth Specialty Division, the largest division in the Operations Branch.  Other divisions include:  the Emniyet and Shamba Specialty Divisions (the homeworlds of two alien races from Star Ace ), the Minor Planetary Specialty Divisions (responsible “for the history of the 18,000 known worlds and their native races in the three partially explored galaxies”), the Magical Parallel Specialty Division (“These agents tend to devote most of their recreational or leave time to arcane, esoteric studies, and their conversation is often so bizarre that it would be severely disturbing to most other agents”), Offensive Operations Specialty Divisions, and the InterParallel Tactical Command for Temporal Realignment (“the most exclusive, elite force in the Time Corps”).  Other branches in the Time Corps include:  Intelligence, Historical Research, Research and Development, Quartermaster, and Administration.

Player characters are recruited from various points in history.  They may have “a date of birth in the  range from 3500 B.C. to 7171 A.D.” and “should be between the ages of 21 and 50.”  (“Younger characters have more flexibility in adventures, since agents cannot go on missions during their exact 'native time' – the time in which they lived before joining the Corps.”)  We are told, “If you really want to play a sword-swallowing dwarf or a florist from the Saharan desert, go right ahead.”  Yet the best characters “are interesting – but not bizarre – and typical of their time period.”

There are ten ranks that Time Corps agents can have.  In ascending order, they are:  Trainee, Probationer, Agent, Operative, Veteran, Lifer, Sentry, Time Guard, Protector, and Timemaster.  Each rank has ten grades, 0 - 9.  Player characters begin at Trainee/0.  With each successful mission, an agent's grade increases by one; after ten successful missions, an agent is promoted to the next rank.  However, “The highest standing in the Time Corps is Timemaster, grade 10,” suggesting that there are eleven grades in the Timemaster rank.  “Usually, agents retire from the field at that point, and become leaders . . . at headquarters.”  We learn that, “at Lifer rank and beyond, the Corps begins to offer a virtual Fountain of Youth.”

Finding appropriate recruits for the Time Corps can be difficult.  First,
     The potential recruit should possess either an outstanding attribute, or a combination of higher than average attributes, which would make him or her a valuable member of a mission team. Ideally, a recruit should be highly skilled at interpersonal relations and have the physical capability for intensive combat training; however, it is unusual to find such people.
Even so, “The potential recruit must be relatively insignificant to the history of his or her Parallel of origin.”  Player characters begin the game with two paranormal talents:  Paranormal Memory (“allows characters to remember what 'should' have happened”) and one other of their choice.  As a result, “Persons with no capacity for paranormal talents cannot be recruited.”  Also, “The potential recruit must be trustworthy.”

Beyond the factors listed above,
     The identity of the potential recruit must be established beyond any reasonable doubt. In practice, this means the potential recruit should be stunned and searched carefully for marks or scars, preferably by an agent with Disguise skill . . . In addition, the potential recruit should be probed telepathically at least twice.
During the recruitment pitch, “Any indication . . . that the potential recruit has strong emotional ties to people or places in his own time should result in immediate termination of recruitment, unless the potential recruit is about to die anyway.”  (emphasis in original)  Upon recruitment, the enlistee is taken to 7192 (the year player characters begin to work for the Corps) without any opportunity to inform friends and loved ones of his or her choice.  Once in 7192, the character travels in time only as a part of a mission.  “Trainees always get three days' leave after every mission,” but such leave may only be spent on Earth in 7192.

In this far-flung era, we learn that “the planetary population has been stabilized at only 2 billion.”  Aside from population control, there is “weather and climate control, world-wide police control, and uniform health and safety standards for resort areas; it's all about the same anywhere on the planet.”

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.