Sunday, July 21, 2019

Meet the Trainees

“Red Ace High,” the introductory adventure included with the Timemaster boxed set, provides eight pre-generated characters.  Original characters may be played; however, the pre-gens “are specially designed for” the adventure.  By examining these characters, we see how the game's designers intended beginning characters to be crafted.

Much of the art in Timemaster consists of woodcut illustrations from the Dover Pictorial Archive.  Given the time travel theme, this is perfectly acceptable.  However, the quality of the character portraits varies to a distracting degree.

Alan Anderson
(Date of Birth:  May 18, 1964)  Anderson's “good grades and athletic ability in high school, combined with his experience flying the family crop-duster, made [him] a natural choice for appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy.”  Anderson's listed age is 20, so he must have been recruited by the Time Corps before he completed his studies at the Academy.  In any event, his elective skills are Pilot and Martial Arts.  (All trainees start with four skills:  A specialty in the regional history of the trainee's pre-recruitment life, use of the Time Corps stunner, and two elective skills.)  Each character has two paranormal talents; one is Paranormal Memory and the other is chosen.  (Paranormal Memory “allows characters to remember what 'should' have happened in history after history has been changed.”)  Anderson's chosen talent is Memory Restoration which “allows agents to 'restore'  the memory of a historical character 'remembers' what he or she is 'supposed' to remember.”  It also causes the subject to forget any time travel shenanigans to which he or she was exposed.

Dmitri Yurovich Boruskov
(Date of Birth:  March 23, 1881)  At the age of 35, Boruskov was recruited by the Time Corps in October, 1916.  (We are not told if these are Julian or Gregorian dates.)  After enlisting in the Tsarist army, “he saw action during the Russo-Japanese war of 1905.”  He managed to survive the Battle of Tannenberg in 1914.  Finally, he participated in the Brusilov Offensive in 1916.  Boruskov “retains a strong dislike for Germans in uniform and officers of any nationality.”  This might be problematic during the course of the introductory adventure.  Anyway, Boruskov's elective skills are Long Barreled Gun and Machine Gun.  His second Paranormal Talent is Time Shift.  We learn that, “Characters with this talent can 'shift' the time around them back to the beginning of the prior round.” [original emphasis]

Elaine Desmond
(Date of Birth:  June 27, 1954)  Desmond “earned an academic scholarship to Penn State, where she majored in English literature.”  Because “academic life proved too tame for her,” Desmond discontinued her efforts to obtain a doctorate.  (Was she expecting the study of English literature to be anything other than tame?)  Because she is a fictional African-American, she is naturally “street-wise.”  She eventually became a pilot, so one of her skills is Pilot.  As a result of Desmond being “a semi-pro class [softball] pitcher,” the Time Corps taught her the Grenade skill.  Her second Paranormal Talent is Adaptation, which allows characters “to become social 'sponges,' absorbing all the intangibles of the culture and lifestyle around them.”  They can “soak up sights, sounds, manners, customs – things that natives to a culture may not notice until they are missing.”

Sarah Little-Bear
(Date of Birth:  July 17, 1868)  We are told that Little-Bear “could perform the typical duties of an Apache wife...”  This statement implies that Little-Bear is an Apache and that she was married before she was recruited.  No comment is made concerning the fate of her husband or any children they may have had.  She “compares the Corps' secret struggle against the Demoreans to her own people's struggle against the white man; to Sarah, the two are very much alike.”  Little-Bear's elective skills are 'Dagger/Knife (melee)' and Stealth.  Her second Paranormal Talent is Telepathic Probe, which allows a character to “probe the mind of another character and establish that character's true identity.”  We read that, “Agents often use this talent in the field to discover Demorean or renegade infiltrators.”

Ferdinand Rivera
(Date of Birth:  October 17, 1480)  Rivera is the oldest of the trainees, both in terms of his date of birth and his age relative to the other trainees.  Rivera's Strength score is 80, the highest possible value.  The formula for determining Basic Ability values is:  20 + (2 × 3d10), for a range of 26 – 80.  Rivera “took part in the Cortez expedition to Mexico,” but the “Time Corps recruited him from the year 1520, just before Cortez overthrew Montezuma.”  Rivera's elective skills are Long Barreled Gun and Sword.  His second Paranormal Talent is Ignore Pain.  Normally, when a character suffers a critical wound, he or she must attempt a Willpower check.  If failed, he or she cannot engage in further activity until he or she receives medical treatment.  With successful use of the Ignore Pain talent, a character can forgo post-critical wound Willpower checks.

Deborah Schwarz
(Date of Birth:  December 18, 1959)  Schwarz “was born to an American Jewish family who emigrated to Israel in the early 1950s.”  We learn that “she joined a kibbutz and was soon recognized as a natural leader.”  Also, “The wars and terrorism that plagued the Middle East motivated her to study the history and cultures of the region...”  Her Historical Specialty is described as “Israel and the Middle East, 1859-1974.”  However, this would seem to be in error.  Having been born in 1959 and recruited at age 25, the time range should extend to 1984.  Her elective skills are Long Barreled Gun and Military Leadership.  Her second Paranormal Talent is Significance Sensing, which “allows characters to sense how important an unknown NPC or event is to history.”

Konrad von Streicher
(Date of Birth:  November 19, 1730)  When the Time Corps recruited him at age 30, von Streicher had attained the rank of captain in the forces of Frederick the Great.  Von Streicher is tied with Schwarz in having the highest Luck  value (50) among the trainees.  Among other uses, a successful Luck roll allows a character to survive when, “according to all other rules of the game, the character should be dead.”  Only player characters have Luck.  Also like Schwarz, his elective skills are Long Barreled Gun and Military Leadership.  Von Streicher's second Paranormal Talent is Telepathic Sending.  This talent permits a character “to send a short message of no more than 10 words per round to another character” at any distance.

Amanda Weston
(Date of Birth:  September 6, 1934)  We learn that, “Her family's wealth and position enabled her to study medicine in both England and France during the 1950s.”  Although Weston is the only child of a wealthy family, she “has remarkable and selfless concern for the welfare of others.”  Weston has the highest Agility of any of the Trainees.  Her elective skills are Medical and Pilot.  Weston's second Paranormal Talent is Ignore Pain, just like Rivera above.  Depending upon how well a character succeeds with an Ignore Pain check, the effect can last from as little as one minute to a maximum of twelve hours.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Laws of Time Travel

The Time Corps is not beholden to the dictates “of an outside government.”  However, the corps is subject “to the greatest force of all: Nature.”  With regard to Nature, Commander Watkins claims, “She binds us within the laws of the Continuum, and we must obey her to survive.”  As far as time travel is concerned, Nature enforces the four basic laws described below.

The Law of Identity:  A time traveler cannot co-exist in the same time and Parallel as his or her past self.  Any attempt to do so will cause the traveler to “suffer the dreaded 'loop trap.'”

For example, let's say you put on your best Castleton T-shirt and go back in time exactly 242 years prior to the publication of this post.  You observe the Battle of Hubbardton and return to the present.  You had such a good time, you decide to go back.  “Instantly upon arrival,” we learn, “you begin to relive your first trip.”  You have the same experience as you had before, making the same decisions, even to the extent of returning to the present and then going back to 1777.  This continues ad infinitum.  Technically, you don't realize you are in a time loop, so “you can never break the loop.”  However, “another time-traveler can pull you from this horror, provided he knows your location.”

The Timetricks supplement introduces a device called a 'Loop Trap Avoidance Field Generator' which allows an agent to circumvent this law to an extent.  With a looper (as it is called) a person may “jump into a Parallel at a time when he’s already there, and take any actions he wants, including talking to himself.”  With regard to a looper, “there is a 50% chance the thing will fail, which would involve the user in a loop trap.”

The example in the Travelers' Manual assumes the traveler goes back to the same time and place.  What if, after your Hubbardton expedition, you check out the re-capture of Fort Ticonderoga and inadvertently stay longer than you intended.  On July 7, are you automatically teleported to Vermont to relive that prior experience?  In another scenario, what if you wanted to hang out with Guillaume Coustou (the Younger) during the week prior to his death and you try to arrive in Paris while the Battle of Hubbardton is being fought?  Do you instead wind up in Vermont without any knowledge of your intent to visit Coustou?  So many questions...

The Law of Preservation:  'Nature' attempts to minimize the effects of changes to a timeline.
For instance, if Abraham Lincoln is killed while very young, someone else a lot like Lincoln may be born, elected President, even assassinated in 1865.  Unfortunately, the more severe the change, (or series of changes) the less likely the timeline is to recover.
This law addresses the grandfather paradox:  a traveler's “own actions will never result in his or her non-existence in the future.”  No matter hard you try, you cannot cause the death of one of your ancestors.  One supposes that, once your parent is conceived, it is possible for you to dispose of the appropriate grandfather.  Of course, “Nature does nothing to prevent another time-traveler from killing off your ancestors.”

The Law of the Time Barrier:  Not all points in the future are accessible.  The point at which no future travel is possible is the Time Barrier.  For Parallel T-0, the barrier is at A.D. 7192.  However, the barrier constantly moves forward.  “With every breath, every second, new time becomes a reality,” we read, “and the barrier advances.”  'Standard Dating System' (abbreviated SDS) refers to the passage of time as the T-0 Time Barrier moves forward.  As one spends time in the past, time continues to flow at Time Corps HQ.  One hour spent in the past of T-0 equates to the passage of one hour at Time Corps HQ.  However, the time flow may be faster or slower in other Parallels.  For instance, on Parallel R-17 . . .
. . . the rate of time flows considerably faster, agents on that Parallel experience or feel the passage of three hours, while only one SDS hour passes at Time Corps HQ.  Similarly, there are Parallels where time flows much more slowly than on T-0; on these Parallels, a full SDS day can elapse while you’re ordering a cup of coffee in a restaurant. [emphasis in original]
The Law of Death:  The death of a time-traveler cannot be prevented by traveling to the past and altering events.  “We do not know the reasons why,” the Travelers' Manual states, “we can only guess that it stems from the nature of time-travel itself.”

The Timetricks supplement posits an example.  Two agents, Jack and Flavius, travel back in time on a mission.  Upon reaching their destination, they find a note written by Jack.  According to the note, Flavius will be killed twelve hours hence.  After said death, Jack travels to two hours prior to the time he and Flavius arrive.  He then leaves the note.  “Standard Corps courtesy requires that when an agent dies,” we learn, “someone hop pastward to let him know his time is just about up.”  Upon learning of his impending and immutable demise, Flavius opts to “abort [his] mission and return to HQ, where [he] can enjoy certain special facilities until the hour of death arrives.”  It doesn't matter that Flavius avoids the time and place of his murder, it is ordained that he die.  Presumably, Jack could travel back and eliminate the person who kills Flavius before he kills Flavius, but it doesn't matter – Flavius is doomed.  We learn that:
Every Operations Division of the Corps maintains a small hospice facility for the care of agents who know they are about to die.   As a general rule, agents who report to the hospice facility may have their every whim granted.  Psychological counselling is also available for those whose expected life span is greater than a few hours.
Instead of utilizing the hospice facilities, an agent scheduled to die is permitted to enjoy “recreational” time travel.  This means an agent can take a one-way trip to the destination of his or her choice to live out the rest of his or her time.  He or she is “obligated to observe all normal mission precautions up to the time of his death.”  Otherwise, the agent is free to do anything he or she wants – “the Corps figures that at that point, you’ve earned about whatever you can get from this old Continuum.”

Now, if I was a Demorean, I would be inclined to leave notes for Time Corps agents indicating the ensuing demise of one or more of those agents.  Perhaps, when it is realized that the agent really isn't slated to die, the Time Corps can relay a countermanding note.  Yet, by then, the damage to morale would be done.  How could an agent be certain that any given death note – or countermanding note – is legitimate?