Monday, December 2, 2013

New Acquisition, circa 1984:
Time & Time Again (Time Travel RPG)

I love when I pick up something old and moderately obscure for next to nothing. Friday morning's find is Timeline Ltd.'s time-traveling RPG Time & Time Again. Timeline Ltd. is the company behind The Morrow Project, the RPG in which players rebuild after WWIII.

The first thing that struck me about T&TA is that game mechanics don't start until exactly halfway through Book I (Book I includes the following: Temporal Physics, Bureau of Temporal Affairs, World Governement, Character Generation, Armed and Unarmed Combat, Skills, and Voltageur's Tales). Literally, on the right-hand page on the spread where you see the staples, the game mechanics begin.

The first half of Book I deals with the background on the setting, including an account of the political and military events of the late 80s and early 90s (written in 1984; have I mentioned my fondness for early 80s near-future predictions where the U.S. and U.S.S.R. are the two superpowers?), an overview of "time translation" and the use of time travel, an overview of the The World Government (the former United Nations had failed its purpose), and information about The Bureau of Temporal Affairs where legions of paramilitary Votigeurs (a name taken from a type of Napoleonic skirmish unit) are sent on time travel missions. There is a lot of care taken in the reasoning behind the game's time translation methods to do as much as possible to eliminate the paradoxes that plague time travel fiction across the board (e.g., theories as to why the past can't be changed but the future can, rules for meeting one's self, "science" to explain why you can't be accidentally transported inside another object, etc.).

Voltigeur's undertake a variety of missions, including: 1) initial contact (with cultures), 2) follow-up (after a contact mission), 3) observance, 4) escort, 5) rescue, 6) sojourn (dangerous missions of observance and learning in "bad times" where little contact is maintained; e.g., during the plague), and 7) eradication. That last one is the most interesting to me. In a game where changing past events should be theoretically impossible, there are factions attempting to change the past anyway. Eradication missions send Voltigeurs to deal with these troublemakers. Honestly, other than that last mission type, the majority of the time travel in the game is educational in nature (the World Government is also responsible for being a fulcrum of academic learning). Although the focus on time travel seems to be focused on the past, travel to the future is possible as well.

This brings us to the staples in Book I, and the second thing that struck me about T&TA... the game mechanics use a d200 system. Yes! A d200 system! The book suggests three ways to achieve a result from 1-200:
1) a d20 numbered 0-19 and a d10 numbered 0-9
2) a d20 numbered 1-20 and a d10 (requires subtracting 1 from every d20 roll)
3) two d20s numbered 1-20 (requires subtracting 1 from each of the d20 rolls)
This d200 system doesn't seem to facilitate anything that couldn't be done equally as well using a d100 system. So I have to ask, "Uh... why?" My guess is because they were trying to do use the Chaosium system without obviously using the Chaosium system. Welbo (a fan The Morrow Project) tells me some editions of The Morrow Project directly reference Chaosium's BRP system.

So if the d200 thing wasn't enough, "structure points/blood points" are divided by percentages into 12 total body parts. The 19% given to each leg includes sub-percentages for the thigh, calf, foot, hip joint, and knee! This same set of percentages comes directly from The Morrow Project. Don't get me wrong, I think there are times with this kind of simulationist detail is worthwhile, but here it seems unnecessarily cumbersome.

Book I ends up with some "Voltigeur’s Tales"—a group of first-person stories meant to give you a feel for role-playing a character personality in the context of the various mission types. It shows how even the simplest missions can be dangerous (e.g., an ambush in the dark by samurai armed with poisoned arrows), and sets up where this game can take you.

Book II is really the GM's book. It deals with climate, terrain, animals, economics, technology, transportation, government & politics, and ethics & etiquette. It's part textbook and part adventure recipe book. It gives little hints here and there how even the simplest missions can go wrong (e.g., even if the Voltigeur's are taught a language before they go somewhere, they won't speak it the same way as the people living there). There's some nice stuff here, but it appears to be only slightly less inviting to read than the first edition DMG.

Will I run this?
Not anytime soon. I've got other things WAY in front of it in the queue.

Did I get anything out of it?
Yes. One tiny-little-thing that I think might work for The System: Expanded.

Was it worth the purchase?
Hell yes! It's old and it's cool and it represents a time when putting out anything like this was a major undertaking of time and expense, and I cannot help but appreciate that.

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