Billy and Jesus have been singing the praises of TimeWatch ever since they were part of a playtest at Metatopia in November 2013. Billy’s excitement over playing a historical character (D.B. Cooper) was quite contagious – you all know my love of historical RPGs! I immediately began plotting who I might want to play.
(Spoiler alert now for Annie Boyle’s secrets in Fandible’s TimeWatch game – it hasn’t come up in game yet, but to give a full overview of the character creation process I’m laying out all the cards here!)
Periodically I go through kicks on certain time periods, or even individuals that embody a time period. Last November I happen to have been in the middle of (another) re-watch of The Tudors, featuring the amazing Natalie Dormer as Henry VIII’s ill-fated second wife, Anne Boleyn. Having also recently read Susan Bordo’s fascinating biography The Creation of Anne Boleyn, I felt confident I could create a character based on a more historically-accurate Anne, rather than the hatchet-job her reputation has suffered in the last 600 years.
Note, first of all, that while Billy and I both chose to play real people from history, it’s definitely not a requirement, which gives TimeWatch great flexibility. If you’ve listened to our playthrough yet, you’ve heard from Daniel’s 26th century robot soldier, who fit right in with a 16th century English woman and a 20th century ne’er-do-well. It’s a great concept for groups like ours that often pick very eclectic characters, and with everyone playing members of the TimeWatch, it automatically gives these very disparate people a reason to be together.
So it was with the idea “I want to play Anne Boleyn as a time-travelling secret agent” that I went into TimeWatch character creation. Here’s a walkthrough of the process.
Step one: Choose a character concept, including time and place of origin.
Time and place of origin is obvious here, between 1501 (or 1507)-1536, England. But it’s the character concept part that means that in point one we already hit one of the best things in this game: character competencies. While not required, the character competencies give you a shorthand for various popular archetypes, and exactly what skills those archetypes should have in this game. As a group, Fandible has often run into systems where we want to do one thing…only to realize three sessions in that no, the system is never going to let you do that with your character class (hi, Warhammer!). TimeWatch heads that off at the pass with interchangeable and tweak-able character competencies, with examples like “Chameleon” (disguise expert), “Marksman” (ranged weapons expert), and “Thug” (intimidation/combat expert). None of these suggested concepts use up all of your points, so even if two people build off of the same concept, there’s lots of room for personalization.
For Annie Boyle/Anne Boleyn, I worked from the “Diplomat” competency: Who needs violence when you can talk your way out of trouble? Not only do you have a silver tongue, you know how to make your enemies furious enough to make stupid mistakes.” Sounds like a good match for the woman that matched wits with the crowned heads of Europe and played a part in a religious reformation! So I fill in the suggested skills on my sheet.
Investigative abilities: Charm 2, Falsehood Detection 1, High Society 1, Reassurance 2, Taunt 1
General Abilities: Reality Anchor 4
This gives me a headstart on step 2!
Step two: Choose your investigative abilities
There are two types of abilities in TimeWatch, investigative and general. We start with the more interesting investigative abilities first. I have 20 points to spend on investigative abilities (a number that fluctuates depending on how many players are at your table). I only spent 7 in the first step, and now I gain one point in Timecraft (knowledge of time travel) for free. So 13 points left to spend!
I go ahead and raise High Society to 3 immediately – Annie Boyle doesn’t brag about it obviously, but she was in fact a Queen once upon a time. Because of that, it also makes sense to raise Authority up to 2 as well – Annie knows how to make people believe she’s in charge. A single point each in Bureaucracy and Intimidation flesh out her royal bearing. TimeWatch doesn’t specify how any of these abilities work, leaving it up to the players to put individual interpretations on them as befit their characters, so Annie’s Bureaucracy knowledge comes from navigating the dangerous court of Henry VIII, and her Intimidation isn’t from size or brute strength, but a more high school bully-style of “I know what to say to cut you down and put you in your place, Peasant.”
Particular to what I know of Anne Boleyn, I add a point in Taunt – she was said to have a wicked tongue, which didn’t serve her well in the end – and a point in Architecture (Henry VIII loved architecture and building impossibly grand castles. Anne surely picked up some knowledge from him, or perhaps learned some herself after the fact out of long-held romantic notions). The team needed some historical heft at this point, so I gave Annie a point each in Ancient and Contemporary History – Anne Boleyn was likely relatively well-read in history and, of course, lived through the start of one of the most influential reigns in English history.
At any point I could have stopped building my character and held on to the additional points here to flesh out my character during play, but I never remember to actually spend points that way, so I finished off Annie here with a point in Notice (a remarkable eye for detail) and two points in Paradox Prevention (recognizing when time has become twisted and knowing how to use paradoxes to your own advantage).
Step three: Assign your general abilities
Here we start getting into bigger numbers to keep track of. Oh boy. 50 points to distribute among the general abilities that help a character survive a mission, plus improving health and chronal stability (from my understanding, this is TimeWatch’s answer to the Sanity trait used in many other GUMSHOE games). I get to start with 6 points in each of the last two, so I’m not going to die immediately. Plus from my character concept I’ve already put four points into Reality Anchor (keeping someone stable when they’ve become chronally unstable and about to fade out of existence, a la Marty McFly at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance). 46 points to divvy up.
General abilities have a much wider scale than Investigative abilities. The span here is 1-14, while Investigative abilities were 1-3 (save Paradox Prevention, which goes to 5). I quickly rule out the things I don’t want to be good at, either because someone else has it covered or it just doesn’t fit Annie. Vehicles, Tinkering, and Burglary all sit at a big fat 0 on my sheet.
Next, I choose what i want to bump all the way up to 8 points, which gives me a booster, or special ability tied into that ability. Disguise, Preparedness, and Reality Anchor are my first three choices. I try to push Scuffling up there, too, but can’t quite justify the points, so instead it’s at 5. Athletics and Unobtrusiveness follow at 4, Medic at 2, and Shooting at 1. I’m building a character who relies on a fair amount of deception to get through the world, rather than confronting the bad guy guns blazing. Scuffling represents sword fighting here (we needed someone who could do melee!), but it’s certainly not Annie’s preferred method of dealing with an issue.
For my boosters, I have Flashback for preparedness (narrate a flashback where I can alter the narrative somewhat!), Don’t I Know You for disguise (convince a person I’m talking to that we are actually acquaintances), and Team Focus for reality anchor (normally reality anchor can only be used on one person at a time to keep them from fading from existence. With this booster I can use it on multiple people, so long as we’re in voice contact. Cool!).
My last ten points I split between health and chronal stability, bringing them both up to 11. I’m pretty sure I ended up with both the highest health and chronal stability pools. I figure Annie has died (or “died”) once (more on that in a minute!) – there’s no way in hell she’s going to let that mistake happen again!
(I will note, the health and stability pools confused us as presented. It took some digging to figure out from which end we were supposed to count up or down from. This is something that will most likely be remedied in the final book with example character sheets based on the final sheets, rather than the prototypes shown in the playtest edition)
Step four: Build out your personality, Drive, background, and secrets
Let’s get the secret out of the way: Annie Boyle = Anne Boleyn. Voila. There are much more complicated secrets, but I wanted Annie to have some tragedy to her, and that’s best accomplished for me by making the woman who was once at the forefront of Europe’s gossip mill to sink into obscurity.
For personality, the book suggests writing down three or more adjectives to describe your character which…I didn’t do. If it’s not on my character sheet, I’m generally not going to remember to do it. Ooops! Looking back now I would go with proud, lonely, self-sufficient, daring.
We have very very little evidence of what Anne Boleyn looked like. It’s unlikely she had a sixth finger or any other visible disfigurements – in the 16th century, appearance was held up as an example of your virtue (or lack thereof), so physical deformities were signs of a terrible malignance of the soul. Totally incompatible with marrying a King. Annie Boyle in this game has fair skin, dark eyes, and long brunette hair.
In TimeWatch, this is “a key to your personality,” a “fundamental personal quality that pushes you into adventuring.” There are some examples in the book, and I choose to go with “Nowhere Else to Go.” To me, when Annie was plucked from the chopping block, she immediately wanted to return to her daughter. Of course, she couldn’t – no TimeWatch agent would be allowed. But doubly so when your daughter goes on to lead England into the Renaissance. Annie has to live with the knowledge that despite all the odds, her daughter went on to become Queen of England in her own right and rule over a golden age – all the while believing her mother was executed for crimes she almost surely didn’t commit. Heartbreaking. So Annie is a TimeWatch agent because she has nowhere else to go – without her beloved Elizabeth (and even her beloved Henry – yes, he turned tyrant at the end, but they were truly in love at the beginning for our purposes here!) she might as well go galavanting across space and time.
On the character sheet, in the same section where drive is noted, I want to point to the “Former Profession” line. It’s not expanded upon in any detail (that I could find) in the playtest rules, but I can’t tell you how fun it is to have a character sheet where the character’s former profession just straight up says “Queen of England.”
Creating a character in TimeWatch is certainly a straightforward process, and one of the quicker processes I’ve been through. It’s found a great balance of guiding new players (like with the character concepts) while allowing a good amount of flexibility and personalization – important when there are as relatively few skills as there are here. I think I speak for all of Fandible when I say we found this to be a smooth process, and obviously had a lot of fun jumping right in to the fun!
The TimeWatch Kickstarter in ongoing through February 21st. Backing the project at just a dollar will give you access to the playtest edition Fandible used for our first play through. Once you’ve backed, don’t forget to comment on the Kickstarter to vote in the battle between the Sophosarus and the Ezeru for villainous dominance in the final game (our vote is with the Ezeru. Shapeshifting Cockroaches for the win!) . Stretch goals are being unlocked at an impressive rate, making this a more cost-effective investment every day! I, for one, cannot wait for the Leaper rules to be released.
Thanks again to Kevin Kulp for introducing the game at Metatopia, and for making the early rules available immediately so we could start playing as fast as possible. We’re looking forward to more time traveling adventures in 2014!
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