Someone murdered an ambassador's wife, leading to a NATO vs. Warsaw Pact war in the 1960s. Your team is on the case, but not to bring the killer to justice. This is TimeWatch – and your job is to prevent this crime from ever happening in the first place.
Time travel is one of the most difficult topics/powers to tackle in an RPG. In a traditional RPG, it can be incredibly unbalancing if used as anything other than a one-off plot device. Creating an entire RPG centered around characters with the ability to travel anywhere up or down the time stream sounds equally awesome and impossible.
Game designer Kevin Kulp accepted that challenge, creating TimeWatch based on the investigation-centric Gumshoe RPG system. Gumshoe makes it easy for game masters to build seemingly elaborate mystery-based adventures with minimal effort, and lets players find clues and solve mysteries using their own wits instead of a lucky die roll. I interviewed Kevin about the development of TimeWatch.
io9: TimeWatch uses the Gumshoe system, with a focus on investigation and mystery solving, but it also incorporates pulp action and other types of adventures. Did you consider any other systems, or have any plans to port it to other systems? In a lot of ways it feels like a Savage Worlds game, for instance.
Kevin Kulp: TimeWatch was a (somewhat streamlined) Gumshoe game since day one. I think it's a great match: Gumshoe's design assumes that finding clues is less fun than deciding what to do with them. I wrote the game to take advantage of those mechanics. My goal was to work in just about every time travel trope you can think of, including the "Bill and Ted" solution of having your future self drop off useful objects, and Gumshoe handled that seamlessly.
I'm a little surprised by how adaptable the TimeWatch rules are turning out to be. They work as well for classic sci-fi as they do for 1920s Lovecraftian secret societies who combat mythos horrors by traveling through dreams; Sliders-like parallel universes where we jettison time travel entirely in favor of adventures in alternate timelines; and a "crime-time" setting where you play time-traveling con men and master thieves. I'm not sure how many of those campaign expansions will make the final science-fiction-focused rulebook, but I'm delighted they're possible. I'm not sure such settings would work as well with a different rule system.
io9: There are a few obvious time travel touchstones, like Dr. Who, Quantum Leap, and the X-Men comics. What are some of the other influences on TimeWatch?
Kevin Kulp: Our premise is that you're an elite time cop, fixing history after other time travelers accidentally (or purposefully) screw it up. Poul Anderson's classic "Time Patrol" series of short stories inspired that initial seed. TimeWatch is fueled by history podcasts (particularly Dan Carlin's Hardcore History), alt-history forums (such as a superb one on Reddit), Harry Turtledove and Simon Hawke novels, the old "What If?" anthologies, the Terminator movies, and Kenneth Hite's old alternate history work.
io9: Some of the character concepts are pretty out there — uplifted gorillas, psychic velociraptors. How does Gumshoe allow for that kind of flexibility?
Kevin Kulp: Those examples belong to TimeWatch's Pulp playstyle, something you really wouldn't see in a more hard sci-fi setting, but here's what I love most about Gumshoe: the rules don't give a damn about how you describe something, so long as your character can accomplish it.