Time travel has always been a favorite subject of mine, and Timemaster is a great time travel role playing game. PCs play as Time Corps agents, dedicated to preventing evil aliens and renegade humans from changing history.
Laws of Time Travel
In my article on Time Travel Rules for RPGS I noted that the rules used for a time travel game can make or break the game. So we'll start this review off by seeing what sort of rules are used in Timemaster.
There are four basic laws of time travel used in the game.
The Law Of Identity says that if you travel to a time where you already exist, you will merge with your past self and be doomed to repeat your previous actions forever. You'll be trapped in a time loop. Another time traveler can break you out of the loop, but you cannot. In game terms, this prevents much of the abuse players might make of time travel, creating legions of their own duplicates.
The Law Of Preservation says that, in general, the time line will recover from most changes. Events and people are given significance ratings, with the more significant people and events doing the most damage to the time line if they're erased. This is the law that allows battles in the past in the first place, since the time line will recover from collateral damage as long as the most significant people and events are preserved.
A side effect of the Law Of Preservation is that a time traveler may not kill their own ancestor, even by accident. Her gun will jam, the bomb won't go off, etc. So a time traveler doesn't need to worry about negating their own existence. That only applies to that time traveler, though. Another time traveler can kill your ancestors with no difficulty, erasing your existence.
The Law Of The Time Barrier simply establishes an absolute Present, beyond which time travel is not possible. This prevents players from going into the future to look at their own mission debriefings.
The Law Of Death says that death for a time traveler is final. Even if someone goes back and undoes the events that led to your death, you still die at the appointed time. This is a game balance rule, and prevents PCs from being too cocky.
So those are the official laws. There are some other factors that need discussed, though, such as how changes in time propagate. A change in the present can affect the past, as far as it affects travel into the past. So if a change prevents you from traveling into the past, your existence in the past and any actions you took there are erased.
Changes to the past do not travel instantly into the future. They proceed via a Significance Wave, changing future moments as it passes over them. This allows the Time Corps to detect the Wave and send a team back to correct it, before the Wave wipes out the Corps itself.
The enemy are both human and alien.
There are renegade human time travelers, looking to enrich themselves or pursue their own goals, without worrying about the cost to history. These are generally the easier ones to defeat.
Then there are the Demoreans. Telepathic shape-changing aliens who can impersonate historical figures, who desire to change history for the worse. Their aim is generally to wipe out the Time Corps, since after that there would be nobody to oppose them.
The system shows its age (it was published in the 1980s). Abilities and skills are percentile based, but for many rolls you have to calculate how much you succeeded a check by. For example, if your skill with a knife is 83, and you rolled 35, you need to subtract that to know that you succeeded by 48. You then find 48 in Timemaster's Action Table, cross-reference that with the opponent's defense, and read the result.
I don't know about you, but I'm not anxious to do d100 based math for every attack. The system will convert down into a d20 based version without too much trouble, which simplifies the math involved without changing the odds or feel of the game.
The nice thing about the system is that the damage done with a weapon depends on the attacker's skill and defender's defense, not on the weapon itself. A dagger in the hands of a master is better than a longsword in the hands of a neophyte. This encourages agents to use whatever weapons are suitable for an historical period, and to avoid trying to maximize their equipment.
Time Corps agents all have paranormal talents. There are what allow them to compete with Demoreans on a more even footing.
All agents have Paranormal Memory; this is what causes them to be recruited as an agent. A successful Paranormal Memory check allows an agent to remember what happened before a change in the past modified history. This gives agents a fighting chance to recover from a failed mission.
Other paranormal talents include the ability to identify Demoreans with a Telepathic Probe, the ability to cause a non-time traveler to "remember" what should have happened in their original history, etc.
Time Corps agents are also given some gadgetry to work with, including a stunner. Disguised as a ring or other piece of jewelry, darts from the stunner knock out the target for up to 10 minutes. Useful for getting historical figures out of the way without lengthy explanations, for checking someone to see if she's a Demorean, etc.
The Corps time machines are called chronoscooters, a single person vehicle that typically takes an agent to the target period and back again. Advanced agents might get extra fuel to use during a mission (more on that when I review the Timetricks supplement).
For a rule book that is only 64 pages long, Timemaster does an admirable job of covering rules for various historical periods. There are rules on mounted combat, aerial combat, major troop engagements, gladiatorial combat, etc. Everything uses the same Action Table, making it easy to adapt the rules to unexpected situations.
Like most games of its time, there's a focus in the rules on combat. But it also covers intrigue, and has rules for interacting with the high and mighty of a given time period.
Timemaster was a forerunner, a game that allowed time travel and changes in history on an unprecedented scale. While in the basic game, the chronoscooter is only used to get agents to and from the target historical period, the addition of the Timetricks supplement opens up all sorts of sneaky tricks with time jumps.
I highly recommend this game for time travel fans. It's still available at 54° 40' Orphyte, Inc, as well as various online stores.