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Fate Core Kickstarter: Timeworks

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The latest Evil Hat Kickstarter went up on Tuesday (i.e. yesterday!). At the time I’m writing this, it’s already got nearly $75,000 in pledges. Yup, that’s right: The Fate Core Kickstarter is up and running!

Within a few house of the Kickstarter going up, I emailed Fred Hicks, Evil Hat Co-President, to let him know that I would be available to contribute a setting if he needed additional folks. He was interested, but crazy busy. He told me to email him in a few days if I didn’t hear back. A few hours after that things with the Fate Core Kickstarter were going so well that he asked for a pitch!

Here’s what I sent him:

I’ve love to do a time travel game. In short, it’s a combination of inception/time travel, for-profit time travelers who go back in time to rewrite the past to make the present more amenable to their corporate clients:

“Want to have developed the iPhone? We can make it so that your firm had the idea before Apple. Want to get rid of a tricky rival? We’ll make sure his parents never met. After all, it’s only murder if someone gets killed. Not getting born doesn’t count.

Our time technicians are experts at moving the timestream in revenue generating directions. We’re discrete, careful, and always on time. After all, we know you expect the best.

Timeworks. Making time work for you.”

Fred loved it, and set Timeworks up as a $74,000 goal. Which just hit. Before I even had time to blog about it. Wow.

So over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting updates about Timeworks (in addition to the other stuff I’m working on!) Time-travel is a tricky business, and I would love to hear what some Fate fans have to say about the subject. I’ve got some ideas that I think are going to rock, but I’m sure the playtesting will be fast and furious.

In the meantime, go back the Fate Core Kickstarter, leave me some notes here about what you want to see in a time-travel game, and talk this project up!

33 thoughts on “Fate Core Kickstarter: Timeworks

  1. This is definitely one of the settings that is intriguing me the most. I think what’s most important is a sensible, coherent time travel model (or models) with a sensible way of resolving paradoxes. I guess the way the game’s set up means the ‘parallel world’ model of time travel and the ‘invariant history’ (i.e. it’s already happened so even if you went back in time to try and changed it you obviously didn’t change it) model are out, so we’re probably looking at a ‘plastic history’ model and those are the ones most prone to grandfather paradoxes and the like.

    Having said that, the Aspect: “I Shouldn’t Exist” sounds like it would be good drama-fodder.

  2. @Richard – Awesome! I’m glad it caught your interest.

    I agree that the time travel model / resolving paradoxes is on the foundational pieces of the game. I’m hoping to offer a version of time travel that is at least somewhat rooted in science (and logic!), but obviously my #1 concern is making it fun to play.

    The plastic history model is probably the best base. At the same time, I think that we can do a lot with the assumption that whatever reality that the players are experiencing is “current,” i.e. the reality that exists relative to their perspective, unchanged by other agents.

    One of the big reasons I signed on was because of the Aspect system. I think that the flexibility it offers will match the “plastic history” model, where we can add and subtract character and scene elements without doing much math. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Stay tuned!

  3. I’m also really stoked for this expansion. I’m already throwing ideas around in my head about a rival parallel earth corp and what happens to the averted timelines.

      1. Sure. Time travel is a really wonky thing and can get really out of hand if you don’t pin it down or try and stay fast and tight with it.

        Like how does Timeworks get paid? If a client pays them before the job, they go back, do the job and return, but there is no money because the client never hired them. Why would they?

        So they have Collectors who find the client after the job is done in the timeline they are in, give them a card and let them know they will be collecting in X years when Timeworks is formed. If they don’t pay up the Collectors are sent back out and… it isn’t pretty.

        There is a kind of horror that can be played with when it comes to the averted timelines. What happens to the billions of people who stop existing, or get re-adjusted. Even a minor change shifts the weave of events that were. Maybe it’s small, maybe it’s huge, but all this potential energy is now released.

        What happens when the energy keeps collecting? Possibility Energy, we’ll call it, is now massing “weighing down” points in the world where it is heaviest. At these crossroads time gets a little…hazy.

        There is also all kinds of fun to have with the players. Having them work for Timeworks but come to discover they were originally the Board of Directors before an ambitious squad of agents went back and turned the tables. What do you do when you discover you used to be the head of a major time altering company? Would you try and get your power back? At what cost?

        1. Really great thoughts. Thank you for sharing them. I’m loving the hooks you’ve already thrown out!

          I think the “getting paid” part is a really difficult puzzle. Since the whole purpose is to make almost unnoticeable changes to the world, how will clients know that Timeworks did the job? And if Timeworks can travel back in time, aren’t there easier ways to make money?

          I’ll have to think on those questions.

  4. I imagine TimeWorks and John Rogers’ CrimeWorld are going to taste great together.

    Part of time travel stories is always what you MUST NOT change as well as what you NEED to change. Maybe you’ve got ideas for those already, but it seems almost like “Timeline Aspects” would work great for a simple means to enforce stability where you want (through compels) and even provide complications when your players completely ignore the warnings not to step on those butterflies (through more compels, of course).

  5. I’m hoping that these rules can be adapted to fit within the Dresden Files RPG for a fun bit of Sixth Law violation.

  6. Something else to think about is to consider what your favorite time travel shenanigans/paradoxes are and how to do them with this system. If they’re not doable with this set up, you might want to include a sidebar with a few notes on how they might work in Fate.

    Assuming you have enough space anyway.

    But yeah. If you decide that, for whatever reason, meeting yourself is impossible…well other people might want to do that in their time travel games, so a sidebar about how that looks in Fate might be nice. That sort of thing.

    1. Good suggestions. I think that I’ll be writing this setting in a way that minimizes those kinds of conflicts, but I’ll include some additional info for people who want that kind of craziness. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Well, I suppose I’m glad that things aren’t as written as they could be. I was just asking Fred the other day if he knew if there were going to be “Parallel Universe” rules or some other way of handling the whole going through settings like tissues during flu season that happens with time shenanigan games.

    Naturally, he looked at me funny(Well, as funny as one can on a forum) and told me to ask you. Are you planning on handling the Temporal locations as characters via the FATE Fractal, meaning that changing the time line would involve inflicting stress on it, or are the rules going to be vaguer?

    You’ve stated that the plastic history thing’s going to be what’s going on, which makes perfect sense. How much mechanical support do you plan on giving the shifting universe concept?

    As for the getting Paid thing, I always enjoyed the idea that the time crime organizations were paid in things like company shares, bits of information, and common coins. It’s just an off-center penny now, but in a hundred years… who knows?

    1. Yes, I think the FATE Fractal is going to be a key part of the time jumping elements. One of the reasons that I wanted to match the Inception-style themes to time travel is the idea of “going deeper,” moving further into the story. I’m really hoping to give strong mechanical support to make that happen.

      Good thoughts on “getting paid.” I think the player characters are probably going to be lower-level employees of Timeworks, but I think a sidebar is in order here, especially for “freelancers.”

  8. Hi Mark! This setting is very interesting! And from my point of view also the hardest to write and run. I am really looking forward the way you will handle the paradoxes. I have read only one book about time travel (Up the Line) and it definitely stroke me as “RPG material” but I was always afraid to run something like it.

    One quick thought on the payments: How about having another faction which would try to keep timeline unchanged and the payment from the client as the way how to shift the responsibility (in the eyes of the law) of the changed timeline to the client in case it is being revealed?

    1. Heya!

      I’m glad that you like the setting. I’m excited to pull it together.

      I think I don’t quite understand. You’re saying that the client would make the payment so that Timeworks wouldn’t be responsible?

  9. Hello Mark.

    I would like to invite you to see one of the most ingenious and mind bending time-thrillers in memory: “Primer”.
    It contains a very unique time travel method, with very interesting trappings, possibly making for very interesting games.

    In short- after time machine is invented, it is turned on. As soon as it turns on- a person from the future emerges from it. Machine stays turned on. What happens later is- when company needs to send someone back they give them anaesthesia, put them in the machine and shut it down. Person in the machine is travelling backwards in time, with speed of regular time. If they are travelling back 2 days, they need to spend 48h in machine. After that time, they exit the machine exactly at the moment it was first turned on.

    You should definitely give the film a look. It features at some point time machine travelling inside second time machine. Warning- it is so convoluted, that it may be impossible to understand the events in one go. You should also use one of diagrams illustrating all simultaneous time lines. For example:

    Best of luck!

  10. I’m going to be very interested to see what “roles” are available in this game. I mean, every Heist has a group of experts come together and, normally, those map to a fairly specific set of “roles,” i.e. Hacker, Mastermind, Security Expect, etc.

    Inception had that dynamic, but, because of the premise of the movie and the fantastic nature of the Heist, the “roles” had to be similarly fantastic. Your premise is also fantastic, so I’m expecting some interesting new Skills to come out of this book.

    I’m also hoping you’ll get a chance to chat with John Rodgers so Timeworks can leverage (heh) Crimeworld’s Heist mechanics and give you more space to concentrate on the unique elements. Well, assuming you want to anyway.

    1. @WuseMajor – Yes! I love that part of Inception, each member of the team playing a specific role. I think that’s where the high concept stuff is going to go.

      I’ve already thought about chatting with John. I’ll have to connect with him once I get a draft started. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Mark–

    I’ve never played any FATE-based game before, but after the holidays I plan on contributing to the Kickstarter–and Timeworks is a big reason for that. The idea of Inception+Time Travel really caught my eye and I can’t wait to see what you cook up for it!

  12. I’ve given this some thought and without getting into specific mechanics, I think the easiest approach is to base the idea on quantum mechanics (or at least close enough for an RPG). Sentient minds have been determined to alter quantum outcomes. Every event is determined to be a collection of quantum events totaling a ‘quantum potential’ (meaning enough of the events in the set points to a certain event that it happened). It is determined that once these bits are set, they are still in the fabric of space time. In general, altering events in the past results in time trying to repair itself, with events unfolding to create the same end results. What it takes to alter the past is generating a field that allows those quantum events to be altered (changing the previous outcome). However, the more influence that event had on OTHER ‘potential’ events, the greater the energy required to make those events malleable.

    For instance, changing what I ate for lunch today is pretty simple. I ate alone and what I ate did not affect what anyone else did. Changing what Hitler ate for lunch would be similarly easy. But changing some major event, like Hitler’s rise to power, would have a major impact on a number of sentient minds and the quantum ‘potentials’ that they influenced.

    So, given that there is finite power and this is a for profit enterprise, the art of choosing a non-brute force approach to changing events is key. Don’t kill Steve Jobs to prevent him from designing the iPod. Instead, plant the idea slightly earlier with a different engineer… one that happened to found your company later… and have him sell the idea to the client company (you get paid), who HIRES Steve Jobs early in his career. Because the iPod still exists and Steve Jobs still carries out a similar role, the power outlay to make those potentials malleable are high but not unattainable. And most importantly, this keeps you under budget and profitable.

    This explanation also allows you to handle anomolies (paradox) fairly well. The means that the mind uses to impact quantum events also allows a sentient mind to defend itself from conflicting quantum events to an extent. Depending on the quantum momentum (the amount of related quantum energy as above) that conflicts with the original timeline, the mind has a variable timeframe of being able to defend itself. Your posessions, history, and the memories of others affected would not contain you. Your key would not open your front door. But you would remember the original timeline and have some amount of time to create a quantum potential that explains your existance. If not, you become the crazy homeless guy, amnesia patient, etc. Whatever allows the timeline to continue without the anomoly affecting anything.

    1. @Don – Yes! This is really, really cool. I had already settled on the “plastic” nature of time, but this gives a great pseudo-science reason for why events would be malleable instead of eternally flexible. Thank you!

      I think there’s some cool things we can do about conflicting memories and possessions in the game. I’m eager to include something like tokens, an object that helps you remember your “real” timeline and gives you a chance to hold on to your “real” self.

      1. I thought about that. Teams that go back might be issued an amplifier that intensifies the field the brain already creates. Hence, a longer duration before paradox shifts their personal perceptions. Similarly, allow the home company to have shielded its’ servers and equipment with the equivalent of a faraday cage as well in order to allow the emergency ‘our monitoring equipment shows that the timeline got altered harmfully to us and now we need to fix it’ scenario.

        1. Don – Exactly. One of my big inspirations here is Lost, because I love the idea of this secret, shadowy group that has its hands in a lot of different pots. I love the idea of the shielded equipment!

  13. I ran a short arc with a similar premise in a different system not too long ago. My corporation was (or at least professed to be!) aiming to improve various events throughout history to create a sort of utopia in their own time, where the most horrific events of the past never happened. (So they were working for their own interests, and therefore didn’t have to get paid). Of course, in a longer-running game, you might start to drop hints that the corporation isn’t what it says it is, and eventually bring the players toward possibly bringing down that organization somehow.

    In my game, I used the same idea that time is actually hard to change. It meant that the group was dropped off several weeks before the event they were trying to stop, and knew that multiple attempts would be required, lest time be pulled back to the way it had been by some other means. The corporation was able to give them some information, but incomplete (no one knew at the time how exactly it had happened, and it was so very long ago, after all) and as they changed the time-stream, information was even less trustworthy because it would take a while to propagate – the company would do some research and give their best guesses but it was the agents in the field who had the best chance to figure out what they needed to do.

    For example, the scenario I ran was to stop an assassination (the person who might have become the first female president, if she hadn’t died while making a speech in rural Canada in 2015). I ran three games. In the first game, they found the person that my company had told them committed the assassination, and dealt with them. In the second, they riled up a bunch of farmers who seemed to dislike the woman and then got them out of the way, as well. In the last, they prepared as best they could and observed the actual speech… then nearly missed the pilot who was intending on killing himself and everyone on board the plane home in order to bring down the person who had “killed” his daughter (by outlawing abortion so that she died trying to get it done illegally).

    I think one of the best parts about the game we ran was that the players could play anyone from any time in history. You might want to consider adding something like that to your own setting. The players were hand-picked by the corporation as having certain qualities that would make them most likely to succeed at this type of mission, without the corporation actually fully understanding what those qualities were… but they had run the numbers and that’s what their experts/software told them. (I then represented this by giving them each a “story token” which they could use once during the entire arc to automatically make an action succeed, perfectly as described, with no roll). Anyway, we had a wild-west gunman, a futuristic cyborg, and Rasputin (why not, since he would be returned to his own time until they needed him again). It was a lot of fun.

    Anyway, what you’ve got so far looks fantastic and I’ll be keeping an eye on this. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. @Parmeisan – Right on! That sounds like exactly the kind of campaign I hope people will run with Timeworks. And we have added “play someone from whatever era” to character creation. It’s a great idea.

      Remember to back the Fate Core Kickstarter so that you can pick up your copy early!

  14. So Mark, I (and my players) are brand new to Fate. I chose Timeworks as our introduction and, hopefully, I’ll be able to pull it off. But I’m very eager to see what we can do with this setting.

    I have two questions. The first is, when creating a TW game, should we still create Game Issues/Aspects, or just derive them from what’s in the setting? Or just ignore them completely in favor of Timeline Aspects? Should the ‘present’ have Timeline Aspects?

    Okay that was actually three questions.

    My “second” question regards Holders and Timeline Stress. When a Holder defends the Timeline and takes stress, does that stress clear at the end of a scene? Or does it not “reset” until the operative is pulled back to the present?

    I suspect these were left vague so the GM could rule for themselves, but I’m still more used to settings/systems that are a bit more explicit. I’m afraid to think for myself! Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

    1. @Justin – Awesome! I’m honored. ๐Ÿ˜€

      First, I would say that when in doubt you should always do what sounds like the most fun to you. You’re the GM; it’s your game to play however you (and your players) think it would be the most fun to play.

      That said, I have some… suggestions.

      I think you should create the Game Issues/Aspects because it will help you figure out what your players are interested in within the setting. Give them the setting information and see what they do with it!

      Generally the present timeline doesn’t have Aspects, but you could totally add them! It’s up to you.

      The stress Holders take is normal stress, so it will clear at the end of the conflict. Any consequences, however, will stick around.

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