Observations on playing Time & Temp

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All of real­ity never was in the first place.

So, we fin­ished another game of Epidiah Rava­chols amaz­ing Time Temp (which you should pick up if you don’t already have it, maybe even in this nice pack­age). Oh, and we also fin­ished with reality.

We had a Skype ses­sion. Me as Gen­eral Man­age­ment, my old home­town group as temps on the other end. This worked rather well, as the player-GM setup is roughly as asym­met­ri­cal as the one-lone-skyper-and-a-bunch-of-guys-in-the-living-room setup. In short, we had a blast.

We used a dice-roller web­site, the spread­sheet Matrix on Google Docs and another file on Google Docs for CVs, inci­dents, anom­alies, … This worked very well. Maybe bet­ter than with all the sheets get­ting lost on your table.

A short para­graph on the story: Some­time in the Dark Ages, the Span­ish Inqui­si­tion (nobody expected that, right?) got hold of a heretic own­ing s strange scep­tre. Turns out, it allowed them to travel through time which they used to travel to 1999, seek­ing to char the a-coming Antichrist. Con­sid­er­ing the also a-coming Y2k hype and who exat­cly they made out to be the Antichrist, this would lead to seri­ous para­dox. Thus, Todd sends the temps to old Babyon, where they should get hold of the guy pro­duc­ing that scep­tre before it gets lost in time. Unfor­tu­nately, the Span­ish Inqui­si­tion wants to pre­vent that. Turns out, the temps them­selves stopped the build­ing of that gigan­tic tower and caused the lin­guis­tic prob­lems. Oh, and via bilo­ca­tion caused all of real­ity to have never existed in the first place.

So, what did we learn from the game?

Anom­alies

Anom­alies are few in num­bers. We only had one and it was brought about inten­tion­ally so that the temps would be able to use Déjà-Vu on their rolls. The space where you could plug in a num­ber into the matrix gets larger in a lin­ear fash­ion. The longer you play, the less chance for an acci­den­tal anom­aly. And since the temps were afraid of anom­alies, they intro­duced no inten­tional anom­alies either.

Inci­dent Reports

Inci­dent Reports come in two flavours: ver­bal and writ­ten. The ver­bal ones go away after using them once to the temps detri­ment, the writ­ten ones have a con­tid­tion to remove them.

This does not mean, that writ­ten ones are more severe than ver­bal ones. You can­not get rid of a ver­bal one unless it is used against you. But you can get rid of a writ­ten one by actively doing some­thing. How hard this is to do and if it needs a roll gov­erns how tough the Inci­dent actu­ally is. My play­ers def­i­nitely pre­ferred the writ­ten ones for that reason.

Also, writ­ten reports intro­duce a lot more of story. First, some­thing inter­est­ing just hap­pened. Sec­ond, your char­ac­ter now has some ridicu­lous trait. Third, the temps do cool stuff to get rid of it.

Zeit­geist

Zeit­geist is really a kick­ass power for the temps. If you use it right, you will unlock a Para­dox Die, you will save one num­ber from threa­then­ing Para­dox and you will also remove a num­ber from the grid.

Pick a num­ber within your Syn­chronic Sets and you might be able to gain a vast amount of new Syn­chronic­ity Tokens (in our case 3) by plug­ging in the same num­ber again. And you just spent a sin­gle token for that and sav­ing your ass.

Anachronome­ter and Para­dox Dice

The Anachronome­ter with the line sep­a­rat­ing save num­bers from num­bers threat­en­ing Para­dox might lead to odd behav­iors. When­ever you plug a num­ber to the right of the line, you roll for Para­dox, all d20 show­ing a num­ber which is right of that line will be locked in on that number.

So, if you used most of the num­bers two times (mean­ing the next one would be right of said line), you will want to use as many dice as pos­si­ble, so that one of them shows up on a num­ber that is already threat­en­ing para­dox. That way, you will not increase the hit­ting area of these vicious Para­dox Dice. Their chance of a hit stays the same.

So once you are over the line, you will want to pile up same num­bers to avoid all of real­ity never hav­ing hap­pened in the first place. This is done best with a lot of dice (risk­ing Fail­ure, Inci­dent and Para­dox) and using exten­sive Efforts and Effects. That way, you can pile up on the 1, only. So, once you have stepped over the line, you will start not think­ing safe, but rather think­ing unsafe and big.

Com­bine that with the abun­dance of Syn­chronic­ity Tokens in the endgame and you have got your­self a rather quick tran­si­tion from try­ing to keep a low pro­file to the temps going full steam. Whooohooo!

Analy­sis Paralysis

Time Temp tends to give play­ers severe Analy­sis Paral­y­sis. Every­body comes up with a the­ory of what best to do and how to manip­u­late time and real­ity to remove the para­dox. That’s great fun.

But then comes the tedious part: every play­ers describes to the oth­ers their plan, work­ing out the details. Then they go on and on about whose plan is best as, nat­u­rally, all plans dif­fer sig­nif­i­cantly. Yawn …

Sadly, all their plans are valid and would work, if they just rolled with them. Here comes the Tem­po­ral Vil­lain, check­ing of num­bers on the Anachronome­ter. Unfor­tu­nately, poten­tially end­ing real­ity some­times is not enough to moti­vate play­ers to actu­ally do stuff.

My solu­tion to this is that after every­body detailed their plan (the fun part) you pick one ran­dom per­son, maybe the least engaged one and ask them (and only them) what the group is doing. This solu­tion turned out rather nicely and showed that not dis­cussing but rather doing will yield results.

Com­plex­ity

Time Temp is really com­plex. I usu­ally start out with explain­ing rules as we move along. But it takes quite a while and by the end of the game I will not have touched all of the tid­bits. There is just so much out there to do. And to do right.

So, dur­ing the game I have never really been an antag­o­nist to the play­ers, but tried to help them, gaug­ing their options on the mechan­ics. This helped, but it felt to me like I was tak­ing too much con­trol over them. I do not see a way to avoid this, how­ever, with­out requir­ing all the play­ers to read and under­stand the rules.

Also, dice rolls tend to take up a lot of time and detail­ing all the con­se­quences, espe­cially in the late game, can be a hur­dle before play­ing on. Espe­cially if you are eager to move into the action.

My only solu­tion to this is: have all the play­ers expect a rules-heavy game of awe­some Paradox-Sudoku com­bined with mess­ing up his­tory (or the future!). I think, you can­not get around it or sim­plify it, if you want to really play the game.

Immer­sion

I should not use that word, I know. The goal of Time Temp is to take a bunch of guys through time to solve an awe­some alter­nate his­tory puz­zle. It’s not about por­tray­ing the char­ac­ters. Pick up some other game, if you are look­ing for that. This one is all about space­time. And that is, what it does really well.

Of course, the temps them­selves come up in the fic­tion: as the tools of the play­ers to manip­u­late space­time and by doing things in a style that is coher­ent to their CV. You might even say, they have some sort of char­ac­ter. Also, the Inci­dent Reports will tell some­thing about the char­ac­ter by show­ing their behav­ior in distress.

But in the end, it is not about the temps. It’s about play­ing through all the impli­ca­tions of mess­ing with his­tory (and future), hav­ing über-anachronisms and noth­ing in the fic­tion (only in mechan­ics) you can rely on and catch­ing the curve­balls space­time throws at you.

That’s where the immer­sion (don’t hit me) lies.

Lan­guage and History

For­tu­nately, the GM has a rather easy job com­ing up with adven­tures: Pick a time, pick a vil­lain, fake a log­i­cal plot around that → there you go!

You don’t have to worry about being his­tor­i­cally cor­rect. Things are messed up in space­time and what the play­ers learned might not hold any more. If they are in doubt, have the temps look it up on Wikipedia on their iPhones. There you go, it’s just like the arti­cle says!

Same thing goes for lan­guage. Since the play­ers use Basal Lin­guis­tic Tech­niques, they don’t hear if some guy is say­ing “Voigt” or “Großwe­sir”. They just hear “the guy that is doing all the orga­ni­za­tional work for the ruler of this land”. Any of the above would be a fine place-holder in Basal for that.

So don’t worry about his­tor­i­cal cor­rect­ness and proper wording.

Todd

Todd is a nice way to intro­duce the play­ers to the office set­ting, get them up to speed and throw them right into the action. In my games he will always assume that the temps have already been briefed (though work­ing in a tem­po­ral engi­neer­ing enter­prise, they still can’ get that right). So, when they start look­ing puz­zled, he will give an annoyed 30 sec­ond sum­mary and shove the temps into the domed room, keys in hand.

Off they go, every­thing they need to grasp the set­ting and get going in less than 5 min­utes play­ing time.

Need­less to say, the inser­tion roll is a nice way to have the play­ers make a safe first roll.


So, that’s my thought on this game of Time Temp. I’d love to hear what you think on these issues and if you have encoun­tered fur­ther inter­est­ing obser­va­tions on the mechanics.

Thanks for endur­ing my Teutonic-style digres­sion. Hope to see you around!

Arti­cle source: http://pihalbe.org/blogentry/observations-playing-time-temp-802

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About PiHalbe

I think a lot about games. I play them, design them, prepare advice for them and both blog and podcast about them. All of this can be found on my site at pihalbe.org. Besides that, I am a physicist (I do like rules, indeed) and voice actor. When reading my posts, prepare for some good old-fashioned teutonic special moves. You have been warned.
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