Review Dated: 7th, July 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
In one shape or form the TimeLords RPG has been around for over fifteen years. It’s one of the first time travelling RPGs, it’s the one I hear people in the know and gaming veterans talking about. This is a review of version 1 of the EABA edition. Version 1.0, no less. This is the newest incarnation of the game. You need a copy of the “End All Be All” of roleplaying systems before you can use TimeLords. That’s the down side – even though a separate book for the rules and one for the campaign setting is the norm now. The plus side is that this leaves all 164 pages of the TimeLords PDF free to concentrate entirely on TimeLord issues. Actually, there are many more plus points than just that. The very fact that it uses EABA is a plus; EABA is a fantastic system.
TimeLords are the descendants of Lucifer. Lucifer, or Bright Spear as he was once known, is not a fallen angel but a Neolithic man enhanced as an experiment by the technologically advanced Designers. He was one of the last experiments the race ever did. The very project that inspired his own enhancements was busy wiping out the Designer race even as he was operated on. The Destroyer, the project-gone-wrong, wiped out the Designers and took Lucifer’s mate and child with them. Much of history and much of the future is part of Lucifer’s revenge.
The Designers discovered time travel when it was nearly too late. The Designers were the last intelligent race to evolve in the universe; their sun was already a pale red glow when they first looked up at the sky. Designer technology plants TimeLords firmly in the Science Fantasy genre, the science is so hugely advanced that it might as well be magic. It’s not magic though. Pages and pages of TimeLords are dedicated to presenting intelligent, believable, technobabble that explains how everything works. If this isn’t to your tastes then TimeLords is going to be wasted on you. To escape the end of time, the end of the universe, the Designers took their entire solar system back in time. They didn’t time travel again; there was no need. It was in the past, the new present, that the Destroyer slaughters the entire race. It is with ancient technology from the future that Lucifer and his descendants are able to travel through time.
So why didn’t the Designers at the end of time notice that there was no trace of their civilization in the past? Surely creatures so intelligent would have realised that this was proof that their ambitious scheme failed? There are theories rather than answers. The most likely theory reminds us that there couldn’t have been any trace of the Designer’s civilization in their past until they travelled back in time… and once they got there they didn’t look forward in time again to check that everything was going well. Worried about paradoxes? There’s no such thing in the TimeLords universe. They just don’t happen. Time travel allows for back and forth movement in time as well as sideways movement. It’s this sideways potential, different time lines, which prevent paradoxes. It’s the different time lines or the impossibility of a different time line being created at any given point that stop paradoxes. We’re given a set of possible outcomes to the Grandfather Paradox and one of the is murder done, the would-be grandfather dies and then time continues as normal with the grandfather alive anyway. The assassin couldn’t affect the temporal momentum. We’re given an analogy that involves dropping grenades into shoals of fish. Amazingly – it helps. If you know you struggle with the concept of paradoxes or even if you’ve never heard of the Grandfather Paradox before then I fear there’s a serious risk of TimeLords’ sophisticated technobabble being too much of a headache to be worthwhile. The book does explain what the Grandfather Paradox is, the book does suggest you can just skip the temporal mechanics chapter, but if you do the latter then you’ll only ever experience one small fraction of what the game should be.
I think you really need to understand the “basics” of the temporal mechanics to use the Matrices properly in the game. It’s the Matrices which allow TimeLords to time travel. My first concern here was of group harmony and not the techy stuff. Only a descendant of the time travelling Lucifer can use a Matrix and typically that will only be one person in the group. I really don’t like the idea of one character being singled out like that. I’m even less keen on the idea of reducing the rest of the group to support cast. Fortunately this is something author Greg Porter is aware of too. The Matrix device works in proximity, not by touch, and it’s suggested the GM doesn’t let the group know which of the characters is actually the one controlling it. The players won’t know which character is the Lucifer’s descendant. This is also a great way of holding the group together and having fun with internal politics at the same time. Rar.
Time lines and travelling Time Lords with matrices are the core of the game. History is a result of this. The original Time Lords travelled to get revenge on the Destroyer. The original Time Lords interfered with the past to spur on technological advancement, protect Earth and manipulate things to a point where the Destroyer could be taken down. Without spurring mankind would not have developed technology in the way “we have”. Intelligence would simply be used as a weapon in the battle to become alpha male. I’ll quote from the PDF. “If it took 100,000 years to get from the spear to bow, how come it took only 10,000 years to get from bow to Moon Landing? Someone interfered, that’s why.” As the Time Lords interfere they do more than just change history, they create entirely new histories and these are the time lines. The Designer’s technology, the Matrix, allows the Time Lord to transport himself along these lines (backwards and forwards) and cross (sideways movement) when the time lines cross. The Matrix will transport his friends too but not technology. A Time Lord can’t bring a laser gun from a possible future and use it in a possible World War One. If the Time Lords want World War One fought with laser guns then he’ll need to manipulate things so that technology is suitably advanced when World War One breaks out. Originally this was done so the Destroyer could be destroyed – but that’s been done (yeah, right, we believe the big beastie is really dead). Lucifer is dead too; assassinated by his own child, the NPC who’s quite likely to be our PC Time Lord’s own ancestor. Since the Destroyer’s dead and Lucifer is dead the only thing left for the Time Lords to do is paranoidly watch their backs. After all, Snake, Lucifer’s killer, is still out there and as mad as a hatter. Actually, he’s as mad as the Destroyer was…
In fact it’s the remaining Time Lords and the organisations they’ve set up that provide the on going continuum of a campaign world. The setting might change but the people who might visit it or who have active interests in the time line remain the same. The default TimeLords game is set to start when Snake kidnaps a bunch of people, one of whom will be a Time Lord, takes them to some remote time and place, gives them a Matrix and warms them that a crazy assassin is coming after them. This assassin is actually a Time Lord trying to hunt down the murderer Snake – but the players won’t know that. The Matrix they’re given is probably pre-programmed with the first couple of jumps through time and space and will take the group of characters through a series of challenges whilst leading Azazelo, Snake’s hunter, on a wild goose chase. He’ll be chasing the PC’s new Matrix. If the players get out of this fix then they’ll have an eternity of complex Time Lord politics and power players to navigate.
Even though the EABA core mechanics are entirely separate from TimeLords there are still mechanics in TimeLords; specifically TimeLord related mechanics. There aren’t rules for controlling a Matrix in core EABA rules after all. EABA’s a set of generic mechanics too and so TimeLords lets us know how to best use them for this setting. As it happens the union of the two is especially successful. After all, if your campaign setting allows for everything through historic to far future scenes then you’re going to need generic mechanics such as those presented in EABA just to handle those. There could even be those rare time lines where super powered aliens visit Earth, you might find yourself doing a super hero style game and if you do EABA will stick with you.
If you’ve not seen an EABA supplement before then you may be struck by the colours. If you’re familiar with EABA then the usual colour code scheme applies; I often now jump straight to the nearest paragraph of green text to read the example before reading the main description. Similarly, right at the end of the PDF and down amongst the Gear and Equipment sections I can find that I can assimilate a good summary of what’s on the page just by taking a quick look at it.
I’m thoroughly fed up of over-simplified time travel in my sci-fi and RPG dosage. Popular sci-fi TV shows are particularly to blame. TimeLords is a wonderful tonic to this. It provides a time travelling theory that actually believable. It’s all made up. It’s impossible. It’s just detailed enough to avoid being a transparent nonsense. It’s complex enough so that the mysteries of time travel remain mysterious and yet not so convoluted that it never makes sense. It’s really good. TimeLords is one of those rare RPGs with an impressive reputation and that actually lives up to it.