Saving a Dead TimeWatch Agent: A Lesson in Paradox
Pointy-headed excerpt from the TimeWatch
rules here, giving you an example of how TimeWatch deals with time travel and paradox. Things you need to know for this to make sense? Only that chronal stability measures a character's ability to remain anchored in time, and if you lose too much of it, you start to fade.
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It's sometimes possible to save an agent killed in the line of duty, even if it's against TimeWatch regulations. The challenge is doing so without creating a worse problem than you had to begin with. Rescue missions can sometimes create split timelines, paradoxes, and chronal instability that adversaries can easily exploit.
When attempting this type of rescue, the question to ask yourself is "how can I do this while creating the least paradox possible?" The fewer contradictions you create, the easier such a rescue becomes.
For instance, consider the following problem.Traveling apart from his team in 12th century Cairo, agent Mace Hunter is stabbed to death in a back alley by an elite assassin. After discovering Mace's body in the alley and using Medical Expertise to determine that it's been dead for less than an hour, his fellow agents decide to retroactively try and save Mace's life. To find out what happened, an agent quickly time travels two hours back in time to plant a hidden video bug (using the Spying technical ability). She plants the bug, leaves it there, and returns to her friends.
There's a few tactics they can use at this point, with the more straightforward solutions causing far more problems than the complicated ones. Here's a successful rescue with unfortunate consequences.The team (we'll call them Team A) then reviews the video footage to see exactly what happened to Mace. This locks in history for them; at this point, if they change anything they've seen, they'll create a paradox and need to make a chronal stability test. Using the video footage, they note the exact time of the assassin's arrival and where he hid in the alley. The group then goes back in time an hour and a half to lay an ambush. One of them gathers up the video bug (creating a paradox and triggering a chronal stability test, since they need that bug in the future to record Mace's upcoming assassination), and when the assassin enters the alley the team silently and efficiently stuns him with their PaciFists. This causes a second chronal stability test, since they already saw on the recording that the assassin hadn't been stunned. When Mace Hunter enters and exits the alleyway, the assassin is nowhere to be found — and because Mace exits, uninjured and unaware of the potential attack, the team makes yet another difficult chronal stability test.It's even worse. Because Mace was never attacked in this timeline, his team (we'll call them team B) will never find his body and will never go back in time to save him. That means that once Mace exits that alley, Team A and Team B are existing concurrently, and Team B never has any reason to go back an hour and a half to close the loop. In this sort of circumstance the tremendously unstable Team A normally snaps out of existence when Mace leaves the alley, never needing to exist in this changed reality, leaving behind a stunned assassin who has no idea how he got stunned. If they resent disappearing from reality in this way, members of Team A can spend a Paradox Prevention point to cling to existence. From this point forward any surviving member is treated as if they're in a parallel universe (making future chronal stability tests more difficult) and likely becomes a supporting character. Some excellent villains, each a time-duplicate of a PC, can be created in this manner. It's why saving people from death is against TimeWatch regulations.Total team chronal stability checks, not counting travel tests: three and likely annihilation.
There's a better way to effect a rescue.The team (now we'll call them Team Y) reviews the video footage to see exactly what happened to Mace. They note the exact time of the assassin's arrival and where he hid in the alley, but they stop watching as soon as MAce falls; they deliberately don't find out what the assassin does next. The group then goes back in time an hour and a half to lay an ambush. They wait on the roofs overlooking the alley, hidden, and they bide their time. The assassin arrives; they wait. Mace arrives, and the assassin attacks; they wait. It's only when Mace has fallen unconscious and is about to die that they spring into action.First they stun the assassin before he can deliver a death blow. They likely kill him or strand him in an isolated time where they can retrieve him for questioning later, and that doesn't trigger a chronal stability test, because it doesn't contradict anything they've already seen. Then they stabilize Mace to make sure he doesn't die. Regardless, they want Mace to look dead when their past selves (Team Z) show up, so one agent spends a point of Medical Expertise to put the living, unconscious Mace Hunter into a paralytic stupor that makes him appear dead. The team then hides again until their Team Z earlier selves show up, find Mace's apparently dead body, and head into the past to save him. Team Y then revives Mace, retrieves their hidden camera, and takes him off to get healed.Total team chronal stability checks, not counting travel tests: none, as no paradoxes occurred.
As you see, the easiest rescues are the ones that don't contradict already-established events. The difference between catastrophic failure and easy success is making sure that no established facts are changed -- even if, once and a while, you have to establish those facts yourself.TimeWatch is an upcoming Pelgrane Press GUMSHOE RPG about time cops, by Kevin Kulp, due to be Kickstarted in January 2014. See other blog posts at http://google.com/+TimeWatchRPG, and stay in touch at @timewatchrpg. To be notified when the Kickstarter goes live, click http://bit.ly/1hSd99K