Monday, August 29, 2016

GRRR Review: Rewind - Temporal Tales

Here is my 2nd Review for the Game Reviews Round Robin (GRRR) kindly organized by Eleri Hamilton.

Rewind: Temporal Tales
Copyright 2015 by Todd Zircher

The dragon’s massive wing smashed into Robert’s shield and sent it flying. He watched as it clattered against the far cave wall, which is why he was too slow to react to the muscular tail as it whipped around and broke his neck. With a jolt he woke-up in the straw; he was back in that stinking stable wearing his filthy peasant clothes. Again. *sigh* It was going to be that kind of day.

And so Rewind kicks off with a bang and a twist and thereby gives you a hint as to what the game is about. But first, the technical stuff. The PDF Rules Book is 14 pages, featuring clean but sparse formatting with no images except for one rather faded looking photo of the table setup for the game. So not much to see here, but let's presume that the content is worthwhile enough to read through without eye candy, shall we?

The game is a version of The Protagonist (show or the book, neither of which I've heard of, so think Groundhog Day) for solo or single player where one person plays the protagonist time-looper, and the other person plays the Gamemaster. Both methods of play are described. The game can be played in any genre or setting, and you the player decides which (or the GM). To get started you answer the Five Questions, which set up the scenario. Who, What, Where, Why and When. There is some advice provided on how to think about each of the questions, and a few examples afterwards. Pretty straight forward. Here's an example of the examples:

Who: Gordon Moss
What: Stop Earth from getting destroyed
Where: Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, Area 51
Why: Temporal rip in the fabric of space/time
When: 1960’s America

Next up: Create your Protagonist. The rules for this are as light weight as I've ever seen. There are no requisites, just descriptive information such as looks, history, Skills, etc, and lastly Rewinds, which are points you accrue during play. Starting off you have 0 Rewinds. Here's a couple of sample Characters from the book:

Name: Grace “Lucky” Strickland
Details: Grace is in pretty good shape, she still runs at the gym, she keeps her red hair short
History: Communications major and news reporter
Skills: Library research, talking to people
Mastery: none
Stuff: Stylish clothes, wireless professional microphone, can of mace in her purse, smart phone

Name: Major Gordon “Blackjack” Moss
Details: Gordon has been flying a desk for too long and probably fills out his old flight suit in unflattering ways. His black hair is always closely cropped and his nose and teeth are slightly crooked.
History: USAF Officer with a Meteorology degree
Skills: Piloting, bluffing
Mastery: casino games
Stuff: USAF dress uniform, keys to a Ford Fairlane Skyliner, leather wallet with $18

Next comes Action Resolution rules. Any time the outcome of an action is in doubt, you can roll two regular six sided dice, add the results of the dice together plus any advantages/disadvantages, and check the Time Table (conflict resolution table - ie "what happens this time?"). Rolling low is bad, rolling high is good. You can modify the roll with Advantages or Disadvantages, and stack them, with a maximum of +3 or a minimum of -3. Easy peasy.

Now for the (slightly) tricky part. You are going to be looping through these events over and over again because your character is stuck in a time loop. So you can use your foreknowledge of what is about to happen to try to create advantages and avoid disadvantages each time you loop through, thereby altering the chances for a successful outcome. Or you can take the previous outcome and keep going with it, and there's no need to roll.

While playing you may (and probably will) run into forks in time. So you will use index cards to keep track of the time line. You put a number in the upper right and lower left corners to track which point in the sequences the card represents, and write down notes on the card, such as Where and When. At some point along the way the Character may either get stuck in a dead end, or die. At that point you put a black dot on the card to show it's an end point, and you give the Player a Rewind Point for their troubles. You then start over at card zero, and keep following the same path until the Player gets to a point where they want to make a different decision. At this point there is a time-fork and you create a new card and note the time branch on it. Perhaps the author says it more clearly than I can:

Start back at the zero card. If you make the same decisions, walk on down the chain of cards until you get to a point where you want to change the future (or is that the past?) For example, if you’re on card 2 and you want to try something different and create a new branch, pull out a new index card (let’s say it is card 7) on card 2, write a 7 next to the 3. Now card 2 can branch to card 3 or card 7. On card 7, write down the number and the details of the new encounter. If you survive/succeed, connect that to card 8 and so on.

So far so good. So basically, if I have this right, you go through a time-loop trying to find a solution to your problem, and along the way you get killed or stopped dead in your tracks and each time you get a Rewind Point... which you spend as a kind of Skill Learning Points. 2 Rewinds allow you to add a skill and another 2 allow you mastery of that skill. Eventually you either have great skills and can beat the odds, or your figure out the solution and Voila - you escape the time-loop and win. Or at least told a good story. Hopefully.

There is a little bit about world building, but basically it says that the GM and player can collaborate in the process, and there's not that much else to the advice. You are expected to come up with interesting plots, and if you're the creative type with some time travel sci-fi in your blood then you should be able to do it.

The author then provides some Tips and Tricks, and advice on how to play a Solo game. I'm not sure how fun I would find the Solo game, but with a good and creative GM I could see this as interesting. I might even use the core concept of the time-fork tracking for my own game (my players are currently dealing with the dread Chrono-Felidae, which are time-loopers par excellence, actually). The author recommends, if you need ideas, to use Oracles (random wandering monster tables, or the like) which you can find in older versions of RPGs, or just do searches for interesting images on google, or using a tarot deck or ordinary playing cards. There's a few pages of inspirational card deck related imagery/story invoking lists related to suits and card numbers. In other words if you're looking for evocative ideas for your game, look around and grab from whatever sources seem handy for giving you interesting ideas.

Here's a couple of random dice generators that might help that the author created:

I tried the first one, and didn't think all that much of it, but then again, I think my brain has enough interesting time travel ideas not to need these tools.

The book wraps things up with some additional advice about playing for the fun of story, and some extensions to the game that might be considered, as well as a list of inspirations for the concept of the game: A few time loop movies: Groundhog Day, Timecop, Christmas Every Day, Camp Slaughter (also known as Camp Daze), Christmas Do-Over, Salvage, The Last Day of Summer, Timecrimes, Repeaters, 12 Dates of Christmas, Source Code, Mine Games, About Time, Edge of Tomorrow, Project Almanac, I Do! I Do! I Do!

The last few pages are an extended example of play showing the various mechanics points in action.

Overall, I'd say this is an interesting, if a bit limited idea, and one that I will probably make use of, though not exactly as the author intended. But the mechanic of time-line tracking is an interesting one, and worth the price of admission in my opinion. Other than that this is a pretty bare bones no frills RPG which may very well turn out to be a lot of fun for those who enjoy a whole lotta Deja Vu.

If you want to get a copy you can find it here on DriveThruRPG and it's PWYW: Rewind: Temporal Tales (PDF)

Ok - that's it for my 2nd GRRR Review! Stay tuned for the last one, hopefully tomorrow or the next day. :)
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