The Time Travel Game Your Past Self Always Wanted

I am very excited about the Kickstarter for the new time travel TTRPG, Paradoxes & Possibilities. (Since they’re doing so well, you might want to scroll down and check out the Stretch Goals)

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a small role on its design team (more on that below). None of that negates what I’ve written here. Indeed, it’s the reason I got involved with the project.

In the Beginning

Gaming Old School: Die Before The First Session

I came of age, at least as far as gaming is concerned, in the late 80s and early 90s. While I’m not saying some of those games weren’t awesome, it was an era of the grognard, dominated by incredibly intricate RPGs that often seemed to revel in complexity for complexity’s sake, such as Rune Quest (where character creation could take two hours), Space Opera (which could take even longer), or Traveler (where, as an added bonus, your character could die during character creation). Even 2E D&D looked like the US Tax Code compared to its 5E descendant (THAC0? How was that a good idea?).

The niche for well-designed games that were fast, fun, and simple (as opposed to simplistic) was tiny. Oh, they were out there: Steve Jackson Games’ Toon, R. Talisorian’s Teenagers From Outer Space, West End Games’ Ghostbusters, Palladium’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For the most part, however, these were clearly labors of love that never found widespread popularity or critical acclaim.

(Time travel games were also thin on the ground. Good ones, even more so. Really, FASA’s Dr. Who and the GURPS Time Travel supplement are all I can think of.)

Why Paradoxes & Possibilities?

…a literal world of possibilities…

One of the joys of watching gaming change in the new millennium has been witnessing the explosion of clever games with flexible yet minimal systems. The popularity of such games warms my heart, as does the long overdue critical recognition that well-designed simple system is at least as much of an achievement as well-designed complex one (yes, obviously I burned my grognard card a long time ago … if, indeed, I ever had one).

It is a pleasure to welcome Paradoxes & Possibilities as the latest addition to precisely that category of game. All the more so, as it plays in one of my favorite TTRPG sandboxes: Time Travel. Every aspect of P&P has been crafted to emphasize fun, fast-paced, dynamic play while incorporating the flexibility to handle a literal world of possibilities.

So what does that all mean?

  • 15 points in 5 traits and an optional class system with each class having a cool unique feat. That’s character creation.
  • All the risks and rewards of time travel mechanics accomplished with a few throws of the dice.
  • Fast-paced combat rules designed to unleash player creativity.
  • A straightforward mechanism for paradox that makes possible anything the GM’s nasty little mind can conjure.
A child’s smile. What could be more precious? Well, how about an original Jon Black adventure?

Speaking to my age, there is something else I love about Paradoxes & Possibilities. It is an excellent option for Gamer Parents looking to introduce children or teenagers to the hobby (which is not to say adults won’t enjoy it — the same flexibility that makes P&P friendly for the young also works well for elaborate, RP-heavy story lines).

So, Back to That “Full Disclosure…”

With my background in both game design and historical fiction, the Paradoxes & Possibilities team reached out to me to design one of the adventures offered as a stretch goal for their funding campaign. A good GM knows the difference between spoilers and foreshadowing, so I will simply say that hitting the $4,000 mark will net P&P’s Kickstarter supporters some primo Gothic Silliness along the Lake Geneva shoreline).

Click here to learn more about the Paradoxes & Possibilities Kickstarter (and don’t forget to check out those stretch goals!).

Welcome to Junzt County, Texas, Population: Weird

Lovecraft has Arkham…

King has Castle Rock…

Campbell has his unique take on the Severn Valley…

Invariably, those who write horror seem to want their own creation they can revisit time and time again. I am no different. This August, my creation, Junzt County, comes out and takes a walk in “Totmann’s Curve,” a 35,000 word novella included as part of Sockhops & Séances, an anthology of horror set in the 1950s, from 18th Wall.

Texas Hill Country

If you ask me, the part of Texas best suited for rich, atmospheric horror is neither the broken deserts and vast plains of the lonely west nor the impenetrable pine forests and swamps of the “boy, you got a pretty mouth” east. Rather, it is the rolling hills, shadowy valleys, and dark-fairytale woodlands of the Hill Country. Stretching about 100 miles west from Austin and San Antonio, many groups, most notably Germans and Eastern Europeans, settled there … each bring their own traditions, folklore, and whispered fears about what haunts the dark. The place feels old, older than anywhere in Texas has any business feeling.

Spme of the Hill Country’s German settlers cut loose and clown for the camera.

So, that’s where I brought Juntz County to life, lovingly populating it with it everything needed for my macabre purposes. Brockenberg, the legend-shrouded vast granite dome rising over county’s center.  Goethe College, an ivy-covered institution established by scholars fleeing an academic schism at the University of Gottingen (and bringing the more, um, unusual parts of its library with them).  Koenigsburg State Hospital, mysteriously burned in the 1980s and many of its patients never accounted for. Thale, a tiny village deep in the hills, perpetually surrounded by ill-rumor and tragedy. And, of course, burger joints, honky-tonks, auto shops, local radio station KJZT, and all the other infrastructure of “normal” everyday life.

Here’s the kicker, originally I created Junzt County not for narrative fiction but table-top roleplaying. It came to life for a Call of Cthulhu campaign I ran the better part of a decade ago, pitting a party of college students all enrolled in the same local folklore class against a mysterious amulet, the supernal forces tied to it, and the (obligatory) cultists trying to recover it. It was a great campaign (thanks, especially, to some great players) and, even at the time, I grasped the location’s potential as a setting for fiction.

Western Swing, Hill Country Style

Before there was “Totmann’s Curve,” there was “So Lonesome I Could Die.” My first published Junzt Country story, in the anthology Descansos, was a musically-themed Texas Gothic ghost story set during the Great Depression. While “Totmann’s Curve” is an entirely self-contained, stand-alone narrative, anyone who has read “So Lonesome I Could Die” will discover several Easter Eggs revealing what has become of some of the earlier story’s characters … and hinting at the resolution to one of its biggest mysteries.

Koenigsburg hot-rodders park on the town square before going for a burger and a malt (actually, Kerrville, Texas)

What of “Totmann’s Curve,” then? It’s a faced-paced 1950s tale of ghosts, teenage hot-rodding, and evil sorcerers serving dark entities. After the tragic deaths of two teens during an illegal road race, increased police attention forces the local hot-rodders to move their activities farther into rural parts of the county. At first, the new race route seems perfect. But the roads have a history of their own … and fender-benders caused by a pretty blonde ghost wearing a white wedding dress are only the beginning of the racers’ troubles. Something in the deep hills is very unhappy about the kids being there.

Oldsmobile “Rocket 88” belonging to Hot-Rodder Jack “Jockey” Groce, Junzt County Historical Society Museum

Can good-natured all-American hot-rodder Sam Granger, his gearhead friend Joe Tegeler, egg-headed cousin Eleanor, the ghostly dreamboat Helene, and the rest of their gang figure out what’s going on in time to save the Saturday races … and their own skins? That is the question.

Are there other Junzt County tales? Yes. A half-dozen, scattered across a variety of time periods, are in various stages on completion. But three others, one set in the ‘40s, another in the ‘80s, and a third in the present are already finalized and resting in my computer, awaiting only a sympathetic publisher.

Sockhops and Seances, from 18th Wall, is available here.