You are minding your own business and walking home from the park. Suddenly, you’ve been contacted by the TPA for an urgent assignment, and it pays well. Tomorrow at noon, the Agency needs you to go to Bob’s records and strike up a simple conversation and keep it going for 5 minutes. That’s all, just 5 minutes. That one thing has to take place or 3 lives are at stake. $1,000 to have a conversation with a stranger? Lives are at stake? -- A fun premise!
The Temporal Probability Agency exists here, today. And it’s run by a computer named Daisy, sending messages from the future. Will you take the assignment? Save lives?
The TPA’s Agent Handbook is refreshingly light. DriveThruRPG has it listed at 90 pages but that’s only if you include all the Adventure Files and handouts found at Apathy’s site. Still, the main book is 25 pages and that was a relief to me. Since I live in the here and now, you don’t need to include 200 pages to document today’s technology and it makes for a much faster path to jump in.
You are greeted with “Welcome to the TPA!”. The page is the TPA Pamphlet from the Demo Adventure handout package and gives you the real “one page” treatment of who, what, why, when, and how of the TPA. Essentially a computer named Daisy is in the future sending back info to fix the timeline. You have been chosen by Daisy to accomplish some tasks that only you are best suited to accomplish. You are contacted, given a “to do” list, and outfitted with what you need to accomplish your goals. A generous reward awaits you when you complete your tasks.
Character creation is as simple as it gets. A basic Savage Worlds process with only 2 pages (1 front 1 back to be technical) that deal with the new Hindrances and Edges. I enjoyed that 2 of the 3 new Hindrances were Foul Mouth & Teenager...side by side. Oh so true! Of the group of Edges, my favorites were, Professional Edge: “Time Cop” Persona, and Weird Edge: Manifest Destiny, both of which lend themselves to the strong willed “save the world” mindset needed to live in a role where you unquestioningly follow the dictates of a computer communicating from the future. Gearing up is fun with “Probabilistic Field Armor” and a “KnightStick” that could have come from Bond’s Q.
The assumption for most players is that they were chosen to be TPA Agents. Some for only one mission as they were the right person at the right time and some are meant for more. Everything about the TPA premise lends itself to jumping into the thick of it quickly and without much set up. The Computer knows the key moments that make or break the future and its up to the Game Master to have enough preparation to orchestrate events to give that “butterfly effect” process a real feeling in game terms. You can progress from a Provisional Agent, to Field Agent and Cell Member. Maybe, eventually, you become a Handler that runs and covers for a cell of new fledgling Provisional Agents.
To drive the adventure, each Agent will receive Objectives via a Laundry List of tasks or directives. In the provided first adventure it’s as simple (but critically important) to “Spill Pete’s Beer”. The Objectives are in degree and relative to the proximity to the action and consequences. They are: Direct, Indirect, Oblique, and Long-Shot. The further down the list the more complications and issues to deal with. Agents are give a clear sense of what is appropriate so there shouldn’t be any wild agents of chaos in this setting. Daisy knows all and wouldn’t have selected you in the first place. Also, Timmy the Time Cop Says: Destruction of property is a crime! By the way, Timmy the Time Cop is sprinkled liberally throughout to communicate a bit of humor or annoy if you are looking for something a bit grittier.
The Agent Handbook ends with How Time Works and TPA History. Daisy knows all and allows all the questions about “how” to be dealt with by Daisy’s directions. Remember, to enjoy this and almost any game, a little “willing suspension of disbelief” is important.
Where’s the Game Master?
Noticeably absent from the Agent’s Handbook is any mention of the Game Master, with only 2 minor exceptions. Maybe this is by design, after all it is the Agent’s Handbook but some little mention of the Game Master and the role is warranted in my opinion.
To discover the role of the Game Master and expectations, “The Free Preview Adventure” actually becomes required reading for TPA Game Masters. It sets the adventure stage and gives the Game Master all the information and structure needed to run the adventure. By reading the adventure, I could glean the approach the writers expect the GM to take. After seeing our Pre-gen characters again, there is a 2 page Apathy Adventure Format that is essentially all you get to help you understand Apathy’s approach to organizing their Adventures. I trust this will become more apparent in their following adventures that are advertised in the back of the Preview Adventure.
Format Example (no spoilers here, only structure that I observed), TPA GMs are expected to create their adventures with:
Encounter based Organization.
Player Objectives and Game Master Objectives
Flavor Text: Descriptive Text to convey the adventure tone and to keep the Agent’s attention.
Significant Details: event details and encounter descriptions
Game Master Notes: further setting info for GM reference (one would hope has critical
“butterfly-effect” notes to help cover for player choices and make the game flow smootly).
Stat Blocks for characters: red for enemies, green for allies
Read-Aloud Text: sometimes needed
The Adventure itself is in 3 scenes and focuses on a hi-jacking. Given our real world news, this will get folks blood pressure up. Between the handouts and the short adventure, an experienced Game Master can easily run this adventure in short order. I would suggest to the writers that as much time as they spent in creating a format for their adventures a short 1 page Game Master page could be added to expand a little bit on the Apathy Adventure Format and philosophy. Some discussion on Apathy’s page (see link) goes into it but I think every game setting needs to address the GM.
Main TPA site at Apathy: http://www.apathygames.com/tpa/
To the right you’ll see some links to support materials. Quite a bit of supporting materials in fact.
Demo Adventure zip file link: This is a misleading link name. It should be called: The Getting Started Kit as it has a very useful set of handouts for the first adventure that help the beginner’s game get started smoothly. The handouts are:
Preview Adventure - This first adventure is really a guide on how Apathy suggests the
format or structure of adventures be event driven.
Pregen Characters - The 8 characters from the Agent’s Handbook but conveniently redone
in the character sheet format for ease of use by players.
Character Sheet - easy to use form. Missing from many much larger project so it was nice
Handouts: These handouts were specific to the Free Adventure but give a nice example
of what you can do:
Flight 101 - Laundry List: Objectives for the Pre-Gens
Flight 101 - Newspaper Clipping: potential news headlines depending on the outcome.
Flight 101 - Oahu: a contest winner announcement, prop.
TPA - FAQ: A one page description of the TPA and your role. Literally the first page
of the Agent’s Handbook.
TPA Pamphlet: A Timmy the Time Cop comic that visually shows some of the points
in the game in a more visual format
Apathy has a link to their Quick Temporal Agent Primer: http://www.apathygames.com/tpa-new-agent-primer/
Last Observations: For $4.99, the offering is a great value. The setting is unique and simple enough you can jump right in. The art work is adequate and conveys the setting. I like that the art is consistent throughout and not a hodge-podge of various projects. Timmy the Time Cop can be tolerated thru a sense of humor but to me he looks like a child soldier from WWII-era eastern europe, but maybe that’s just me. NOTE TO APATHY: ADD a GM section, even if it's only 3 pages.
After slogging thru settings that are many hundreds of pages, this one is a refreshing and simple offering. I can see playing a few adventures with my wife as there aren’t any dark overtones and she used to love the TV Show “Early Edition”. This reminds me a lot of that show (just add guns). Good wholesome “Save the World” fun!
The Savage Duck (Derek Brown - filling in for The Savage Troll: rptroll.blogstpot.com )
[4 of 5 Stars!]