Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Review of Continuum RPG

Last year I ran a Continuum campaign, which I (and my players) enjoyed enough that it makes me feel this game deserves a little press.

Continuum, by Aetherco, is a time-travel RPG. Every PC has the ability to travel through time at will, and teleport in space. A starting character can only shift through a year of time in one jump, then they need to get a full night's rest. But that still means you can hop all over history if you really set your mind to it. And even within your one-year Span, there's a lot of crazy things you can do. All that nonsense from the last reels of the Bill & Ted films: talking to yourself, jumping away for a crash-course in guitar, retroactively hiding the keys inside the cage you were trapped in, skipping out to fake your own death, etc.

Keeping up with it all is a lot of work for the GM. I kept extensive notes on where and when everyone went so that I'd be prepared for the inevitable "Gemini Incidents" when someone met their younger self, and the "Fragging" situations where the past suddenly changed from what you had remembered. The game does a decent job of spreading that memory burden amongst the players, but the GM really needs to keep on top of the big picture. It's amazing how much trouble a PC can make for themselves given that kind of power. I probably could have cut my NPC cast in half and trimmed the plot back by 70%. The players would have still had fun bouncing around accidentally fragging each other.

The mechanics were the only shaky part of the game. If you have a favorite RPG that you run a lot, you may want to try importing that games combat system into Continuum. While the Continuum RPG had some wonderfully innovative features, most of the die rolls were less fluid than I'd have preferred, and I didn't care for the damage system.

Time-combat (the system for fragging and chasing foes through time) makes the mind reel, which is both a pro and a con, but absolutely necessary to the game. It really captured the feel of the craziness you could do with unlimited time-travel, but sometimes that was more than we linear-mortals could keep on top of. I ended up making a whole bunch of tools for keeping track of the campaign, and for summarizing time combat. I may post them here sometime.

As a GM, I really enjoyed skill-acquisition being just a function of time expenditure - if It was vital for a PC to have a particular skill, I could count on them hopping off for 6-month intensive course ASAP. Never a worry about play balance - just throw everything at the PCs and they'll level themselves up in the middle of the fight to deal with it.

Where the game really excelled was in theme and setting. Some serious thought went into designing Continuum. They have an extended timeline in the GM section that covers something like 18,000 years of history. Time travellers fall into two camps: The Continuum (a secret society which feels changing recorded history is harmful to the universe) and Narcissists (rogues who believe they can create their own reality by changing the past). There's also a third faction of sorts, Antedesertium, an enemy group that rules a section of prehistory and constantly fails to destroy the earth. Aliens, Atlantis, Neanderthals, Joan of Arc and the Comte de St.Germaine all make cameos. And the players get to be part of The Conspiracy.

Nothing's black and white. The Continuum are largely cast as the goodguys, because changing the past does indeed unravel reality (think of how Marty started to dissolve in Back To The Future). But the Continuum sometimes has to do very distasteful things (like save the life of Hitler whenever a Narcissist takes a shot at him) in order to preserve that past and prevent global fragmentation. The ancient kings of Antedesertium aren't human, but neither are the Inheritors whom the Continuum evolve into. If you enjoy moral ambiguity, shades of grey and shifting loyalties, this game's perfect for you.

I highly recommend Continuum. It can run the gamut from hard sci-fi with darkly oppressive conspiracies, to campy Dr.Who-inspired mystery and exploration, to wacky Bill & Ted slapstick. We hit all three in various phases of my campaign. It takes a bit of administrative work to keep it running smoothly, but the payoff is well worth the extra effort.

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