A campaign concept using S. John Ross’s Risus rules
by Ken MacLennan
Guarding the integrity of the space-time continuum is a demanding and dangerous task, requiring the services of agents with truly extraordinary abilities. These elite agents, handpicked from throughout the tapestry of history for outstanding skills and qualities making them distinctive in their own times and places, represent the absolute best and brightest that humanity has to offer. They are the ETERNITY CORPS, and in their hands lies the safety of Time as we know it.
Note: Playing in this setting requires the Risus rules, by S. John Ross, which rules are available (for free, in the basic version) via the Cumberland Games website (http://www222.pair.com/sjohn/risus.htm). Very little of what follows will make sense as a game unless you are familiar with the Risus system (or can access it for reference purposes).
Personages of Historical Significance:Character Adaptation
In ETERNITY!, player characters are not so much created as adapted. Players take the roles of famous (or infamous) historical figures charged with guarding the space-time continuum against threats to its integrity. Characters may be chosen from any era, famed for any field of endeavor, BUT will ideally be individuals who require little or no explanation to one’s fellow players. Characters may be semi-historical (say, the Scorpion King or Robin Hood), but not wholly mythological or fictional (e.g., Hercules or Miss Marple). An ETERNITY! player character is also known as a Personage of Historical Significance or PHS for short (PsHS—pronounced “peez-aitch-ess”—in the plural).
Persona and Hidden Talents
The Clichés that define a PHS should, for the most part, reflect the individual’s persona as history and tradition have defined it. Thus, players really ought to choose individuals who are familiar enough to their fellow players that the historical/traditional clichés resonate; otherwise, you will be less entertaining to them and the game won’t be as much fun.
One Cliché, however, may depart radically from that persona; we call this Cliché the Hidden Talent. It must be a minor Cliché, but it can (indeed, should) be as anachronistic or outlandish as the player wishes. The Hidden Talent may represent skills picked up since the PHS’s induction into the Eternity Corps (and their “death” in Earth’s recorded history), it may represent some “lesser-known” (i.e., entirely made-up) aspect of the PHS’s persona allegedly overlooked by History, or it can (GM willing) be completely fantastic (i.e., magical or super powers).
Note that “Time Cop” is not an appropriate Cliché for a PHS, despite the fact that all PsHS in the Corps are by definition time cops. Such a Cliché would take valuable dice away from more entertaining Clichés, and the “Hidden Talent” rule gives players the chance to balance out their characters’ skill sets if the historical personas are weak in abilities important to the job. “Gun Nut,” “Extreme-Sports Athlete,” or even “Private Gumshoe,” are examples of Hidden Talents that can help PsHS manage the rougher aspects of time-stream policing. ETERNITY! also encourages extensive use of the Inappropriate Cliché rule in this context.
Hooks and Tales in ETERNITY!
You may assign a Hook to your PHS, if (and only if) said Hook is drawn from the historical persona of the PHS. (No Hidden Flaws here!) For example, if you decided to play Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a PHS, you could use his polio as a Hook; if playing Napoleon I, your GM might allow a Hook for his obsession with winning.
Tales, on the other hand, don’t really have a place in ETERNITY! We’re playing with the stereotypes of historical figures, and any background beyond the level of general knowledge threatens the slapstick quality of the setting. But if your GM wants to allow 'em, who am I to forbid it?
Wizened Chinese Sage (4) (Dispensing Cryptic Wisdom, Knowing Ancient History and Classical Literature, Inspiring the Respect of One’s Juniors)
Beacon of Righteousness (3) (Resolving Moral Dilemmas, Standing Up to Evil, Keeping People on the Straight and Narrow)
HT: Improvisational Jazz Genius (3) (Playing Killer Riffs, Laying Down Grooves, Looking Cool)
Intrepid Fugitive Guide (4) (Evading Pursuers, Finding the Way, Hiding from People and Dogs)
Crusader for Justice (4) (Confronting Villainy, Speaking Truth to Power, Agitating for Positive Social Change)
HT:Wu-Shu Master (2) (Martial Arts Blows, Feints, and Dodges)
Baseball Star (4) (Throwing, Catching, Batting)
Party Animal (4) (Holding His Liquor, Eating Prodigious Quantities, Picking Up Women)
HT: Connoisseur of Ancient Art (2) (Identifying Ancient Cultures, Spotting Forgeries, Estimating Market Values)
About the Eternity Corps
The origins and history of the Eternity Corps are so tangled up in time-traveling paradoxes that it is impossible to say, really, when and how it was founded. In a sense, it has always existed, for wherever there has been trouble with the space-time continuum Eternity Corps agents have been on the scene to straighten matters out. More prosaically, it would have to have been established after humanity had mastered the art of time travel, but honestly, it’s not that important. Make up whatever backstory suits your purposes as a gamemaster. However, the Eternity Corps headquarters exists outside the space-time continuum, in an artificial bubble of existence created especially for the purpose of housing the Corps. Members of the Corps ignore any paradoxes caused by this circumstance, and you should feel free to do likewise.
Mission teams may be permanent (if you and your players want to keep using the same PsHS) or ad hoc (if you want to keep experimenting with new PHS ideas). Each team is managed by a Control—an NPC senior agent whose job entails briefing, monitoring, debriefing, and evaluating Eternity Corps field teams. This control should also be a PHS, although whether you assign a personage of traditional moral/political authority (e.g., King Solomon) or not (say, Ed Wood—in or out of drag) depends upon your tastes and intentions as GM.
The Corps maintains a large-scale Anachroscanner (q.v.) system that both identifies dangers to the continuum and enables the Corps to track its agents. They can send you out, know when you’ve accomplished your mission, and then pull you back to HQ when you’re done—or when you’ve screwed up so badly that they need to send out another team.
In a standard Corps mission the Control calls a team of agents in, briefs them on the problem to be dealt with, then sends them out to their first destination. From there the agents assess the problem, take whatever measures they deem appropriate, and signal the Corps if they need to move on to another set of time-space coordinates to further the mission goal. This process generally continues until the mission is completed. That standard, however, is tenuous at best, and I’m certainly not going to tell you GMs how to do your job.
Agents of the Eternity Corps dress in plainclothes; i.e., they wear what they wore in their earthly lives, and carry the appropriate Tools of the Trade, except when a case requires incognito.(Then, of course, hilarity ensues.) The Corps also issues certain standard pieces of equipment to help agents resolve cases:
1) Anachroscanner: a detector designed to locate objects and entities displaced from their proper position in the time stream. The device can be fooled, and its range tends to be short, but it is generally effective. The Corps usually assigns one to each team of agents.
2) Stunner: a hand-held, non-lethal ranged weapon firing a particle beam. Each PHS is equipped with one as a Tool of the Trade, no matter what Clichés she might have. If the PHS needs to use the stunner, then use an appropriate or Inappropriate Cliché for the action as circumstances may suggest. Of course, there are other ways to subdue bad-guys besides zapping them with a stunner...
3) Chronommunicator: Each PHS carries one. Permits contact between team members who are separated, as well as with Control. Not as reliable as one would hope; as with cell-phone service, in some areas of space-time reception is poor or entirely absent.
4) Synaptic-Mnemonic Reconfigurator: a memory-modification device. As part of protecting the space-time continuum, PsHS occasionally have to modify people’s memories so that their necessary and (hopefully) minor anachronisms don’t end up written into the historical record. Each team is issued one, and they are strictly instructed to use it no more than absolutely necessary. The device only works at very close range--i.e., within hand-to-hand combat reach. Excessive or improper use of an SMR can get a PHS into very deep trouble with the Corps.
Saving the Space-Time Continuum:Eternity Corps Adventures
So, what sort of threats does the Eternity Corps guard against? Space-time is full of people (in the broadest sense of the term) willing to risk unraveling it in order to have things their way. In addition, occasionally the fabric of space-time produces its own threats— wormholes, time storms, and whatnot— that threaten to unravel the continuum and put an end to existence as we know it. Here are some of the types of cases that Eternity Corps agents handle:
Anachrosmuggling: The unauthorized transfer of technology to an inappropriate era, for profit or to influence the outcome of events.
Artifact Forgery: Unscrupulous time travelers bury objects in the deep past in order to improve their resale value in the future.
Doppelgangering: Subverters of History kidnap key individuals from their proper contexts and replace them with impostors or duplicates who attempt to change the course of events to their employers’ liking.
Time Storm Cleanup: The restoration of persons or items dispersed in time storms to their appropriate contexts.
Wormhole Closure: If left unsealed, wormholes in the space-time continuum can pull unsuspecting persons or important objects into wholly inappropriate contexts, threatening the integrity of the continuum and/or the safety of any individuals involved. Wormholes, however, may be difficult to access due to their tendency to pull people and things through them.
Pick-Up Adventure Design Mechanic:
I learned this trick from a friend who in turn learned it from another friend, so I'm not in a position to give due credit for it—if it's your idea, by all means claim it. We've used it in all our ETERNITY! adventures to date with some success.
Have each player write down one word—any word, within such limits of comprehensibility or good taste that you might wish to set—without telling the others. When everyone is done, collect the words. Take ten minutes to work out an adventure that incorporates all of the words in some fashion as elements of plot or atmosphere.
Shout-Outs and Sources
S. John Ross, creator of the Risus system
Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure)
John Scieszka and Lane Smith (Time Warp Trio)
Steve Purcell (Sam & Max, Freelance Police)
Jay Ward and Ted Key (Peabody’s Improbable History)
Donald P.Bellisario (Quantum Leap)
And Otto Binder and Sheldon Moldoff (Kid Eternity)
(I should probably cite David Wasson’s Time Squad here, too, but I must confess I’ve never actually watched it)
Oops! almost forgot my playtest crew:
Colin Amato (Jesus of Nazareth)
Adam Boring (Nikola Tesla, Jim "Lizard King" Morrison)
Becky Steussy Boring (Florence Nightingale, Cleopatra)
Marcus Clawson (Salvador Dali)
Geneva Dillow (William "Bill" Shakespeare)
Brent Wolke (Sam "Mark Twain" Clemens, Rube Goldberg)