Role-playing reviews

Reviews related to role-playing games, with a focus on Gods & Monsters, and a bit of superhero gaming.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

GURPS: Timeline

Jerry Stratton, June 24, 2004

Subtitled “From the Big Bang to the Bombing of Baghdad”, this sourcebook could definitely use an update. The bombing they’re talking about is the 1991 bombing after Iraq invaded Kuwait. In fact, the abbreviated timeline goes to 1992 and Ross Perot’s run for the presidency.

The latest detailed event, however, is Biafra’s short and tragic history from 1967 to 1970. The book (now out of print, but still available through other sources) could certainly use an update.

That said, if you can find it it is a fascinating, idea-laden read for any superhero game.

The image on the front and back covers has futuristic armor-suited storm-trooper-types ala Star Wars. They’re holding really big guns and a holographic PDA with a pop-up image of Adolph Hitler and the instructions “ELIMINATE”. (Because PDAs in the future don’t use lower case. When we move away from writing, why would we need both upper and lower case?)

On the inside front cover there’s a half-naked tourist taking a picture of a pyramid, so large its tip is covered in clouds.

While the work has wide application potential, it is basically designed with a Poul Anderson-style “Time Patrol” campaign in mind. Remember, though, that in science fantasy (such as Star Trek-style games) or superhero games, this style of adventure can be an interesting change of pace within a larger campaign. The “Time Patrol” doesn’t have to be an organized group; it can be a lost superhero group or space travelers who accidentally hit a wormhole at just the wrong angle.

The book consists of two basic parts. Running along the bottom of each page is an abbreviated timeline that starts with the Big Bang in “-15 billion” through “chordates evolve” in -550 million, and on up to things like “Code of Hammurabi defines earliest known formal legal system” in -1750 and “Guy Fawkes arrested in the cellars of Parliament...” in 1605. The abbreviated timeline is nowhere near as detailed as works such as Bernard Grun’s huge “Timetables of History” but it is very useful as a source for adventure ideas. (Grun’s work is more useful once you have the adventure idea and need to flesh out the historical portion of the adventure.)

What’s a Nubian?

Running across the top of each page are more detailed adventure hooks. They’re still small--something like half a page or so per item. For example, at 701 BC there is a section on “The Nubians”. In six short paragraphs it outlines the kind of information gamers might want to know: that they were culturally very influenced by Egypt, that the two nations were often at war (in 2613 BC Pharaoh Snefru “undertook its first great invasion of Nubia”) and then later in 712 Nubia conquered Egypt but, after 663 BC when the Assyrians took Egypt Nubia “became steadily more isolated” but “endured until the 4th century AD”.

You’ll notice that while the headline is 701 BC for this entry, it spans about 3,000 years. The top part is not meant as a historical cross-reference with the bottom part.

Most of these more detailed entries are fascinating, and this book is a great one for just browsing through and reading snippets from. Many also include details on what might happen if this event were interfered with. For example, in 1120 the “White Ship” carrying the heir to the throne of England and several earls and barons foundered and sank while leaving England’s holdings in France. The result was “a bitter civil war” when King Henry later died before his newly chosen heir was of age.

The text notes that were the White Ship or its passengers saved, England’s empire on the continent might have remained more stable. But it would have also meant the loss of the mercurial Richard the Lionhearted and his brother Prince John.

If there truly were time travelers, this book would make a great source for identifying historical pressure points. Under “The Medicis” of 1400, it says:

The Medici family of Florence offers perhaps the best chance to permanently and irrevocably change the course of human history with a single assassination. If an ambitious time traveler would kill any of the direct ancestors of Lorenzo and Cosimo Medici, he would simultaneously annihilate four popes, two of France’s greatest queens, and a double handful of the most important rulers of the Renaissance. And that’s the minor consequence of his action. The major effect... would be to destroy the Renaissance itself!

And then it goes into detail on the lines of the Medici family.

History on Five Dollars a Day

While this book is out of print, it appears that it shows up on Amazon’s used booksellers for reasonable prices. If you are looking for a historical travel guide, either as player or game master, this is a fun and useful sourcebook.

  1. <- Inns & Taverns
  2. Vlad the Impaler ->