RPGs That Time Forgot... Clash of Kings

Clash of Kings
Tag line: A Tale of Arthur and Merlin
Makers: Pacesetter, for TimeMaster (written by Mark Acres, 1984)

What is it?
An adventure for your Time Corps characters in which they must prevent someone from unraveling Arthurian history before the effects catch up to the present and undo the Time Corps itself. But what's myth and what's history?

Neat stuff
-Use of Aubrey Beardsley's artwork from the 1893 edition of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. Though only sparsely illustrated, they help create the proper Arthurian feel, and the even the maps have taken on some of the art's characteristics.
-Time travel scenarios are notoriously difficult to do because having a proper grasp of history seems so important to both players and GMs. Arthurian history, however, is shrouded in myth. Throw time travelers into the mix and it may help explain some of the magic in the tale. It's a perfect era to adventure in, as the players should know the broad strokes, but won't be picky about the details (or am I the only one who plays with History majors?).
-You really do go through all of Arthurian history, having to be present at all the key points, from his conception by Uther Pendragon in that great big armor to his pulling of Excalibur from a stone to Lancelot's Richard Geresque arrival to his final battle with Mordred.
-The historical changes chart. The scenario helps you keep track of changes, both major and minor, and based on the result, tells you what the Corpsmen go back to when they go home. Very fun. You'll want to read them all to your players so they know "what might have been".

Bad stuff
-There gets to be a lot of fighting with Demoreans. Don't get me wrong. I hate those history-changing Nazis as much as the next guy, but it gets tedious after awhile. The setting makes violence all too easy, and the action sometimes predictable.
-It's still a time travel scenario, and while I can't call it a flaw, sometimes things get confusing for players. I guess we're not all built for paradoxes, and Clash of Kings doesn't follow a simple "go to another time and have an adventure". Players have to keep track of what they want to protect in the timeline at various points. It's not really "bad stuff", but some groups may see this as a warning.
-Some elements of the story require a player to have a Telepathic Sending skill, which can be a problem for GMs trying to convert this old TimeMaster stuff to a more modern game which psionics may not be a part of.

"Soon, there is only silence; your characters have lived out their natural lives in time, and died." - in case of epic failure!

How I've used it
A couple years ago, I found the old TimeMaster game and a bunch of adventure modules on eBay for the right price and pounced on it. I'm a big fan of time travel stories and had heard some good things. Of course, time travel RPGs scare my players to death. Some are afraid of History and of not knowing enough to get by, and those that are hardened historians are afraid of paradoxes lurking in every corner (on the fly history is especially tough on these latter gents). But from time to time, it can be fun, so I adapted the scenario for our Dream Park game (DP allows you to play in a different setting each game) with minimal changes to the story's beats. As expected, there was a lot of hesitation as players were afraid of erasing their own lives or something. Just a byproduct of unfamiliarity with the genre. In the end, all that was erased was a few poems (sorry, T.S. Eliot!). A fun session, especially for the resident Arthurian.

In conclusion
TimeMaster is a competently made game, if a little old school (though I hear the kids are into that), and Clash of Kings one of the better scenarios published for it from what I can suss out from other reviews and flipping through them myself. It looks like a large number of TM's stuff sends the players into parallel worlds where magic and myth are possible, which to me, isn't what time travel stories should be about. Clash of Kings, despite the presence of a Merlin character, remains a credible SF story by resisting the urge to appeal to a D&D audience.


Anonymous said...

There are a lot of little gems lost into the tide of RPGs universe...

For example Akelarre, a godd Spanish RPG completly unkown for you Americans.


Siskoid said...

Well, I'm French-Canadian, but the point stands. I've seen some interesting French RPGs (in fact, In Nomine was originally French) and descriptions of Japanese RPGs I've found very interesting as well.

What we need is translation! I wonder if there are companies that actively seek to license international games...


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