To Play Or Not To Play: TimeLords


TimeLords: where you can design yourself. Thrust through time and space by an artifact you don't understand. To go home, you must survive long enough to learn to control the awesome forces at your disposal. But by then, would you want to go back? (A word of warning: TimeLords is a game that strives to be as realistic as possible.)

TimeLords is by far the hardest, most complicated, and most entertaining game I have ever played. Created by Greg Porter, distributed by the Blacksburg Tactical Research Center, and play tested at Virginia Tech, it has the most complicated combat system I have ever seen. As combat is such a major part of storytelling and roleplaying, this poses some problems. A word of warning: TimeLords is a game that strives to be as realistic as possible. Simplicity of play in this game is often sacrificed for realism. For a leaner, simpler, or more fantastic game of the same line try Hero or GURPS.

Body Points are a function of mass and are roughly the square root of mass in kilograms * 3.3(u).

Combat damage or wounds in TimeLords doesn't rely on Hit Points. Instead it relies on Body Points (actual damage) and Bruise Points (damage that fades quickly like a bruise).

Body Points (BP) are a measure of how much damage your body can absorb. You do not lose Body Points when you take damage, instead damage is given as an effect and the severity of the effect is based on the percentage of your Body Points done in a hit. Body Points are a function of mass and are roughly the square root of mass in kilograms*3.3(u).

For example: If a character with 30BP were hit for 10 points of damage, the effects would be at the 33% level, but a character with 40BP would take effects on the 25% level.

Bruise Points (BR) on the other hand are a measure of how much non-lethal damage your character can take before becoming dazed, knocked unconscious, et cetera. Bruise Points are equal to Body Points, but the effects of the damage are recovered much more quickly.

Skills, combat related or otherwise, are number based. Modifiers to skills are percentage based. This is a little confusing at first but works well once you get used to it. In addition and subtraction systems like D&D, GURPS, and Rifts (to name a few), a character with a skill of 10 who received a -10 to their roll would never succeed, whereas a character with a skill of 20 would still have a 50% chance of success. This means the first character has been dropped 100% and the second character only 50%.

In TimeLords this doesn't happen, as TimeLords uses a percentage-based modifier. Thus the character with a skill of 10 would have received a -50% and would have ended up with a 5 while the character with the skill of 20 would also have their skill lowered by 50% and would have ended up with a skill of 10. This way, both characters are affected equally.

This is where it gets really confusing. Here is an example of combat in the TimeLords book; I think it clarifies things a lot better than I could:

"Jasper 'Dogslayer' Merendino and party are being attacked by Stone Age savages. He has a 12mm muzzle loading pistol with an IA (Inherent Accuracy) of 1 and an INIT (Initiative) of +3. On his phase he steadies his gun and holds action until his target is 7 meters away. On the next phase, that savage charges him and will get to within two meters of Jasper unless he is stopped. Praying that his one shot will be enough, he pulls the trigger.

Jasper's Modern Pistol Skill (MPST) is a 7 at this point in time, and is applicable in this case. The IA of 1 effectively makes his skill an 8. The positive modifiers are: Weapon Steadied +8 and range of 7 meters, +3. The negative modifiers are: Target running -8. The sum of the modifiers is +8+3-8=+3. Looking at the UMC (Universal Modifier Chart), a skill of 8 with a +3 gives Jasper a 8+1=9 to hit.

Rolling 1D20, a 7 comes up. A hit! Jasper did not try any sort of called shot at the running target, so the hit location could be anywhere. Rolling 1D%, he gets a 29, which is a center chest hit.

The savage eats the screaming lead and takes 14 points of (average) damage to the chest. All but the first two are doubled, so the total damage is 2+(12*2)+26 Body Points. The savage has a total of 30BP, so looking at the UMC, he has taken Damage Level 16 on the torso table. Ouch!

Speeding things up, the GM says that he takes average damage. This is a 4 (remember that he is an NPC). The result is B14, U13, E8. The B result is shifted one column to the right and is still a B, the U result remains where it is, and the E result is shifted three columns to the right and becomes an E5. The end result is B14, U13, E5. The savage must make a Willpower roll with a negative 13 to stay conscious. If he had a Willpower of 14, the UMC shows that he would have to roll a 14-9=5 or less to achieve this. Rolling 1D20, he gets a 9, and will be out a while. He missed the roll by 4, and this is multiplied by 2D6 to get the minutes that he is out. The important thing is that he is out of the combat.

After the combat, the GM sees how long the savage would have lived. Using average rolls for NPC's (4 on 1D10, 2 on 1D6), we see that he would have died in 32 turns, or a little more than 5 minutes. In this case, the cause of death was probably severe bleeding."

I'm not going to go further into the combat aspect of the game in this article. What I've shown you so far only gets more complicated as you read the book. Instead, I'll tell you what makes the game so much fun... you play yourself. The premise of TimeLords is that YOU are the characters in a time traveling, dimension hopping adventure. The players take tests and answer questions with the group to make their character.

There is no place that you cannot go. Adventure into forever. Be a TimeLord.

The characters have 10 attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Willpower, Bravado, Perception, Appearance, Stamina, and Power. The characters/players start with a 10 and add or subtract as appropriate to get their final score. Warning: It is highly recommended this game be played with people you know well and trust. A lot of these questions can either get you in trouble (how often do you get away with lying) or are the group's decision (is the player voted below average for any reason) which may lead to hurt feelings and arguments.

Most of the attributes are self-explanatory, but bravado is my personal favorite. Bravado is a measure of your self image and is a mixture of courage, ego, and lack of wisdom. Also known as your gut or your balls. This attribute governs how well you can lie, bluff, intimidate, or hit on someone. Power refers to mental powers, commonly known as Psionics. While the characters probably wouldn't start with any Powers, they may develop them through the course of the campaign.

TimeLords is not a game to pick up for a session or two. This game requires a lot of time to learn and even more time to run. The players are incredibly invested in their characters (they are playing themselves after all) and so the characters will need to be handled delicately. The game runs smoothly once combat is figured out and it's a blast making up your characters.

i wonder what made you think of reviewing time lords at this of all times ;)

the combat system does sound obfuscated, though (a-hah! the B3 get left-shifted to become an E5...)

- have mercy on the newbie -



Uh... yeah.

1> Players are strongly encouraged to invest emotionally in their characters, by playing a game version of themselves.

2> Players are strongly encouraged to engage in combat, because the combat rules form a huge part of the game system.

3> The combat system is deadly and unforgiving.

Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

Oh, and have these guys gotten the rights from BBC to use the term "Timelords"? As I recall, there WAS a Dr. Who roleplaying game... there could very easily be a copyright issue here.

There was a Doctor Who RPG, but I don't think it was called Timelords. FASA produced a few books for it (Dalek Problem, The (FAS9101), Daleks, The (FAS9101), Game Operations Manual (FAS9100), Player's Manual (FAS9100), and Sourcebook For Field Agents (FAS9100)). There's also a song called "Doctorin' the Tardis" by a group called the Timelords.

And, in some circles, it's believed that Iron Maiden's "Somewhere in Time" is a tribute to Dr. Who.

The TARDIS appears on the cover to that album, as well.

I think Vax's point revolves around Dr. Who being a 'Time Lord'

And much like this one, the Dr Who roleplaying game severely discouraged combat by making it so damn complicated that the players would do anything to avoid having to use those rules :)

'The Timelords' were better known as KLF, who changed their name for that one song. It's a great song.


There is also a Dr. Who RPG called "Timelord," which was published in the very early 90s. You can download a copy for free online.

Walt C

I'm actually considering using TimeLords for a present-day role-play in which a disease has destroyed the adult population and the youth have to rebuild society by whatever means they deem appropriate. Since players are playing themselves, I figured TimeLords would work best.

Anyone know of a way to simplify the combat system to make things nice and easy? Could one just use abstract combat in place of map-based?

Could the combat system have been deliberately made complex to ease the reality of a dying character? A complicated equation with lots of charts to wade through before you nervously find out how hurt you are lends itself more toward reality because, hey, after all this complication and calculation, they must REALLY have hit on the "right equations" to "adequately map damage in real life." After that much "work", is it easier to swallow losing an arm compared to 1d8-oh-shit-the-mage-is-dead?

Use the Gurps combat system instead. It's a lot easier and easily translates between the two systems. In fact, my friends and I have been debating for a while whether or not GURPS was originally an easier (or generic) version of TimeLords.

Sorry Troll, I forgot to log on. The above reply was written by Calamar.

Personally I think this is TOO number-intensive. Still, just that little blurb gives me some ideas for some slight mods to my game's own injury system to make it a bit more realistic. I'll try to have an alpha document up in a couple of months - I'm starting with a fantasy setting but already have outlines in my head for Wing Commander and a superhero it's going to be a pretty general system. Stay tuned to your crystal balls! :p

True...and understood...but I never pass up an opportunity to mention Somewhere in Time.

Simpler combat system:

Player: I pull out my .45 and shoot him twice, in the head.

DM: The bad guy draws his gun.

Player: I said I shot him twice! What do I need to roll?

DM: The first shot in the head instantly kills the target, the exit wound the size of your fist blowing brains, blood and skin over the opposite wall where it drips down, slowly forming red lines. The second shot, aimed much too high as the body falls away, misses. The body hits the ground with a loud thump, twitching a bit, as the victim urinates all over himself. Blood pools on the floor.

Player: Woo hoo!

DM: (Packing up books and dice) What, are you proud of yourself?

Player: Uh?

DM: Screw this. I just realized why I don't like gaming with you guys. P.S. Here's a roleplaying challenge...The Guy that died was you. Your dex was too low, and he smoked you first. That's real life. No.. go ahead, lie down and bleed for XP. You leveled, woo. hoo.

Player: Dude, what's your problem?

DM: You ever shot a guy, for real?

Player: No, ah, Dude, what's...

DM: If you understood anything about real combat, you'd understand why you are glad/sad/sorry/happy/angry/relieved/sick/hurt/exhausted, all at once. I'm not coming back.

*DM Leaves*

Player: Okay screw him, man. I'll run D&D Next week.

Player2: Yeah, I'll play a fighter.


Loremaster, Land of Etarnon NWN Server (roleplay)


It's a powerful scene... I'm not sure what you mean by it.

Sounds like this DM needs to sit down and look at why he runs games.


For your information, BTRC has published other games in the vein of Timelords:
- Spacetime has a near future setting, with cybernetics and other cool glittering stuff. It has the same system as Timelords
- Warpworld has an original fantasy/post apocalyptic where our civilization was ended by the gods themselves who were angry that no one believes no more in them. With the help of magical orbs, they prevented all kind of energy concentration above a threshold. That mean no more electricity, explosives (black powder is the limit) and anything hi-tech. Meanwhile, they reintroduced magic and fantastic beasts (say hello to dragon daddy). The setting is rather fun, but the game mechanics are a little bit complicated (as timelords, and magic, being highly customizable, is at the same level).

For those who likes realistic (=deadly) combat but simpler system, BTRC also committed CORPS, which is a rule-lite, contemporary conspirationnist game with some kind of psy powers. (Beware : CORPS second Edition has a much more complicated system !).

Gamely yours,

Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

I have to agree. It also sounds fascinating - some of the rule concepts like the percentile modifiers, for example - but even so, I can't see myself ever wanting to use it.

My players complain that GURPS is too complicated, for criminy's sake. I haven't been able to break the orbit of d20, though I'm desperate to do so.

As entertaining as this is - and as sympathetic as I find myself to the sentiment - I have to ask myself how the DM came to be at this table in the first place. Not knowing any of the details, I'm tempted to conclude: he is as big, if not bigger, a bozo as his players for not realizing that he should've thought to discuss the kind of game he wanted to run before twisting off on his players in high dudgeon like that.

Screw him. I'll play a mage. =)