Time travel works, but not in the way you'd expect. First off, you can only travel into the past. That's because time is like a funnel; an infinity of potential futures spiral into the present until just one becomes the past. If you were to go up the timeline, you would be scattered amongst those futures like dust in a hurricane.
This is where it gets really strange. Since there are many futures, and only one past, every group of time travelers comes from a slightly different timeline. There are refugees from worlds where men are hunted by machines, Nazis, and monsters of their own creation. There are colonists from worlds where the face of humanity has been altered by genetic engineering, nanotechnology, or cybernetics. Aliens among us.
Once they make the trip, they can never go back. The very act of time travel creates a new timeline; to those they leave behind, the time travelers just cease to exist. Plus, most don't know how time travel works and the machines that make it possible stay in the future. Some of these "Colonists" come to live lives of peaceful obscurity, while others want to change their new future for the better. What they all have in common is that their knowledge and their science give them power over the "natives," their primitive ancestors.
Thus has the past become infested with colonists from myriad futures. In the ancient world, they made themselves gods. Now, they sell us our own inventions and live like kings. They manipulate the world stage from behind the scenes. They wage silent wars against each other, and humanity's future is the prize.
Welcome to Tempus!
Tempus is, in many ways, an experiment. It is an experiment is genre because it tries to do for sci-fi what urban fantasy did for magic: bring the tropes of another time into the modern world. This gives players something familiar they can hold onto while exploring crazy future tech and bizarre secret societies. It helps make the strange (and cool!) less strange (but no less cool).
It is also an experiment in format. This free primer introduces the premise (that time travelers from many parallel futures have colonized the present) and shows you how to use Tempus with your favorite game. Thanks to a Creative Commons License, it also gives you permission to publish your own Tempus material, even for profit.
The Colonists will get their own booklets, each priced low enough to let you pick and choose which ones you want to buy. Since it's all 100% setting material, you'll never have to pay for rules you won't use.
The first two questions every game must answer are "Who are the characters?" and "What do they do?" If you're dropping some Tempus material into an existing game, you already know. If you're starting a Tempus game from scratch, here are a few suggestions...
The life of a time traveler is rarely uneventful. If one's Colony isn't involved in some bid to alter history or dominate the world, they've still got quite a secret to keep hidden. Many carry advanced technology in their bodies, which makes discretion all the more difficult, and external devices sometimes need to be recovered from rivals, spies, and relic hunters.
Plenty of the Colonists groups are suitable for use as player-characters, most notably the Plexus and the Olympians. They give your PCs common goals, a solid reason to work together, and some nifty powers to play with. Individual Colonist books will have more advice on adventures and character creation.
Many of the Colonists who set up shop in the ancient world (ie. the Olympians) left behind several museums' worth of future tech relics (ie. the Ley Lines). Most of them still lie buried beneath the sands of time. Those whose business it is to dig up such artifacts sometimes get more than they bargained for... like the attention of modern day Colonists.
Archeologist adventures are all about the relics: racing to find them, defeating the traps set to protect them, stealing them back from snooty French rivals, and so forth. The Colonists are either just back story (ie. where the relics came from) or they're the Bad Guys out to steal or destroy the PCs' find. Speaking of the PCs, an archeology team isn't limited to scholars; they may also include bodyguards, explorers, diplomats, occultists, technicians, and native guides (like Sherpas).
Some of those who learn about the Colonists find it impossible to return to their normal lives. They resent the time travelers' power and seek to destroy them. Most end up dead, but a few manage to survive long enough to get organized or acquire future tech of their own. They force the Colonists to fight on their terms and, sometimes, they even win.
Headhunters can come from all walks of life, but those with military or intelligence training are most likely to survive: soldiers, spies, cops, etc. The smart ones do their homework; conducting research and surveillance takes up the majority of their time. When the time comes for violence, ambushes and assassination are the tactics of choice. (Nanomorphs and the mutant Nazis of Chapter 13 are popular targets.)
Not everyone comes into contact with time travelers by accident. A number of world governments and mega-corporations hire black-ops agents to steal future tech, gather intelligence, and thwart the Colonists' efforts to influence politics and history.
These spooks aren't all soldiers and super-spies. Hackers and scientists are often more valuable than sharpshooters, when dealing with strange tech from distant futures. Certain missions may call for specialists in archeology, history, even the occult. If the organization in question can flip a Colonist, either as a hired gun or a sleeper agent, all the better!
Let's be honest, getting cool sci-fi weapons and gadgets into modern settings is what this little experiment is all about. Naturally, most of said coolness will be found in the Colonist books, but there are a couple of issues I'd like to cover here: smartguns and how to run future tech without rules.
Apparently, these fun toys can be found all over the near future, because lots of time travelers bring them along for the trip. They also don't seem too concerned about keeping them under wraps, so a great many have found their way onto the black market. Even headhunters have them!
A smartgun looks pretty much like a modern day handgun, maybe a little bulkier and with a few more flashing lights. A dedicated targeting computer, mounted under the barrel, tracks targets and feeds guidance data to bullets in flight. Smart bullets steer by opening and closing microscopic vents built right into the lead. They can't shoot around corners, but it's enough to drastically increase an average gunman's accuracy at medium to long range. Smart bullets aren't too hard to come by, for those with the right connections, but smartguns can also fire regular ammo in a pinch.
Future Tech the Wushu Way
Yes, Tempus is all about the toys, but don't expect pages and pages of crunchy game stats. Tempus is 100% setting, remember? However, that doesn't mean your power hungry players can't look forward to the tactical advantages of advanced technology.
Take a lesson from Wushu, my rules-lite game of cinematic action. In Wushu, players earn bonus dice for embellishing their actions with colorful details: stunts, kung-fu moves, snappy one-liners, and so forth. If you want to get the most out of your Future Tech, you'll have to add suitably strange, impressive, or frightening details when you describe them in action. So, give yourself (and your players) a little bonus for each detail. It could be an extra die, a bonus to hit, a reduction in difficulty... whatever works in your game of choice.