Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: Temporal Probability Agency: Agent's Handbook

With my duties as RPTools Bard consuming most of my time these days, I requested Derek aka The Savage Duck take over and do some reviews until things settle down a bit over at Here's his first effort, the Temporal Probability Agent's Handbook. I think you'll enjoy it. - RK ATHEY

Publisher: Apathy Games
Product: Temporal Probability Agency - Agent’s Handbook
Type: Modern Campaign Setting with Sci-Fi elements
Price: $4.99 - download

Agent’s Handbook

You are minding your own business, walking home from the park. Suddenly, the TPA contacts you with an urgent assignment and the TPA pays well. The Agency needs you to go to Bob’s Records tomorrow at noon, strike up a simple conversation, and keep it going for 5 minutes. That’s all, just 5 minutes. That seemingly innocuous task will save three lives and pay $1,000. Sure, the assignment is supposedly sent from the future by a computer named Daisy but, still, it's $1000.

The TPA’s Agent Handbook is refreshingly light. DriveThruRPG has it listed at 90 pages but that’s only if you include all the Adventure Files and handouts found at Apathy’s site. Still, the main book is 25 pages and that was a relief to me. Since I live in the here and now, you don’t need to include 200 pages to document today’s technology and it makes for a much faster path to jump in.

You are greeted with “Welcome to the TPA!”. The page is the TPA Pamphlet from the Demo Adventure handout package and gives you the real “one page” treatment of who, what, why, when, and how of the TPA.  Essentially a computer named Daisy is in the future sending  back info to fix the timeline. You have been chosen by Daisy to accomplish some tasks that you are best suited to accomplish. You are contacted, given a “to do” list, and outfitted with what you need to accomplish your goals. A generous reward awaits you when you complete your tasks.

Pretty simple.

Character creation is as simple as it gets. A basic Savage Worlds process with only 2 pages dealing with the new Hindrances and Edges. I enjoyed that 2 of the 3 new Hindrances were Foul Mouth & Teenager. My favorite new Edges were Professional Edge: “Time Cop” Persona, and Weird Edge: Manifest Destiny, both of which lend themselves to the strong willed “save the world” mindset needed to live in a role where you unquestioningly follow the dictates of a computer communicating from the future.  Gearing up is fun with “Probabilistic Field Armor” and a “KnightStick” that could have come from Bond’s Q.

The characters were chosen to be TPA Agents. Some for only one mission while others are meant for more. Everything about the TPA premise lends itself to jumping into the thick of it quickly and without much set up. The Computer knows the key moments that make or break the future and its up to the Game Master to have enough preparation to orchestrate events to give that “butterfly effect” process a real feeling in game terms. You can progress from a Provisional Agent to Field Agent to Cell Member.  Maybe, eventually, you become a Handler that runs and covers for a cell of new fledgling Provisional Agents. 

To drive the adventure, each Agent will receive Objectives via a Laundry List of tasks or directives. In the first adventure, it’s as simple (but critically important) to “Spill Pete’s Beer”.  The Objectives are in degree and relative to the proximity to the action and consequences. They are: Direct, Indirect, Oblique, and Long-Shot. The further down the list the more complications and issues to deal with.  Agents are give a clear sense of what is appropriate so there shouldn’t be any wild agents of chaos in this setting. Daisy knows all and wouldn’t have selected you in the first place. Also, Timmy the Time Cop Says: Destruction of property is a crime! By the way, Timmy the Time Cop is sprinkled liberally throughout to communicate a bit of humor or annoy if you are looking for something a bit grittier.

The Agent Handbook ends with How Time Works and TPA History. Daisy knows all and allows all the questions about “how” to be dealt with by Daisy’s directions. Remember, to enjoy this and almost any game, a little “willing suspension of disbelief” is important. 

Where’s the Game Master?

Noticeably absent from the Agent’s Handbook is any mention of the Game Master, with only 2 minor exceptions.  Maybe this is by design. After all it is the Agent’s Handbook but some little mention of the Game Master and the role is warranted in my opinion. 

To discover the role of the Game Master and expectations, “The Free Preview Adventure” actually becomes required reading for TPA Game Masters. It sets the adventure stage and gives the Game Master all the information and structure needed to run the adventure. By reading the adventure, I could glean the approach the writers expect the GM to take. After seeing our Pre-gen characters again, there is a 2 page Apathy Adventure Format that is essentially all you get to help you understand Apathy’s approach to organizing their Adventures. I trust this will become more apparent in their following adventures that are advertised in the back of the Preview Adventure. 

Format Example (no spoilers here, only structure that I observed), TPA GMs are expected to create their adventures with: 
  • Encounter based Organization.
  • Player Objectives and Game Master Objectives
  • Flavor Text: Descriptive Text to convey the adventure tone and to keep the Agent’s attention. 
  • Significant Details: event details and encounter descriptions
  • Game Master Notes: further setting info for GM reference (one would hope has critical “butterfly-effect”  notes to help cover for player choices and make the game flow smootly).
  • Stat Blocks for characters: red for enemies, green for allies
  • Read-Aloud Text: sometimes needed
The three-scene Adventure focuses on a hi-jacking. Between the handouts and the short adventure, an experienced Game Master can easily run this adventure in short order. A short one-page Game Master section should be added to expand a little on the Apathy Adventure Format and philosophy. Some discussion on Apathy’s page (see link) goes into it but I think every game setting needs to address the GM.

Main TPA site at Apathy:
To the right you’ll see some links to support materials. Quite a bit of supporting materials in fact.
You’ll Find:
  • Demo Adventure zip file link: This is a misleading link name. It should be called: The Getting Started Kit as it has a very useful set of handouts for the first adventure that help the beginner’s game get started smoothly. The handouts are:
  • Preview Adventure - This first adventure is really a guide on how Apathy suggests the format or structure of adventures be event driven. 
  • Pregen Characters -  The 8 characters from the Agent’s Handbook but conveniently redone in the character sheet format for ease of use by players. 
  • Character Sheet - easy to use form. Missing from many much larger project so it was nice to find.
Handouts: These handouts were specific to the Free Adventure but give a nice example of what you can do:
  • Flight 101 - Laundry List: Objectives for the Pre-Gens
  • Flight 101 - Newspaper Clipping: potential news headlines depending on the outcome.
  • Flight 101 - Oahu: a contest winner announcement, prop.
  • TPA - FAQ: A one page description of the TPA and your role. Literally the first page of the Agent’s Handbook.
  • TPA Pamphlet: A Timmy the Time Cop comic that visually shows some of the points in the game in a more visual format
Apathy has link to their Quick Temporal Agent Primer:

Timmy the Timecop
Last Observations: For $4.99, the offering is a great value. The setting is unique and simple enough you can jump right in. The art work is adequate and conveys the setting. I like that the art is consistent throughout and not a hodge-podge of various projects. Timmy the Time Cop can be tolerated thru a sense of humor but to me he looks like a child soldier from WWII-era eastern europe, but maybe that’s just me.  After slogging thru settings that are many hundreds of pages, this one is a refreshing and simple offering.  I can see playing a few adventures with my wife as there aren’t any dark overtones and she used to love the TV Show “Early Edition”.  This reminds me alot of that show. Good wholesome “Save the World” fun!

The Savage Duck


  1. Thank you very much for the review. I first saw it over at RPGNow, and comment there, but figured I should share my thanks again here.

    I'm glad you liked it. The only thing I really need to add is that the Game Master material is included with To Predict and Serve, which should be in the zip file that included the Agent's Handbook.

    If you or your readers have any questions, please feel free to ask. We'd love to answer them.

  2. We've been long time fans of Apathy and greatly appreciate your support of Savage Worlds.