Time On Your Hands?

by Thomas Devine

The main problem in GMing a Timepiece/Stopwatch campaign for GURPS Time Travel is finding new places to go. Sure, you can travel to any age or epoch of history, but to do that you need either hours of library time or lots of GURPS sourcebooks.

Also, even though Timepiece wants to promote a just, egalitarian, and eco-aware society in the 22nd century, most of human history is of little obvious relevance for that job. True, many different cultures contributed to the modern world, but most of those contributions can't be attacked by Stopwatch for the same reason Timepiece won't risk messing them up, because they both need history to stay pretty much the same up to the 20th century, and even there both sides only want small changes. So here are ten useful changes for Timepiece. Each is something that would improve society, not transform it.

Save Will Rogers

Will Rogers was a powerful and well-loved voice in 1930s America. His death in 1936 was a serious blow to all those who worked for social justice. Had Rogers lived into his seventies his influence would have grown in importance.

Everything to do with cowboys and folksy Americana gained in popularity during World War II. Rogers, who was both a columnist and a movie star, would have had Demi-god status. This would have made his satires of politics even more powerful. Senator McCarthy would have been such a juicy target for Rogers. Rogers would have been able to lambast McCarthy without being called a Red. And if Rogers did get called before the committee and sent to jail, McCarthy would lose most of his support for jailing America's cowboy philosopher, a no-win trap. The chilling effects of McCarthyism on American life would have been reduced. It would be at least a 4% gain for Timepiece.

Challenge: Rogers and Wiley Post, the aviation promoter and an experienced arctic flyer who was famous for circumnavigating the globe in the far north, while taking Rogers to Point Barrow for publicity reasons, crashed in Northern Alaska because of engine failure. The challenges of saving them will be the Alaska wilderness and getting at the plane. The players would have to get friendly with Rogers, very easy, and then fool him, nearly impossible. The agents can't really hide their presence if they deal with anyone at all, for there were very few strangers in '30s Alaska. Stopwatch agents would have the same problems. The most useful skills would be: Survival(Arctic), Mechanics (Aircraft) TL6, and Language (Intuit).

Similar Mission: Dr. Charles Drew was the man who discovered how to separate plasma out of whole blood. He was injured in a car wreck and bled to death because the hospital admitted whites only. Getting Dr. Drew to a hospital that would have treated African- Americans would not only have furthered medical science but would have given the civil rights movement a living scientist/inventor as a symbol and role model. [Editor's Note: Sharp-eyed Pyramid readers have identified the story of the racist circumstances of Dr. Drew's death as an Urban Legend. More information can be found at http://www.urbanlegends.com/death/charles.drew/. Thanks, everybody.]

Research: Books on early 20th-century Alaska are rare but Blazing Alaska's Trails, by Alfred Huse Brooks, should be helpful. He was a head of the U.S. geological survey in Alaska. Also try Alaska: A Bicentennial History by William R. Hunt. Renting any of Rogers' films will help the GM portray him, Judge Priest is considered his best. The Illiterate's Digest and other books by Rogers will be useful too.

Change the Life of Mao Tse-Tung

There was nothing inevitable about the Communist takeover of China. Chairman Mao was simply the strongest warlord and the one who looked most like a "Righteous Emperor" (someone who would rule with justice and bring prosperity). If Mao could have been removed from China at an early age, some other, probably right-wing, warlord would have come to power after World War II. This dictator would have probably been less moral than Mao but a forced alliance with the West, in order to keep the U.S.S.R. at bay, would probably moved China on a course like that of South Korea. China could be having semi-free elections by now.

If the player characters should get to the Mao family in the late 1880s, Mao, who was born in 1893, could be born an American citizen. In any case they would have to get Mao to leave China before 1911, the year he first took up arms for his nation. After that he was totally committed to Chinese politics.

Challenge: Mao's father was a self-made man and seemed to be self-centered, too. Getting him to let a relative or family friend take his son to the "Golden Mountain" (California) wouldn't be difficult if he trusted the person who wanted to take his son overseas. The best time to try to get Mao would be in 1906. Mao was thirteen and very unhappy with his family. The Chinese Empire was still in place and looked eternal to a peasant family like the Maos.

Stopwatch agents would probably try to make the Timepiece agents look like frauds or troublemakers. Convincing the local magistrate that the PCs are a threat could get everyone into a law court. The Chinese say, "When dead, stay out of Hell. When living, stay out of the law courts!" They might just try to assassinate the real Mao Tse-tung and replace him with an agent who would work to strengthen their hand. Language skills in Chinese(Hunan) and Chinese(Mandarin) will be needed. Social skills will be vital to winning over Mao's father and the young Mao himself. Martial Arts skills will be needed to fend off the inevitable Stopwatch hired tongs.

Similar Mission: Generalissimo Francisco Franco could be removed by Timepiece agents. If the agents disrupted his father's naval career (not a hard job -- he was already known as wasteful and frivolous), then Franco might not have been able to get a commission as an officer. Getting Franco involved in a scandal early in his military career could also hurt him. A 20th-century Spain without Franco would have probably seen a victory of the Spanish people over the aristocracy in the Spanish Civil war of the late 1930s. Just make sure that the Rock of Gibraltar (a strategically important naval base) stays out of Nazi hands during the Second World War.

Research: Jerome Ch'en's Mao and the Chinese Revolution is supposed to be the standard source on Mao's youth. Mao by Ross Terrill is considered the best overall biography. Gilbert Rosman edited The Modernization of China, a series of historical essays that cover the period 1840-1980. It should give insights and campaign hooks.

Stop the 1953 CIA Coup in Iran

This seems to violate the rules about not changing the 20th century too much, but the effects on the world at large would take a long time to be felt. The return to power of Mohammed Reze Shah Pahlavi in 1953 didn't seem to effect the world till the Iranian revolution started causing turmoil in the late '70s.

Ruholla Khomeini's raise to power came only because of the Shah's return. The Parliamentary government of Iran would never have exiled Khomeini or even connected phone lines to his seminary. He would have been a nuisance but not the dominate force in Iranian politics. Islamic fundamentalism would now be an obscure force without an agenda. Iran could even have gone toward democracy. This would be a 5% gain for Timepiece.

Challenge: Thwarting the plans of the CIA, MI6, the major petroleum companies, and the many local reactionaries and organized crime groups is hard work. With this many ruthless foes, who needs Stopwatch? But Stopwatch can get into the game easily: they only need to feed the locals the news that the players are interested in preserving the Majles(Iranian parliament), helping Mohammed Mosaddeq (the Iranian prime minister and patriot), and stopping the Shah. There are so many other groups that would do the rest.

The C.I.A. and MI6 are terrified that the Majles' nationalization of the oil industry in Iran might lead other nations to throw off other unequal treaties. They will remember anyone who thwarts them. If the player characters get a record here it will follow them. Timepiece's cover could be blown. Let the characters know this. The most needed skills would be the Thief/Spy skills, Combat skills, and Language (Farsi).

Similar Mission: There are many brutal coups in this century for the players to stop. Preventing Pinochet's rise to power in Chile would be a particularly good choice, since his nation had had such a proud history of democracy and social justice before he took over. But the 70's are after the divergence, which means you must change things in the '60s.

Research: There are many new works on the CIA in the cold war, The CIA and American Democracy is a good choice to give background for several interventions. Iran Between Two Revolutions by Ervand Abrahamian, covers the years 1905-1979, and Iran: Crisis of Democracy by Fakhreddin Azimi, covers the period up to the fall of Mosaddeq's government.

Extend Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Life to Cover the Negotiations at the End of World War II

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's (F.D.R.) final illness caused America to be represented by a dying man at Yalta and an inexperienced man at Potsdam. In spite of Truman's many virtues, the only advisor he trusted in foreign policy, a field Truman didn't know, was a military man who saw the world in only military terms. Joseph Stalin easily had the upper hand diplomatically.

But if you could get a TL8 doctor into the White House, FDR becomes a vital force at both key conferences. Stalin, faced by an energetic FDR, who might have let himself see more of Stalin's very real evil, would have had to make a few more concessions. Eastern Europe's history would have been far less brutal, and some nations, especially Czechoslovakia, might have stayed democracies in the same way Finland did. FDR would still have left the presidency to Truman. It is known that he wanted to retire for reasons of health. The Truman presidency would have had FDR's advice to aid the transition. This would be a 4% gain.

Challenge: Getting a doctor into the White House without Stopwatch having full details would be impossible. FDR's White House is one of the best and most reliably documented places in history. Everything you do will take place under the eyes of Stopwatch. Deep cover agents, "Sleepers," are your only hope. Stopwatch will also have deep cover agents, as will any other time traveling competitors.

Similar Mission: There are many people who could have used a doctor. Kipling could have lived to his mid-eighties if he had had his ulcers correctly diagnosed early on. The players could have saved the poor man years of pain, and would have aided the cause of Anglo-American friendship in the late thirties. Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, one of the founders of modern Italy, died at the age of 50. Prolonging his life would have given the Kingdom of Italy much more stable government in its first decades.,which would have made Mussolini's rise to power less likely. His condition would probably be easy for TL8 medicine to handle.

Research: Eleanor and Franklin by Joseph P. Lash will be a good book to skim; raid the notes and bibliography. It should give you some ideas on FDR's personal circle. Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin: The War They Waged, the Peace They Sought , by Herbert Feis should tell enough about the post war conferences for your needs. David Brinkley's Washington Goes to War will be useful for setting up the details of everyday life in D.C. during wartime.

Get Amelia Earhart a Better Navigator

Amelia Earhart was a hero to tens of thousands of children. Many young women saw her as proof that they could pursue traditionally male roles and jobs, and she wanted that to happen. Extending her life would keep a soft-sell feminist as a popular heroine.

With Lindbergh's fade out in the early '40s, she would have been America's favorite flier during the Second World War. Millions of little girls would have emulated her, millions of little boys would have grown up with a free-spirited self-sufficient woman as a hero and later on as a romantic ideal -- a subconscious ideal, the strongest kind. Feminism would have seemed far less radical when it made its return in the '60s. At least a 3% gain for Timepiece.

Challenge: Careful social maneuvers would be needed. Amelia Earhart was a close friend to Eleanor Roosevelt and, like all of that circle, watched by Stopwatch. Also, the young Gore Vidal had a crush on her, as did his father. The elder Mr. Vidal was also famous and watched by the press. Anything the players do will be known.

Fred Noonan, Ms. Earhart's navigator, was a last-minute choice. George P. Putnam, Amelia's manager-husband, spent his all his time on publicity. He put little effort into preparing for the trip. Had he been more careful, he would have found that Noonan was a drunk. Ms. Earhart needed a navigator because, even though she was a good pilot, she was not a good navigator. Also the trip was very tiring and anyone would have needed a partner. Noonan drank so much on the trip that the last anyone saw of him was Amelia carrying him onto the plane slung over her back. Getting the players' choice of navigator to replace the drunk that Mrs. Earhart was saddled with might be easier than keeping him alive when Stopwatch moves to change things back.

Similar Mission" Virginia Woolf was a powerful voice for feminism at a time when feminism was temporarily forgotten. Stopping her suicide would clear the way for other women. The player characters would have to move around World War II England to stop the suicide. Have Stopwatch accuse them of being Nazi spies.

Research: Gore Vidal's United States: Essays 1952-1992 has a lively essay on Mrs. Earhart, from the point of view of a boyhood crush. There are many books on the Earhart case, but read his essay on her first, it will keep things in perspective. George P. Putnam, Amelia's husband, wrote Soaring Wings, which is considered the standard biography. But considering when it was written and who wrote it, don't trust it too much.

Aid Upton Sinclair's Senate Bid

Upton Sinclair's run for office did much better than one might think, for an outsider with no major backing, no newspaper endorsements, and targeted by a massive smear campaign. In fact his margin of defeat was small for the period. If Timepiece could have got Sinclair a little help or kept a few bullies off his back, he could have won.

Sinclair was a novelist. His books, like The Jungle, an expose of the meat packing industry which ruined appetites for years, exposed corruption and hypocrisy. Because he constantly saw the ordinary people of the world kicked around to provide profits for the powerful, he became a radical. That would have meant that he never could have gotten to be a leader in the Senate and his legislation would not have been passed, but his ideas would have been heard and much of the fire drawn by the New Deal would have been aimed at Sinclair instead. The New Deal would have been seen as the middle of the road and FDR would have done even more. A Lewis win would be a 3% gain for Timepiece; a loss with Lewis' coattails broad enough to sweep a few more New Dealers into office would still be a bonus.

Challenge: Influencing a political campaign is hard, tricky work. Stopwatch would have to do little more than spy on the player characters and play silly pranks to turn much of the players' hard work to wasted time. Also there were many people in '30s California who would have been glad to kill Sinclair. The KKK was active in the south, oil men and movie moguls both feared Sinclair, and there were fascist organizations among the ranchers that openly supported Hitler throughout WWII! Stopwatch agents could get many of these people to do violence to Lewis or his campaign workers.

Similar Mission: Politics provides hundreds of things for players to do. Everything from swashbuckling rescues to dirty tricks to detective work could be required of the characters in the same adventure. Often a well placed practical joke could embarrass a politician and wreck a campaign, normally the one the players are working for. It can work the other way too, but Timepiece seems to work mainly for the underdogs of history, so it will not work as well.

Research: The EPIC Plan for California by Upton Sinclair, gives the goals of the campaign. Rivers of Empire by Donald Worster and Cadillac Desert both give political background for the early 20th-century American West. Upton Sinclair also wrote an autobiography. GURPS Illuminati and GURPS Cliffhangers both can help you run this intervention. Also rent a tape of the movie Chinatown, it will give tons of period detail, and the villain will be perfect. The only flaw is that he is so much sweeter than the real plutocrats of that time.

Get Patton the Job of Marching to Berlin

The choice of Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery, over Gen. George Smith Patton, to march to Berlin was purely political, in the worst sense. Montgomery was incompetent and WWII dragged on. Millions of lives could have been saved, the post-war politics of Europe made more democratic, and Joseph Stalin's Russia less powerful in the post-war period, if Patton had led the march to Berlin. A 4% gain for Timepiece.

Challenge: The infighting over who would invade Germany was bitter, and kept out of sight. The British military establishment and aristocracy did not want Europe liberated, and Britain saved, by a Yank. They needed to have one of their own do it. The argument that Patton could get the job done sooner and thus save millions of lives would mean nothing to these people, even if you could prove it, because their need is irrational. No reason can change their minds; but not all argument is rational. Tons of social skills and Charisma will be needed to win this fight. Savoir-faire Skills in British Aristocracy, British Military and British Civil Service would all be needed., plus similar skills for the Americans and French. It might be wiser to have the players guard a highly skilled diplomat with Empathy, Intuition, and Charisma +5! With all these proud officers, the first hint of scandal or even a rude prank can ruin everything, and Stopwatch knows that.

Similar Mission: Getting the right person in a bureaucratic job, rather than the guy the insiders want, can be a subtle and effective way to change history. The right civil engineers could have prevented the Johnstown flood. The right clerk at the Supreme Court, and the illegal internment of Japanese-Americans might not have occurred. The right officers on the western front and those newfangled tanks would have been used to break the German lines. Careful time shapers love bureaucrats!

Research: There is a whole genre of books on what the world would have been like if only the Allies had done this or tried that. Nineteen Forty Three: The Victory that Never Was by John Grigg, is a good example.

Stop the Parnell - O'Shea Romance

Charles Stewart Parnell nearly won Ireland Home Rule in the late 1880s. If Parnell's romance with Kathrine O'Shea, the wife of William Henry O'Shea, one of Parnell's supporters, had never become public, then he might have been able to keep the support of the British Nonconformists (non-Church of England Protestants). Without the Nonconformists, William Ewart Gladstone (a major 19th-century Prime Minister of the U.K.) could not keep his Liberal party in office. This led to a Conservative domination of U.K. politics. This domination caused many people to glorify radical social change and violent revolution. This is the period when Marxism and early forms of Fascism became ideological fashions.

The reactionary policies that the British government followed in Ireland led to a new kind of nationalism based in a politics of resentment. After the 1916 Easter rebellion, when the Irish declared a republic and the British Navy fired on Dublin, the repressions that were used to break Irish nationalism, under the guise of punishing treason, destroyed much of the British government's moral authority. The political writings that came out of this mood of frustration and shame became the backbone of the ideology of the Third World\Non-Aligned Movement. The hopelessness and violence of Ireland, in the years 1916-1921, and the internal civil war they had to fight in the '20s, has been the source for the kind of Third World nationalism which justifies tyranny in the name of preserving national identity and independence. Prevent Parnell from being named in the O'Shea divorce and Ireland and the U.K. miss 30 years of bitterness.

Challenge: To prevent the Parnell-O'Shea romance you must make sure that both Parnell and Kathrine "Kitty" O'Shea are busy elsewhere. This is matchmaking, an art which can shoot back and forth between pleasant and deadly without Stopwatch trying to kill you. Social skills will make or break you in this scenario. The formality of the high Victorians is proverbial. Any slips and you're in disgrace. Stopwatch will try to saddle the player-characters with scandal. Read a French farce of the 19th century for ideas.

There were many violent secret societies in late Victorian Ireland. One society, the Invincibles, assassinated Lord Frederick Cavendish, the Liberal Chief Secretary of Ireland, in Dublin's Phoenix Park, on May 6th 1881. These assassination clubs could be a great cover for Stopwatch. Accusing Timepiece agents of being linked to such a group could get them jailed. Thief/Spy and Martial Arts skills and good lawyers would be needed to counter these ploys. English was the language spoken by all the principals in this area. Irish Gaelic was a political cause in this period -- Irish patriots would learn it. French and German were very fashionable, particularly French, which was the mark of an upperclass education, and necessary for passing as an upperclass person. Latin, Greek, and German, marked you as a scholar.

Similar Mission: Preventing the Phoenix Park slayings would also aid in preventing a lot of bitterness. It could even achieve the same goals as above. Persuading the British East India company not to forbid Anglo-Indians, people of mixed British and Indian parentage, from becoming commissioned officers would be a start towards reducing the bigotries of the British Raj (colonial rule of India). If the Indian army and civil service had been open to people of Indian decent from the early 19th century on, then India's independence would have been less disruptive, her democracy surer, and her post WWII diplomatic stance more pro-Western. Most of the Third-World has followed the examples of Ireland and India: change the example and change the outcomes.

Research: The Fall of Parnell, 1890-91 and Charles Stewart Parnell both by F.S.L. Lyons, should cover Parnell himself, the works are considered standard. Lord Eversley's Gladstone and Ireland: the Irish Policy of Parliament, 1854-94 and Joseph Lee's The Modernization of Irish Society, 1848-1918, should give the broad background.

Get Congress to Declare Mother Jones' Birthday a National Holiday

We use holidays to define those things that are so important we must never forget them. That's why commemorating the life of the most popular hero of the labor movement is such a winning idea. Mary Harris "Mother" Jones lived for a full century, and she spent 70 years of that century fighting for social justice, child welfare, and the rights of the working men and women of this nation. Because her life is dramatic, and she is such an appealing figure, having schoolchildren taught about her will lead them to admire her. Some of her values would be in the minds of future generations, teaching them that fighting the powerful for social justice is as American as apple pie. Success would be a 3% gain.

Challenge: There are few people in history that could be more totally disgusting to the Stopwatch crowd. Mother Jones is the kind of person they want everyone to forget. Their agents will always line up opposition against the values Mother Jones fought for, and they will never lack allies among the locals. This means that the players will never know if they are fighting Stopwatch or just profoundly motivated locals. Even today there are senators that would look on commemorating her birthday as treason, and the players will need to work in the '30s for the best effect. Once again, the Social and Thief/Spy skills will be needed.

Similar Mission: This fight is about memory. In the real world, people change the past by forgetting it, and what is forgotten becomes a little unreal. The slavetraders forgot the high civilizations of Africa, the English forgot how much the scholars of Ireland and Wales had taught them, and the conqueror writes the history books and makes himself the innocent hero. But if the players can get the other side of the story into the history books, then the values of future generations can be changed. This sort of thing can make for interesting campaigning with the players trying to maintain covers as respectable schoolbook authors and publishers while Stopwatch tries to bury them in scandal.

Research: Mother Jones wrote an autobiography, but Labor in America: A History by Foster R. Dulles will be more use in figuring out where to go and who to influence. Corporate Crime and Violence covers a later period, but might provide villains and victims.

Persuade President Woodrow Wilson to Live with Henry Cabot Lodge's Insults and Get the U.S. Into the League of Nations

America's failure to enter the League of nations promoted both Isolationism in the U.S. and the idea that democracy was a less effective form of government. These ideas aided both the Nazis and Japanese militarists. Also, it helped link American Anti-Communism with the belief that our civil liberties were a threat to our national security. Even the Stalinists benefited, because objections to their oppression carried no weight on the left. Having America join the League of Nations would not have prevented WWII, but it would have improved the worldwide reputation of democracy at a key time in history and encouraged more people to respect it in actions as well as words. A gain of 5% for Timepiece.

Challenge: What kept America out of the League of Nations was the squalid infighting between Woodrow Wilson and Henry Cabot Lodge. Both men saw themselves as true defenders of American freedoms, and the other as an interloper from an unworthy part of the nation with corrupt ideals. Luckily the players only have to get those two to tolerate each other for a little while.

Senator Lodge, a conservative New England Republican, saw Wilson as a vain Southerner lost in dangerous idealism, but might have accepted the League as a necessary evil, if it was labeled as such. His 14 objections were a clear slap at Wilson's "14 principles" and the chosen label. President Wilson, as a progressive Southern Democrat, saw Lodge as a would be aristocrat, smug in his wealth and inherited position. Also, Southerners in this period tended to see wealthy Northeasterners as controlling the banks and out to humiliate the South. Letting Lodge have his 14 objections would not have affected the League much, if any, but it would have seemed like a major humiliation and defeat to Wilson.

Wilson is the main problem here. His upbringing would have trained him not to respect the opinions of those he considered to be less than his equals. The notion that Lodge's insults were unimportant would be something he just could not swallow. Stopwatch would have the easy job again. With all these hot tempers and fragile egos any insult, rumor, or prank, could make the players jobs impossible.

Similar Mission: The petty squabbles of the powerful have cost the world a lot of bloodshed. On the Stopwatch side of things, petty infighting among the powerful, because it promotes violence and authoritarian government, would almost always benefit them. Think about it!

Research: Woodrow Wilson and the American Diplomatic Tradition by Lloyd E. Ambrosis covers the infighting on this debate. He might be a little too kind toward Lodge. There are other books, only the recent ones deal with ethnic factors and most treat the Irish as demons.

Article publication date: January 1, 1999

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