Another job, another hotel, another lobby. Being a paid killer might sound dangerous, or exciting, or glamorous, and it can be, I suppose. More often than not, though, it involves waiting. Lots of waiting, when the planning is already done and there’s nothing to do but count the moments, watch the goings-on, and think about what you’ve done and what you’re about to do while you wait for your target to appear.
That’s okay, though. I’ve got Time To Kill.
I don’t make a habit of arriving to hits early, but I did this time. Frankly, there’s too much competition for this one, and I don’t want someone else to score my payday. There’s a busboy struggling with a luggage cart over by the elevators – the owners are long gone, and nobody else here cares to help the help, as it were. I look away, shuffling a deck of cards – always helps me to relax before a job as I think about the target.
Thinking over the file, there’s a good chance there’s more money in keeping the target alive – either for information, or just to protect them. Think I’ll pass, though – transporting live targets is way more complicated than a body bag. Especially one like this – news article in the file has them at a charity event a few weeks ago, big spotlight deal, talk about an inability to stay incognito. There’s shouting from out on the street – doorman trying to see off a panhandler. Last thing I need is cops coming around to deal with a loitering charge.
A concierge walks over to check on me – the smile on their face is definitely faked, but is it because they’ve got to maintain appearances for the rich clients or because they’re not who they appear to be? I stare at them a little too long before I think to ask for a water. Thing is, I’ve crossed paths with the target before. Counter-assassination is a tricky business, but the contract paid well, so they got to live another day and the other killer saw the other side of the coin. Or bullet. Not sure what I’ll do if they remember me. Not sure it matters.
Some hitmen would shy away from making such a public hit, but I’m not too worried. Second disguise stashed in a storage room, public transit near by, security cameras already looped – I’ll be a ghost.
God, this is going to be a big one, though. Their face is on the TV all the time, and it’s going to be there again, weeks of coverage on their death. Half the militaries in the world are going to be in an uproar. I’ve never hit anybody this important…
It’s not always lobbies, actually. There was this curator at the National Museum on Delhi that was selling exhibits on the black market, some of his coworkers hired me. Fascinating place, I got to check out almost all of it before the target made their appearance. I pat my jacket – the poisoned VF-42 stilleto knife that I’ve made my signature weapon sits comfortably in its sheath. It’s quiet, it’s quick, and I only need the smallest of jabs to make the kill – exactly why I prefer it over the rest of my arsenal, and why I have it today.
I check my watch, more often than I should, and someone stops to ask for the time. They’re eyeballing the watch more than listening to my answer. Connoisseur? Scout for some muggers outside? Competition trying to ID me?
Chatter from the bar reaches my ear as a customer and the bartender get into it over the various merits of different cocktails… except they’re using some phrases from the trade, including ones that mean ‘target imminent’ and ‘increased security’. I definitely think I’ve got a rival in the room. Come to think of it, this location is perfect for the hit between the crowds, the many exit points, the places to hide equipment… I thought I was simply being smart by putting things together, but is it too perfect?
The target reminds me of another good soul I used to be close with, who tried to make the world a better place. Granted, they were paid for it but when you’re a hired killer taking only jobs ending truly awful people is a meaningful choice. When I see my target, I’ll think of how they’ll get a funeral, and how my partner didn’t, despite doing just as much good in their own way. My hand will be steady – my partner’s always was.
I hear the target’s name from the front desk, but it’s someone else. Could be a plant, a way to smudge the guest list to make it harder to know what room to hit… but no, the name’s not that rare, probably a coincidence. The money is good, real good, but the biggest payoff for this job is going to be the new identity packages the client is offering. Enough passports and bank accounts and falsified backgrounds to get a clean slate, make future jobs easier… maybe even enough to retire.
Target has a family. They might be with the target when the time comes. If the kids are here… well, not much I can do. Maybe I can do it so they don’t see the target actually in the act of dying. Maybe not.
An ache seeps into my left shoulder, and I roll it to try to ease the pain. Getting scars is part of the job, but that gunshot wound from Philly keeps reminding me it happened. I used to wield my blade left-handed, too.
“Everyone has a death coming, and anyone around you might deliver it.” That lesson was taught to me a long time ago, and it was intended to be part of taking on a role or a disguise, but sometimes I think it’s more about someone doing so to kill me.
I have a list of ‘will not kill’ rules – most do, even if they’re not as extensive as my partner’s was. One is not to kill anyone who helps kids – it’s never really come up much, but it seemed like a good rule to have after my partner took out this trafficker for a bunch of families the cops didn’t help. One of the target’s cases saw this generalissimo who trained child soldiers do a final dance at the end of the rope. Hmm. Guess I’ll have to make the rule more specific next time. If there is one.
Damn. The lobby clock is off… by a lot. What if that throws off the timing? What if they’ve already left? What if I stay here too long? This isn’t the first time the target was assigned to me, either – some squad of special ops types just took out the client before I could put serious thought into it.
A patron of the hotel comes up and starts asking me questions about the city – somehow they think I’m a concierge? I’m making things up, I’ve never been in this city before, are they trying to sniff me out or are they just a dumb tourist?
My first hit, I always think about it when I’m on the job, and the rookie mistake I made there was overthinking it – trying to find the exact right position, trying to avoid everyone, looking so ‘natural’ I ended up standing out. Can’t do that here.
A stranger sits down next to me and starts trying to make small talk about ‘living the hotel-to-hotel life’. I can relate. They seem friendly enough, and chatting is decent cover even if it wasn’t part of the plan.
Learning and adapting is how you stay alive in the business, after all. My last job was much more difficult than this – I had to take the role of an airline steward to get to the target, then finish up the rest of the flight with them stuffed in an ‘out-of-order’ lavatory, then vanish into the maintenance crews to make my escape.
During one of my earlier jobs, I inadvertently created a calling card for myself, leaving the ace of hearts from my deck of cards on the body. Must have fallen out of my pocket or something.
This time I’ll leave the whole deck.
There’s the target. Holding their kids’ hands as they walk through the lobby. I stand up and fall in behind them, reaching into my jacket. My mind is clear, and my aim sure.
Time to kill.
Written by Spencer Campbell, Time To Kill is about a hired killer, and what they do when they have too much time to think about what they do for a living. You, of course, are that killer, waiting in a hotel lobby for your target to appear. You’ll need a deck of playing cards, a six-sided die, and some way to record your thoughts (an audio recorder is mentioned as one option, an unusual choice for solo RPGs we’ve featured).
Step one is pulling the jokers and the Ace of Hearts out of the deck – the jokers will remain cast aside, but the Ace of Hearts represents your Target. Shuffle the rest of the deck, and then shuffle in the Ace of Hearts. Where you shuffle it in acts as a timer for the game, with a short game putting the Ace in the top 1/3rd, a standard in the top 1/2, and a longer game putting it in the bottom 1/2. Or you could make it completely random. Time to play!
Play proceeds in a series of Moments, “indeterminate amounts of time where you will plan for the job ahead, learn more about your target, reflect on past jobs, and remember why you’re doing this.” For each Moment you start by rolling the die, which determines how many cards you draw. Each card serves as a prompt for your thoughts, and you’ll record them in the order your drew them in. While each card’s prompt is unique, they fall into categories by suite: spades represent past jobs, clubs are events happening in the hotel lobby and nearby, hearts represent the file you have on the Target, and diamonds represent you and your motivations, preparations, and reflections.
After recording your thoughts in the medium of your choice, you keep a single card and discard the rest. You determine which card to keep via the highest ‘value’: numbered cards are worth 1, face cards 2, and aces are worth 3. If you’ve got cards with the same value, you keep the highest number or rank, like keeping a 9 instead of a 6 or a Queen over a Jack. If there is a tie between two or more cards, such as having two Kings, you keep all of them.
Once you’ve got your kept cards, you take stock of your emotions. Each suite also corresponds to an instinct: Cold for Spades, Paranoid for Clubs, Hesitant for Hearts, and Clear-Minded for Diamonds. Whichever suite has the highest value of kept cards determines your dominant instinct, which should inform how you’re reacting to prompts past the first Moment – either leaning into the instinct or trying to overcome it. The killer above spent most of their time a mix of hesitant and paranoid before becoming clear-minded in their final moment, which I think I managed to pull off okay. Speaking of a mix, note that there aren’t any instructions for what happens if you have a tie, so I assumed that you would blend the two; Moments 3 and 4 were Paranoid/Hesitant.
Once you’ve got your Instinct for the next Moment, the next Moment begins with another d6 roll, and on it goes. Eventually the Ace of Hearts will be drawn, the only card without a prompt, representing the arrival of the Target. Resolve any remaining cards that have been drawn, then make the call. Which Instinct is dominant after all of your time waiting? Does it even matter? Do you go through with it? Either way, record your final Moment. Only you know if you made the right call.
The prompts are all solid, and by the nature of the game they’re not repetitive, so you’ll always have something new to think on and then build off of with every card. Depending on what cards you draw and in what order, some iterations might be a little awkward to justify narratively – why did three people stop to talk at you in a row, all for different reasons? Granted it’s not likely if the deck’s shuffled well, and it might even be helpful; the three clubs results in a row I just used as an example would fit perfectly with a Paranoid mindset, or maybe it’ll paint you a picture of actually being in disguise working at the hotel, or something.
As most of the prompts are questions, and almost no details are provided for you, you’ve got a lot of creative room to work with within the framework. I actually struggled to keep it modern, as my brain was on a sci-fi kick when I started playing. Turns out I need not have bothered – there’s another actual play out there done in a fantasy setting!
I’ll say this, though: I did a dry run, just drawing cards, and I wouldn’t care for the long or random options for where the Ace of Hearts gets shuffled in. I’d drawn practically every other card in the deck before the target bothered to show up, which would mean a lot of recording. That being said, it’s a personal preference.
Time To Kill is $5.00 on itch.io, and there’s also a printed zine version available for $15.00.
So. The next Target is connected to a friend of yours. Is your
friend aware of the hit? What will you tell them when
they notice the target has gone missing? Think it over. After all, you’ve got time to kill…
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