Doctor Who

Funko Pop Who

CNET posted a Tech Culture article on new Doctor Who themed Pop character figures coming soon. The whole range of Pop cuties looks great – with figures for Rose, River Song, Captain Jack Harkness, Sarah Jane Smith, The Silence and the Ninth Doctor.

The steal of the collection, for me, has to be the K-9, which according to the C-NET blurb will be an exclusive (in the US at least) for GameStop. I hope that someone will have these available outside the US – whether international GameStops or otherwise – because I have money in hand right now to get one of these!

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Thumbs up to Bonnie Girl for posting this article and pictures.

Quick Doctor Who Characters

IMG_20151011_160018-2I’m running one or more convention games of Doctor Who (from Cubicle 7) over the next few months, starting with this coming weekend.

This past weekend, I finished creating a set of “pre-generated” character cards for the game.

Essentially, they’re not complete characters by any measure – just enough to get through a session. While I could easily have done six or seven fixed character sheets, I have been pleased with card-based characters when running The Dee Sanction and Night’s Black Laundry. My thinking, why not!

I plan to lay the cards down on the table and players get to choose one (or more) from each row as the game progresses. In practice, when someone pushes a challenge, then would be a good time to choose a card.

Alternatively, they could take one from each row at the start of the session. Or I could hand them out at random. That’s the approach with the other games I’ve used character cards. Indeed, my last game of The Dee Sanction generated some fantastic characters right off the bat based on the cards alone.

I think these cards might warrant some tweaking to achieve something like that. I’d quite like to add a random naming suggestion and maybe a motivation or two.

In use, characters will possess any Skills not listed, but they’d have a value of 1. Or zero. I don’t want to go down that route. I’d rather people stick with what they’re good at. Otherwise, players can make rolls based on Attribute alone if no one has the right Skill at the given location or a specific scene.

I tweaked the character generation process of my Call of Cthulhu game on the same basis around skills. I dislike the standard method that creates characters with tiny percentile chances of success on skills.

All characters start with 12 Story Points. Because I’ve created the cards without the full spread of abilities, I don’t want to penalise them further! While I have given everyone a gadget worth a Story Point, it still doesn’t quite compensate.

The three cards align in a column. I noticed that you could actually boil the standard character sheet down into a half an A4 column – so, why not do it with cards.

sample-vortex

The top row of cards has each of the six classes from the Time Lord Academy, plus a Gallifreyan who opted to ‘go wild’. The Shobogan made their appearance in Classic episode The Deadly Assassin. I wanted a non-Time Lord as an option, but with the potential to be involved and of value. Herein, the Shobogan fills the base roll of a more physical Gallifreyan.

The middle row has aspects of personality, which serve up good and bad Traits.

The bottom row fits a sort of career path, offering an extra Attribute point and key Skills. Also, extra Traits and a Gadget.

My adventure concerns students escaping Gallifrey at the start of the Time War, which (from a plot perspective) excuses the shortfall in points here and there. They are, however, the best and brightest the Academy has to offer.

Link to card sheets:
https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B2zIvdT-XhJieFlRMkQtZks0NXc&usp=sharing

Wing It for Adventure

winter_for_the_adept_wallpaper_by_hisi79-d5zdo7xI ran the third and final session of the adventure Ice from the Eighth Doctor Sourcebook at the weekend. I think I could have finished this in two four-hour sessions, but we had more of a social thing going on and the focus wasn’t quite there. At a pinch, I think you could throttle this up to run in a single session or at a convention, but you would need to keep all the action tight.

On top of that, you would need to be really sharp in hitting the beats associated with building the threat. The ultimate secret of the icebound alien colony doesn’t work so well unless you have done ground work on the back story. I think, despite having three sessions to run it over, I failed to do enough of that very ground work. Ah well – lessons learned.

Overall, I enjoyed running the adventure – though I found myself increasingly improvising and casting the system to one side. I have to say that has everything to do with me and nothing to do with the Vortex system. When I want to get a game to a conclusion, the system goes out the window. Yes, the players still roll dice – because many of them enjoy that part of the process – but the nitty-gritty mechanics don’t trouble me.

I liked the way the characters starting to do their own improvisation around the situation. When they realised that they didn’t have an easy escape route, they used some fast talking and deception to find an alternative. The adventure has a traditional aspect of putting the TARDIS off-limits early on, so Tegan and Nyssa found a way to get it back – and then I threw the big threat in their way. Panic ensued, followed by the sonorous tones of the Cloister Bell. Yes, you have the TARDIS back; no, it won’t budge because the time rotor is making all the wrong sounds.

I enjoyed running the game and all the players go involved for the final session (after some patchy player participation in earlier sessions). The final showdown had just the right level of cricket involved (it was the Fifth Doctor!) and a final-final scene with a touch of Flash Gordon about it. Did the villian die or did he simply slip away to return another day?

Bigger Hair

There’s one thing I like about the second series of each new Doctor – and that’s the business of making the character their own. Somehow, the first appearance isn’t enough.

From the scant pictures we’ve had of Peter Capaldi so far, it seems like he has more of a personalised image. I especially like what I’ve seen of his hair. It seems to be growing, bigger and wilder. That works for me. The mop of hair thing worked big time for Tom Baker – but that isn’t exactly what we’re doing here. This is all Capaldi’s own thing.

I also like the continued sense of channelling Pertwee’s red-lined jacket. I really like that. Maybe there’s a touch of the Third Doctor in the hair. Maybe.

p02ydhkx

Kit for Adventure

So, I ran the second session of the adventure Ice from the Eighth Doctor Sourcebook.

Running Doctor Who

The key to the game seemed to be having the right equipment at the table to facilitate the fun. I’m familiar with the rules – so, there’s no need to have my Limited Edition War Doctor-sporting rulebook on display. The core book sits on the floor or a chair nearby normally, as I only really need it if the players ask me a tough question and they really want an answer (rather than enthusiastic hand-waving).

Instead of the rule book, I use the Gamemaster’s Screen [A] (which would appear to be out of print, so if you want one you’ll need to try the secondary market). I find this screen a lot more useful than many other examples of the same (you know who you are D&D 5e), as it includes a plethora of immediately useful tables and information.

For the adventure, I just have the whole text available as a PDF on my 7 inch Tablet [B], although I also have occasion to do the same with a smartphone or laptop. Depends on the table space available. I keep notes in a TXT file or similar and any additional images or information in a folder on the desktop.

If I want to make real world notes, draw notes, scribble maps or present clues/riddles, I use my hand Dry Wipe pens [C] on my equally handy Super-sized Dry Wipe Cards [D]. Why use up all that paper and sticky notes of old, or roll an enormous battle mat across the table? If I’d had a battle mat it wouldn’t have fitted it on this table without getting in the way.

I keep notes on the cards and, as here, create a reference map of locations the characters have been or can visit [E]. Later in the game, I also drew a picto-glyph clue for them to refer to.

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Yeah – not overly subtle. However, it did have them wondering just what the alien’s had going relationship-wise. All at each other’s throats or not?

I have recently got hold of some Clear Plastic Stands [F] that work with my dry wipe cards. Took a bit of trial and error to finds ones that fitted – some clearly had some sort of thin card in mind and wouldn’t take a plastic card at all. Others would take half of one or the card simply slipped out and fell over.

In this instance I used the cards in stands for a map; in others I have used them for game aspects, key information or even quick character sketches. I experimented with create a dungeon – though I suspect I would have to be really keen to get all the work done for that.

I use a combination of standard dry wipe pens and Staedtler Correctable [C] – which you can rub accidentally with a finger or hand without loss. To remove, you use either a slightly abrasive tissue or cloth or they include a felt eraser on the other end. Combining both pens means you can have elements easily removed – like the difficulty to access a location in this adventure – and more permanent elements – like the location name – that need to stick around as long as you have a need.

My othered preferred point of reference in a game with locations (or a map) are miniatures for each playing; mind you, I’m not looking for tactical placement or accuracy. Here I use the Doctor Who figures from Character Building [G] with only a light regard for accuracy. I have the Fifth Doctor right, but for Nyssa I used Amy and Tegan got River. They’re both female – I got that bit right!

I have mentioned before the benefits of a stab of sound here and there – and for that I need my HMDX Jam Bluetooth Speaker [H]. I used it with both my phone and tablet – using the little cable that comes with it. Bluetooth is great, but in this situation it makes sense just to use the cable and conserve power! After the summary of Part 1, we had the theme tune. Later, I had some spooky atmospheric music as the team explored. Then, upon outlining the worrisome cliffhanger, a rousing turn of the closing theme followed. Perfect to frame a proper session of Doctor Who.

Finally, a nice Cup of Tea [T]. The Doctor would approve.

Call to Adventure

winter_for_the_adept_wallpaper_by_hisi79-d5zdo7xI recently played the first session of the Ice adventure from the Eighth Doctor Sourcebook.

I’m not running this as a campaign, per the intentions of the supplement, but as a standalone. I felt that the adventure would work quite nicely that way.

I also used the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa as the characters at the centre of the adventure. The adventure slots into the continuity between Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity in the series (between Season 19 and 20), where several New Adventure novels and Big Finish audio dramas probably all dwell.

As it happens, this choice came down to the players. One loved the Nyssa character and wanted to play her, so it seemed to be just right. Ice involves rooting around in caves beneath a frozen planet and somehow that seemed perfectly Fifth Doctor as well.

All this isn’t really the point of this post. What I wanted to mention was the fact that I punctuated the session with music.

At the start of the adventure the TARDIS arrivals unexpectedly on a cold planet. Unexpectedly arrivals are not unusual in Who. In this case, the cold is the unusual part. The TARDIS feels cold. So, the Doctor’s curiosity gets the better of him, as how could a planet penetrate the TARDIS like that?

After finding suitable clothes in the Wardrobe, the two character ventured out and I described the desolate, glacial scenery. And the cold. They trudged a bit and casting around they realised that something lay beneath the ice, some relic of an alien city.

At that point, a snowmobile appeared in the distance. Nyssa hid while The Doctor bid a cheery hello to the newcomer. While conversation ensued, Nyssa became aware of an odd vibration in the ice. Or was it more of a tremor?

A moment later, mid-conversation, the guy on the snowmobile wheeled it around as the ice creaked, shuddered and then cracked. Sheets of grey-blue ice jabbed skyward while others dropped into the abyss. Both characters made a leap for safety, The Doctor fell, only for his fingers to catch an edge.

As The Doctor struggled to get up, aided by the stranger, Nyssa looked across the ice field. Jagged streaks patterned the surface, now covered with pits and holes. In the distance the TARDIS…

And then it dropped out of sight.

Queue the stab of the Who theme. POW.

If they hadn’t got in the mood up to that point, the theme made all the difference. We’re all suddenly bobbing about and squeal wee-woo.

It set the mood and also served as a way to cut to the next scene, as the snowmobile ground into the waiting camp beyond the mountains. No need to worry about the journey between or the uneasy silence from the stranger. The Doctor and Nyssa could worry about the TARDIS later – they had new people to meet and a mysterious city to uncover.

The theme worked really well. I can’t say that music works for everyone, and as a background noise it will be Marmite for some groups. But in that moment, the stab of the Theme worked wonderfully well, just as the outro version of the theme worked well at the end of the session, just as I revealed the cliffhanger revelation.

I recommend giving it a try, whatever the game. If you can find a theme tune, go for it. I can see it providing a valuable and rather entertaining framing motif. If you follow the TV serial approach to games, it doesn’t always have to happen at the same time. Some shows you can go five, ten, even fifteen minutes before they kick in the theme tune and the opening credits. In a longer drama or serial, they have a degree of leeway – as do you in running a gaming session.

Find a tune. Set the tone of the session. Hit the danger or reveal the cliffhanger from last session – and then play the theme.

Original art (cropped for this post) by deviantart contributor hisi79

Eleven Doctors, Eleven Stories

eleven-doctors-eleven-storiesReading Eleven Doctors, Eleven Stories has been an interesting experience.

Over the course of last year, these short stories got released as e-books, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Doctor Who series. Here, they’re collected in a chunky volume, wrapped in a silvery cover.

Physically, it represents an imposing read. I have read more imposing books – books with 1,000+ pages that threaten to break your wrist while reading. Worse yet, they have the potential to break your nose if you read them in bed. I imagine some slimming might have been achieved with a slightly smaller typeface.

Anyway… content. I had intended to ruminate on the reading rather than the carrying.

It has been a mixed experience. It’s hard to tell whether the best stories come down to writers capable of capturing a character in print so effortlessly, or if some Doctors just had more distinctive personalities.

Take the Ninth Doctor, for example. Charlie Higson‘s “The Beast of Babylon” benefits no end from his getting the style, manner and speech patterns of the Doctor down pat.

While Derek Landy’s “The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage” could have done with more time and space to expand into a satisfying story, he manages a similar feat to Higson and David Tennant’s performance comes through, staccato-style and peppered with brilliant.

Less successful is Eoin Colfer‘s “A Big Hand For The Doctor“, a story of an injured first Doctor up against a gang of child-stealing pirate-aliens. Not only does he not get the feel of the Time Lord right, but he seems to struggle against the way we have come to perceive the Doctor.

Because the TV series has developed and the passage of time means that Who in the 60s or 70s comes across as very much of its time, it’s something you have to suspend disbelief for. The First Doctor doesn’t reference Harry Potter much in the original TV series because, well, he didn’t exist. Yes, The Doctor travels in time and so making reference to actual stuff of the present day makes perfect sense… but, reading it, little things like this just jar slightly. They feel wrong.

On top of that, the first story has a twist in the tale that just didn’t sit well with me. I saw it coming far too early and didn’t enjoy it much when confirmation struck home at the end.

To be fair – and so as not to warn you off – the good stories in this volume easily outweigh the less good. The Sixth Doctor’s story stands out as another one to avoid, but that’s just two out of eleven that made me wish I’d spent my time more wisely. We follow the Sixth Doctor’s adventure from Peri’s perspective – and it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel very Peri, for a start – and something about the egotistical Sixth Doctor means a story told from another character’s perspective doesn’t sit well.

For anyone running Doctor Who roleplaying sessions, I can see several stories providing a basis for adventures. The Third Doctor’s “The Spear of Destiny” has all the potential for a rip-roaring gaming session, with frozen woods, rampaging Scandinavians, and warring almost gods. The Fourth Doctor’s “The Roots of Evil” takes place in the fascinating setting of a living tree space station… which sounds like a great place for a game – and warrant further consideration, as the story identifies the example herein as an unusual example of what would otherwise be an enormous terraforming construct.

Definitely worth reading, even if you just grab copies of the individual e-books. I’m almost finished with the final story – by Neil Gaiman – and then I’m off to find something new to read.

School Reunion: First Glance

Sarah-Janes-and-the-Tenth-DoctorAnother superb episode of Who, with top notch effects and a fine cast. The Krillitanes made for a fine foe, fronted by the sneering Headmaster Lucas Finch (played by Anthony Head). A malevolent alien species that advance and evolve through their voracious hunger – that present all sorts of possibilities. I daresay they would make a great villain, fleshed out and beefed up, in a tabletop campaign of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space.

Seeing Sarah Jane Smith and K-9 again obviously made this a stand-out episode for any fan… but, they didn’t appear simply for the novelty value. Telling the tale of a companion post-TARDIS filled out a little of the Who mythos, giving a very emotive view of how a suddenly very ordinary world can become a prison to one of the Doctor’s ex-associates.

Can The Doctor be entirely ignorant of the impact he has on those he travels with? Considering the continual wonder he seems to chase in his adventures across the universe, could the Last of the Time Lords really be so naive as to imagine his companion might feel a little of the same?

It’s a subject authors have touched upon in the books, notably with respect to the Eighth Doctor and his companion Sam, but never really in the TV series before. We’ve heard many companions begging for the Doctor to take them home, but none lamenting the grey ordinariness of the world upon their return.