Tag Archives: Doctor Who

Rosa

In Rosa, the new Doctor Who series provided a solid and simple basis for explaining the business of alternate history. On a cultural level, the episode spoke volumes – that in a single small, but significant, act the course of history can be changed. The butterfly effect shows that the changes can be planetary in the act of altering one thing; the impact here isn’t wiping out the dinosaurs, but – as the Doctor said – the downstream effect would be universal.

Small Pebbles

In creating your own adventures for Renegade, or any other time travel game for that matter, you can leverage a similar concept – the impact of small changes. In some instances, the change will require the characters stop someone or something to allow events to proceed as history records (like the event in Rosa).

Others will involve removing someone from history altogether. That doesn’t necessarily mean killing them off; it could mean diverting their timeline along another path. Intervention might mean they choose another career, failed to get the exams they needed to attend university, or enrolled in the armed forces. Or perhaps the change happened to a significant figure’s father or mother, meaning that they move to some distant country, raise their children to believe something fundamentally different, or choose not to have a family at all.

The interaction between the player characters and the antagonist(s) will mean they have to find a way to keep the target on the intended path; usually, they will have complications to overcome to manage this. They have to find a way to maintain the current time-stream, which might mean tough choices and hard calls (again, like the events in Rosa, which clearly generated a lot of internal conflict and emotional distress).

Tough Choices

Akin to Rosa, the sort of scenarios that arise from nudges to the timeline can lead to decisions that necessitate inhumane (or even inhuman) acts. Against every reasonable principle, the Doctor and companions had to keep quiet and allow events to continue. A greater impact for the players can arise when they know someone has to die, especially if during the course of the adventure they get a chance to know and like them.

The other wrenching decision comes when the player characters have to allow someone to survive. Sometimes the awful antagonist at the heart of the event must continue to exist because the ripples they create generates a greater good; in the short term that might mean suffering, horrors and death. That can be a truly horrible realisation. A lot of people will die, with absolute certainty, but the outcome will be positive in the fullness of time.

The long game – the ripples finally hitting the shoreline – might seem like a cruel point upon which to set one’s sights, but that’s the weight that a time traveller must carry. Non-interventionist policies may arise for exactly this reason, because action taken with good intentions may have massive side effects.

Many Routes, One Destination

A further challenge for those attempting to resolve an alteration comes from the fact that the antagonists may have many choices to achieve their goal, whereas the player characters will have only a single option – to prevent history coming off the rails.

Rosa provided a view of this dilemma because it was easier to complicate the journey than to keep it on track. In addition, if the player characters face an opponent already in place, the antagonist has the upper hand in preparation.

The matter gets more complicated if you have time travel work with a free-form approach. A game like Timemaster, Continuum or Timewatch use time travel in the most fluid sense, where you can set traps, run rings, and loop back on yourself (and your enemy) to make things harder or try again with another pass. That makes matters ever more complex and runs the risk of generating knots in the time-stream impossible to unpick. Once you have run across your own path more than a couple of times, you begin to lose the angles for a simple solution.

As a Gamemaster, you should approach this kind of time travel activity with caution and very careful notes. It matters that you know where and when everyone is, because next loop around that will be a new wrinkle to smooth in an already challenging situation.

Lessons in Who

With Rosa, Chris Chibnall has completed the Doctor Who Time Travel 101, running through the basics of characters, universal truths and the heart-breaking complexity of time travel. I think that combined with introducing a new Doctor, these stories have worked really well – and I look forward to moving forward from here.

You can pick up a copy of the Renegade rules as part of the sci-fi event generator Brace for Impact on RPGNow and DriveThruRPG. You can also find the unformatted and complete rules on this website.

The Ghost Monument

The Ghost Monument had a lot to say about the way you play time-travelling adventures, about not setting barriers but, at the same time, creating alien environments from the familiar. It wasn’t necessarily subtle, but programmes like Star Trek and Doctor Who have been doing that since the 60s. When you play adventures in sci-fi, don’t make the challenge understanding the small stuff – make it grand and strange, weird and disconcerting.

We’re (Not) All Human

In truth, humanity costs less than alien. When you have an alien, you need effects – cosmetic or CGI. When you do human – perhaps with a little tweak to the nose or a daub of paint on the temples – you can still be alien bit without needing the audience – or the players – to make a leap in their understanding.

The Ghost Monument did that brilliantly here because Ryan, Yasmin and Graham desperately want to find an anchor, a solid foundation in the world of Desolation. If they can find something familiar they can work outward from their in quantifying the strange and the alien. Neither Epzo nor Angstrom offer that – they don’t know what Earth is or humans for that matter. The sense of connection that the companions seek refuses to manifest, like the Ghost Monument itself.

When you run a game of Renegade or Doctor Who  don’t attempt to create aliens that stretch the imagination or demand lengthy description. When you opt for human-like aliens, you can achieve the sense of the alien by robbing the player characters of any common ground. Even in an alternate history adventure, you can achieve the same result when no one recognises Kennedy or Shakespeare, despite every certainty they should be known to everyone.

Universal Translator

For a very long time the TARDIS has been the essential element that made the whole business of alien languages make sense. The telepathic link with the TARDIS meant that everything made sense – spoken or written. In The Ghost Monument, without a TARDIS to fall back on, we have medi-units that achieve the same result, injecting a sub-dermal universal translator chip on detecting the lack of one.

While it might be interesting to occasionally find the travellers unable to understand the world around them, it makes for a simpler game all together if you skip language and move on. In a game with many skills, even spending a few points on a language means not picking something cool. In Renegade, you only have a couple of Specials to start with, so why would you spend them on something like Linguistics or whatever.

The challenge of the adventures should be more than the simple barriers of language. If you want the incomprehensible, they consider a puzzle instead, a riddle or hidden cypher than can challenge the player to solve it. Language confounds the characters and makes the game harder to run, never mind play.

Oh… I Forgot I Put Stuff in these Pockets

“I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.” If you offer the player characters the basics, they can work out the rest and use their ingenuity and background to fill in the gaps. A spark of imagination and a half-abandoned warehouse full of tools sounds like an A-Team montage scene to me – and the same should apply when the player characters need to create a missing sonic multi-tool or cobble together a means to temporarily immobilise an enemy.

Give them string, sunglasses, a cricket ball, a transistor radio and a packet of jelly babies – because with that lot they have a world of potential. The path ahead shouldn’t be plain sailing, by any means, but dumping the characters in an alien jail every time they get captured with nothing to work with will just get tiresome. Make that jail a tool shed. Make that cell someone’s stationery cabinet. Or at least give the characters a tool they can chisel a message into a stone pillar with and discover it by chance three adventures earlier so they can organise an escape.

Don’t You See… I Got It Mostly Right

Human but alien. Comprehensible but puzzling. Most of the answers but without all the facts about the problem or the tools to get it resolved. Playing a game of Renegade or Doctor Who should be challenging for all the right reasons – filled with people, clues, puzzles, mystery, abandoned ruins, odd remnants and more than a scattering of ghosts and memories. In the midst of all that lies fun without frustration – and the promise of adventures yet to come.

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!

pop-300-K9-Doctor-Who

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?