Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Cloister Bell Ringeth

"The Nth Doctor": My Halloween costume this year, mashing elements from a few different incarnations of The Doctor.

After a one-off season which had a veritable mixed bag of games – mostly successful, including a Hellcats and Hockeysticks and Lady Blackbird nights that I should possible expand on some time - we felt it wasn’t quite time to return to one of our other three campaigns yet and that we’d maybe try a short campaign of something else instead to take us through December and the start of January.

Especially with people’s attendance likely to be spotty for the next few weeks due to Christmas nights out, journeys home and bad weather it seemed pointless to commit to a full-on game until we’re clear of Christmas and the New Year. The next game we'd be likely to play, Star Trek, really needs a fairly strict attendance because of the way Primetime Adventures works.

The contents of my pockets: UNIT ID Card, two pocket watches, a Dalek guide book,a  sonic screwdriver, Jelly Babies and some Peter Capaldi-esque flashcards.

The choice of game is one we’ve ran before for one or two sessions at a time – Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space.  I’ve never tried running this over a longer period of time and was interested in how it would feel over a four or eight week block.

Our game kept a standard “Time Lord in a TARDIS plus companions” model, with some people using pre-gens (albeit tweaking them) while a couple of others made their own.  The game could definitely be used for other things – a UNIT or Torchwood game set in a more grounded world might appeal, as might doing something more Deep Space Nine or Babylon 5-y and focusing on slightly shadier alien protagonists.  You could run a party full of Time Lords, perhaps a University class on a field trip or a special operatives team active during the Time War.  Those have never hugely appeals to me personally but others might find it easier to wrap their heads around those premises than one that apes the TV show more overtly.

My model for our Time Lady's appearance: Miranda Richardson as in 1999's Sleepy Hollow.

Molly was once again our Time Lord, but left the Minister of Chance behind to use the Quail-original trainee Time Lady known as The Reader.  (She’s just got the accent for it.)  Raj similarly could not be parted from his previous role as Frobisher, the shape-shifting private eye which he insists on playing every time.  (I think getting to be a deuterocanonical character he recognises, as well as a shape shifting penguin, is just too strong an appeal.)

Aaron, Dave and Chris picked pre-generated characters too – the 60s vagabond Fitz, the modern journalist Penny and the far future android Antimony respectively.  Some minor stat-shuffling and fluff-tweaking took place, inevitably, but these people were more or less ready to go straight away.

A related purchase for any of you wanting to play this game: there's a set of Doctor Who themed D6s available in a Yahtzee set. (In fact, there's several.)

Ailsa and Matthew chose an alternate path, making their own characters from scratch and learning how the point-buy character generation system works. This system is pretty simple, though inevitably when one is making your first character it goes a little slower, but I’d compare it very favourably to most big-name traditional systems. Matthew made Captain Mark, a 22nd century UNIT officer with a wrist-scanner for spotting extraterrestrial tech and a never-ending supply of random tat in his greatcoat pockets. Ailsa gave us Pam who was a modern day Glasweigan lifeguard who now saves lives across time and space while showing off her abs (and described as looking like local professional wrestler Nicola Storm, so about five foot nothing but positively ripped.)

The self-professed Best In The Galaxy.  See her in action.
So far we've ran four sessions of the game and, much as I've felt free to steal pre-generated PCs from the greater Doctor Who expanded universe, I did much the same to get me the shells of our plots.  First we had a two parter, Sea of Blood and The Genocide Machine, in which an adventure hook for the RPG supplement Aliens & Creatures saw use.

The companions were beamed off The Reader's TARDIS and split up across an alien world on which two sentient species, the dolphin-like Porpoisoids and the shark-like Charcaradonians, were locked in a cold war.  Discover of a Sonic Transmat by the Porpoisoids might break the deadlock but an accident on first use is what brought the compaions here.  It becomes apparent the species were in fact uplifted animals, given sentience millennia ago and living on a world with hidden artefacts of their original benefactors that they can't operate... but somehow the PCs can.

Poor old sharks.  They get a bit of a bad rep in popular culture, don't they?
It took the group a while to realise why they, despite not all being the same species, could use the relics of the ancients or why the language of the ancients was not translating.  This was because only one language is programmed to auto-translate by the TARDIS...  that language was Gallifreyan, which our resident Time Lord could identify and use to deduce the ancients were other Time Lords.  Seems this planet was used millenia ago as a sort of gladiatorial combat amusement by the Time Lords and other time travellers, suffused with Arton energy, could activate their relics.   One of which, a Time Scoop, was now at risk of falling into the hands of either side of the cold war and allowing them to eradicate the other.

God bless Big Finish
Anyway, after a lot of running up and down corridors this disaster was averted just in time and we headed off to a much more cozy, low budget adventure - Horror of Glam Rock, based on the audio of the same name.  We left alien worlds behind and instead moved to a 1970s motorway service station, in which our group found themselves snowed in and under attack from sonic-based aliens who were trying to use a teeny-bopper to get them human minds to psychically devour. Can we solve this madness armed only with a bass guitar, a stylophone, a bottle of ketchup shaped like a tomato and a psychic screwdriver?

From experience I think Doctor Who suits playing two session games more than one, but this one was just a one-nighter and it seemed to work quite well.  Our Glasweigan life-guard had to worry about a family friend, Auntie Pat (albeit one of those aunties that isn't actually related to you) who she didn't want to die early in case it made a whole in the universe and she started vanishing until she played Johnny B Goode or something.    Using the game line's size to my advantage, I didn't have to build these monsters from scratch - The Onlies, our aliens of the week, were actually played using more or less the same stats as The Wire from the Tenth Doctor's Adventure The Idiot's Lantern.

Remember kids: the lower the DEFCON number, the worse the situation is.

Our final adventure was another one-nighter, Millennial Rites which had a fair touch of WarGames to it.  Coming across a strange ripple in the Vortex - as though a large or clumsy time machine had come through - the path was followed to December 31st 1999 and right into the heart of NORAD.  Here the supposed non-event of the Millennium Bug is about to become a very real event as an alien computer AI has been plugged into the mainframe, with the sole purpose of setting off a nuclear strike and bringing about Armageddon in the final hours of the 20th century.  Our attempted solution required  Antimony to hack with his 41st century technology, The Reader to do some timey-wimey business and Frobisher & Captain Mark to disarm a nuclear bomb a day before it launches.

I'm not sure this adventure was quite as successful as previous.  Molly was unavailable but events kinda required The Reader to be present, which meant she had to be NPCed - especially when their best plan to prevent carnage involved a hop back in time.  I had a similar problem with the first session of AiTaS I ever ran - the character playing The Doctor left early and the denouement ended up being almost entirely done by an NPC which felt a bit hollow.  It maybe wasn't quite right tone-wise either, with the threat of pointless nuclear annihilation perhaps being more grim than the Doctor Who brand of scary.

Still, it did let me finally put my campaign story arc more overtly into play which might build up some interest in continuing play in 2016.   The AI plugged into the computer was a Gallifreyan piece of technology, a Matrix Wafer programmed to take over the nuclear launch system.  This is not their first run in with rogue Time Lord technology - as well as the Porpoisoids/Charcaradaonian relics, the last session back in March 2014 had a sequel hook when it turned out The Paradox Cannon was also originally Time Lord tech.  Someone is trying to use Gallifreyan technology to mess with time and space, but who could do that when the Time Lord are all gone?

Who indeed? (Not that Raj or Matthew would see this, because they are the kind of weirdoes who don't watch the "Next Time" trailers.)
With that then our group are now off on the hunt for evil time travellers.  Our next four adventures already have names: Red Rocket Rising, a spoiler name, The Plotters and Remember, Remember.  Let's see if they live up to our promising start!

1 comment:

  1. I've been rather enjoying the Doctor Who campaign, but then, as you know, I'm a bit of a Who fan :). I know what you mean about the last session being a bit off due to Molly's absence, but I thought we were able to work around it fairly well, in particular letting Matthew and me deal with the timey-wimey climax rather than the Reader.

    As for my character, how could you put a shapeshifting penguin in as an option and expect me to not take it :).