Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Some Thoughts on Owlbears

No, I'm not very good with Photoshop...
Owlbears are arguably the most distinctive of the "mundane" animals of the standard D&D menagerie. Of course, that's taking a very broad definition of "mundane", referring solely to the fact that they possess no magical powers or particularly unusual abilities. To the people of the world they live in, they're presumably no stranger or more to be feared than tigers, alligators, or rhinoceroses are to us.

In our reality, though, they couldn't exist, since they mix and match mammalian and avian features in a way that doesn't happen in natural evolution. Even in the world of D&D they're usually said to be the creation of some long-dead wizard, rather than something natural - although it's worth noting that other hybrid creatures, such as griffons, aren't regarded in the same way. Still, it's at least interesting, for someone like me who writes a lot about real world animals, to consider how such a creature would work if, somehow, it really existed.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Some Thoughts on Dire Wolves

Yesterday, after watching some early episodes of season six of Game of Thrones, my thoughts turned to dire wolves. Clearly the dire wolves in that show are not the same as the animals of the same name portrayed in the classic RPG Dungeons & Dragons.

But this set me to wondering what the dire wolves of D&D would be like if they actually existed. It's an easier question to consider than what, say, a griffon might be like, since we do at least have real wolves to compare them to. A griffon, by contrast, may have radically different interpretations in different games, novels, or even real-world legends.

But even dire wolves, close though they are to real animals, vary noticeably between different interpretations. Those in GoT appear to be larger, slightly more intelligent versions of real wolves,which doesn't quite fit their depiction in D&D, despite the obviously similar source material. So what could we reasonably say about D&D-style dire wolves?

Let's begin by defining the animal we're talking about. I'll look at the versions in three different editions of the Monster Manual, not using other sources that may have expanded on them (of which there are doubtless many, official and otherwise).

Saturday, 12 December 2015

TW 1890: Setup

Last weekend, we held the first session of my Torchwood 1890 game. Having discussed the broad concept and rule system last time, I think it's time to talk a little more about the setting itself.

The year, as indicated in the title, is 1890. According to the TV series, the Torchwood Institute was established on the 1st January 1880, a few months after the events of the Doctor Who episode Tooth and Claw. As of 1890, therefore, the organisation has been going for ten years, and is very much in its early days. It's around this time that Torchwood Two (in Glasgow) and Torchwood India (in what was then Bombay) are established, which gave me an excuse to say that most of the pre-existing members of the organisation had de-camped to these new locations. At the beginning of the campaign Torchwood London consists of just two agents and a handful of staff. Both agents were, of course, PCs, with the remainder being new recruits.

One of the first questions I had to answer therefore, is where exactly Torchwood's headquarters are. In the TV series, the London branch is based in One Canada Square... which, as of 1890, won't open for over a hundred years. Where were they before that? I'd say that one of London's many abandoned underground train stations is a likely bet, and fits well with the Hub from the TV series. But, in 1890, there are very few of those around, and, besides, it wasn't the mood I was looking for.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Torchwood 1890

As anyone who has been reading the last two-and-a-bit years of posts on this blog knows, I've long considered the possibility of running a Doctor Who game. For various reasons, it's never happened, and it turns out that not all of my current group are particularly keen on the idea, either. But it turns out that I can get kind of close, and I will soon start GMing a game based on Torchwood. I have no idea whether I'll be able to post "actual play" summaries here on any sort of regular basis (although we only get to meet up about once a month, so it's not a ridiculous schedule, or anything). But I thought I'd at least outline some of the ideas behind the campaign here today.

The first issue with running a Torchwood game turned out to be the nature of the last two campaigns the group has run - with me as a player, rather than GM. Most recently, we've done Primeval, and before that, Supernatural. There is, let's be honest, a certain theme here, although it wasn't one that was particularly intentional (we'd done Call of Cthulhu and HeroQuest before that). The fact that they're all based on TV shows isn't really an issue, but I felt that the fact that they were all investigators running around the modern world might be if I made it three-in-a-row.

Doctor Who wouldn't have had this problem - alien planets, space stations, trips into history, it's all rather different. But Torchwood ran the risk of, in particular, being Primeval with aliens instead of dinosaurs. It's set in modern Britain, you're agents of at least some sort of vaguely official agency, and so on. Yes, we could have the characters be entirely unofficial remnants of the disbanded organisation, but that makes it more like Supernatural (only set in Britain), so it still didn't feel different enough to me.

Monday, 4 May 2015

DWAITAS: 9th Doctor Sourcebook

And, then, in 2005, the series came back.

But it had, of course, regenerated into a form notably changed from its former self. This was "Nu Who", and, fandom being what it is, there are still some who haven't got over that fact. Nonetheless, we are now in an era of the show more familiar to younger viewers, and, indeed, to many Americans. Having said which, while the series was an instant hit in the UK, it was another season or so before it really took off in the US, which means that the Ninth Doctor Sourcebook could well be less popular than the two volumes that will follow it.

Popularity aside, this book does have a couple of more immediate problems to cope with. The first, which has already been faced by volumes Six and Seven, is the small number of stories there are in this era. Indeed, there are only ten, less than that of any previous incarnation save the Eighth, and most of them are only about half the length of what had been the standard for much of the classic show. The second problem is the relatively tight story arc of the season, at least in terms of character development (rather than the superficially more obvious Bad Wolf thing). This makes it somewhat difficult to fit new stories into the era without it feeling more of a squeeze, something reflected in the content of this book.

But what do we have? Well, we start, as always, with an examination of the Doctor and his companions. Rose, and arguably Captain Jack, are the only real companions here, of course, and the book acknowledges that. However, Jackie and Mickey are included as important supporting characters, and there's a discussion later on in the book (in the Aliens of London entry) on how these sorts of characters can be used in campaigns - something that hadn't really been seen at all in the classic show, even during the UNIT era. Adam also gets a write-up, with the obvious caveat that he's exactly the sort of character you shouldn't be playing, just as his function in the series is to be the "failed companion" that helps to highlight the significance of the real ones.

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Companions That Sort Of Were

Sam Jones
After the dismal failure of the 1996 TV movie (decent audience figures, but pretty much everyone hated it), Doctor Who returned to existing solely in the spin-off media. If a true "Eighth Doctor era" exists at all, which one can certainly debate, then the vast bulk of it surely exists outside of TV. And it's there we have to look for his companions, whether they be those canonically named in The Night of the Doctor, or those of more doubtful status vis a vis the new series.

The rule I am going to adopt in listing them here is similar to that I've used for the individual posts on actual companions. In order to count, they have to be contemporary with the series at the time, rather than being added in new stories featuring old Doctors after the fact. In this case, since we're considering companions of the 8th Doctor, that means that they have to have appeared between 1996, when the TV movie aired, and 2005, when the new series did. It's arbitrary, but I have to draw the line somewhere, and that's where I've drawn it so far, so let's keep it that way.

Leaving the comics to one side for the moment, the novels re-launched in 1997, now under the auspices of BBC Worldwide. Unable to use Grace Holloway for legal reasons, they had to invent a new companion. Apparently deciding that since the people who watched Doctor Who in the '70s and '80s had largely been teenagers, and they surely weren't likely to have aged since (right?), they settled on Generic Teenage Girl as their model for the companion. So, first appearing in the universally derided 1997 novel The Eight Doctors, we have Samantha Jones, better known as "Sam".

Monday, 23 February 2015

DWAITAS: 8th Doctor Sourcebook

The Eighth Doctor Sourcebook was always going to be the hardest of the series to write, and the one that was going to be least like all the others. The problem is obvious: at the time it was commissioned, the 8th Doctor only had one televised story, namely the 1996 TV movie. Since then, we have also had the seven minute webcast The Night of the Doctor, but that leaves a grand total of one-and-a-half stories to cover, neither of which give us much to extrapolate from.

One of the first things you note about the sourcebook is that the cover image, and most of the larger stills inside, come from The Night of the Doctor, not from the much longer TV movie. This is, it has to be said, reflected in a lot of the content, too, where the author shows far more interest in those seven minutes than in anything that happened in the other 85. He may not be alone among fans in that respect, mind you, and  it's not as if the TV movie fits terribly well into the overall picture of Doctor Who...

In fact, the book spends just 30 pages on the the actual subject of the 8th Doctor and his adventures. And, frankly, it needs a bit of padding to get that far. The book opens with a chapter on the Doctor and his companions, and here we see the first problem that the authors had to contend with: the 8th Doctor doesn't really have any televised companions. True, Grace fills that role in the TV movie, but she doesn't travel with him at the end of it, so she's really no more a companion than Ray in Delta and the Bannermen or Christina de Souza in Planet of the Dead. Still, for lack of anybody else, the book treats her as if she is a companion, and throws in Chang Lee and Cass (from The Night of the Doctor) for good measure. It makes an effort to explain how the latter could become a companion in an alternate timeline (for legal reasons, it can't do the same for Grace), but in the end, it has to concede that none of them really count.