Monday, 16 December 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Jo Grant

Liz Shaw leaves the show after the end of the seventh season. In game terms, her player has realised that there isn't much point in playing a scientist character when the Doctor is already so much better at it. Looking around, and seeing two new military types joining the campaign, along with the Brigadier already there, she sees that there is an empty niche. A 'rogue' type character doesn't directly work in the setting, but the skills such characters normally possess are certainly still useful, and nobody else has focussed on them.

Fitting in with the campaign premise, the player decides to generate a spy as her character. But - and here's the twist - she's going to play a crap one.

The result is wannabe secret agent and full-time ditz Jo Grant.

Jo has, we're told, undergone a course in spycraft and all its attendant skills. She does not, on the other hand, actually appear to have passed it. A great example of her approach to sneaky rogue-type activities can be seen in her very first story, Terror of the Autons, not just in her failure to spy on the Master, but in how she reacts once she's discovered. On the whole, while she's clearly a very nice person, she really doesn't seem cut out for... well, anything much.

Monday, 2 December 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Sgt Benton and Mike Yates

Around the end of the seventh season and the beginning of the eighth, two new players join our imaginary group, bringing it to the largest it well ever be: five players plus the GM. They're only occasional players, absent for many of the adventures, which the GM begins filling in with off-world science fiction, rather than the military-guarding-the-world that formed the basis of this new campaign. Nonetheless, both decide to play characters that mesh perfectly with the campaign concept, by designing members of UNIT.

The first, like the Brigadier's player, picks up a former NPC already associated with the campaign. Sergeant Benton first appeared (as a corporal) in The Invasion, back in the sixth season, and now returns as a semi-regular PC. As a sergeant, rather than an officer, he has the perfect opportunity to play the tough guy role previously filled by the likes of Ben and Steven. He doesn't really do much with the character beyond this, but it's a solid base.

Monday, 18 November 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Liz Shaw

The third player in the new, quasi-military campaign is the only one to create an entirely new character. Instead of a soldier, she creates a scientist, Liz Shaw, leaving a bunch of NPCs to wreak action-filled havoc backing up the Brigadier. In some respects, the character is a more down-to-earth version of Zoe, and while lacking the same level of genius, she is, if anything, even more of a pure Science Geek.

In the real world, scientists are only highly knowledgeable about specific, narrow, fields - or at least they have been since about the early twentieth century. In the world of TV, however, being a scientist tends to mean you're skilled at pretty well anything science related, unless the show itself is focussed on some particular field. DWAITAS, and many other RPGs, tend to follow this approach, so we can say that, yes, Liz was very good at science, and leave it at that.

For some other systems, however, we might need to clarify just what she's good at. Even in DWAITAS, there's a valid question as to whether she has a speciality, and, if so, what it might be.

Monday, 4 November 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

Some time after ending his time travel campaign with The War Games, the GM proposes a new one. This will be about a semi-secret military organisation dedicated to protecting the Earth from alien invasion and investigating the downright weird. He initially gets three players for this new campaign, and they set out about creating suitable characters.

One brings back the Doctor, from the previous campaign, but now suitably changed with the addition of some nifty combat skills and, of course, no time machine. (Maybe the last episode of The War Games is actually a flashback worked out to explain this, or maybe it was planned all along, when the GM got bored of running games about time travel and future worlds).

The second player also brings back a character from the previous campaign, but this time, it's a former NPC. This, of course, is the head of the British branch of UNIT, Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart. (The middle name 'Gordon' isn't added until quite a bit later).

That the Brigadier was originally an NPC seems fairly evident. He first appears (as a colonel) in The Web of Fear, in which he is one of the main suspects in the whodunnit sub-plot. Crucially, he is treated as such by the regular characters pretty much all the way through, and they don't start to trust him until the true villain is unmasked, right at the end. Therefore, I would argue, the players are treating him as they would any NPC suspect. Yes, he's a red herring, but they don't know that, and they aren't treating him like a fellow PC.

Monday, 21 October 2013

DWAITAS: 3rd Doctor Sourcebook

With the third in the series of past Doctor sourcebooks, we reach an era that is, perhaps, one of the most distinctive, quite different in many ways from those that preceded and followed it. It's also, and for much the same reason, rather controversial. For many fans, especially those who were watching in the early '70s, the Third Doctor is their favourite, yet, for many others, the nature of the stories in this era is just too different to really enjoy in the same way as those that came later.

From the point of view of a sourcebook, this is actually something of an advantage. Because the era is unique, there's quite a lot to say about it. It may also help that much of what makes the Third Doctor's tenure different also makes it closer to traditional roleplaying games. It's perhaps easier, for instance, to see how Spearhead from Space could be made into a straightforward roleplaying adventure than more character-driven tales such as The Girl Who Waited.

The most obvious thing that stands out about the era is that over half of the stories are set primarily in the present day, perhaps with a brief excursion elsewhere for a couple of episodes. But there's more to it than that. The Doctor is, in most of these present day stories, backed up by UNIT, a military organisation, and - while he argues with them frequently - he is broadly content to work alongside them. It's hard to imagine the Doctor of Power of Three remaining on Earth for quite so long without going stir crazy.

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Companions That Weren't: the '60s

In Doctor Who stories, it's not unusual for there to be a character who takes on a companion-like role, but who does not, in the end, join the TARDIS crew. Granted, this is often at least partly because they've just died, and many wouldn't make great player characters anyway. But there are some exceptions, who can, if nothing else, give us inspiration for character ideas that fit with the setting.

I'm going to start on the Third Doctor's era shortly after the relevant sourcebook comes out, but that leaves me with a slight gap. So today I'm going to look at four characters from the show's first six seasons who either came close to being actual companions, or are particularly suited for it.

First up, and my only choice from the Hartnell era, is Jenny, from The Dalek Invasion of Earth. She's a resistance fighter against the Daleks and their robomen, and, from the dates given on screen, therefore hails from the 2170s, or thereabouts. She appears on my list because the character was seriously considered as an ongoing companion, replacing Susan, who left in that story. In the event, the writers decided they wanted somebody younger, and introduced Vicki in The Rescue, but it could have been otherwise.

She isn't given a surname, nor do we know how, exactly, she joined the resistance. Unlike the menfolk, she doesn't really do any fighting, although it's hard to imagine that she can't if it comes to it. Her main roles in the resistance are organisational, including such things as manning the communications system. But, given that she's been living in a post-apocalyptic world for ten years, it's also a fair assumption that she has good survival and stealth skills.

Monday, 12 August 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Zoe Heriot

As has become almost traditional for companions by this point, Victoria leaves in the penultimate story of a season - in her case, the fifth. Having concluded the story arc of Victoria's desire for a normal life eventually getting the better of her, her player comes up with a character that, in some ways, breaks the mould: Zoe Heriot.

Apart from the mumsy Barbara, all the female companions on the show so far have been, to a greater or lesser extent, Peril Monkeys, whose primary function is to be menaced by the monsters. It's true that this does happen to Zoe, too - for example, she spends a couple of episodes of The Invasion drugged and locked in a trunk while the bad guys use her to lure Jamie and the Doctor into a trap. But that's combined with the fact that she's a technical and scientific genius.

In a sense, we've been here before: both Susan and Vicki could be described in this way. But Vicki's skills only rarely saved the day, and Susan might as well not have had any, for all she used them after the first episode. Zoe, on the other hand, does so frequently, making her a competent scientific specialist - a Science Geek, whose player has maxed out on Intelligence and science skills. In DWAITAS, she has to take two levels of 'Experienced' to justify her skills, and, she's obviously had plenty of boosts over the course of her adventures, since she's over-powered even for that.

(In fairness, this is also true of Ben, while Jamie appears to be under-powered, and might justifiably get three extra story points to compensate).