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).

Monday, 5 August 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Victoria Waterfield

Ben and Polly leave in the penultimate episode of the fourth season. With Jamie already filling the 'action hero' role, it's only Polly that needs to be replaced.

If we're honest, it's been hard to really see Doctor Who as the account of a role-playing game since The Dalek Invasion of Earth, or thereabouts. That's because it's about that time that the Doctor really becomes the hero of the show, and the other regular characters 'just' his companions. In the first season, he may have been the title character, and, to some extent, the focal point, but he was still more or less evenly balanced with Ian and Barbara, if not Susan.

But, from the second season onwards, he's much more obviously the hero, and that becomes even more the case once Troughton takes over and the mythology of the Doctor really starts to build. This works well in a TV show, but having most of the PCs be in the shadow of one of the others isn't such a good recipe for an RPG. The stories arguably also diverge from a 'gaming' look as they become more tightly plotted, again, from about the second season onwards.

Nonetheless, I'm going to stick with the analogy, at least for now. Because, why not?

Monday, 29 July 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Jamie McCrimmon

One clear problem with setting a game during a specific period of Doctor Who's television history is that the Doctor rarely travels with more than two companions, creating problems for any group with more than three players. Indeed, there are only four points in the history of classic Who where there are more than three regular characters. The first of these occupies the first two seasons, with the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara, plus either Susan or Vicki. The second occurs during the fourth season, when Ben and Polly are joined by a third companion.

In fact, it's interesting to note that this season includes one of the few points where we can definitely say that there must (rather than 'might') be a whole bunch of stories we don't see. Most of the stories in this period end with the beginning of the next one, so that there's no gap at all. But not only is that not true of the gap between The Macra Terror and The Faceless Ones, but, in the first of those stories, Polly gets her hair cut short. By the start of the latter story it's grown back to full length, suggesting a few months have passed at the very least. Who knows where they travelled during that period?

At any rate, with the number of companions having gone back to three again, a new player has obviously joined the group. He comes up with an idea that has apparently never struck the existing players: since this is a time travel game as much as a science fiction one, there is no reason he can't play a character from the past. The character he comes up with is Jamie McCrimmon, a Jacobite piper from the year 1746.

Monday, 22 July 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Polly Wright

While Steven's former player decides to make his next character, Ben, more down-to-earth, Dodo's has the opposite problem, and decides to make her next character useful at... well, anything, really. The result is Polly Wright.

Polly's surname is never mentioned on-screen, and for a long time there was fan speculation as to what it might be, with a number of suggestions being made. Once it was confirmed, however, that the BBC's audition scripts for the character gave her surname as 'Wright' that became the one that everybody accepted. It's unclear as to whether this ever intended as any more than a place-holder at the time - it's also Barbara's surname, and the two characters are entirely unrelated. Possibly nobody at the BBC took it seriously as a name, but neither did they bother to come up with anything else, so it's what we have.

While her predecessors are mostly sixteen-year old girls, Polly is a grown woman. Assuming she's the same age as Anneke Wills was at the time, she's 24, notably younger than Barbara, and clearly cut from a different mould. She's a secretary from London in 1966, which, at first glance, may not be the most exciting concept ever for a player character. While the ability to brew a nice cup of tea is one that's quite important in British culture, for instance, it's rarely high on most player's wish-lists.

Monday, 15 July 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Ben Jackson

Steven and Dodo left in consecutive episodes at the end of the show's third season. Although the actual reasons probably had more to do with the new producer's desire for a more glamorous cast, in our imaginary RPG campaign, perhaps the imbalance between the over-powered Steven and the under-powered Dodo was becoming a bit of an issue rules-wise. Which might explain why their replacements are both down-to-earth, while still being fairly capable.

Stepping into the 'Action Hero' role recently vacated by Steven is Ben Jackson. Like Steven, he's served in the military, but that's about as far as the resemblance goes. While Steven is a fighter pilot from the future, Ben is a regular rating on a Royal Navy ship from 1966. From the perspective of someone watching the show, it's the difference between the wish-fulfilment of wanting to be Dan Dare, and the feeling that somebody who's kind of like you might still have a chance at exciting adventures with the Doctor. Which is still wish-fulfilment, admittedly, but of a different kind.

Merely from his profession, we can deduce quite a bit about the skills he ought to have. He should be good at fighting, have some ability as a mechanic or electronics operator, be able to swim, and have at least some idea how to steer a motorboat. Aside from the last one, these are all things that we do, indeed, see him doing to quite high levels of competency. In The Highlanders, for example, he's thrown into a deep firth while tied to a chair, and still manages to swim away to safety without breaking the surface. (So we'd better add escapology to his skill set, then... don't know if the Navy teaches that).

Monday, 8 July 2013

DWAITAS: 2nd Doctor Sourcebook

The Second Doctor's era is a crucial one in the development of Doctor Who as a series. There's the obvious point that the regeneration itself, and the show's re-invention that followed it, are a large part of why it has survived so long. But it's also significant that much of what we now associate with the show originated with the Second, not the First, Doctor. The First Doctor's adventures, as I mentioned in the previous review, were quite different to what we have now, and often at least tried to be fairly sophisticated science fiction, with a focus on alien culture, moral quandaries, and the practicalities of surviving in a hostile past.

While there certainly are some pretty sophisticated stories in the Second Doctor's era (The Mind Robber particularly springs to mind), there was also a change in focus. This era became about monsters in a way that the first three seasons had never really tried to be - aside, of course, from the Daleks. Other features of the era that have since been commonplace include the 'base under siege' trope, with an isolated outpost menaced by hostile aliens. That's first seen in The Tenth Planet, the very last Hartnell episode, but it becomes much more common under Troughton, notably describing all but one story in the fifth season.

It's also the first time we have a companion joining for the sheer fun of time travel, and the last of the truly reluctant companions. In this respect, the dynamic of the show is also becoming something we more readily recognise today. It's also, for that matter, the first appearance of the sonic screwdriver. This, incidentally, is first seen in Fury From the Deep, a story in which it's only used to, of all things, undo some screws! Even in this era, it gets to do more later on...

This gives the second volume in the DWAITAS sourcebook series an advantage that the first volume could never really have. The stories here are more familiar in style, more the sort of thing somebody who'd only ever seen Nu Who (or, indeed, much of the colour era of the classic series) would expect. In particular, there are a host of monsters to throw into our own scenarios, where in the first sourcebook there were only Daleks and a bunch of alien cultures - many of which, like the Drahvins and the Moroks, look essentially human.

Monday, 24 June 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Dodo Chaplet

Vicki leaves early in the third season, not long after Steven's arrival. She's initially replaced by Katarina, a Trojan handmaiden who is utterly clueless about anything invented after about 1250 BC. She dies only a quarter of the way in to her first proper story, deliberately sacrificing herself to save the rest of the party. (Marking possibly the only time in Doctor Who history in which a cliffhanger is resolved by the character that's being threatened with death... dying). Which suggests she's either an NPC, or her player got bored with her really quickly.

Next up is Sara Kingdom, snappily dressed special agent of the Space Security Service. Sort of an Emma Peel with a uniform and a laser pistol. (Almost literally - in the real world, the character concept was inspired by Cathy Gale, Mrs Peel's predecessor). A combination of bad planning and lousy dice rolls ensure that she doesn't reach the end of her first story, either. Although dying in the same story that she appeared in hasn't entirely stopped her showing up in some licensed spin-off media, she, like Katarina, is difficult to fit into a campaign that sticks to 'official' continuity.

Monday, 17 June 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Steven Taylor

Ian and Barbara left the show almost at the end of the second season, firmly cementing the idea that, in Doctor Who, all companions are temporary. Indeed, the Doctor goes on to have a further six companions over the course of the next twelve stories. I'm going to deal with two of those quite briefly, because they're difficult to fit into a game that sticks to continuity, and I'm going to pass on Ben and Polly altogether for now, because I feel they more properly belong with the second Doctor.

And I'm going to ignore John and Gillian on the grounds that who the heck wouldn't?

That leaves me with two that deserve more discussion. In our imaginary TV-show-as-RPG-campaign, Barbara's player has decided to leave the group. The GM incorporates a method for her character and Ian to finally get back to their own time into his latest scenario, thus completing their plot arc. Ian's player agrees, because it fits the story, and the two metaphorically walk off hand in hand into the sunset.

Monday, 10 June 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Vicki

The Doctor's original companion, Susan, left the series early on in the second season, the first indication that the cast wasn't as fixed as it might have appeared from watching the first season alone. Unlike many other stories of the time, Susan's last episode doesn't end with the first few seconds of the one following it, giving a possible slot for continuity-minded GMs to insert stories with only Ian and Barbara as the companions. (On the flip side, the fact the Doctor temporarily forgets about Susan's absence at the start of 'The Powerful Enemy' suggests that it can't be a very long gap, if it exists at all).

At any rate, the very next episode introduces a new companion for the first time since the show started.

It's hard to come up with a role-playing analogy for what's going on here. That's because, having decided, for whatever reason, to ditch the Susan character, her player comes up with a new PC that's essentially the same idea. Perhaps she likes the character concept, but wants the chance to smooth off a few rough edges with a second attempt.

Monday, 3 June 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Susan

Of the initial set of characters in the first season of Doctor Who, it's Susan who is the hardest to see as a typical PC. That's because one of her key roles on the show is to be put in peril, to be the young, attractive, woman, menaced by the monsters. Equally important, from the show's original perspective, is that she's an audience identification figure, based on the intended age of the viewers. Neither of these functions makes much sense in an RPG context.

Precisely because she's an audience identification figure, however, she is often a viewpoint character on the show. Furthermore, unless there's only three players available (which, admittedly, is not impossible) it would seem odd to run a game based on this era of the show and not have her as a PC. But doing so, while trying to stay faithful to the ethos of the time, presents challenges that don't really crop up if you're only emulating Nu-Who.

If we look at her suggested character sheet in DWAITAS, though, she doesn't look all that bad. True, she is the weakest of the initial four characters, and the only one who is actually under-powered for a starting PC using the rules-as-written. But not, if we're honest, by much, and giving her the Inexperienced trait (and, thus, more story points) would bring her level with Barbara at least. In other systems, of course, trying to stat her up might have different results, but she's still unlikely to look rubbish.

Monday, 20 May 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Barbara Wright

Continuing from last time's look at Ian, let's turn to another of the original trio of companions: Barbara Wright.

Imagining that the first two seasons of the show had actually been an RPG, what can we say about Barbara? Knowing that the game is going to be about time travel, Barbara's player has decided that History skill will be particularly useful, and has built her character around this idea. However, clearly that won't be enough, since History is likely to be even less usable on alien planets than Ian's science skills will be in the past. So she saves plenty of points to round her character out with social skills.

As the campaign proceeds, this turns out to have been a good idea. They're particularly key in The Aztecs, in which she not only manages to carry off her masquerade as a goddess for most of the story, but, at one point, talks the bad guy out of revealing her secret when he sees through it. They also become more relevant when the show begins to focus more on the science fiction elements than on time-travelling into the past (as had been the original idea). From an RPG perspective, her History skill, good though it is, isn't always terribly helpful: it's fine for providing exposition in the TV show, and sometimes in working out what's going on, but, once the scene is set, it doesn't tend to move the plot along.

Monday, 6 May 2013

DW Companions as PCs: Ian Chesterton

Having recently begun re-watching some of the Hartnell era episodes of Doctor Who, reading a couple of books reviewing them (I recommend TARDIS Eruditorum as the more interesting of the pair) and, of course, the DWAITAS guide I reviewed in March, my mind has naturally been turning towards how the era would work in an RPG. Most of what needs to be said already has been in the sourcebook, and said better than I can do here. But it still leaves me pondering a few issues.

As I said in my review, a game based on this era would feel very different to one based on Nu-Who. That's not just because of the 50-year gap between then and now, but because that era told, on the whole, a quite different kind of story. In a way that, for example, Troughton's era didn't. So I'm not actually planning on running a campaign set there, interesting though it might be. A one-off game, though... yeah, that's a possibility. For a con, maybe. We'll see.

Still, one of the things that strikes me, re-watching these old episodes, is how much like a role-playing game they do feel. More so than the new shows, in fact. I think a lot of this has to do with the pacing. In more modern TV shows, a lot gets elided that doesn't if you're playing it out. That a lot this was kept in in the 1960s style of show does sometimes make it easier to view things through an RPG lens.

For instance, there's a scene in 'The Dead Planet' (that is, The Daleks #1) where our heroes come across a mysterious box, and cautiously prod it with a stick from a distance a few times before convincing themselves it won't go boom. This is the sort of thing that PCs do, but one expects Matt Smith would, at best, wave his sonic screwdriver over it for half a second, and probably wouldn't even do that. Heck, that entire episode basically consists of the characters wandering around trying to figure out where they are, something that PCs tend to do a fair bit of, but that would be rather out of place in a single 45-minute TV episode.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

DWAITAS: 1st Doctor Sourcebook

A bit of a departure as far as my sparse and occasional reviews are concerned, I know. Not least because I haven't got round to reviewing the actual game. That's largely because I haven't yet had the chance to play it, and it's not really fair to review a game system you haven't actually used. I mean, it looks good, but how do you know until you get the dice out and give it a whirl?

But supplements are a different matter. I can't comment on how well the stats have been balanced, or whatever, but I can at least comment on what's provided. Also a bit odd, perhaps, that I'm starting with this one, given it's the fourth supplement to come out (although one of the others was a bestiary, where the utility of the stats is kind of crucial). But, hey, this is the way it is, so there!

Obviously, the reason for me buying this is that I'm hoping to get some use of it. I have some ideas for a DWAITAS game, and hope to put them into practice in the none-too-distant. Then I guess I'll know how well the rules work. The reason for me starting with this in particular, apart from the fact that it's hot off the presses, is that I have been going back through some First Doctor stuff of late, including reading volume one of TARDIS Eruditorum, which I reviewed here. As I was reading that - before this book was even announced publicly, I was pondering how DWAITAS would handle that era, and what material a (then hypothetical) sourcebook would cover. Now I know.

And, you know, the great thing is, this is almost exactly what I would have wanted. Pretty much everything that my random musings had thrown up along the lines of "they ought to do this" is here. It's a really excellent RPG sourcebook for this era of the show's history.