Monday, 13 October 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Adric

The campaign has, for some time now, had only two player characters: the Doctor and a single female companion. Which isn't really enough for an RPG. So, when, part way through the eighteenth season, the annoying kid brother of one of the other players demands to be allowed to join in... well, what are you going to do?

The new player, of course, creates alien boy genius Adric.

Now, we just have to face reality here. You're never going to get a group as large and diverse as Doctor Who fandom to agree on anything as controversial as the identity of the "worst companion ever"... but, the fact remains, if you look at just about any list ranking companions by popularity, Adric is going to be somewhere in the bottom three. He might not always come last, but he is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a popular character.

But let's take a step back from that for a minute, and just consider his character sheet. What, exactly, is the point of Adric, and how would he fit in an RPG campaign? On paper, at least, the answer is surprisingly well.

When we look at his skill set, it becomes clear that the player's original concept was that of a high-tech rogue. The high-tech part is, perhaps, the more obvious of the two. Adric is supposed to be a brilliant mathematician from a technically advanced culture, and it's clear he's spent a lot of time learning how to use, build, and repair some pretty sophisticated equipment. Even ignoring his first appearance in Full Circle - where he's around technology he's grown up with - there are plenty of examples of his technical prowess.

The Doctor does give him the idea and the basic plans for the device to overcome the Source in Keeper of Traken, but the actual construction is almost entirely in Adric's hands, and, so far as we can tell, it goes smoothly. In a number of episodes, he's even shown to be able to pilot the TARDIS, a feat not matched with any level of success by any other companion save Romana. Even his maths skill proves useful in Logopolis, although it's really only a plot device in Castrovalva (he's imprisoned throughout that story, away from the other PCs and with no means of escape, so I can only assume the player wasn't there for that one).

As for rogue skills, they're apparent early on with at least moderate use of Stealth and pocketing small items in Full Circle, but they're clearest in Keeper of Traken, where it turns out that Adric knows how to pick a mechanical lock (goodness knows where he picked that up). In a similar vein, he uses Sleight of Hand in Kinda, and it's plausible that he could, for instance, pick pockets. True, he tends to forget he has these skills quite a bit, which is perhaps one of the first signs that the player isn't terribly good at grasping the game system or remembering how it works. But they're there.

Adric is an Alzarian, a member of a species that can alter its DNA and physical appearance over the course of many generations to adapt to new environments. Had his own immediate ancestors not been living in a human-suitable habitat, he'd basically have been a Deep One, but he's stuck with the physical form that he inherited. The human form is near-enough a perfect fake, and can only be told apart from the real thing with a blood test - although seemingly, a very basic one will do. His only alien superpower is the ability to heal injuries with remarkable speed, although, in fairness, that is the sort of thing that might come up more often in a game than it did in the series.

On the downside, all those points spent in skills and intelligence have left him with little in anything else. A teenage boy, probably no more than sixteen years old, his physical prowess leaves quite a bit to be desired. For instance, his attempts at Stealth don't work half as well as he'd like them to - again, maybe there's a failure to grasp the game system here. He can swim, although possibly not as well as he thinks, and his combat ability is rubbish.

I mean, for goodness sake, he actually gets beaten up by Tegan at one point! In fact, the only time he seems to do even moderately well in a scrap is when he gets the control chip out of Enlightenment's chest unit in Four to Doomsday. The camera angle means we don't see how he actually does this, and that's likely deliberate. One is rather left with the impression that the player spent a Story Point and said something to the effect of "if I shove my hand up her blouse, will she be shocked enough not to fight back immediately?"

Which isn't the sort of tactic you want to encourage in your players, and brings us on to why it is that Adric isn't all that popular. In our imaginary RPG campaign at least, it isn't just Adric that's a whiny immature teenager; it's the player, too. (Given that the series isn't really an RPG campaign, I should stress that that's a dig at how the writers approached him, rather than at Matthew Waterhouse, who played him in reality).

Mind you, it's not until Four to Doomsday that this really becomes obvious, although it certainly doesn't finish there. Up until then, he's not been the most obviously useful of characters, what with Romana and Nyssa having enough technical know-how for the party anyway. He's not spent any points in charisma or social skills, either (again - young player?) and he's the first companion in a while not to have the Attractive advantage. But he's bearable, and, as his skill set shows, from an RPG perspective he's not that a bad a character. A bit specialised, perhaps, but that's nothing unusual.

But in Four to Doomsday we discover he's a misogynist with a low opinion of women's intellectual capacity, that his social skills are actually kind of worse even than we'd thought, and that he reckons that Earth being ruled by a insane dictatorial toad would be a great improvement and something that he really ought to be fighting for. It's not the first time that he's sided with the baddies, having done the same in Full Circle, but there he claims to have been doing it to lull them into a false sense of security. It's entirely possible he's telling the truth about that (he certainly is when he does the same in Kinda), but even if he isn't, he changes sides again soon enough once he sees what's going on.

But in the case of Four to Doomsday, there's no doubt: he's out-and-out supporting the villains. To be fair, the Urbankan style of government isn't far off that of the Alzarians he grew up with, so it's not out-of-character, or anything - and the Doctor does, of course, eventually talk him out of it. But it doesn't help build up your sympathies, and, from an RPing point of view, it implies that Adric is a staggeringly bad judge of character. Or that his player is deliberately messing with the GM to make some sort of out-of-game point. (This is very different from Mike Yates, who is clearly colluding with the GM to set up the plot in Invasion of the Dinosaurs).

From here on in, while there are certainly moments when he gets to put his skills to good use, for the most part, he just gets more irritating. He's always whining about how nobody takes him seriously, which winds the other players up to the point that they... well, stop taking him seriously. If Sulking were a skill on a character sheet, he really ought to have it.

Adric is also a character who wants to fit in, but is basically crap at it. For instance, we're in an era of the show's history where companions, not just the Doctor, had identifiable "costumes", but even by those standards, Adric's taste in clothes is remarkably limited. That the clothes in question are a pair of drab green pyjamas beneath an ugly sleeveless yellow tunic, and a gold star that teacher gave him in school as a maths prize... frankly is not helping with the "fitting in" part.

If we're actually going to play him in one of our own games, though, we want to tone down all of that. Pissing off the other players because "it's in character" isn't half as sensible a tactic as some might think, and that's pretty much what Adric does in the series. So, instead, look at that skill set, and consider the times that he shows himself to be loyal (Castrovalva, say) or successfully tricking the bad guys (State of Decay and Kinda). Maybe use the whininess as a joke every now and then, but don't make it the focus of the character.

There's some evidence from the stories around the middle of his run that he has a bit of a crush on Nyssa. She doesn't notice, of course, not least because he's likely a few years younger than her, and that may be part of why he later goes off women. Completely off women, if the fanfic is to be believed, although there's not really any evidence for that in the show.

Eventually, it seems, in the story Earthshock, Adric's player, already unpopular, finally pushes the GM just that little bit too far. The GM sets up a plot that will see a spaceship crashing into the Earth and wiping out the dinosaurs. Even though he's run out of Story Points by this stage of the scenario, Adric's player insists on his character dashing back onto the doomed freighter to try and stop it all from happening. The GM has probably told him this is ridiculously unlikely, but he isn't taking the hint. Because, frankly, he never does.

He needs a very good Maths roll to save the ship (and the dinosaurs, thus presumably preventing humans from ever evolving). Under the circumstances, he does pretty well to get a "Yes But" result. But the GM has had enough and says "Yes, but... you don't have time to feed your solution into the computer before a Cyberman destroys it. The ship explodes, with you in it. You are blown into a million billion atom sized pieces 65 million years in the past with no possible hope of ever being brought back. You're DEAD."

The player does not return.

There have been relatively few spin-off stories to feature Adric as a major character. Only one of them is set after his death (although, admittedly, that's one more than you might think), and, basically, he just gets killed again. Apparently, the universe just wants him to stay dead.

Ho hum.

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