Doctor Who RPG: The Wilderness Years

On the occasion of completing reviews on the Wilderness Years of Doctor Who (1990-2005+), I should like to re-imagine them as a role-playing game campaign using Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG. (Go back one, to Season 26.)

New Adventures. So here's the thing. Due to managerial and financial problems, the role-playing club that has hosted, helped schedule, recruited for, and archived this long-running campaign, has collapsed in on itself. But its former members won't give up so easily. For want of a place to play and to adapt to the players' evolving schedules (it's crazy how much stuff you get into once that regular gaming session isn't there), GM Andrew starts a PbEM (Play by Email) game with his former players, Sylvester and Sophie. The focus is on telling the story as opposed to following any kind of rules, but that was their style already. They're soon joined by a new player, Lisa, as rough-and-tumble archaeologist Bernice Summerfield. To keep up, Sophie finds a way to age Ace to adulthood and turns her into a Dalek trooper. Sylv makes his Doctor ever darker and more scheming. Together, and later with different GMs supplying the situations and NPCs, and new players joining after Sophie leaves, they write enough words to fill up 60 novels! Early on, a website is set up to host the stories, which inspires other past role-playing teams to try their hands at collaboratively writing Missing Adventures, though for more limited engagements and knowing full well they can't actually change their characters very much if they want to keep their timelines intact.

Dimensions in Time. Former club president John-Nathan having rested up after his near burn-out when everything went awry tries to resurrect the club at one point, calling a reunion event for its longest-running campaign. Theoretically, this is just a party, but he's got a little game prepared for them in which the guests each get to play a few turns using their old characters, replacing  one another thanks to a convenient "time slip". It's a thin story, but the assembled veterans have fun with it, getting to see each other in person for once rather than communicating by email. All except for Tom (characteristically avoiding his ex), who sends a recorded message that helps set up John-Nathan's story. Complete roll call: Jon, Peter, Colin, Sylvester, Sophie, Bonnie, Nicola, Janet, Sarah, Lalla, John, Louise, Lis, Richard, Caroline, Nick, Debbie and Carole Ann. The GM even lets them shout out their favorite monsters and incorporates them on the fly. But it doesn't make the club rise from its ashes.

The Enemy Within.
A couple years later, the website isn't just host to various PbEMs, it also archives all the old campaign notes from the actual 26 seasons. Enter Geoffrey, a GM living abroad in America who really, really, really wants to continue the Doctor's adventures in table top form again. When he finds out Sylvester is coming to America on a business trip, he contacts him to see if he'd like to play a game. Sylv accepts and agrees to finally pass the baton to a new player (converting his PbEM into Missing Adventures if need be, see below for where this sends Lisa/Bernice). That player is Paul (another Brit) who takes over after the first act - Sylv's long experience helps GM and player alike get the hang of things, although Geoffrey's grasp of the campaign's continuity is sometimes tenuous - and who creates a swashbuckling, romantic Doctor who loves life, and may even be half-Human. His companion is Dr. Grace Holloway, an argumentative heart surgeon played by Daphne. They have a crazy adventure in San Francisco that culminates in a confrontation with a monstrous new version of the Master, after which, based on the enthusiasm around the table, Sylv leaves the campaign in good hands. But Daphne's interest isn't quite as high as the others', and as so often happens to nascent campaigns, it just doesn't get off the ground. There won't be a second session.

THE MASTER (American version)
Attributes: Awareness 5, Coordination 4, Ingenuity 8, Presence 4, Resolve 6, Strength 5
Skills: Athletics 1, Convince 5, Fighting 3, Knowledge 5, Marksman 2, Medicine 1, Science 5, Subterfuge 4, Survival 5, Technology 5, Transport 2
Traits: Adversary (The Doctor), Alien Appearance (Minor; only the eyes), Boffin, Eccentric (Minor; fancies himself having szzztyle), Fear Factor 2, Feel the Turn of the Universe, Hypnosis (Special), Natural Weapon: Spit slime (Paralysis or 2/4/6), Possess, Psychic, Psychic Training, Technically Adept, Time Lord, Time Lord (Experienced), Time Traveller (TL 5), Voice of Authority, Vortex, Wanted Renegade, Weakness (Major; body is burning out quickly and must continue to jump from one to the other until he finds a proper Time Lord body). Story Points: 6
Home Tech Level: 10

The Eighth Doctor Adventures. But Paul, feeling responsible for the campaign's legacy, joins the groups on the website and is pretty soon continuing the character's adventures in PbEM format, with interested GMs and players. By this time, the site is actively being read by a lot of people who wouldn't even think of playing an RPG. While Past Doctor teams continue to have their own adventures, Paul and his group had to the word count, probably even more than Sylv's old email campaign did. The Doctor gets involved in temporal conflicts, loses his memory, walks the Earth on the "slow path" for a century, and even sees Gallifrey destroyed. But that wasn't the only way Paul was getting his game on.

Big Finish. See, when Lisa's Doctor Who PbEM was put in Paul's hands, she played with him a little and then found her own group to play with over the Internet in the evolving web conference format afforded by such services as Skype, Google+ and others. And so Bernice Summerfield continued on. This caught on with many groups currently running PbEMs, and they started doing occasional online sessions (with rules) in addition to the slower beat of the email/play-by-post adventures. At the forefront, Peter, Colin and Sylvester, with Paul soon joining them along with lots of old "companions". New companions too, as new players added to the rich tapestry they were all building. Among them, India (as Charley, an Edwardian adventuress who ended playing with both Paul and Colin's Doctors), Maggie (as Evelyn, an older history professor), Caroline (as Erimem, an Egyptian princess), Conrad (as C'rizz, a chameleon-like alien), Philip (as Hex, a male nurse from the near future), Sheridan (as Lucie, placed in a Time Lord protection witness protection program), and several besides. Some players decided to record synopses of their adventures and publish them as podcasts. Others decided to do mini-campaigns as Dalek fighters, UNITeers, Gallifreyan denizens, alternate versions of the Doctor, even old guest characters getting into the action. And this goes on today still, even though the pencil and paper campaign has risen from the grave.

The Curse of Fatal Death. Very early in the great audio experiment, budding GM Steven got some fans of the website together to run a traditional game, but on non-traditional terms. Basically, they were going to send the hell out of it, play it more like Paranoia, Toon or Teenagers from Outer Space than your regular Who game. Rowan played the 9th Doctor, engaged to be married to his companion Emma (played by Julia), and facing off against the Master and the Daleks in more and more ludicrous paradoxal circles. A number of other would-be gamers came to watch, as this was going to be an improv show of sorts, and in another crazy twist, each got to play an incarnation of the Doctor before getting themselves zapped again. Like Time Lord tag. And so it was that Richard, Jim, Hugh and yes, even Joanna got to play the campaign's number one hero. But of course, this wasn't meant to be a serious bid at resurrecting the campaign.

THE NINTH DOCTOR (as played by Rowan)
Attributes: Awareness 6, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 9, Presence 5, Resolve 5, Strength 3
Skills: Athletics 1, Convince 4 (AoE: Bribery), Fighting 1, Knowledge 6 (AoE: Every planet ever), Science 5, Subterfuge 3, Survival 1, Technology 5
Traits: Adversaries (The Master, Daleks), Boffin, Brave, Charming, Devotion (to Emma), Feel the Turn of the Universe, Keen Senses (Minor; Smell), Linguist (all body parts), Reverse the Polarity of the Neutron Flow, Sense of Direction, Technically Adept, Time Lord, Time Lord (Experienced), Time Traveller (All TLs), Unadventurous, Voice of Authority, Vortex, Vortex Born. Story Points: 8
Home Tech Level: 10 (Equipment: Sonic Screwdriver - it has three settings)

Scream of the Shalka. The next attempt WAS though. A GameMaster called Paul who had been participating in PbEMs as occasional GM got together with Richard (who had not played the Doctor nearly long enough for his tastes, and wanted to give it a real go), Soph as companion Alison, and Derek as (and this is admittedly weird) a robot version of the Master tied to the TARDIS. Paul, Richard and Derek worked on an pretty extensive background, which they meant to introduce to Soph bit by bit over several sessions. The Doctor was being sent on missions against his will, the Master's life had evidently been saved in this form, and the Doctor had suffered the terrible loss of a loved one. But though their time together was loads of fun, they'd neither asked the "legacy holder" (the other Paul) nor realized the strain regular sessions would put on their schedules. At the same time, the old RPG club WAS starting over, from out of the old website, and Paul had given his blessing to star GM Russell to get a group together and have his Doctor finally, officially regenerate. So that was that as far as Richard's 9th Doctor went, but not kicking and screaming or anything; Richard admitted not being up to it.

Attributes: Awareness 4, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 3, Presence 4, Resolve 3, Strength 7
Skills: Craft 2, Fighting 2, Knowledge 2, Marksman 3, Science 3, Subterfuge 4, Survival 4, Technology 3
Traits: Alien, Alien Appearance, Alien Organs (lava interior), Alien Senses (vibrational sensitivity), Burrowing, Environmental (Major; live in molten lava), Fast Healing (Special), Fear Factor 3, Hypnosis (Special), Natural Weapons: Sonic Scream (4/7/10), Networked, Screamer!, Shapeshift (Minor; they can use this ability to merge together, or grow Additional Limbs, but always retain an Alien Appearance), Weaknesses (Major: cannot breathe our atmosphere for extended periods of time; Major: Can be made to explode by a sound pitched at the right frequency). Story Points: 2-4
Home Tech Level: 7 (Equipment: Access to wormholes and miniature black holes)

After that, while the podcasts and online sessions continued, the PbEMs ceased. They were being phased out by newer technologies anyway. Russell even refused to GM Paul's regeneration so that his Doctor's adventures could remain open-ended. But we can't discuss Russell's game too much. Spoilers!


Timothy Brannan said...

Very cool. That helps explain Lungbarrow a bit!
I actually used some ideas from this time in my own games, notably Faction Paradox.

Siskoid said...

It makes for a cool game setting, and the Book of the War could actually stand for a sourcebook!

Madeley said...

I'm not a pen-and-paper RPGer, but I always enjoy these posts, and the Character Sheets. Great work on this one!

Siskoid said...


It's fun when it's completely atypical Who.

tpeck said...

That was great! I'm glad we still have at least 7 more of these to go!

'sigh' If only I could find a gaming group this dedicated to a campaign.

Siskoid said...

Well, the only group as dedicated to Who RPGs as the fictional one I'm writing about is the gang at Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games, who have been running the same basic campaign since 1985 or so!

Jeff R. said...

Are the spinoff seasons going to get separate RPG posts or get folded into the regular yearlies?

Siskoid said...

Separate. At 10+ stories a year, the regular Who write-ups are going to be long enough as it is!

LiamKav said...

Of course, we all realise this is fiction when you say that the group are using Google+.

Siskoid said...

Well *I* use the hangouts feature in my own games with far-away players. In fact, two of my players will be gaming with me this very afternoon using this service!


Sounds daft but is there a writeup for the Shalka Doctor?

Siskoid said...

I'm sure there are some write-ups floating out on the Dr Who RPG boards, even if I didn't draft one myself...


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