Doctor Who RPG: Torchwood Series 1

On the occasion of completing reviews on the 2006 series of Torchwood, I should like to re-imagine it as a role-playing game campaign using Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG. (Go back one, to Doctor Who Series 2.)

The GMs
Developing a campaign can take a while, and not everything makes it to the playing stage, but in this case, working within a role-playing club actually saved one such campaign. Ever since gamer John had played Captain Jack in Russell's resurrected/ongoing Doctor Who campaign, that GM had tried to get a side-game going in which John's character would head a team of alien hunters/supernatural investigators that could conceivably cross over with the main campaign. Russell worked hard at developing the campaign with John (a headquarters, stash of equipment, back story, etc.) and recruiting players, even while he was running his "season" of Who and lacing it with mentions of the top secret group, Torchwood. But when it came to actually running the Torchwood campaign, he found he already had his hands full with Who and with developing yet ANOTHER spin-off campaign (this one for Sarah Jane's player, Lis) so handed things off to a willing GM in the club. Russell GMed the first session, with Chris as understudy, then let the other GM take the campaign in his own direction. The whole idea was to have a dark, bleak, adult campaign that borrowed from Call of Cthulhu and Over the Edge, but Chris struggled with what "adult" meant and initially went overboard with descriptive sex and violence, but soon gave his players the lead, letting them explore the dark side of their souls, finding the adultness in the characterization.

The Players
-John reprises his role as Captain Jack, though he's had to add a lot of backstory to the character, taking him back in time from where he was left (200,100 A.D.) and forcing him to live through the 20th century again before reaching the present. To give the character this story, a strange mystery to solve and an intriguing Special Trait, Russell agrees to give John a form of immortality, on the basis that being resurrected by the Bad Wolf stuck. As co-designer of the campaign, he would be the one who explained and enforced Torchwood rules in the story, a more organic means of exposition than GameMaster reminders. Not only does this (and the character's paranormal longevity) make him a natural leader for the group, but also forces John to tone down the roguish double-entendres, and play the Captain as a tired old soldier, haunted by his past.
-Eve will play Gwen Cooper, chosen late in the recruiting process to be the players' "identification figure". What this means is that while Eve knows she will play (her choice) a police officer who is asked, in the first session, to join a special ops group, she is told virtually nothing else and must discover Torchwood on her own. As she discovers the campaign world, so do the other players who, until then, merely act like they know everything and belong. She also keeps some character-building points in reserve to build her character with Torchwood-specific skills or traits a couple of sessions in. A crucial detail, a very normal boyfriend, is part of the character from the beginning and a major subplot generator for the Gwen character.
-Burn will play Dr. Owen Harper, Torchwood's resident physician, coroner and life scientist. Also, its resident a-hole.
-Naoko will play Toshiko Sato, the group's computer and technology expert. The character is shy and anxious, but a good soul who cares about people.
-Gareth will play Ianto Jones, a kind of majordomo and agent-in-training. He hopes the fact the team takes him for granted and doesn't respect his abilities will create some conflict. Also, his backstory includes a cyber-girlfriend hidden in the basement (at Chris' suggestion, shhh, don't tell anyone).
All the players are also encouraged to have secrets and not reveal their backstories, the better to discover them during play.

Everything Changes/Day One. Russell GMs the opening session, with Chris on hand to play Suzie Costello, a member of the team Gwen will ultimately replace. That seems a given, but the two GMs still surprise them by making Suzie the killer Gwen's after. To illustrate the lack of discipline the players all agreed their characters shared, Russell gives them a chance to bring an artifact home and misuse Torchwood property (hiding the fact the Suzie character's use of the resurrection gauntlet was an important part of the plot). Russell gives Chris the reigns of the campaign and play continues with a second scenario on the same day (that's some marathon gaming!) with Gwen's first real day on the job. The players kind of groan at the GM's rather juvenile idea for an orgasm-eating alien, but decide to play things straight anyway.

Attributes: Awareness 3, Ingenuity 2, Presence 4, Resolve 3
Skills: Convince 1, Knowledge 2, Subterfuge 2, Survival 3, Transport 2
Traits: Alien, Alien Senses (Detect suitable host), Dependency (Major; orgasmic energy), Flight (Minor), Hypnotism (Special; the host will seem sexually irresistible in a confined space or close contact), Immaterial, Natural Weapon/Orgasmic energy vampire (attacks person host is having sex with; Lethal), Possess, Weakness (Major; host takes damage at a rate of 0/1/3 every hour). Story Points: 4
Home Tech Level: 6 (possible N/A)

Ghost Machine. A scenario involving an alien artifact that can make one experience moments from the past creates some nice opportunities for Burn to take Owen to a dark place (the GM is impressed at how this group takes the initiative and moves the plot based on their characters' emotions rather than a pre-determined series of clues). By the end of the session, Eve has completed Gwen's basic training and finished dumping points in the character (Marksman goes up drastically).

Time to work on Ianto's Dark Secret, especially since Gareth was running a hidden subplot (not at the table) to track down a cyberneticist that could un-Cyber his girlfriend. The GM puts a lot of pressure on the situation, making it a no-win scenario. He never expected one of the players to use the pterodactyl added to the Hub as color in just that way though.

Small Worlds.
The timeless world of fairies clashes with the real world in a scenario designed to explore Jack's character a bit more, with an NPC from his past.

Attributes: Awareness 4, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 3, Presence 5, Resolve 5, Strength 5
Skills: Athletics 1, Convince 2, Fighting 2, Knowledge 1, Subterfuge 3, Survival 2
Traits: Alien, Alien Appearance, Devotion (their Chosen Ones), Fast (Major), Fear Factor 2, Flight (Minor), Frenzy, Immortal (Major), Invisible (Special Good), Natural Weapon/Choke with petals (4/L/L), Natural Weapon/Localized weather (4/6/8), Shapeshift (secondary form has Size: Tiny and Attractive), Vortex. Story Points: 4
Home Tech Level: N/A

Countrycide. The characters get out of Cardiff on a wild goose chase and get attacked by homegrown Welsh cannibals. The GM enjoys freaking the players out, but afterwards, they do complain there was really no reason for their team to leave town, and no "paranormal" element to the story. This isn't what the campaign is really about, is it? By now, Eve and Burn have started an unhealthy affair between their characters, so Naoko has decided Toshiko has always had a unrequited crush on Owen. These gamers do love their drama.

Greeks Bearing Gifts. With Owen and Gwen being rather shameless, the GM decides it's time to torture Toshiko a little bit. He introduces a lover for Tosh that's also the scenario's alien villain, though it seems like it's actually going to be about alien tech scavengers and a telepathic pendant. The players know Tosh is telepathic, but since their characters don't, are encouraged to SHARE their thoughts with her. They go for the cruelest possible surface thoughts, of course.

They Keep Killing Suzie.
A strange mystery with clues and hints that keep prodding the players to use the resurrection gauntlet to bring back Suzie, which the GM uses as a life force vampire draining the glove's user (Gwen makes the best roll, so is ironically the unlucky one). Things get hairy and Eve almost loses her character. Would she have then played Suzie?

Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 5, Presence 3, Resolve 3, Strength 2
Skills: Athletics 1, Convince 3, Craft 3 (AoE: Armorer), Fighting 2, Knowledge 4, Marksman 3, Medicine 2, Science 3, Subterfuge 5 (AoE: Conditioning), Technology 5 (AoE: Weapons), Transport 2
Traits: Cutting Edge Technology, Indomitable, Obsession (Major; Surviving at all costs), Psychic Training, Selfish, Technically Adept. After returning from the dead, Suzie had lower Attributes which were restored to normal while she drained those points from Gwen Cooper at a rate of 1 per hour. Story Points: 9
Home Tech Level: 5

Random Shoes. Guest player Paul wanted to try a session, and is invited to play the ghost of a dead alien tech scavenger (strictly small potatoes). He discovers his own back story as the Torchwood players do, though anything before "Eugene"'s last two weeks was defined before hand between him and the GM. The latter uses a mechanic through which Eugene will be able to influence other players' actions (using Resolve + Convince) despite being invisible and inaudible. An sweet off-beat adventure.

Out of Time.
It's close to Christmas, and Chris decides to set this next scenario around the same time. Three people from the 1950s pass through the Rift to the present, and the Torchwood team must be babysit them. He varies their attitudes and plights, jumping from one to the other, and breaking three of the team's hearts by the end. Burn decides Diane was the love of his life and losing her will make his character dive into a deep depression (I'm telling you, these guys are suckers for punishment).

Combat. Somebody's kidnapping Weevils and using them in some kind of fight club. The group investigates, Owen goes undercover, and even shows he's got a bit of a death wish. So did Chris watch Fight Club recently or what? Yes he did, just the other day with fellow club member Noel, who used to play Mickey Smith.

Attributes: Awareness 4, Coordination 4, Ingenuity 1, Presence 1, Resolve 3, Strength 5
Skills: Athletics 2, Fighting 3, Subterfuge 2, Survival 3 (AoE: Urban)
Traits: Alien, Alien Appearance, Alien Senses (time sensitivity), Empathy, Fear Factor 1, Natural Weapon/Teeth (+2 Strength), Networked, Tough, Unattractive, Weakness (Major; cannot speak). Story Points: 2-4
Home Tech Level: 1 (possibly N/A)

Captain Jack Harkness/End of Days.
Toshiko and Jack are taken back in time to the 1940s where Jack meets his namesake, the real American Captain from whom he took the name. While everyone races to get the two of them back to the present by manipulating the Rift, John gets instead interested in saving this doomed character's soul, which becomes a rather romantic affair. The characters are too distracted to notice a creepy NPC by the name of Bilis Manger was making things a bit too easy for them, manipulating them into opening the Rift with consequences for the finale. After a quick dinner, the players are faced with the apocalyptic consequences of their actions, and the GM delights in sending them upsetting visions convincing them to open the Rift. It's the only way to save the Rhys NPC for example, which Eve feels is an important part of Gwen's character (despite the affair she was having with Owen). Over the course of this second back-to-back session, Jack's immortality is exposed and he uses it to defeat a big honking demon with a lethal shadow. The session ends with Chris imitating the TARDIS materialization sound and Jack racing off...

...but you'll have to wait for next time to see where his invitation to cross over with the main campaign takes him.


rulandor said...

Any chance to make this torchwood sheet a downloadable PDF?

Siskoid said...

It'll be available as soon as Tosh and Owen leave the game, hope you can wait that long.

rulandor said...

Oh, nice to know! As soon as it is available, I plan to make a personal document for private game use containing it and your Torchwood character and critter stats.

Thanks for sharing!


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