On the occasion of completing reviews on the Doctor Who's 7th Series, I should like to re-imagine it as a role-playing game campaign using Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG. (Go back one, to Sarah Jane Adventures Season 5.)
-Matt keeps wanting to make his Doctor older, so every chance he gets, he makes it seem like a lot of time has gone by between his visits to his companions' houses. Rather sad Karen and Arthur are set to leave, he lets it be known that he would likely reject a new companion. That gets the GM thinking.
-Karen wants Amy to grow older too, perhaps think really hard about retiring and choosing real life over TARDIS adventures. She doesn't know what Steven has planned for their last session, but she's game for an epic death scene if needs me. She also toys with the idea of splitting up with Rory.
-Arthur upgraded Rory in the previous season, so doesn't need to do much this time around. His plan is to keep supporting Amy as an equal partner in life and in adventure. He's not as keen on the idea of marital strife as a subplot.
-The new player is Jenna, and the origins of her character are a little convoluted, as we'll see. She starts with an audition character, which the GM co-opts into a meta-arc he hopes will keep the Doctor interested, then creates a Victorian version of the same character to play every week, but loses that character and must redesign her once again as a modern-day girl. Clara Oswald will be a cute funny girl, brave and clever, and with a good rapport with kids (they joke that it's how she relates so well to the Doctor). She herself doesn't know the solution to her own mystery. Steven, as ever, plays it close to the vest.
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. Christmas rolls around and the companions aren't available, so Steven invites potential future companions over. Might as well start the audition process early. Claire will play Madge Arwell, a plucky WWII widow, and two junior members of the RPG club, Maurice and Holly, will play her children (kids their respective ages), Cyril and Lily. These are more or less designed from templates to fit the GM's tribute to the Narnia books, but with so many players unfamiliar with the campaign around the table, there's a lot of flying by the seat of one's pants. Living Christmas trees, a giant industrial robot, a plane lost in the time vortex, and Matt riffing on cool stuff to integrate into the kids' new house, is all par for the course. They have fun, but none of the new players seem right for the continuing campaign. At the end, at Claire's urging, Matt does call Karen and Arthur with season's greetings. And they do it in-character. Cute.
Pond Life. During the GM's once-again long prep time, the campaign's three main players get together with Steven online and play out some scenes in amidst the normal chat. The GM throws a visiting Ood butler at them, and Karen establishes Amy and Rory broke up, hoping to start the next season with something interesting to play.
Asylum of the Daleks. The audition process continues with Jenna at the table playing Oswin, meant to be a one-off character, a naval officer stranded on a Dalek asylum planet who will turn out to be a Dalek when finally rescued. Jenna knows this isn't to be a continuing character, but doesn't know her Oswin's been converted into a killing machine. She just thinks she's in a closed environment, hacking her way through the facilities. Karen and Arthur play their subplot, acting like they're getting a divorce, but the Doctor helps them work things out (Matt is so sneaky, it's scary; he doesn't want the subplot to go on for longer either, it seems). The GM's plot has the Daleks ask the Doctor for help destroying their own mad soldiers, and he introduces the idea of Daleks with the Infection Trait. Cue the Resolve rolls, Amy almost succumbs!
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Another session, more auditions. Rupert plays John Riddell, a big game hunter from the early 20th century. Riann plays Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, literally the historical figure. And Mark comes up with the fun idea of playing Rory's dad, Brian Williams, a handy everyman who's never really wanted to travel, but a trip in the TARDIS soon changes that (and it ties into the companions' current situation, where they're allowed to live their normal lives and only occasionally go on spacetime trips). In this case, the trip involves a giant Silurian spaceship, returning to Earth in the future, deserted but for dinosaurs running rampant aboard, plus a villainous collector of rare items and creatures, and his two robots. The GM mostly plays it as a comedy, though Matt makes a point of being more involved in the villain's demise, showing how not having permanent companions changes the Doctor. Rupert and Riann's character prove rather limited, but Mark has managed to squeeze himself into a potentially recurring role as part of the Pond family.
Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 3, Presence 2, Resolve 3, Strength 3
Skills: Athletics 2, Convince 2, Craft 2, Fighting 1, Knowledge 2, Technology 3* (AoE: Handyman jobs), Transport 3
Traits: Brave, Charming, Face in the Crowd, Hot Shot, Obsession (Minor; Travel), Resourceful Pockets, Technically Adept, Unadventurous. Story Points: 12
Home Tech Level: 5
A Town Called Mercy. Steven tries his hand at a western, with all the tropes and trimmings plus an alien cyborg gunslinger hunting one of its people's war criminals. The week's guest is Ben, the town marshal. He does a good job, but would the Doctor travel with such an action man?
The Power of Three. Steven has this idea about a slow invasion that would take place over months, Earth-time. He sets it up so Amy and Rory (and Mark!) transition from month to month as mysterious alien cubes just sit there and make themselves inconspicuous parts of popular culture. Until they spring into action. Also at the table is Jemma, playing Kate Stewart, UNIT's new scientific adviser and the Brigadier's daughter. Could she be a companion, or at least, a recurring player? Could be. In this, their penultimate session, Karen and Arthur explore their characters' lifestyle. They could have chosen to live normal lives, with one last blow-out to come, or take the more exciting road to board the TARDIS and eventually (but still in the next session) meet their final fates, good or bad. Obviously, they take the latter.
The Angels Take Manhattan. It's to be Amy and Rory's last game, so the GM makes it a doozy. He creates a timey-wimey mystery about a book the characters find themselves in, brings back River Song and the Weeping Angels, and goes all out making them take over 1930s New York. It's no holds barred play, where rolls are difficult and the characters could easily die. The players' solution, to have love triumph over all and create a paradox is so strong, they get out of it completely. And had they chosen "real life" in the previous session, the GM would have omitted his final scare. But since the characters, if not the players, have selected to keep traveling forever, the Angels finally get the Ponds and position them out of reach from the TARDIS. Left up to them, Karen and Arthur describe what their long lives as a New York couple was like, and that's that. Tears may have been shed; we're not saying.
The Snowmen. After trying out a fairly large number of players, Jenna is selected. She had the best chemistry with Matt, and the best schedule to fit the gaming sessions. She won't play a Dalek, of course. She creates Clara Oswald, Victorian barmaid by night, governess by day. The GM tells her secretly this character has a connection with Oswin, so if she can remember things she might have said in that session long ago, and can mention them again, it would be of some help. Why Victorian? Because that's where the GM not only wants but needs to set his new Christmas scenario in 1880s London, seeing as Neve, Catrin and Dan are all joining them for the holiday session as Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax, characters they'd developed for one of the previous season's games. Because he's lost the Ponds, Matt puts his Doctor into bitter retirement mode, living on a cloud above the city, in a redesigned TARDIS (he and the GM worked out some sketches to make it colder and harsher to fit the character's mood). Clara will have to thaw him of she's to become the new companion, and Steven is reasonably sure the links to her previous character will intrigue him. He also re-introduces a villain from seasons long past, the Great Intelligence, an evil entity looking to enter our reality and take it over. It used to use robotic Yeti, which the GM isn't sure about, so he makes them animated snowmen instead. The whole table is shocked when, after some horrifyingly bad rolls, Clara is killed! But Jenna and the GM share a wink at this stage that fires up the Doctor. She can recreate her character as a modern woman, something a little easier to play, and have an even stranger link to TWO dead versions of herself.
Attributes: Awareness 2, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 1, Presence 3, Resolve 3, Strength 4
Skills: Athletics 1, Fighting 2, Subterfuge 3
Traits: Alien, Alien Appearance, Alien Senses (Snowmen detect their prey telepathically and can form very close to it), Dependency (Requires sub-zero temperatures), Enslaved (Great Intelligence), Face in the Crowd, Fear Factor 1, Natural Weapon/Chilly teeth (+2 to Strength), Networked, Psychic, Shapeshift (Minor; Snowmen can take various snowy forms, including that of a snow flurry of individual killer snowflakes), Weakness (Major; Heat-based attacks cause twice the damage), Weakness (Minor; characters may make a Presence + Resolve roll to imagine them melting and they will). Story Points: 4
Home Tech Level: N/A
The Bells of Saint John. Clara's real debut, unless she dies again (she doesn't, breaking the streak), with the Great Intelligence once again in the background. The GM proposes a plot about evil wi-fi capturing souls and controlling humans, and Jenna gets to establish her new character. She's kept the governess element, and realizing that as Oswin she was a master hacker, asks late if she can add that to her sheet. Since she got into the adventure by being clueless about computers, the GM agrees but justifies it as leakage from her bad wi-fi experience.
The Rings of Akhaten. Before this part of the campaign began, Jenna told her character's back story (obviously, absent any connection to previously seen selves, because she doesn't know what that's all about). It involved a leaf replete with coincidence, responsible for her parents meeting, and holding sentimental value for Clara since her mother died. Jenna hoped to show how there are coincidences in the universe (her version of what the GM was on about) and to justify her PC's motherliness. This detail would become important in this scenario in which the GM wanted to render a very alien culture based on song and story, with various alien races trying to pacify an Old God. It's the players who use the leaf as food too rich for the monster, using what it represents as an untold and infinite story it cannot completely consume. Steven is so charmed by it, it gets a pass.
Cold War. In this scenario, the players find themselves aboard a sinking Soviet submarine during the Cold War, with an Ice Warrior aboard. The GM is keen to reinvent this monster from the old campaign files, and uses it both as a noble warrior and an Alien-like monster lurking in the shadows.
ICE WARRIOR OUTSIDE ITS ARMOR
Attributes: Awareness 2, Coordination 4, Ingenuity 2-3, Presence 3, Resolve 3, Strength 4
Skills: Athletics 3, Convince 3, Fighting 4, Knowledge 3, Marksman 3, Medicine 2, Science 2, Subterfuge 4 (AoE: Hide in shadows), Survival 3, Technology 2, Transport 2
Traits: Alien, Alien Appearance, Climbing (Major), Code of Conduct (Minor; Warrior's Honor), Fear Factor 2, Natural Weapon/Claws (+2 to Strength), Weakness (Major; prefers cold weather and can't stand intense heat; -2 to all actions in high temperatures). Story Points: 3-8
Home Tech Level: 6
Hide. Next, a ghost story set in the 1970s, with a time travel puzzle the PCs figure out using the TARDIS. The GM introduces the idea that the blue box and Clara don't get along, something to fuel the mystery of what Matt has started calling "the impossible girl" (he doesn't miss a beat and asks the psychic in the story if she gets any weird vibes from Clara). As often happens with players in control of the Doctor later in their campaign, Matt is also becoming very comfortable with suggesting things (i.e. saying something that becomes true by virtue of the Doctor saying it), so in this case, he's the one who establishes the time traveler is the ghost hunters' descendant, and once the story is over, that the monster in the pocket universe is just a love-lorn creature that needs to be reunited with its love on normal-Earth. As usual, the GM allows it so long as it fits the session's emergent themes.
Journey to the Center of the TARDIS. The GM concocts a scenario that will take the characters down into the damaged TARDIS' bowels, with time breaking down and lots of new rooms being uncovered. To make things more dangerous, he's got ruthless salvage experts and time zombies (the monsters they will become from exposure to the Eye of Harmony) in there with Clara and the Doctor as well. The NPCs and logic behind the monsters could have done with another draft, but the characters so seldom get to treat the time machine as an unexplored world, and there's timey-wimey stuff aplenty, so it's a fun session regardless.
The Crimson Horror. The Doctor and Clara investigate a strange mystery in Victorian Yorkshire, but they fall prey to an evil woman and her prehistoric leach. "Hold on before spending your Story Points, guys," sayeth the GM, "How about we call the Victorian players to see if they can come in and join?" After a short break, Neve, Catrin and Dan arrive and get involved in the same mystery, eventually rescuing the Doctor and Clara, whose players wait patiently and snicker at seeing other people go through similar story beats in their own way. They've lost the momentum though, and the joining players end up dominating the action even after that.
Attributes: Awareness 1, Coordination 1, Ingenuity 2, Presence 2, Resolve 3, Strength 1
Skills: Athletics 1, Knowledge 2, Medicine 2, Science 2, Subterfuge 4, Survival 3, Technology 2
Traits: Adversary (Silurians), Alien, Alien Appearance, Cowardly, Dependency (suckling off a humanoid + salt), Friends (Major; Mrs. Gillyflower), Last of My Kind, Natural Weapon/poison (can cause blindness, paralysis and death), Psychic, Repulsive, Size (Tiny), Slow, Weakness (Major; red leeches are small, soft creatures with no hind legs, only infrequently letting go of their host). Story Points: 4
Home Tech Level: 5
Nightmare in Silver. Campaign fatigue is setting in. The GM's long wanted to redesign the Cybermen and make them more dangerous, so he sets an adventure in the far future, after the Cyber Wars, justifying tons of new Traits for members of what he calls the Cyberiad. He plans the a chess game between the monsters' collective mind and the Doctor, an exiled emperor, and high stakes, but adds one element too many. That element: the kids Clara babysits finagle themselves aboard the TARDIS. Only, he's not very good at playing these NPCs and uses them as smug little trouble makers. The players are a little off as well and wanting to just get through it, they play their characters as straight up adventurers, never questioning whether they would really do the things they do (Clara using melee weapons and guns, for example). Not the best session, and they vow to do better with their season finale.
The Name of the Doctor. Because they've become members of the family, and because they know all about the Great Intelligence which Steven plans to use, the Victorian crew is once again invited (with some lead time, this time). They're the ones who get the regular PCs involved and are held hostage by the villain to get the Doctor to Trenzalore, reputedly the site of his grave. Jenny even dies, though she's later saved by a generous helping of Story Points. Steven brings River Song back one last time, as a virtual ghost, to give the Doctor some closure on that front before Matt inevitably announces he's soon to leave the campaign. And of course, Steven means to reveal how Clara can be in several places and times at once. When he presents the Doctor's time stream as an open wound in spacetime, something the Great Intelligence can jump into to destroy every moment in the Doctor's life, Jenna gets the hint and follows. Clara restores the balance, and the GM has some fun grabbing old campaign notes at random and reading from them what she might see in there. Refusing to let her die, the Doctor jumps in too, and in a sort of mindscape, the GM reveals one last surprise: The incarnation of the Doctor that "broke the promise", the one that ended the Time War by any means necessary.
Steven never solves a mystery without presenting another, but that's a story for the RPG club's anniversary games. Coming soon!