Doctor Who RPG: Quantum Leap Edition

As we've seen, the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG was well able to emulate both Voyagers! and Time Tunnel, but what about something with a more complex set-up? Quantum Leap may share features with both older series, but "leaping" inside another person takes us pretty far away from the time machine/falling from the sky that was done before. Can DWAITAS still work its magic? I think so, though we'll need a couple of new Special Traits. Let's see...

Project Quantum Leap works on Dr. Sam Beckett's theory that you can time travel to any day inside your own life time. The mechanics and physics of this are pretty involved, but the show did a good job of explaining the rules. If you've seen Quantum Leap, then you already know them. But here's a refresher:
-A person - we'll call him or her a "Leaper" steps into the project's quantum accelerator and "vashishes". The Leaper is sent to another time and place within his or her lifetime (so GMs may want to encourage older characters), taking the place of a real person in the past.
-An aura surrounds the Leaper so that he or she looks like the person being replaced. Physically, it is still the Leaper, with the abilities. He or she can still see as a blind man, walk as an amputee or kick butt as a child. Small children and animals can see through the aura as can a Leaper's observer (see Meanwhile... at the Project).
-Though the Leaper generally leaps into an adult of their own sex who speaks their own language, it is quite possible to leap into someone of the opposite sex, a child and an ape (in the later case, since the "aura" affects one's voice as well, the Leaper's speech became unintellegible - however, English is not translated into another language, even though accents are apparently included in the aura).
-Each leap takes a certain time, though the trip appears instantaneous to the Leaper. The Project is aware of this length of time as the Leaper "bounces" through the time stream. The destination of each Leap is entirely controlled by the GM.
-The Leaper is essentially trapped in the person's place until preordainted conditions are met. The "higher power" that sets those conditions may be God, though there is evidence to suggest they can be set by the Leaper's own ethics. For Sam Beckett, this meant that he could only leap once he had righted what once went wrong, i.e. made a person's life better, either the one he has become or someone in his or her life. We have seen a so-called "Evil Leaper" who operated on the opposite side of the spectrum, so the GM could create a Project with a complete different agenda.
-Since the goal of each leap is to change someone's personal history, that history is not "fixed". This includes the Leaper's history itself and that of the Project (the Leaper can leap into his or her younger self, for example). The Leaper's amnesia (see below) prevents the Leaper from realizing these changes have occured. To the people at the Project, these changes will be the "true history" though they will be aware through the project observer that it is an update from the "original history". The observer has been known to notice such a change as it happens, so being privy to the past through the Leaper may mean he or she has some kind of temporal awareness.
-Leaping causes a brand of amnesia termed "swiss-cheese memory". The Leaper usually forgets large chunks of his or her life before leaping, which may include particular skills, relationships, etc. Generally, the Leaper starts with very little memory, but if he or she learns/remembers information during a leap, he or she does not again forget it in the next. Amnesia (swiss-cheese) is a Minor Bad Trait every Leaper automatically has. In addition to its personal history being a blank prior to Leaping, the character is prohibited from taking any Skill Expertise. See Tropes for how it comes into play.
-Speaking of Traits, Leaper is a Special Good Trait that reduces a character's Story Points by 4. It includes the Minor Bad Trait (Amnesia [swiss cheese], but allows him or her to spend Story Points to regain memories and skills (see Tropes). Obviously, the Trait allows the Leaper to "quantum leap" inside his or her own lifetime and benefit from an aura that allows people to believe he or she is the person replaced, as discussed above).

Meanwhile... at the Project
-While the Leaper takes the place of a person in the past, that person is sent to the Project where he or she can be interviewed by Project personnel. That person wears the Leaper's aura, looking and sounding just like him or her. When they are eventually returned to their time, they generally forget what the experience and presumably instead remember what the Leaper did and said "in their skin".
-The Project is managed by a supercomputer (in the Project we know, called Ziggy), an artificial intelligence that uses historical records and presumably information gleaned from people in the "Waiting Room" to calculate what the Leaper must do to leap back. The Leaper is informed of the most probable "fixes" to be made, though Leapers have been known to intuit the right answer by themselves or in contradiction of the computer. The computer is also required to scan the time stream and find the Leaper after a leap. It sometimes takes a little longer than normal, leaving the Leaper to fend for him or herself.
-The project observer uses an "Imaging Chamber" (think: holodeck) to visit the Leaper in the past. To the Leaper, the observer is a Hologram (see below, this is a Trait) that only the Leaper (as well as small children, animals and sometimes psychics) can see and hear. To the observer, it is the past that's a hologram. The observer and the Leaper are linked mentally and others entering the Imaging Chamber do not share the illusion unless the observer touches them. Indeed, the Leaper cannot see anything but the observer unless he or she touches something or someone else. So for example, the observer could touch the project psychiatrist and the Leaper would see her, but still not hear her.
-While in the Chamber, the observer communicates with the Project via a Handlink. This Gadget uses Scan to give the observer information about the time period, the person lept into, etc. (actually by communicating with the computer), and Teleport to "center" the observer on a particular person, usually but not limited to, the Leaper. It also has 2 Story Points which have been used, for example, to project lines between billiard balls or make the observer visible or audible to a certain person.
-The Hologram Special Trait reduces the character's Story Points by 4 and includes the use of the Handlink. As a Hologram, the observer can talk to the Leaper unheard and unseen, walk through walls to scout ahead, and has access to information from the future (as it develops). He or she cannot interact with anything in the past physically. Of course, the observer is only a Hologram in the past (where most of the story happens) and not in his or her present. Like the Leaper, the Hologram can spend Story Points to regain memories and skills (again, see Tropes).

The show's set-up features a Leaper-Hologram team and that is indeed the simplest set-up for a Quantum Leap game. It's not the only way to go, however. Players could incarnate more Quantum Leap personnel who may or may not be visible to the Leaper, or even feature a second Leaper who leaps into a different person in the same time and place. The premise may also be changed by taking a page from the last episode of the show when Sam appeared to take control of his leaps and even traveling with his own body... but that's almost a different show. To really get at the essence of the show, the following should be taken into account:
-While other time travel shows thrive on visiting famous historical events and people, Quantum Leap tells more personal stories. It's not about making sure America puts the first man on the moon, it's about preventing Jimmy from getting into drugs or fixing Joanna's marriage. It CAN happen (as in the Oswald and Marilyn episodes), but these are the exception rather than the rule. The GM is encouraged to add brushes with history, however, such as letting the Leaper believe he or she inspired a song, or Heimliching Dr. Heimlich.
-The Leaper often leaps into an embarrassing, compromising or confusing incident. Starting each adventure with an "oh boy" moment is great fun and for best results, should actually occur at the END of any adventure, leaving players to wonder what the hell will happen next time or how they'll get out of it.
-It's important to find things for the Hologram(s) to do. On the show, Al isn't always with Sam, and even when he is, he doesn't have much to do in the way Doing or Fighting (understandably). The Hologram should be allowed to have scenes with the rest of Project Quantum Leap or interrogating the person that has been lept into in the Waiting Room. The Hologram should have an important role to play in deciding how a person's life might be improved or fixed, using his or her forays out of the Imaging Chamber to help raise the likelihood of any given conclusion on the part of Ziggy.
-In addition to the usual ways characters in DWAITAS can spend their Story Points, QLAITAS adds another, that of unlocking areas of expertise. The Leaper's swiss cheesed memory being what it is, he or she cannot modify skills with areas of expertise during character creation, but during the game, they may spend a Story Point to gain an area of expertise they didn't know they had. Sam, for example, found out he could play the piano (Craft), do martial arts (Fighting) and speak various languages (Knowledge). Characters should only use this trick once per leap for a new area of expertise, but might spend additional ones they once unlocked on a previous leap. Once gained, the character keeps this bonus until the end of the leap. If he or she buys it again and again, you may reward him or her with a permanent area of expertise bonus (Sam's quantum kicks became a part of his character). The Hologram can also use this ability because the Leaper doesn't really know what the observer knows or is capable of, an absence of background that justifies surprising areas of expertise. The Hologram can't interact with the past, but the Leaper can still spend Story Points to gain that ability (as per "Like this, Doctor?").
-While most stories are one-offs, it is possible (as they did on the show) to have multi-part stories in which the Leaper leaps into a character or family's life again and again their history, or to play sequels in which a character's life is revisited.
-In the last season, we met an evil Leaper, which has a couple of implications for the game. On the one hand, it creates a ready antagonist for your characters, their leaps intersecting with yours as they try to destroy, not fix, lives. On the other, it also means there are other Quantum Leap projects out there and yours may be completely separate from Sam and Al's. This gives you license to visit people's lives for a different reason than righting wrongs. For example, your Leaper might be a detective investigating cold cases by visiting the past and relaying information to the present where victories are actually scored. A creepy Orwellian game could have Leapers work towards some kind of unnatural Order, preventing incidents from disrupting and individualizing people. Other ideas may occur to you.
-Once you know the rules, break them. Mishaps abound on the series, including sending Sam into his Civil War era ancestor (on the basis that he's traveling to any point in history his DNA can be found), switching Leaper and observer for a leap, or inexplicably having the person lept into influencing Sam's personality.

Character Sheets
Here are some sheets I made for the two stars. Click on them to double their size. First Sam:
Then Al:
And of course a virgin sheet for your own characters who might walk into the accelerator:
That was the last of my triptych, but I might DWAITAS another time travel franchise some time. Hope you enjoyed this trip down the television time stream.


Mobius said...

wow love this 100%

a geat fan of the series as well, love anything with time travel(or its varients in it)

Craig Oxbrow said...

Nicely done.

Of course, Sam doesn't really travel in space, just time, so it should really be QLAIT without the AS.

(Although a big two-parter set on the International Space Station would work...)

Siskoid said...

Well, technically, there is "space" between Iowa and Vietnam.

So Sam's moved in space more than say, the Pertwee Doctor his first couple years.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

And if you factor in the motion of the Earth and the actual distance in miles between where it is today and where it was 30 years ago... ;-)

As the episodes MOSTLY ended up in the US (and even seemed to gravitate more toward the south, it seemed like- either California to the west or Texas/Louisiana/Mississippi to the west, would the perhaps suggest a general limited range from the project's geographical location (which certainly CAN be exceeded, but not as commonly?)

Also, pretty sure the official rulebook for a Qunatum Leap RPG would STRONGLY RECOMMEND that 80%-90% of villains be from the south, a region which should be portrayed as a wretched hive of scum and villainy at all times. ;-)


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