Doctor Who RPG: What If? Campaigns

Category: Inspiration
Last article published: 24 July 2018
This is the 44th post under this label

Happy Whoniversary! Today is the 57th Anniversary of Doctor Who, and to celebrate, I propose a look at possible role-playing campaigns where the universe took a strange turn and things didn't go the way it did on TV. The idea is to surprise your players, create opportunities for players who do not wish to use the characters from the show (in other words, this isn't about the Doctor regenerating into someone else), and if they ever set right what has gone wrong, a reset back to the "proper" timeline could act as a good game finale.

What If... the Time War never ended? There's a difference between saying you'll be playing WITHIN the Time War - which Cubicle 7's Eighth Doctor Sourcebook directs you to do - and saying it extends beyond the point where the War Doctor put an end to it by taking the players out of reality. Namely, that you can invent weapons, creatures, and historical distortions that never, as far as we know, happened. Granted, Big Finish's range of "War" audios is broadening our understanding of what happened exactly, but I'm talking about moving the universe further that that. A universe that has been so cratered by temporal weapons that it's full of pocket dimensions that have their own rules. One where the Time Lords have rewritten their own history and made an alliance with the Giant Vampires, or their own biology so they can no fire blasts of regeneration energy or change their appearance at will. One where the TARDISes have evolved so much they are more than sentient, but able to take humanoid form (as Compassion does in the Eighth Doctor novels) and they've had ENOUGH and become a third force in the War. In this crazy, high-powered campaign, players take on the roles of Time Lord warriors and recruits from other worlds in stories that combine black ops time travel in the tradition of Poul Anderson's Time Patrol and frankly super-heroic role-playing (so go wild on those recruits). This is the campaign where character death is more imminent than in the regular game, but it's okay, because you have parallel timeline back-ups ready to take your place. They're you, but with a slight difference...

What If... an alien invasion of Earth succeeded? This is a campaign set on contemporary Earth, so really designed for the dregs of UNIT or Torchwood who are building a resistance, much like we saw in The Last of the Time Lords or in the New Adventures novel Blood Heat (where the Silurians successfully reconquered the planet). Take your pick as to which invasion succeeded, but basically, the Doctor wasn't there to stop it, or died trying. What would Earth look like if humanity was under the yoke of Cybermen (The Invasion), Zygons (Terror of the Zygons), the Great Intelligence (Web of Fear), Homo Reptilicus (Doctor Who and the Silurians or The Sea Devils), the Sontarans (The Sontaran Stratagem... or what if it happened earlier? what is Earth like if Lynx has his people take over in the Middle Ages?), etc. And if you don't want an Earth-based campaign, your TARDIS can still have this alternate Earth be an occasional landing spot, and perhaps allowing the Terran companions eventually oust the aliens can form the skeleton of a completable arc.

What If... Barbara changed just one line of history? I'm taking The Aztecs as a springboard, but there are other possibilities. Basically, imagine time travelers (either the Doctor, yourself, or some other role-playing group) have changed the course of history and from then on, the timeline is changed. If Barbara Wright manages to make the Aztecs repel the Spanish and become a sustainable power past the Renaissance, the TARDIS landing in the contemporary era may find an Aztec world where the Central American nations colonized a good chunk of the planet. Going even further forward, "Azteca" is expanding its reach into the galaxy using pyramid-like ships and hoping to meet their gods out there. A companion born of this history would be very different from ye olde shoppe girl from 2005 as well. Modern, but tapped into a different culture, from a reality the game would treat as normal, not as aberrant. Here I recommend GURPS Alternate Earths 1 and 2, which details in brief but sufficient detail several such alternates, Earths colonized by China or the Vikings, or where the American Civil War or World War II went a different way. Have fun re-staging classic Doctor Who scenarios on those worlds. What is their version of UNIT? Is an Egyptian Parallel more open to Sutekh's return? Is the Meddling Monk actually trying to make things right, but the PCs can't possibly know it? Plenty of opportunities, twists and surprises.

So... I just spent a Whoniversary post talking about things Doctor Who is NOT, but then again, Doctor Who is and can be all things. In fact, shades of these ideas have been implemented on a temporary basis in Doctor Who books, audios and comics. So if you really want to play the Doctor Who RPG, but think everything's been done already, think about turning left instead of right, and asking "What if...?"


Unknown said...

A series of nicely realized ideas there, Siskoid. :)

Seeking to follow-up a Companions-based convention game I ran a few years ago I envisioned a follow-up where the Timelords call upon these companions again to investigate the Eye Of Harmony, or Eye of Disharmony more like after things start going seriously awry. Upon arrival at their intended destination they find that it's actually a multidimensional effort within the Matrix, essentially a quantum computer, but these alternative versions of themselves, whom they are forced to mix and match with to help achieve their aims hold very different philosophies to life, such as rugged individualism which doesn't exactly chime with your atypical TV companion. Achieving their aims becomes just as much about achieving a workable compromise with their doppelgangers as actually fixing the problem.

This is by way of a preamble to a follow-up idea, Noir Who for the want of a better title, whereby such philosophies extend out across the basic storytelling process and the attendant universe. Instead of the universe being a place of wonderment and intrigue it's actually a dark, uncompromising place.

The Timelords rather that being beacons of light use their victory in becoming the first race to harness the possibilities of time travel to enslave and sculpt the universe to their unyielding will. So profound is their victory that no other races can legitimately conceive of the tyranny, so opposition is simply not a possibility. However, the one thing they don't account for is the wily intervention of their own sentient time vessels, essentially, these junked, discarded TARDIS' start going rogue having had plenty of time to sulk and contemplate their unwitting part in tyrannical events in the dank, subterranean sub-basements of the capitol. Once free, they travel off to distant sentiment planets and casually throw open their doors to show off the fabulous future tech found inside knowing full well that it will eventually entice the unwary, and then they are off! The TARDIS eventually depositing the occupants upon an unknown alien world at a crucial juncture of (pre)history whereby the dark machinations of the Timelords can be witnessed taking place. If these companions fail to measure up in the intrigue, indignation or bravado stakes, the temperamental TARDIS is off again, to seek out another more companionable, proactive cohort instead.

Although, the idea as initially conceived was closer in spirit to that of a Doctor Who/Blake's 7 crossover, this final development is probably more 'Free Huey' than 'Free Blake', if you know what I mean. The companions are essentially cast as counter-revolutionaries embroiled in a bitter long-term struggle whereby the storytelling deliberately pushes every conceivable moralistic button of said companions (players).

Just how far are you prepared to go to achieve your lofty ideals? :P

Obviously, stretching the conceit this far is more counter-productive than counter-revolutionary, it's simply not Who no matter what accoutrements are present, but I think it's instructive of the general stylistic possibilities, nonetheless. :|

Siskoid said...

Who does BSG!


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