Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Time Lord Conundrum

I have in my possession the wonderfully produced Dr Who Roleplaying Game. It is not, in any way, shape or form, a wonderfully innovative game. It smells more than a little of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG (and as those in the know, know, thats a damned good thing in my book!) but it does offer a doorway into one of the great compelling fictional universes.

I'm running a game for the girls on Saturday and I think its pretty much a given that sooner or later the game will make a run out with the gaming group in one way or another. This has had me thinking about how to structure a realistic Dr Who experience at the gaming table. Its not quite as easy as it looks at first glance.

1. No Combat
That doesn't sound so bad when you say it, but when you think about it hard, it actually removes a large number of pretty staple encounters used in games. It does, however, open up what you can do with the bad guys. Balance? Why do you need balance? The monsters can be as dangerous as you want - its not like they are going to discombobulate the PCs? They're going to do it to the NPCs but the PCs will run or talk or whatever.

2. The Best Baddies are Never Obvious
Whatever the bizarre situation the game presents the players, it is rarely what it seems. The spooky possessed kids are not actually spooky or possessed, the ghosts roaming the streets are not actually ghosts, the smelly politicians ruining the country are not .. you get the idea. Thats a genre staple that you can do a lot with, but it relies upon the players buying into the conceit. Of course, you can always call their bluff!

3. The Multiverse is your Playground
Once you put the words TARDIS down on the paper, you open up the doors to anything, anywhere. You want a historical game? Have one. You want a futuristic game? Have one. Modern game? Have one. Alien planet? Space ship? Cavemen? Yes, they're all yours. You can literally have your game anywhere. Again, that sounds wonderful but how many times do we rely upon the surrounding setting to enrich a campaign? What would happen when that setting is so fluid? Where does the stability go? Well I reckon it makes you put a re-emphasis on the characters rather than the ephemera, which isn't necessarily a bad thing!

4. Truly Iconic Assets
There will be a pressure to building up throughout any campaign for that time when the referee utters that immortal Dr Who word - 'EXTERMINATE!' - but what happens when you do? Thats a pretty heavy legacy you are playing with there and your players are going to expect something massive and potent. Thats quite scary but also potentially explosive. I'm struggling to think of a genre that has a bad guy that is so accessible and yet so iconic in quite the same way. The Klingons? Nah. Sith Lords? Not really. Cyclons are too ubiquitous. Daleks are special sauce.

5. The Technobabble Game - worse than the Investigative Game?
I've probably ranted somewhere about my dislike for the faux inevitability of many investigative games but a different flavour of the same problem may be the technobabble game. Dr Who is thoroughly drenched in boffin-heroes using their brains rather than their brawn to jury-rig a dual-phlange-left-hand-gizmo-bracket to solve whatever problem they are facing. Put the ability to do that in the hands of a relatively creative player and you have the potential for some rather fruity chaos. So what will you have to do? Have wrinkles in reserve, complications and other such madness.

So you have a game where violence is never the answer, you usually obfuscate your bad guy behind at least a couple of layers of intrigue, you have a totally fluid campaign backdrop, you have to be prepare for technobabble solutions and you have some of the most iconic bad guys in fiction waiting in the wings.

Yeah, thats pretty daunting and a different way of thinking about things - but thats also pretty damned cool.


Fandomlife said...

Declarative skill use is the way to go for the technobabble game - it worked in Thrilling Tales anyway. I'll turn my lab into a giant sensor for the crytal of eternity...eerrr..okay.

Fandomlife said...

And I agree with all your other points. Very much so on the settings, as I always use setting purely as colour and it's never even close to the meat of the game. So this aspect of Doctor Who appeals.

The only slight interesting element is the iconic enemies. I'm not sure they are as useful as is originally thought. The Daleks are great, especially in the new show, but facing them is like having Darth Vader in a Star Wars game or one of Buffy's enemies - they are someone elses enemies.

Not saying it can't be done, but they may have less impact than thought on that basis.