Friday, July 16, 2010

Campaign Notes : Toying with the Whoniverse

So, some six months ago, I started running a one-on-one Doctor Who : Adventures In Time and Space campaign with my wife Sylvie as the player-character. We already had played several other one-on-one campaigns, with various RPGs (including the Ghost Dog RPG, which actually encourages this style of play, as opposed to multi-player games) and, for various reasons - which I will discuss in a later post - we thought this format would also work very well with a Doctor Who RPG.

The campaign is called Lady Penelope’s Odyssey and is structured like a Doctor Who TV series ; each game session represents one episode and the upcoming thirteenth episode will be the end of the first season. So far, it’s been a real blast – as well as a very refreshing and challenging experience, both for the player (Sylvie) and the gamemaster (yours truly). As rabid fans of the new DW series, both of us were very impatient to start a Doctor Who campaign and so far the game has held all its promises. In the forthcoming weeks and months, I’ll tell you more about Lady Penelope and her adventures in time and space but first, let’s take a look at some (very) basic questions and decisions.

When building a DWAITAS campaign, the first thing you have to decide is how close you want your series to follow the official DW continuity and canon – a question which may be a bit trickier than it seems at first, since the DW continuity itself is, well, pretty protean to start with. You also have to take into account what you and your players want to do with the game – as well as how much your players know (or would be interested in learning) about the Whoniverse.

In the case of Lady Penelope’s Odyssey, I wanted things to be firmly set in the style and mood of the revived TV series – but I also wanted to make sure that the Doctor’s own exploits and tribulations wouldn’t constantly interfere with the flow of my own campaign. I wanted the heroine of the game, Lady Penelope Ashworth, to travel around time and space in her own TARDIS, having her own adventures and making her own discoveries, instead of constantly having to refer to the continuity of the ongoing TV show as some sort of official reality. Sure, there would be an encounter with the Doctor, sooner or later – and hopefully a memorable one – but from the player’s perspective, I really wanted to avoid having the Doctor “steal the show” or always lurking in the background as a potential deus ex machina, ready to save the day if things went really wrong.

And as a gamemaster, I also wanted to avoid having to bother about the potential impact of events from the TV show on my own stories. Because of this, I decided to limit the “official continuity backdrop” to the events of the first two seasons so that I could get the whole Harold Saxon / Paradox Machine stuff out of the picture – not because I disliked this story (I loved it !) but because it felt a bit too cumbersome as a background / continuity element for the kind of game I had in mind.

So, as far as the new DW series is concerned, my campaign is set in a parallel universe, where things followed the official DW continuity up to (and including) the Battle of Canary Wharf – which I decided to use as the most recent “major event” in the present-day of the campaign and as the “divergence point” for my own continuity. So, in this campaign, Martha Jones never met the Doctor, Harold Saxon never existed… and the Doctor himself followed a different path, which might or might not be revealed later on.

The other big thing a GM has to consider in terms of canon and continuity is, of course, what to do with the Classic series and with the myriad of spin-offs, from comic books to audio adventures. Since Lady Penelope’s player is only vaguely familiar with the Classic series (and even less with the audiobooks and other spin-offs), I decided early on that I would use this myriad of stories as inspiration sources to plunder freely rather than as some sort of official, immutable history. After all, this IS an alternate universe, right ? That being said, I did recycle (in a somewhat “alternate universe” sort of way) quite a few elements from some Classic episodes – especially regarding the "Merlin & Excalibur connection”, a central element of the campaign background, which I will also discuss in a later post.

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