Monday, 30 April 2012

A Series Of Skywatch. 3: Illicit Alien Technology

A plot hook used in several episodes of Torchwood was the effect of various kinds of alien or otherwise super-advanced technology falling into human hands.

“This technology has been falling to Earth for centuries.” Henry Van Statten, Dalek

Torchwood One deliberately went out looking for technology to swipe, so it’s been part of the setup from the very beginning.

This allows a “how would this advance affect life?” SF story on a small scale, and with no aliens being directly involved it’s all about people and their motivations.

So look at any implausible bit of tech in isolation. Who might have, who would want it, what would they be willing to do for it? The more useful something is, the more various groups will want it (including the PCs and their superiors, and possibly other official groups).

If this is to be a recurring source of plots, I’d set up where all these things are coming from. The magic shop in Buffy provides a variety of phlebotinum even before Giles takes it over, and Friday The Thirteenth: The Series and Warehouse 13 are both series about artefacts causing trouble.

And Doctor Who has hinted at this before, with a Dalek passing from owner to owner until Henry Van Statten acquires it - this summer!

For such a setup, I’d create a consistent black market in such rare items. Perhaps run by a smuggler, a charming conman who doesn’t know quite as much about the things he finds and sells as he really ought to...

The last decision is what happens to the device at the end of the episode. Players will often want to keep it unless it’s really dangerous to the user or the world in general, and sometimes even then they’ll still be tempted by the power. So consider where or not to let them get their hands on anything too unbalancing. Maybe it takes time to learn to use a dangerous gadget safely, or it has a limited number of uses, or some other way to avoid it coming out every week. Players generally don’t mind missing out on a game-wrecking power, since it’s their game it would wreck.

Titanic replica commissioned by billionaire

Max Capricorn lives!

Oh dear.

Monday, 23 April 2012

A Series Of Skywatch. 2: Alien Something Else

Following Alien Attack:

A similar smallish number of aliens is in the area, doing something that isn’t immediately threatening or deliberately dangerous.

Exploring, taking resources to a non-cataclysmic degree, fighting a non-human enemy who happens to be in our solar system, fixing their engine after an asteroid strike, looking for an escaped convict, shopping for trinkets or the local delicacy known as beef, whatever they’re up to attracts Skywatch’s attention. It could be indirectly dangerous to humanity, temporarily or permanently, or could inadvertently lead to danger, perhaps due to the attention it draws from the RAF and the like.

This may lead to misunderstandings on both sides, escalating threats, teaming up against other human or alien presences, an alien PC joining the group...

The ZX Spectrum. Some Whovian rambling.

It's also the 30th birthday of the ZX Spectrum, as rambled about here.

Plenty of the classic Spectrum games have Who-friendly plots.

A rogue general kidnaps an ambassador and flies off into space, so you have to assemble a rescue squad of aliens and robots.

On a dying planet in a distant galaxy, the last of the guardians store all of their libraries, records, and knowledge on a single starship together with cryogenically preserved members of their race. A single robot, Alien 8 is tasked with keeping these people alive. The ship is launched towards a new solar system and Alien 8 performs his task for thousands of years during the journey. However, as the ship nears its destination, it is attacked and boarded.

And naturally there were also Who-relevant games, official and otherwise, as discussed here.


It's World Book Night. And my 400th post here. And my 300th post there.

Borrowing from Shakespeare is a noble SF tradition, and of course Doctor Who has gone right to the source.

Borrowing from Cervantes somewhat less so, as discussed over thataway, although an "it seems the fantasy hero is actually deluded" episode would certainly be possible with the Doctor or other travellers in time and space. (The Doctor in an asylum suffering amnesia was the plot of one of the unmade Who movies.) A Celebrity Historical in which Cervantes confronts windmill-shaped alien war machines would be a bit much, I think.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Green Death

Google informs me that it’s Earth Day. Doctor Who is in favour of reusing and recycling, and not just plot ideas.

Aliens have taken advantage of and sometimes exacerbated pollution, global warming, nuclear testing, crude oil treatment, oil drilling, the search for alternative energy sources and volcano-based central heating in Pompeii. The Nestene wants Earth to become an even worse toxic mess to suit its own purposes, the Axons offer new forms of power but want to steal all our energy, and even Davros is happy to take advantage of food shortages to make a quick buck while rebuilding his armies.

I wouldn’t want to get too preachy about environmental issues, but it could add another angle to a Science Gone A Bit Wrong storyline to have protesters outside the gates, offering potential allies to travellers snooping around - or an additional group to spot them and accidentally raise the alarm, or to hit the place themselves and unwittingly release the threat.

Or ripping from the headlines, a blustering tourist business type complaining about wind farms cluttering up the landscape near the resort he’s trying to force through planning permission for. Does he have an agenda beyond wanting an uninterrupted view for his golf course?

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Door In Time: The Classic Series

Following on from PREBOOT:

And indeed BOTIS’s Doctor Who On A Budget:

I have at times been tempted to do a “classic era” episode of The Door In Time, my Doctor Who game, but I suspect it would quickly devolve into jokes about wobbly sets and baggy alien costumes. Even then, there are plenty of plot hooks and backstory elements that could be brought up in an episode set in the PC Time Lord’s history.

A modern “flashback” episode might run less mad, imagining the series with its usual production values.

Of course, my “classic era” owes as much to the Doctor Who Weekly comics as the TV show, so I might still go for spectacle and speed rather than gags about the lack thereof. Gallifrey would be grandeur and nice robes (or grimy Time War gear, perhaps borrowed from Girl On The Moon), not featureless corridors and the costumes the show actually used.

It would also be the perfect time to reimagine some classic monsters in a different way to the modern show. The trick would be to focus on good ideas from early portrayals which have since been superseded. We may soon see pre-2005 Daleks on screen, and BOTIS also discusses a hi-def version of the original some-flesh-showing Cybermen.

Of course, it may all come down to nostalgia. My own Whovian nostalgia doesn’t kick in until the late Tom Baker era, and even then is stronger for the comics than many of the TV serials through to the McCoy/Ace years. But I wouldn’t take the mickey (much) as some of my players are bigger fans than I.

Friday, 20 April 2012

RPGnow and Flames Rising have organised a charity RPG bundle for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Lots of good stuff, including Innocents and Little Fears, some in-theme, some not. All for a very good cause.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

If I were to put just one person in the TARDIS...

For any who may be wondering, my classic companion, i.e. “pretty modern British girl”.

Emily Stevens

(Felicity Jones)

History student, Kings College London

Wilf and Frobisher are both the right answer.

Happy birthday David Tennant!

And completely irrelevantly, SFX bloggers on atypical companions, again.

I of course started The Door In Time with a bunch of variously atypical companions due to them being PCs, and I didn't actually mean to twist things around to the classic format when most of them got off and Effie was rejuvenated, series two (and three) just sort of crept up on me. If more of this were planned I'd do things differently.

Not on the "talking cabbage" level of "differently", but not going from a sixty-year-old, two historicals (one of them cohabiting with an alien ghost) and someone from the future to an eighteen-year-old who used to be the sixty-year-old. She's different in experience but she certainly looks like a classic companion, and it was never my intention to make such a drastic change to an ongoing character. Still, it reflects the occasional chaos of a TV series better than it otherwise might.

As a player (I got to do it that one time) I purposely made a classic companion, as I correctly figured nobody else would.

Monday, 16 April 2012

A Series Of Skywatch. 1: Alien Attack

While the basic Torchwood setup is fine, the main problem with it is how small it is compared to Doctor Who. Sure it was enough to run two years of it and two serials, and nine years of The X Files and four and counting of Fringe, but stuck in a single point in space and time, you need a decent reason for the PCs to face a new alien-related threat every week.

(Skywatch has "official sanction for events like this across the UK" and the Whoniverse's "this kind of thing happens three times a week". Torchwood adds the Rift, a spatiotemporal Hellmouth.)

They should generally be somewhat more low-key as well - alien incursions in ones and twos rather than hundreds and thousands. Torchwood Three work on a global scale at most. Even their Big Ten-Parter which changed the world dramatically for months could probably have been solved by the Doctor in a single episode.

So a lot of these will be ringing the changes on Aliens Of London. (Or Cardiff, or Glasgow, or MediaCity Salford...)

So to start with, there’s an alien on the loose, attacking and possibly killing people, for some nefarious or baffling purpose. It has to be stopped.

Ideally without (much) gunplay because chances are it’ll laugh off bullets like drizzle. The team might be able to combat it directly, but that will be tricky to set up and arrange, especially if they’re trying to keep quiet about things.

(If direct combat is likely to be a frequent thing, consider adopting the initiative system from Primeval which divides characters by speed rather than intent.)

Since this is the pilot, don't ring the changes too heavily. A single alien active near the team's base to some dangerous purpose, intentional or not.

Unexpected Dangers Of Science - Like Disappearing.

Scroll down to number four on this list. The utterly bizarre disappearance of Louis Le Prince, and the moving picture camera he invented, from a moving train. Thinking further on The Dazzling Image I immediately suspect the Weeping Angels are involved.

And while you're clicking on Cracked-related things, 5 Great Scientists Who Believed Wildly Unscientific Things. Newton being an alchemist, of course, but also Crick suggesting panspermia, as we just talked about five minutes ago.

Life From Earth

Could the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs have spread life througout the solar system?


Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Dazzling Image

Yesterday was Easter Monday hence the launch of Skywatch, post-Conpulsion drinks day, and also Eadweard J. Muybridge's 182nd birthday.

Moving pictures are key to Doctor Who of course, but sometimes films and TV (and CCTV and so on) interact with the world in unusual ways in the Whoniverse. Weeping Angels can sometimes project themselves through pictures, even recordings. The Wire was a living, hungry TV signal. PJ Hammond’s second Torchwood episode featured villains escaping from an old film reel. Rose was able to get her image onto screens around the Doctor as she fought her way back to our Earth. The Apollo footage defeats the Silence. And back to the Weeping Angels, the Doctor used an old camera and hid himself away in DVDs to provide a warning from the past.

Recordings have gaps. Perceptions can be filtered. What aren’t we seeing when we look at projected images?

The “recorded thing is aware of the viewer” trick might have been played out by now, but strangeness in the recording could still work.

The Vampires Of Venice didn’t show up in mirrors, and the TV series Ultraviolet played on this by arming vampire hunters with video cameras to spot people who didn’t show up on screen.

And if somebody records a demon-summoning spell on tape, do not play it back.

Monday, 9 April 2012

A Series Of Skywatch. 0: Watch The Skies

“Semi-covert semi-official alien hunters in the Whoniverse.”

Right then, to start with (in the manner of the Angel RPG) what do the team and their backers have in terms of sanction and equipment?

Torchwood Three had a base, some files, some junked alien tech, a van (with Torchwood on the sides) and one Special Good Trait between them.

Torchwood One had troops on-site but was never seen to deploy them, and had some handy gadgets. Not nearly enough in the end, of course...

Sparrow and Nightingale have some video recorders and a camera. Still, I’d trust the world’s safety with them over Torchwood any day.

A UNIT team can swan in with official badges, APCs, big guns and redcaps. They can still be stymied, turned away, misdirected and massively outgunned, as demonstrated in the Pertwee era, but this could get the PCs through a lot of doors with no (or at least few) questions asked. Useful for PCs if you don’t want a lot of sneaking around and arguing for clearance.

As a point of comparison, the team from Primeval fall between TW1 and TW3, with shaky backing, occasional blackfatigues troops and whatever Connor could bodge together in the lab, but mostly rely on their skills and regular weapons and an ample supply of Story Points.


Example: Skywatch

A branch of the RAF with jurisdiction for the skies above the UK, Skywatch is the government’s official response to the repeated threat of alien invasion. The PCs are a team from the investigative wing. And like any government department, they could do with a lot more resources than they actually have.

I’m going for the pseudo-official level of TW3 in the early years here. They have badges and access to some alien tech, but officialness means sometimes they have to get warrants and they have to send reports upstairs.

They could have some chaps with guns but couldn’t call massive armed backup. Actually flying around and blowing things up is technically UNIT’s role, although they have liaisons with them as well as the RAF.

Skywatch recruits are a mix of level-headed career military, brainy types recruited from our better universities, and people who have Seen Too Much. Probably no particularly weird characters, unless of course someone wants to play one and you’re okay with it.

A typical Skywatch minivan (silver, not black) has a good computer tracking system, mobile internet, maybe some ordinary guns and tasers in a lock box, some neat available-in-normal-cars-in-five-years doohickeys and not much else.

Making Our Own Whoness: The results are in!

From here and in time for Easter.

And is it "results" because Tyler and garethl responded.

And the winners are... something a bit Quatermass and something a bit Torchwood!

Which I think are close enough you could probably do them together...

Now, those who know me know that Torchwood is something I watched initially in car-crash fascination having wine with a friend, and in the later mini-series years largely willingly.

But (keeping in mind that this is a family-friendly G-rated blog) what would I do with such a setup?

Semi-covert semi-official alien hunters in the Whoniverse.

And so, here we go...

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Regeneration Game

Siskoid’s epic journey into the classic Who canon has hit the first regeneration story just in time for Easter. Which of course gets me thinking...

Regeneration stories are rarely good.

They’re the introduction of a New Doctor (as opposed to a new Master, who will generally be revealed a ways later, or a new Romana, who will just try on a body like a coat) and half the time they have him acting severely out of character above and beyond the “I just got this job” practicalities. Sometimes the new Doctor hits the ground running but he’s just as likely to spend most of his first adventure sleeping it off, suffering severe amnesia, mucking about with costumes, or having psychotic episodes which put viewers off the new incarnation permanently. Is this the best way to introduce the new lead? Often not.

Assuming we have to keep the new actor regeneration as the show does (you’ll note that we dropped it in The Door In Time) I’d be very tempted to cut around this part and maybe, maybe deal with it later. Hey, it worked for The Eleventh Hour.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

They say that none of this will happen...

Steven Moffat’s Audition Script For The New Doctor Who Companion

Mr. Moffat notes that it's a reference to and riff on the start of Blink so it probably won't hit screens as-is, and the haunted house plot might be a complete fakeout, especially as we won't see the character until Christmas so it's a bit early to tip one's hand. Jasmine will apparently not even be her name, as she was Jasmine in Emmerdale.

Still, there you go. M.R. James style ghost, Sally Sparrow reference, snarky response...

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Ten Doctors

One of those things you trip over while image searching for a convention game: Ten Actors who should play Doctor Who

I wouldn't say no to any of these, and I'd play the Doctor as played by Mark Heap quite cheerfully.
It's the second anniversary of The Eleventh Hour. Where's my new series?

Yes, I know, autumn, then on to the biggest year ever, but still... an Easter special would have been welcome.

Trans-Oceanic Tubes? Really?

Remember the old crazy SF idea of subways under the oceans? Via Warren Ellis: Welllll...

Looking at it, yeah, still looks crazy. Being fired along by a railgun at 4000mph in a little train carriage. I'm getting claustrophobic just thinking about it. It's good that it would be super-fast because I'd be screaming all the way.

So, naturally, now I'm imagining a distant future, probably on another planet, where these things exist, and the possibilities of them going wrong in an episode-making way. Disaster movie style? Creatures from the depths freed by delving too deep? A monster on board when you can't possibly slow down?