Sunday, December 11, 2016

War Orphans: Shakedown Cruise (Doctor Who)

Alright, folks, so now we get to the first post of the new game I'm going to be running. This is, more or less, going to be a monthly game. A few friends and I are taking turns running a game on Wednesdays, and it's a way to sort of get this one off my 'games I want to run someday' notepad. Just for the record, I'm not planning on blogging any of the games I'm playing in, just the ones I'm running -- among other reasons, I just don't want to be too distracted taking notes and I definitely wouldn't be able to casually do this without taking notes, so there we are.

This is a game of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space from Cubicle7, using the default system in the books. Rather than the more traditional group models, this one is actually featuring an entire group of young Time Lords from pre-LGTW[0] Gallifrey who've taken it upon themselves to steal a TARDIS, go rogue, and have sweet adventures like the Doctor.

This game is going to start off in sort of a canon-friendly zone (so expect a lot of linking to fan-wikis and the like for context), and eventually kick canon square in the bollocks and do its own thing. You'll see. This is a game I've been planning on and off since David Tennant was the Doctor, and various episodes since I began have given me material to work with to graft things on and find anchoring points within the canon.[1]

Warning: There will be a little bit of fan-wankery here and there, name-dropping, canon characters guest-starring and stuff like that, either because it just makes sense for the scenario or to explicitly tie it to certain canon events. After all, how much fun would it be to participate in a Doctor Who-universe story and never meet The Doctor?

Anyhow, here we go with the first adventure in my Doctor Who: War Orphans story...

We begin in media res, with a trio of Time Lords frantically hitting switches as they try to pilot the TARDIS they've just stolen from Gallifrey's repair bay. Their TARDIS' control room looks like a gothic cathedral, with a six-sided altar in the middle where all of the controls are. They've just decided to go on their first Doctor-style adventure, and thus aimed their stolen Type 77 Mark IV Investigator Time Capsule[2] at Earth, switched on a randomizer on the date and specific location settings, and let the chips fall as they may.

Our intrepid trio[3] consists of:

  • The Magpie, played by Sean (from my Werewolf game) -- A connoisseur of fine art and culture, he hasn't spent an extended amount of time off Gallifrey proper but has been known to swoop down on dying worlds and cultures to swipe and preserve some of their art. Generally dresses like a 1950's beatnik from Earth.
  • Galaxion[4], played by Andy -- This is Galaxion's first time off Gallifrey, as he's spent most of his time locked up on the planet honing his considerable psychic talents. When he left, he was still wearing his traditional Time Lord robes and ridiculous headwear.
  • Escutcheon (Eska to his friends), played by John (also from my Werewolf game) -- A more physical sort generally in training to go into the guard or the military, Eska is also the sort of guy who actually knows how to properly operate and repair and modify a time machine. He's not as enthralled with the Doctor as he is accompanying his friends, on this. (We've referred to him as the Ben Grimm of the group.)

So the group's TARDIS lands. They can't be quite sure of the date because of some weird interference with the randomizer, but they can at least narrow it down to the 70's or so. The scanner shows that they're on some sort of oil rig, and the first thought is that their shakedown cruise and initial adventure is going to be something of a bust... until they see a pair of armed soldiers patrolling by the cargo platform where they're parked.

So that's definitely worth looking into.

Eska realizes that they don't have any real disguises or anything that should let them horn into the situation, so he tracks down the TARDIS' supply of random parts and junk and improvises some Psychic Paper. He and Galaxion go outside to snoop around. The Magpie can be described as, to quote a wise man, 'rather a fey and doughy' type so he decides to stay with the TARDIS for now. Especially since Galaxion, having not bothered to look for the Wardrobe Room, has decided to leave in his full Time Lord robes.

So bad news, they're immediately spotted by the guard patrol. Good news, the psychic paper works. And between that and Galaxion's robes, they are able to convince the soldiers that Galaxion is some sort of foreign consultant sent by HQ and that Eska is his bodyguard. So naturally the soldiers take them right to the guy in charge.

Meanwhile, back in the TARDIS, once he sees the guards take Galaxion and Eska away, the Magpie is certain that he hears an unearthly moan come from one of the hallways...

The soldiers lead the pair to an office that's been commandeered as a temporary headquarters by the U.N.I.T. commander in charge of this assignment, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Galaxion, with his prodigious mental talents, tries to basically mind-trick the Brigadier into accepting his story that he's just been sent as a troubleshooter.

The Brigadier, being the goddamn Brigadier, resists the attempt at mind-fuckery but his instincts tell him to at least hear these interlopers out. He sends everyone else out of the room for a private chat.

Cut to the Magpie, who's running through the TARDIS hallways, completely lost, while 'ghosts' chase him around Scooby-Doo style. He eventually finds his way back to the console room and flees out onto the oil rig, shrieking his head off because apparently his group happened to steal a haunted TARDIS.

Back in the office, the Brig asks for the strangers' species and planet of origin. They come clean with him: They're Time Lords from Gallifrey, fans of the Doctor, and have decided to come to Earth to have an adventure like he is prone to. The Brig, for certain obvious reasons, is a little concerned by this but he rolls with it pretty well and explains that by pointing out that the Doctor has worked for him on and off. He asks the pair if they're the only ones here, and they explain there is a third one.

At this point, another patrol knocks on the door, having delivered the Magpie.

So now, the Brigadier decides to take a chance with these young Time Lords and explains the situation: U.N.I.T. has recently been having some problems with monsters destroying oil rigs. This has led to HQ requesting that they give other oil rigs off the coast of the UK a once-over, just in case. And there's definitely a problem on this one. In particular, an unusual murder under unusual circumstances.

He has someone get Galaxion some actual proper clothes and leads them down to a room where the oil rig's drill has dug up some sort of strange substance and one of the technicians was murdered. The body's been taken away for examination already, but he lets the trio have a once-over. Galaxion reaches into his robes, digs this out...

...and gives the site a scan and picks up traces of an energy signature that the scans suggest is consistent with an Auton weapon.[5] (Galaxion has heard vaguely of 'Autons' but knows nothing useful about them.) At about this point, someone shows up with a spare uniform that will fit Galaxion.

The Magpie looks over the beaker with this clear gel about the consistency of petroleum jelly. The Brig explains that the gel was assumed to be some sort of leaked lubricant at first, but notes from the technicians make it clear that it was indeed brought up from the oil well. The Magpie recognizes certain elements in the gel that might be useful to something like the Nestene Consciousness, which he then explains to Galaxion. He'd have to analyze it further.

The group asks the Brigadier if they can have a look at the body. He offers to have them flown to where it's being autopsied but they just ask for the coordinates so they can go themselves. After all, they're still breaking in the TARDIS and the trip will give the Magpie the opportunity to further analyze the gel. So he gives them a letter to give to the U.N.I.T. doctor checking out the body, explaining who they are and that they have access.

So while they're sending the TARDIS to the local-ish mainland hospital where the autopsy is being performed, the Magpie takes the gel to the lab, runs some tests, and determines that it's a petroleum-based substance with properties that could make plastics more flexible and allow them to maybe conduct certain types of energies and resist others. He can't be sure just yet of the exact source, but it's possible that back in prehistory a meteor carried something to Earth in that spot, or a strange creature died there alongside the dinosaurs. Tough to say with such an early analysis.

So the group arrives in the Scottish hospital close to the oil rig, following the instructions the Brig gave them, where they find Harry Sullivan finishing an analysis of the body. Between his data and with Galaxion's screwdriver, they confirm the suspicions: The technician was killed by an Auton weapon. But at point-blank range. At which point the Magpie recalls that the Autons have the capability to duplicate specific people.

So now the plan is to round up everyone on the oil rig (which is like over a hundred people) and see if they can identify any duplicates among them. Eska suggests he can improvise a scanner that should be able to track or identify Auton signals, and the group discusses what they're going to do. They decide to do what the Doctor would do: find an Auton or their leader (likely a Nestene control node), give them a chance to try and leave, and if/when that doesn't work, then they'll do something drastic.

Eska goes to get the parts to improvise his scanner, and on the way is pretty sure he spots a ghostly figure passing through a wall just out of the corner of his eye. He manages to put it together without incident, though.

Meanwhile, Galaxion goes looking for any sort of armory in the TARDIS. However, not only is there no sign of one, he spots a room he's already seen that he's pretty sure should be elsewhere. And then he spots the translucent apparition that lunges at him, shrieking the wails of the damned, and passes through him just to disappear.

Once they've gotten back to the oil rig, the group goes to talk to the Brigadier and explain their findings. Just to be sure, the Magpie uses a gadget he has that looks like a cigarette holder to jab the Brig's arm and test his blood to make sure he's not a living plastic simulacrum. They then talk to the Brig about a plan to cut off the oil rig so no duplicates can escape and systematically checking the entire crew and support staff to find any duplicates. Galaxion, with his sonic screwdriver, finds the presence of an Auton control signal in the area but can't yet trace back its source. Given time, though, they might be able to find something that can jam the signal and render the Autons harmless.

The Magpie gives the others a quick crash course in how the Nestene Consciousness operates, with its control nodes and the like. Galaxion is pretty confident that if they find it he might be able to beat it in a psychic showdown, but the Magpie is less convinced. They also suggest that the node is probably somewhere in the water beneath the rig. But now is the time to put their plan into action.

Step one: Go to the guy who mans the only boat docked with the rig, and the captain of the only helipcopter of the rig, and make sure they're not duplicates or hauling any Nestene-related goods or gear. Then send them away so there's no easy escape. The boat captain isn't pleased to go, but Galaxion's telepathic might is enough to convince him it's a good idea.

Step two: While Eska uses his scanner to check the storage areas for anything that could be containing something suspicious, Galaxion rounds up everyone on the oil rig to test. The Magpie goes to get a manifest listing everyone who should be on-board to make sure they don't miss anyone, and he provides a second layer of testing.

 Eska doesn't find anything in the storage containers aside from some suspiciously-empty spots, and between the two of them with U.N.I.T.'s help Galaxion and the Magpie check everyone on the rig except for four people. One's a drill tech, one's a foreman, and the other two work in the general store. By checking records they're able to identify the drill tech and the foreman (the foreman, in particular, has been seen talking to the Brig a few times), but they don't know what the other two are supposed to look like.

So at this point, a search of the rig is underway. The trio decides to go up to the oil rig's radio antenna and hook Eska's scanner up to it to see if they can scan the entire rig at once for something useful. They discover, once they're up there, that there's already some equipment hooked into it that shouldn't be there -- the actual technology is from Earth, but it's approximating equipment that is obviously of extraterrestrial origin. It appears to be some sort of relay or booster.

They begin fiddling with the antenna, reducing its range to cut down on the chances of the Nestenes affecting anything on the mainland. Eska wants to try hooking the scanner in, at the risk of the Nestene tech possibly taking it over. Their attempt to patch the scanner into the antenna literally blows up in their faces, but at the very least the scanner isn't destroyed. The Magpie comes up with an idea to try, and takes off back to the TARDIS.

Galaxion uses the sonic screwdriver to try and trace back the relay's signal to its source.

Meanwhile, Eska heads back to the TARDIS and finds the Magpie in the lab and asks him if he can throw together some sort of chemical marker that can determine if anyone's coming or going at the top of the antenna. Also something that can be used to track anyone who does go up there. The Magpie's got no problem doing that, as there are about half a dozen ways to do that with just Earth tech let alone what they can cobble together from the TARDIS' supplies. And then he also finishes up his own plan that brought him back to the TARDIS in the first place: a chemical solution that can destroy the Nestene control node, should things come to that.

Eska and the Magpie fill in the Brigadier on their current plans and go to hose down the antenna with the chemical marker.

Meanwhile, Galaxion traces back the signal to the foreman's living quarters. He reaches for the doorknob, only to be cut off with an explosion!

And we leave it there, for now.

[0]-- Last Great Time War. I may use this acronym in the future, which is why I explain it here.

[1]-- Speaking of which, getting this out of the way regarding canon... Pretty much anything that's happened on-screen in the main series is canon. Season 6B is canon (at least as a concept, not necessarily all of the EU stuff that uses it). Shada is still a little fuzzy, but for now I am going with the intepretation that the events of Five Doctors screwed up the series of events there. (Haven't decided whether that web animation they did with the Eighth Doctor revisiting Shada is canon or not) Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood are canon, though the latter only up through Children of Earth. Miracle Day raises a lot of awkward questions when you try to fit it in with the show canon so I'm ignoring it. I haven't yet seen Class, so I definitely can't work anything in but with what I've got planned it shouldn't be an issue anyways. Everything else is on a case-by-case basis and I retain the right to swipe EU-specific details and adventures as desired.

[2]-- That's a fancy way of saying that this model has enhanced stealth and research capabilities. The DWAITAS RPG line has some pretty detailed TARDIS-building rules...

[3]-- There's a fourth potential player who wasn't able to join us for this session. I've got ideas on how I'll work her in if/when she shows up, but just wanted to mention that now.

[4]-- The name started off as a joke, as a hypothetical ridiculous alien name, but everyone decided it had a certain ring so that's Andy's character's name. We have also decided it is in fact a nickname derived from a longer, even more ridiculous name.

[5]-- In case you're wondering, this was constructed from one of the official licensed 'build your own sonic screwdriver' kits as well as a sort of 'expansion pack' released for same.

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