‘The Survivors’ is the first episode to include the full appearance of the Daleks. Completely non-humanoid Barbara wonders if they are robots or is there actually someone inside. Their first scenes are certainly memorable, barking orders and able to paralyse Ian with a quick blast of their weapons.
The Doctor, Susan and Ian find themselves ambushed, exiting a room only to find themselves surrounded. The Daleks don’t even introduce themselves, simply making a display of their power before imprisoning the time travellers in a cell, leaving them to ponder the nature of their captors.
This tactic can be a good way to introduce an alien race. Let them surprise the group and give them minimal information. Caught off guard the player characters won’t have chance to work out the capabilities of this alien race, whether they are friend or foe and if they have any way to fight them.
In this case the time travellers are doubly vulnerable, all of them suffering from radiation sickness. Coupled with his paralysis Ian is extremely frustrated at his own frailty. These scenes are useful for a guide on how to deal with player characters who have had their attributes lowered.
During these situations the players know their character isn’t at his best. They might try to put a brave face on it, like Ian, and try to ignore it but they are likely to end up falling flat on their face.
Rather than drag the game to a halt this is a chance to put other characters in the limelight. In this case it is Susan who has to make the dangerous trip back to the TARDIS to get the anti-radiation gloves…sorry…drugs that they need.
Similarly characters who don’t normally tackle specific tasks might have to step up to the plate if the usual expert is incapacitated. For example if one character is always solving the technical problems maybe he’ll receive a blow to the head, lowering his ingenuity. While he is dazed another character will have to try to solve the problem. Or if a character is a runner but has twisted his ankle lowering his coordination another character will have to sprint to the rocket with vital component.
As a games master you can determine which attribute is going to be lowered by any damage suffered by the characters. By thinking tactically in this manner you can engineer situations which push people out of their comfort zones and shake up the normal routine of specific characters performing the same tasks each adventure.
Just as the time travellers are trying to work out what the Daleks are the Daleks are trying to establish who the intruders are. They do this by interrogating the Doctor, warning him not to step out of a bright light.
This scene is interesting in the way that it is used to provide information about who the Daleks are and what they want. The questions someone asks reveals what they do and don’t know and the order in which they asks the questions establish their priorities.
The Doctor learns just as much about the Daleks as they do about him. Player characters should always be wary of information they are provided as it is always given from a specific perspective.
In this case the Daleks paint the Thals as the enemy, describing them as disgusting mutants. The Doctor has no reason to question this and believes that they will present a danger to whoever makes the trip back to the TARDIS.
Next episode, when we finally see the Thals, we’ll see that they are actually good looking blonde haired humanoids. It twists expectations and shows what can be achieved through misinformation.
Player characters might think one group of aliens are the enemy only to discover they are the good guys or they might find that their motivation isn’t as straightforward as it first appeared. This might because they were lied to or an honest mistake, showing that both sides are confused about what is happening.
Turnabouts in this manner can cast new light on the characters actions. If they’ve been providing help for the wrong side they’ll have to make up for it and if they acted in a hostile manner to people who turn out to be innocent then they may feel shame and guilt.
This technique is best used sparingly. It can only be effective if it is rare for the information the characters received to be inaccurate. Otherwise they will be sceptical about everything they’re told until they confirm if for themselves, leading to very cynical player characters.
Knowing who the player characters can trust can be one of the goals of an adventure. If they meet two groups with conflicting aims who will they help or can they find a way to establish peace.
Even though the Daleks have taken them prisoner and lied about the appearance of the Thals the TARDIS crew are still not sure if they’re the enemy because the Daleks let them keep the second supply of anti-radiation despite Susan attempting to hide it from them.
A single act of kindness can bring into question if an alien race is entirely evil.