‘Talons of Weng-Chiang,’ as befitting a Sherlock Holmes inspired story, has an emphasis on clues. The tattoo worn by the captured assassin informs the Doctor that he is a member of the Tong of the Black Scorpion, worshipers of Weng-Chiang. The wounds on the body recovered from the river indicates that it has been partially eaten by giants rats, a fact supported by long strands of rat hair on the body. Yet the man died after being stabbed in the heart, the angle of the blade suggesting the wound was inflicted by a midget.
All of these facts, gained through successful Awareness and Ingenuity checks paint a picture of what occurred. In an investigation story it is a good idea to have a selection of clues that the player characters can discover.
Whenever you write an adventure you must always consider the worst case scenario. In this case you must be prepared if clues aren’t found. This could be because the player characters weren’t looking in the right place or simply had bad luck on their dice roll.
With this in mind you never want any one clue to be vital to moving the plot forward. Knowing about Weng-Chiang is useful because he represents abundance or growth, allowing the presence of giant rats to be more plausible but even without this information the wounds on the body and the hair would still have suggested this information and if they didn’t gain that information the player character would still know that the body had been dumped in the river and something big had bitten him.
Clues can help the characters, give them an edge and improve their chances but the important facts should always be available to the investigators, allowing them to move forward.
In this case the police learn that the dead cabbie was accusing Li H’shen Chang of being involved in the disappearance of his wife and had gone to the theatre. The Doctor also suspects that the assassins escaped into the sewer system and it is quite possible that the body drifted from their into the river.
Already the Doctor and Leela have two areas to investigate, the theatre and the sewer. Unless you want a completely linear adventure having multiple avenues gives the illusion of choice and encourages groups to split up.
You’ll want to make sure that the choices are distinct. Locations shouldn’t be too similar and should offer different challenges. You also don’t want too many choices as the player characters can freeze, unsure which one to choose first.
Each route should open up new options, branching off in new directions. In ‘Talons of Weng-Chiang’ going to the theatre reveals that Jago’s mind has been hypnotised and that someone is using advanced technology to frighten people away from something beneath the theatre while going down into the sewer reveals the presence of a giant rat, raising questions of who has increased its size and what it is guarding.
NPCs can provide clues as well, such as Litefoot’s autopsy reports or the police officers interview with the murder victims mother. This can be a good way to provide new leads or give them clues they might have missed.
Information about the NPCs, in addition to fleshing them out, can also help to integrate them into the story. Litefoot reveals that he grew up in China, not only giving him some insight into their culture but sets up that he just happens to have the vital plot component the villain is seeking.
In the first episode understanding how something has occurred becomes a reoccurring theme. Jago questions Li H’sen Chang how he makes Mr Sin works, Mr Sin offers explanations for how Chang is making a woman levitate on stage and Jago offers rational explanations for the ghost that has so scared Casey in the basement. Even the Doctor dismisses the legend of Weng-Chiang as superstitious nonsense.
Doctor Who takes the view that there is a rational explanation for everything. The most bizarre events are explained not by magic or the occult by scientific or alien influence. In this case all of the above incidents are revealed to be examples of advanced technology.
With this in mind you can look at the world of the supernatural for inspiration, providing them with a suitably scientific explanation. For example ghosts could be immaterial aliens, projections from the past or future or lingering psychic imprints. Big foot sightings could be explained through a previously undiscovered ape species, genetic throw backs or hallucinations from mankind’s primitive group unconscious.
In the second episode of this story we are introduced to the main villain, Weng-Chiang. Just as Li H’Sen Chang is the archetypical oriental mesmeriser Weng-Chiang is the masked monster, forced to hide in his secret lair or lurk in theatres.
Li H’Sen Chang fits perfectly as his right hand man, already established as being subservient it only makes sense that he is working for someone else. Weng-Chiang is both powerful and pathetic, hiding his disfigurement and showing signs of weakness as his illness worsens.
This frailty is compensated by his use of advanced technology. When creating a main villain creating this balance will give the player characters reason to be cautious but also give them the knowledge that their opponent is vulnerable.
Villains from the future are a good match for Dr Who, time travel being an integral part of their nature. They are a dark reflection of the player characters, showing what they could be like if they abused the privilege as time travellers.
Rather than trying change events Weng-Chiang motivation is to return to his own time before he dies. Just like the repair drones from ‘The girl in the fireplace’ he is willing to take extreme measures to achieve his goal, even if doing so would wipe out all life in London.
The motivation of a villain always works best if it is understandable. Desperation can make people do terrible things and people know that, even if they don’t approve. Having a reason for doing evil raises a antagonist up from being a mere cardboard cut out for the player characters to boo.
Not that Weng-Chiang was a nice person before he began dying, as we will soon learn.