“Winner Takes All”

st--6h22‘Enlightenment’ by Barbara Clegg is a story of contrasts. The conflict and reversals in the story are used to create surprise and wonderment in the viewer. This makes the story an excellent guide to using such combinations to create intriguing adventures.

The first cliff hanger in the story  is the revelation that things are not what they seemed. The majority of the first episode leads the TARDIS crew to believe that they are on an Edwardian ship only for electronic controls to be present on the bridge and that they are actually floating through space.

Much of the early scenes are similar to ‘The Dead Planet.’ The crew emerge and try to work out where they are from their surroundings. In this case the information to hand is actually misleading.

It appears as if they are on a ship, the TARDIS materialising in its cargo hold. The crew and newspaper even corroborate the time frame. This makes it all the more shocking when they finally find out where they are.

Rather than being frustrating this kind of reveal actually gives a story more life. By wrong footing the player characters expectations of the adventure they now find they have to re-evaluate the current situation and solve the puzzle of why they were misled.

For a guide notice how Turlough bemoans the fact that they are apparently on Earth again, only to find that isn’t the case at all. Disappointment is transformed to elation, always a good reaction to inspire in your players.

In your game there are plenty of ways to set up a similar scenario. The player characters could arrive in a holographic display, something that is only revealed when they find the edges of the projection or they might arrive in the middle of a historical recreation and all the people they’ve encountered so far have been actors, playing a role.

‘Enlightenment’ creates a great sense of unease in this opening episode. The TARDIS lights are dimmed, the cargo hold is full of shadows forcing the crew to make use of torches as they explore, the sailors have curious memory gaps and the first officer can instantly teleport from place to place. It is like something from a bad dream.

This sense of wrongness is present from the start in the White Guardian’s warning to the Doctor. The Guardians were as close to god-like beings as the Doctor had encountered and here the White Guardian had to drain so much energy from the TARDIS the console actually begins to smoke.

st--6h03It is the message that the White Guardian gives to the Doctor that makes him treat the situation so gravely. He is quite prepared to join the crew of the ship, for months if needs be, to find out what was so important.

Similarly the motivation for the player characters to investigate can be a message. Obviously the message has to be someone that they trust or respect for the players to put any weight behind their words.

It is a tricky balance to provide enough information to get them on the right track but without providing so many details that the story is robbed of any surprises. In this case the White Guardian’s communication is being blocked, forcing him to provide the essential information in as few as words as possible. In your own game you can have a message be interrupted by the messengers death or have the message be damaged in transit to the player characters.

While some of the details may create a false impression about the setting of the adventure the first episode does foreshadow elements of things to come. The very first scene in the TARDIS has Tegan and Turlough playing a game of chess.  This one element foreshadows the conflict between the black and white guardian, representing by the pieces on the board. Further more the use of low lighting creates a stark balance between light and dark.

The sailors and their bunk room are also contrasted with the manner of the senior officers and their lavish dining room. This helps establish a feeling of division between the two sets of crew, expanded on in future episodes when we learn that the senior officers are Eternals who use mortal beings in their games.

Once you have the general outline of your adventure look through it for themes and motives that you can introduce early on to establish the mood of the story. You can be as subtle or overt as you like. The important thing is that your creating a feel for the adventure that the player characters can pick up on.

If your game is going to be a light comedy it is best not open with murder or human tragedy. If your going to tell a dark, gritty horror story you don’t want the first few scenes to feature slap stick.

During the 5th Doctor’s era the TARDIS could be quite spacious, with numerous bed rooms, corridors and extra rooms. In ‘Enlightenment’ it is noticeably smaller. We see just the console room, the Doctor’s companions crouched over the chess board, and a small space outside where the White Guardian appears.

st--6h21Emerging from the TARDIS into the ship things aren’t much better. The cargo hold is cluttered and the sailors crowded into a small bunk room for two days. The sense of claustrophobia this evokes is almost palpable.

This makes the reveal have even more of an impact. The wide open spaces is like the sky opening up. No wonder it causes the new deck hands to scream in terror when first going above deck.

It is easy to create this own sense of contrast in your games. Going from one extreme to another creates a feeling of being overwhelmed. This could take the form of a desert being flooded, flames sweeping through a world of ice or a planets three suns being simultaneously eclipsed and plunging the world into darkness.

By skilfully using this technique you can shake the players out of their complacency. They’ll quickly learn that your adventures are full of surprises.

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2 Responses to “Winner Takes All”

  1. dailypop says:

    Excellent article and a fantastic view on one of Davison’s classic stories. The writing was unusually sharp on this adventure and it certainly offers up lots of ideas regarding role playing and creative writing as well.

  2. etheruk1 says:

    Thank you. I remember that the revelation of the ships in space was a stunning cliff hanger and what a long week it was to the next episode.

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