I recently ran a game for two players based around Amelia Earhart. I choose her because she is a historical figure with a built in mystery, what happened to her? This gap in our knowledge of her life was ideal for an adventure, giving the players just enough leeway to meddle in events.
Researching the theories about what happened to Amelia it seemed the most likely explanation was she crashed on Gardner Island since an expedition did find the remains of a plane crash there.
In my version of events Amelia would survive the crash but her navigator Fred Noonan would be badly hurt setting the adventure on July the 4th, 1937. I was able to find a map of the island, complete with a blue lagoon at its centre and the rusting ship, the SS Norwich City, just off its northern shore.
The island is also home to 3 foot long Coconut crabs. These creepy creatures can crack coconuts with their claws and I immediately tagged them as possible monsters during the game.
My initial thought was that the Inspector (the time lord player character) and Philippa, the WWII ambulance woman, would arrive on island two days after the plane crash. They would have to deal with the fact that they knew the famous pilot would never be seen again but she would look to them as her rescuers. How would they deal with this dilemma?
I knew that this wasn’t enough for an entire adventure and would need some other crisis on the island that would force them to act and not simply leave her to her fate. One of the other theories about Amelia Earhart was that she had been captured by the Japanese as a spy and may have been one of the women forced to broadcast propaganda as Tokyo Rose.
Therefore I would have a boarding party from a Japanese ship arrive and start searching the island. If the time travellers just leave her then she and Fred Noonan would certainly be captured.
This being a Doctor Who game I also wanted to include some alien involvement. I placed a Draconian scouting vessel in the lagoon, where its pilot had been in cryogenic suspension for a hundred years while the ship repaired itself after a crash landing.
The radio transmissions trigger the ship into awakening the pilot just as two Japanese soldiers find the ship. They would open fire on the reptilian scout, who I named Vester, only to be cut down by his alien katana, the Infinity blade.
Now there would be a lone deadly but intelligent alien on the island posing a threat to all there and alien technology that the Japanese might capture and exploit, potentially changing the outcome of WWII.
Remembering the crabs I decided that the shots fired at Vester by the Japanese soldiers would have struck the ship, doing enough damage to its engine to cause a high frequency tone that would agitate the local wildlife, turning them into killer, and could potentially cause an explosion.
I’d anticipated several outcomes. Amelia could die on the island, either from the crabs, draconian scout or by the hands of the Japanese soldiers or the time travellers could take them with them, they could befriend Vester and have him take Amelia with him to explore space or Amelia could be captured by the Japanese.
The outcome would be decided entirely by the actions of the players. I sketched out a rough order of events, deciding how each of the parties involved would react to the actions of everyone else, wrote up stats for Amelia, Vester, the soldiers and the crabs and then collected reference photos to show the players about the location, the people involved and even the uniforms the Japanese soldiers would be wearing.
The game started well. As I’d hoped Phillippa’s player picked up on the fact his character would have been from the same era and quickly revealed she was a great admirer of Amelia.
The players started a conversation ‘out of game’ about what the implications of meeting Amelia might have on time but I quickly stated that this is a conversation that their characters should have ‘in game’. I find that if you don’t do this player characters will communicate telepathically, formulating plans and taking action without opening their mouths.
The Inspector was unconcerned with any worries about changing history as Amelia participation in events had ended. This gave him free reign to take her where ever he liked, as long as it was in a different time period.
Upon learning that Noonan was injured the Inspector despatched Philippa to retrieve an advanced medical kit from the TARDIS and they proceeded to the southern camp site. Philippa did a good job of treating the navigator’s injuries but he was still feverish.
They waited until morning and decided to investigate the ship Amelia had seen on the northern shore before they left in the TARDIS. Upon seeing it was a Japanese ship they began to panic. Things got worse when they heard gun fire coming from the lagoon and a shaft of alien light (energy discharged from the ship).
Stealthily the Inspector, Philippa and Amelia made their way back towards the south to try and reach Noonan before the Japanese found him. They passed the lagoon and heard a commanding officer telling the soldiers to prepare to transport the alien craft. Deciding not to investigate they pressed on.
Reaching the camp they stopped Vester from putting Noonan out of his misery. The Inspector used his knowledge of the alien’s race to assure him that they were not with those who had tried to attack him and that they could help him.
Vester, impressed with the Inspector respectful manner, offered to help carry Noonan towards the TARDIS. They were attacked by Coconut crabs and had to run to avoid the creatures claws. They escaped but a sea turtle wasn’t so lucky, torn apart by the crabs.
Inside the TARDIS the ship’s sensors indicated that there was an energy build up from Vester’s ship. Vester assured them that he could safely get inside if they could get past the Japanese.
Confident in his abilities to pilot the TARDIS the Inspector decided to ‘hop’ over to the lagoon, where the scout ship rested. He rolled just enough for a ‘Yes But’ meaning they arrived several hours later and in the middle of reinforcements that had since arrived from the Japanese ship to secure the alien vessel.
Surrounded with no way out they daren’t leave for fear that more time might slip by and the alien ship would have been transported to the Japanese vessel off shore. Amelia volunteered to surrender to the soldiers and claim she was the only one on board. After all, from the outside it would appear that only one person could fit inside.
Philippa protested, saying she risked death. Amelia retorted that she faced death every time she took to the air but she did it any way and if she had inspired others, as she had with Philippa, it was worth it.
Reluctantly they let her leave, and saw her capture on the TARDIS scanner. They waited until most of the soldiers left to escort her to their ship, using the time to patch up Noonan further using the facilities in the TARDIS.
Once the guards left to watch the lagoon had lost interest in the TARDIS the Inspector and Vestor slipped out and overwhelmed them, but not before Vestor was shot. With Philippa’s help Vester and Noonan were carried into the scout ship to be healed where Noonan would once again act as navigator.
With only a few minutes to say good bye before the soldiers returned to investigate the gun shot Vester promised to return to his empire and tell them of the incredible courage displayed by such humans as Amelia Earhart.
The soldiers arrived but before they could shoot the Inspector and Philippa they were stunned as the scout ship shot up into the night sky. Using the distraction the time travellers boarded the TARDIS and entered the vortex.
As they drifted outside time they picked up a broadcast from Tokyo Rose and recognised her voice as belonging to Amelia. Sadly they left for other adventures, wondering if they could have done things differently.
This is a prime example of how a single bad decision can derail events. The TARDIS can act as an ‘Escape Hatch’ allowing the player characters to use it as a shelter from the dangers they encounter.
In this case I’d made it clear that when they entered the TARDIS with the others that the sound of the ships engines weren’t in rhythm, something the Inspector recognised meant that they were part of events and it would be dangerous to leave.
When the player insisted that a small hop wouldn’t be a problem I allowed the piloting roll but always knew he’d materalise among the soldiers. After all I’d made it clear that they’d found the ship when the group had been heading south.
Rather than being a place of safety the TARDIS had now become a trap. This could have been a stalemate, the soldiers not being able to get in but the player characters not being able to get out which I ended by having Amelia sacrifice herself. Having Amelia volunteer was in character, moved the plot forward and at least matched one of the potential outcomes.
Although this did mean that the tragic turn of events were caused by the player characters they all enjoyed the game. One can only hope that in future they don’t treat short trips in the TARDIS so casually or at least think about who might be at their destination when they arrive.