Episode 3 of ‘Spearhead from Space’ pushes the action towards the climax. In the first two episodes there were two plot threads running side by side; the reintroduction of the Doctor and the Auton’s attempts to recover the missing meteor, or thunderball as Seeley calls them. It is only in this stage of the story that those two plots meet, with the Doctor now actively helping UNIT.
The only reason that there is anything to investigate is due to the flaws in the Auton’s plan. They have completely failed to anticipate the human factor. They didn’t expect someone to be in the vicinity where the meteor landed and they didn’t expect Ransome to return to the factory and stumble across their Auton production line.
Their attempts to correct these mistakes only expose their presence further. Thinking that the Doctor may have been responsible for taking the meteor they kidnap him from the hospital, which reveals the involvement of Channing. The Auton sent to recover the meteor from UNIT does so by killing a soldier and the one sent to Seeley’s cottage is discovered before it can get what it came for.
Earlier we looked at how minor NPCs can sabotage a villain’s plan but it is worth noting that the plan doesn’t need to be perfect to begin with. Unless they have a high ingenuity there are simply things they don’t take into account.
Not that this means they need to be stupid. The Auton plan is quite brilliant. The idea to use a factory to produce soldiers on a production line which they can then place in strategic locations right in the heart of the city is clever in its own right but they go one step further, creating duplicates of a important government and military figures to disrupt their enemies organisation.
The problem is that this secret invasion hinged on no one knowing about it until the attack occurred. To ensure this the meteors needed to be collected the moment they landed and the factory needed to be secure.
We must assume that they couldn’t organise the landing of the meteors with much precision otherwise they’d have an Auton agent much closer by to collect them and presumably also do it at night just to make sure that none of the locals would be out in the wooded area.
They believed that writing a letter to Ransome explaining that his services were no longer required would end his relationship with the factory. This suggests a lack of understanding of human behaviour, as does their belief that a simple ‘keep out’ sign would prevent people from entering the section of the factory used to house the Auton soldiers.
Once their plan started to go wrong they couldn’t respond without acting overtly, giving away their presence. Their actions were rash and certainly not the only way they could have reacted.
By this point they had already replaced several people, going by the number of civil servants were already in Madame Tussauds and were only days away from replacing General Scobie. If they’d been patient they could easily have used these duplicates to make sure the meteor in UNITs possession fell into their hands through official channels and hushed up Ransome.
The simple fact is that people do act rashly and make mistakes. This is especially true of alien intelligences that behave and think differently. In scenarios such as this, where the villain is unaccustomed to its environment, they will make themselves stick out.
Just think how rare it is for a tourist to blend in. They wear the wrong clothes, don’t follow local customs and even if they can speak the local language they’ll still have an accent and use the wrong words.
Using this logic when designing an adventure you can create plot hooks for the player characters to investigate. The villain might think that because they can kidnap someone from their home without being detected no one will ever learn he is missing, not realising that people will notice when milk bottles pile up outside his home, his phone isn’t answered and he misses meetings with people.
In ‘Spearhead from Space’ the Autons do seem to be keeping a doll production line in place, with numerous workers overseeing the assembly. Ransome later says that the place is fully automated and all the workers are gone but he may have been just talking about that section of the factory.
If they had got rid of all the workers then this would have also been noticed. Mass unemployment would have caused the workers to protest, contact the local papers and even picket the factory. All of which would have brought more attention to them and be completely unexpected to the alien intelligence.
Not only can these slip ups be part of the adventure plot you can use them as the game progresses, to make things easier for the player characters. If they have investigated all the leads and failed to work out how best to proceed the villain might make another mistake that puts the player characters back on track.
For example if the player characters have no idea where the villains lair is maybe an agent of the villain gets into a car crash while returning to base. The agent is able to escape but the police find incriminating items that tie the agent to the villain. The player characters could work out that the lair must be nearby and search the local area or try to hunt down the agent, presuming that the vehicle is registered in their name.
To some extent the villain should have a time table, ensuring that events occur whether or not the player characters are around. This ensures that the player characters can’t just stand around and expect to stop the villain in time. Whether they know it or not there is a deadline when the villain’s plan will come to fruition.
Being a games master also means writing exciting scenes for the player characters. It won’t be very interesting if they are always one step behind, just missing the interesting stuff.
In episode 3 the Doctor, Liz and the Brigadier arrive at Seeley’s cottage just as an Auton is searching for the missing meteor. This could have been part of the time line and by coincidence they arrived just at this crucial moment.
If they’d arrived before then they wouldn’t have seen the Auton first hand but they still would still have obtained the meteor. If they’d arrived afterwards they’d have known someone had been searching the cottage but not who and without the meteor the Autons would be able to proceed to the next stage of their plan that much quicker.
Out of the three possibilities interrupting the Auton was the best one. It gives the player characters a meeting with the main type of enemy soldier and the outcome of the conflict between the two decides who gets the meteor.
Therefore there is no need to have this as part of the villains time table. This is a flash point encounter which would occur no matter what stage of the game the player characters went to the cottage.
By having a mix of a set time line and flash points that can change those events you can ‘edit’ the adventure so that the players have an exciting time in which their actions do have an impact on how things turn out.