‘Beast Below’ by Steven Moffat is Amy Pond’s first trip in the TARDIS with the Doctor and a taste of what travelling with him will be like. Ground rules are set, her role is established and the skills needed are learnt.
The Doctor starts by saying that they are only observers and never get involved. It is easy to see from the 1st Doctor adventures that this was his goal when he first started travelling in time.
During those early days history couldn’t be changed, not one line and those who would try to deliberately events were rogues like the Time Meddler. Even after several incarnations there is still some part of him that holds him back initially, well aware of the dangers of changing things too much.
The very next moment the Doctor is investigating what could cause a child to cry. His instinct is always to help. This over rules his credo of non-interference, whether he is justifying it as fighting evil where he finds it or preventing others from altering events, there is nothing more important than helping others.
Starting an adventure often comes down to why the player characters should care. In other games the motivation is often financial, either a fee being offered for performing a task or the potential of finding treasure. In Doctor Who the player characters are supposed to care because they are kind people.
This will of course depend on the player characters. A crying child might not interest a cold hearted soldier or cynical scientist. They are looking for opponents to fight or new discoveries.
Time travellers shouldn’t have need for wealth or comfort. Their time is not precious and so they can give it to help others. You need to establish with your players that helping others should be its own reward and doesn’t have to have an obvious connection to aliens or time travel.
Once everyone is on the same page a npc in distress is a good hook and come in many different forms. It could be something simple like some one who is upset or more dramatic such as an argument in the street or witnessing someone who is lost and afraid.
Proactive characters can then investigate, getting to know the npc and finding the root of their problem. This lets you put the npc at the heart of the story and make the players care about them.
It is up to you where this interaction leads. In historical adventures this is a means to get the player characters involved in the issues of the time. Examples of this could include ‘’The Highlanders’ or the bond that Ace establishes with Kathy and her baby in ‘Curse of Fenric’.
In an adventure with a more science fiction influence this meeting can lead on to larger events. Examples could include the disappearance of women leading to an escaped time travelling war criminal in ‘Talons of Weng-Chang’ or an investigation at a funeral home leading to discover of Daleks in ‘Revelation of the Daleks.’
Once on board Starship UK the Doctor teaches Amy to use her eyes to work out details about life on board the ship. The bicycles, washing lines and wind-up street lamps demonstrate the back to basics approach the inhabitants have had to take to conserve resources.
The fact that Mandy is crying silently indicates that she isn’t looking for attention and the fact no one is asking what is wrong reveals that they all know what is wrong and don’t talk about it.
If there was ever a scene that represented what a use attribute ‘Awareness’ is it is this one. Simply by observing their surroundings or watching how people behave player characters can learn much about what is happening.
The 11th Doctor makes a habit of this, taking in large amounts of detail at a glance and then processing it to find out what is important, a trait that he shares with Moffat’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes.
Not that they have to know what everything means straight away. They can spot that something is a clue but need to do some work before they know why it is a clue. The Doctor knows that it is significant that the glass of water is still but it takes him a little longer to realise its because there isn’t a vibration.
These observations can contain plot twists, revelations that put a different slant on what is happening. Liz 10 believes that she is only 50 but the Doctor makes two observations about her porcelain mask. Firstly that it stays on her face because it was sculptured to fit it exactly and secondly that it is very old. Only when those facts are put together does the truth become obvious, Liz 10 is much older than she believes and so her memory has been altered.
By presenting facts that initially seem contradictory mystery is created, followed by revelation when the player characters work out how the facts can be reconciled. When they are told things that the facts don’t support they know when they have found a lie.
This is important because many Doctor Who plots revolve around lies. Whether it is aliens hiding their operations, Weeping Angels disguising themselves of statues of a race that should have two heads or a mother claiming that her son is actually her brother due to her young age.
Learning the truth is often the key to successfully completing an adventure. Player characters should think carefully how they reveal this information and the burden that the truth places on them.
It is notable as well how the Doctor assigns Amy to investigate what is wrong with Mandy and to gather information. When Amy protests he makes it clear, it is either this or she goes home to Leadworth. This Doctor expects his companions to pull their weight.
Each player character should bring something to the table. If they just follow the other player characters round and do nothing themselves they are little more than extra baggage, slowing everyone down.
As the games master you can design adventures to play to each of the player characters strengths. In this case Mandy is an important piece of the investigation but the Doctor isn’t able to speak with her, she won’t talk to him. It requires Amy, to bring Mandy out of her shell.
You can design challenges that fall into two categories. Those that can be completed by everyone and those that can only be completed by specific characters. These specific challenges high light why they are important and why they deserve their place in the TARDIS.
Specific challenges could require a skill, trait or gadget that only one character has or could be roleplaying specific such as a npc who will only speak to one of the player characters. While important these specific challenges shouldn’t be vital for the adventure to proceed because the player might not be able to make it to the game or the player character might not be in the right place at the right time to complete the specific challenge.
Player characters shouldn’t be afraid to leap in with both feet. The Doctor gleefully pushes the button that he shouldn’t, embracing what comes next. Games masters can encourage this kind of dare devil behaviour by ensuring that leaping into the unknown doesn’t result in instant death and might even provide some extra story points.
If player characters know they won’t be killed for being brave they too can face a great fall with a loud ‘Geronimo!’