“The heavier the decision, the larger the waves.”

wargamesThis is the final post about deciding how to pick and choose what is canon in your own campaign.

God-Like Beings or High Collared Bureaucrats?

When the Time Lords are first introduced in ‘War Games’ their approach is announced by a terrible wailing. They could slow time to an agonising crawl, erect force fields with a thought and wipe people out of existence. They are a fearsome force which even the Doctor can’t oppose.

Over time, as we learnt more of the Doctor’s people, this aura of mystic was diminished. They were fallible, prone to being caught up political manoeuvring, bureaucratic procedure and even had their own television news broadcasts.

By the time of the 6th Doctor they were capable of great corruption, willing to move planets just to hide their secrets and capable of making dangerous deals in order to rid themselves of the Doctor.

In your game you can choose to portray the Time Lords as you like. You can treat them as the ultimate figures of authority who can not be defeated or you can instead treat them as more rounded but flawed alien race.

Both approaches have their bonuses and draw backs. If you choose to make them god-like then they give the Time Lord and his companions to keep on the run, calling upon them only as a last resort for fear of reprisals.

They can act as a fail safe should things go very wrong in an adventure and the whole of space and time faces destruction. Rather than end the campaign with existence being wiped out the Time Lords can solve the problem. Not that this is a good outcome for the player characters who will now be brought to the Time Lords attention and be one step closer to being caught.

God-like Time Lords can also make got antagonists, capable of unimaginable power and a different morality the player characters will find them to be an opponent they can not easily defeat.

Having the Time Lords be at the top end of the power scale can also give context to other threats. If something can threaten them then it must be equally powerful. This should be done carefully, as each threat diminishes the awe of the Time Lords.

If you do decide to go along this route then the Time Lords should almost be supernatural. The less obvious the technology they use to achieve their powers the better. We don’t see how they slow time in the ‘War Games’ or how the bowler hatted Time Lord magically appears in ‘Terror of the Autons’ without a TARDIS.

The only question this raises is why any player character Time Lord isn’t similarly all powerful. This can be explained if it takes a union of Time Lords to perform these impressive displays, linking their minds together in a way that the Doctor is unable to do.

If you choose the opposite approach then the Time Lords become more relatable and open up plenty of story lines set on the home world itself. The politics of the government and the various houses have a real impact on the rest of the universe.

Whole campaigns can be set on Gallifrey, with the player characters working for or against various factions, helping to decide the path of Time Lord society and how they relate to the governing of time.

It is a hot bed of deceit, deception and foul play. With centuries of power there are plenty of secrets to be discovered that can be used to weaken opponents. There is even a secret organisation in the form of the Celestial Intervention Agency or, if you incorporate the books, a rogue activist group in the form of Faction Paradox.

Even if your player characters spend most of their time away from Gallifrey they might still be caught up in events. If there is a change in leadership they might be made an example of or even portrayed as heroes, a demonstration of how things should be done.

For a games master interested in focusing a campaign on this angle there can be no better source than the ‘Gallifrey’ line of audios produced by Big Finish.

All Of The Above 

There is the ultimate option which is not to have any fixed choices. Everything is fluid and changes on a whim. One week your Time Lord character has one heart and the Time Lords are elemental beings of time, the next he has two hearts and the Gallifreyian council are locked in an argument about whether to repaint the capital building.

This is demonstrated in Adric’s frustration with the TARDIS log book that indicates that some things happen, then a few pages say they didn’t or they did but hundred of years earlier or later.

GallifreyReturns-1-It also represents the fact that some part of Doctor Who lore can’t be reconciled  because the intent of the production team changed, as did the production team. Originally the Doctor was supposed to be an inventor from the future before it was decided he was an alien. He’d never heard of the Daleks when first meeting them but later they are well known and Susan claims to have coined the term TARDIS despite the name being used well before her birth.

From our perspective this doesn’t make sense. Things are always the same and proceeds in a logical manner. The problem is we’re human and as the 8th Doctor said, we have a talent for finding patterns when none exist.

For a race that have mastered time travel it might be that the universe is constantly in flux, the details changing from one moment to the next. Further more regeneration might not just be a renewal of the physical body but a rewriting of history itself, changing their past and their future.

This can be annoying for player characters who desire some consistency but if embraced can lead to a campaign where literally anything could happen. It also frees you, as the games master, to keeping making decisions about the setting each adventure and giving you the freedom to change your mind.

For an examination of this listen to the Doctor Who: Unbound audio ‘Auld Mortality’, which explores a continuity in which the Doctor never left Gallifrey. At the end he does leave in his TARDIS and we are left with the thought that his first adventure could be anyone of a infinite number of possibilities encompassing the television show, the Peter Cushing movie and even the novelisation of ‘Doctor Who and the Daleks’.

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1 Response to “The heavier the decision, the larger the waves.”

  1. Tyler says:

    Auld Mortality is followed up by A Storm of Angels, which creates a pretty cool “Elizabethan flying galleons in space” setting off the idea that alternate first Doctor ran into da Vinci and gave him some radical mechanical engineering ideas.

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