Events are already in motion in episode 1 of ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’. Only a few feet away from the where the TARDIS lands the Doctor and Ace locate the surveillance van the military are using to trace the source of alien transmissions.
Rather than having to start the investigation himself the Doctor just to join those who have already done the ground work. Few questions are asked about who he is and very soon he is caught up in events.
Structurally this is a handy way to start off an adventure without a lot of build up. The player characters simply have to be aware that an investigation is taking place and see if they can become involved.
The insatiable curiosity trait is useful to compel a character to find out what is going on but any group that love a mystery should relish the thought of finding out what is going on. This could range from a police detective looking into a murder, a group of ghost hunters searching a supposedly haunted house or UFO enthusiasts hoping to capture footage of the strange lights that have been seen.
The advantage of joining such an operation is that a lot of research has already been done and resources have been gathered. The player characters can quickly be brought up to speed and then make use of the tools available to them.
In this type of situation it is a convention of Doctor Who that the new comers are not questioned or shunned but accepted. This is primarily because they seem to know what they’re talking about so in these early scenes give the player characters a chance to show why they would be useful to investigators.
Notice how Ace initially doesn’t have much interest in the van or what it is doing. Her immediate concern is her empty stomach. This can be an occasional problem in games, a player character simply isn’t interested in the adventure hook.
The way this is dealt with in the story is that in seeking to satisfy her need, by going to the cafe, another important character is encountered. In this case it is Lt Mike Smith, part of the operation to locate the aliens whose alliances will be called into question later.
If Ace hadn’t gone to the cafe he could have just as easily been encountered with the other soldiers at Totters Lane. The important thing about his character is that he isn’t defined by being a member of the military.
Unlike group Captain ‘chunky’ Gilmore he can be placed into the cafe scene without standing out. Ace’s first impression of Mike is that he is handsome and charming. He gets into her good graces both by helping her get the owner of the cafe’s attention but goes on to explain how the currency works.
She forms an attachment to him and only then discovers that he is part of the main plot. By this point Ace doesn’t need any incentive to be drawn back into the adventure. In play this type of tactic gives the player the feeling of freedom but doesn’t derail your plot.
Bad plotting in roleplaying games is often described as ‘rail roading’. The player characters have only one path to follow and, like a train, leaving that path can be disastrous. The reason for this is plots can be very linear, one clue leading straight to the next until they get to the end.
‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ does a neat trick. It establishes that there is an alien signal coming from Coal Hill school. Before they can investigate this further they are whisked away to the junk yard where a Dalek has been cornered.
Only after this combat scene can the Doctor and Ace do the logical thing and search the school. It no longer feels like a straight line because of this. This could be described as a side track, taking the characters away from the main plot line only to re-join it later.
Care must be taken to avoid making these side tracks feel like padding. They must add something to the overall story, even if they don’t progress it. The Dalek at the junk yard establishes which alien race the Doctor will be dealing with and demonstrates how even one Dalek can be lethal.
It also serves to develop the plot arcs of the members of the investigation team. This is their first real evidence of alien life and opens up lots of new possibilities. The help that the Doctor and Ace provided secure their position in the group. All of this adds purpose to the side track.
The drive back to Coal Hill school allows the Doctor to fill Ace in on who the Daleks are. The need for scenes such as this will depend on how familiar your players are with the mythos of the show. Even if they have a vague knowledge of it their player characters won’t and it can useful for the knowledgeable character, usually the player character, to give a quick summary, so everyone knows what they are dealing with.
At the school the Doctor and Ace encounter the head master. When they ask to look around the building the head master does the sensible thing and denies their request. It is only due to the unseen influence of his Dalek controllers that changes the head masters mind.
This is a good variation on a person assigned to guard an area. Player characters are used to villains protecting vital areas and finding ways around security. This means it can surprise them when they are instead allowed to enter, only to find they have walked into a trap.
Observational skills are put to good use to locate the signs of an alien landing. This is another reminder that the actions and movements of the villains will affect their surroundings, providing clues for the player characters to follow.
The episode climaxes with the discovery of a transporter in the cellar. Although the Doctor is able to prevent a Dalek from materialising they are then attacked by the transporter operator already in the room.
Although it could be seen as cheating this can be a way to have the characters defeat a threat but still be in danger. If this was scene in a roleplaying game we can see that whether the Doctor was successful or not in sabotaging the transporter he would still be in danger from a Dalek either way.
Such ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenarios should be kept to a minimum but are a good way to keep the excitement going early on in the game. By writing the adventure with ‘bad’ results in mind you prevent things from coming to a halt if the player characters fail at checks. Rather, that is what you’re anticipating.