Running a game based at the Time Academy is very different from a standard adventure.The majority of the game is about a routine. The player characters attend classes, socialise, study and repeat. The goal is not to defeat evil but to do well and graduate.
The greatest challenge for the games master is to make the experience fun, rather than boring. With this in mind the idea is not to run through everything day at the academy, with every class being played out.
Rather the idea should be to focus on the interesting parts. What you consider interesting is up to you and your players but given the focus of the series it should be how life at the academy is shaping the characters.
Each lesson should have one introductory scene, where the curriculum is established. Once they know what they are doing then most classes can occur in the background only coming to the forefront when something unusual or challenging occurs during the class, such as having to carry out a project or avoid being upstaged by a rival.
From ‘The Unearthly Child’ we know that the children of Gallifrey are already very bright, so the lessons won’t be simple science lessons, maths or physical education. Each class is interesting because it is far beyond our field of understanding.
The classes are designed to mould effective Time Lords. The majority of the class will likely never be required to leave the home world but they should have ability to do so. They should know how time works, how to pilot a TARDIS, know where they are in space and time and be able to recognise and stop the enemies of Gallifrey. Just in case war breaks out.
Classes will therefore focus on these aspects. While you are free to invent your own classes I suggest the following:
This deals with what time is and how a Time Lord affects it. Special attention should be given to avoiding paradoxes or loops. Students should learn to respect the web of time and know how to repair damage caused by a careless time traveller.
This lesson gives you an opportunity to brief the players on how you expect them to use time travel. If you want to prevent them from using their TARDIS to kill an enemy in his crib make sure the teacher warns them against the dangers in meddling in their own past once they are part of events.
The students learn how a TARDIS works, how to care for it and repair any malfunctions. The wonders of transcendental interiors and picking the most effective exterior are all explained. Under the teachers watchful gaze students work together to pilot the Time Academy TARDISs and eventually learn how to build their own.
While students won’t be given a TARDIS of their own it does give them a taste of using one. Their end of year project could be to finish and bond with a TARDIS, which they start to explore the universe with once they graduate.
While students aren’t expected to know everything they should have basic understanding of the general time line of the universe, from its birth to its destruction and everything in between.
Certain planets of note, such as Earth, could receive special attention. The reason being that these are places the Time Lords might be required to go. Being able to blend in with the locals is vital to avoid disrupting time.
This gives you a chance to provide the players with basic background information about the setting. You can have lessons deal with time periods that you’re particularly interested in and the players responses can give you an indication of what they’re interested in.
To make this class interesting field trips can be arranged so the player characters can see the time period with their own eyes. Studying World War II or the Dalek Invasion of Earth becomes that much more exciting when you life is on the line.
It isn’t just time that the player characters will be expected to navigate through, but space itself. They need to know about the different types of worlds out there and the life that develops there.
This gives the players a run down of places of interest in the universe, from Sontarr to the Medusa Cascade. While some planets, such as the radioactive Skaro, are best studied from a distance there could be the occasional trips to such planets as Metebelis III or Draconia.
It can also discuss parallel dimensions, pocket dimensions such as E-Space and oddities such as the Land of Fiction. With so little known of understood of these aspects, even by the Gallifreyians, information might be limited but enough to inspire the player characters.
There would of course be advanced classes in engineering, science, medicine and anything else the player characters might be interested in. We know the Rani was particularly interested in biology and given that she was exiled after her lab mice grew big enough to eat the President’s cat it isn’t hard to imagine the kind of lessons she received.
Special traits can also be gained and harnessed in specialist classes, such as Telepathy. Only select students, with the required talent, would need these lessons. The result being much smaller classes and a lot more attention from the teachers.
There could also be lessons designed to give the students the skills needed to perform jobs such as diplomat, scout, scientist, explorer, politician and even soldier. Those who do well could find a job already waiting for them when they graduate.
These classes should be used to make interesting thing happen. Either the player characters learn something from the class, have something happen to them or the class initiates a new event such as a class project or need to study for an exam.
A prepared games master can use these lessons to foreshadow future events, providing background information before the players even know they need it. This should be done subtly, to avoid each lesson just being made up of exposition.
What a character does well in and which lessons he has no interest in will be reflected in his traits and skills. This may change during their time at the academy, as a player character finds he has an unexpected talent for TARDIS piloting or mastering the Ogron language.
Ultimately classes are only part of what makes the Time Academy interesting. Next we’ll be looking at the people who go there and what life is like for the students.