Excitement can be generated in an adventure by setting a time limit. In ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ this is provided by the Doctor being poisoned by Melody Pond, leaving him just over 30 minutes to find a cure.
This can provide great motivation for players. If they don’t solve the problem then their characters will die. They won’t want to waste time planning, debating or involved in trivial matters when their lives are at stake.
If a player is not able to be at a game this can be a good way to explain their absence. Their character lie dying while the rest of the player characters rush against time. Of course it would be unfair to let their character die in their absence so you should ensure they do find a cure.
Even poisoned the Doctor was still able to play an active role in this story. This means one or more player characters could be poisoned and still take part. The effects could be purely cosmetic, such as coughing or feeling faint, or inflict negative modifiers on their rolls.
The source of the poison could be environmental. The TARDIS might have landed in a toxic atmosphere or a plant or the local animal life might use poison to defend itself with. In this case the time travellers need to explore the area and hope the locals have a cure and are willing to share.
Poison can be used as a weapon by an enemy. Just as the cybermen strapped bombs to the Doctor and Harry in ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ it can be used to motivate player characters to carry out some task they would otherwise refuse to do.
Care must be taken here, as players could feel that they are being forced to do something that will ruin their characters. They shouldn’t be blackmailed into murdering innocent people or destroying worlds, not unless there is a clear opportunity to get the cure through other means.
What it can be used for is to make the player characters obtain something that is important for the villain’s plan, build equipment, gather information and otherwise aide them.
These are tasks that the player characters are well used to, just not normally to benefit evil. Since these are only steps in the villains plan it still allows the player characters the opportunity to stop them before the final stage.
The poisoner might have no agenda other than letting the player characters die in a slow, agonising way. In this scenario it is very likely that the poison will be administered covertly. It might not be until later that the character even realises that he has been poisoned.
This can provide mystery for an adventure. Who poisoned them and why? This served as the plot of the 1950s film (later remade in 1988) ‘D.O.A.‘ This increases the tension even further. Do they search for the cure or the identity of the poisoner (who may or may not have the antidote).
A twist to this plot is that the player character might not be the target. They could have just got in the way of the poison dart meant for someone else or taken a drink about to be served to the real target.
In this case the original target is still in danger. Can the player character save themselves and the other person?
In order for this type of plot to work certain ground rules must be followed. Firstly the TARDIS medical bay can’t be the solution, unless the time machine is difficult to reach, in which case the journey will form the adventure.
Similarly any medical skills possessed by the player characters should only slow the affect of the poison, not eliminate it. Whatever they do, seeking an antidote should be their main motivation.
Once they find the cure what do they have to do to get it? Does someone want a favour in return for it? Is there a limited amount which might require the player characters deciding who lives and dies? Is the antidote in a remote or dangerous location?
Another factor is the time that the player characters have to them. It can be minutes, hours or even days. Particularly long lived characters might still feel the cold chill of mortality if they know the poison will kill them in a mere 120 years.
Thought should be given to how the player characters species reacts to the poison, especially when your TARDIS crew consists of several different races. While they all might be exposed to the same poison some might be immune or have symptoms which are more or less severe.
For example a Time Lord might experience a premature regeneration, returning to their original incarnation when a cure is found. A human might experience enhanced strength even as their body begins to burn out.
This plot device can still be used with robotic player characters. A computer virus could work the same as a poison, corrupting their files and requiring them to seek out the software that will restore their systems.
This plot might make a good adventure when you have scheduled for a Time Lord character to regenerate. ‘Caves of Androzani’ demonstrated how this can lead to scenes of dramatic sacrifice.
It could be that player characters travels through time or alien nature unexpectedly let them recover from the poison. Their poisoner might have a change of heart or be unwilling to lose such a useful tool just yet and administer the cure.
It would also be in keeping to the spirit of Doctor Who for the player characters to find an alternative cure at the last minute. Just as they collapse they could notice the peculiar properties of a nearby plant or animal and find their cure.
You might even have this lead into a new adventure. The characters black out, letting out their final breath. Some time later they awake on an alien ship. Their hosts have cured them but what do they want in return?
With so many factors to consider this adventure idea can be used in numerous variations.