Conundrum

Overview

conundrumThe TARDIS lands in the small English village Arandale, where the residents are being murdered by a killer who leaves their bodies drained of blood. Curiously the village is also home to a retired superhero not to mention his nemesis and a group of teenagers realise they have adventures every summer holiday but never age.

It isn’t long before the TARDIS crew find that they are in the Land of Fiction, resurrected by their mysterious foe who continues to meddle with time. Soon they are engaged in a battle of wills with the new Master of the Land of Fiction, where the very book itself is used as a weapon against them.

Returning to the setting of ‘The Mind Robbers’ was a brilliant idea, especially in book form. It is a very meta-textual story, with narrative devices and conventions being an important part of the story.

In particular the Doctor points out that everyone sees the incidental character of a cleaning lady differently because the writer never describes her, forcing them to fill in the blanks. Simply by using the phrases ‘Meanwhile’ or ‘Later’ the writer is able to make the time travellers believe more time has passed than it has.

A stand out moment occurs when the Doctor is engaged in a battle of wills with the writer while playing scrabble and is able to fit a word that is far too long on to the board because his opponent wasn’t paying attention.

We also have the companions finding books of their previous adventures and realising that someone was watching them in the bath earlier in the story.

There are shades of ‘Pleasantville’ here with fictional characters becoming aware of their own nature. The new Master is a nasty piece of work, an insufferable teenager in the same vein as Whizz Kid from ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ or Superboy Prime from ‘DC Comics’.

This is another story where the main characters feel completely outmatched by their opponent. Here the villain has complete control of their environment. The easiest way to fight him would be to take control of the Land of Fiction but they run the danger of becoming fictional themselves, the same dilemma that occurred in ‘The Mind Robbers’.

By the conclusion the Doctor knows where to find their elusive time manipulating opponent, setting up the events of ‘No Future’. The new Master of the Land of Fiction would return on the equally brilliant ‘Head Games’.

Plot

An adventure that was equally self-referential would need to have the player characters realise they were trapped in a roleplaying game. This could be an amusing way to look at the system and explore the genre conventions that have occurred in your own game.

They could stumble across their own character sheets. How would a character react to seeing all their qualities and flaws summarised on a piece of paper, their attributes assigned a numerical score?

What would happen if their character sheet was damaged or altered? Would the characters find themselves altered as well? Could their past be re-written or their abilities temporary boosted.

In a scene that harks back to ‘The Mind Robbers’ the players might have to reassemble their character sheet from memory. To make it more difficult they could have to write each others sheets, revealing just how much they know about each other.

Dice could be used within the game to affect fate and finding a copy of the rule book could be very useful in navigating through this Land of Fiction. You might even provide them with a copy of the adventure, allowing them to know what is about to happen.

You might even allow the characters to meet the players who have been controlling their lives for their own amusement. Players could play themselves for this adventure, with their characters temporarily acting as NPCs or you could have the players acting as NPCs, either aiding or hindering the characters.

Of course you could eventually reveal that this is all a trick to make the player characters question their own identity and become fictional. The key to escape could very well be to ignore the rules since they are people, not figments of someone elses imagination.

Taking this idea in another direction you could have the Land of Fiction act as a massive television studio, with the player characters find they are just actors in one of many shows being filmed.

They could meet actors from Doctor Who and other shows. In order to escape they could have to save their show from cancellation, escaping back into their own reality. They might even bring video tapes of their previous adventures as a reward.

Using the Land of Fiction as a setting for an adventure lets you have NPCs that the players will recognise from television, movies and books. This is a chance to share in their adventures without contaminating your main continuity.

They could find a way to take fictional character back into the real world, allowing them to act as player characters. This is a great opportunity to explain why a Time Lord has Batman, Princess Leia and Kermit the Frog as travelling companions.

It is also as setting where fictional characters can interact. Games master might want to look towards South Park’s ‘Imagination Land’ trilogy for how this can be done. While the characters aren’t real they do exist in the Land of Fiction, meaning that their fates are important there.

It is revealed that the Land of Imagination was created by the God of Ragnarok from ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’. This makes a great deal of sense considering their constant need for entertainment.

What other ‘lands’ might such gods create? Would such a realm be of interest to the Eternals and stop them meddling with mortal beings. Could the normal ‘Doctor Who’ universe just be a far bigger artificial realm, created as an experiment or form of entertainment?

The power gained controlling the Land of Fiction is immense and could be tempting for the player characters. This might make an interesting series of adventures or short campaign, exploring what exactly someone would do the ability to create anything. The only drawback is that they can’t leave until someone takes their place, something which can become a goal for them.

After a trip to the Land of Fiction player characters could come to doubt their own existence. Did they really escape or are they still playing out stories for the amusement of the new Master of the Land of Fiction?

This could be an interesting twist, revealing that the last few adventures have taken place in the Land of Fiction and forcing them to escape for real. This is a good way to undo anything drastic that has occurred in that time, such as a death of a major character, the destruction of their TARDIS or a Time War which has destroyed Gallifrey.

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