Tragedy Day


tragedydayArriving on the planet Olleril in the 56th century the Doctor and his companions find themselves menaced by the cult of Luminus, who secretly run the planet. Soon separated and with the Doctor replaced by a robot duplicate they find themselves placed in one danger after the other.

At the same time the god-like Friars of Pangloss send the gun totting spider mutant Ernie ‘Eight-Legs’ McCartney to kill the Doctor and recover the fabled red glass that the Doctor took from them while in his first incarnation.

Everything culminates with the revelation that the Cult of Luminus is run by a 12 year old boy named Crispin who plans to turn everyone into characters from the television show.

This story is chaotic, with many crazy elements introduced into the setting. While it could be criticised for being messy it is fun. As menacing as the threats are they are still silly. You really get a sense that this was a chance to lighten the mood after the intense ‘Alternative Universe’ saga.

While the plot might hang together it is the setting that makes it memorable. It is hard to forget spider assassins with Yorkshire accents, the Doctor pretending to be Bernice’s senile old father or a deadly disco floors that can kill you with blasts of anti-matter.

My personal feeling is that this is closer to a Sixth Doctor story. It has a lot of satire and, while funny, has a very high body count. Only the Doctor’s whimsical behaviour keeps this adventure from becoming too grim.


The planet of Olleril provides a good example of creating a setting that is primarily there to provide danger for the player characters. It helps that the reason it is so strange, and modelled on 20th century Earth, is because it is secretly run by an evil cult.

If the players realise that the culture and environment couldn’t have occurred naturally they’ll have to assume that it is an artificial construction. They can then begin to try and discover who built it and why.

This can also be used to design an adventure that satirise our modern society. Player characters could arrive on a world where the inhabitants have to perform on talent shows for the entertainment of a distant planet in order to receive daily rations or encounter a society where social networking is more important than actual physical accomplishments.

Vengeance on Varos’ and ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ are both examples of how to use satire to make a setting grotesque. ‘The Happiness Patrol’ is a more subtle satire, although no less effective.

The nature of the player characters is to rebel against this status quo. The aim is that the player gain some form of cathartic pleasure from tearing down the establishment and freeing people from their oppression.

It is easy when designing an adventure to have only one villain in the story. This story is a good example of how to include multiple opponents for the player characters. This puts extra pressure on the players, forcing them to respond to attacks from multiple directions and work out the agenda of each party.

The other advantage is that it means that the villains will be tripping over each other in their attempts to get at the player characters. In this story Ernie ‘Eight-Legs’ McCartney destroys the robot duplicate created by the Luminus cult and later destroys their submarine.

Player characters could find themselves saved when one set of opponents foil the plans other another group of villains. They can also try to engineer this themselves, playing one off against the other.

Over the course of the adventure you can experiment with different alliances. Maybe one group temporary allies with the player characters against a common enemy or both groups could join together to defeat the player characters. There can be betrayals, double-crossing and new alliances forged during the game.

You may wish to have the player characters deal with each group individually but it is more satisfying if you can engineer it so that everything culminates in one place. This lets the player characters bring both plot threads to a close, reaching a natural conclusion.

Crispin, a boy genius and completely evil,  is a very original villain. Although intelligent his plan to make people docile by turning them into television characters is just the kind of idea that a 12 year old would come up with. It also explains why the cults giant submarine is named ‘Gargantuan’.

When designing a villain it can be useful to think ‘What does he want?’ and ‘How will he get it?’ Who the villain is and their background will inform their decisions and so changing these factors are the best way to come up with a unique plot.

What would an up-lifted super intelligent dog want? Would it want to enslave the inhabitants of a planet so it is ‘top dog’? Would it declare war on a race of humanoid cats? Does it want to excavate dinosaur bones?

If the spoiled 16 year old girl of a galactic emperor was given a planet to rule for her birthday what would she do with it? Would she make them worship her like a god? Would she torture them just because she could? Would she transform it into a war world and launch a military strike against her father?

The red glass the Friars of Pangloss are so desperate to retrieve from the Doctor is revealed to be exactly what it appears, red glass. It was the Friars who gave it its mystique, making their servants fear it.

In the rational, scientific universe of Doctor Who it is relief that some powerful artefacts are actually completely ordinary. It does prove that sometimes an items power is directly related to the belief placed in it.

This is a neat twist for adventures based around the pursuit of an artefact. It can serve as an ironic twist if the villains are able to obtain it before the player characters, only to find that it is useless.

This could also put the player characters in a difficult situation if they were relying on the artefact being able to do what it was supposed to or they were expected to give it to someone else who won’t be happy if it doesn’t do what it says.

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1 Response to Tragedy Day

  1. Matthew C says:

    I like this one much more than Gareth Roberts rather more popular novel ‘Highest Science.’

    Ernie’s an hilarious character and I love the way the novel satirizes big celebrity-driven charity events.

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