Sometimes its a brief outline, a photo or, if we’re lucky, a trailer. There are those who avoid these teases, fearing the dreaded Spoilers, and there are those who dissect each piece of information, determined to work out how they all fit together.
For games master struggling to find inspiration it can be helpful to try and capture the feeling of the trailers. To often we try to come up with an adventure that is fully formed, without first thinking what we and the players will be excited about.
Instead we can try thinking first of a trailer for our own upcoming season of adventures. There is no need to have a complete story, or have our imaginary clips originate from the same episode or in chronological order. They could even be deliberately misleading once we work out their proper place.
If you were watching this trailer whose appearance would make your heart beat faster? Would it be a returning monster, such as the Daleks, Cybermen or more obscure creations like the Zarbi or Dominators? Would it be an old companion like Harry Sullivan, Turlough or Nyssa? Or would it be a new character who you want to know more about the moment you see them?
What actions pieces can’t you wait to see in a story? Is it the Doctor rushing through the corridors of spaceship with a fireball chasing him? The Doctor’s companion freefalling from orbit towards an alien world? The TARDIS filling with water as it sinks to the bottom of the ocean?
What time periods are shown? Does your trailer have clips from the modern day, a historical event or the future? Are they on Earth or some exotic new world? This will help establish the settings for your adventure.
You can hint at the story as well, picking out lines which are portentous, dramatic, funny or just awesome. What could the characters be saying that immediately make you want to find out what they mean?
Once you have a collection of images and ideas that excite you they can be put together into a series of adventures. You can match those elements that seem to go together or you can contrasts them, to surprise the viewer. You could have the Daleks appear in the episode set on a derelict spaceship but they’d be more unexpected in the episode set during the French Revolution.
The players shouldn’t be left out of this process. Encourage them to imagine their own trailers. They don’t need to have an idea of how its fits together, just what would make them ‘watch’ the upcoming adventures.
This is important if you want big changes to occur during your campaign. Players have to be okay with dramatic alterations to their character and this method might encourage them to step out of their comfort zone.
After all, how exciting would it be if the trailer revealed that one of the PCs was going to die, their TARDIS was going to be destroyed or a new character would be joining them. What if they were declared enemies of Earth by UNIT or Gallifrey returned to restore order to the universe, whether the rest of the universe liked it or not?
On a smaller scale each adventure could end with a ‘Next Time’ section. The roleplaying game ‘Prime Time Adventures’ introduced this idea, allowing players to foreshadow something in the next adventure and giving them game points when they were able to have those moments occur during play.
‘Prime Time Adventures’ gave players more narrative control but there is no reason that it couldn’t work here. This could be a way for players to gain more Story Points during game play, triggering moments they set up.
All of this is an exercise in cultivating enthusiasm for the campaign and adventures. It is an attempt to get at instinctual excitement we have for Doctor Who without worry about our reason for it.
It is also to make sure that everything is involved in the creative process. Hopefully it will make players think about what is entertaining in the game, not just whether their characters will survive or solving a problem.
As with everything, moderation is needed. You don’t want to reveal to much. The reason that people don’t like Spoilers is that knowing too much can take the fun out of things. You just want to reveal enough to intrigue, without giving away each beat of the plot or spoiling revelations.
This is the advantage of imaging things as a visual medium. A player can say that their character is crying, without explaining (or knowing) why. You can have a player say that an alien race appears without revealing the details of their plot. A line of dialogue can be given without the context.
You need not worry about not using moments from your ‘Coming Soon’ or ‘Next Time’ trailer. In real life there are last minute edits or rewrites that mean that some of what we see never makes it to the episode itself.
The ideas can be shelved and brought up at a later date. You may find that your collection of clips become an episode in itself, coming together in way you did not initially anticipate. Never throw anything away.