In ‘Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS’ the Doctor’s time machine becomes the main setting for the adventure. This is not the first time that the interior of the TARDIS has become the focus, such as ‘Edge of Destruction’.
What would happen if the TARDIS itself became the main focus of an on-going campaign or a particularly long adventure? What if the PCs had to spend an extended period within their own TARDIS, say for example 50 years?
Imagine that the TARDIS encounters a particularly turbulent area of the vortex or collides with something inflight. The cloister bells ring, the PCs are thrown around and the outer shell of the TARDIS begins to crack.
In a desperate attempt to save itself the TARDIS jumps a time track. Outside of normal space and time the TARDIS locks itself down to repair itself. It’ll only take 50 years. While this isn’t an issue for a Time Lord or other long lived alien race but human companions are going to have a problem with this.
The good news is that the TARDIS has supplies to keep the PCs watered and fed while they wait for the TARDIS to restore itself. There is also plenty for them to explore, given that it is much bigger on the inside. They’ll just not be going outside for a long time.
So what is there for the PCs to do for the next 50 years?
The PCs might want to spend their time making sure that they know what is inside the TARDIS. There is no guarantee that it will contain a swimming pool, library or TARDIS tree like the Doctor’s. Even the Time Lord PC might have lost track of what is there.
It could be that each TARDIS grows and constructs rooms to its own whims or anticipates the future needs of its occupants. It could be that there are areas constructed just for this eventuality. There could also be places that can’t be understood by anything other than a transcendental sentient time machine.
Discovering new areas and understanding their function can be the focus of the adventure. The ‘Rama’ series of books by Arthur C Clarke. New areas could open up or be removed over time giving an endless amount to find but a limited time in which to explore them.
While there is everything that the PCs need within the TARDIS it might not be easy to obtain. Food, water or medical supplies could be at the bottom of a shaft or high upon a book shelf several miles up.
The PCs might have basic supplies but sections of the TARDIS could have other pieces of wonderful technology that can make the trapped PCs life better or at least more tolerable. There could be a machine that gives them explore each others dreams, hover belts so they can explore inaccessible areas or humanoid robots to provide companionship.
Some of these pieces of technology could cause problems or go out of control. The PCs will need to find a way to shut it off or destroy it. It could be that they need another piece of technology to use it properly.
Defend Their Home
When the TARDIS outer shell was damaged who knows what was able to get inside before it isolated itself? The PCs could find that they are not alone inside the sealed TARDIS. Are the intruders monsters or just victims? Will the PCs have to fight for their resources?
It could be that the TARDIS is already infested. The PCs might have been careless about locking the doors, leading to various stowaways forming their own community deep within the TARDIS.
If time moves differently in certain sections of the TARDIS them simple organisms or animals could have developed and evolved over the course of millions of years. The PCs could find them shattering the world view of a race who are ignorant of the outside world.
The Big Sleep
The PCs might decide to wait out the 50 years. There could be somewhere in the TARDIS that allows them to place themselves in suspended animation. It can be a quest in itself to first find where this technology is found and then assemble the resources they need.
It could be that they can only be put in stasis for limited periods, allowing you to skip ahead a few years, before waking them up for another adventure before they go back to sleep.
The Time Lord may have to stay awake during this period and become increasingly lonely without his companions. He might wake them up from time to time to keep himself entertained and stop himself from going insane.
Have A Family
If there are male and female PCs they might decide to have a family. This can lead them to raising a child within the TARDIS. If there are enough PCs there could be several bloodlines developing over the years.
Now the PCs have to not only survive but protecting their children. What lessons will they teach them, how can they prepare them for what they might find within the TARDIS. What will they tell them about the universe outside the ship?
When the TARDIS doors finally open the players could switch to the children of the original PCs. This will give them a very unique origin story, especially if like River Song they inherit some Time Lord abilities.
If the PCs are numerous and fractious they might break into tribes. They can fight over the the resources and sections of the TARDIS. They could blame each other for their predicament or disagree about what to do.
The balance of power, the forging of alliances and betrayal become the lifeblood of such a campaign setting. Imagine ‘The Game of Thrones’ set within the TARDIS.
Commune With The TARDIS
The PCs might decide that they should speed up the repairs of the TARDIS or at least get to know the ship better. This might be a methodical reading of the instruction manual or offering sacrifices in order to gain favour with the ship’s intelligence.
This could lead to a stronger connection between the PCs and the TARDIS. This adversity could bring them closer together. It could also lead them to form a kind of religion, turning them into crazed fanatics by the time the TARDIS unseals.
To pass the time the Time Lord could tell stories of his past adventures or even show them by linking his mind with his companions. This allows for adventures to be set in the past, to provide the occasional break from their continued struggle for survival.
When The Doors Open
After 50 years the TARDIS finally materialises somewhere and the doors open. Who will have survived? How will they have been changed by their experiences? Will they ever risk travelling in the TARDIS again.
They could emerge to find that the disaster that caused the situation was caused by some terrible event or that it was a ploy to keep the PCs from interfering. What has happened to the universe while they’ve been trapped?