I’ve discussed the use of the Memory Worm here but ‘Time Heist’ presents another way to use them in your campaign. One moment the Doctor and Clara are on Earth when the phone rings and when they answer they are suddenly on an alien world the memory of everything in between having been erased by the memory worms.
This is a great way to start an adventure, dropping the PCs straight into the action. Not only do they have to deal with whatever the current threat is they have to work out how they came to be in this situation.
You can use this as a way to force a group of different characters to work together. The fact that they are in the same situation will hopefully encourage them to bond and force them to work together.
Part of the new situation the PCs find themselves in could be dealing with their normal resources missing. For example in ‘Time Heist’ the Doctor finds that the TARDIS is missing. Recovering these items could be part of a larger quest, as they try to locate what is missing.
It is natural for PCs to resist this setup and rebel against any instructions they’ve been given. ‘Time Heist’ gets around this by having each member of the heist leave a recorded message saying that they agreed to this. This puts the idea in their heads that they must have had some cause to go along with what is being request of them.
When it is eventually revealed what happened during the missing time it is important that there is a convincing reason why the PCs agreed to have their memories deleted. It helps if they are given a reward for taking part, much as each member of the heist received something they wanted in the vault.
One possible, devious twist is that the PCs didn’t agree. The recorded message could easily be falsified. Be warned that if you do they will be less likely to accept the same scenario on good faith ever again.
So this the only time that the Doctor and Clara have found themselves in this type of situation but it could be a much more regular occurrence for a different group of characters. It could even be the basis for a campaign.
Each adventure could begin with a ragtag group awakening together, no memory of how they got there. Briefed on their mission by their mysterious employer they have to learn to trust each other and work out where they are. Once the mission is complete the employer drugs them, possibly removing their memories until the next mission.
You could intersperse these missions with scenes with the PCs living their own lives. If they come from different planets and time periods their employer obviously has some way to collect them and bring them together. Do they have fleeting memories of their missions between missions? Do they appear as dreams which could seem fantastical compared to their normal lives?
The identity of their employer could be an on going mystery, his identity slowly revealed over several adventures. The paranoid amongst the group might wonder if one of the other PCs is the employer. No one is above suspicion.
The group might not be bothered about who is doing this if the rewards are worthwhile. This works best if each character has a long term goal that they are trying to achieve. They could have a disease that they are trying to cure, a loved one they are trying to locate or simply want to be rich.
If they get a step closer to their goal at the completion of each mission then they will continue to participate. If they do reach their goal there could be other things that they want that their employer can help them achieve.
With this in mind the PCs could be ‘Suicide Squad’ style team. Each might be a dangerous criminal, promised that sentence will be reduced for each successfully completed mission. To keep them guessing knowledge of their actual crimes could have been erased, leaving them to wonder just what they did and how many years they have to work off.
Sooner or later you’ll have to answer the question of why the PCs are having their memories wiped. In ‘Time Heist’ it was so that they could avoid detection by the Teller by having very little guilt. Similarly the PCs could involve psychics who could access valuable information the PCs have in their heads, if it hadn’t been deleted.
The employer could be doing it to maintain secrecy. If the PCs are captured they’ll be unable to lead anyone to their employer. If their employer was trying to keep a low profile this would be a good way to minimise contact.
The memory wipes could be to ensure that the PCs can’t affect history by learning things they shouldn’t. This would justify the involvement of characters from history. No matter how much advanced technology their encounter or what they learn about their future they won’t be able to take this knowledge back with them.
This could be a good way to avoid continuity problems, allowing characters to encounter each other out of order without worrying about revealing too much about each others future relationships.
You don’t need to use memory worms for this premise. Hypnotism would work equally well (and could suggest the involvement of the Master or other Time Lord). Various different technology could be used to erase memories such as that used by the Time Lords on Jamie and Zoe (and could indicate that this is a CIA operation). Drugs could be used to induce amnesia (the same kind that Torchwood used).
The deletion of memory could be cover for a bigger switch. The players could be playing the roles of clones, copied from their original PCs. This would explain the gaps in their memory, to cover their artificial creation.
The original PCs might have consented, since they themselves would not be put in danger. Clones could be grown from genetic samples and memories selectively downloaded from the donor.
The cloned PCs might not be aware of the nature at first. If you want to give them clues they might note that they don’t have any scars or if they usually dye their hair they’ll find it is back to its natural colour. Similarly any tattoos or piercings could be gone. If you don’t want to be that obvious the clones’ new body could be suitably adjusted before they awake.
This means that if a clone does die during a mission a new one can be grown from the next mission. The other clones could recall their team mates death and realise that something isn’t right about the situation. What do they do once they work out they’ve been used by the originals?