I love Doctor Who quite a bit. It provides elements of fantasy, science fiction, adventure, humor and historical fiction in an almost hap-hazardously creative fashion. I also like to blend many of these genres into my Dungeons and Dragons home campaign. When one of my players approached me, saying that he wanted his new character in the campaign to be The Doctor, I assumed he meant that the character would be like The Doctor. I was wrong.
I said yes almost instantly. I should have thought about it more perhaps, but I like Doctor who, and trust this player to look for fun characters more than characters with odd or broken builds.
I wasn’t worried about breaking the game world. I have a bit of a history of tongue-in-cheek reference in my game. Over the last few years my players have broken into a school for gifted youngsters that secretly housed a training facility for mutated warriors, brought down the gladiator champion and master artificer Antonius Sparks, and still occasionally call on an eccentric wizard whom they saved from the mysterious Grey Gale. I think I can allow my players a bit of blatant fan service.
When I started thinking about this new character, I became more concerned about how this would affect gameplay and plot. The player built the character as a deva invoker. I didn’t grant any ability bonuses or give him any unique abilities. Looking over the sheet, the character wasn’t particularly powerful. In fact, he was more invested in social abilities, including several instances of the Linguist feat. Nothing world-shattering or overwhelming here, though certainly strong in niche situations.
Secretly, I’ve always considered my world part of a Spelljammer setting. If you travel far enough in my Astral Plane, you don’t hit the Far Realm, but Phlogiston, and beyond that more worlds. It should be very possible for players to travel to other worlds, including official and unofficial settings. It’s just a coincidence that this has never been explored by the players in the eight or so years they’ve been campaigning in this world.
With the inclusion of The Doctor into my campaign, it confirms that the Whoniverse (or a variant of it) is part of my multi-verse. This opens up a number of possibilities. So, how is my campaign world changed, now that it’s been touched by another world, that so directly involves the players?
The Doctor has seen technology far beyond the level of my world. What’s stopping him from building a combustion engine, or even a time machine? The short answer is time and resources. I can always make sure, using my DM World-controlling powers that the player never has enough time to do so, or just can’t get his hands on the material. This type of forced restriction can get old fast, if the player realizes effects are happening not for naturally occurring story reasons, but because I’m trying to stop him from doing something he wants to do.
So far, my player has not attempted to add technology to the world, besides snazzy clothing choices. His sonic screwdriver is just a rod, mechanically, and as far as anyone else is concerned, it is. We established at the beginning that the TARDIS was lost and possibly broken. Recovering his mystical blue box has been one of the driving motivations of the character.
In the end, I think that’s really what keeps the character from completely changing or overwhelming the world. The fact that I spoke to him and came to an understanding about what the character was about, and how we can work toward larger-than-life goals. You have to trust your players, and if you can collaborate on motivations, then no one will be disappointed later when expectations are entirely trounced upon.
I mentioned this character was in my campaign on twitter, which led to some interesting questions. One of the questions was basically, “How are the other players taking the change in situation? Do they feel overwhelmed or minor compared to this character?” I had not really considered this. I felt confident that the party (as a whole) was still the star of my campaign, but I didn’t know for sure how they felt. So I asked a couple of other players privately. They seemed quite flabbergasted by the notion as well. It was a resounding “No. The Doctor’s fun, but he’s just another character.” They did not feel reduced to Companion status.
With such a big character, how did this not happen? Well, for one, The Doctor was not created as a powerhouse of pain in combat. Our play sessions are about 50% combat, 50% role-play, planning and discussion. In addition, the players all treated this new character as just another ally. The character could claim to be a Timelord till the cows come home, but the truth of the matter is that they had stuff to do before he arrived, and weren’t about to ignore it because some crazy person in odd clothing showed up, even if he was useful at times.
The character also showed up around mid-paragon tier. At this point in the players’ career they’re not run-of-the-mill soldiers, scientists and citizens. They’re some of the most powerful and well-travelled people in the area, if not the material plane. A couple levels later and they’re all prepping for epic destinies. In comparison to demi-gods, archmages and primal avatars, The Doctor is cool, but it’s easy to get distracted by those around him.
What The Doctor’s presence in the game really adds is more options for players and the DM. I already mentioned that his presence provides real physical proof that other worlds can be accessed. So, players know that this is an option. They may seek out a Spelljammer or be more inclined to travel to Sigil. They might do this as a way to increase their powers, find new allies, buy new items, or even just to seek out trouble.
In the same vein, I can drop more fantastic plots and elements that would have been less believable before. Instead of taking the idea of the Fantastic Four and making a D&D version of them, I really could use the Fantastic Four. After all, the heroes are part of an active multiverse. I could even bring the heroes to the Marvel Universe.
The option of Time Travel is probably what The Doctor is most known for. Once the players have the TARDIS, what’s stopping them from going back in time and killing the Lich before he becomes a lich?
My answer, “Nothing but fear.” I’ve made it quite clear that they could really ruin the world by playing with Time Travel, but I’m prepared to make those consequences fun. Doctor Who is full of these examples. The Doctor himself was responsible for the destruction Pompeii, and knows well that sometimes sticking your nose in places has less than good results. To quote another universe slogan, “With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility.” I’ve made it clear to my players that if they go this route, they will have to make very careful choices. Epic Failure may be almost assuredly a result.
The final option in my lap is using The Doctor myself. Once a character enters play, I reserve the right to control them should they retire. Former PCs now occupy such awesome slots as upcoming villain, god of life, and lord of the 5th layer of hell. Once the Doctor enters that box and flies off alone, he’s mine. I already have plans…
This post is dedicated to Elisabeth Sladen.