Dungeons and Doctor Who

 Posted by on April 27, 2011  Filed as: Better Gameplay?  Add comments  Topic(s):
Apr 272011

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.

Spotlight Stealing

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.

New Options

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.

Brian Liberge

Brian Liberge is a father of one, living in Boston, MA. Introduced to AD&D at an early age, he’s continued to update with the editions, and new games. He loves home-brewed ideas, is honest to a fault, and thinks that ideas and mechanics should absolutely be shared between systems. With a B.S. Degree in Theatre Arts, a job in Information Technology, and a love of strategy gaming, he tries to bring the best of each into his new creations for StufferShack. Check out his latest book the Midgard Bestiary for 4e, available now. Profile Page / Article Portfolio

  8 Responses to “Dungeons and Doctor Who”

  1. Doctor Who has been on my list of things to watch for over a year now. I have never seen an episode, watched a trailer/preview, or seen an advertisement for it. However, the amount of love it gets from gaming websites has won me over!

    In one of the four gaming groups I’ve been in, one of them regularly used characters from other media (specific characters). In our home games, I’ve seen Batman, Spiderman, Psylocke, Dare Devil, The Scorpion, Doctor Badvibes, and others. Wait a minute, those are all super characters… What the hell???

  2. In exactly three weeks we’ll be starting a new campaign, and i wanted to play Red Sonja. My DM basically said no, then after I made my case, he said ok, but I have have to change her name. wow, not really the same thing. He said playing an already established character from comics/movies/tv was frowned upon in the gaming community.

    I have to thank you for writing this, as I now have stronger legs to stand on when I ask him again if I can play Red Sonja. Maybe I’ll even direct him to read your article!

    I’ve been reading Stuffer Shack almost since you guys went online. You guys are awesome! what a great bunch of writers (I’m sorry, Crew Members!). Brian, you are a great addition!

  3. Thanks Laney!

    Just be careful how you present things. Before this character all of my established characters were renamed (though only slightly) and presented as this worlds version of those characters. Since your opposed to that there has to be a reason why THE Red Sonja is in this world. The Doctor is easy to explain. He has the TARDIS! Red Sonja has no such built in mobility.

    Red Sonja, as we know her, does have the advantage of originating in the Marvel Universe, which is really a multiverse, which has a history of crossing the dimensional barrier.

    Just a thought. If your DM doesn’t think she belongs there, maybe thats your motivation. She doesn’t belong there, having fallen from her world into this one. Angry at the gods of mischief she seeks a way back home.

    On another related note, the same player has another character (each of my players has 2 right now) who worships Crom. I didn’t want to add a new major god to my pantheon but I knew I didn’t have someone who really acted like Crom, so I made him an exarch of another god, and decided in some parts of the world the people aren’t aware of the parent gods existence.

    Now I have an excuse to listen to the Crom! song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBGOQ7SsJrw

    Good luck!

  4. I know that the Doctor made a couple of appearances in the Marvel trilogy of novels “The Chaos Engine”.

    Plus Dr. Who is part of the Tommy Westphall Universe… so ultimately it is all just taking place in some autistic kid’s imagination.

  5. I’ve long wanted to incorporate some Doctor Who villains into D&D campaigns. Villains like The Silents, the Vashta Nerada, and the Weeping Angels would make great villains for high level players.

  6. I’ve always had a mental issue with te Westphall Universe, probably because in order to make some of those charts so big, they have to have a very loose definition of what connects some shows. Still, if you wanted the X-Files crew and the cast of I Dream of Genie to be in the same place I suppose you have some justification. . .

    @John, My Players are nearing Epic levels now. Keep your eyes out for an article detailing adding Cybermen to your campaign and hopefully more later. I don’t know if I could successfully implement the Weeping Angels though. . .they scare the bejeebuz out of me.

  7. i have been submitting things to this

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