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Actual Play: BH-system Dr. Who

Well, Gen Con was utterly fantastic, despite feeling like I’ve been run over by a steamroller even a few days later. We got to meet nerd-famous people, hang out with friends, and to at least some extent, play games. One of those games was run by me, and was a game of Becoming Heroes inspired by Dr. Who. A few people expressed interest in hearing about it, so I figured I would write it up and post it here. Caveat: this post is long, despite only representing two hours of play.

A bit of context. Graham Walmsley was the inspiration behind running a game at all; left to my own devices, I would’ve stayed in the booth for another few hours. I’m much, much happier that we did get to run a game. Unfortunately, Graham couldn’t make it to that actual game, so I thought that I wouldn’t have an audience. Games on Demand is magic, though, and within a few minutes there was a full table of players eager to learn the game.

Right. On with the show.

Our cast comprised The Doctor, Amy Pond, Rory Williams, Martha Jones, and the Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. I was concerned no one would know the Brig because he’s from early Who and has not appeared in the new Who shows. But two had heard of him and one was enthusiastic about playing him. As mentioned several times in new Who, the Brig was stuck in Peru. In this game, he decided to call upon the Doctor for help. We started the game there. The Doctor received a message from the Brig’s interstellar teletype informing him of the situation and arrived to help him out. Separately, Martha Jones was on a rescue mission to find the Brig. (For obsessive fans like myself, this should date the session as sometime shortly after “The Poison Sky”.)

Landing in Peru, the Doctor picks up his companion and begins to warp away as Martha comes rushing through the underbrush and watches the vessel depart. They don’t make it far, though, as the TARDIS is forcibly seized and anchored back where it was in Peru. Obviously something is amiss and the Doctor is intensely curious. He has identified the capturing signal as alien, but surely that’s impossible. The Brig leads them back to his make-shift camp, where Martha and her UNIT attache are setting up. The Brig relays his tentative forays into a strange, nearby cave system, but Amy and Rory—okay, mostly Amy, dragging Rory behind her—end up wandering off through the forest on their own.

Cut to them finding an overgrown temple of unknown origin—something that looks like Machu Picchu but overgrown with forest vines. They ascend tentatively up the stone steps and discuss whether to head back to the Doctor. Shambling behind them are vine creatures, who creak and startle them into action. They’re driven inexorably up the steps (including a quite amusing bit where Rory hits one of these tree-monsters with, of all things, a branch) and find themselves surrounded on the lowest platform. One of them stumbles onto a switch, and the ground beneath them opens up, causing them to fall. The last echos of Amy’s scream for the Doctor rebound through the woods.

Back to exploring the cave. While most others view it as ordinary, the Doctor identifies it as alien but can’t seem to place which race. Hearing the cries of Amy and Rory, the team rushes through the forest (“Love the running!”) to the desolate temple. Fanning out, Martha heads into the complex, while the Brig and the Doctor figure out what happened. She finds etched in the stone a plaque in one of the back buildings proclaiming this to be a Magmathurian colony from thousands of years ago. (NB Magmathurians aren’t canon. But they’re still pretty Dr. Who. Imagine a race of magma creatures like Pyrovilles that are smaller and rockier.)

The others figure out that Amy and Rory didn’t fall far; when they fell, they were caught in a mesh of vines. Fumbling, the Doctor attempts to coax the floor to open up but before he can manage anything, the Brig sets some charges and blows a hole in the floor. This causes Amy and Rory to fall, though the vines slow them enough not to be injured. While Martha briefs the Doctor and the UNIT task force begins setting up a belay line, Amy and Rory start fumbling around. They walk down halls of perfectly smooth stone until they reach a bridge that crosses a staggeringly deep crevasse. The Doctor, Brigadier, and Martha catch up while Amy is having Rory take her picture with his phone. Then Amy has another misstep.

She activates a recessed switch, and the entire bridge begins to descend into the belly of the complex. It seems the bridge is also an emergency elevator. Frantically the Doctor attempts to rework the controls—trusty sonic screwdriver in hand—while both the Brig and Rory vault to the platform to help. The sides of the bridge snap away while Martha tries to establish a rope-line to those stranded. The bridge lurches, but the Doctor has it, halting the emergency platform’s descent. They re-wire it and with another flick of his wrist, the Doctor sets it to descend gently.

Reaching the bottom of the lift, we enter a hallway where there are giant crystals pulsing. In the eerie lighting, they walk on flawlessly etched stone floors. UNIT members start exploring some of the side passages, as do (shock) Amy and Rory. (At this point, I have to really give a lot of props to both of them for being such good sports and diving into the expectations set by the show with gusto.) A panel slides down, separating them from the group, while the first of the Magmathurians emerges from a wall in a side-passage to char the face off a hapless soldier. The Doctor and friends (minus Amy and Rory) negotiate with the somewhat slow-witted guard, but ultimately decide to surrender. The guard extrudes a crystal casing over their hands—Magmathurian handcuffs.

As they are escorted off, Amy and Rory are in the middle of a heated discussion about the dashing Brigadier and Rory’s ever-present insecurity.  They fumble along in the dark, while Rory attempts to determine where the two of them stand. Finally, they emerge at another bridge, overlooking what seems to be a cavern full of Magmathurian troops. Discussion set aside for the moment, Rory attempts to interpose himself and Amy ends up bumped into a hidden lift to the ground floor.

While they try to figure out how to resolve this situation, we cut back to the Doctor, Martha, and the Brigadier in the command center of the Magmathurian general. Speeches are exchanged, the Magmathurians intend to re-colonize the planet, the Doctor swears that this won’t happen. Somewhere during all this, the image of Amy evading capture by patrols comes up on the LCD so the Doctor has to keep them occupied just a moment longer.

Back to Amy and Rory! One lone soldier has noticed Amy. Rory leaps down from the bridge, sommersaulting over to her, only to have the Magmathurian’s giant crystal axe come down right between them. The two of them go to work, and Rory has been trained for eons in battle. He wrests the axe from the magma creature’s grip and dismembers the creature—a minor and temporary set-back for the trooper. They run, as we go back to…

The Brigadier, who always has a plan, uses his gun-cane to shatter the crystal holding Martha’s hands. Martha leaps into action, in concert with the Doctor, and rigs the station to blow. All flee in a mad dash for the exit, while the Magmathurian army is buffeted by a groundswell of lava erupting from the deep core of the complex. We finish on the crew, standing near the TARDIS, on a nearby hill overlooking the fires that gush forth.

Wrap-up: this all played out in two hours, and everyone seemed pretty satisfied with the way that things rolled out. I personally felt really good about running the game, even though I didn’t know anyone at the table. I had deep reservations about running Becoming Heroes as a convention-style game—there’s not a lot of room for arcs, and higher-rank threads get less play. On the other hand, the open design of the system allows for dynamic and engaging stories. (NB I am biased.) I had little prepared as we went into the scenario—I had pre-generated the characters and knew the initial situation, but that was it. If you were in that game, I’d love to hear your comments and what you thought!

ETA:Here are the character sheets from the game, as best we could reconstruct them.

5 responses to “Actual Play: BH-system Dr. Who”

  1. Rescue Heroes…

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  2. […] over original post &#1072t th&#1110&#1109 calculate: Actual Play: BH-system Dr. Who | Transneptune Games (function(){var […]

  3. I had a blast! I agree with Troll (who played the Brig) that using familiar Doctor Who characters was an excellent way to demo your system in a very short period of time. We can easily see how each character is a different type of hero.

    I’m now reading Becoming Heroes and I’m liking it. I know you guys were a bit iffy on what kind of hero Martha is and unsure of fan familiarity with the Brig. That got me thinking that you could do a multiple-doctors game where someone gets to play an earlier Doctor alongside the current Doctor and companions. Some of the Doctors are very different from each other and I could see Pertwee’s Doc (3rd) and Sarah Jane being two different archetypes from the other three. Or if you want to go more recent, Eccelston’s Doc (9th) and Rose or even Mickey could make a good contrast.

    But it’s great the way it is too!

    1. Definitely considered making a multiple Doctors run, akin to The Five Doctors, but one of the points I wanted to highlight was how the Doctor really did need the companions. In BH, the Doctor doesn’t have more traits, he has very different traits. There’s a lot of play in the system to model stuff we know and love, though, and I’m looking forward to hearing about what people do with it!

  4. […] Here’s the actual play report for the game of Becoming Heroes I was in at Gen Con 2011 […]