Last Monday we played the second episode of Scions of Time, “Way Out West.” Victor’s TARDIS landed in the wild west in 1876. After being “rescued” by a posse chasing a band of Apaches, the group was escorted into town, met a new cast member, a riverboat gambler on the run named Lionel Stroller, dealt with a alien spaceship buried in the nearby mountain and accidentally left Ed the starship deckmate behind, as Victor the Time Lord counted four heads when they arrived and four when they departed.
I didn’t go into this session with a good feeling. Most of my preparation time went into idly noodling around the same ideas: the wild west, an alien spaceship trying to repair itself and the different ways it tries to co-opt the local inhabitants, either by turning them into laborers or substitute crew members. That wound up being muddled and probably not at all apparent to the players.
In fact, most of the time went to trying to get Lionel connected with the rest of the group. Lionel’s player hadn’t been able to make the first game, so we tried to work his appearance into the narrative. In retrospect, it might have been easier to write Lionel in as having been part of the original batch of abductees on board the Tzun ship who had previously blended into the background. It would also have given his player, Dan, an equally wide range of possibilities in creating the character, but Dan got on board with a character from that time period quite readily.
There at least two different forces at play here. First, the characters haven’t any bonds among each other at the moment. They all hail from different places and times. Having been thrown together, their common goal is to go home. Victor is currently their only means of doing so. This leads to situations where Adam the starfighter pilot quite rightly focuses on badgering Victor into taking them home. There’s little reason that a sensible person wouldn’t insist on pushing the “go” button as many times as it takes for the TARDIS to land somewhere slightly relevant.
In the early days of Doctor Who, the writers used multiple techniques to handle that concern. First, the Doctor’s TARDIS couldn’t steer then for squat, making it nigh-impossible for the Doctor to return them home. But that’s not enough to stop a determined person from strong-arming their pilot into trying again and again. So at that time, the Doctor was insatiably curious and often a selfish heel. He was often a provoker of action and conflict, which were then left to the other characters to resolve as best they could. In The Daleks, he went so far as to sabotage the TARDIS to justify exploring the planet.
So one thing this group needs is motivation to leave the TARDIS. This should be character-driven, rather than relying on problems like life support failing to propel them into the crosshairs.
The other force at play is . . . I’m not sure. It’s been long enough since I started that sentence up above that I can’t remember what I was thinking.
I will say that I honestly had a period of time during this session where I mentally sighed and resigned myself to a band of sociopaths running amok through time and space, about when Airfor gunned down poker players in a hail of flechettes. Things looked up, though, when Airfor’s player remarked out of character that he saw her as needing someone to provide moral guidance. I felt silly after that for doubting there was a motive behind the decision. Jon’s got a character arc in mind for Airfor, so I can leave that to him to explore.
Next session, I want to open things up. It’s time to leap off the mudball. And lay out some background details.