One of the concepts that has taken root in the “Doctor Who” universe is that of “fixed points in time” — a clever way to say that some events can’t be changed because they are crucial to the fabric of the universe … yada, yada, yada.
It’s a storytelling technique that explains why even River Song can’t kill Hitler to spare us the horrors of World War II or Mount Vesuvius will destroy Pompeii no matter what (or because of any) actions the Doctor takes.

Now, Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space The Roleplaying Game (at least the 2009 version by Cubicle 7 that I have) doesn’t directly address Fixed Points by name. But in concept, it explains that even if time travelers succeed in messing with the timeline at crucial points, it’s likely another time traveler or powerful entity (at some point) went back and restored it (or prevented you from changing it in the first place) — which explains why things can’t be changed.

And while this is explained to the audience as high Time Lord stuff that’s not to be meddled with, the fact is it’s a nifty constraint imposed on the writers of the show to keep the episodes focused on character-driven stories, which is the heart of the series anyway.

Now, what holds true for showrunners such as Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat, is good advice for GMs — whether you’re running a time traveling adventure that involves the TARDIS or some other cast of characters.

The fun of playing a tabletop rpg with all that timey-whimey stuff anyway is meeting historical figures from the past, battling monsters or robots from the future, using your wits more than blaster weapons, and rallying back after certain defeat (and a whole lot of running at points in between).

After all, killing Hitler isn’t the point (and in “Doctor Who,” not killing anything is really the point). But if you can stop aliens from giving advanced tech to Hitler’s war machine, that’s good. And if you stop those bug-eyed monsters from attacking or killing a great mind from earth’s past — say an Einstein or Ben Franklin — then that’s a fair day’s work. Companions are judged on how well they adapt to a given situation and find a solution that rewards those in trouble. (And if you stop clanking garbage cans that shout “Ex-ter-min-ate!” repeatedly, then alls the better).

Keep the action moving. Find opportunities for mischief-minded characters to romp around all “Scooby Who,” and lastly, present them with an “Ah-ha!” Solution to their crisis.

So, as a GM, the advice is to steer clear of Fixed Points, and instead, offer adventures that help the characters themselves develop as good, faithful, rebellious/resentful little companions, saving the universe one Sonic Screwdriver at a time. After all, once the TARDIS lands and the doors swing open, the only person who knows for certain what’s outside is you, the GM. And that is an opportunity that is not to be missed.

About  Troy E. Taylor

Troy's happiest when up to his elbows in plaster molds and craft paint, creating terrain and detailing minis for his home game. A career journalist and Werecabbages freelancer, he also claims mastery of his kettle grill, from which he serves up pizza to his wife and three children.

One Response to Troy’s Crock Pot: Adventures in Fixed Points in Time and Space

  1. Daleks don’t clank FFS! They hum, sometimes. If you are writing about Dr Who at least get the sound effects right!

    (Yes, I was grinning big when I wrote that. I haven’t watched Dr Who rabidly since Eccleston rebooted the role for us so brilliantly.)

    Fied Points in Time: I rather like an alternate approach that has been used in Dr Who, though not often – that if you change Something Important you pinch off a new reality that you are now stuck in, one where the Germans invade Poland with the help of Cyberman auxiliaries or Daleks take over the world in 2100 AD. This is a neat plot device because then you get another story out of fixing things so they go back the way they are “meant” to be.

    Of course, this was the premise for another show – Quantum Leap – and when overused it turns out to be a tad weak.

    After all, events are only “wrong” from the point of view of those who have already seen them or their long-term consequences. In terms of the RPG under discussion in the article, this would be The Doctor. Everyone else born after a given time couldn’t care less.

    I don’t like “Big Moments” because it implies a determinism that ultimately breaks everything. I rather prefer the uncertainty of the H.P. Lovecraft “uncaring stochastic machine” model from an aesthetic point of view because quite literally nothing is sacred (with the possible exception of a few blasphemous things that should not be, and they are only sacred to insane cultists).

    No, I don’t know how something can be blasphemous if nothing is sacred. I’m working with canonical adjectives from Ye Bumpere Grymoire Of Wordes (John Dee, bound ms, 1666) here.

    And while not killing anything is often the point of the current Dr Who, we don’t count Daleks. Or Cybermen. Or Sontarans. Or, if you ride your TARDIS back to the William Hartnell days, pretty much anything and anyone if they got in the way and were “evil”. Violence was often a first resort in them days. And in the mid 60s too. Tsk! 8o/

    One thing I found out fairly late in my GMing life is that if you really want to throw the players for a loop, give them an enemy who “works” the way a PC would: Weaponize everything. Loot the bodies. And occasional capricious behaviour at odds with the Big Picture. The key word is “occasional” on that last one. Or, to put it another way, make the NPC bad guy exactly like a budget BBC Villain from the First five Dr Who series, Blake’s Seven etc.

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