Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Borrowing Role-Playing Ideas: Dark Sun and Doctor Who

Warning: This post discusses the Doctor Who two-part story, The End of Time.  For those who have not seen it but "will get to it soon," you may want to avoid reading this post.  You have been warned.

People sometimes ask me where I get the ideas for character and campaigns that I play.  Like most people, I tend to borrow them from existing fiction, whether it be a television show, a video game, a book, or some other piece of fiction. I thought this would be a good time for me to talk about one experience I had borrowing heavily from some other fiction in creating a D&D campaign arc.

When the Dark Sun Campaign Setting was first released for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, a number of my friends were interested in playing a game in that setting.  I agreed to DM it as it seemed a worthwhile thing to attempt.  I always saw Dark Sun as a sort of post-apocalyptic D&D setting where magic, instead of "the bomb," shattered the world.  It also had the weird historical quirk that there were no gods, and thus, no divine power.  In 4E, this came from the backstory that the old war between the Primordials and the Gods had gone differently than most settings.  The Gods lost.  Psionic power was the primary power source for this world until a strange new energy, arcane power, appeared.  Potentially powerful yet corrupting, arcane power is what lead to the eventual change of Athas into the desert world we know.

If the sun is so dark, why is it so primoridal-damned hot?
For some reason, the old "Gods and Primordials" battle, which lead to the eventual death of the Gods, sounded familiar.  As a D&D player, you know that the gods can be difficult but they are generally a good thing within the fantasy framework.  I started to consider what it would mean, in the context of the Dark Sun setting, if I turned that expectation upside down.  I began to look at it sort of like the Doctor Who two-part story, The End of Time.  Here, the conceit was similar.  The Time Lords, a people who we know to be a fair, just, and worthwhile race of people, were destroyed in a terrible war with a force we already know to be evil, the Daleks.

The Lord-Presdient of Gallifrey. He has the Evil gene.
Of course, the big reveal in The End of Time was that, at the time that the Doctor destroyed everything and ended the "Time War," the Time Lords of Gallifrey had become just as corrupt, just as evil, just as terrible, as their mortal enemy.  As Wilf gets excited about the return of this wonderful race of people, the Doctor tells him the grim truth.  The Time Lords are as bad, if not worse, than the Daleks.  This seemed like a terribly good conceit for a D&D Dark Sun campaign.  This story was not intended for the characters, per se, as the characters would not know what gods were.  It was more for the players.

The course of the campaign would have characters following series of mysterious artifacts, all leading back to Kalak, the fallen Sorcerer-King of Tyr.  In investigating these artifacts, the characters would begin to find strange relics from long ago: references to the old gods-war, still preserved in the darkest corners of Athas.  Rventually, they would find a living creature, a Herald of the Gods, left behind to ensure the eventual return of the Gods.  While combatting Kalak's minions and the other Sorcerer-Kings, all hoping to use the power of the artifacts for themselves, the party would piece together an age-old mystery leading to the return of the Gods to Athas.

The Death of Kalak
I actually borrowed even more heavily in my story outline.  I wanted Kalak to be something more than just a guy that got killed.  I wanted him to be the focal point.  It wasn't that a few mortals could topple a Sorcerer-King; it's that the other Sorcerer-Kings wanted him dead.  Perhaps Kalak found something beneath the desert sands, a source of divine power, that convinced the other Sorcerer-Kings to work together to stop him (for what may be the second time in recorded history).  As I saw it, Kalak started to occupy the place of the Master in The End of Time.  He would be the one that would bring about the final steps of the Gods' return, all the while not realizing that he would be potentially dooming Athas in the process.

I presumed that Kalak thought he had discovered a way to ascend to godhood that was more effective, more powerful, and all around more convenient than the means utilized by the Sorcerer-Kings.  Kalak had no intention of becoming another Dragon of Athas.  He would use this ancient technology to become the very power, force, and essence of Athas.  I figured that, from his perspective, Kalak would have rebuilt some sort of vast mechanism for ascending to godhood, only to realize it was a great focusing lens for pulling the Gods out of their war with the Primordials and into the living world (or, for the Doctor Who fans, the "waking world").

Gallifrey Rises!
When Lord-President Rassilon appears on Earth, his plan seems abundantly clear.  He, along with the rest of the Time Lords, intend to tear reality asunder and ascend as beings of pure consciousness.  I figured that the return of the Gods need not be that dramatic.  Merely destroying Athas and building a world anew would be sufficient.  Either way, that was the eventual plot-line.  The characters would now have an epic conclusion to a Dark Sun campaign, having to destroy the Gods themselves and realizing that their very actions set the whole world of Dark Sun in motion.

Of course, like any good D&D game, we never made it past 4th level.  As it ends up, the party was about to meet the Herald in the upcoming adventure, but we never made it, which is too bad.  I was not proficient enough as a Dungeon Master to keep up with the needs of the group.  But, either way, it presents a situation where I, as a Dungeon Master, unabashedly ripped a story arc from popular media and made it into something I could use for a D&D game.  Even something as ridiculous and whimsical as Doctor Who can provide inspiration for any time of D&D game you may want to play.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, I should mention that the same Dark Sun campaign already had *another* Doctor Who reference embedded into it. Gnomes as Daleks in the form of Cybermen. For reals.