Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sliders Is Better Than Doctor Who

I find myself browsing and viewing a lot of the movies and shows on Netflix lately.  I only have the streaming service so I do not know exactly what I am missing out with the mail delivery service but I do know that I am missing at least "some" stuff".  Regardless, one of the things I have really enjoyed is the opportunity to watch all sorts of TV shows including older shows and much more recent shows.  Some of the TV shows that I have at least watched a few minutes to gauge my interest include Dark Shadows (60s original), Burn Notice (seasons 1-4), Night Gallery, Masters of Horror, and many more.  The TV series that I am currently viewing is Sliders.  I saw many of the episodes as they originally aired but there has been enough time lapsed since then that it's all pretty much new to me.  The bad news is that the streaming version is only a partial list of episodes for season one and season two is completely absent; all said there are 72 streaming episodes available for viewing.   

I made it through the shortened season 1 and I am currently two episodes into season 3.  As I am watching this episode a thought crossed my mind - Sliders is better than Doctor Who as the basis of an RPG campaign.  I can hear the Doctor Who fans screaming in anguish right now at the blasphemy of that thought.  Make no mistake, Doctor Who is an awesome series and my favorite show of all time.  On the other hand, when it comes to a role-playing setting Sliders has it beat for several reasons.  Please, put the torches away and hear me out before this blog and I face your wrath.

Player Characters
One of the goals of a role-playing campaign based off of a TV show would be the ability to emulate the setup of the main protagonists from that series.  I believe Doctor Who presents a problem with that because the Time Lord character (Doctor Who or otherwise) will typically outshine all other characters.  The humans will be overshadowed by either one of the other players or by an NPC; unless, of course, all players are a Time Lord.  That changes the entire setup from the TV show.  In contrast, Sliders has four human characters in the party.  Sure, some are smarter, more athletic, look better, etc. but they are all human.  My point is that one character may get the spotlight in certain situations but will not maintain the spotlight in the same fashion as The Doctor would.

The Setting
At first glance it would seem that Doctor Who has the advantage when it comes to the setting.  I mean, the entirety of time and space would be your playground in a Doctor Who game.  That would also be one big hassle for the GM.  Every time the TARDIS landed somewhere else then a new planet, space station, alien race, alien animals, etc. would have to be detailed.  Again, Sliders has the advantage when it comes to role-playing.  The setting is Earth - actually parallel Earths - so the setting is basically constant all of the time.  Of course, there are details different on each Earth so only a little work has to be done to get a "new setting" for the next slide.

Adventure Ideas & Canon
Doctor Who has many years of show history - 30+ years of the original and nearing 10 on the new series - that serve to give many details for the players to absorb and use.  There have been numerous visits to Gallifrey, Skaro, etc. and the players need to be aware of much of that information if they want to remain canonically relevant without invalidating of that history.  Stepping on canon will bother some (many?) players and there is a lot of canon to Doctor Who. Sliders was on for less than 10 seasons; a decent run but not enough to develop so much canon to hinder adventure ideas for gaming.  In fact, many of the episodes end or start with the Sliders about to leave a world for the next one.  The viewer only gets to see a few moments of that world before the slide so there is an opportunity for adventure ideas right there.  Another source of adventure ideas is real world history - what if the Nazis won World War II, or what if the U.S. moon mission was a disaster and the space program shut down, or what if the cold war between the U.S. and Russia was still going on?  There are numerous ideas that can be generated by flipping through an encyclopedia, almanac, or even cruising Wikipedia.

Those are just 3 of the reasons why Sliders is better than Doctor Who for a role-playing campaign.  I would list more but I can hear the crowd approaching.  I see the flames of their torches through my window shades.  Maybe I can slide out of here before they make it through the door?


  1. Sliders is one of the few things that GURPS would be useful for - depending on how much far and back in time you want to go.

    A Sliders RPG, just like the show, will suffer from the problem of it being concerned with one 'hook.' The players are always trying to get home, but never can or the game is over. I suppose you could build off of the Cromags Sliders developed in later seasons. It is about stopping them. Still, it is just all focused on one thing. Meanwhile, in the RPG I like, it tends to be more freedom to pursue what you want. If that could be overcome, then it could make for an interesting long term rpg game.

    Your problems with Doctor Who are correct. I don't think the current game has done well. I also have problems with military-type rpgs. If people have rank, then the person with the highest rank always gets his way. If not, then you disobey orders and that causes lots of problems. In the same way, the Doctor would always have to get his way. If not, then he is inferior to the other characters.

    One thing that could be done for Doctor Who, is to forget all of the new stuff. Have every character be a Time Lord. That would make things a bit more equal.

    One thing that you could do is Primeval. It has these portholes to Earths past and future open temporarily. Dinosaurs and things come through. However, people take technology from the future as well as make changes in the past that affect the current world. Just giving you a third time-travelish option.

  2. Now that you mention it, Sliders and Doctor Who would go together pretty smoothly I think.

    You do bring up a problem with a Sliders RPG that I had not thought of. I think the best approach might be to tie in sliding to an existing campaign. Have the characters slide for a while and then get home and continue on with their "normal" lives and adventures. I think a campaign inspired by and using ideas from Sliders might be easier to maintain that way. Get away from Quinn Mallory and the gang. Have the PCs accidentally become the one sliding.

    Your issues with rank/Doctor Who are also correct. I think that's why a military RPG is much harder to do also - someone HAS to be "in charge". You can not have PCs running around willy nilly doing whatever the players want in a military campaign either.

    An all Time Lord campaign could be interesting...

    Primeval? That does ring a bell. I need to check it out. I enjoy time travel/dimensional travel/parallel earth type shows and it would fit into this discussion as well.

  3. I had thought of a game but never made it happen called MDC or Multi Dimensional Capers.

    It would take place at Sci-Fi cons on earth and all over the universe and various dimensions with people and creatures from all over time and space.

    There were going to be various factions as well but never got it off the ground.

  4. Hmmm....MDC sounds like an interesting concept!

  5. While there is an imbalance in terms of direct power between a Time Lord and a companion, various RPGs have taken a number of approaches to addressing that sort of imbalance. The solution that the current Doctor Who RPG seems to use is the same one used in the Buffy RPG (I mean, why not? It's the same system under the hood): Give the Doctor more ability, but give the companions more Story Points.

    1. I have heard of this technique but I have no games in my collection that do that. Are Story Points similar to karma in the old Marvel game? Or maybe something like luck or fate points - a pool of points that your character can spend to add to alter the outcome of rolls?

  6. In fact, in a lot of games that use genres where that sort of power imbalance is common, the general solution is to let the major character have his big gun, but give all of the other characters more ammo to compensate.

    (Dresden Files, Adventure!, Buffy are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.)

  7. That makes a lot of sense to me. It sounds like it could probably work pretty decently also. I have not checked out any of those games but I just might have to.

    1. Buffy does it most explicitly, designating certain characters Heroes (more powerful) and others White Hats (less powerful, but more Drama Points). Adventure! does it a little more sneakily, offering players the opportunity to invest their build points into knacks (powers/stunts/what have you) or in Inspiration (a power stat, this being a White Wolf game) which is the source of drama points and other narrative manipulations.

      Dresden Files offers an interesting take on this by tying it to the Fate Point economy. Harry's magic is paid for by reducing the amount of Fate Points he gets at the start of the session. So he has to go through the adventure with an eye towards earning more Fate Points (accepting compels of his Aspects, not spending them on rolls) before unleashing both magical and narrative power on the Big Bad at the end.

    2. Sounds like an interesting idea and I like the way all 3 of those games handle it. I really like the different take that Dresden Files uses for this purpose.

      BTW, your Project BTR blog freakin' ROCKS!