Actual Play – The Witnesses (3/10/2018)

MC: Jeremy Tidwell
Players: April Walsh, Sean Nittner, Michael Roy, Krin Irvine, and Venn Wylde.
System: Companions

It’s been a while since I’ve played Companions and a lot has changed since then. The playbooks got an overhaul (see the pictures below) and The Witness was created. A new playbook with a Companion who only me the Doctor the day before she died, so they know nothing of the who-verse. A perfect playbook for someone who has seen one and a half episode of the show (i.e. the person with two thumbs writing this AP report).

Because we had multiple witnesses the game started with some confusion what just happened, who was with the Doctor when she died, and how long it had been since. However, once we got rolling, the relationships between the characters unfolded in really rewarding ways. In part this was because of emotional keys (more on that later) and in part it was because some of the inherent mistrust and messy relationship triangles we kicked off in the beginning.

Two relationships in particular stood out

Olympia and Ice –¬†Olympia was a combination of the mechanical parts of a Dalek but had the organic core of a new entity created (?) by the Doctor. Ice was a Time Agent that assumed Daleks were all hate-filled monsters bent on exterminating all other life forms. Exterminate!

Sophia and Ice – Sophia (my character) was inspired largely by Mrs. Maisel, a woman from New Jersey in the 1950s that was excited to be along for the ride on this wild time romp. She thought that a little spit shine, some ingenuity, and plenty of chutzpah would get her and her newfound friends through anything. She was both curious about and utterly unphased by the new worlds and people she encountered, mostly because she though the Doctor was still coming back and could make everything that went wrong, right again. Ice had been the agent that saved her and allowed her to believe this comfortable fiction.

And then Death happened

Both of these relationships changes substantially with both Olympia and Sophie died.

Olympia died tried to protect all.

Sophia died because she thought she was invincible.

They both came back because of the resurrection field.

The end result was Ice feeling tremendous guilt for doubting Olympia and finally accepting it as one of the Companions. The other result was Sophia realizing this was all for real and blaming Ice for not telling her what she was getting into! I changed my emotional keys from Curiosity and Trust to Curiosity and Anger, and the immediately took XP for that anger when I lashed out at Ice. And April took XP for Ice, for her Guilt key!

The making of a cast

While not all the relationships pivoted so strongly, this game definitely had the makings of a good pilot episode. The Witness was discovered (Venn’s Witness went full spooky/prodigy), Sophia started training as an Agent, and Olympia was accepted into the group.¬† Krin’s character Steele, as part of playing the Touchstone playbook, was focused very much on romantic relationships. Though something started sparking immediately between them and Sophia, the planet being filled with children and robots didn’t leave any opportunities for romance with NPCs though.

Playtest feedback

As a player that ins’t familiar with Dr. Who, the Witness was a great playbook, as it allowed me to play without the restraints of cannon (either needing to know about it, or trying to adhere to it). The conversations happening at the table however, still left me in the dust. This is a cost of playing inside an existing setting though, and I think it’s great to have some measure of on-ramp to it. Having multiple Witnesses in the game is a little trickier (who has that Sonic Screwdriver?) but we made it work.

We had some suggestions for making the romance moves a bit more queer in play. Specifically, not limiting the playbooks to having a single person they can be made with.

Emotional keys are super hot and the triggers for when the change are also fantastic. As drivers for how to play your character, I’ve been a fan of keys for a long time and I think they serve Companions really well.

Some playbooks are less well suited to certain scenarios because their moves center around fictional triggers that are unlikely to show up.

I’m still invested in the idea of an original setting about time travelers and feelings but I know that would require a vast amount of work and may not be the game Jeremy wants to make!