Dr Who – Roleplaying established characters

On Sunday I participated in a playtest for the right honourable Morgue. I won’t go into details of the adventure, since it’s for publication, but I did want to talk about the unbridled horror and relentless ecstasy of playing an established character in a roleplaying game.

Pearce was the Tenth Doctor, Steve was Martha and I portrayed Captain Jack Harkness, because aside from Donna he’s my favourite companion (pre-Eleven) and I didn’t honestly think I could do Donna justice.

I just didn’t have the first idea of how to portray Donna. Jack’s easy though, right? Hit on anything that moves and be dashing. I was very excited about playing Jack and I didn’t think anything more than that until Morgue handed me the fancy, full colour character sheet with all of Jack’s stats and special abilities on it and I went…”Oh. How do I…how do I make the others think that I’m Jack?” and then I got concerned.

I think the reason established characters can be so difficult to play is because everyone knows what they’re like, how they’d act and you don’t want to disappoint anyone with a poor choice. I think this is something we all struggled with in game, but I’m going to go ahead and say that we overcame it because we had a whole lot of awesome moments which felt like pure New!Who over the course of the session.

My first act as Capt Jack was to hit on a plot-point delivering male, following him out of a party and charming him into an alleyway. Martha had also taken off after someone, which meant as a team we’d immediately split up. Again, rather Whovian. It helped when Steve turned to me and said “You were born to play Jack,” that gave me confidence, so I was sure to give praise over the course of the game as well, out of character. There was a distinct temptation that both me and Steve felt to turn to The Doctor for solutions, which wasn’t terribly fair on Pearce, since you then get extra pressure of having to be the one who solves things as well as portraying The Doctor. Despite this he did manage a lot of Ten-ish witticisms.

NPC: They have different views on what is possible in this world.
Doctor: That’s going to be a problem.

I was rather fond of this moment I had:
Inquisition Guards at the door: You cannot enter. Unless you have knowledge of the ungodly acts taking place within?
Jack: Me? No. I was just…late to turn up.
Guard (threatening): Late to turn up? Maybe you should go in and talk to the Grand Inquisitor.
Jack: Uh. Yeah, sure. Why not?

Once we were into the swing of the story I felt I relaxed some. I had moments where I faltered, unsure on the most “Jack-ish” course of action, but the other players and Morgue were happy to suggest stuff. We managed to play through the adventure, test the rules and not break Morgue completely, so overall a success.

Martha (talking about an NPC but looking at Jack): This just goes to show. Never trust the sexy charming guy.
Jack: I let you shoot me!

All in all I had a brilliant time in the end, just letting go of fear and getting a feel for the character by playing him. I spent the rest of the day wanting to play Jack again…So I guess what I’m saying is that if anyone ever needs a Captain Jack for a roleplaying game, call me!

Steve, Pearce, Morgue, thoughts? I’ve only played an established character two times before (that I can remember), Edward from Cowboy Bebop and Jin from Samurai Champloo. That was amazing fun, but maybe a bit easier translating an anime character to play?

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5 thoughts on “Dr Who – Roleplaying established characters

  1. “I think the reason established characters can be so difficult to play is because everyone knows what they’re like, how they’d act and you don’t want to disappoint anyone with a poor choice.”

    Ding! Spot on. That’s a surefire reason I generally avoid games where you play established characters. The exceptions are 1) where it’s for comedy value (e.g. the Matt Damon game) and 2) Where the character has a few very obvious qualities which you can default to when in doubt.

    So your example of hitting on anything that moves for Capt Jack. For me when I was playing Jayne in Firefly, it was about trying to solve everything with violence or making inappropriate sexual references (like eying up an Alliance officer).

  2. I guess what I’m trying to say with this post is that we shouldn’t let the fear get in the way of trying it out. I know what you mean, Jon, but I don’t think I’ll shy away from playing established characters in the future.

    And thank you very much Karen ;p

  3. I feel like characters have a ‘core’ to them that (once I’ve figured it out) makes it easy for me to write for them, enjoy what they do, and roleplay as them.

    For instance, once I figured out (well after the writers did) that in Community, Britta is firmly convinced that her political correctness is absolutely the right way to live, but that she also wants to have friends who accept her (and she can’t understand why her PC-ness causes them to tease her), she became much funnier to me.

    To me, Martha has a core of ‘She’s incredibly responsible, to the point of tragedy’. Her unrequited love for the Doctor is important but secondary.

    She’s one of the only companions I’ve figured out that core for, so she was the natural choice for me to play. And I found that having a character who needs to take responsibility for everything is a great way to get involved in the story and create moral dilemmas. (I was also surprised at how naturally it made her the ‘bad guy’ who broke up all the fun conversations in order to advance our plans.)

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