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!



Actual Play – Companions (4/21/2012)

MC: David Gallo
Players: Meghann Ahern, Will Huggins, Sean Nittner, and Jeff Pedersen
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Companions

This is Jeremy Tidwell’s Dr. Who hack of Apocalypse World. The premise is that all the characters are companions of the Doctor that have parted ways with him (for one reason or another) and now the Doctor is gone and what are left are his companions, all feeling a little bit empty inside without him.

I know about as little as a nerd can know about Dr. Who. I’ve seen 1.5 episodes, and have heard people talk about the shoe. I know who Rose is, who the first doctor after the reboot is, and a little of the technology (Sonic screw drivers, the TARDIS, etc). I was interested to see how well I’d do playing with people who were big Who fans.

The cast

Adair – The androgynous Whiz picked up by the doctor. On a planet of technical experts Adiar was considered the working class and was never given much regard. The Doctor treated Adair with respect and gain the Whiz’s admiration. A combination of fear of the outside world and total fascination with the TARDIS kept Adair inside ALL the time. The Whiz never left. Ever. One day the Doctor left and the TARDIS took off without him. Adair, like always was on board, and now rode the TARDIS alone. Waiting to find the Doctor again.

Drake – The Agent who could seduce anything that reproduced. He was a time traveler who eventually parted ways with the Doctor, trying to find his own future and not be under the Doctor’s shadow. Drake dressed in a WWII flight suite and we opened up the game with him on the wedding alter (still in the flight suit), about to say “I do” when the TARDIS arrived and he bolted out of the chapel to find it!

Sarah – A physical therapist and workout instructor from the 1980s complete with spandex and leg warmers. She nursed the Doctor back to health when he was injured once and tried to protect him from the enemies that were still after him. She got caught up in his world and became a companion. Three years ago (by her time) Sarah was left behind by the Doctor, who thought she died in an earthquake. She had been struggling to survive since them, amongst a note quite hostile, but definitely not friendly race of bipedal insects (imagine Thri-kreenbut with four legs and haunches like centaurs). She had become tough and a little bit crazy due to the experience (like a crossover of Fred from Angel and Sarah Conner from Terminator 2).

Mentat – A robot created by the Doctor, and like Adair, respected by the Doctor for his sentience, rather than being disregarded as a tool. Mentat parted ways with the Doctor after Sarah was left behind. He had to go save her, but ended up trapped on the planet as well. Mentat identified as male (and dressed as such) but that was mostly to fit in. His garb was a mish mash of many time periods where he had picked up this and that.


This part of the game was a little muddled. David asked us something about our history, specifically how we parted ways with the Doctor. First off this was kind of hard to think of. I mean, why would the Doctor leave you, or why would you leave him? We had some suggestions but most of those came from the show, and players, being what players are, were inclined to think of their own ideas, or at least fresh takes on existing ones. Will made a character that was very much like Captain Jack Harkness (yes, I have now watched two episodes of Torchwood, however that was since playing the game, so I didn’t know who Jack was then), and I think he really wanted to separate him from Jack, and not have the same concept.

We started coming up with reasons for separation, and who knew who, and what the timeline of when we were with the doctor when I mentioned to Jeff, that I had already filled out my bonds and according them he had betrayed me (Mentat betrayed Sarah) but we were now best friends. This helped us start forming relationships and a chronology but still it was a little bit sticky.

The result we had was:

The Doctor traveled with Drake first, and while traveling with Drake, picked up Sarah. He then created Mentat. Then Drake left to find his own way, Sarah was lost, Mentat left to find her, and finally Adair was inadvertently take from the Doctor by the TARDIS. I don’t know when in there Adair joined up, presumably before Drake left though, as we all had bonds with each other.

Bonds were also somewhat problematic because the fiction indicates (from what I understand) that the Doctor very rarely travels with more than one companion. Yet, based on the bonds we all knew each other. And I think knowing each other is VERY, VERY important. So, I almost think the canon format needs to be suspended a little bit to make this game work, as doing “oh, you worked with the Doctor too?” introductions will get really old, really fast.


I don’t remember everyone elses but this is what I had:

  • Drake had rescued my family once and I was grateful to him.
  • Drake was also my confidante that I told everything too.
  • Mentat had stabbed me in the back, telling the Doctor there was no life signs after the earthquate even when he knew I was there.
  • Mentat was also my best friend though. He had come back for me and we spent the last three years living together on this unfriendly planet.
  • OMG, I was so in love with Adair. His technowizardy was thrilling and he was always there in the TARDIS, an enigma. This played off really well as Mentat had absorbed an image of Adair and so could reproduce his voice and physical mannerisms… which Sarah asked him to do sometimes to feel connected.

Overall, I’m not a big fan of bonds. I like the narrative element in that it is more than just I have +2 with you but -1 with you, etc. I don’t like the fixed nature of them though, and how they can actually make establishing backstory harder if everyone is trying to fill out all their bond slots and come up with bonds that break each other’s brains.

The play is the thing:

The TARDIS works for a very nice plot device. It quickly picked up Drake (Adair was already on it) and dropped both of them on the planet where Mentat and Sarah had been living.

We had a very dangerous reunion (as the surface of the planet was filled with APOCALYPTIC GASES , my invention) and a person could only survive two minutes on the surface without risking permanent brain damage. Sarah, at the start of the game has already been exposed for 1:53 so she only had 7 seconds she could survive, and didn’t quite make it. She ended up trapped under a collapsed tunnel and although Adair tried to give her CPR, they fell into a kiss instead and were both exposed to the atmosphere.
Cybermen appeared, they fought with the Click-Clacks (the natives) and we all ran away into the tunnels. Yay!

The very cool twist on all of this was that we had invented this problem planet where Adair had (in trying to help) activated their seismic weapons and destroyed the worlds atmosphere. The story had us all coming back to right that wrong, but not in the way you expected. There were powerful crystals that controlled those weapons and preserved the Click-Clack larva, as well as the queen herself.

We decided the only way to fend off the Cybermen was to destroy what they sought, the life preserving crystals. Doing so though, meant killing the queen (as she would die without the crystals).

In the last minute I got my 5th XP and took the “Ring of Truth” vortex move. I tried it on the queen, rolled total crap, and she decided WE were her enemies. She sent her men to attack us and we ended the episode with Sarah, Mentat and Drake back to back to fight off the Click-Clacks, while Adair bravely snuck past them to activated the weapons anyway.


David was using the “Emotional Keys” to handle experience. I’m a big fan of keys in TSoY, and in other games that use them (Lady Blackbird, and our L5R hack), but I didn’t feel like they delivered in Companions. My thoughts.

Justifying them was much harder or at least less frequent than saying “I rolled this stat”. End result I only gained 2 XP from my keys (the others from special moves that gave XP) and everyone else got 0-1 XP from keys. In a four hour game, that advancement is very slow.

Because the keys required some move (any move) associated, some of them were very hard to satisfy. I’m thinking specifically the key of Trust and Fear. Both of those reward you for not doing something, rather than for doing something. I think that is counterintuitive to begin with, PCs rarely want to not take action, so rewards should be for doing things. That was compound by the fact that not doing something is almost never a move (sometimes you might say that staying very still and trying to avoid being caught is “doing something under fire” but there is no guarantee there.

We discussed this somewhat in game, and I think that with some retooling, keys could work better. They need a bias towards action and be easily translatable to a move. Right now they seem independent, but you only get rewarded for using them when a move is involved.

Thoughts on the game

We had a great time. The fact that Adair had inadvertently caused the disaster three years ago and now we were all back to try and fix it had some very nice symmetry.

The premise was a little bit convoluted to me, because as far as I could tell, there was never (or rarely) a time in the show when a bunch of companions got together. I think the game should start with a brief description of the status quo and then make a strong point of the contrast of the game vs. the show based on the disappearance of the Doctor.

This is a nitpick, but as playing someone who’s strong stat was “Appeal”, I was disappointed that there were no moves that were solely under the providence of “Appeal”. Sure, “Appeal to Emotion” worked with Appeal, but Appeal to reason did the same thing and worked with Clever. Sure, not every argument can be made with reason (or with a threat of force, which was another way to use the move) but it did feel like my primary stat had really one third of a move at best, while other stats had up to two that were all their own.