Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space appeared on my gaming shelf last week, no doubt due to some kind of temporal rift. Not to mention Doctor Who Fever is already in full swing as the first episode of the new season just aired. Luckily, by some twist of fate the weekly Pathfinder game fell through and four of us were left with nothing to do. It seemed I had no choice but to pull out my sonic screwdriver and put together a game.
Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space is one of the nicest looking RPG products I’ve seen in a while. It starts things off by coming in a box which, much like The Doctor, is a little out of place in the year 2010. Even if it is a little old fashioned, I still love it. Everything you need to get started is in the box. We dug out a Players Guide, A Game master’s Manual, Adventure Book, and some other bits and pieces.
The books are all very high production value and use photographs from the new series for their art. Usually using photographs instead of of art can really irk me, as was the case with the Serenity RPG, but here it doesn’t bother me at all.
The Players Guide contains all the rules needed to put together a character and actually play the game. It is written in such an easy to understand and fun way that I would consider it one of the best books I’ve seen for introducing someone to the role playing hobby.
The Game Master’s Manual is home to some of the more fiddly rules as well as general advice for running he game. The real meat of it, though, is all the information on the Doctor Who universe (Whoverse). Most of the aliens met in the new series are covered as well as topics such as time travel and paradoxes. As a fan of Doctor Who I enjoyed learning a little more about the Whoverse and as a GM I was overjoyed at all the potential adventures that came spewing forth from the pages.
Next up we have the Adventure Book. This is not so much a book and more of a leaflet. It comes with two full adventures, the first of which clocked in at about 3 hours. It also has page after page of adventure seed. The adventures were well written and I’ll go into them a little bit more in the How it Plays section of this review. I actually liked the adventure seeds more than the full adventures. They consisted of about a half page each and were made up of a location or situation with some possible twists and characters. There was enough content there to run them off the cuff or to expand them into a full adventure if needed.
There were also a few other bits and pieces in the box. There were tokens for tracking story points, card handouts for items and gadgets, a cheat sheet for the rules, and best of all, pre-made character sheets. The pre-made characters plus the dice and the cheat sheet and adventures mean you can run this game with almost no preparation, which is exactly what we did.
It isn’t a perfect product though. It seems that the character sheets and other handouts were put together before the book layout was finalized. The page and chapter references are incorrect or have a placeholder (?) where a page number should be. We also spent about five minutes looking for a table of contents before we realized that it was inexplicably printed on the back cover of the books. I also had a few complaints from the players about the dice. They are very nice to look at, clear with police-box blue pips, but they could be a little difficult to read.
Cubicle 7 put together a very elegant system for Doctor Who. It’s a unified d6 system. Everything is accomplished by rolling 2d6 and adding the relevant attribute and skill to the total. What is used in any given situation is left up to the players and GM. While this isn’t too special it also uses degrees of success and failure. Whenever a challenge is rolled you note how much you passed or failed the target by, a handy table then gives you a result of “Yes, and” or “No, but”, among others. The “and” and “but” are left up to the players and GM to work together to fill in.
Character creation is a pretty standard point-buy system. There is a slight twist in that players use their story points to buy traits such as alien or immortal. This balances quite nicely as a powerful character like The Doctor or Jack Harkness ends up with significantly less story points than, say, Rose Tyler. Story points are used in a manner similar to Bennies in Savage Worlds. They are one time use points that allow re-rolls or the players to affect the world and story. For example, a player might use a story point to have their character solve a puzzle that the players are having trouble with. Story Points are also used as a type of currency and are given as rewards for completing adventures and used to buy character advancements.
One of the more interesting rules in the Doctor Who game is that characters are not allowed to kill. Any character that does immediately looses all of their story points. On top of that if the Doctor character is present he looses some, or all, of his as well. This forces the players to go about solving problems in a much more doctory manner. Of course, they will probably be doing that anyway.
How it Plays:
I mentioned earlier that Doctor Who was a fall-back game. I pulled it out because of the pre-made adventures and characters. We sat down and played through the first adventure titled “Arrowdown”. We had a group of Rose, Jack, and The Doctor. It took us about half an hour to go over the rules, pass out gadgets, and argue about who gets to play The Doctor. Once the dust had settled we began.
The adventure starts with The Doctor taking everybody to the beach because Rose had never been before. Of course when they get there things are not quite right. The players went off to a nearby fairgrounds which they discover is running completely autonomously. Jack scans scans for lifeforms and finds no nearby humans, he does find a weird signal though. The Doctor butts in and realizes that it is the signal made by the Nestene Consciousness (The plastic aliens from S01E01 of the new series). Soon after discovering this they are attacked by monsters, literally. The monsters from the Ghost Train ride have come to life and are coming to the characters. At this point we got to try out some gadgets. Specifically, Jack’s vortex manipulator. It teleports them over to the bumper cars. Unfortunately they got a “Yes, but” on the roll. We decide this means they have a less than perfect landing. From here we had the strangest combat encounter ever. The players and monsters raced around on bumper cars. The Autons shot at them with their blasters and the players bounced around the track until The Doctor was able to jam the frequency that was controlling them. He did exceptionally at this and got a “Yes, and”. We decided this meant he had found the source of the signal.
I don’t want to give away the whole adventure here. Let’s just say that the players found a few more mysteries, tracked down the Nestene Consciousness, and prevented it from conquering the Earth (again).
We found the system was fast paced and only slowed down when we needed to check results against the chart. This is something that we would end up memorizing, so I’m sure it would speed up with practice. Story points were also very useful, although when used “after the fact” they could be jarring. I’d consider using a house rule that requires their use before rolling. The player that was using The Doctor also mentioned that he felt like he couldn’t fail at anything because of The Doctor’s very high Ingenuity attribute. It was definitely true that anything technologically related was very easily done by The Doctor. I’m not sure if this is actually unbalanced though, as adventures aren’t necessarily always going revolve around technology.
The last thing I noticed is that the players used the story points frequently. I think that had we been playing more than just a one shot game they would have conserved them more as they don’t replenish at the start of each adventure.
Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space is an excellent game. It is fast paced, well thought out, and perfect for a group of new players. I’d go as far as saying that it could be picked up and played without any experienced players or GMs. The system is flexible, easy to use, and the included characters and adventures mean it is quick to get started. The rules encourage role playing and try to nudge the players in a different direction than they would go in other games. There are a few minor layout issues and overall balance is a little questionable. That said, balance isn’t that big of a deal in this game.
The group I played with wanted to start up a regular game with original characters, so that’s probably a pretty good sign. We’re planning on starting a game to coincide with the new season of Doctor Who. I’d recommend other Doctor Who fans to give it a shot as well.
[Tags] Doctor Who, RPG, Tabletop, Sci-fi, Allons-y, Adventures in Time and Space[/Tags]