I’ll begin by saying that if you are unaware of the glory that is the British Science Fiction hit, Doctor Who, you have almost 50 years of television to catch up on. However, thankfully, Cubicle 7 wrote this game to cover a relatively small but very pertinent portion of the Doctor’s grand history. Though it makes reference to the series as a whole, we really are just concerned with “new Who”, starting in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston playing the 9th Doctor, and his regenerated replacement David Tennant, playing the 10th Doctor until 2009. So that’s not too much for you to catch up on, and I recommend you get started.
What stands out immediately about this product has already been said in countless reviews, but for the fact that it is such a strong feature, I’ll repeat it here; this system comes in a beautiful full color package that jumps out to sell the game immediately.
What isn’t said, however, is a lot about how to run the game system itself. I’ve been browsing quite a bit, and everyone wants to talk about how simple this system is, but nobody is actually getting into the grit of the rules at all, so when I got into my box set of Doctor Who – Adventures in Time and Space I was a little disappointed to find my expectations weren’t really met. But then I learned that isn’t entirely a bad thing.
So how does one play a Time Lord?
The core rule does seem to be presented as simple as everyone says it is. You take your base Attribute, add a Skill, roll 2d6, and compare the totaled result to a predetermined difficulty. This sounds easy as a Jelly Baby, but unfortunately that rule of thumb gets muddled pretty quickly. Sometimes you add Attribute + Attribute, other times you might even justify Skill + Skill, and rarely is it entirely clear exactly which Skills you should be using. Everything is open to this sort of negotiation between game master and player.
This wasn’t the only rule that didn’t turn out as straightforward as I was led to believe. Nearly every character feature, called a Trait, is designed in such a way that seems very open for interpretation. Situational modifiers are a common theme in RPGs, but this game depends on them to an extreme. This isn’t to say I don’t like it, but it takes some creativity to play it out. Having Traits that do not define the character but are effectively loose descriptors does draw them into focus during role play, which is nice.
After you have figured what numbers to add together, you are going to roll the dice and the game master will compare that totaled result to his difficulty target much like any other game, but this is not a binary pass/fail test. Instead, you are given a track ranging from three options for failure, and three for success. I love this idea, but it can mean a lot of work at the table. Each result requires a level of interpretation and possibly a new story element to be added. If you succeed particularly well, you may achieve results above and beyond the attempt, but if you fail miserably not only does the threat stand, but something dramatically worse can happen. Sorry Doctor, you TRIED to disable the Dalekanium bomb, but Davros planned ahead and put a feedback loop in to fry your Sonic Screwdriver for good! Well, that would probably be a pretty serious failure, but you get the idea.
Lastly, you have the player’s means to change the game and break the rules, Story Points. Not a new concept, but something I’ve always been fond of, is giving some control back to the players. Gaming is an effort in collaborative fantasy, so I love these. Players start with a set pool, reduced if they have special characteristics or gadgets that require them, and they can spend one or more points at critical times in the game to ignore damage or find that piece of crystal that is “just what they need” to restore power to the Ood Sphere’s generator before everyone freezes to death. Whatever it takes, their value is an agreement between player and Game Master.
Win the War by Not Fighting
It is no secret to watchers of the show that the Doctor hates guns. Many, many, many role players consider table-top gaming to be the sort of thing that revolves around slaying hordes of monsters, but this simply isn’t one of those types of games. Combat can be incredibly lethal in this game, but at the start of every round, before anything else happens, you have a chance to stop the fight entirely. Players can try to make dice rolls (and some role play) to use the raw force of their presence to prevent a fight from ever happening. This fits perfectly with the Doctor’s use of bravado and intimidation, as well as his occasional plea of, “Wait, wait, wait, wait!” to buy some time.
But Don’t Forget the Extras
To review this product properly you cannot ignore all of its features. Boxed sets are making a comeback and this is how to do it right. The full Game Master’s Guide gives a detailed and robust layout of the system and the trimmed down Player’s Guide has everything the rest of the group might need. They can be a little repetitive internally and as a pair, but both are well written over all.
Some other items include
- Full color blank character sheets (Who writes on these though? You don’t want to ruin the ones that came with the box! Or is that just me?)
- A very nice stack of filled out full color character sheets including major characters from the 2005-2009 run of the show, as well as some generic archetype sheets that have basic information filled out ready to be fleshed into actual characters by a willing player (or Game Master in a pinch for an NPC).
- Six clear d6 with blue pips, very stylish looking.
- Punch-Out item cards for some gadgets that have featured in the show, and some blanks, to be handed out to players.
- Punch-Out tokens to track Story Points.
- A couple of fleshed out adventures that could almost turn into a review of their own, and a bunch of hooks to create your own adventures. I found the hooks to be far better written than the actual adventures, but there are some neat ideas to be found in both.
- The Game Master’s Guide features pretty strong gallery of Doctor Who enemies, and is well laid out.
For all of its simplicities, the game is not one that simple to run, but that isn’t to say you can’t have a blast with it. If you are a Doctor Who fan, this is great to have just to flip through. If everyone in the group at your game table are fans, then this is a must buy. I have never once run a game where players took on the roles of established characters before, but somehow a time and space traveling alien who is the last of his species forced me to. I gave each my group the option of running a cannon character or an original, and not one went for the original. All of them are Doctor Who fans, and there’s just no way you can give up the opportunity to gallivant from world to world as the Doctor or make borderline inappropriate comments as Captain Jack Harkness with a disabling wink and a smile. If you know the source material, it’s just too much fun. If you aren’t a fan though, there is still some value here. Cubicle 7 built a very good system for non-violent play. If you are looking to introduce gaming to a younger audience or even one that is simply not at aggressive, this rules set could easily be adapted to any setting.
If any of you out there are running it, I’d love to hear how you’ve gotten around the frustrations I’ve experienced. I’ve got a campaign running now, so any advice would be great.
As a follow-up to this post, I’ll be doing a slightly shorter review of Aliens and Creatures, the second product in this line that includes more monsters, gadgets, and adventures for Doctor Who – Adventures in Time and Space.
[tags]Doctor Who, BBC, Cubicle 7, rpg, role playing, games, reviews,[/tags]