Aug 102010
 

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.

Initial Impressions

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.

Afterword

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.

David TennantHave You Played?

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.

Coming Soon!

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]

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About Nick Nundahl

I'm a wild haired demi-viking living on the East Coast United States. I've run games in countless systems and tanked more game nights than I've ever run successfully, but hopefully I learned a lot in the process and I'd like to pass that on. Follow me on Twitter.

  13 Responses to “Doctor Who – Adventures in Time and Space Review”

  1. I just started watching the series (the 9th Doctor), and I’m really excited to take a look at this. Sounds like it could be really cool.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by William Dreamkiller, Nick Nundahl and Troll in the Corner, RPG Bloggers Network. RPG Bloggers Network said: Doctor Who – Adventures in Time and Space Review from Troll in the Corner » Role Playing… http://goo.gl/fb/Sr7Po #RPG […]

  3. Ran a series (8 episodes) already and am on hiatus until Christmas (just like the show) and it worked well. I found that leaving thing as open-ended as possible led to the craziest – and thus most like the show – solutions and went full out making it like television, complete with Doctor Who soundtrack and a scripted preview of the upcoming episode. (My blog has more if you care to search for it.)

    My only real problem with the rules as written is that the group has way too many Story Points to spend if 1) you have 4 or more players and 2) your episodes are of the one-shot variety (as opposed to a Classic Who scheme of, say, 4 eps).

    Good fun overall, though some may think the system is TOO flexible and would rather have very strict parameters to run Trait tests, etc.

    Can’t wait to read more about your experience as it unfolds.

  4. Thanks Siskoid, good stuff. I’m pulling up your blog now to read what you have on it.

  5. Let the random comments begin…

    Can you believe I’ve never seen an episode of Dr. Who… old OR new? craziness

    are Jelly Baby’s easy?

    I really like the idea of 3 pass/3 fail options. Sounds like it can all a lot more texture to the story (and isn’t that really the point?)

    So you can avoid/end combat at any point? (well, at the start of any round) How did the players like that? (coupled with super lethal combat) Did it go over well? Was it as satisfying as hack-n-slash?

    I haven’t looked at the rules, but could the trait rules be tightened up a little by the community? think: the kind-of-standard monopoly rules people use. Like, would it be worth writing some up and posting wiki-style?

  6. @David: The players enjoyed the different focus on combat. Here’s how it actually worked in practice. Talkers go first, then movers, then doers, and finally, fighters. I would ask what each one was doing of those 4, announcing that my Daleks were, duh, fighting. That’s how initiative is resolved. So you had ample time to hide or convince or turn a radar dish into a forcefield projector, whatever, before the Daleks fired. And you want it that way because a Success or more, and that extermination beam is Lethal. Not “high damage”, no, LETHAL.

    As for tigher rules, house rules, clarifications, etc., I invite you to check out the fan-run forum for the game. I myself contribute by listing all blogs that discussed Doctor Who role-playing once a week. I’ll certainly be posting the link to this post on Sunday.

  7. Thanks Siskoid!

  8. @David – It is awful that you’ve never seen an episode of Doctor Who. I assume you have Netflix? You can watch all of the seasons up to, but not *yet* including, the latest one.

  9. First of all I want to say that this is a great article! Nundahl…you should go into game journalism and drop IT (of course paying your bills is a good thing too :-)

    You really put into words my impression of the game. I have to admit though that I was a little skeptical about how the game would play out….I guess I was worried that the developer would “cheese” it up a bit and destroy the magic of the Who-Stories. It turned out that my worries were for naught…I loved it! It helped being in a room full of Who fans but I believe that even if none of the players had ever seen an episode and strictly went by the character descriptions/mannerisms the game would have been just as much fun.

    @Siskoid: When we started play, I looked at the plethora of story points that lay before the group and thought that this was a little much as well. But I also believe that if the adventure had been longer we would have been in trouble :) It seemed so easy to just spend or lend out a few story points…it definitely created a crutch for us. But in a longer adventure I’m sure that we would learn (the hard way) that blowing SPs left and right would quickly lead to disaster….and we would probably wish for a few more :)

  10. Well, at the end, when the finale was rearing its ugly head, I told the players that we were now in one continuous story (say, for the last 3 sessions) so that they wouldn’t get a refill until then. They were a little more careful after that.

    AND it gave more value to the SPs I hand out for cool moves, cool lines, letting yourself be captured, etc. Before that, I was just throwing in a an already full pile.

  11. I thought about that too late Siskoid, holding their Story Points into the next session. Sadly, I didn’t ask them to track what was spent at the end of the last session we played, so this next one I’m going to see how it goes with full again, then revisit that idea after.

  12. […] format and soon to be in print, Aliens and Creatures.  The first review can be seen by clicking HERE, I recommend it as a start to get a baseline of how I feel about the system before you dig into […]

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