Sep 142010
 

Doctor Who Logo

Analysis of Cubicle 7’s Doctor Who – Adventures in Time and Space continues with the first supplement released in PDF 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 this one.

Effectively creating a monstrous compendium of Who villains, this expansion set seeks to add to the already considerable list in the core game.  As with the base set, the creatures and artwork are designed to recreate what are primarily the 9th and 10th Doctors’ list of antagonists.

The product I reviewed is a collection of PDFs, which the publisher breaks down as the following:

  • 138 page rulebook detailing many of the creatures faced in the Doctor’s adventures, including the Cybermen, Cult of Skaro, Davros, the Weeping Angels and the Hath, additional rules for creating your own creatures both as enemies or as playable characters, and a system for creating new worlds for your adventures to take place on
  • 32 page Adventure book, featuring a whole new ready-to-play adventure and many ideas for additional stories
  • New gadget cards
  • Additional Story Point Counters
  • Detailed Creature Cards for easy reference

The Rulebook

Of that, it is clear that the obvious value is in the first bullet item, which is what the product is made for.  Science Fiction has played host to some bizarre rogues galleries, but Doctor Who has claimed many of the best (and worst) of them.  While I do appreciate the high quality images and design used in this particular booklet, I wish we could have seen some older creatures to make the book stand apart from its Game Master’s Guide equivalent section.  Instead, we actually end up with a few reprints of species we have already seen put into stats coupled with one or in some cases several individual specimens or characters taken directly from the show.  This happens to be one of the down points for established properties translating to role playing games.  When I write a story to run for my group, or play in one, I want something fresh that feels as if the entire group created it.  Often, I feel as if these books are written to give me the tools to play an existing episode of the television show, but little else.

I can’t say that more Doctor Who isn’t a good thing; plenty of the new aliens that were not in the original set will arrive at my table to challenge or interact with my players.  Also, because the system is so simple I can foresee plenty of renaming to make my own necessary characters.  I may never have a need for the Catkind named Thomas Kinkade Brannigan from the episode Gridlock, but if I did want to have a Catkind Pilot named Boots Zephyr who flies the Indomitable Hindenburg III in the year 29Apple4134, the former’s stats would substitute well.

Finally, the rulebook features a slew of new special abilities and gadgets throughout that would be very handy to the game master who is building his own allies or monsters.

The Adventures

I was pleased to see that this set included two new adventures and a handful of plot hooks, much like the base game.  This time around we are treated to a story featuring false god aliens and a far future run-in with a Torchwood facility.  Both are fun premises, but to save any potential spoilers I’ll leave it simply that I enjoyed reading through these stories more than I had the plot lines from the base set’s adventures.  Somehow these simply felt more like a proper Doctor Who story.

The Rest

What we are left with after is an unfortunate portion to rule on when reviewing a PDF.  More tokens, gadget cards, and Creature Card GM aides are great when you get to pop them out of their perforated sheet, but much less so in printing and cutting.  Luckily, the PDF comes at a discounted value, so if you decide that these features are not “must-have” components, you can reasonably choose to save yourself the worry.  However, as someone who loves goodies, I did feel like I was missing out a bit.

Final Verdict

In the end, I can’t say this book is necessary to enjoy what stands alone as a solidly fun and well written RPG, but it has its merits.  If you are the sort of game master that disagrees with what I mentioned earlier regarding recreating episodes of the show or simply don’t want to take the time to create new adventures because of a busy schedule, the pair of adventures and pre-worked stats of so many creatures should make this a worthy buy.  Otherwise, you might skip it.  If you don’t, I might just recommend that you wait for the print edition to make full use of everything offered.

Brannigan and Dalek

[tags]Doctor Who, BBC, Cubicle 7, rpg, role playing, games, reviews,[/tags]

Exterminate!

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.

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]

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.

May 192010
 

In the world of fantasy literature, well escape fiction anyway, there seems to be two schools of thought. On one end of the spectrum we have the Hero’s journey. A weaving story telling the rags to riches tale of a young hero and his band of stalwart companions. At the other, much more epic end, we have the deliciously machiavellian maneuverings of a grand army and all of the battles that result. One of these things tabletop fantasy has traditionally done very well. The other, not so much. I am speaking, of course, of warfare. Usually when a game goes this way we have to hack something together to make it work. Most of the time it ends up cumbersome. Well, Cubicle 7 and Adamant Entertainment reckon they have a solution in their latest product, Warpath.

The Product

I got my hands on the PDF version of the book. It’s 65 pages long in black and white and has a torn page background which looks a bit odd without color. To be honest, it’s pretty standard fair. We’ve got a mix of art, most of it is medium to high quality, but the variety in art styles prevents it from feeling particularly cohesive. The book also begins with several pages of fiction. I’ll be honest. I didn’t do more than skim it. I don’t mind little pieces of flash fiction in my RPG books, but I don’t want more than a few paragraphs at a time. It seemed well enough written but not so good that I actually felt the need to read it.

The book’s layout is done well. It is presented in a logical order and has a table of contents if you need to track down a particular section quickly. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t include internal links in the PDF, but the presence of an actual sample scenario more than made up for that.

The System/Rules

Warpath is a supplement for the Pathfinder Role Playing Game and makes ample reference to the core PFRPG rules. Even so, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use it with D&D 3.5. The only problem with that might be the lack of CMD or CMB in 3.5, which could potentially make things very annoying.

The basics of the system have players dividing their armies into units and representing those units on index cards (Hereon called recipe cards because I like food more than work.). On these cards you will lay out all of the stats for the unit. For the most part these are ripped directly out of regular PFRPG combat rules, although there are a few additions such as Unit Power and Unit Mass. You also draw an arrow so that you know which way the unit is facing.

Actual combat works the same way as in Pathfinder with a few differences. Positioning becomes very important, as do formations and overall tactics. Luckily this is all covered in detail in the book. The actual flow of combat is changed a bit as well. Commanders (that’s the players) roll initiative at the beginning and then move their units around. When a player attacks things are resolved in a specific order. First ranged attacks and then melee attacks. After each attack the overall unit stats are altered to reflect losses.

The presence of battlefield commanders can improve unit odds and also offer a nice target for the enemy. If all the commanders are killed/captured then the army is routed. Speaking of routing, that seems to be what you want to aim for. You can rout individual units (make them run away). If you can do it they suffer so many penalties that you can easily finish them off. Don’t think it is all just lining up in a field and running into each other though. Tactics and positioning are important in this game and the section covering siege warfare looks very promising.

There are a few other good bits and pieces in here, such as mass use of magic and a section on running a city. Both of which would be useful if you are playing through a military campaign. I also enjoyed the section on ransoming nobles. Of all the little extras, I’d say the quick battle resolution is probably the most useful. This little section offers up a few tables that a GM can use to determine the outcome of a pitched battle as well as the number of losses on each side. I expect this would see a lot of usage from me as I’d probably gloss over all but the most important battles.

How it Plays

I sat down with a friend and we used the point buy rules to build a couple of armies to bash each other with. This was actually much quicker to set up than your standard game of Warhammer. After you factor out all the furious scribbling on recipe cards that is. If we had already prepared units it would have been a matter of just a few minutes. The point buy rules are great. They are based strictly off of the CR of the base creature and a quick little formula involving HD and number of troops. It’s easier than that last sentence would have you believe. Easy enough for me to have an army of lizardmen face off against some goblins.

Things proceeded pretty much as you would suspect. We maneuvered our cards around for a bit and then the horde of goblins enveloped my lizardmen and the battle devolved into what I shall fondly refer to as mud-slinging. The superior goblin numbers gave my opponent a distinct advantage in flanking and other position related maneuvers. The lizardmen were taken out, but not without making a valiantly spartan attempt at holding off the horde.

In practice the battle wasn’t really anymore cumbersome than ordinary pathfinder combat. It was slower. Much slower. I can’t really blame the game for that though. Both of us spent far too much time staring at the table and trying to come up with the best plan. I can imagine this becoming even more involved when you have 5 players sitting at a table all with different opinions on what troops should be doing. I’d suggest an egg timer or something to help prevent this. I’d also recommend that you have a couple calculators as it is pretty easy to mess up troop recalculations after every attack.

If you’ve ever played a tabletop war game like Warhammer or Warmachine you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect, only with a distinctly D&D/PF feel to the rules. They even acknowledge this with a section on using point buy army creation if you want to play it as a traditional war game.

Verdict

Despite Warpath’s striking similarities to standard Pathfinder combat, I still found it enjoyable. This might have something to do with the shear numbers of characters involved in each fight. One thing I did have trouble with was shaking the feeling that I was just playing standard combat and was just calling each mini 200 of whatever it was. There are enough additional rules and little changes that make this not exactly the case, but it definitely sits back there nagging at you. Mind you, they advertise it as a Pathfinder supplement and not a standalone game, so it fits into PFRPG nicely.

I can see myself using this as a cheap war game when I get the hankering for one. I got out of the warhammer game a long time ago and I’m in no rush to get back into it, but I still enjoy the odd afternoon of pushing troops around. As far as seeing use in an actual role playing campaign? I’m not so sure. I might use the quick resolution rules once and a while and if my players ever end up in control of an army it might see some use. I can’t really see myself dropping it into a preexisting game. I think if I wanted to use this it would be if I wanted to do a Game of Thrones style campaign where troops, politics, and city management were the main focus.

At $10 and for the PDF I’d recommend it if you like wargames or are planning a game heavily focused on large scale military campaigning. If you don’t think you will be seeing many armies clash at your game table then you are probably better off home brewing up something a bit less comprehensive. The hard copy, at $18, is a solid skip if you ask me. There are only a few pages that you actually need for reference and you can print those. As an ex-wargamer I like the product, but it certainly isn’t for everyone.

[tags]wargaming,  roleplaying,  rpg,  tabletop, pathfinder,  PFRPG, Cubicle 7, Adamant Entertainment[/tags]