Sunday, May 23, 2010

All Good Things. Dr Who: Adventures in Time and Space Review Part 3

Here we are at the equivalent of the season finale re: the Dr Who RPG. The first part, a general overview, can be found here and the second part, a quick look at the Player’s Guide, can be found here.

I’m not going to review the adventures booklet provided in the box set; we don’t want any spoilers, now do we? All I will say is that there are two full adventures, one created for the Doctor and Martha and another for either the Doctor and his mates or a random bunch of investigators. On top of that, you have over 20 story seeds for last minute inspiration or quick and dirty play. Many of the themes are familiar to Dr Who and the genre as a whole, but there’s plenty in there to keep a group going for a while.

So now we’ve dealt with that, let’s move on to the Gamemaster’s Guide. As with the Player’s Guide it’s sumptuously produced, crammed with full colour shots from New Who series 1-4. My only real niggle with it (putting my lecturer’s hat on) is that there are some really odd grammatical choices in parts of the editing that felt really jarring (and that I’d mark my students down for). But then, I am incredibly old-fashioned that way, ‘though I haven’t quite taken to wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. Yet. And then there’s that odd box on the top of page 53 about introducing characters in a game, slap bang in the middle of a section on healing and damage…

These complaints are minor and it’s incredibly hard to spot every typo and layout mistake in a project of this size (and Cubicle 7’s staff will be kicking themselves every time they spot one, trust me). The rest of the book is good; straightforward to read, littered with examples from the series, only one of which I couldn’t place for the life of me (the SS Nakamura, anyone?) and some lovely humour harking back to the original series. Indeed, the Brig gets his infamous yet here anonymous (“former head of UNIT”) quote about aliens being resistant to bullets included in the description of potential alien immunities that will tickle long-standing fans without confusing new ones (à la the whole “Who the hell is Rassilon?” debacle at the end of the specials).

So what do you have in there? Another index (yay!), nicely named chapters (we do love a big ball of timey-wimey stuff), more in-depth descriptions of the character stats and the rules themselves, a chapter on monsters you’re likely to want to include in the game (but no named characters; they’re coming in another supplement later in the year) and two very nice chapters on what a GM does and the structure of a story. Even more nicely, they’ve duplicated some of the critical information from the Player’s Guide in there as well, so the GM doesn’t have to go borrowing the players’ book from them at a crucial moment.

I briefly mentioned the rules in the first part of this review: you pick which Attribute, Skill and Traits that will affect your attempt at some task, chuck your two six-sided dice and add all the numbers together. You compare them to a difficulty, usually set by the GM, and as long as you equal it or beat it, you’ve succeeded. That’s as far as it has to go, but there is a very nice touch in what could basically be described as the Vicki Pollard mechanic (“Yeah, but, no, but”). This allows you to have degrees of success and failure based on how far above/below the target number you were and its great for getting some extra dramatics into the game if you don’t already do that sort of thing. Not sure I’d use the mechanics for chases (far too much book-keeping for my tastes), but it’s good to see such an important staple of the Dr Who episode treated to a good few pages of its own.

Those of us who have been roleplaying for years won’t find a great deal of new material in the last two chapters, but for those new to the hobby there is a lot of sound advice (if repeated a bit on occasion) on the potential pitfalls, the types of players you will encounter and how to construct a story that flows logically from start to finish (maybe RTD should have read this section a bit more carefully). It does include one very telling comment in the section on antagonists, bringing up the point that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone unfamiliar with the Daleks. And it’s true; they have transcended the genre to become cultural icons in their own right, as evidenced by the Green Party’s use of them in their recent UK election campaign. Still, the book gives you more than enough information to create your own tailored and/or unique bad guys, as well as the ability to create the ones from the series that they haven’t included here.

If you’re still not sure, pop over to the game’s website. There you’ll find several downloads, including a Player’s Guide preview and the Tenth Doctor’s character sheet.

All in all, a lovely shiny game and accessories, a well balanced rules system that can be pruned to suit your group’s playing style and sufficient support to get you going in the right direction. Can’t wait to see the Aliens book, the UNIT box set (by golly, it looks as though they're going for the UNIT timeline!) and the Companions Guide.

Watch this space for the reviews...


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