4 March 2010: Doctor Who RPG review

Doctor Who and companions
Friends, I’ve taken a closer look at the new Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space role-playing game (RPG). Rising publisher Cubicle 7‘s version is a good entry point for people into the hobby, and as I noted earlier, the production values are on par with other recent reference books. The boxed set includes softcover books with numerous photos of the David Tennant incarnation, plus some card-punched counters and other handouts.

The new “Who” RPG isn’t as granular in terms of rules as its predecessors, but it does a decent job of modeling the storytelling style of the recent
television reboot
. FASA’s 1980s take worked better for Star Trek (which has its own history of adaptations), and the Time Lord game of the 1990s
caught the long-running franchise at a low point. Characters are created with the typical array of attributes, traits/flaws, and skills, resembling a
streamlined version of D20 or the point-buy system of GURPS.

The authors address the issue of anyone playing the good Gallifreyan or any Time Lord being more powerful than the typical human or alien by providing lots of alternatives and briefly discussing scale and balance with Story Points. This is similar to the problem of having Jedi in various Star Wars games or a Slayer in the “Buffy/Angel” universe. I could easily see a team with a UNIT member, a Time Agent, a few lucky (or unlucky) civilians, and no Doctor. I was pleased to see writeups of the Doctor and a few companions.

Unlike in many other RPGs, combat isn’t the point of Doctor Who, and
the face-to-face game rightly points out that fun, exploration, and team problem-solving are the primary challenges here. Although I haven’t yet played Adventures in Time and Space, I was inspired by the tone it tries to replicate.

The booklets could have used a better table of contents or index, and I
did miss some of the extensive setting and character-development material of previous editions (although, to be fair, Game Masters are pointed to the aforementioned reference books, which I have). For a $60 boxed set, this game did feel a bit incomplete, but books on aliens and organizations are coming.

Experienced gamers may want a more rules-heavy and customizable system, such as GURPS 4e Time Travel and Infinite Worlds, Temporality or Torg, or D20 Chronomancy. Thanks to my experiences with Steve M.R., Jim J.D’B., and Tim M.B. co-running GURPS 3e “Voyagers II: Adventures in the Dimensional Corps,” I know that a creative group can adapt nearly any set of characters and worlds to time/dimension-hopping!

Bottom line: If you liked the David Tennant portrayal of the Doctor, are
a casual tabletop gamer, or want to introduce people to role-playing, this is a good place to start. If you’re a hardcore “Whovian,” science-fiction gamer, or worldbuilding Game Master, you’ll probably want additional material.

I’m reposting this review to my blogs, since I’ve been writing
about other RPGs (and the “retro-clone” and “rules-light” movements) lately. I’ll also try to let you know my impressions of Starblazer Adventures soon, although it’s a hefty tome! Happy gaming, -Gene

>>Boston-area one-shots and miniseries of early 2010:

>>Already played:

-Greg D.C.: InSpectres (rules-light horror/humor scenario)
-Paul J.: D20 Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Ed.: “League of Vaguely
Interesting People — the Four” (superhero comedy)
-Brian W.: FATE 3.0: “Spirit of the Caribbean!” (swashbuckling pirates)
-Gene D.: D20 “Gaslight Grimoire” (steampunk/fantasy)
-Brian W.: Savage Worlds: Hellfrost (Nordic fantasy)

>>Coming soon:

-Greg D.C.: Dread (horror using Jenga)?
-Paul J.: Pathfinder: “Crossroads of Eternity” crossover with Gene D.’s “Vanished Lands” (fantasy)?
-Beruk A.: D20 “Rifts” (multidimensional homebrew)
-Beruk A.: Dragon Age (MMO-based fantasy)
-Brian W.: Spirit of the Century (pulp 1920s)?
-Brian W.: Dirty Secrets (G.M.-less noir storyteller)
-Brian W.: Polaris: Chivalric Tragedy at the Utmost North (“rules-lite” mythic)
-Gene D.: D20 Mutants & Masterminds 2e: “S.J.I.: Chrome City” (comic
book superheroes)
-Gene D.: “Vortex” (space opera using D20 Star Wars: Saga Edition,
Starblazer Adventures/Diaspora
, or GURPS 4e Lite/Space)