Childhood revisited yet thoroughly contemporary: back in 1963 a very small Megan watched from behind the sofa (the Daleks terrified me!), and now I revel in the relaunch over the past five years... here in my hands is a box which like the Tardis itself contains far more than you'd think from the outside!
Just as the subject matter takes me back to childhood, presentation harks back to early role-playing games: a boxed set, 'all you need to play' even some dice. Purchasers of the PDF version get everything except box and dice, although you'll have to print out cards & counters. The game itself - in both presentation and mechanics - is designed to be accessible to newcomers to role-playing as well as to those who have been playing a long time. While it will, of course, be an advantage to be familiar with the TV show, the general idea of time-travel and adventure is presented clearly enough that the odd player in your group who is not should be able to cope.
For those in a real rush to play, a 4-page Quickstart manages to explain both the concept of role-playing and the mechanics of this game; while there are character sheets for the Doctor and the Companions who've appeared since the 2005 restart of the show. If you prefer a slower approach there are Player and Gamemaster Guides which go through everything in much more detail, and blank character sheets for you to create your own characters.
The game mechanics are straightforward. Each character has Attributes (awareness, coordination, ingenuity, presence, resolve and strength) and Skills, and when a task is to be resolved a target difficulty is set which you try to exceed by rolling a couple of d6 and adding in the most appropriate Attribute and Skill. Players can 'tweak' the outcome by use of Story Points (also used in other ways to influence things to their advantage), which they earn for character achievements and good role-playing. To make life easier, some little cardboard counters are provided to help track Story Points.
The Player's Guide looks at role-playing and what this particular game is about before getting to grips with character creation. If you shy away from playing characters from the TV show but are uncertain about one of your own (or are too busy!), an ingenious addition are some 'archetype' characters where the bare bones of statistics are worked out for you for particular roles, and you add name and personality to suit. The text also touches on the thorny problem of deciding who gets to be the Doctor although it gets no further than "It's up to the GM" and a suggestion that players take turns if agreement cannot be reached. Or, of course, you can have a game without the Doctor - perhaps you are part of Torchwood or UNIT instead!
Character creation is a point-buy system for Attributes and Skills as well as Traits - features that make your character particular adept at something. There are also disadvantageous Traits, taking one of these gives you a few extra points to put in to whatever you're seeking to improve. Names, backgrounds, possessions - generally what you'd expect to find about your person when you go out in the morning (equipment apart from a few special gadgets rarely feature in Doctor Who) - and you're done. There's a chapter on the rules both here and in the Gamemaster's Guide, which are essentially the same with a few extra game-running hints for the GM. Interestingly, while there are rules for combat and damage, they are de-emphasised: unlike most role-playing games, this one is intended to be combat-light true to the TV show - out-and-out brawls are rare, the Doctor generally uses other methods to solve problems and get things to go his way. Quite a few ideas for alternate tactics to going in guns blazing or fists flying are provided. This book ends with a section on role-playing and improving the game, a common feature of books for GMs but a player-oriented one is more unusual and is good reading even if you are an experienced role-player.
The Gamemaster's Guide is arranged in a similar way to the Player's one, although from a different perspective. After explaining what sort of characters you should be aiming for, the Attributes, Skills and Traits are gone through from the standpoint of how to adminster their use within the game. The next chapter looks again at the game mechanics, but again from the position of how to use them to good effect rather than how they work. Then comes the challenging bit: how to run a game that involves time travel with all the problems that can involve with the regular flow of events as most of us experience and understand them in the real world. There are also extensive notes on the process of regeneration and the Tardis. This book rounds off with a chapter on some of the 'monsters' and alien races that you might encounter, and chapters on gamemastering and constructing adventures.
The final book in the box presents a couple of adventures, written with novice gamers in mind. One is set on Earth and one in space, both quite fun if a little limited. Oddly, there is a slight tendency to treat the Doctor as an NPC whereas the obvious intent of the game is to have him a player-character. There is also a bunch of ideas that you can expand on to create a few adventures of your own: all quite neat and original ideas open-ended enough to prove interesting.
Overall, this regeneration presents a game that is pretty true to the spirit of the TV show. It never quite gives a good resolution to the problem of the Doctor being such a dominant character if you choose the 'classic' Doctor and companions grouping, and there are no suggestions for how the Doctor player can work in harmony with the GM to create the right atmosphere and effect... mention is made of his 'super-genius' knowledge of much of the universe, but not of ways in which to make it happen. Neither has any use been made of the rich heritage of the show prior to the 2005 restart, and indeed only ONE Doctor (the 10th regeneration played by David Tennant) is featured. Other than that, it's a promising beginning that ought to empower all role-playing Doctor fans to come out from behind the sofa and take a trip in the Tardis for themselves!
Return to Dr Who: Adventures in Time and Space page.
Reviewed: 10 July 2010