By Christopher Helton
Now that we are a couple of episodes into the new Doctor Who series, I think that it is time to talk about something of great social import: the licensed Doctor Who roleplaying game from Cubicle 7 Entertainment. If the weekly adventures of the Doctor just aren’t enough for you, you can craft your own with Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space. While it will probably be a bit before we see an edition branded with Peter Capaldi, the limited edition released in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary special has everything that gamers will need to steal their own TARDIS and go off on a grand adventure throughout time and space.
I want to get one thing out of the way. This edition isn’t my first of the game, I also own the original David Tennant covered boxed set for the game. One disappointing change for me between these editions is the fact that Captain Jack Harkness has been left out of the core rules. This will probably make me unpopular among Who fans, but I think that we could have done without a game writeup of Rose in order to have Captain Jack in the core rules. We get write-ups for both Lethbridge-Stewarts, so I think that it is only fair that we get a writeup of Captain Jack in the core rules as well. I know, it may seem like a quibbling, but I do think that overall the character is enough of a draw to warrant inclusion in the game.
The Ninth Doctor’s writeup is also missing, causing gamers to lose out on the chance to have a meeting between the “modern” Doctors that didn’t happen in the Anniversary Special. Yes, the Ninth Doctor will have his own supplement, but I think that if you are going to include Rose, you should have him as well.
Yes, we get a writeup for the War Doctor, so that is something. I do think that the writeup for the War Doctor does suffer a bit in comparison to the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. Being involved in the Time War should account for something. While it does go a bit against some of the tenants of the game, which I will get into, I think that the writeup of the War Doctor should have better reflected the fact that, more than any other regeneration, he was meant to be a warrior.
This doesn’t take away from the overall playability of the game, however.
One of the big selling points of the Doctor Who RPG is that they didn’t just take a system and slap it onto the game. Combat, a corner stone of a lot of roleplaying games, follows the logic of the series, rather than ignoring it in favor of “playability.” The Doctor isn’t a fighter, but he is still typically the first one to act in a situation. In the game they simulate this by prioritizing talking with people/aliens/robots over smashing them in the face. A daring idea for an RPG, but it fits with how the logic of Doctor Who works. This alone is a reason for me to want to play this game.
Many licensed roleplaying games play it safe with a house system, or the application of a popular ruleset with a minimal amount of changes. This is a part of the mentality that a licensed game is just an excuse to take the money of fans of the licensed property, who may not even ever play the game itself. With the Doctor Who RPG this isn’t what the people at Cubicle 7 did. Instead they came up with an original set of rules that fit the scope and flexibility of the Doctor Who setting. Instead of a game with some Doctor Who stills and screengrabs added to it, this is a honest to goodness Doctor Who game.
Back in the 80s, Virgin Books, then the licensor of Doctor Who novels, put out a Doctor Who roleplaying game that most people have never heard about. Called Time Lord, it was sold mostly in bookstores and featured the Seventh Doctor, this game was designed with the inexperienced roleplayer in mind, and was intended to look like one of the Doctor Who novels that Virgin sold. In theory it was a good idea, but it didn’t seem to take hold. Gamers didn’t know about the game, and people who were Doctor Who fans didn’t seem to be able to figure out what they were supposed to do with it. Then Virgin Books lost their license and it all went away anyway. The main reason for mentioning this is because, until Cubicle 7 put out their game, Time Lord was my favored game for Doctor Who roleplaying.
Time Lord featured my favorite mechanic ever in a roleplaying game, the idea that you could (temporarily) repair a gadget on the fritz by smacking it nice and hard. Of course, you took the chance of making the gadget worse, too, but that was the price you paid. The reason that I liked this mechanic so much is that a little can go a long way in setting a setting’s tone through the use of a game’s mechanics. It can be something like trying to “fix” a piece of electronics by hitting it, or having the UNIT soldier go last in a combat round because he wants to shoot at whatever it is that has been following the characters for the last 10 minutes.
Cubicle 7’s Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space is a game that is good for beginners, without missing the boat on more experienced gamers. The mechanics and the ideas of the game are well described, with a lot of sidebars and explanations for people picking up the game. The book is not huge either, with 250+ pages of pictures from the show and game. The production values are good, and this will be a book that you will be able to game from for years from now.
Plus it has Tennant, Matt Smith and John Hurt right on the cover. How can you not like that?
Mostly everyone loves Tom Baker’s Doctor and his long run on the series introduced a number of villains and monsters to the show’s story. This makes the Fourth Doctor Sourcebook for Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space an interesting draw for fans of this run.
You really have two main options for using the Fourth Doctor Sourcebook in your Doctor Who RPG campaigns. You can go back and tell your own versions of the Fourth Doctor’s adventures, or you can take the ideas of this run and revisit them through the lens of the contemporary version of the show. Since this is one of the cornerstones of the current program, it makes sense to approach the supplement in this way. Past encounters of the Doctor have a habit of coming back to haunt him in the new series, so would it be so unusual to see a new invasion from E-Space or a return of the Vampires from State of Decay? With a little tweaking on the part of a game master, even silly antagonists like the Marshmen could be turned into worthy opponents for the Doctor.
As a bonus, the Fourth Doctor Sourcebook also contains a writeup of the lost episode Shada. What is the importance of this to a game? Shada was a prison for Time Lords, and if it survived the Time War that means that it could be used as a source for other Time Lords besides the Doctor in a campaign. Are these Time Lords rebellious like the Doctor, or evil like the Master? Either way they can provide new avenues to explore in your Doctor Who games. If your players want to run their own original Time Lords, the prison of Shada provides a way to do that.
The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook also expands the game with new character options, new gadgets taken from episodes of the Fourth Doctor’s story and new aliens and menaces to fight. The Fourth Doctor and his companions are also given writeups, for those who want to have the current Doctor, or their own original Time Lords, cross paths with the Doctor earlier in his life.
I’ve said this before and I will say it again. One of the things that roleplaying games do so well, much like fan fiction in a way, is to allow the gaming group to explore and play within worlds that they know from the television show or other media. They can then take the stories in directions that they thought the show should have explored, or counter act plots that they didn’t like from the show. They can take the familiar worlds of Doctor Who and transform them into their own personal worlds. Someone’s campaign could spawn the next Faction Paradox after all.
Christopher Helton is a blogger, podcaster and tabletop RPG publisher who talks about games and other forms of geekery at the long-running Dorkland! blog. He is also the co-publisher at the ENnie Award winning Battlefield Press, Inc. You can find him on Twitter at @dorkland and on G+ at https://plus.google.com/+ChristopherHelton/ where he will talk your ear off about gaming and comics.