Most of my readers probably know by now that I grew up in Wales in the eighties, and if you were in any way interested in Sci-Fi then, there was just no way around the longest-running SF-Series on television: Doctor Who. Like so many of my countrymen I have found memories of hiding behind the sofa when the Cybermen or the Daleks appeared on the screen, threatening to take over the world (And anyone who doesn’t find the Daleks scary has no soul. Just saying). Despite being sceptical in the beginning I’ve come to enjoy the new series („New Who“ – Christopher Eccleston is no Tom Baker, let’s face it, and you never forget your first Doctor. David Tennant however is pretty good…), which is why I was thrilled when asked to review [I]Doctor Who – Adventures in Time and Space[/I] (DWAITAS), the licenced RPG. So, let’s get cracking!
DWAITAS comes in a durable blue box roughly the size of the good old D&D „Red Box“. Cubical Seven uses the Who Licence pretty well, with the tenth Doctor, David Tennant on the cover, with the TARDIS, a Darlek, a Cyberman and a Sontaran in the background. After open the box, two things come to mind: a.) the box is full to the brim (And I MEAN full – I doubt I could get anything besides an extra character sheet in here) and b.) it really does contain everything you need to play. We have six six-sided dice in here, a thin introductionary booklet, a Player’s Guide (86 pages), a Gamemaster’s Guide (140 pages), a booklet with adventures, a lot of sheets which I’ll be talking about later, and a sheet of cardboard with some precut counters. So let’s have a closer look.
The introductory booklet is just four pages long, and explains in simple words what an RPG is, and how it’s played. At the same time we get a quick rundown of the character sheet and the dice mechanic: Attribute + Skill + 2d6 > target number. As a very basic introduction for new players this booklet succeeds, however more experienced plays will find nothing of interest here. Let’s continue with the Player’s Guide then. This text is split up in four chapters: The Trip of a Lifetime, The Children of Time, Allons-Y and Two Worlds will collide. The Trip of a Lifetime is the introductory chapter and goes over the themes of the introductory booklet but into greater depth, while at the same time explaining certain concepts of the Whoverse for players who don’t know the source material that well (this game is based on the new series and mostly ignores older material).
Characters and character creation are the themes of the second chapter, The Children of Time. DWAITAS offers three options for players: you can play characters from the series (Sheets have been included for the major protagonists), you can make your own characters (yes, even your own Time Lord), or you can combine both, including the option for a game completely without Time Lord (A Torchwood or UNIT game, for example). Characters are almost always human, defined by attributes, skills and traits. Traits can be Good Traits, Bad Traits or Special Traits. Good and Bad Traits are the usual advantages and disadvantages, Special traits are – special. This is where the options go for playing an alien, a Time Lord, or other weird stuff. All in all character creation is quick and easy, and even inexperienced players should be able to whip up a character in next to no time.
After having made some characters we need to give them something to do, however, and this is where chapter three, Allons-Y, comes to play. Rules for everything from fast-talking people to fiddleing with mobiles to fighting, and everything works according to the mechanic mentioned earlier. We also get an explanation what story points do (I suppose you can think what those counters were I mentioned earlier now, right?) Story Points allow players to influence the story or the dice. Like the Doctor himself this game believes that fighting is not a terribly good idea, something that the rules mirror pretty well. Initiative divides characters into four categories which decide who goes first, beginning with Talkers (Just like the Doctor, sometimes it is better to try and talk, even if it is a Dalek threatening to EXTERMINATE you…), Movers (Running away has never been a bad idea, right?), Doers (Doesn’t someone always find the button that saves the world?) and finally Fighters (The sonic screwdriver is, however, mightier than the gun). This way of thinking can also be seen in what happens to characters who run out of story points and would in most games die. Here they „leave the TARDIS“, which means the Player and the Game Master work together to find out how and why he had to leave the game, which rarely leads to character death.
The last chapter, Two Worlds Collide, is the shortest one, and contains lots of good advice for new players with little experience when it comes to role-playing. All things said the Player’s Guide makes a very good impression as an introduction to a very good, simple, and easy system. How about the Game Master’s Guide?
The Game Master’s Guide is made up of seven chapters, Next Stop Everywhere, The Stuff of Legends, The Long Game, A Big Ball of Timey-Wimey Stuff, All the Strange Strange Creatures, You are not alone and The Oncoming Storm, the first of which is just a basic introduction. Chapters two and three revisit the character creation and rules chapters from the Player’s Guide, but including further examples and details to help the Game Master run the system. We’re also offered the rules of Gadgets, like the sonic screwdriver, Captain Jack’s Squareness Gun and other fun items from the series.
A Big Ball of Timey-Wimey Stuff is where we learn everything about time travel, time travellers, and how all this time stuff works anyhow. The main theme here is how to have fun with time travel, and how to have even more fun when the characters make a mess of it. How to make good time travel adventures, the abilities of the TARDIS (The only thing that really DOES travel at the speed of plot), and information on that most secretive of species, the Time Lords.
Talking of species, we have quite a few of them in chapter five, All the Strange, Strange Creatures, the bestiary. The authors give us a short selection of aliens from the series here, including such favorites as the Slitheen, the Cybermen and the Daleks. Most of these critters are intended as NPCs (And the first person to ask me if he can play a Nestene gets hit with a bottle of vinegar!) but in case someone does have a good idea there are some guidelines here for playing aliens.
The two final chapters discuss game mastering itself, how to run a good game, and how to set up a good adventure or even a campaign. Most of what’s here is ment for beginning Game Masters, again, however, it is good to read, and I found it quite helpfull, especially the sidebar with further reading recommendations. Okay, Game Master Guide done, what are we missing now?
Finally we have the booklet with adventures – two adventures, to be exact, and a collection of adventure ideas, enough to keep a group of gamers occupied for a while. The final items in the box are a selection of sheets, some of them ready to use, some blank. We have ready to run sheets for some of the protagonists of the series (The Doctor, Rose Tyler, Mickey Smith, Captain Jack Harkness, Martha Jones, Donna Noble, Sarah Jane Smith, K-9), a few archetypes that just need a few details to live, and some blank character sheets as well as two sheets with preforated gadget cards for the character from the series.
Cubical Seven has really made a very good game here. DWAITAS works on so many different levels – It’s a great Who-Game, it’s a great introductionary game (In fact, as an introduction it works a whole lot better than the already good D&D „New red Box“ WotC released, especially due to the amount of material inside the boxed set), and it’s a good, quick game for gamers who want a game in which combat isn’t the major focus (I can see myself using this for [I]Star Trek[/I] for example. All in all, I can only recommend this game. My paise doesn’t do it enough justice.