Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Madicon 21: Adventures in Time and Space

The first session I played was a scheduled Doctor Who role-playing game. The quality of a con game depends a lot on who shows up. Some of the best games you can ever play can happen, but if it’s bad it can be very bad. You can’t leave, either, unless you really want to complicate things for everyone else. Walking into this sort of thing is literally a roll of the dice.

The Adventure: I chose to play Mickey, the Cyberman fightin’ ex-boyfriend of Rose. Another guy was playing Captain Jack, the flirty gadget-wielding action hero. A third player accidentally picked Donna… who couldn’t do much except make people feel “nice.” (He thought he was signing up to play Danny…!) We started the game without anyone to play the Doctor, but before long a wandering gamer-girl got roped into taking the part.

The game began with my character accidentally blowing up half of the TARDIS. We materialized in the 51st century onto some kind of derelict space ship. After the Doctor turned on the lights, some maintenance robots came our way with blunt objects. Talkers go first in the sequence of play, so I started bossing them around complaining about how the place was a mess and various equipment needed fixing. The GM must have liked the acting, as he looked at the dice and agreed that they backed off and went to work.

We followed a trail of blood to several rooms and found a room full of people , all apparently killed by pokey-slicey things. The maintenance robots showed back up and explained that they had to treat us the same, so Donna and I chose to run, while the Doctor and Jack opted to “do stuff.” They successfully countered the robots somehow, then met up with us in a tea room where we were talking with a green alien babe.

Grapthor the barbarian appeared on a view-screen and threatened to come take our brains. We hacked the ship’s systems to have the maintenance robots attack him. We heard a tremendous fight and then saw him sitting in a pile of broken robots and crying. We knew he’d used his axe to kill everyone on board, so Captain Jack and I made a plan to come out of the Tea room shooting. This was clearly NOT the solution that fit with the story or the tone of the game, so we had to stand down while the Doctor reprogrammed Grapthor’s brain to reason and emote. Grapthor realized the depths of his crimes against humanity and promptly walked out of an airlock.

We still needed a few more parts to repair the TARDIS, but before we could figure out what to do, a Cyberman tried to grab Donna. My preacher-gun tore him up pretty good, but I took some damage. We then executed an elaborate heist to steal a part from a wrecked Cyberman ship. Meanwhile… Donna talked to a robot kid whose eyes turned red and acted all demon possessed. Somehow, we got all our TARDIS parts, rolled the right dice, and returned to our happy life gallivanting through time tunnels.

The System: This game appears to be attribute + skill + 2d6… with “story points” allowing you to get more dice. We all had enough of them that we could have spent two for every attempted task in a four-hour session, so there was no need for any resource management. Story points would practically ensure epic success on just about the craziest of tasks, especially if the Doctor was rolling. (Based on the rules, he can literally fix a piece of complicated equipment with just a candy bar. This is amusing, but it wore thin after the third time that an “impossible” thirty was rolled in the game.)

The sequence of play is talkers first, runners second, doers third, and fighters last. This has a huge effect on the game and makes it very much like the TV show. In fact… it is so much like the TV show, that I can’t watch it anymore without thinking of these rules. (Half of them end with the Doctor distracting the big bad by talking to him for fifteen minutes while a random “doer” somewhere creates the special gadget to win the day.)

The Game Mastering: I don’t usually get to play, so this was one my rare opportunities to see things from the other side of the GM screen. Not surprisingly, the game didn’t go the way that I would have run it. We rolled the dice a lot. It seemed like we rolled dice for everything, even when it would have made more sense to just say “it worked” or otherwise make something up. It could be a coincidence, but this is consistent with the one other game master of this younger generation that I have played with. (Note to “young” game masters: you can play in my lawn anytime.)

I did not have the sense of having any control over the game. I was literally inside someone else’s story and it didn’t seem like our play had any real effect on the outcome. We had a more or less linear set of situations, we would collectively make up some sort of stupid response, and things would always just seem to turn out right. There was no sense of suspense, no dwindling resources, no horrible consequences to avert, no ethical dilemmas or hard choices, no partial successes or multiple solutions. Just a series more or less rigged situations.

The game master had a practice of giving equal time to the different parts of the game that started to occur whenever the party split up. Splitting the party is consistent with the Doctor Who source material, but it makes for tedious gaming in my opinion. I found out later that he would even go so far as to make sure that the odd-person-out had something significant to contribute pretty much no matter what. I guess that ensures that everyone has something to do and keeps the isolated players from just twiddling their thumbs, but it sure seemed to kill any real need for player skill.

If I had been running this scenario, I would have made it possible for the players to get the TARDIS parts in whatever order they wanted. I would have made the different tasks that needed to be done obvious a lot sooner… and made sure the party could find out a little bit about what each task would entail before tackling them. I also would have cut back on monster-types driving the action and pace– I might use them as an obstacle, but leave it up to the players to determine when and how to deal with them. The resulting game would have maybe been less dramatic, but the players would have a much greater sense of autonomy, even if they were technically stuck inside some kind of Chinese puzzle the whole time.

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One response to “Madicon 21: Adventures in Time and Space

  1. Pingback: Notes for Players on FASA’s Doctor Who Role Playing Game « Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog

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