Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Notes for Players on FASA’s Doctor Who Role Playing Game

This game came out during a period of rapid innovation– in a very short span of time Victory Games James Bond 007 (1983), GDW’s Twilight 2000 (1984), and GURPS (1986) were all released. All the components of more modern designs were in evidence… but games like FASA Doctor Who (1985) contained an unusual mix of old and new. (The skill system was originally published way back in 1976 and many of its components were lifted directly from the earlier FASA Star Trek (1983) role playing game¹.) This break down should be enough to get you up to speed for a quick convention game.

Character Generation: An odd combination of point buy and randomness….

  • Your six attributes all start with 6 points each making them all Level III (“Basic”) by default. You get 36 + 2d6 more points to distribute amongst them as you wish.
  • Note that you must set your scores before you roll for your Special Ability. This one roll can cause a radical change in your character concept, so try to keep an open mind about where you’re heading until you nail this down. One thing to watch out for… is that you may want to make sure that STR, MNT, END, CHA, and DEX are all 5 points or less from a Level break on the off chance that you end up rolling an Enhanced Attribute result. (All of these will give you an automatic related skill at maximum level, but you want to be sure to get a bump in ability level as well so that your Saving Roll chances are improved.)
  • You won’t get very many skill points from END and ITN, but those two attributes are critical to the game. The other attributes will give you skill points equal to your attribute score times your attribute level. Note that skills are not dependent on attributes in any way once they are purchased– it’s not like in GURPS where the rolls are all against the attribute and then modified by skill. Higher attributes mean more points to spend on related skills, though.
  • The ITN attribute (intuition) is critical to the game’s design, but not explained in great detail. My understanding is that it is sort of a combination of detect lies, danger sense, and luck. When players ask to roll it, they are effectively asking for a hint or a clue. I think this corresponds to the television series where the Doctor just randomly seems to realize odd facts that are critical to the plot. The game master keeps a secret tally of how many chances each player has to do this during a session, so players can’t just roll for this willy nilly!
  • ITN also functions as a general perception attribute: on page 56 of the Game Operations Manual it is the attribute used to spot hiding NPC’s. (This will be counterintuitive if you are used to GURPS’s IQ stat functioning as both Will and Perception stats.
  • One thing to keep in mind when you are skill shopping: there are skills that aren’t there. The example on page 33 on the Players Manual has a character using a Verbal Interaction cascade skill that isn’t detailed in the other listings of that book! On page 42 of the Game Operations Manual, it details the listed cascades and then states that “other verbal interaction skills might be Bluffing or Insulting.” This is a tacit encouragement to make up new skills if the exact one your looking for isn’t actually there…!
  • The random tables for personality traits and appearance may seem quaint, but having the Gallifreyan characters reroll on these when they regenerate is a highlight of the game.

Endurance Statistics: They’re mind bogglingly obtuse and ponderous… but I think I finally understand these rules.

  • You have two “hit point” tallies to keep track of that both start at double your END score. Your MAX OP END score has all the wound damage subtracted from it. Your CURR OP END score has both wound damage and temporary damage subtracted from it. Note that all END saves are made at your MAX OP END level.
  • Rules for the INACT SAVE: If your CUR OP END drops below 12, you must make an END save at your MAX OP END level or fall unconscious. If you make the save and wish to make an action, you must make additional END saves at your MAX OP END score in order to do it. Failure results in inaction, but if you are severely wounded it could also result in additional wound damage.
  • Rules for the UNC THRESH: If either OP END score drops below 6, you are automatically unconscious.
  • Rules for the Wound Heal Rate: You get back your END Performance Level in wound damage every 24 hours.
  • Rules for the Fatigue Heal Rate: You get back your END Performance Level in temporary damage every 30 minutes.
  • If your MAX OP END drops to -31, not even a General Medicine roll for first aid can bring you back. The more hits you take, the more difficult the first aid roll is with success stabilizing you at a MAX OP END of 1. Successful General Medicine for wound treatment rolls can double the Wound Heal Rate for up to 48 hours.
  • A character that does not increase their starting END score from its base of 6 must make saving rolls to remain conscious after taking any amount of fatigue or damage is taken. (The roll in this case is 3 or less if you took wound damage and 5 or less if you took temporary damage.) So put some of that attribute point fund into END if you want to be able to exert yourself at all!!!

This page was particularly inspiring to my teenage self back in the eighties. It really seemed at the time that the game system was a serious attempt at… well… a serious game. This was not some kind of “kiddie” boxed set!

The Interaction Matrix: Because a resolution chart is de rigueur in the eighties….

  • Your ability level and the task difficulty level will range from I to VII. The basic premise of the system is… if you are attempting a difficulty level that matches your ability level, then you will succeed on a 7 or less. You also get a critical success on a 2 and a critical failure on a 12.
  • Note that there are separate modifiers for ability and difficultly level, but the modifiers have the same effect regardless of which one they are applied to. This seems to me to be a missed opportunity from a design standpoint, but it at least means that you don’t have to worry so much about which axis you end up applying modifiers too.
  • Note the variable success tables for MNT, ITN, and CHA rolls–there is some additional nuance there.
  • The rules suggest that in the case where a secret roll is required, you should have everyone make a roll at once so that the player that is required to make it can’t be sure of the actual outcome.
  • There are no opposed rolls or contests of skill in this system as far as I can see. Instead, your ability level will determine the quality of your result with critical successes (+2 levels), failures (-1 level), and critical failures (-2 levels) modifying it further up or down. For someone trying to counter your success, they will have to make an ability/skill check at a difficulty level equal to your success. This is an interesting system, but it is not always clear which skills and abilities are used to counter one another. (Stealth rolls are countered by Surveillance rolls, for example.)
  • There are several exception cases where you’re supposed to average an ability with a skill or else add a fraction of one skill to another. Also, for some reason attribute “saving rolls”, skill rolls, and special ability rolls are all treated somewhat differently even though they use the same basic mechanic. Collectively, this makes the game hard to master because it fails to successfully leverage the benefits of having a unified system. When I run the game, you can expect me to overlook these sorts of details in the interests of keeping things moving. If you happen to know these nuances, I’m glad to abide by them, though.
  • There is no formal default system, so dealing with situations where the players don’t have the exact required skill is entirely a matter for gamemaster fiat rulings. The ITN rolls seem to be meant to cover some of this, though.

The Combat System: Believe it or not, Steve Jackson really wanted to have a system very much like this when he was developing GURPS². (Of course, play-testing caused him to switch back to hexes and eliminate the action point system.)

  • The sequence of play rules are on page 41 of the Players Manual. Each side alternates moving a character as in BattleTech. There is no initiative roll. The side with the highest Small Unit Tactics level (or DEX if neither side has the skill) goes first. If players on a side disagree about the order that they’ll go, DEX is used to sequence them.
  • Opportunity actions: If a player saves back some Action Points, he can use them later to interrupt his opponent’s turn(s).  A player’s total AP is equal to their DEX divided by 3 (rounded down) plus 4.
  • The game only supports rules for the core ten second tactical combat turn with one square being 1.5 meters across. Reference is made to other scales on page 57 of the Game Operations Manual, but the required details must have been cut from elsewhere in the book at some point during the editing process.
  • The actions on the AP table are mostly straightforward except for running, climbing, and swimming. Running doubles your movement rate, but requires you to make an END save to avoid 2 points of temporary damage if you do it for two consecutive turns. Climbing and swimming are at 2x AP Cost which means the cost for each square of movement is doubled. (See the skill notes on page 39 and 42  of the Game Operations Manual for guidelines on interpreting the results of climbing and swimming rolls.) Finally… the difficulty level for these actions is determined by the terrain, so keep the Action Difficulty Levels chart handy!
  • The actions marked with “minimum” AP costs immediately end your turn with they are used.
  • Note that to parry in this system, you have to save at least two AP for an opportunity action– so you couldn’t have made an attack already. (The rules state that you can declare that you are parry/defending at the end of your turn, though… so maybe it isn’t assumed to be an opportunity action. But if you have to declare it, you cannot defend against people that attack before you’ve had your turn!) Note that if your parry is successful, you’ll get a free attack against the guy that tried to hit you. Parries require a DEX saving roll, but the difficulty level is not specified. I presume it is based on your foe’s Skill Level.
  • Dodge is more clearly defined that parrying– it is a DEX roll against the opponent’s Skill Level that must be declared before the attack. Success means the target moves one square and is automatically missed. If the dodge fails, note that a DDF modifier from the weapon charts is still applied to the attack roll along with the evasion modifier. (Note that the Players Manual states that ranged attacks “obviously” cannot be dodged, but this seems to be an error to me– the Game Operations Manual does not indicate that, at any rate. If dodging is against the rules in cases of ranged attacks, then why does the ranged weapon lists include “dodge difficulty factor” ratings?!)
  • All ranged attacks are at difficulty level IV. If you are really, really good in your attack skill, you will almost always get to roll on those awesome critical hit tables. (Skill VII crits on 7 or less on an unmodified attack at difficulty IV, so be sure to aim and fire before your target can declare some kind of evasion!)
  • Melee and unarmed attacks are at a difficulty level equal to the target’s skill level, so (for skilled characters) there is a large element of defense ability built into those attacks even when you can’t declare a parry or dodge. Ranged attacks are going to be far more effective against combat monsters.
  • Note that grappling is just another bog standard attack in these rules. As far as I can see, there is nothing about the skill that limits the movement and attack options of your target. If you want to… uh… actually grapple or pin an opponent, that puts you in the territory of off-the-cuff game master fiat rulings.
  • If you want to be a combat monster, be sure to get level VII in one each of the unarmed, ranged, and melee skills. And bump that END up to where you can actually take a hit or two! (Alternately, you can bump up your DEX in order to make sure you’re really really good at RUNNING!!!)

Okay, that’s the gist of the game. Some more details can be picked up just by looking at the charts– and yeah, the more unusual actions will require consulting the rule book– but this should be enough that you can build a character more or less intelligently. Good luck in your first game of FASA Doctor Who!

¹ See the opening page of the Game Operator’s Manual for details.

² Steve Jackson details his reasons for rejecting squares and action points on page 24 of Space Gamer #76.

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2 responses to “Notes for Players on FASA’s Doctor Who Role Playing Game

  1. RogerBW January 14, 2013 at 10:01 am

    UNC THRESH and CURR OP END seem as though they should be glowing button labels in an aircraft cockpit, or on the control panel of Ming the Merciless. Very 1980s!

    Never actually played this one – messed about with the FASA Star Trek game but didn’t get into this. I’ve had some success with action point systems, but they do need to be very much baked into the rules (or have large chunks of the rules rewritten round them) rather than added on later. CEATS for Rolemaster was great…

  2. Nathaniel Torson January 20, 2013 at 11:09 am

    I have both DW and ST and not only did FASA rip part of the system from the STRPG, but the exact wording in some chapters, with a few words changed ere and there to say ‘Doctor Who Stuff’ instead of ‘Star Trek stuff.’

    I successfully ran this in the eighties but moved on to Time Lord in the 90’s which was really ahead of its time and replicated the feel of the show much better than the FASA version (which I still own and will never give up). Of course, today, I use the DWAITAS system from Cubicle 7, which is only natural as I had a hand in it. The FASA game had only a few flaws in that it was entirely too crunchy and tactical for Doctor Who, the chargen system was incapable of producing average joe companions, and they established the Monk and War Chief as earlier incarnations of the Master.

    That being said, the FASA game (as well as Time Lord and a tonne of non-game references) had a large influence in the period after the show ended, with various terms and ideas (Gallifreyan Absolute Time, Temporal Barriers, etc.) becoming common place in the extended media of the 90’s and in my own Time Traveller’s Companion for DWAITAS which draws on 50 years of said material for inspiration.

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