Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Doctor Who

Wm. John Wheeler and Steve Jackson on Adventure Design

The debate between proponents of “sandbox” and “railroad” design have long been a mainstay among gamers.  Of course, the argument is not nearly as cut and dried as we tend to make it. In a section on adventure design in FASA’s Doctor Who Role Playing Game, Wm. John Wheeler describes precisely how both linear and free form scenarios can be put together for a more entertaining and robust design:

The best published scenarios combine the two types, using some linear encounters and some free-form encounters. Linear encounters are used to introduce the scenario, drawing the players and the characters into the action, giving them a reason to enter the scenario environment and meet the scenario NPCs. After the ‘hook’, as the introductory encounter is sometimes called, the linear encounters lead the player characters into a situation that gives them free choice about where they will proceed. The actions in each of the free-form encounters affect the players in the short term. In the long term, another set of linear encounters lead the players into yet another area of free choice, perhaps the climax of the scenario. Linear encounters are often used to wrap up the scenario, bringing it to a satisfactory conclusion.

Using encounters of both types is like building a structure with tinker toys, with the sticks being linear encounters and the knobs being the free-form encounters. The linear encounters give some structure to the free-form encounters. The combination allows the scenario to have a well-defined story line– not as well-defined as purely linear scenarios, but much more defined than those that are purely free-form. The combination also allows players freedom to choose their action– not as much as in purely free-form scenarios, but far more than in those that are purely linear.

He follows this up with a breakdown of three campaign types:

  • Ones “where the players characters are all the same even though the scenarios do not have much to do with one another.”
  • Ones where “the scenarios all have to do with the same topic, perhaps approach it from different angles, possibly with different characters.”
  • Ones where “the same characters follow the same plot from adventure to adventure, solving puzzles along the way and discovering more and more about the plot as the adventure scenarios progress.”

Wm. John Wheeler’s remarks on adventure design are about as cogent as any that I’ve seen. What he is describing here is what I call situation oriented play. It’s a natural fit for creating adventure in the context of an otherwise infinite universe. A certain segment of players don’t want to be able to go anywhere and do anything– they want to, as the old Infocom ads put it, “get inside a story.” Indeed, you can see the tinker-toy structure quite clearly in many of their games. Planetfall, for instance, opens up with a linear sequence that leads in to a more free-form situation.

Wm. John Wheeler’s outline here is practically a template for how many of the adventures that were written for second edition GURPS. Given that his game was published a year beforehand it’s interesting to see how his views compare with those of Steve Jackson. It’s odd, but he spends more time in talking about the wrong way to do it than he does in spelling out actual techniques and design principles:

  • “In children’s fantasy games, every encounter may be rolled randomly!” He’s calling out the random dungeon generation sections of Advanced and Basic D&D here without any any recognition of how these sorts of techniques are essential to creating more sophisticated, free-form play in a notionally pure sandbox.
  • He makes snark at the “hack and slash” dungeon in which the rooms are stocked willy nilly with no thought given to why the monsters are there or what motivates them.
  • He sneers at the “plot of the story” of the typical dungeon adventure even though a session where only one player character makes it back can be quite engaging, generating narratives that are told and retold at conventions.
  • He hammers the point that earning character points for good role playing is far more sensible than XP for the “amount of wealth you drag home.”

Steve Jackson must have been traumatized by some pretty awful D&D sessions! A lot of digital ink has been spent since then explaining why his views here are wrongheaded. He just didn’t seem to “get” old school play… even though he was involved in the industry at the dawn of the hobby! He can perhaps be forgiven for this due to the fact that the case for why things were being done the way they were was never made plain in any of the rule books for the games that he was reacting against. In any case he certainly spoke for a lot of people that had a similar reaction and that wanted something more.

What was his ideal for good adventure design then? Given the thrust of GURPS design, it’s clear that he was really taken with making it easier to move characters between different game worlds and campaigns. He practically describes the structure of Infocom’s Deadline when he discusses more advanced adventure plots that have things going on apart from the player characters while they engage in the situation. His best advice centers on nailing down the climax of the adventure, but leaving the players to get to it whichever way they choose:

The players earlier actions affect the details of the finale, but its basic nature remains the same. If the players make “wrong” decisions along the way, it will take them longer to finish, and they should have a harder time dealing with the situation — but they should make it to the finale eventually. The exception might be a case where they have blundered so badly that the finale would certainly kill them all — in which case, the merciful GM will drop a hint that they are over their heads, and let them give up and run for home.

A more sophisticated adventure will have several possible finales, depending on decisions made by the players during the adventure. This sort of “branching path” adventure is harder to design, but sometimes easier for the GM to run — less improvisation is needed. Such an adventure can be played several times, making it especially suitable for “programmed” adventures.

Taken together, Wm. John Wheeler and Steve Jackson provide a comprehensive breakdown on how to craft an adventure plot that typifies the sort ideals that mid-eighties gamers were looking for. This type of game is very different from the older “sandbox” style of the seventies. While not necessarily better or more mature, it does acknowledge player autonomy while creating something much more recognizable as being a story. It accomplishes this without having the more blatantly obvious “rails” of something like Tracy Hickman’s infamous Dragonlance series.

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FASA’s Doctor Who Role Playing Game: On the Table

FASA’s Doctor Who Role Playing Game always struck me as being really, really neat… but it took me decades before I could actually get it onto the game table. When I mention the number of hours that I spent combing over the rules trying to get the hang of them, some long time gamer mastering types might think, “hey… the game isn’t that complicated. What’s the big deal?!” But as a kid that had very little experience running game sessions, I simply had no basis on which to discern which rules were crucial and which could be ignored or hand-waved. And back then, I only had a couple of Target novelizations and I’d only seen a handful of episodes. late at night on Public Television…. The entire milieu was a bit daunting.

Revisiting the rule books as an adult– and having run several GURPS sessions– it was much easier to wrap my head around the rules: the see what was there and what was not there… to see what rules were run-of-the-mill and which ones were wonky. One of the things that made it harder to parse through the was that the Player’s Manual is (as far as possible) written without any direct reference to the actual rules. And yet… occasionally there are crunchy, essential rules laid out there that are so important that you cannot understand the Game Operations Manual without them. This is hard to believe today that rules could be organized like that, but it must be understood that at the time of the development of the game, Gary Gygax’s AD&D hardbacks were pretty much state of the art for most people.

So next I needed a scenario. The cost for some of the old supplements for the game are just plain crazy anymore– there was nothing for it but to roll my own. I picked an old Classic Doctor Who episode off of Netflix and watched it. Then I watched it again while furiously taking notes. Then I worried and fretted for days. When the convention finally rolled around, I still had gaps in my outline. The night before my game, I could not sleep due to the traffic on the highway outside my window. In an exasperated state, I sketched out sort of a dungeon area for the final climatic scene. All of it was built around an elaborate puzzle that I felt would be the perfect homage to the the writer of the episode. I honestly don’t think I have ever spent so much time prepping for a role playing game session.

So what do you think happened when my game’s slot finally rolled around at the convention? Obviously, the need for 80% of the stuff I had sweated over and prepared promptly evaporated. I’m sure that you, dear reader, being an experienced and competent game master yourself, could easily see that coming a mile off. Looking back on it, the thing that struck me about the session overall is that I really didn’t have the burden of carrying it all off. Sure, I was serving as a facilitator and a judge… but the game almost entirely belonged to the players. So what the heck happened, then…? And why did it work?

  1. In an attempt to give the players the full FASA Doctor Who experience, I let them make their own characters instead of giving them pre-gens. The system is maybe a bit hard to explain, but at the end it’s mostly a point-buy system for attributes and skills. Even though the players were fans of different incarnations of the Whovian franchise, they all got to play exactly the type of Doctor Who character that they wanted. The character design process immediately engaged the players. They were cooperating from the start because individual characters could not get every single skill. It took an hour– which is an eternity in convention time– but at the end of the process, they collectively had a pitch for what amounted to an all new spin-off series.
  2. The payoff of having the players make their own characters continued throughout the game. If my scenario design or game mastering ability was ever mediocre, the players were still playing their characters. No matter what else was happening, the players just seemed to take satisfaction from this. And in the course of the game, the characters continued to develop and come into focus. And because it was their character, they would often come up with an additional flourish when taking an action that I don’t think they’d have done had they been running a stock pre-gen.
  3. Players were intimately familiar with the new series, but not experts on all the classic episodes. I lucked out in that no one had seen the episode I was using as the basis of the game. One interesting thing was that I would often throw something out to the player, the would often interpret everything through their conception of the Doctor Who oeuvre. When they first came out of the TARDIS, I mentioned that no one seemed to take notice of their outlandish appearance. I was actually poking fun at one of the conventions of the show, but one of the players immediately explained to the rest that this was a side effect of the TARDIS’s translation circuits! The players seemed to overlook any mediocrity on my part by looking at our shared experience through “Doctor Who” colored glasses– and at the same time contributed to the shared imagining.
  4. Nobody played any characters from the TV show. Our game was set before the new series, so there were any number of Time Lords running amok. This meant there was no burden to recapitulate somebody else’s story– we had complete freedom to blaze a new trail and see where things lead. FASA Doctor Who’s use of the Celestial Intervention Agency by default seems kind of weird to modern Doctor Who fans, but at the game table it is a positively brilliant premise. It really is carte blanche to be anybody, go anywhere, and do anything.
  5. A lot of people decry the complex combat system in the game, but at the convention table with the pressure of having to entertain new players all that seemed to survive of it was the initiative system, AP costs for movement, and attack rolls. The players’ combat monster could usually go first and usually hit. Players in this system are immediately competent, unlike a lot of other role playing games from the mid eighties. (Star Frontiers, I’m looking at you…!) Interestingly enough (and in keeping with the source material), the non-combat oriented characters found plenty to do in combat situations besides combat actions. Skills got checked… and sonic screwdrivers got used.
  6. Finally, the strangeness and the epic sweep of the classic episode that I used for the adventure was so mind blowing… the players seemed content just to gradually figure out what was going on and why. Once they had accomplished that, they had their own ideas about how the story should conclude. All of my elaborate game design ideas stayed safely in my notebook– the players designed their own adventure.

So the game seemed to succeed due to four things. FASA’s designers did make some really good decisions– enough that Steve Jackson’s earliest drafts of GURPS looked an awful lot like what FASA put together here. The shared knowledge of the past half dozen TV seasons really helped us all be on the same page. Somehow, the players were able to contribute to the shared reality at least as much as the game master. Finally, those old episodes from the seventies seem to be a really good fit for gaming. This was all surprising to me. Hopefully this information will be useful in helping you plan your own Doctor Who game. Or even better… maybe it can help you not plan for your Doctor Who game!

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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The Matte Painting, the Styrofoam Rock, and the Rubber Suit

I’d borrowed the FASA Doctor Who Role Playing Game from a friend for a good while back in the day. I was not really game master material at the time, but I would spend hours paging through the lavish books of the set attempting to find some clue of how to play the game. I stayed up late on Saturdays to watch episodes on public television… I bought novelizations… I bought the figures and even an adventure module for the game… but I never could wrap my head around it. The closest I came to running anything was when I attempted to run a disastrous GURPS Humanx adventure for some friends….

Nowadays, though, I eat games like this for breakfast. I broke it out the other night, rolled some dice and filled out a System Log, World Log, Alien Creature Record, and Civilization Log and… bam! I immediately had this fully formed idea for an adventure plot. Yeah, it was a total rip off of a novel from the seventies, a comic book from the eighties, and elements of an otherwise completely horrible science fiction series… but you know, it was my rip off. And of course, “rip off” means recognizable plot elements which means players can focus on playing rather than listening to me and… and…. Hey, what the heck has happened to my brain…?! I mean seriously….

Ah well… never mind. I was pleased with the results, so I ran off six copies of the various Logs and started filling them up with the idea that I could someday pull them out for inspiration. On the off chance that you might want to do the same, let me tell you the basic features of these systems:

  • The planetary and civilization stuff were pretty much lifted start from the second edition FASA Star Trek. This is why the various record sheets are designated as “logs” and why the rule books are called “manuals”.
  • The focus here is entirely on terrestrial worlds. You know nothing else about the system except for these– there is no star map, no information on gas giants or asteroid belts, nothing!
  • Not only is it extremely likely for there to be two or more terrestrial planets in the same star system, but those worlds are also extremely likely to share the same orbits! (If you’ve never made a Rosette system for Traveller, here’s your excuse.)
  • Density is assumed to be earth-like, so your gravity level determines planet size and diameter.
  • There is no hydrographics roll like in Traveller, but there are two independent tables that tell you how many continents and oceans there are. Together they can create awesomely impossible results.
  • You will most assuredly be able to beam down. At worst, you will need either oxygen pills, breathing masks, or cold weather clothing.
  • The technology level of the world is broken down into several sub-levels. Interstellar civilizations can only be made with game master fiat. Some of the science levels can influence the others slightly, but wild variations are possible.
  • The government type is determined with what is essentially a 1d10 roll and (unlike Traveller) it is completely independent from all the other details.
  • There is no population level.
  • The alien creature system (custom tailored to Doctor Who?) painstakingly breaks down attribute rolls in a matrix of size and type. Body covering is rolled independently from creature type, so you get a lot of reptiles, mammals, and insects with feathers.
  • Particularly fun is rolling for the senses. You roll three times and multiple results of the same type indicate more powerful sensory abilities.
  • You also get 1d6 combat abilities, though they unfortunately don’t explain what to do with multiple results of the same type here. That’s a missed opportunity, but hey… we can figure this out.

That’s the highlights. I’m pretty sure that any self respecting space gamer of the eighties would be able to savage this game effortlessly, but for me… a system that ignores sector maps and ecologies and that just focuses on a dumb Class M planet with nothing but a matte painting, some styrofoam rocks, and some monster in a rubber suit… well… sometimes that’s really all you need.

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.