Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dr. Who Fun from Cubicle 7


For Christmas one of my kids got Dr. Who the Role-playing game by U.K. publisher Cubicle 7.  Recently, having finished TSR classic Rahasia, we took a break from our normal dungeon-trekking fare to try it out and I got to sit on the player-side of the GM screen for what seems like the first time in a long, long while.

The system emulates the light action of the TV series nicely ... roll 2D6, add a stat and a skill if applicable, and see if you succeed against the target number that the GM has set (default 12).  Nothing fancy there.  Story points can be spent to let you throw another D6 into the mix for those really important rolls ... a good addition to any light or heroic RPG.  My only quibble is that the simulated hand-writing font on the pre-generated characters is a bit hard to read, especially on the nice glossy paper they come printed on.

Better still are the turn-sequence mechanics ... as any fan of the show will know, running away is pretty high on the list of things that The Doctor and his companions do.  Well this type of action is very well supported in the game by a simple rule that all talking happens first in a turn, followed by running away, followed by doing things, followed last of all by fighting.

In practice this means that there is no mechanical disincentive to stare down the barrel of the bad guy's frap-ray and, in your best British accent, demand, "Tell me who you are?  Where did you come from?  What is it that you want?"

You'd never try that in Gamma World, but here, if the strange alien seems bent on destruction rather than tossing you a verbal clue, you can always leg it before the creature opens fire.  Brilliant!

I won't talk about the plot details of our first adventure here, but for our first foray into the quiet sea-side village of Arrowdown I played Mickey while my youngest played Rose.  The next day, when my wife joined us, we decided that the pair had gone missing and that we'd take on new characters (Martha, K-9, and The Doctor) in an attempt to find them.

Two things came to light by the end of our third session:

1.) Doctor Who is a tough game for a novice GM to run.  The problems faced by the characters tend to be grandiose and complicated with few obvious solutions (i.e. you can't just shoot the bad guys to win).  On the other hand, the characters have such an array of loosely defined skills that there are any number of ways they may decide to try and resolve things (weird technology, negotiation, "jiggery pokery," etc.).  That means that, even if a scenario attempts to be exhaustive (which the folks at Cubicle 7 don't seem inclined to attempt), the players are very likely ... almost guaranteed ... to do something surprising and unscripted.  The GM has to be on her toes and ready to improvise with confidence.

2.) At times, playing this game actually felt like watching an episode of Dr. Who that I'd never seen before.  That may sound either hokey or blindingly obvious, but I think I can make the claim that I've been around the RPG block a few times and I've seen plenty of systems that set out to emulate [insert your favorite TV Show, movie, or intellectual property here].  Firefly the RPG, various editions of Star Wars, Ghost Busters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, MERP ... they all have various strengths and faults, but I don't think I've ever been a player in a game that has actually hit the mark to the extent that I experienced with this game.

I would really like to support my young GM with more story-outlines and help in running additional scenarios (plus I'm having a great time), but Cubicle 7's website requires so many layers of registration and verification that (at least on our Android tablet) I was ultimately stymied when I tried to access their Forum to find other players to swap ideas with.

Does anyone know of other support for Dr. Who that I can pass along to my precocious grade-schooler?

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