The New Doctor Who Role Playing Game
Review by Morgan Davie
Time Lord is the second attempt at providing an RPG system based on DW, and to my mind it succeeds far more than the first. The FASA game company published the original system, titled simply The Doctor Who Role Playing Game, in 1985. It came in a large box and consisted of three books totalling 192 pages of rules and background. The game was moderately successful and a number of supplements were produced. But the game soon sank without trace. The reason for the system's demise is, quite simply, that it wasn't very good. The mechanics of the rules were overbearing and intruded on the actual game. Moreover it was very hard to get a grip on when beginning and the rules were often overly complex. It was definitely not a game for beginners to the role-playing hobby.
Time Lord takes these problems and rectifies them, whether intentionally or not I don't know. The most important change is that they have turned the rules situation around so that instead of intruding they were almost unnecessary. Time Lord works on one basic rules concept that is used to regulate everything. Basically the character's skill rating in ability is compared with a difficulty rating for the task being attempted and then two dice are rolled. If the difference between the dice rolls is equal to or greater than the difference between skill rating and difficulty rating the character succeeds; otherwise he fails. This system is quite unusual but actually works and can be easily applied to whatever the game requires.
In my experience however the rules don't play too large a part of the average Doctor Who game session in either system. Time Lord uses a simpler system that is not only faster and less intrusive, but also is more in keeping with the programme. The system does have some flaws, however, due to the simplicity. Most importantly skill ratings only go to three so, for example, a singing skill of 1 would be an average choir member, while a 3 would be a Kiri Te Kanawa, while everything in between is a 2. This does not provide much variety
The rules provide plenty of information about the Doctors, most of the companions, many, many monsters and also villains such as the Master. All have full statistics and a bit of background information. One gripe: the Ace entry seems to ignore Season 26 in the character description. All character development is ignored. The Haemovores however are given a full entry. Apart from this all entries I read were fairly complete given the space provided.
Full rules are provided for all the Doctors and most of the companions but there is not much provision for creating new characters. This is a major omission in my eyes; playing the Doctor and companions is a lot of fun, sure, but sometimes players are going to want to make their own characters. The original system easily wins out over Time Lord in this respect with detailed (but over complex) rules to create realistic, well rounded characters, both Time Lord and human. This system has nothing but a meagre two pages of guidelines to making the player (as in the person playing the game) into a character (as in the character the person is pretending to be.) These rules are inadequate, and I think the idea of playing yourself is amazingly stupid.
An introduction to the world of Role Playing Games is given lengthy coverage at the start of the book. Also an introductory adventure set in the Seventh Doctor's era (Ace is the companion) is provided and this looks serviceable but not brilliant. This is where the original DWRPG fell down - the omission of an introductory adventure was a major oversight.
The Time Lord system will stand or fall on its supplements. Whereas a number of excellent supplements couldn't save the original, an adventure and expansion book would definitely improve this system's accessibility.
I doubt DWM will publish any more adventures for Time Lord in their pages after their recent effort which made a large number of pages off-limits to most readers. However rules, additions and 'guidance' type articles (how to write adventures, how to play characters, run the game better etc) would be, I think, welcomed.
All in all the Time Lord system is lots of fun, and true to the flavour of the best Doctor Who adventures. It is definitely a worthwhile purchase - RPG systems are rarely released as paperback books nowadays and the system is good. I highly recommend to everyone to either play a game with someone who has the rules to get a taste of the system - or buy it and run a game for some friends. Doctor Who is a lovely concept for an RPG - you can go everywhere and do anything. The only limits are your imaginations - and this is one case where that old cliché proves true.
This item appeared in TSV 27 (February 1992).