Thursday, January 7, 2016

Doctor Who Role-Playing Game: Some Thoughts

I finally started running a small campaign using the Doctor Who Role-Playing Game (formerly known as: Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space). This is kind of dream come true for me as I am a really big fan of the Doctor ever since watching him back in the States at the end of the 1980ies. My favorite Doctors are #7 and #11.

I am running a five-part campaign called The Companions where the Doctor always disappears at the beginning of the adventure - simply because I didn't want to bother with playing him as an NPC and not knowing, if one of the players would be up to the task of taking him over.

My concerns initially were if I would manage to recreate the frantic atmosphere of the series. Turns out: my openings feel more like the slow openings of the old series, but then pick up pace. So, I am actually start to enjoy running the game.

My observations so far

The rules rest at a happy medium between simulationist and narrative style. Story points bridge the gap between a more simulationist approach and a narrative approach. Thus, I can see both types of players being comfortable with the game.

The game play shows that the rules don't get in the way of running the game. It's actually quite easy to remember the ladder of No and, No, No but, Yes but, Yes, and Yes and results and when you get them. Setting difficulties is also pretty easy for an experienced GM. The rules enhance the game without being cumbersome, and the graduated successes help drive the story.

The character creation was not really tested yet, because I used the PreGens. Only one player built his own character. I think, here it helps to have access to the rulebook to look over all the options. The system is geared to create the companions and timelords we see in the series.

The rules for building gadgets are really simple, but again it helps if the player has access to the rulebook.

In a way I like the boxed sets which I also own more. They had a players' and a GM book where the GM repeated the player info in condensed form, thus enabling the GM to hand over the players' book to the players during the session. Also, it contained tokens for Story Points, Gadget Cards and Character Sheets for the Companions. Here, the Tenth Doctor box wins the day, because the effects of good and bad traits are listed on the sheet.

The Vortex System is obviously geared towards playing the Doctor and his Companions, and all the aliens and creatures are stated for the Vortex System. The books (not only the rulebook) are illustrated with pictures taken from the series which really is a no-brainer and creates beautiful books based on the franchise.

My big but

After running three sessions of the game, and having run FAE recently, I feel the Vortex System is complicated as opposed to FAE. A lot of the mechanical effects that Vortex codifies could be more easily and elegantly be simulated by FAE or Fate Core. Building a gadget? As easy as creating an advantage (and not limited to a list of traits). Being a Timelord? No need for a dozen traits, but simply an aspect that can be invoked or compelled. Special good traits? Not all of them need to be mechanical, some could simply be aspects. Those with mechanical oomph could be stunts.

So while I will finish my current "season" of The Companions with the Vortex System, for further seasons I will strongly consider moving to FAE or Fate Core.

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