#RPGaDay2015: 18 – Doctor Who

Strictly speaking, there are very few scifi RPGs. Off the top of my head, just Shock:Sign in StrangerFreemarket, and Eclipse Phase definitely qualify, and a few others are arguable: Blue PlanetAlbedoDiaspora, and Khaotic. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting at the moment, but RPGs, much like movies and TV, very rarely take a serious stab at science fiction—most “science fiction” is really just fantasy with robots and spaceships and rayguns.

But I’m not feeling pedantic, so including the many science fantasy RPGs out there, the one I’ve most enjoyed playing of late is Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. Not just because I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who (though that obviously helps), but because the rules are a good balance of embodying the source material, giving a few bits of crunch to sink your hooks into, and being relatively light-weight.

It’s mostly a fairly traditional RPG, with the GM having the lion’s share of authorial power and players mostly confined to controlling the PCs. Those PCs have attributes and skills and (dis)advantages, plus hero points (plot points? I forget what they’re called). But with just a few deft touches, it really tunes those otherwise-bland mechanics to match the show I love. First, and most important, the game isn’t about combat—there are minimal extra complications/rules if a conflict turns into a fight and there’s the genius “initiative” rules: in any conflict, talkers go first, then movers, then doers, then fighters. So by the time you get to take a shot at someone, they may well have run away or closed the door, or in some other way avoided the fight.

Second, it follows Buffy (the RPG) in giving the characters with fewer capabilities more hero points, which helps to make them more the center of the story and often let them save the day in the end. This is a great balancing mechanism in a traditional-style RPG and, combined with the rest of the rules, makes a Doctor-plus-companions game fun for all concerned.

Gen Con 2014 – Gaming

Gen Con was great fun, as usual. This was the first year in 15 when I wasn’t running games, so I had a blissfully laid-back schedule. In a later post, I’ll talk about all the flaws in the organization, but once I was there it was great!

Since we couldn’t get into many RPG events that weren’t D&D or Pathfinder (and we aren’t interested in those), we instead filled much of our game time with Games on Demand. This year they solved the principle problem of previous years by making the “boarding” order random rather than first-come, first-served. So you could show up 15 min—or even 2 min—before the start time and not only get into a game but have a reasonable shot at getting into one of your preferred choices. (Last year, you could show up an hour and a half before a time slot and still not be the front of the line, so you basically had to allocated an additional 1-2 hours of line-standing if you wanted to play Games on Demand and had any preferences whatsoever among the games offered.) I had poor luck on the letter lottery, inevitably picking one of the last letters called, but there were enough games of interest to me that I never had to settle. I won’t talk about every game I played at Gen Con, but want to highlight a few.

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#RPGaDAY 10: Game Fiction?

I guess if we’re talking strictly about fiction written to be a tie-in to a game, the answer would have to be the original Dragonlance trilogy, because it’s the only game fiction I’ve ever read. And, strictly speaking, I didn’t read it as game fiction—I read it because a friend recommended it, and didn’t buy any Dragonlance game products until years later, and never played in that world. So while I was aware there was a connection, I never really thought about it as “game fiction”. 

I really don’t read game fiction. I usually even skip the fiction in RPG books, even for games I love. Though I do love the microfiction that Eppy wrote for our chapter introductions of Dread.

However, if you count fiction that ties in with games indirectly (specifically, the Doctor Who RPG), and don’t mind that it’s not in print format, then my favorite would be one of the Big Finish Doctor Who audiobooks. That’s as close as I’ve gotten to game fiction in the last ~3 decades. I couldn’t tell you a specific one off the top of my head, but all have been good and some have been amazing. 

#RPGaDAY 6: Underground

Ars Magica 3rd edition cover

“Favorite RPG I never get to play” is a tricky question. Is that literal, or figurative? My reflex answer to this is Ars Magica or Over the Edge, but both of those I have played on multiple occasions. So while it feels like I “never” get to play them, I actually have—in the case of Ars Magica I’ve had 2 or 3 long-running, awesome games over the years (one using Redhurst as the setting). A few other games that I’ve “always wanted to play”, I’ve actually played, if only once: SkyRealms of Jorune, Time & Temp, Earthdawn, Iron Heroes, Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, Cat, Everway, Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth. I’d love to play any of them again, with Iron Heroes and Everway tops on the list. But they can no longer go on the list of games I’ve never gotten to play.

If I take the question absolutely literally—only games that I have never played at all—there’s still quite a list. Deadlands and The Babylon Project are very high on that list, as are Don’t Rest Your Head, Castle Falkenstein, and Dead Inside. Particularly notable is Deadlands: we created characters when the game was new, and then the game fell through before the first session.

But of games that I’ve never gotten to play, I guess I’d have to say that Underground is the never-played game that I most want to play. It beats out the others by virtue of its genre and mechanics. The unique blend of dystopia, cyberpunk, and supers, used to foment social commentary, is something I’ve not found even half of in any other game. The mechanics are not as novel as some games, but still provide some nice touches. I’m particularly fond of the character creation, which puts the player in an impossible situation that mimics the impossible situation their characters are in, and the rules for how characters’ actions change society, always with unintended consequences—I believe Underground was the first commercial RPG to have formal mechanics for this.

 Underground RPG book cover

#RPGaDAY 4: Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space, Limited Edition

Well, this is a little embarrassing. Only a little mind you—I’m never embarrassed about Doctor Who itself. But I already have the original boxed set of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space, and the content is almost identical. So even moreso than for RPGs in general, I really didn’t need this book. But I had a gift card to use, this was just staring at me on the shelf, and the images in it include a modest number of classic Who. So, I was weak. 

I guess I can redeem myself a little bit by saying that the most recent time I spent money on RPGs was on Kickstarter. That’s not buying something in the conventional sense (though I certainly hope that the projects succeed and receive my backer rewards), and I don’t have these things yet, but I did spend money for them. At the same time I backed Fragged Empires and Non-Player Cards, so I guess in one sense those are my most recent RPG purchases. 

I’m particularly looking forward to the Non-Player Cards because of the artwork: I still think that Everway’s chargen method is one of the best ever, and look forward to some new art cards for my RPGs

Story vs. Story Arc

I think I’m becoming disenchanted by Doctor Who–still love it, particularly the individual stories, but the story arcs are starting to be more annoying than wonderful. Which is very surprising to me. Either I want what I can’t have, or it is possible to have too much of a good thing. When I was a kid, the thing that most disappointed me about Star Trek: The Next Generation (and any number of other shows) was the lack of development—the way that the characters and setting didn’t seem to change nearly as much as episode events seemed to warrant. Sure, solving the problem of the week was interesting, but it just left me feeling unfulfilled. Ongoing development of the story and the characters is what made me love Blake’s 7 so much. Continue reading