Role Playing in the Doctor Who
The Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith, Dr
Harry Sullivan and Nigel the scaffolder knee-wrencher rushed down the
corridor. Behind them, the hideous Bug Eye Monster crackled in pain
and began to lumber after them.
Unfortunately after turning the
door, the fleeing group find a large foreboding door appearing in
front of them.
“Doctor, can you open it?”
cant you?” threw back an irritated Doctor.
am a doctor, not a locksmith” was Harry’s reply, earning
him a filthy look from the Timelord.
Doctor!” cried an alarmed Sarah Jane, “The monster is
What happens next? Does the Bug Eyed
Monster kill all the people, or will the Doctor, Sarah Jane or Nigel
think of something (after all, Harry will not!).
Bad news, that decision is up to you
and your friends!
In a nutshell that is what Role
Playing is all about. A group of people telling a story in a
collaborative way, with most of them assuming a single role in the
story (like the Doctor, Sarah Jane, Harry and Nigel) with one player
supplying the scene description and plays the roles of all the other
characters in the story (like the BEM). The single player
(traditionally called the game master) also helps resolve conflict in
the game, in this case, whether the door gets open in time, and if
needed, how the players fight the Bug Eyed Monster in order to
In order to Role Playing Games (or
RPG) all you really need is 2 or more players and a sense of
imagination. Dispute what game manufacturers tell you, that is all
you need, however, there is a whole industry that make RPG games.
Each of them contain most of the following:
you define the strengths, weaknesses and abilities of the people who
you play in the game.
a system to resolve puzzles and combat.
the game master design the world that the characters will live in
the game master to create the villains, and innocent bystanders that
inhibit the world.
create or list the
technology and equipment used by the characters (heroes, villains
and innocent bystanders
“Here Harry, use this!”
Nigel hands Harry a big wrench.
With a mighty hurl, Harry throws
the wrench at the Bug Eye Monster, hitting it in it’s eye!
“I meant use it on the door
Harry!” sighs Nigel in disbelief.
Meanwhile, the doctor has managed
to get his sonic screwdriver, and used it as a sonic lance, blowing
away the locking mechanism on the door.
“Ah HA! Ok every one,
through the door”
“But what about my spanner?”
Here we have 2 examples on how an RPG
system can be used to resolve the situation. Harry’s attack on
the BEM, and the Doctor’s attempt at lock picking.
Every RPG system has its own way of
resolving conflict. Some of them will go into massive detail on how
much damage a wrench can cause depending on Harry’s strength,
and the location the wrench hits on the BEM. Others will simplify it
to simply a set damage value. However, the thing that adds a risk to
the action is that most systems use random numbers to determine if
the attack succeeds or fails, and the easiest was of doing this is
Dice (singular die) can come in many
sizes, from the famous 6 sided dice (called d6 by most games) to 4
sided die (d4) to a 100 sided die (d100).
Let say we are using d20 Future (a
game based on the popular Dungeons and Dragons game). A BEM is a
tough Monster, so the rules could say that Harry’s player needs
a 18 or greater on one 20 sided die, or a d20. Harry’s player
roles a 20. In d20 Future, this is the best possible roll, which
means that Harry was very successful, and the Game Master states that
the BEM’s eye was hit, causing it great pain.
If Harry’s character rolls a 1,
this would be the worst possible result. The Game Master could have
had Harry drop the wrench on his foot, or miss and hit the Doctor
instead. If Harry’s player rolled better that 1 but less that
16. This means a failure and Harry fails to hit the monster. If the
player rolled between 16 and 19, Harry would have hit the BEM, but
not cause as much damage.
Now Nigel is a better wrench thrower
than Harry. So in d20 Future terms, Nigel may need only 12 or better
to hit the BEM. And Sarah Jane may have needed a 20 just to hit the
This is a very simple example on how
combat works, I don’t want to throw in stuff that may confuse
people, and this article is just to show how the beastie works.
The same system also works for the
Doctor’s attempts on the door. The Doctor is an old hand at
breaking locks, so the game master says that the Doctor’s
player only needs to roll 10 or better to open the lock. Having the
trusty sonic screwdriver makes the task so much easier, making it
only 6 or better to break the lock. The Doctor’s player rolls a
12, more than enough to open the lock!
If Harry could have picked up his
shoe and smack the BEM into green goo, it would be no fun for all
concerned. The thrill of risk and the risk of failure (if only in the
minds of those playing the game) adds challenge to the game. And
while the Doctor is almost perfect in the TV series, he does sometime
fail, and no matter what path he takes, people generally die.
So risk, conflict and chance play big
parts of a RPG game, as well as a normal Doctor Who script. The job
here is to make the gaming experience like a serial like the old
cliffhanger episodes of the older series, but also the sense of
adventure and wonder that Doctor Who has. The rules make it easy for
players and game masters to make the worlds of Doctor Who, but don’t
get bogged down in them. The primary rule in all RPG games is “to
have fun”, and that should be your goal as well.
Games that would be easy to use in
the Doctor Who Universe:
This is not a complete list, but many
of these games are available for free on the internet (at least a light
version which is enough to start playing with), or easy to buy online
or at friendly gaming stores worldwide:
1. GURPS: www.sjgames.com/GURPS
The Generic and Universal Role
Playing Game is a modular and complete system that is capable of
running any possible location in the Doctor Who universe, including e
space! Almost perfect for Doctor Who, even the Doctor’s
regeneration is covered under the rules. The new fourth edition is
out, but the third edition has the excellent GURPS Time Travel
supplement and many source books usable for a time and space spanning
campaign , including books for the ancient Greece, China and Rome,
even the stone age, as well as books for the far future. Other rules
include rules to have starship battles and create vehicles from horse
and carriage to grav cars, just perfect for the gadget crazy Jon
Further articles will treat GURPS as the default system, as it
uses generic measurments and terms, which makes it easy to port to
the other systems.
GURPS lite can be found here
2. EABA & CORPS: www.btrc.net
BTRC is a small company that has
produced some of the most flexible RPG systems known. EABA is the
newer system, while CORPS is an older system that is my favourite
system from this range. Both systems have vehicle design rules,
weapon design rules, and have Greg Porter’s own Timelords
campaign setting converted to the system to help with the time travel
aspect of the system (if it has a totally different background and
method of time travel).
EABAnywhere can be found here
D20 Modern and D20 Future derive from
the famous Dungeons and Dragons systems, and also forms the basis of
the current Star Wars RPG game.
There is no default background in d20
Not as flexible as GURPS or EABA, it
can be used for time travel with a little more work. The d20 system
is an open system, which means most of the rules are available for
download here: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=d20/article/msrd
The oldest of all Sci-Fi RPG games.
Set in the far future during the Third Imperium, it is a more Golden
Age literary Scifi feel, with a lot of 1970's scifi thrown in.
Generally capable of low tech and high tech civilisations, with some
work it can handle Doctor Who quite nicely. Traveller has been
converted to d20 (Traveller20), and GURPS (GURPS Traveller). Older
versions of the game can still be found (Classic Traveller, Mega
Traveller, Traveller The New Era and Traveller 4). If players like
the d20 system Traveller20 is a better option as it is more focused
on a star spanning game and would convert more easily to Doctor Who.
As well, the vehicle and starship rules in both Traveller 20 and
GURPS Traveller are easy to master and converts to all versions of
Traveller, and easily to most other systems.
Traveller 20 lite can be found here
I will be using a mix of d20 and
Traveller 20 as my second system, given the penetration of the d20
Origionally an anime based game, BESM
uses the Tristat system, which is a nice clean system that is capable
of creating Doctor Who quite well. The core rules can be downloaded
for free here: http://www.guardiansorder.com/pdfs/goo_TriStatdX.pdf
As reviewed in the Galefreyan Embassy
website, this is the only dedicated Doctor Who system available today
(the other system , FASA’s Doctor Who RPG is no longer
available and takes large liberties with the Doctor Who setting).
See the review here:
the full game here:
So check out the systems, and next article I will look at Doctor
Who characters for GURPS and d20!