Nov, 2008

The Next World

…or “I Was Sarah Jane Smith for a Day”.

Just back from an enjoyable day at Game 2008, at the Armitage Centre in Fallowfield, Manchester. Aside from some meandering around trade stalls, I played a 5 hour demo of the new Doctor Who role-playing game, from Cubicle 7. While Cubicle 7 has delayed release of the game until early next year – due to impending changes in the publication style guide incoming from the BBC – I got a chance to have an early taster, despite missing out on the chance to playtest the game earlier this year (not that I’m grumpy about that at all… no siree!).

The Gamemaster, Steve Lyons, has a fair old pedigree in writing for Doctor Who in the ‘extended universe’ of spin-off novels and audio dramas. Here, Steve ran a fairly simple, but engaging, demo game that had all the hallmarks of Who. I played Sarah Jane Smith in the midst of companions that made this feel very much like a Christmas Special (with Martha, Rose, Captain Jack and Mickey along for the ride).

Arriving on a seemingly primitive world populated only by men, it rapidly became clear this idyllic snatch of paradise had something rotten hidden just under the surface. When the ‘priests’ arrived in silver robes with silver helmets sporting a familiar extended crossbar over the top, it didn’t take long to realize we might spend the rest of the episode running away from enemies too tough and oblivious to harm for a stand-up fight. In the end, we managed to save the day, Sarah Jane only screamed once, and only Jack died (for a little while). Steve told us that we had arrived at a solution not far adrift from his last demo session – neither of which he had accounted for in the writing of the adventure. Sounds like it might be time to add a few extra notes and a sidebar or two.

The system seemed simple enough, with a simple mechanism of Attribute + Skill + 2d6 versus Difficulty Number. Despite Steve saying the design leaned away from too many die rolls, we did seem to roll an awful lot of the little plastic cubes. The mechanic that allowed heroism, lucky escapes and fortuitous McGuffins also came under scrutiny. The Story Points allowed you to use useful gadgets (like Sonic Screwdrivers and Vortex Manipulators), roll extra dice, or force a simple success – but the sheer number of points available from the outset for most characters might have made it a little too easy. Mickey, the resident ‘Red Shirt’ in all confrontations with the silver nemesis, got through more than a dozen Story Points in the whole session and still hadn’t run out by the end.

Anyway… I look forward to seeing the game released next year, and will pick up a copy I’m sure. Maybe I could write an adventure of my own?

10th Doctor Departs

Not a complete surprise, but sometimes it feels like these decisions get strung out. I got the feeling when the Shakespearean hiatus cropped up that David would get the urge to roam – but it took a little while longer for the final announcement.

To some extent, the fact Russell and David leave at the same time means the show can start with a clean slate – but, does that necessarily represent a good thing. I have no doubt about Steven Moffat’s credentials in taking over, but to have him do that with a completely new actor – a completely new cast, for that matter… unless they choose to have a companion tag along from one of the four feature-length episodes from 2009/10.

Only time can tell – and in the meantime, it will be interesting to see where Russell takes the storyline during the specials. I would hope that these episodes have some meaning, and that they don’t simply serve as storytelling fluff to fill the void. I want to see progress in the overall arc of the Last of the Time Lords, and the promise of something substantial and meaty, whether within the episodes or as a forerunner of the events to come in the fifth season. The Doctor should never regenerate in a hollow act… the sacrifice should be noble, dramatic and significant, with all the meaning that the story can muster.