Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday, 25 February 2011

Box of Frights & Delights

In one sense, Doctor Who is all about the monsters and the aliens. After all, not is only the Doctor an alien himself, but if he and his companions never got to meet any, the television series would be a whole lot less exciting and inventive. So if there was a Role Playing Game based on the series, then it too would have to feature lots of aliens and monsters. Thus it is no surprise that the very first supplement to be released for the award winning Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space – The Roleplaying Game from Cubicle Seven Entertainment is devoted to entirely that aspect of the series and the game. For if there was an issue with the core game, it was that its boxed set did not come with enough monsters or aliens, but fortunately, the release of Aliens and Creatures for that game goes a long way fixing that issue, and it does a bit more along the way.

Aliens and Creatures is, like the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space – The Roleplaying Game, another boxed set, and again, it is very full. Inside its weighty tuck box can be found the one-hundred-and-thirty-four page long Aliens and Creatures book, the thirty-two Aliens and Creatures: Adventure Book, over eighty Creature Reference Cards, seven new Gadget Cards to accompany the entries in the book, five blank Gadget Cards, a map to go with one of the scenarios in the Adventure Book, and a sheet of Story Point counters. Just as with the core set, everything is in full colour, tidily laid out, and illustrated with the right photographs from the series. It needs another slight edit, but is otherwise well presented.

The very first thing that you need to know about Aliens and Creatures is that unlike Doctor Who himself, it is grounded in a certain time and a certain space. By that I mean that its source material is drawn from aliens, creatures, and monsters encountered by the Doctor during his tenth and eleventh incarnations, that is, when he was played by Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant. Thus no unique monsters encountered by the first to ninth Doctors, nor the twelfth are described. Neither are any monsters that the Twelfth Doctor encountered that previous incarnations had run across updated to take account of the new information. For example, the entry on the Daleks does not take into account the events of the “Victory of the Daleks,” or the entry on the Weeping Angels of the episodes “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone.” This should not be seen as a problem or a deficit upon the part of the supplement. Cubicle Seven Entertainment have always been up front about the remit of the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space – The Roleplaying Game and the scope of each supplement. Plus, a GM is always free to add the updated details from the continuing series or have his player characters encounter the contents of Aliens and Creatures at any point in time and space across the galaxy. Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space – The Roleplaying Game is a game about travelling in time and space after all.

The bulk of the Aliens and Creatures book is devoted to the aliens, creatures, and monsters that we have seen on screen. They start at Adipose and end with The Wire, with every entry receiving at least a page devoted to it, and major races like the Daleks and the Cyberman having eleven and ten pages devoted to them respectively. In both cases the entry covers the long histories of each race and the menace that they have presented to the universe at large. These longer entries include multiple sets of stats to cover the many and varied versions and experiments created by both races. Thus besides the standard Dalek as described in the core set, stats are included for the Dalek Mutant, Davros, the Dalek Emperor, Imperial Guard Daleks, Assault Daleks, Supreme Daleks, Cult of Skaro Daleks, Human/Dalek Hybrids, Pig Slaves, and Human Daleks. Which covers quite a range of the series’ history, and Aliens and Creatures does exactly the same for the Cybermen with a discussion of their Mondas/Telos origins in our universe.

Major and minor figures from the series are also described, from Cassandra and the Face of Boe to Professor Lazarus and Thomas Kincade Brannigan. In truth, some of these, and indeed, some of the monsters might be a little hard to work into an adventure, such as Professor Lazarus and the Toclofane, but the book is the all better their inclusion. Anyone reading through the Aliens and Creatures will find some their favourites described in its pages, mine being the Judoon, the Vashta Nerada, and the Weeping Angels.

For the most part, these descriptions are drawn from what we have seen on screen. In places, the authors do develop the creatures a little, but to honest it is unreasonable to expect the authors to deviate too much from the series, given that the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space – The Roleplaying Game is aimed primarily at an audience that came to the television series via its revival rather than its history.

The Aliens and Creatures book ends with two relatively short sections. The first of these is initially devoted to analysing and creating aliens, creatures, and monsters, and then how to create them in game terms, whether for use as NPCs or as player characters. There is some repetition from the core rules for Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space – The Roleplaying Game in that this section lists all of the game’s Alien Traits such as Alien Appearance and Immaterial. While this repetition might be irksome to others, it is actually useful to have these Traits listed in the same place as the rules and guidelines for alien, creature, and monster creation.

What will attract the attention of some players is the inclusion of several Race Packages already to be selected by the players. The given packages are for the Catkind, Forest of Cheem, Hath, Human Daleks, Judoon, Malmooth, Ood, Plasmavores, Sontarans, Tritovores, and Werewolves. Some of these of these might not make a GM’s game – for example, I am not sure that I would want a Sontaran as a player character in a game that I was running or playing, not without it being in the hands of an excellent roleplayer, but that is a GM’s decision. Naturally, the Dalek is not included as a Race Package. That, after all, would be bloody silly.

The last section provides a means for the GM to create his own worlds and species using a series of tables. The process for both requires a number of dice rolls and takes about ten minutes in each case to provide the bare bones of either a planetary system or a sentient species. Adding further detail will probably take the GM a little longer. The results can be a little bit crazy such as a binary system orbiting a Magnetar, the two inhabitable worlds being Earth-like, one a cold swamp world, the other being a large, low gravity archipeligopolis, or a peaceful, interplanetary insectoid species three legs, two arms, four tails, and wings. The point is that the GM should really only use these tables as guidelines and for inspiration.

Rounding out the last section and the Aliens and Creatures books are three sample worlds and their species. These are described in detail and are only not accompanied by Race Packages for each of the species, but also by quite detailed Adventure Ideas. This is in addition to the adventures and adventure ideas given in the Adventure Book, which at just thirty-two pages is more of a booklet than a book. The first full adventure, “The Next World” has the classic structure of a Doctor Who story and pits the characters against a classic foe. It is an enjoyable, if straight forward affair though it does not always go out of its way to offer the possible solutions to the players. It is followed by the second adventure, “The Rosetta Plague,” which feels very much more like a modern adventure with intriguing situation and idea at its heart. If I have an issue with either scenario it is to wonder why the “The Rosetta Plague” required a map and “The Next World” not. Both adventures are ready to run as is, and should provide two or three sessions of good play. They are followed by nine adventure ideas, one of which is somewhat banal, another feels like a bug hunt, while another feels like a crossover with the television series, FireFly. Others though are much more entertaining and even wacky, including an encounter with the Vashta Nerada, a Sontaran invasion of the Earth during the Great War, and a Dalek invasion of Camelot!

Lastly, the Aliens and Creatures boxed set is filled with reference cards for each of the entries in the Aliens and Creatures book. These are double-sided with an image on the front and the stats on the back. Several blank sheets are included for the GM’s use.

The problem is that the Aliens and Creatures boxed set is never going to please everyone. It is never going to have every monster that everyone wants and probably has a few that people do not want. Nevertheless, this is a solid selection, many of which will find their way into a GM’s game. The extras are very useful, whether it is the new Race Packages – “Can I play a Judoon in my next game please?”, the new rules and guidelines for sentient race creation, and planet creation, while the adventures will also find their way into a GM’s campaign.

If you happen to be a fan of the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space – The Roleplaying Game, then you are going to want to have more monsters, creatures, and aliens for your game. The Aliens and Creatures boxed set will provide plenty of those and more. It is a good looking and useful supplement for the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space – The Roleplaying Game.