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

Sunday 25 August 2013

A Timey-Wimey Bradshaw's

Understandably, the focus of the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game in both its core boxed set and the Aliens & Creatures boxed set has been on the modern series and on the adventures of the ninth, tenth, and eleventh Doctors. To an extent, this has been frustrating since there is more to the Doctor Who universe than the series since its re-launch in 2005 – in fact, there is half a century of history awaiting exploration by the game and its authors. Therefore, it seems appropriate that with the latest releases for the game, Cubicle Seven Entertainment has begun to explore that history in what is Doctor Who’s fiftieth year. These releases include Defending The Earth: The U.N.I.T. Sourcebook and The First Doctor Sourcebook – the latter the beginning of a series of releases that will look at each Doctor in turn, but it is The Time Traveller’s Companion that is the subject of this review.

As its title suggests, The Time Traveller’s Companion explores the idea at the very core of both Doctor Who and the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game – ‘time’ itself. Thus it explores ‘Temporal Mechanics 101’ in detail, including its physics and temporal phenomena – such as Temporal Nexus Points, the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, Chronic Hysteresis, and Time Spurs, but it does not limit itself purely to ‘Timey-wimey’ stuff. Rather it delves deep back into the television series’ history to present a history of Gallifrey and the Time Lords, an expanded set of rules for creating Time Lord characters and handling those all-important Regenerations, temporal devices other than TARDISes, expanded rules for crewing and piloting a TARDIS, creating and customising a TARDIS and giving it a personality, and more… That ‘more’ though is a whole separate section for the GM’s eyes only, presenting as it does the ‘Dark Secrets of the Time Lords’; explores the possibility of campaigns set before, during, and after the infamous Time War; and as a companion to the earlier ‘Temporal Mechanics 101’, gives ‘Advanced Temporal Mechanics’, the game rules for said earlier section.

The book begins – where else? – with the ‘known’ history of Gallifrey and its people, both Gallifreyans and the Time Lords, even offering the ordinary Gallifreyan as a player character option as a suitable Companion to the group’s Time Lord. Of course, a focus on the latter understandably underpins The Time Traveller’s Companion, so that the player who wants to play a Time Lord can the Advanced Time Lord Creation rules to add his character’s Chapter House, choose a TARDIS, and choose from a wider array of Time Lord Traits, both Good and Bad. Thus a Time Lord might possess Bio-Rhythmic Control or a Doctorate, be a Celestial Intervention Agency agent or even an Outsider, one of the Time Lords who has rejected life in the Citadel for the wilds of Gallifrey.  Equally, he could have been Bottom of the Class or be a Wanted Renegade, have a Faulty Heart or suffer from Random Regeneration. The process of Regeneration is greatly expanded upon, covering its difficulties and dangers, as well as providing a set of Regeneration Tables to randomly determine what a Time Lord’s new Regeneration is like. It is possible for a Time Lord to have some control over his Regeneration, but only with a good Regeneration roll.

Similarly, the chapter devoted to time and time travel expands upon that given in the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game. Its focus is twofold. First the dangers involved, most notably the Blinovitch Limitation Effect which limits the ability of anyone wanting to interfere with his own timeline, but then the means of time travel, covering the basics of navigation as well as an array of time travel devices other than the TARDIS such as Time Corridors, Time Scoops, and Time Rings. The TARDIS receives a sizeable chapter all of its own, detailing every aspect of the iconic vehicle like never before. This very easily could have been developed into a ‘TARDIS Manual’ supplement for the RPG, but it makes sense to have this material in The Time Traveller’s Companion. With its detailed descriptions of what a TARDIS can do, its features, components, rooms, and more, most notably allowing players and GMs alike to design their own TARDIS. Not just design their own TARDIS, but actually create just as they would a player character, including Attributes, Skills, and Traits. Of course, a TARDIS has access to its own exclusive Traits, including Fast Healing, Psychic, Run For Your Life!, Argumentative, Haunted, Inexperienced, and so on. A last indicator that these rules turn a TARDIS into a character is that there are rules for TARDIS Growth – essentially a TARDIS now has a chance to have its own Experience Points! In particular, these rules pleasingly model the TARDIS as seen in the new series where the Doctor very much has a special relationship with the ‘old girl’.

For each of the chapters in the first half of The Time Traveller’s Companion there is a counterpart in the GM’s Section. Here are revealed the ‘real’ history of Gallifrey and the Time Lords; full Bio-Data Extracts for the numerous renegades who have plagued the Time Lords and the Doctor in the last fifty years; a discussion on setting campaigns in Gallifrey’s timeline, right up to the Time War and beyond; and a look at the ‘Children  of Gallifrey’, those left behind after the Time War, some whom might be Neo-Time Lords – like River Song. The latter allows for the creation of Time Lord-like characters after the events of the Time War and so gets around the idea that the Doctor is the last of the Time Lords. Also discussed are some of the deadliest devices of the Time War, ones that the GM does not want his players to get a hold of, that is, unless they are being used as especially deadly plot devices! If the GM’s Section has a particular focus, it is on the Time War and the events that led up to it, addressing what is otherwise a very touchy subject in the television series itself. Throughout this section, the GM is given numerous Adventure Seeds, though he should be warned that their titles include some of the worst puns ever put to paper…

Rounding out the GM’s Section are the rules for the earlier chapter in the Player’s Section that discussed the nature of time travel. For all the complexity of the subject matter, these do a very good of keeping things relatively simple and straightforward easily supporting the explanation given in the Player’s Section. It also covers time travel by other technologies, and even without a Time Lord, but one possibly very useful section suggests how the GM curb his players from overusing the TARDIS and its fund of Story Points as a means to solve every little problem. One actual very useful element is saved for the appendix. This already includes all of the Traits, Gadget Traits, and Space-Time Navigation Tables given earlier in the book, but to this it adds TARDIS sheets and Expert Cards. The latter are the very useful element, each an informative hand-out detailing a particular temporal phenomena, such as the Blinovitch Limitation Effect or Chronic Hysteresis, which the GM can give his Time Lord player without a lot of parrot-like repetition. Indeed, the Time Lord player is now free to lecture his companions on the subject as much as he likes…

The book is nicely presented and organised. Both the players’ and the GM’s sections come with their own introductions that explain the following contents. The book is illustrated throughout, primarily drawing from the new series, but where appropriate uses illustrations from the game’s last fifty years. It is a pity though that The Time Traveller’s Companion is one whole book – the split between Player’s and GM’s Sections seem like it was intended to be another boxed set. (That said, it should be pointed out that the Player’s Section of The Time Traveller’s Companion is available for use on tablet devices so that the players can access it during play).

For any group playing the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game wanting to expand upon all things ‘Timey-wimey’, The Time Traveller’s Companion is incredibly useful. The expanded information upon Time Lords, Time Lord Society, and Time Lord history, allows the players to create more varied characters, especially with more than one Time Lord or Lady in a TARDIS and the GM to create interesting adversaries, or indeed bring back old ones such as The War Chief or The Rani. Similarly the expanded history gives the GM a whole timeline to explore. The new rules for the TARDIS enable the GM to bring his group’s TARDIS into play as a character all of its very own and the expanded rules on the nature of Time Travel enable him to make it a bigger and more challenging feature of his game. Ultimately, The Time Traveller’s Companion is not a supplement that changes a GM’s Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game campaign, but one that lets him expand and develop it.

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