Doctor Who: Adventures In Time and Space RPG Review Similar to FateCore?

I finished reading the final book in the Doctor Who RPG abbreviated DWAITAS last night and overall I have to say that I am impressed with the system as a whole.  There are certain similarities to Fate core that struck me initially although there is more to the game than these similarities.

The boxed version of the game

DWAITAS is a rules lite system in essence.  It is a boxed set (although I got mine in PDF) that contains three books: The Players Guide, The Gamemaster Guide and the Adventure Book.  There are also a bunch of pre-made character sheets (including Doctor Who, Amy Pond and Rory) so you can leap directly into play.  Also present is a “Read this First” sheet which is kind of like a quick play guide introducing the main concepts and terms of the game.  Finally there is some gadget cards, story point tokens and a bunch of dice (if you buy the physical copy) so overall, it seems packed full of goodies as any boxed set for an RPG should be.

The core gameplay revolves around the following mechanic.  You have a target number to beat (12 is the most common number being the “average” task) but the target number can go as high as 33!  To beat these target numbers you roll two six sided dice + associated attribute value + appropriate skill value + appropriate traits.  There are six attributes (Awareness, Coordination, Ingenuity, Presence, Resolve and Strength) and a bunch of skills.  Traits are little character building blocks that add situational modifiers for specific circumstances much like Feats in DnD/Pathfinder or stunts in Fate Core.

It works a little like this example of play (my own example not taken from book)

GM: Four cybermen move toward you from the collapsed machinery of the factory.  They move toward you it seems from every direction.  It appears that they may be looking to capture you for an “upgrade”.

Player: Can I make an Awareness plus fighting roll modified by my keen senses trait to see if I can find a way to get past them without giving them a chance to grab me?

GM: Sure, give it a roll.  I would say that you would need around 18 to get away from them.  They are Cybermen after all!

Player rolls two dice getting an 8 adds 5 for their awareness, 3 for their fighting skill and finally a 2 for their keen senses trait hitting 18 right on the dot meaning they succeed but it is not all good.

GM: You see an avenue for escape but it is a little closer to one of the cybermen than you would like.  It does look like your only option though.

Player:  I could attempt to duck through, but as you said, they are cybermen, and I don’t think I have the athletics to dodge so I throw my hands in the air and say “Looks like you got me! Fetching suits you offer, do they come in green?”

It is this mechanic that works largely through the game.  So as long as you can come up with an attribute, a skill if you have some ranks and if a trait suits you have the game down pat.  The above example also shows something else that they reinforce throughout all the rules.  The idea that surrendering rather than fighting is normally the better option.  This is very Fate like in that failure offers something interesting to the story.  Also, if you look at the actual Doctor Who series you will see there is not a lot of violence played out by the main characters.  In fact the Doctor himself is always surrendering so he can be taken along to those that are in control to find out more information.

Of course there is some conflict management to be done though.  Just because the main protagonists (i.e. the characters) are keen to find a non violent way around things does no mean your foes will agree.  Damage is dealt not by a dice roll but a set number of damage modified only by the level of success that you achieve.  Armour simply reduces that damage.  There are weapons (like a Dalek’s laser) that on a good roll (3 above the target number which is considered standard damage) which is just lethal.  It does not really matter about the armour you have on, you just die, because that is what Dalek’s should be like! Other damage is applied to the characters statistics rather than some kind of wound tracking mechanism much like Traveller funnily enough!

As you can see there is a ranked success ladder.  It starts at 9 or less than the target number is Disastrous! 4-8 below the target number is Bad, 1-3 below the target number is Failure described as “No, but its not all bad”, 0-3 above the target number is Success, described as “Yes, but its not all good”, 4-8 above the target number is Good and 9 or above the target number is fantastic.  They are largely the realm of the GM to fill in the various blanks of what was going to occur based on each success level.  I feel that these levels are almost Fate like as well with the idea that not reaching your target may not be a full success but it would add something to your situation.  This is called success at a cost in Fate and while in DWAITAS you would not succeed you may still achieve similar to what you would in Fate.

Fully supported and licensed!  Full colour books!

DWAITAS is most similar to Fate Core in its implementation of Story Points.  Story Points are points that the players are expected to spend freely to create themselves advantages by adding dice to a regular roll (1 story point gives you an extra 2 dice to roll), or it allows you to raise a failed roll up to a Success level only at the rate of one success level per story point (e.g. you roll a disastrous check and by spending 3 story points you can get it to the Success level (but no higher).  You can also spend Story Points to alter things somewhat in your favour from a story perspective.  Each player starts with a set of Story Points (based a little on how powerful the character is) and may start to spend them with the GM handing out Story Points for playing in character, accepting a failure to make the story more interesting and other reasons.  Inclusive in this is the idea of actually having a physical token that you hand over when you use your points much like Fate Core suggests.  The skills are not broken down into sectors of Overcome, create an advantage etc. much like they are in Fate but the core concept of the points are similar and they also act as the game balancer so if someone is playing Doctor Who and others are playing companions you will find the Doctor has less Story Points to play with as he is much more capable (and rightly so)

So, what is wrong with this game?  Not a great deal as far as the mechanics of it all.  If you want to play an alien you have to chew up some serious creation points but you do get it back in bounds with some of the abilities that become available to you.  They attempt to make it attractive to play the companions but I can see some issues if you have a few players and only one can play the Doctor  Who will it be may come down to a knife fight (I know it would in my group).  So then why not all play Time Lords.  Wait for it, rant building….  if you want to skip the rant, ignore the next paragraph.

They specifically say in the book after outlining all the abilities etc. of a Time Lord that it will only be used rarely because the Doctor is the only Time Lord left.  they point to the Time War as the reason where all the Time Lords and the Daleks were destroyed by the Doctor in some way and they can never come back from it.  This really irritated me when they reinvented the series that there was some massive Time War and there were no more Time Lords.  I could not remember that ever happening in the old seasons and I was right.  It was something that was made up from the movie in the 90’s to the reinvention of the series with Christopher Ecclestone.  What a load of rubbish!  If I were buying the boxed set of this game to play in a serious campaign for some time (I am going to play it but it may be a one off) I would want to run a game for a different Time Lord.  That kills off a lot of the baggage that you have with the Doctor and you could start anew so to speak.  To be told you cannot play any other Time Lord is ridiculous!

Of course you can just ignore that fact and play a campaign the way you want to.  In fact it also says in the books to change the rules if you don’t like them.  If you like the Time War then play in a time period (I know that sounds a little ridiculous in a game where time travel is at the core of the game) prior to the Time War!  There is some great advice on how to play with the time setting, what Paradox’s are and how they can be fixed and a bunch of other stuff.  Apart from the author’s insistence that the episode with the vampires in Venice that were actually a race of fish people from another planet being a good episode much of the supporting material is OK.

That does mean they use a lot of examples from the actual series and if you are not a Doctor Who fan then a lot of it is going to be lost on you.  The examples are largely spelled out and then they will say just like the Doctor did on the UK Planet.  If you had not seen that episode, tough, you do not get the reference!  Also, character generation for the human companions tend to aim the human at an average level, not an exceptional human.  This of course is largely true of the companions that the Doctor takes on but can make it difficult to see what you can offer.

The whole game though is really quite good.  It has a simple mechanic at its heart, it promotes itself as a story telling game and for the players to think beyond battling everything they see and even consider surrendering as there will always be a chance to escape later!  In fact the GM book has some great advice on how to build games around these concepts, and some great advice on how to build games that focus on the companions rather than the Doctor.

This is a really good game with few drawbacks.  It is a great game as an entrance level into the hobby as it is largely a rules lite system that uses concepts common with some of the more cutting edge games today.  There is stuff in it that irritates me so it is not a perfect game but it is very good.  I could imagine building a very successful fun campaign with this set of rules with little stress in the making.  I strongly suggest you give it a look if you like Doctor Who or are after a rules lite system with an interesting background.

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