Review: Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space Gamemaster’s Screen

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While I’m recovering from Dragon*Con, I thought I’d get caught up on some posting!  I ran demo games of the DW: AiTS role playing game at Cyphan just outside Chicago earlier this summer, and will be running more over Thanksgiving weekend at ChicagoTARDIS.  Here is a review I did for the Gamemaster’s screen for a new zine, Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games,  put out by a group that has been playing in the same Doctor Who campaign since 1985!

My first Game Master Screen was for the FASA Doctor Who Role Playing game (maybe you’ve heard of it?) so it’s fitting that the editors of a Doctor Who zine asked me to put down a few thoughts about the GM screen for the latest incarnation.  Or is it?

I’ve never gotten one for the various editions of D&D I’ve played, perhaps because as the ubiquitous role-playing game, everyone had the books.  It wasn’t until college, when I was running an obscene amount of Call of Cthulhu that I got my next GM screen.  So why the early screen for Doctor Who?  Though I loved the FASA game in concept, having to look up all of the various tables and charts could be annoying, especially being the only one with a copy of the game.  And since FASA never got around to publishing a GM screen, I made my own using the cardboard fold-out with a picture of a Dalek in the center of each adventure.  Using some strong tape I lashed those fold-outs together and replicated just about every table, chart and list in the rulebook using my library copy machine. A little cutting – a little scotch tape – problem solved!

The current screen put out by Cubicle 7 is nothing like those screens we had in the 80’s or 90’s.  This one has SUBSTANCE… real weight and heft to it.  I’ve had screens that were not able to stand up on their own, they were so flimsy.  Not so the DW: AiTaS screen!  I’m probably not the only one who laughed when Amazon’s listings for the Core Rules (and some of the supplements) indicated the products as being ‘hardcover’, since they didn’t seem to know how to describe a boxed game.  But for the GM screen, the description fits!

The screen appears to be made out of the same thickness and quality of paper as the cover of a hardcover game book.  This impression is amplified by the fact that the interior is lined with the same style of glued endpapers as the interior cover of a hardcover.  All that’s missing is the interior pages of a book!   Well, that and the fact the screen folds out into four sections – so more like the covers of two hardcover books stuck together.

The exterior artwork is beautiful, depicting the 10th Doctor in front of the TARDIS giving us his best “I’m so sorry” look as fireworks explode behind the TARDIS.  Folded out, the rest of the sections reveal a small squad of Sontarans taking on a whole fleet of flying Daleks.  One helmeted Sontaran is shown partially disintegrated in mid-EXTERMINATION, while another blasts at a Dalek’s weapon.  Quite an exciting, action-oriented scene that’s sure to inspire.  Perhaps not the stuff of your middle-of-the-season episode, but just the thing for a no-holds barred Rusty-freak out of a season finale.  The images are crisp, and the colors are nice and sharp without being glossy – there won’t be much of any glare from reflected light.

The interior (with a background photo of the TARDIS interior – how apropos) is filled with a series of blue sections filled with white text outlining the rules and tables from the game, just as in the corebooks.  The first section has the only text NOT in a blue box on the interior – THE Basic Rule of the entire game.  The rest of the first section holds the standard Difficulty chart, as well as the “Yes, But, No” degree of Success table.  The second section holds the Story Point Success Ladder and Conflict information, including Random Hit Locations, and Damage from weapons.  The third section deals with Chases and their modifiers, cover, and the results of damage dropping Attributes to zero.  The fourth section holds the Tech Level table, a description of the Attributes and Skills, a table on Spending Story points for Dramatic effect, and finally a list of useful pages in the Gamemaster’s Guide.

All of these are useful, though there are a few minor problems.  First, there is repetition.  The Success Ladder in section two duplicates info from section one.  And I’ve never liked that on the damage chart all of the energy weapons have the same numbers, so the last third of the chart are the same lines over and over applied each time to a different named weapon.  And second, while it is currently useful, the last chart, a reference with page numbers, is a potential future problem.

I can easily see the Cubicle 7 folks going back and updating the core rules when they come out with the inevitable 11th Doctor branded version.  Even if they don’t change the rules, differences in trade dress and logos, not to mention the included companions, monsters and examples could easily force changes to the pagination of the Gamemaster’s Guide and make this table inaccurate.  Of course by then the Matt Smith branded GM screen will no doubt be in the works to correct any such issues (if they exist), but it would be annoying to have to buy the same products over again to keep them accurate.

These are minor quibbles, though.  A major one is that in use, I find it difficult to read.  The use of glued-in endpapers causes the text to be a little duller than it could be.  And the choice to use a similar blue and white as in the glossy corebooks is a recipe for potential eyestrain.  Good lighting is needed to ward off such a result.  Add in wrinkles and other imperfections in the gluing of the otherwise flat endpaper (my copy’s wrinkles don’t obscure any words, but I could see that happening), and I think this creative use of endpapers requires more work to get the bugs out.

All in all, it is a fine-looking, sturdy addition to your Doctor Who gaming.  Some may question the need for rule lookups in such a straight-forward game, but the summaries and tables provided could keep you from ever opening the Gamemaster’s Guide while running again.  Assuming you can tear your eyes away from the jaw-dropping battle scene, that is.

3 out of 5 TARDISes

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