Monday, 8 July 2013

DWAITAS: 2nd Doctor Sourcebook

The Second Doctor's era is a crucial one in the development of Doctor Who as a series. There's the obvious point that the regeneration itself, and the show's re-invention that followed it, are a large part of why it has survived so long. But it's also significant that much of what we now associate with the show originated with the Second, not the First, Doctor. The First Doctor's adventures, as I mentioned in the previous review, were quite different to what we have now, and often at least tried to be fairly sophisticated science fiction, with a focus on alien culture, moral quandaries, and the practicalities of surviving in a hostile past.

While there certainly are some pretty sophisticated stories in the Second Doctor's era (The Mind Robber particularly springs to mind), there was also a change in focus. This era became about monsters in a way that the first three seasons had never really tried to be - aside, of course, from the Daleks. Other features of the era that have since been commonplace include the 'base under siege' trope, with an isolated outpost menaced by hostile aliens. That's first seen in The Tenth Planet, the very last Hartnell episode, but it becomes much more common under Troughton, notably describing all but one story in the fifth season.

It's also the first time we have a companion joining for the sheer fun of time travel, and the last of the truly reluctant companions. In this respect, the dynamic of the show is also becoming something we more readily recognise today. It's also, for that matter, the first appearance of the sonic screwdriver. This, incidentally, is first seen in Fury From the Deep, a story in which it's only used to, of all things, undo some screws! Even in this era, it gets to do more later on...

This gives the second volume in the DWAITAS sourcebook series an advantage that the first volume could never really have. The stories here are more familiar in style, more the sort of thing somebody who'd only ever seen Nu Who (or, indeed, much of the colour era of the classic series) would expect. In particular, there are a host of monsters to throw into our own scenarios, where in the first sourcebook there were only Daleks and a bunch of alien cultures - many of which, like the Drahvins and the Moroks, look essentially human.

It's worth noting, though, that many of the monsters here will be familiar, even to those who only know Nu Who. That's because the series itself has realised the same thing, and quite a lot of the enemies the Second Doctor faced have shown up again in the modern era - both the Ice Warriors and the Great Intelligence in the latest season, for example.

So how does the sourcebook handle all this? As before, each story gets its own entry, complete with stats for monsters and major NPCs, as well as a brief summary of the plot, suggestions for sequels, and so on. There is more emphasis here on actually running the story as an RPG adventure than there was in the first volume, such as by explaining how the villains might respond to different tactics. I suspect this is in part due to the stories being more formulaic than in the previous era, leaving little to be said about expanding their general themes and concepts.

There's also the issue that, because the stories are closer to the style we're now familiar with, they may be more what DWAITAS players are expecting, while the fact that they're in black & white, and, in many cases, completely unavailable on DVD, means it's less likely that the players will have seen them. Even so, one suspects that most readers will find the 'further adventures' section more useful than the advice on how to run the televised one.

The Second Doctor does, however, have significantly less televised stories than the first, and the sourcebook is the same length. This leaves a lot of extra space for discussing all the stuff that's generic to the era. For example, we have, as before, a section devoted to discussing the Doctor himself, his personality and style, and TARDIS. But this time, there's also room for the one thing I felt was missing from the first sourcebook: a more detailed look at his companions, with advice on playing them as PCs.

This, of course, is something I've been doing myself on this blog, and there's been enough positive feedback for me to continue with it for the Second Doctor's companions, at least. But, honestly, the job done in the sourcebook is pretty good, and I'll inevitably be repeating stuff.

The character sheets provided here seem more balanced than in the first volume, and Ben and Polly are shown as more experienced, reflecting their extra adventures since The Tenth Planet.  Oddly, however, while their skills and attributes have increased, as you might expect, their traits have changed dramatically - Ben is no longer Tough, Polly is no longer a Screamer (seriously?), and they've both lost Run For Your Life.

The Doctor is also significantly more powerful then he was before, due largely to a slew of new traits. That, of course, is far easier to justify, since he has changed personality, and to something closer to his later incarnations (Matt Smith cites Troughton as a particular influence). His combat skills have vanished altogether, but, again, that makes sense, since this Doctor is more of a pacifist than his predecessor, who would occasionally whack people unconscious with his walking stick. They'll be back in the next volume...

That's followed by a rules chapter, describing a number of new traits and descriptions of the gadgets that appear during this run, such as the original sonic screwdriver. Many of these traits have been listed in other DWAITAS supplements beyond the core rulebook, but some are genuinely new, and they are welcome.

The same chapter also includes some general advice about who the player characters should be in a game of DWAITAS, assuming that you aren't just using the characters from the show. This is a useful discussion to have, and something I'd have liked to have seen more of in the core rulebook. Here, of course, it's tailored to this particular era, so some of the suggestions understandably revolve around tough guys and teenage girls. However, there's also material about TARDIS-free campaigns and other variants. For that matter, there's also a discussion of Season 6B, something I had planned to include in my "Companions as PCs" series - it's done well enough here that I won't have a lot to add!

This is followed by a detailed look at the recurring enemies of the era - Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors, and the Great Intelligence. Many of the stats that would have been in the "adventures" section of the first volume are here, so that we get, for example, Mk II to Mk IV Cybermen, along with cybermats and variant forms, such as Cyber Leaders. Doing it this way keeps all of the relevant information in one place, and means that, in effect, there's even more information on each story than there was in the first volume.

Which, by the way, doesn't mean that the first volume is really short-changing you. Remember, that included a number of non-science fiction stories, such as The Gunfighters, that don't require any monster stats, gadget descriptions, or discussion of the setting that you can't find just as easily on Wikipedia. The fact that The Highlanders is the only straight historical adventure in the Second Doctor's era means that there is more, per story, to discuss, and it's all well-handled here.

Finally, there's a discussion about how the stories worked in this era, and how to design your own. There isn't a set of specific adventure ideas, as there was in the first volume, but there is extensive discussion of such things as the 'base under siege' trope, the particular concerns of '60s sci-fi writers that showed up in the TV stories, and so on. For example, an unusual feature of this era is that a lot of the stories take place in the relatively near future, and develop a surprisingly consistent picture of how things are going to turn out between 1966 and 2100-ish. This view of future world history gets a good examination here, while avoiding producing a restrictive timeline. (The latter might also look odd, given that, if '60s Doctor Who is to be believed, in the 21st century, the USA should be marginally less significant on the world stage than Denmark...)

All in all, this is another fine sourcebook. It seems well-researched, and gives the GM plenty of ideas for new adventures, and a lot of advice about the flavour and style of the era. You can now easily add Yeti, Macra, and Krotons to your games, even if you don't want to actually adventure in the era itself, and there's much useful material if you do. The remaining sourcebooks in the series have a lot to live up to.

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