Monday, 4 May 2015

DWAITAS: 9th Doctor Sourcebook

And, then, in 2005, the series came back.

But it had, of course, regenerated into a form notably changed from its former self. This was "Nu Who", and, fandom being what it is, there are still some who haven't got over that fact. Nonetheless, we are now in an era of the show more familiar to younger viewers, and, indeed, to many Americans. Having said which, while the series was an instant hit in the UK, it was another season or so before it really took off in the US, which means that the Ninth Doctor Sourcebook could well be less popular than the two volumes that will follow it.

Popularity aside, this book does have a couple of more immediate problems to cope with. The first, which has already been faced by volumes Six and Seven, is the small number of stories there are in this era. Indeed, there are only ten, less than that of any previous incarnation save the Eighth, and most of them are only about half the length of what had been the standard for much of the classic show. The second problem is the relatively tight story arc of the season, at least in terms of character development (rather than the superficially more obvious Bad Wolf thing). This makes it somewhat difficult to fit new stories into the era without it feeling more of a squeeze, something reflected in the content of this book.

But what do we have? Well, we start, as always, with an examination of the Doctor and his companions. Rose, and arguably Captain Jack, are the only real companions here, of course, and the book acknowledges that. However, Jackie and Mickey are included as important supporting characters, and there's a discussion later on in the book (in the Aliens of London entry) on how these sorts of characters can be used in campaigns - something that hadn't really been seen at all in the classic show, even during the UNIT era. Adam also gets a write-up, with the obvious caveat that he's exactly the sort of character you shouldn't be playing, just as his function in the series is to be the "failed companion" that helps to highlight the significance of the real ones.

An ongoing sourcebook problem does rear its head again in the stats, though, with the characters being obviously overpowered. While one can't blame the author of this volume directly, since he's just repeating the figures given in the core rulebook, one can't help but notice that Rose, for example, has the stats of an Experienced character, while still having the Inexperienced character trait. And it's apparently impossible to describe Jackie, of all people, without giving her two levels of Experienced (and then pretending you haven't when it comes to calculating her Story Points). This indicates a serious mismatch between the TV series and the ability of the game system to emulate it properly, and one that does not appear to have ever been addressed by the publishers.

Anyway, the second chapter discusses the themes of Nu Who's first season, such as the aftermath of the Time War and the focus on stories set on, or immediately adjacent to, the Earth. Much of this is discussed in the parallel gaming context of starting a new campaign, or re-starting one after a lengthy break. In particular, there's a section about using the structure of the Eccleston season as a template for a campaign, turning the tightness of the plot arc into a gaming advantage - at least, if you're not actually using the 9th Doctor. Indeed, in place of the "adventure suggestions" seen in some other volumes, we have instead three suggestions for campaigns that can follow the same themes without redoing the individual stories, and that would use original PCs.

This lengthy, but helpful, section is followed by the discussions of the broadcast episodes themselves. Here, having dispensed quite successfully with the second problem I mentioned above, we run headlong into the first. There's not really a lot that can be done about this, and it inevitably results in some some overlong descriptions of the plot, here bulked up with long lists of continuity points, most of which add nothing to a game.

Fortunately, though, it doesn't really matter. As happened with volume Six, the fact that there are only ten stories to describe like this means that there's plenty of room left over for the stuff that does matter in game, and the book doesn't sacrifice that in the interests of plot fetishism, as happened in volume Five. In addition to advice on how to run the story 'as is', there is now a separate section on running a story that merely uses its themes and tropes, or that provides alternative plans for the villains and so on. This isn't really anything new, since we've had it in some form or another since volume One, but this time it's separated out, perhaps because of the higher probability that players will have seen the story in question.

All the key NPCs for each story are, as usual, given full stats. Unlike earlier sourcebooks, many of the aliens and monsters appearing here are already in the core rulebooks, so there is some, largely unavoidable, duplication of previously published material. Some of the text feels a bit more like padding, however. For example, there is a very lengthy description of what Daleks are, and where they came from, in the section on the story Dalek, despite the fact that this not only re-iterates earlier volumes, but has nothing meaningful to do with the story as broadcast. Clearly, somebody was desperate to bump their page count up!

Having said that, though, there's at least nothing missing. The focus on themes, rather than details (at least, once one gets past the continuity cruft) is a sensible one in a book dedicated to gaming, and it does provide a useful resource for games other than those directly set in the 9th Doctor's era. The flaws that do exist are largely down to padding, which was always going to be an issue in this particular volume.

The book does give you what you need to run adventures in the 9th Doctor's style even, or perhaps especially, if you aren't going to use him as a character. It shows a good grasp of the era, and, while it may not be the best book in the series so far, it's by no means the worst, either.

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