Friday, May 17, 2013

Time Lord: The "Lost" Doctor Who RPG

In the 90s, back in the dark ages of Doctor Who fandom when the show itself was on a razor-thin path that lead eventually to the cancellation of the program, Virgin Books was doing licensed Doctor Who novels. I am not really a huge fan of licensed tie-in novels, I think that (at best) you have to consider them to be in some sort of weird parallel universe where the characters are almost but not quite the characters that you are used to in your movies or TV programs. With Doctor Who, I think this is an easier pill to swallow because there's already parallel universes that are part of the setting.

The Virgin Books period is marked by quirky and inventive storylines that advanced the story of the (then current) Seventh Doctor. Not as quirky as the BBC Books fiction that would follow (the Eighth Doctor Adventures in particular fleshed out a character that only received one appearance on our TV screens).

But during this period, the people at Virgin Books decided to try their hand at a role-playing game set in the Doctor Who universe that they could sell side-by-side with their novels. It was a great idea that, unfortunately, fell short in a few ways. They didn't really market the book as being an RPG, and since it looked like the novels in their trade dress, some bought this and didn't really know what to do with it, since it wasn't actually a novel. The game also wasn't distributed to hobby stores, so gaming fans of the show weren't really exposed to it either. I picked up my copy one year at Origins. I've run it a few times, in the distant past, and while it has some quirky features it was a fun game to play and run.

Intended as an entry level game, the rules do a very good job of explaining themselves and introducing the concepts of role-playing to those who might not know what it is. The rules themselves are fairly simple, with resolution being based around a 2d6 roll (where the lower of the two dice is subtracted from the higher to get a result that is compared to the difficulty). In the original rules, character creation was minimal preferring an approach where the players play the characters from the show. Seeing as how this was intended primarily for fan of the show I can understand this approach. This is not to say that there was no character creation rules in the game, just that they were perfunctory and not very good. In the free PDF release (linked below) the authors tried to make this option more robust, having learned from talk with players of the game that no one liked the character generation rules.

The game does have an extensive list of writeups of Doctors, Companions, aliens and varies nemesis of the Doctor from the first seven regenerations. It does have the advantage of being written during the period when Doctor Who was off the air, so their writeups weren't going to be contradicted by the show. It is an interesting snapshot of the Classic Doctor Who show in this regard.

After Virgin Books lost their Doctor Who license, the game went out of print. No supplements were every published (and as far as I can tell none were ever actually planned). Outside of the current (at the time of this post) Doctor Who game put out by Cubicle 7, this is my only real experience with Doctor Who role-playing, and probably my favorite of these two. While the current Doctor Who game definitely reflects the New Who era, I think that Time Lord is an accurate reflection of Classic era in RPG form. The original authors (with permission of the BBC) put the Time Lord game out on the internet as a free PDF, back in the mid-90s, and it still floats around out there today. Below I've included links to the PDF of the game, along with two fan-produced supplements that expanded and explained some of the rules a bit better. Check these out, and I hope that you enjoy them.

Time Lord: This is the basic game, as originally published by Virgin Books. The PDF is a no art version, since the authors didn't have permission to reproduce the art from the game.

Time Lord Companion: Originally produced as a text file (yeah, welcome to the old days of the internet), this was eventually turned into a PDF. This has some expanded character creation options, and some character writeups and rule expansions.

Time Lord Journies: (Yeah, I know but that's how it was spelled.) This supplement built on the Time Lord Companion and added a number of new character creation options as well. There are also a number of rules clarifications and expansions, from the viewpoint of the author of this fan supplement.

All three of these files are saved up on my Google Drive, so hopefully there shouldn't be any downloading issues. If there are, all that I can say is wait and try again in a bit. It is a free service, so there are bound to be bandwidth limitations at times.

If this post causes you to run games with Time Lord, let me know.leave a comment here or say something about it to me on Twitter or Google+. I want to hear more about your Time Lord games.