Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Aliens and Creatures

Aliens and Creatures is a supplement for Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. It provides games statistics for a plethora of monsters and alien beings from the television show as well as an overview on how to create your own alien characters. In addition, there are a few short adventures, more story point tokens, and best of all, detailed creature cards for easy reference. It is invaluable to any Gamemaster running a game in the Doctor Who universe. Unfortunately, it’s out of print now, so you should grab one while you can since there are apparently no plans to reprint it at this time.

The main portion of the boxed set is a 134-page rulebook. This book contains extensive game statistics and descriptions of just about every alien creature to have appeared during the time of the ninth and tenth Doctors. While some of these creatures appeared in the core rules set, their descriptions here are fleshed out to include various different kinds. For example, in addition to statistics for the generic Dalek, this book also contains statistics for the Emperor Dalek, Supreme Daleks, the Cult of Skaro, Dalek mutants (the true Daleks inside their casings), Davros, and even statistics for the pig slaves and Dalek/human hybrid seen in the story “Daleks in Manhattan”. There are statistics for both evil and good aliens alike, from the adipose and carrionites to the catkind and Ood. Even some of the more obscure creatures to have shown up (such as the Hoix from “Love and Monsters” and the Isolus from “Fear Her”) are included. There are even statistics for specific individual characters, such as Cassandra, the Face of Boe, and Professor Lazarus.

Unfortunately, the book does not present any creatures (with possibly one exception) that have only appeared in the original series and not the new series. From what I understand, this is due to constraints of the license Cubicle 7 is working under (if I’m wrong or anybody knows more information, feel free to let me know in a comment). However, in the Cybermen section, there is a two-page description of the Mondasian Cybermen (Cybermen from our universe and not the alternate universe), which had not appeared in the new series at the time of publication (although they have since appeared looking identical to the alternate universe Cybermen apart from the lack of a “C” logo on their chests). This would seem to be a special case though, as Cybermen had appeared in some form in the new series at the time. The photograph of the Mondasian Cyberman, however, is the only old series picture to appear in the game so far.

Even without old series monsters, there are more than enough creatures in this book to keep Gamemasters busy for a long time, either through the use of these creatures or as examples to help GMs create their own unique monsters and aliens. The traits and abilities of each creature have clearly been chosen with care to represent their TV counterparts as closely and accurately as possible, something FASA’s old Doctor Who Role Playing Game was notoriously bad at doing.

Following the very long chapter on aliens and creatures is a chapter on how to create your own alien creatures. This is focused primarily on creating player character aliens, as the system for creating NPC aliens is essentially “give them whatever abilities you want and don’t worry about whether the points add up”; however, it does provide a comprehensive listing of traits to choose from for both PCs and NPCs. There are a number of new traits not in the core rules, but they are mixed in with the old traits alphabetically and there is nothing to indicate which traits are new and which are old, as every trait has a complete description, the old ones simply reprinting what is in the Gamemaster’s Guide from the core rules. The core rules do the same kind of reprinting of material between the Player’s Guide and the Gamemaster’s Guide, and I complained about that in my earlier review. I have the same concerns now. There is a definite benefit to having everything all in one place for easy reference. When creating an alien monster, I don’t need to flip back and forth between two different books, which is certainly convenient. However, having everything together in Aliens and Creatures now makes a significant section of the Gamemaster’s Guide somewhat superfluous. Likewise, if Cubicle 7 continues to reprint every single trait every time they create a new trait, more and more old supplements will become less useful. Perhaps an alternative solution would be to include cards similar to the creature cards (see below). Each card would contain the description of one trait. New supplements that add new traits would include cards for only the new traits. These cards could then be added to a GM’s collection. It does create extra work and likely extra expense for putting together supplements, but since they are already doing it for creature statistics, it might be doable.

The final chapter of the main book is a guide to creating new worlds. It includes numerous tables (that do allow for random rolling, if desired) to help generate the type of star system the world exists in all the way down to the planet’s land masses, climate, and sentient species. It’s a very straight-forward guide, and very useful for people stuck for ideas on how to make each new planet different from the one before. On the inside back cover, there is even a pair of “character sheets”, one a Star System Log and the other a Sentient Species Log. Gamemasters can easily copy them and use them to keep track of new worlds they create.

Also include in the boxed set, is a short Adventure Book containing two fully detailed adventures and several adventure ideas, all laid out in much the same style as those in the Adventure Book included with the core rules. The fully detailed ones, however, are much better than the ones in the original set (particularly “The Next World”). They seem much better thought out, and do a better job taking into account the possibility that the PCs might “go off script”. The short adventure ideas, unfortunately, tend to commit the same kinds of mistakes as the ones in the core rules. Admittedly, as short ideas, there isn’t space for them to account for every possible PC action, but lines like, “The Doctor joins the chase and once again drags his companions along,” are just inappropriate. What if the Doctor doesn’t do that? After all, it’s up to the player to decide, not the adventure. The adventure ideas attempt to provide a short script of events when they would be much better off simply presenting a brief description of the situation for Gamemasters to then develop as they choose.

The most exciting part of the Aliens and Creatures boxed set is the inclusion of creature cards. Every alien and NPC, including all the variant forms, has its own 4” by 5” card. One side contains a name and picture, and the other side contains the creature’s game statistics. The main book contains a promise that future supplements that introduce new aliens will also have similar cards so that Gamemasters can have a comprehensive library of all creatures in one spot, and can easily select and remove only the cards needed for a particular game session. Even though these cards reprint information found in the book, I find this a good use of such reprinting.

Also included in the set are some new gadget cards, a map sheet for use with the adventure “The Rosetta Plague” in the Adventure Book, and a set of story point tokens. People who haven’t lost any of the tokens provided in the core set will now have a very large supply of tokens, probably far more than they will ever need. However, as the tokens are small enough that they are easily lost, providing an extra supply is a good idea.

Overall, while some of the adventure ideas may be a bit lacking, Aliens and Creatures is an excellent set and invaluable to players of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. It provides Gamemasters with a veritable swarm of nasties to inflict upon their players and, in the tradition of the parent programme, keep PCs running away for a very long time.

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