Thursday, November 3, 2016

Time Lord, a game time forgot

I just stumbled down a rabbit hole and a blast from the past when I rediscovered the role playing game Time Lord. It was the second role playing game about Doctor Who. I actually picked it up back in 1991 and even tried playing it. However, it faded from my memory.

Time Lord was a very rules light game for the time. It will also wasn't published by a gaming company but by Virgin Publishing who marketed as a regular mass-market book. In other words, a good chunk of its potential audience never even heard of it. The game pretty much sank and is now just a footnote in the vast history of Doctor Who.

Heck, even though I am a role-playing enthusiast and a big Doctor Who fan, I totally forgot about it.

Going back and looking at it now, Time Lord is a curious mix of very traditional role playing concepts and remarkably streamlined mechanics. On the one hand, the characters are made up of eight stats and you are going to need someone to be the game master. 

On the other hand, the mechanics break down to subtracting the value of the appropriate statistic and any skill from the difficulty of the task. If that value is higher than the difficult the, you automatically succeed. Otherwise, you roll to six sided dice and subtract the lower from the higher. If you beat the difference, you succeed.

You know, that actually sounds complicated when I try to write it out but it's really super simple. You figure out what the difference is between your total ability and the difficulty and you need to roll higher than that. OK, the only reason that you don't just roll one die is because you need to be able to get a zero result.

Anyway, having such a simple resolution system creates a framework that can easily resolve just about anything quickly. It does lead to a lot of things being generalized. At the time when I first read it, I found it strange that the Auton blasters were just as deadly as the Dakek ones.

From a more much more experienced standpoint, this just makes sense to me. Powerful alien blaster kills people. Period. That's really all you need to know to make the game work.

Actually, the biggest legitimate weakness of the game, other than some serious marketing issues, is that it doesn't have character generation. Instead, it just gave you the stats for all the Doctors up to that point and a bunch of companions.

To be fair, this is still better then the Indiana Jones game from TSR. One person got to be Indy and everyone else had to pick someone like Short Round or Willie. (Oddly enough, the rules did not begin with 'there will be a fistfight to see who gets to be Indiana Jones'.) In Time Lord, folks could be different Doctors meeting through special circumstances or have everyone be a companion with no one being the Doctor. And there are plenty of companions to pick from.

That said, it wouldn't be hard to make a character with house rules and rules for character generation have been added in the later, online only rule set as well as some of the fan-based supplements.

These days, when I have been playing extremely streamlined games, ones that often don't even involve having game master, Time Lord doesn't quite fit what I'm looking for. However, I really wonder what it would have been like with wider distribution.

Simpler, more intuitive systems have become more and more common and accepted. I would even go so far as to say there has even risen a minimalist school of thought for role-playing game design. From that standpoint, Time Lord was ahead of its time.

The designer made a revised edition available for free online back in 1996 so I'm going to revisit Time Lord, see what it looks like now.

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