UNIT are nearly as important to the show as the Doctor is. Since their introduction in ‘The Invasion’ (after trial run in ‘The Web of Fear’) they have been extremely popular with fans, resulting in a number of comic strips, spin-off videos, audios and now a roleplaying supplement.
One of the things I was most pleased with this book was the prominence of Classic Who, from the Brigadier on the front cover with Yetis and a classic Cyberman and Dalek to the wealth of photos from all eras inside.
UNIT is an organisation that has stretched throughout the history of the show and the Chapter Two gives a good overview, tying everything from ‘The Curse of Fenric’, ‘The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances’, ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ and ‘The War Machines’ into the formation of the group.
The information on the classic series will be invaluable to those not versed on those early stories but they are still a delight to read for knowledgeable fans since they are written ‘in-world’, complete with medical reports written by Doctor Constantine, memos to Captain Gilmore and datafiles on such characters as Isobel Watkins.
Understandably this section only goes as far as ‘The End of Time’ so misses out on addressing the regime change in ‘The Power of Three’. What is provided is enough for a game to be set in any era of the organisation.
Chapter Three goes into details about how UNIT is organised. There are some good details here that can spark adventures, particularly the run down of known National UNIT HQ’s. Another aspect I liked about this book is that it makes an attempt to include information from all sources, such as referencing the Sydney office featured in the Doctor Who comic ‘Age of Ice’.
The most important part of this chapter are the guidelines for creating your own UNIT base. While this is useful for a gamesmaster designing a UNIT base for an adventure its main purpose is for players to design a base of operations that suits their needs.
The size of the base determines the number of points available to select Good and Bad traits. Each trait is useful or interesting enough to make picking the right combination tricky. Do you go with the armoury complete with gold tipped bullets, the inescapable prison cells, landing pad or state of the art lab?
The range of traits offers a lot of variety. Tellingly it is very possible to build Torchwood offices through the same system. The diverse options means that a GM can come up with unique UNIT bases across the globe.
This extra level of customisation would make any UNIT campaign feel more personal. Even if the players take the roles of lowly officers they still have the knowledge that they designed the base themselves.
To go along with the base a selection of vehicles are provided, which goes a long way to evoke the Third Doctor era. There plenty of options here from jeeps to helicopters and everything in-between.
The chapter concludes with a discussion of security clearance, document classification, code names and uniform before moving on to gadgets. I like the idea of players paying story points to access this equipment, which are refunded when the gadget is either returned or destroyed. This allows for Bond-esque scenes at the start of adventures.
Page 48 is a particular highlight of this chapter, with a number of amusing documents used to train officers such as ‘Hey Sarge, it’s Tuesday Again!’ – Dealing with Common Displacement’.
Character creation is dealt with in Chapter Four. By default a UNIT campaign will have a greater focus on combat and this section goes a long way to making sure new characters are ready for the challenges they’ll face.
Additional traits here all make characters more effective in battle or give them the level of specialisation they need to operate in high risk scenarios. A selection of archetypes serve both as examples of what kind of characters can be created using these traits but also as a ready made group of NPCs for a gamesmaster to use.
We are then provided with write-ups of several prominent UNIT characters including Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Liz Shaw, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith, Mike Smith, Sergeant Benton among more recent characters such as Private Jenkins, Professor Taylor and Captain Magambo.
This provides a wide range of characters to choose from and will be useful for setting campaigns or adventures during different eras. The write-up of the Third Doctor will doubtlessly be a delight for those wanting to play an early incarnation of our favourite Time Lord.
Chapter Five tackles the changes to the system that are required to create a more military themed game. A wide selection of firearms and other weaponry is provided, with the introduction of range increments.
A simple mass combat system is provided allowing for grand UNIT battles, along the lines of the Battle of Canary Wharf from ‘Doomsday’. The system does a good job of adding epic scope while not getting bogged down in details. It also helps emphasise that UNIT adventures aren’t just about the actions of the individual but the organisation.
Advice is given on how player characters actions should influence and be affected by the Mass Combat. This can certainly heighten the stakes, since they don’t only have to consider their own survival but that of their allies.
Special Circumstances give clear advice on how to handle ‘Base Under Siege’ scenes or scenes where the enemy must be held at bay while the Doctor puts together a gadget to defeat them. This can give the gamesmaster the confidence to write adventures specifically to include those types of scenes.
Chapter Six covers UNITs other duty, covering up the presence of alien life from the public. This gives guidance on rating how much exposure an incident has and tasks the PCs with destroying evidence, silencing or discrediting witnesses and releasing a plausible cover story. Do a good job and everyone will write off an alien invasion as a mass hallucination. Do a bad job and there will be wide spread panic and rioting.
This is such a fun idea I can imagine basing a whole adventure or campaign around this task. This is a very different take on UNIT, placing the PCs in the role of Men in Black. This could be particularly effective if the adventures occur in the wake of televised Doctor Who adventures, making the players pick up the pieces and encounter characters after the events depicted on the screen.
Chapter Seven gives advice on running a UNIT game. This includes giving some thought to the theme, which is often quite different that a normal Doctor Who adventure. Doctor Who typically celebrates the individual while UNIT stories are about loyalty and working as group. There is also an emphasis on morality and fear.
Various campaign frameworks are provided, from exiled Time Lords to rank and file soldiers to specialised teams set up to respond to be first on the scene when an alien ship crashes or a mad scientist unleashes a bio-engineered plaque.
This highlights the wide variety of adventures and styles that can be used during a UNIT campaign. For those still struggling to come up with ideas a random generator is provided, allowing a basic plot to be assembled. My only criticism would be that step 1 is creating a title, before the plot is created.
We then get an interesting and realistic discussion on the place of woman within UNIT, particularly in regards to which era you decide to play in. This is followed by an equally thoughtful section on how to deal with a chain of command amongst the PCs and avoiding player resentment.
Chapter Eight provides two fully fleshed out adventures; Prison of the Slavers and Mind The Gap. Both are well written and while they work well to highlight the various options provided in previous chapters could easily be retooled as a generic Doctor Who adventure.
Prison of the Slaver, while sounding like a classic Dungeons and Dragon module, uses an old classic monster in a new way. I’m sure that players who are fans of the classic series will be pleasantly surprised when their identity is revealed although not recognising them shouldn’t affect the enjoyment of other players.
The adventure itself begins with the group investigating a sleepy fishing town only to be caught behind enemy lines. It has some nice twists and an exciting climax that makes good uses of the mass combat rules.
Mind The Gap feels more like an episode of Primeval, with a rip in time causing a train load of people to vanish from the London underground and prehistoric creatures and other time displaced people to be unleashed on the modern day.
Given UNITs genesis in ‘The Web of Fear’ it is fitting that this adventure be based in the London underground. The opening scene, to be read to the players, was particularly effective and something I could immediately ‘see’ as the pre-title teaser on the show.
A recognisable alien race are behind the problems, put in a situation that requires them to be inventive. Their identity is nicely foreshadowed by some early encounters and I can imagine that players will be filled with fear as they realise who they are dealing with and how important it is that they prevent a full blown invasion.
This section concludes with several short adventure seeds. There are neat ideas here, many of them using call backs to the show itself including the Doctor’s 500 year old diary, Christina de Souza, Silurians, Krynoids and the year when the Master ruled the world.
‘Defending The Earth: The UNIT sourcebook’ was just what this roleplaying range needed. It is well put together both in terms of writing and art (with only one photo being reused in two different sections).
Its scope impressed me and is obviously written by people who are not only knowledgeable about the series but passionate. There are so many exciting possibilities provided in the book that it well worth the price.
If you are interested in running a UNIT campaign or games in the vein of X-Files or Fringe this is a must buy!