Monday, January 13, 2014

Dollar Store Dungeons: Doctor Dolittle

Cover of the edition we purchased

Welcome back for our latest post on Dollar Store Dungeons, a cross-blog project coordinated by the NJW Games blog. Dollar Store Dungeons is about exploring the inexpensive GM resources available through dollar stores. In late December 2013, Rachel Kronick and I set out to each purchase $10 of items at the same dollar store. We're following that up with posts about our purchases. Today, we're taking a look at a resource which surprised me at our local dollar store: books for a dollar.

One of the three books I purchased for a dollar was The Story of Doctor Dolittle, a story by Hugh Lofting. Lofting was Irish, and fought in Europe with the Irish Guard during World War I, before migrating to the United States. Like many of his generation, he experienced the brutality of the war, and didn't want to expose his children to all that. Instead, he wrote fanciful letters to his children; these were the basis for the Doctor Dolittle stories.

Now, the musical and other film treatments of the story might make the doctor from Puddleby-on-the-Marsh seem incredibly cheesy and impossible to work into a game. But as I was reading the novel, I was struck by a few things that make Doctor Dolittle gameable:
  • When exactly the story is happening is a little unclear (at least from the first novel in the series) but it could be readily placed in the Napoleonic or Victorian era, especially in a non-horror setting with fantastic or outlandish elements. 
    • Doctor Dolittle would fit-in well with Blue Devil Games' Passages, which you can download for free here
    • The Doctor would also work well in  a Victoriana campaign, especially if the horror aspects of the setting were dialed down. Things would really get interesting for the Doctor if he not only cared for animals, but also for Victoriana's beastmen!
    • I could even see a Doctor Dolittle in the Land of Oz campaign. 
    • Don't put Doctor Dolittle in Unhallowed Metropolis, though. That's just wrong.
  • Doctor Dolittle can "talk to the animals"; he speaks their languages. And animals can readily converse with him. His reputation spreads easily among animals. They often come calling-on the Doctor after hearing about him through various animal grapevines
  • Animals like to live and adventure with Doctor Dolittle. The Doctor calls some (but not all) of his animal companions pets, but there is little or no sense of the human "owning" the animal here. In fact, Doctor Dolittle has so many animals - and often dangerous ones - living around him that he gradually looses his (human) medical practice. People are particularly afraid of his African crocodile. Instead, he opens a veterinary practice. Doctor Dolittle is very good at veterinary medicine, since he can converse with animals and ask them what their symptoms are. He hears about their ailments "right from the horse's mouth" so to speak.
  • The Doctor (like another one we know) eschews violence. Doctor Dolittle never uses violence to solve problems. He figures out other solutions - or his animal allies do it for him.
  • The animals do a lot of problem-solving in the stories. Many of the Doctor's animal companions have well defined skill niches. You could easily run a "The Doctor and His Companions" style game featuring Doctor Dolittle and several of his animal friends.
  • He has a built-in reason to adventure: Doctor Dolittle cares little about money. He spends it all on the care of animals. If one animal companion weren't tracking his expenditures, the Doctor wouldn't even know when he is out of money. But when the Doctor is out of money, he needs to go out and adventure to get some! 
  • In a mystery involving animals, Doctor Dolittle could team-up with Sherlock Holmes! I can imagine the Doctor's affable character would clash considerably with Sherlock's abrasive personality. No doubt Dr. Watson would be a useful intermediary! 
  • If the Doctor goes to India, he might meet Mowgli and his animal friends. What would Doctor Dolittle make of the so-called "Law of the Jungle"? He might do away with it entirely!

P. Craig Russell's take on Kipling's Mowgli

So let's write-up Doctor Dolittle:

Hugh Lofting

Doctor Dolittle
The famous veterinarian of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh

  • High Concept: The bachelor physician who talks to the animals
  • Trouble: Always running out of money
  • Aspect: Caring for animals always comes first
  • Aspect: No use for violence
  • Aspect: Always surrounded by animals


  • Careful: +2
  • Clever: +3
  • Flashy: +2
  • Forceful: 0
  • Quick: +1
  • Sneaky: +1
  • Ask the Patient: Take +2 to your Flashy Approach when Creating an Advantage by talking to an animal in order to diagnose its problem. 
  • A Little Help From His Friends: Once per session, the Doctor may ask for and receive the help of an animal or group of animals that he has recently befriended. If he has already helped them, the Doctor calls in this Stunt for free; if he has yet to help them, he takes on the Temporary Aspect I owe my friends a favor, and eventually repay the animal(s) kindness in some way.
  • Peaceable Kingdom: Because the Doctor speaks the languages of animals, and has a peaceable nature, even fierce predators behave nicely. Take +2 to Flashy Approach to Overcome and Obstacle by making friends with an animal.


  1. Doolittle and Mowgli could be the start of your own League...
    Great post!