Thursday, August 10, 2017

The TEMPORAL TOYBOX is back!

I've just posted an updated and augmented version of the TEMPORAL TOYBOX, my compilation of house rules and variants for the Doctor Who RPG.

This "third edition" features updated or refined versions of the earlier contents (stuff on skills, story points, combat, fear factor etc.), a more developed version of my recent variant chase system, plus a few new tidbits here and there (such as stuff on psychic combat, resistance rolls etc.). Enjoy! 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Season 11, Final Episodes

So, here are the blurbs of the three final episodes of our eleventh season. You'll notice that I haven't numbered them: technically, they would be episodes 15 to 17 (making season 11 our longest season ever) but as explained in my previous post, I've decided to leave the "Everett Blake specials" out of the regular episode count, so yes, within this clarified continuity, the final episode would be episode 15 (not that it matters very much, but you know how obsessive us GMs can sometimes be).

Coup de Théâtre: Stockholm, winter 1789. Indulging in her relish for 18th century fashion and culture, Lady (or, rather, “Mademoiselle”) Penelope has joined the prestigious Royal Dramatic Theatre, gracing the Swedish stage and gathering her fair share of curiosity from actors and aristocrats alike - until an equally unexpected and impossible visitor crosses her timeline. And so it begins…

Tempus Ultimatum: Penelope finally manage to return to Avalon with Alecta, the impossibly reborn daughter of Rassilon – only to discover that Magnus has staged a coup in her absence and that the haven of the last Time Lords is now under martial law. But the regenerated War Chief is not interested in mere temporal power: he wants the Key to Time in order to fulfill his glorious vision… and rip Gallifrey out of the Time War, even at the cost of a cosmic cataclysm. Lives will be lost, sacrifices will be made, tears will be shed and nothing will ever be the same again.

Gallifrey: Through the sacrifice of Magnus, and despite that of Mortimus, the impossible has happened. Gallifrey has finally returned to the continuum, extracted from the Time War at the very last Moment. It is now time for Lady Penelope, Alecta and a newly-regenerated (or is that “resurrected”?) Doctor to face the last Lords of Gallifrey and their supreme master Rassilon. Will the Key to Time restore balance to the universe one last time?  As two Eyes of Harmony now face themselves in the vortex, a new future beckons – and nothing will ever be the same.


Yes, the last two episodes brought Gallifrey back from the Time War, which will (of course) have a tremendous impact on the fictional reality of our campaign. Even though this return was the logical outcome of a series of events that occurred throughout the last two seasons, it was not a set-in-stone, automatic conclusion and could have been prevented with equally – if very different – interesting consequences… But as critical choices (and some critical dice rolls) were made, we simply followed the flow of the story as it unfolded, as we’ve always done…  

The next-to-last episode also saw the terminal death of two long major Time Lord NPCs, namely Magnus (who succeeded in bringing Gallifrey back but was consumed by the energy of the Key to Time in the process) and Mortimus (who finally sacrificed his last regeneration in an attempt to stop Magnus), which was a very emotional event for Penelope. And during all this climactic madness, Magnus also had the Doctor killed, which should have been final (since, in our campaign, the Doctor was in his supposedly final incarnation)… but was brought back to life (another impossibility!) by the energy of the Key, to which the Doctor had previously attuned himself, along with Penelope, during their quest – an event which spanned the first tier of this season but which seems so far away now. Dramatically, this miraculous regeneration acted as a very nice coda to Penelope’s own earlier regeneration (which occurred approximately mid-season – a nice coincidence, if such things actually exist).  

Very satisfyingly, the Key to Time (which Penelope and the Doctor had taken the first half of the season to retrieve and reassemble) was also the instrument of the final, climactic event of our very last episode, namely the definitive (?) banishment of Rassilon (who had become something of a quantum ghost, locked in a perpetual state of half-existence and ravenously hungry for artron and vital energy) to eternal oblivion. But the Key to Time is gone now and a new universe has begun…

P.S.: In case you were wondering, our Doctor now has the face of Bill Nighy (in “The Limehouse Golem”):



Yes, he definitely looks very much like the First Doctor (but looks can be deceptive, can they?). 

Last but not least, to celebrate this fantastic season and the recent regeneration of Lady Penelope, here are the six faces of our Time Lady so far:

The First Penelope (Jamie Murray)


The Second Penelope (Cate Blanchett)


The Third Penelope (Rachel Weisz)


The Fourth Penelope (Miranda Otto)


The Fifth Penelope (Janet Montgomery)


The Sixth Penelope (Vanessa Kirby)



LONG LIVE THE TIME LADY!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Season 11, Continuity Matters

This is a postscript to yesterday's notes about Everett Blake and the "secondary continuity" stuff.

Since I'd like to give Everett's own continuity a really strong, well-established identity of its own, and after discussing the matter with Penelope's player Sylvie, we've decided that the "Everett episodes" would not be counted toward each season's now standard total of 15 episodes, making them "specials" or treating them a bit as if Lady Penelope was the recurring guest star in Everett's own adventures instead of the other way around. This is in keeping with our wish to give every Everett episode maximum character focus on Everett himself (see my previous post for the whys & wherefores of this choice). I know, it's merely a matter of perspective but this kind of little details can sometimes add an extra spark to the whole creative process.

Anyway, all this to say that Season 11 of Lady Penelope's Odyssey still has THREE regular episodes left - yes, that will make 15 regular episodes, plus the  two "Everett specials" (currently Episode 11.10 and Episode 11.14).

And I've finally found a satisfying title for this eleventh season of ours, which started with a quest for the segments of the Key to Time, saw Penelope regenerate from her fifth to her sixth incarnation and featured quite a lot of timey-wimey and extra dimensional stuff - wait for it:

TIME AND RELATIVE DIMENSIONS 

Now, without further ado, I must go back to my work on Episode 11.15 (or 11.13 if you take into account the clarified continuity) which will be set in 1790 Sweden - Sylvie's own decision (who just loved the Anno 1790 historical nordic noir drama). Enlightenment Stockholm, here we come!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Season 11, Episodes 13-14

Another diptych-of-sorts, with two different episodes set in 1911...

Episode 13: The Trouble with Jack
1911. Once again, Penelope takes a holiday in her beloved Weston-super-Mare, savouring the last days of summer. No alien invasion to fend off, no monstrous entities to battle, no eerie mysteries to investigate – just the sea, glorious sunsets, the pleasure of farniente and the quaint charm of Edwardian friendships. And then Jack Harkness had to show up…

Episode 14: Family Ghosts
Following her seaside holiday, Lady Penelope reunites with Edwardian psychic detective Everett Blake, who finds himself at the center of a devious psychic trap involving a gothic ghost simulacrum, dark family secrets and the terrifying legacy of Jack the Ripper. Will he become the living instrument of the sleeping Lloigor waiting in the Shadow Below London?


Notes

Episode 14 saw the return of our “guest-star” Cyrille who plays Everett Blake, a character who might be described as a somewhat decadent Carnacki. From Everett’s viewpoint, it was a very personal story, involving many revelations about Everett’s family and a make-or-break psychic ordeal at the end; it also gave us the opportunity to expand the character’s background and sow the seed of his future occasional involvement in the campaign. From Penelope’s perspective, this story allowed me to retro-weave together various elements from previous stories – including the “Jack the Ripper” episode from our first season (“The Shadow Below London”, yes that was years and more than 100 episodes ago!), recurring tidbits of Torchwood history and stuff from the far more recent “Gaze of the Abyss” (two episodes ago!).

Having recurring guest stars in a Doctor Who campaign is a delightful challenge – but a challenge nonetheless, since it requires the establishment of what we might call a “secondary continuity” in order to create a satisfying serial feel for the guest player-character, without unbalancing (or making things too dependent on) the main continuity of the campaign. And with a time-travelling RPG, this can become quite tricky.

From past experience, I’ve found that the easiest way to handle this is to firmly anchor the guest character in a specific time period to which the time-travelling character can regularly return. Making the guest character an independent time-traveller with his own means of temporal transport might seem a good idea at first but is bound to create a somewhat frustrating imbalance between the two players – i.e. player A having all the fun and player B’s various temporal travels remaining mostly unplayed except when they happen to cross the path of player A’s adventures…

All in all, it’s a better deal to “root” or “ground” the guest character in a more stable temporal environment and personal background – but this also has its pitfalls: in this case, the GM will have to avoid making the player feel “stuck” in a static background, as if his character was “frozen in time” between adventures… but the trickiest aspect of it lies with the following simple question: “Well, since we’re so good at adventuring together, why don’t you just hop in the TARDIS and come with me to explore all space and time?” and its obvious reply: “Well, my character would really love to and has no real reason to refuse… except that I cannot play as regularly as you so it cannot happen, can it?”. The only way to avoid this kind of meta-gaming cul-de-sac is to provide very strong reasons for the guest character to remain in his time period – a demanding job or dependent NPCs might work but it’s far more satisfying to establish some kind of “ongoing mission” tied to some major aspect of the campaign world, such as membership in (or strong ties with) UNIT or Torchwood – after all, one of the original purposes of UNIT was to provide a satisfying excuse for the Third Doctor to remain grounded on Earth for many episodes – you know, defending the Earth and all that.  In the case of Everett Blake, I chose involvement with Torchwood (or more precisely with its semi-rogue “Ghost Department” – perhaps one day I’ll tell you more about this) and the necessity to stand guard against an underlying psychic menace (namely the Lloigor).  

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Season 11, Episodes 11-12

Not a two-parter - more like a diptych ("the Dark Diptych"?):

Episode 11: Shadow Play
After a brief stay in Avalon, Lady Penelope must honour a sad appointment with history - the funeral of her dear old friend Sir Lawrence Stapleton, aka Uncle Larry, former director of Torchwood and her first-ever time travel companion. But in the corridors of power, a conspiracy is being hatched against the great man’s legacy and history is being manipulated by an invisible hand… A tale of hidden agendas, dark designs and unseen enemies.

Episode 12: Gaze of the Abyss
Her hunt for the Millington Entity takes Penelope to the East End of London in 1896, where an all-too familiar monster has once again begun to walk the streets, sowing death and terror in its wake - but as the Time Lady well knows, Darkness comes in many shapes, not all of them faceless. As the Dark Dimension looms in, Time is, once again, of the essence.


Notes: So Who (or What) Was the Millington Entity, Anyway?  

The Entity was the ultimate incarnation of a character whom Penelope had first met in Season 7 (in Episode 7.8: Darkness Ex Machina) back when she was battling the returned Fenric; she started life as Professor Andrea Millington, cold-hearted scientific genius, daughter to the Commander Millington from The Curse of Fenric) and one of the "Wolves of Fenric" chosen by their masters to engineer His Triumphant Return in various time periods (in this case, the 1990s). This dark design was foiled by Lady Penelope, whose interference caused a "big infernal device disaster" which left Professor Millington crippled - yes, this was, of course, a weird, cosmic (or meta-narrative?) wink at Dr. Judson's condition in Curse of Fenric

Professor Millington returned in Episode 2 of Season 9 (set in 2015 or so) - now working as a scientific adviser for UNIT but with a sinister hidden agenda of her own (to keep things as brief as possible: get a new, healthy and potentially immortal body by stealing Penelope's life-force). At the end of this episode, Professor Millington was a prisoner of UNIT - a bit like the Master in the 1970s but at least she was still (biologically) human. She waited for the time of her revenge (and so did the game master)... 

Shadow Play (see above) saw her return in a new role and condition (the mysterious "invisible hand" mentioned in the blurb), that of a psychic menace using the "bloodline network" of the Wolves of Fenric to manipulate events and engineer her own rebirth / apotheosis as a kind of successor to Fenric, a new entity tied to the entropic infinity of the Dark Dimension. 

Luckily for the universe (and history as we know it), this plan was once again foiled by Lady Penelope, who had to pursue the disembodied Millington Entity in time, back to the 1890s, where she took possession of one of her ancestors, a time-sensitive working for Torchwood in the East End of London... and tried to awaken "the Wound", a dimensional rift which gave access (among other things) to the Dark Dimension and which had played a significant role in some of Penelope's early adventures (see The Shadow Below London, Episode 9 of our first season). Penelope could not save the possessed ancestor (who was pretty much doomed the moment the Millington Entity took possession of her) but managed to trap the nascent Fenric wannabe in a specially-crafted temporal stasis, where the dark, entropic energies of the Entity eventually devoured her own remaining psyche, reducing her to just another cloud of mindless Dark Energy... 


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Season 11, Episodes 9-10

Episode 9: Facing the Dragon
Can the bonds of love and destiny survive and transcend regenerations? This question brings Lady Penelope back to the Otherworld of the Tanu to stand before her royal lover (and former enemy) King Fenn – only to find that the tormented monarch is about to face a mortal ordeal of his own, with the future of his kingdom hanging in the balance…

Episode 10: The Lost Abbey
Suffolk, 1911. Lady Penelope teams up with psychic detective Everett Blake to investigate the ruins of a medieval abbey where two Cambridge men have mysteriously disappeared. What sinister pact did the Last Abbot of St-Waldred seal with forces better left undisturbed?  A not-so-classic ghost story featuring Weeping Angels, Reapers and Montague Rhodes James… 



Notes on Episode 9: This episode was entirely based on Sylvie's wish to have the newly-regenerated Penelope return to the character of King Fenn, who had played a major role in her previous incarnation. We had no preconceived idea of what would happen when they'd meet again face to face: would it result in a painful or friendly separation? In a continued or renewed relationship? In a somewhat unresolved situation?  In the end, their bond was renewed yet changed - "regenerated" if you will and Penelope decided to spend three (unplayed) years without travelling in time - taking the "long path" for a short while... 

Notes on Episode 10: I've been wanting to do a scenario with the great Montague Rhodes James as a NPC for AGES but could never quite find the proper way to do it, since involving MRJ in explicitly fantastic events (i.e. like Shakespeare in "The Shakespeare Code" or Charles Dickens in "The Unquiet Dead") would not have felt right, considering this author's well-known "reticence", to use a typically Jamesian term... But this episode gave me the perfect opportunity, since it was also the first one involving a new (occasional) player-character (the Edwardian psychic detective Everett Blake, played by our longtime friend Cyrille): this 'teamp-up' focus allowed me to use MRJ as a source of precious scholary information and (yes) "warnings to the curious", without actually confronting him to the menace (and then some) of the Weeping Angels - not to mention the Reapers and the decaying, half-immortal Last Abbot of St-Waldred. I also peppered the story with all sorts of Jamesian references - Cambridge academia, scholarly bits of church history, lonely ruins in the Suffolk landscape and a central villain bearing some deliberate resemblance to the typically Jamesian evils practitioners of the dark arts found in stories like "Number 13", "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" or "Lost Hearts". 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Season 11, Episode 8

The Sixth Lady's first adventure (and a fantastic moment of actual play)!

Episode 8: Spark of Genius
Vienna, spring 1787. In the dazzling days of Mozart’s reign, the freshly-regenerated Lady Penelope meets those who live for music – and those who prey on their souls. Can the Time Lady protect a 16-year old Ludwig van Beethoven from the stealers of genius?  And is there any hope left for those who have lost the irreplaceable? A battle of wits, allegro con anima.