Saturday, March 10, 2018

Season 12, Episode 7

Episode 7: The Mysteries of Montmartre
Paris, 1893: it’s all la Belle-Epoque, le Moulin-Rouge and holalas for Lady Penelope and her new travelling companion Miranda/Dorian (née Eric) as they explore a world of ingénues, enfants terribles and true artistes. But behind the joie de vivre of the boulevards and the laissez-faire of the blasé lurks a dark and menacing je-ne-sais-quoi - or is this déjà-vu?

The Mysteries of Montmartre was designed as a sequel-cum-homage to The Talons of Weng-Chiang, one of my favorite DW stories

Its main antagonist was Magnus Greel's own sister, Ursula, (a cruel, cold-hearted ice-queen type villain from the 51st century) and the consequences of her own Zygma beam travel to the late 19th century. To make a long story short, her original plan was to join / rescue / retrieve her brother but her own time cabinet crashed a few years too late and now she was stuck in this primitive century, facing the same genetic decay problems and entertaining the same insane dreams of revenge and power...

I deliberately took some of the essential elements of the story and replaced them with different equivalents, resulting in Something That Felt Completely Different In Play, while still retaining the echoes and déjà-vu effects I was aiming for. Here is a quick list of the substitutions I made:

Talons of Weng-Chiang                                               Mysteries of Montmartre 

Setting: London, lates 1880s / early 1890s                      Paris, 1893

The East End                                                                           Montmartre

Typical Victorian mystery atmosphere                              Parisian bohemian atmosphere 

Main apparent villain: Li H'sen Chang                              Count Kuryakin, a russian noble

Real hidden villain : Magnus Greel                                    Ursula Greel

The Peking Homunculus                                                      A superstrong cyber-golem 

Jago's theatrical world                                                          Parisian cabarets and cafés

Lost time cabinet                                                                   Wrecked time cabinet

Catalytic chamber / life-energy                                          Catalytic chamber / life-energy

The Time Agent never came                                                A Time Agent did arrive

Of course, some Talons elements had no real counterpart - such as, for instance, the involvement of professor Litefoot or the presence of giant rats in the sewers. 

I also added some uniquely Parisian characters to the story, allowing Penelope (and her player) to indulge in memorable encounters with artists Toulouse-Lautrec and Suzanne Valadon, as well as with the composer Erik Satie, who all operated at the periphery of the mystery (but were not involved in its resolution), plus a few cameos by Paul Verlaine, Claude Debussy and Aristide Bruant - historical characters whose very presence gave Mysteries of Montmartre the distinctively Parisian feel I was aiming for. In Lady Penelope's adventures, art and culture often play a very important part - we could even say that our Time Lady is as artistically-inclined as the Doctor is scientifically-minded, so she was really at home here.

As usual, we had a great time playing - and this episode was also highlighted by the first steps of Penelope's new travelling companion, "Miranda / Dorian / Eric", a crossdressing young man from 1980s London she met during the last "Everett Special" we did. Miranda's embarking on the TARDIS was not pre-planned and developed as a logical consequence of what happened in actual play - and, well, Penelope and Miranda just got on as a house on fire. One of these unforeseen, delightful twists which bring instant freshness and unexpected developments to a campaign, after almost 8 years of play and more than 150 episodes...

Next stop: VENUS!


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Everett Blake Returns!

Everett Blake Crossover 3: Fade to Grey
Lady Penelope takes Everett Blake seventy years forward to 1982 London to show him how people dress, dance and party in the future – well, at least that was the plan until the Time Lady and the Edwardian psychic investigator met a very special girl and the grey ghost hanging over her. Underneath the decadent Paradise Lost nightclub, something silent and sinister waits for the end of the world, preying on those who would do anything to be the next icon of the new romantic twilight. A tale of false promises, lost souls and stolen voices.

I had posted THIS on the excellent DWAITAS forum before running the episode... 

So how did it go?  

Well, it went very well. It was perhaps a bit short and could probably have benefitted from an extra plot twist- but all this was more than counterbalanced by my two players' stellar roleplaying performance, including the interactions with Miranda, the crossdressing Blitz kid who acted as the main plot hook / endangered NPC of this scenario. In fact, things went so well between them and Miranda that, once all ths trouble with the Gods of Twilight was over, Everett and Miranda had a short & happy affair - started in 1982 and ending (more discreetly) in 1912, after Penelope had taken the psychic investigator back. Yes, Miranda boarded the TARDIS for a short temporal escapade... and then decided to try some more time-travelling in Lady Penelope's company, preferably in "flamboyant spots", just for fun and thrills. So Lady Penelope's next regular episode will feature this new (presumably temporary - but who knows?), unexpected companion - see you at the Moulin-Rouge!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Season 12, Episode 6

Episode 6: The Cardiff Syndrome
2012: following the closure of the Cardiff Rift and the departure of Jack Harkness from Earth, Torchwood 3 was dismantled, its Hub closed and its Rift Manipulator disassembled. 2018: Everything Changes – again. The Rift has reopened and an ancient, unstoppable evil is rising from oblivion. Can Penelope and Gwen Cooper prevent the return of Abaddon the Devourer?

In Lady Penelope's Odyssey, the closure of the Cardiff Rift was one of the most important events of Season Four (yes, this takes us way back - back THERE, actually) - but I felt like reopening it once again and the recent space-time cosmic crisis generated by the reassembly of the Key to Time and  the return of Gallifrey from the Time War gave me the perfect excuse to justify this kind of continuity-warping events. Everything Changes, right?

The actual plot of the episode involved the return of Bilis Manger (remember him?) who was attempting to bring back Abaddon into being by a complex process involving stealing and harnessing the psychic energy and sleeping time of a growing number of Cardiff citizens (hence the "Cardiff Syndrome" of the title) to create a "reality focus" acting as an interface-cum-beacon (yes, this is "psycho-techno-babble") and allowing the dispersed essence of Abaddon to reshape itself through the space-time maelstrom of the Rift...

Eventually, Penelope DID manage to defeat (and destroy?) Manger, using the time-honored method of turning a villain's weapon against himself - here, the process involved unleashing her own psychic strength AND the formidable power of her TARDIS through the psychic conduit which linked Manger to his growing army of sleepless psychic drones / puppets / pawns. A desperate, next-to-impossible move which involved massive expenditure of Story points and some lucky dice rolls - but in the end it succeeded and Penelope even managed to repair all collateral psychic damage...

The epilogue saw the resurrection of Torchwood Three - complete with its beloved Hub and a reassembled Rift Manipulator, with a new team entirely composed of existing NPCs - including Gwen Cooper, Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (grandson of the Brig, former time travel companion of Penelope and Torchwood One wonderkid), the time-sensitive Indira Kapur and a few others...  This new development creates a new "21st century anchor" for Lady Penelope's adventures, giving new roles to existing NPCs and reinforcing the sense of continuity of the campaign - Everything Changes but the Odyssey goes on!

One final note: in a way, this episode could be seen as a homage to the Torchwood series, just like the previous one was a tribute to Quatermass... now I might (not sure yet) complete this emerging pattern by another 'TV sci-fi show homage' episode - but our next episode will be what we now call an "Everett Special" - you remember Everett Blake, our occasional guest-star, don't you?  Check HERE and HERE for more details.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Season 12, Episode 5

Episode 5: The Cavern of Kronos
For years, fans of Nightshade have tried to solve the mystery of Penny Smith, the never-seen-before, never-seen-after actress who co-starred along Edmund Trevithick in the final (and now lost) episode of the 1950s cult TV series. The truth (which is, of course, stranger than fiction) can now be revealed, in this tale of buried memories, phantom pains and secret lives.

This episode was a bit of an exercise in style. It was conceived as a homage to Mark Gatiss’ brilliant NIGHTSHADE novel – itself a nostalgic homage to the great QUATERMASS TV series of the 1950s. After listening to the wonderful Big Finish audiobook adaptation of Nightshade, I knew I HAD to build a scenario related to this fascinating fragment of the Doctor Who mythos. Since Sylvie had remarked that Penelope had never been to the 1950s, I decided a few months ago that her first trip to this decade would definitely involve the making or impact of the NIGHTSHADE TV show… but I wanted to find the right tone, without interfering with the contents of Gatiss’ novel so I built a story focused not on Edmund Trevithick, the fictional actor who played the part of Professor Nightshade (although I did use him as a supporting character) but on the people who actually created the character and his adventures, which led me to invent a whole backstory.

My main sources of inspiration were (of course) Nigel Kneale, the creator of Quatermass (and some other brilliant stuff), as well as the TV movie “An Adventure in Space and Time” (also written by Mark Gatiss, so yes, our session had a very “Gatissian vibe”) – but instead of depicting the creation of a brilliant, classic TV show, I portrayed its final triumph and unfair demise at the hands of narrow-minded, begrudged BBC men-in-suits - so yes, the story also carried echoes of the 1989 cancellation of Doctor Who.

Despite what the title of episode* might suggest, the story included no fantastic / weird / alien element – except for Penelope’s own involvement, decisions and actions, so in the end we had a very moving, human-focused story that could only have been lived by a time traveler… and we had a fantastic session!  No chases, no fights, no alien menace to battle, but lots of roleplaying, period atmosphere and memorable moments.   

* “The Cavern of Kronos” is mentioned in the Nightshade audiobook as one of the most popular episodes of the series – but oddly enough, it is mistakenly identified as “Cavern of THE Kronos” on the TARDIS wikia website.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Season 12, Episode 4

Episode 4: Heir Apparent
S’ral, the Throne Worls of the S’rax. 25 years ago, Prince Mordred sacrificed his life to help his half-sister Penelope to defeat the psychic, sun-eating ghost of their mother Morgana*. And now the Time Lady has returned to claim her rightful title of Empress and rule the Nine Worlds – or has she, indeed?  Introducing the Dark Lady, Penelope’s own shadow nemesis…

* This was back in Season 2, Episode 13…

Talk about a "blast from the past", eh?  So who (or what) is this new "shadow nemesis" anyway?  And how can she have the face of the Second Penelope?  Is she a clone, an evil twin, an alternate Time Lady from an alternate timeline, some kind of doppelgänger?

Well, here again, we must look back at some earlier (but far more recent) episodes. In our previous season, Penelope had a multi-episode battle with the Dark Dimension, which was trying to get hold of the Key to Time in order to create a new omnipotent avatar of itself, a new Fenric or Black Guardian (since both entities have ceased to exist in Lady Penelope's current reality - yes, that means there's a vacancy!). 

This battle involved, among other things, facing an evil copy / dark doppelgänger of the Doctor and preventing the "Millington Entity" from reaching the Dark Apotheosis which would have made it the new supreme avatar of the Dark Dimension... Last but not least, Penelope's victory was obtained at a very heavy cost: to escape the hold of the Dark Dimension and to prevent it from corrupting her TARDIS, the Time Lady had to regenerate, triggering the "regeneration / purification" of her ship in the process - all this being made possible by the now-completed Key to Time. The Dark Dimension had been defeated - but as the one who had defeated it, Penelope was now right in the middle of the whole dimensional struggle.

And now the Dark Dimension's riposte has manifested itself in the person of the Dark Lady, an evil doppelgänger / clone wrought by the Dark Dimension itself, using all the biodata and psychic stuff which it had managed to record and copy during an even earlier confrontation with Penelope (we'll get to this in the next paragraph). This Dark Lady doesn't have a "dark TARDIS" - probably because Penelope DID manage to save her ship from contamination by bringing its aforementioned rebirth - but seems to be able to open "dark portals" allowing her to arrive at some chosen times and places, most likely linked to Penelope's own timeline, as was the case here. As for the Dark Lady's agenda and personality, she could be described as her negative twin or Shadow, in the Jungian sense of the word, embodying her "anti-personality", a reflection of her own inner darkness. 

So why does she have the face and body of the Second Penelope?  For two reasons: first, probably because this was the face that the S'rax knew, allowing her to pose as the Time Lady returned to claim her imperial birthright... but also (most probably) for a darler, deeper reason: back in her second incarnation (and shortly before entering her third), Penelope had been captured by the Black Guardian (who was still active at the time - those were the days...) who had tried to influence / manipulate / possess her. The Guardian had failed but this meant that the appearance, personality and surface memories of the Second Penelope had long been stored / imprinted in the abstract, unliving "memory" of the Dark Dimension (which can be seen, among other things, as the Black Guardian in a completely disincarnate and abstract form - or if you prefer, back when he existed, the Black Guardian was the embodiment of thie dimension).

So if the Dark Dimension HAD to create a dark clone of Penelope, her Second incarnation would definitely be the most logical choice - but at the end of our latest episode, Penelope's player wondered whether or not the Dark Lady would now be able to alter her face to imitate her current's appearance...

Last but not least, Penelope's first encounter with the Dark Lady gave her the opportunity to discover a unique, quite weird (but quite "logical", in the broadest sense of the word) feature of thie new Nemesis: they have symmetrical psyches, as if the Dark Lady was the dark reflection of Penelope's own mind... and consequently, they CANNOT enter any form of psychic conflict between themselves, because that would be the equivalent of attacking yourself - or, as the Doctor explained it afterwards, like adding "-X" to "X": the result is always zero. And this "psychic neutrality" (along with the intertwined / interdependent nature of their fates) will, of course, impact the way their next battles are fought... when and where will these take place?  As always, time (i.e. the GM) will decide - and it's interesting to note that Penelope has decided NOT to try and track down the Dark Lady, being 100% certain that their paths would soon cross again anyway...

Monday, January 1, 2018

A New Year - and a NEW SEASON!

So, 2018 kicks off with the first three episode blurbs from the twelfth season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey, starting with a triad of adventures in the 18th century...

Episode 1: Cry of the Banshee
1771. Answering a call for help from the time-sensitive Alicia Maddox, Lady Penelope returns to the Scottish highlands to investigate what is either a typical case of autosuggestion through superstition or a genuine menace from the Grey Dimension - but where exactly is the frontier between belief and reality?  Perhaps the answer can be heard in the Cry of the Banshee…

Episode 2: Britannica
It’s still 1771 and Penelope is still in Scotland, but in another world entirely – in Edinburgh, at the hub of the Scottish Enlightenment. The first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica has just been completed, heralding an age of Reason, Learning and British grandeur - provided the Time Lady can save history from the sleep of reason and the madness of kings.

Episode 3: The Art of Escapade  
Back in 1790 Sweden for the New Year royal ball, mademoiselle Penelope soon ends up trapped in the TARDIS of the mad Collector, along with the chevalier de Marigny, the mesmerist Hesselius and her theatrical rival Louise Saint-Rémy. Will the Time Lady manage to save them, herself and the entire Braxiatel Collection from her captor’s deadly ultimatum?

So what's in store for season 12?   I'm not telling yet (SPOILERS!) but after the tumultuous events of season 11 (which saw, among other things, the reassembly of the Key to Time, a new regeneration for our Time Lady AND the return of Gallifrey from the Time War),  I felt a change of pace would be welcome and deliberately focused on the human angle for these first three stories, which shared the same historical era (actually, it was Penelope's player who decided it would be nice to stay a bit in the 18th century after the first episode so I had to react swiftly) but had very different atmospheres: eerie and gothic for Cry of the Banshee, historical light drama (well, at least that's how it started) for Britannica and a more caper-like feel for The Art of Escapade, which also introduced a new, hopefully recurring villain in the person of a greedy, obsessive elderly Time Lord known as the Collector.

Due to various time constraints (ah, Time...), we didn't have a real Xmas Special this year BUT the resolution of episode 2 borrowed quite a bit from Dickens' A Christmas Carol (well, if you replace the various Ghosts of Christmas by a Time Lady and Ebenezer Scrooge by George III but I'm sure you get the idea) AND episode 3 was both set AND played during New Year's Eve (1791 and 2018, respectively).

Bonne année à tous !  

Thursday, August 10, 2017


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!