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

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).