Friday, July 23, 2010

Campaign Notes : Non-DW Sources of Inspiration

In my first Campaign Notes post, I examined the canonicity of my campaign universe in relation to the official DW universe (or is that a multiverse ?). This second post is about my other sources of inspiration - books, comics, movies and other stories that I have shamelessly plundered for ideas to build the first season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey.

These secondary sources can be grouped into two broad categories : episode-specific sources and campaign-related sources.

As their name implies, episode-specific sources provide elements which will mainly be used to define the atmosphere, style or plot of a single episode. This is especially important for episodes in which characters travel in the past; if a GM decides to send your brave time travelers to the Trojan War or the London Blitz, you can be pretty sure that he came up with that idea after reading a book or watching a movie set in this given period. In such scenarios, the sources and references used by the GM will have a great impact on his vision of the chosen setting – and consequently on the reality with which the characters will interact.

The eighth episode of Lady Penelope’s first season, for instance, featured a trip to the court of Richard III; an important aspect of the plot (and, in fact, our heroine’s reason for getting there in the first place) was the clash between historical fact and the Shakespearian vision of this monarch - you know, Tudor propaganda and all that. Sources of inspiration used for this scenario included Shakespeare's play, Al Pacino's Looking for Richard movie and Josephine Tey’s novel The Daughter of Time (which, incidentally, also suggested the title for the episode, but with a slightly different meaning).

Since they are inherently tied to each adventure’s setting, I will list the various episode-specific sources I’ve used in my scenarios in the forthcoming posts about the episodes themselves. Today's post will focus exclusively on the other category of secondary sources : those which help the GM shape the major themes and define the overall tone of his campaign.

For this first season of Lady Penelope’s Odyssey, my non-DW campaign sources can be grouped into three general “inspiration pools” :

Arthurian Fiction

The campaign featured many references to Arthurian themes and elements – including alternate versions of Arthurian characters, the “Merlin connection” mentioned in an earlier post and the sword Excalibur as one of the major Macguffins of the campaign. All this will be explored in greater detail in future posts. The various inspiration sources I used to shape this Arthurian theme were deliberately chosen from the realm of pop culture (as opposed to the field of serious, scholarly arthurian studies), including John Boorman’s Excalibur, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon and the Camelot 3000 graphic novel by Mike Barr and Brian Bolland (I wanted to have a “future King Arthur” too – but I put mine in a much nearer future and had him freeing Britain from a totalitarian new order rather than from an alien invasion (I saved this for the season finale).

Alan Moore's Comics

OK, I admit it : I'm an Alan Moore cultist. In the case of Lady Penelope’s Odyssey, I borrowed quite a few ideas from his extraordinary run on Captain Britain (a must-read) – including his vision of Merlin as a cosmic schemer and the vision of a dystopian Britain run by a dangerous maniac with hi-tech armored troopers. It should be noted that these Captain Britain episodes already have a pseudo-Whoesque feel, which is not surprising since Moore had also written some DW strips before doing CB. In fact, some of these Captain Britain episodes even recycle some of the characters he had created for the DW strips : a dimension-hopping group of troubleshooting alien mercenaries known as The Special Executive (an idea which I might recycle in my second season…) .

An episode about the return of Jack the Ripper in 1893 London also took some inspiration from From Hell (especially the weird stuff about the fourth dimension, the occult architecture of London etc) – but who needs the Royal Conspiracy when you’ve got Victorian Torchwood ?

The Cthulhu Mythos

Various DW stories already include elements inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos - which seems to naturally "lurk" at the border of the Whoniverse - but the idea here was NOT to turn the campaign into some sort of "Time Lords vs the Great Old Ones" giant crossover, so I only borrowed a few creatures and concepts from some Mythos-related stories (rather than from tHPL's "core tales") : Frank Belknap Long's Hounds of Tindalos (natural predators of the Time Vortex, eh ?) and Colin Wilson's Lloigors (invisible entities linked, among other things, to standing stones and ley lines). Come to think of it, I also recycled some elements from Robert Chambers’ King In Yellow stories, which (as any Call of Cthulhu Keeper will tell you) have been retroactively integrated into the extended Cthulhu Mythos.

Post Scriptum : Torchwood & Espionage Fiction

The Torchwood Institute plays quite an important part in Lady Penelope's Odyssey - at least as a background element - but I deliberately chose to focus on Torchwood as shown in the Doctor Who series rather than on the quasi-rogue agency run by Captain Jack in the eponymous show.

Lady Penelope's late father (or, rather, her adoptive father, as she discovered during the series' "pilot" episode) was a John Steed-like agent for Torchwood from the 60s to the 80s and his former partner (a major NPC in the first scenarios) was called out of retirement – just like George Smiley in John Le CarrĂ©’s Tailor, Tinker, Soldier, Spy – to supervise Torchwood's rebirth after the events of Canary Wharf (the "divergence point" of my alternate continuity, as noted in a previous post). This treatment of Torchwood, which mixes concepts borrowed from two extremely different - almost opposite - visions of Cold War espionage (the Avengers TV show and Le CarrĂ©’s novel), shows just how far you can go with your sources of inspiration in a game like DWAITAS...

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