Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Key to Space (3/3)

Third Fragment: The Twilight City

I. The Shadow Theatre

Penelope’s quest for the final fragment of the Key takes her to Paris. While Louis XIV is busy building Versailles castle and becoming the Sun King, a sinister Harlequin is treading a secret stage before an entranced audience. But what is the true purpose of the Laughing Mask’s comedy of madness?  Together with her old friend Bellegarde, the Time Lady investigates…

II. The Final Masque

The Shadow Theatre has given its last performance - but the Laughing Mask is on the run, plotting a terrible vengeance against Louis XIV and his court of sycophants. Penelope and Bellegarde must stop the mad Harlequin before his actions derail History. But first, the Time Lady must face the three faceless rulers of Twilight, also known as the Gods of Ragnarok…


And thus ends The Key to Space, our six-part baroque cycle, set in the cities and courts of 1668, from Charles II’s London and Oxford to legend-haunted Prague and Louis XIV’s Versailles…

To be fair, it was more of a trilogy or triptych, with each of its three segments being divided in two parts for convenience and ease of play.

So how did our final two-parter go down in actual play?  Well, wonderfully!  But before we get to Penelope’s final decisions, a few words about the historical context, references and personages of the City of Twilight.

The scenario featured many historical NPCs from the world of French classic theatre, including cameos by the famous playwrights Molière (whom Penelope had already briefly met 20 years before, in her previous incarnation) and Racine, as well as some slightly more substantial parts for the doomed actress Thérèse“Marquise” du Parc and the actor La Grange, Molière’s most talented and trusted disciple in his later years.

But the historical figure who dominated the whole show was, of course, the King of France LouisXIV, then aged 29 and in the process of becoming the glorious, so-called Sun-King. The monumental construction site of Versailles castle and the extravagant royal feast that took place there on the 18th of July 1668 played a major role in the plot, embodying the heady mix of splendor, vanity, domination and extravagance that would define Louis XIV’s reign in history… While he hardly appeared in the scenario itself (he didn’t even have a single line of dialogue!), Louis XIV’s presence loomed over the story from its beginning to its end.

This story gave me the opportunity to create my own imaginary solution to one of France’s most fascinating and enduring historical mysteries – that of the Manin the Iron Mask!  But instead of presenting it as a riddle to be solved, I orchestrated things to make the whole Iron Mask business the consequence of Penelope’s adventure.

To cut a long story short, I made Eustache Danger (the purported, enigmatic identity of the Man in the Mask) a young, revenge-mad architect who had been socially destroyed by his association with Superintendent Nicolas Fouquet, whose fall from grace and imprisonment were one of Louis XIV’s most dramatic demonstrations of power – and have, incidentally, often been associated with the Iron Mask mystery.

Armed with the second Fragment of Morrolan’s Key (which allowed its user to open passages to other dimensions…), the driven architect had come into contact with the Gods of Ragnarok, who had transformed him into a sinister Harlequin, not only able to drive his audience mad with his sarcasms and antics but with the powers of masking himself to other people’s perceptions and of changing his face at will – think of him as a Vampire – The Masquerade Malkavian adept at Obfuscate and Dementation and you won’t be far off. His powers could have given him the possibility of precipitating the King into utter madness – and even to steal his face and rule in his place…

Luckily for history as we know it, the Laughing Mask was stopped in extremis by Penelope and her friend Bellegarde (acting as His Majesty’s most special agent). Naturally, the only way to prevent Harlequin-Danger from using his sinister powers to escape and wreak havoc once again was to trap his ever-changing face in a cage of its own… And thus the Laughing Mask became the Iron Mask…

As for the Gods of Ragnarok (whom Penelope had already encountered with her long-lost friend Everett Blake in this special episode), they played the proverbial role of the “unseen hand”, the “power-behind-the-scene” (quite literally, in this case) that had observed and, sometimes, manipulated events before revealing themselves in the final act.

And yes, Penelope did manage to outwit them and send them back to their out-of-reality place of exile… a feat which she achieved by destroying the three Fragments of the Key to Space, her father’s flawed artefact of power – a dramatic gesture which was the perfect way to close this story.

In a very touching epilogue, the Time Lady decided to go back to Prague to reunite with the English student of alchemy and seeker of arcane knowledge John Wycliffe, who had helped her during the Secret City segment and whom she had to leave without a word of explanation to pursue her quest. And yes, you guessed it, their reunion ended up with Penelope welcoming the 17th century dilettante scholar as a new travelling companion in the TARDIS…  

See you in a couple of months (give or take) – for season 17 of Lady Penelope’s Odyssey and more adventures in time and space!

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Character Archetypes or: what is your D&D doing in my DWAITAS?

While I definitely don’t intend to convert from my own heavily house-ruled brand of 1st edition DWAITAS to any other system, I must say that several features of the new DOCTORS & DALEKS rulebook published by Cubicle 7 have struck me as particularly well thought-out, with a very strong accent on genre emulation. 

One of these features is the list of six basic character classes – reminiscent of the old D20 Modern ones (IIRC) but re-designed DW-style. The idea is simple: each of the six basic D&D attributes (Strength, Wisdom, etc.) is tied to a specific character class, which is clearly defined more as a heroic archetype than as, say, a profession or career, which is, IMHO, the perfect way to go. 

The six classes are: the Charmer (Charisma), the Thinker (Intelligence), the Empath (Wisdom), the Trickster (Dexterity), the Protector (Strength) and the Stalwart (Constitution). The names are self-explanatory and if you want more details on these classes, well, I direct you to the Doctors & Daleks players book. 

Each class provides a wide array of special talents and other signature abilities which (this being, basically, D&D) are acquired as the character gains levels (and which, incidentally, take this iteration of DW in RPG form in a completely opposite direction to the one followed by DW 2nd Edition, which took all our beloved traits out of the equation but I won’t elaborate on this).

As I was thinking about these six classes (let’s call them ‘archetypes’), I realized that they could be readily translated into Doctor Who RPG 1st edition terms, since the six attributes of the Vortex system are almost identical to the classic D&D six (with a few variations – Wisdom being replaced with Awareness and Constitution with Resolve… but these actually make things even more logical, e.g. Stalwarts being defined by their high Resolve). 

These six archetypes could simply be used as simple and elegant templates for beginning player-characters (especially with new players, I’d say), with their associated special abilities and talents being represented by (wait for it…) a list of possible good traits – YES!

 So here is the result of my little conversion work – and I must say I find it quite interesting. (BTW, for simplicity’s sake, I’ve limited the listed possible good traits to the ones listed in the 12th Doctor rulebook, leaving special traits out).

Let’s start with the ‘prime requisite’ attribute – the one which should be at least equal to 4:

Charmer = Presence

Empath = Awareness

Protector = Strength

Stalwart = Resolve

Thinker = Ingenuity

Trickster = Coordination

And now, on to the typical/recommended good traits:

Charmer: Attractive, Charming, Friends, Lucky, Noble, Owed Favour, Voice of Authority

Empath: Animal Friendship, Charming, Empathic, Friends, Hypnosis, Psychic Training, Sense of Direction

Protector: Brave, Indomitable, Military Rank, Noble, Quick Reflexes, Tough, Voice of Authority

Stalwart: Brave, Face in the Crowd, Fast Healing, Indomitable, Military Rank, Sense of Direction, Tough

Thinker: Biochemical Genius, Boffin, Percussive Maintenance, Photographic Memory, Resourceful Pockets, Reverse the Polarity of the Neutron Flow, Technically Adept

Trickster: Face in the Crowd, Keen Senses, Lucky, Owed Favour, Quick Reflexes, Resourceful Pockets, Technically Adept

Yes, by some quirk of fate, each list has the same number of typical traits (seven). These lists are not exclusive lists; they simply show which good traits would go well with each archetype; if you really want to make a rule about this, you could say that the character must purchase at least 2 points worth of these recommended traits.

I was amazed by how easy this little conversion work was – and, if anything, it shows that the underlying idea behind the six Doctors & Daleks classes is a very sound and apt one in terms of genre emulation, since it translates so nicely and easily to TOSTIL (That Other System That I Love J).

Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Key to Space (2/3)

Second Fragment: The Secret City

I. The Cursed House

Lady Penelope’s search for the second fragment of the Key to Space takes her to Prague, a city full of stories and secrets, memories and mysteries. Her steps soon lead her to the Jewish Ghetto, where the shadows of the past and the threats of the future lurk at the threshold of a troubled present. There, in a forsaken house, a dying man of wisdom is waiting for her…

II. The Hidden Legend

Now in possession of the second fragment of the Key, Penelope must confront a man who should have been dead for 75 years – former charlatan Edward Kelley, now known as Doctor K, hidden master of the Imperial Secret Cabinet. Meanwhile, a religious pogrom is brewing and a well-kept secret is about to step out of the shadows, into the streets of the Ghetto…

Of course, the Golem of Prague made a spectacular appearance - but it was a reinterpreted golem, made of the very stones of the Ghetto and given life by the combined powers of telluric energy (the 'signature shtick' of Penelope 7 - see our last season) and the collective unconscious of an entire community. Part two was extremely moving, with some very emotional scenes dealing with the trail left in Prague by Morrolan, Penelope's long-dead Time Lord father... Also, that scoundrel Edward Kelley finally met a fitting end - yes, it was the Third Defenestration of Prague!

Next stop: Paris!

Saturday, July 2, 2022

The Key to Space (1/3)

In this six-chapter mini-series, Lady Penelope goes on a quest all around 1668 Europe to retrieve the three fragments of the Key to Space, a prodigious (and quite hazardous) device crafted by her late father, the Time Lord Morrolan, also known as the Architect… Who knows what hidden perils, mysteries and revelations await her?

First Fragment: The Shining City

I. The Hollow Court

Lady Penelope’s quest for the Key to Space first takes her to Whitehall Palace in London, the seat of King Charles II’s decadent and intrigue-riddled court. Her search soon brings her to join forces with England’s rising star architect, Christopher Wren, to whom her father had entrusted the first fragment of the Key – which has just been stolen by an unknown party…  

II. The Invisible College

Penelope’s search for the stolen fragment of the Key takes her to Oxford, where she quickly draws the attention of the Invisible College, an ancient secret institution fallen under the influence of the mysterious Twilight People. But what is the true agenda of these elusive entities?  And why are they so interested in Christopher Wren’s dream of a new London?

Aside from Christopher Wren himself, this first two-parter featured quite a few historical guest stars and cameos, including Charles II, his various mistresses (well, as far as 1668 was concerned: Barbara Palmer née Villiers, Moll Davis and Nell Gwynn), his wife and his brother James, the inevitable Samuel Pepys, John Denham (reinvented here as a truly tragic figure), the polymath genius Robert Boyle and Lady Margaret Cavendish, duchess of Newcastle and author of that strangest of utopias, The Blazing World

Next stop: Prague!

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Lady Penelope Rides Again!

 Our sixteenth season was great - but clearly left us wanting for more, probably because its two halves had been separated by a longer time gap than usual, because of the Not So Great Hiatus. Sylvie and I were supposed to start the first season of a new campaign for another, completely different game... but in the end neither of us felt ready for this. So we decided to bring our Time Lady back far sooner than was planned - not for a seventeenth season but for a limited 'mini-series' of six heavily connected episodes (or, if you will, a trilogy of two-parters). Yes, that's right, we're going a bit FLUX here - but this mini-series will have a very different feel. I'm not divulging anything yet (SPOILERS!) but the basic premises we agreed on was to use a single historical setting, for a longer immersion than is usually the case...

I started working on the storyline one week ago or so and the ideas have been flooding in... We'll play the first episode next Saturday... A bientôt ! 

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Season 16 Finale (Episodes 14-15)

Episode 14: Trail of the Lloigor

Channeling their eldritch energies through a trans-temporal nexus, the Lloigor are trying to use the Cardiff Rift to break the quantum barrier that imprisons them in a single continuum. Racing against Time itself, Penelope must reach 2024 to prevent the realization of the sinister entities’ master plan – but her old enemies are determined to throw her off-course…

Episode 15: Cwlwm

Having (at last!) arrived in 2024 Cardiff, Lady Penelope must deal with the traitor at the Torchwood Hub, before facing the primal might of the Timeless Lloigor as they prepare to wreak havoc on our reality (not to mention solving the mysteries of the National Eisteddfod). A climactic conclusion to the Power of the Earth story arc – and the end of another season…   

Aside from a dramatic dimensional showdown with the Lloigor, this definitely Welsh episode also featured the historical character Iolo Morganwg and the pseudo-historical character Geraint the Blue Bard. If you’ve never heard about them, check them out on Wikipedia – their story is just fascinating!

And so concludes the sixteenth season of Lady Penelope’s Odyssey – a season which was split in two because of the aforementioned Not So Great Hiatus. And perhaps because of all this, it will definitely fill a special niche in my memory as a veteran (nah, grizzled) GM. Aside from all this, the interruption actually allowed me to steer the direction of the season finale in a completely different direction than what I initially had in mind (and hadn’t quite managed to foreshadow yet, so all this reshuffling happened off-stage, unbeknownst to my dear player and compagne).

When I immersed myself back in my old notes and re-read the blurbs of episodes 1-8, I had something of a brainwave (no, it was not another stroke…): the whole “Power of the Earth” theme, which had been running like an underground river in the background since Penelope’s latest regeneration in season 15, was definitely the way to go and gave me a perfect opportunity to bring back Penelope’s arch-enemies, the Lloigor, with some unexpected revelations about their origins and answers to some very old questions about Penelope’s father, the Time Lord Morrolan… old and new, past and present, the perfect way to end up the seventh Penelope’s second season!

So what about the other idea, the one that I dumped for this Big Lloigor finale?  Well I’m not telling (since Sylvie is reading this blog) and I’ll keep in store… perhaps for season 17? 

See you in a few months – and thanks to those who sent me words of support and kindness. 

La vie continue…

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Season 16: Episode 13

Episode 13: Last of the Wampanoags

New England, 1774. Answering a call for help from an old friend, Penelope discovers two communities in turmoil. As tensions flare between colonial settlers and Native Americans, dark forces from a forgotten past are awakening in the depths of the Earth. With the help of allies from each side, the Time Lady must once again face her old arch-enemies… the Lloigor!

As implied from the title and the blurb above, this scenario mixed a somewhat Lovecraftian vision of colonial America with a strong ‘Last of the Mohicans’ vibe and some elements from Algonquin folklore. It also involved several key ingredients from our own continuity about the Lloigor, different time continuums and the telluric Power of the Earth. The “old friend” mentioned above was Alicia McLaren née Maddox, a psychic / time sensitive first introduced in “Stolen Pasts” (season 9, episode 7) and later seen in “Hellfire” (season 10, episode 7) and “Cry of the Banshee” (season 12, episode 1).

As is often the case, actual play brought its fair share of unexpected turns and twists – including a very amusing ‘oops’ moment by Penelope herself during the initial reunion with Alicia ; the NPC had just mentioned the Boston Tea Party – a reference which was not understood by either of Penelope’s companions, so the Time Lady explained that this event was “the first step leading to the birth of the United States of America”, which caused Alicia (whose husband Sean had joined the ranks of the American rebels) to shed tears of hope and joy: “So we ARE going to win!  This changes everything!”  What made this especially funny is that Penelope had, mere minutes before, sternly warned her companions about the dangers of meddling with history and judging the past with the benefits of historical hindsight…

We had a GREAT time. The episode marked a high point in the current season; it was quite epic, with a constantly rising dramatic tension, some very moving moments and quit a few memorable scenes. “Fantastique!” said Sylvie, right after the end…

As the antepenultimate (I love that word…) episode of our current season, “Last of the Wampanoags” also opened the doors to the final diptych, in which the Lloigor will, of course, play a prominent part… See you soon for the penultimate episode!