Thursday, October 27, 2011

Season 3, Episodes 7-9

As we are entering the second half of Lady Penelope's Odyssey's third season ("The Web of Time"), here are the blurbs of the three latest episodes we've played:

Episode 7: No Man’s Land

July 1916, the Green Fields of France – aka Hell on Earth. Lady Penelope must, once again, juggle with Time, history and her own decisions. Featuring Captain Jack Harkness, the Man Who Wouldn’t Die, and introducing Lt Edward Wilberforce, the Man Who Should Have Died.

Episode 8: Temporal Power

They have erased the Time Agency out of history. They are the watchers, sentinels and regulators of the Web of Time. They call themselves the Time Authority – and they want a word or two with the last Time Lords (and Lady) of the universe.

Episode 9: Deus Ex Machina

Lady Penelope, Mortimus and the Doctor finally get to meet the Higher Power behind the Time Authority – an old foe with a new face, a new name and a new plan for the universe. Can Merlin’s daughter defeat the Ghost in the Machine before it becomes God?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Temporal Toybox

I've finally compiled my various alternate and optional rules for DWAITAS in PDF format. While I was at it, I've streamlined, cleaned up, clarified and updated some of the sections. It's called "The Temporal Toybox", it's 7-page long, it can be downloaded from the Miscellaneous Links of this blog or directly from here.

The various topics are:

- Skill Levels & Unskilled Attempts

- The Craft skill (no, don't run, I've shortened this to a single half-page :) )

- Aliens & Knowledge

- Tech Levels & Skills

- Perception

- Feats of Strength

- NPCs, Dramatic Stature & Story points

- Conflicts & Story points

Check it up!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Campaign Notes: Season 3, Episodes 4-6

Time for another batch of episode blurbs!

Episode 4: Reconquista!

Another 1595. England has been living under Spanish rule for 7 years, since the victory of the Armada. It's time for Kit Marlowe, playwright, time-traveller and spy extraordinaire to make a truly historic come back - with the help of a certain Time Lady.

Episode 5: Pride & Probability

1834. Who is really Miss Ada Byron's new mathematics teacher - and why is he plotting to destroy her friendship with Charles Babbage? Lady Penelope saves History once again in this decidedly Austenian tale of science and sensibility.

Episode 6: Time & Tide

Places to go, people to see, dilemmas to solve. Can Lady Penelope run the risk of unraveling the Web of Time just to save a few lives from the tides of History? Perhaps the Doctor has the answer... Oh, and did we mention Captain Jack Harkness?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Campaign Notes: Our Third Season (first episodes)

So, we've started the third season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey a few weeks ago. Here are the blurbs of the first three episodes we've played:

Episode 1: Demons of the Mind

Lady Penelope goes on holiday in 1909 Vienna, immerses herself in the local Zeitgeist, meets Klimt, Schiele, Freud, Jung - and foils the dark designs of her old enemies the Lloigor…

Episode 2: Age of the Captain

Back in the 2010s, Penelope discovers the link between the future of the Torchwood Institute and the past of the Time Agency – and finally gets to meet Captain Jack Harkness!

Episode 3: The Sycorax Situation

Having driven off the Hounds of Tindalos from the streets of Cardiff, Penelope travels with Captain Jack through the Rift, encounters an alien horde - and faces a life-affecting choice.

I've also decided to give a title to each season - a title reflecting the overall theme or "arch" of the season. So, season 1 was First Steps, season 2 was Time Lady... and season 3 will be known as The Web of Time (a phrase which will feature as a Bad Wolf-like meme in each episode, culminating in the final two-parter).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

House Rule: Some Thoughts on Tech Levels

The following post details some simple rules to make Technology Levels (or “Tech Levels”) as I’ll subsequently refer to them) more significant in game terms (beyond the obvious equipment-related effects detailed on pp 65-66 of the Gamemaster’s Guide). These optional rules first started life as a series of thoughts and ruminations on the effects of the Time Traveller trait in game terms, rather than as rules on Tech Levels per se.

The following paragraphs make frequent reference to a character’s “most advanced Tech Level”. This normally refers to the Technology Level of the character’s culture of origin (i.e. TL 5 for 21st century humans) – but for characters with the Time Traveller trait, this refers to the highest Tech Level their time travelling experience has allowed them to master. Thus, if a 21st century character acquires the Time Traveller trait for Tech Levels 3, 4, 7 and 9, his most advanced Tech Level will be 9.

Tech Levels & Equipment

Although no skill is specifically mentioned in this section, the rules detailed on p 66 of the Gamemaster’s Guide obviously refer to the Technology skill, which governs the use and repair of most technological items.

While this is not explicitly mentioned in the game, it also makes sense to expand these rules to the Transport skill. Thus, a flying ace from WW1 (Tech Level 4) would incur a -4 penalty when trying to fly a Tech Level 6 spaceship, while a character from the early 21st century (Tech Level 5) would suffer a -2 penalty when handling a sailing ship from the age of exploration (Tech Level 3).

Tech Levels & Weaponry

Following that same line of reasoning, it would also make sense to apply similar penalties to the Marksman skill – yet, one might also argue that the technological differences between missile weapons of different eras are less complex (at least in terms of use and operation) than between vehicles and other machines. Or, in other words, a pistol is a pistol is a pistol, regardless of how many technological refinements you add to its basic working principles. To reflect this, the penalty for using a missile weapon of a higher Tech Level than your most advanced TL should be reduced to -1 for each TL of difference (instead of the usual -2).

Thus, a swashbuckling pirate from the 17th century (Tech Level 3) would only incur a -3 penalty when using a Tech Level 6 energy blaster (instead of a massive -6). The -1 penalty for each TL of difference for lower Tech Levels would, however, remain unaffected, so that a 21st century character (Tech Level 5) would suffer a -3 penalty to his Marksman skill when attempting to use a medieval English longbow (Tech Level 2).

Tech Levels & Science

Since technology is a direct byproduct of science, a character’s most advanced TL should also set the upper limit as to what his Science skill covers. Even the greatest scientists of our period (TL 5) would probably find it impossible to comprehend the complexities of Time Lord science (TL 10) – at least without some hefty Story points expenditure.

Gamemasters who wish to reflect this in game terms may give some important scientific concepts a minimum Tech Level representing the point at which that particular concept becomes a full part of the Science skill. Let’s take the example of time travel. The Technology Levels chart given on p 32 of the Gamemaster’s Guide identifies Tech Level 8 as the first “time faring” level: thus, only characters whose most advanced TL is 8 or higher could apply their Science skill to time-travelling concepts – at least without incurring some penalties. Scientists whose most advanced TL is less than this minimum would suffer the usual -2 penalty per TL of difference.

Thus, a 21st century scientist (Tech Level 5) would suffer a -6 penalty to his Science skill when dealing with the basics of temporal science – meaning that a scientific genius with 5 or 6 in both Science and Ingenuity might actually have a chance here, especially if he has a few Story points in store. Thus, under exceptional circumstances, historical geniuses like Albert Einstein could have a more than reasonable chance of working out the solution to some tricky temporal theory problem.

Unlike equipment, however, scientific concepts available to lower Tech Levels obviously give no penalties. Once a concept or discovery (such as Newton’s law of gravity or Einstein’s theory of relativity) becomes part of the established body of scientific knowledge, it remains there and does not constantly ‘improve’ the way equipment tends to. In other words, as Tech Levels increase, Technology changes (reflected by the -1 penalty per TL of difference for using technology from a lower Tech Level), while Science (which concerns itself with the basic truths of how the universe works) merely expands (no penalty for dealing with scientific concepts of a lower TL).

Gamemasters who wish to bother with such minutiae could even decide to give a corresponding bonus of +1 per TL of difference in such cases: if, for instance, we classify the basic principles of how planets and stars interact with each other as a TL 3 concept (since that would be the TL corresponding to characters like Galileo or Copernic), a scientist from the 21st century (TL 5) would get a +2 bonus to his Science skill when dealing with such basic notions, while a scientist from a far more advanced culture (say, a TL 10 Time Lord) would get a massive +7.

Thus, a Time Lord from Gallifrey would not simply be someone with a high Science skill but would be able to take full advantage from the extraordinary scientific advancement of his native culture: using these rules, a character’s Science skill level no longer reflects an absolute measure of his scientific knowledge but a relative one (i.e. within the conceptual boundaries of his native culture, as represented by its Tech Level), so that a Gallifreyan student with 1 or 2 in Science could comprehend and operate concepts which would normally be beyond the reach of the greatest scientists from 21st century Earth.

Of course, such penalties and bonuses for scientific concepts should only be used in situations where such concepts have a major dramatic impact on the story – but in such situations, they give a more significant edge to characters who originate from technologically (and scientifically) advanced cultures, which seems only fair in game terms as well as from a dramatic perspective. This also means that Time Travelling scientists (i.e. characters with the Science skill and the Time Traveller trait) who have become familiar with cultures more advanced than their own will automatically broaden their “scientific horizons” (by becoming familiar with a higher TL than their native one), without necessarily improving their Science skill itself.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

House Rule: The Aliens Skill

Some of you might recall that, in my long rant about the Crafts skill, I briefly wondered if that particular skill hadn’t been added to the system for the sole purpose of having a nice, well-rounded list of twelve skills (as opposed to an “ugly, uneven eleven”). Now, after two full seasons of DWAITAS-running, I think I’ll fill this twelfth skill niche with a more directly useful and Who-esque candidate – a skill called Aliens.

What would it cover? Well, essentially, knowledge of alien beings in general, with areas of expertise covering specific cultures or races (e.g. Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans etc). In fact, I’m pretty sure I read on a DWAITAS-related forum or newsboard the initial draft of the game included an Alien Cultures skill, which was eventually subsumed into Knowledge, as shown in the description of this skill (see Gamemaster’s Guide, p 27), perhaps to make the skill list more tightly-packed, to give Knowledge more pizzazz or (who knows?) to make space for that darned Crafts skill.

So, if the DWAITAS designers decided to subsume aliens into general Knowledge, why should we choose to go the other way? Well, simply because including aliens into Knowledge does not make that much sense, when you come to think of it. Why? Don’t worry – I won’t go into a long rant about this (I’m pretty sure you already had enough with the one on the Crafts skill, not to mention my various posts on Story points). I’ll limit my argument to what we might call the Bookworm Paradox: if alien cultures are covered by Knowledge, then characters with a high Knowledge skill (such as academics and other scholars) will always have a better instinctive grasp of alien cultures than characters who should logically possess such knowledge, like UNIT officers or Torchwood operatives - unless we assume that such characters all have a very high Knowledge skill, which is obviously not the case.

Sure, the description of the Knowledge skill explicitly states that alien cultures should not be available as areas of expertise for beginning characters – but if we follow the rules as written, NOT having an area of expertise does not give you any sort of disadvantage. In other words, any character could, at least in theory, apply his Knowledge skill to alien matters, regardless of his actual experience or background; sure, the GM can always call on common sense here but wouldn’t it better to have a simple, clean rule here instead of having to make arbitrary decisions – especially for a topic which may have such a significant incidence in play?

So how do we avoid the Bookworm Paradox? Simply by making Aliens a separate skill, not available to beginning characters, unless they happen to be Torchwood agents, UNIT operatives, Time Lords or other characters who might reasonably have access to such special knowledge.

The Knowledge skill should only cover general knowledge – which is why, for instance, fields of study like Science and Medicine get their own specific skill – and this “general knowledge” should always be understood as pertaining to the character’s culture of origin – which is why knowledge of alien cultures should be treated as a separate skill. This approach simply removes the aforementioned Bookworm Paradox: earthborn academic are no longer potential founts of alien knowledge, while Torchwood or UNIT agents no longer have to be walking encyclopedias to know their Daleks from their Cybermen.

Speaking of the Knowledge skill, it should be noted that the “contents” of this skill tends to vary a lot from character to character: having a Knowledge skill of 5, for instance, does not mean the same thing if you are an Elizabethan scholar or a 21st century academic. Thus, Knowledge is what we might call a “relative” skill – one whose actual contents (in terms of information and, well, knowledge) varies according to each character’s background and culture of origin. This is evidently the simplest way to handle such things in game terms without resorting to over-specialized knowledge skills. And since this ‘relative approach’ already applies to Knowledge, there is no reason why it shouldn’t apply to our Aliens skill too: a character’s Knowledge skill should always be associated with his culture of origin, with the Aliens skill covering the cultures of other species. In other words, a Time Lord raised on Gallifrey would use his Aliens skill to know facts about Earth history or human civilizations, while his Knowledge skill would cover Gallifreyan culture and history.

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at Tech Levels.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Campaign Notes : Our Second Season (last episodes)

Sylvie and I played the final (and quite climactic) episode of our second season yesterday evening. Here are the two-line blurbs of the last four episodes - see this post and this one for the first nine.

Episode 10: The Walls of Troy
Lady Penelope and her companions never found the Trojan War - but they did have a most interesting trip, complete with temporal phenomena and metaphysical dilemmas...

Episode 11: Phantasmagoria
Summer 1816. Lady Penelope meets Lord Byron, the Shelleys and a few other tormented souls in this dark romantic tale of revenge, melancholy and psychic infestation.

Episode 12: The King and the Land
Lady Penelope returns to the Avalon Project to attend a royal wedding - only to discover that Excalibur, the key to mankind's future, has been stolen by the lords of the Otherworld.

Episode 13: The Sun of Blood
Lady Penelope forges an uneasy alliance with her half-brother Mordred to defeat the power of the Sun of Blood - and prevent the rebirth of their mother, Morgaine the Witch Queen.

Friday, April 8, 2011

House Rule : Shifting the Scales

Once more unto the breach... Here is an addendum / adjustment to my previous post on Conflicts & Story points - more precisely, it is an alternative to the part called "Raising the Stakes", regarding the use of Story points during competitive conflicts.

The main idea behind this modification is to avoid to-and-fro expenses of Story points between the original loser and the original winner of a competitive conflict - a situation which may actually lessen dramatic tension instead of boosting it. So here is a new variant (which really works better in play) :

In a competitive conflict, if the loser has spent Story points to alter the result in his favor, the original winner may decide to shift the scales back in his favour by spending a single Story point (but no more) - and that's it. No further expenditure is allowed beyond this point.

In a reactive conflict, things remain as defined in the original article.

In other words, after any conflict roll (competitive or reactive), each character can only spend Story points once to alter the outcome of the roll; in addition, in a reactive conflict, the defender always has the last word (i.e. if he was the first to spend his Story points because he lost the original conflict, then the attacker cannot spend any point to shift things back in his favour).

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Campaign Notes : For a Few Episodes More...

Here comes the new year - and with it four more episode blurbs from the ongoing second season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey. Episodes 7-8 actually were a two-part story, in which our heroine discovered a few shocking secrets about the last Time Lords and the passing of her own father - a major threshold in the evolution and growth of the character.

Episode 6 : Making History
Accompanied by the (not quite) late Christopher Marlowe, Lady Penelope attends three public executions, bumps into Oliver Cromwell and meets the Meddling... Puritan.

Episode 7 : Childhood's End
Lady Penelope is summoned to the Ark of Arcadia, a huge transdimensional ship, where she meets the Guardians of Infinity - beings formerly known as... Time Lords.

Episode 8 : The Never People
Question: How could so many Time Lords survive the Last Great Time War? Answer: By being already dead when it all happened. Featuring the Doctor!

Episode 9 : Time Off
Nothing can beat an evening at the Lyceum Theatre - especially when you get to meet Bram Stoker, Arthur Conan Doyle, E.W. Hornung, Sir Henry Irving and a Vortex Medusa.

Happy new year to all DWAITAS gamers out there - have fantastic adventures!