Saturday, December 28, 2013

Season 6, Episodes 11-13

So, we've finally had the time to play our season finale, so here are the three last blurbs from the sixth season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey.

Episode 11: Gallifrey No More
Autumn has come to Avalon. As the last Time Lords are building a new society, the shadows of the past awaken in a secret gallery of Lungbarrow manor. Can Gallifrey really be reached through a 3-D painting and saved from time-locked oblivion? The answer, sadly, is NO.

Episode 12: The Dark Flame
An ominous vision from the Sisters of the Eternal Flame sends Penelope on the last surviving world of the Traken Union, a lonely, peaceful planet known as Serenity. As forgotten truths and sinister secrets are uncovered, can the Time Lady prevent a new rising of darkness?

Episode 13: Balance of Power
The power of the Dark Flame has awakened the Melkurs. As her silent army sows death and destruction over Serenity, Anaxia begins her reign of terror. With the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, Lady Penelope prepares for a final showdown with her nemesis…    

Episode 11 was of course played just a few days after the 50th Anniversary Episode and was directly inspired by it - as my own "alternate continuity" (and extremely confidential) riposte to this whole "let's save Gallifrey" three-card-trick, which left me quite dubious (and felt like a somewhat pointless deconstruction of the whole Russell T. Davies era, but I digress).

Episodes 12 and 13 were inspired by The Keeper of Traken and were also (very) loosely based on one of those awesome audiobooks from Big Finish (a "lost story" called The Guardians of Prophecy). The season finale also saw the final, terminal, no-more-regenerations-allowed end of Lady Penelope's personal nemesis, Anaxia, the daughter of the Master (well, that means that I'll just have to invent a new nemesis, then ;)).

See you soon in time and space! 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Season 6, Episodes 9-10

Episode 9: Renaissance
Florence, 1505. Penelope and Mortimus meet the great Leonardo da Vinci, artist, inventor and former travel companion of the Monk – but the nostalgia trip soon turns into a temporal conundrum when they uncover the Machiavellian scheme of a certain Time Meddler.  

Episode 10: Crossing Lines
How do you find your place in the continuum when you have been erased from history? To answer this question, Penelope takes Miss White where it all began (or ended?): 51st century Iceland, 20 years after World War VI. It’s all about choosing sides - and making a difference.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Season 6, Episodes 6-8

Time for another series of actual-play blurbs from Lady Penelope's Odyssey...

Episode 6: A Matter of Identity
Who is the Time Keeper?  What if the Doctor had been wrong all along?  To solve the mystery of Mr. Alias’ true identity, Lady Penelope and her fellow Time Lords of Avalon must put together the last pieces of the puzzle – a stolen watch, a lost TARDIS and a forgotten name.

Episode7: New Lives
The times, they are a-changing – and so are the Time Lords of Avalon. Drax finally gets a new body, a new self and a new TARDIS, Mortimus gets a new destiny and, last but not least, Penelope gets a new travelling companion in the person of the aforementioned Time Lord.

Episode8: Friends & Foes
For Penelope, it was supposed to be a nice Saturday evening in 2013 before a new series of adventures in time and space. For the Master’s daughter, it was the final phase of a fiendish plan. Featuring Torchwood and the Cyberman formerly known as Yvonne Hartman.   

Saturday, October 5, 2013

I was at X when Y...

Lately, Sylvie and I have been re-watching the 9th and 10th Doctors episodes – a very enjoyable experience. It was really great to re-discover the sheer brilliance of Christopher Eccleston’s only season and David Tennant's entire run – the exceptional acting, the tightly-paced drama and how cleverly all the pieces finally come together for the season finale, without the somewhat “forced” feeling of the current Matt Smith / Steven Moffat era, in which the season gimmicks / final twists tend to get in the way of the story themselves (OK, that’s a completely subjective opinion, but you cannot help having them – and yes, I’m really excited about Peter Capaldi taking up the Doctor’s mantle).

And of course, re-visioning these wonderful episodes with the eyes of a DWAITAS gamemaster gave me all sorts of ideas about using various elements from the TV show as background elements for characters or adventures –I’m not talking about the Whoniverse as a whole here (since exploring it is obviously the raison d’être of the game), but about episode-specific details - questions such as “What happened to this character after the episode?” or “What could be the long-term consequences of this event ?” and so son.

I’ve decided to explore some of these ideas in a series of posts, starting with a pretty simple one, which was inspired by Elton’s narrative in Love and Monsters, when he mentioned the faux Slitheen starship crashing into Big Ben, the events with the Sycorax etc. Since such events really happened a few years ago in the Whoniverse, they’d make excellent ways to justify a 21st century player-character’s reasons to investigate weird or alien events, accept the idea of traveling in space and time aboard the TARDIS or simply admit that aliens are real. Including a sentence like “I was in London when that big spaceship crashed into Big Ben” to the background of a modern-day character could really help him find his way and place in the Whoniverse… and to apply the same pattern to characters from past centuries; a character from Elizabethan London, for instance, could have witnessed Shakespeare’s stand against the Carrionites in the Globe theatre and realized that there were indeed more things in Heaven and Earth - not to mention the Vortex…

So I’ve compiled a series of similar sentences to reflect such “massively public human incidents” from the new series, following the same “I was at X when the Y…” pattern. I’ve limited my findings to the 9th and 10th Doctor episodes.

Let’s start with modern (21st century) characters…

- I was in London when these shop dummies start moving and killing everybody. (Rose)

- I was in London when this big spaceship crashed into Big Ben. (Aliens of London)

- I was in London (or pretty much anywhere else, for that matter), that Christmas, when this huge evil spaceship appeared in the sky and people started to gather on the rooftops like hypnotized robots. (The Christmas Invasion)

- I was a pupil / teacher at Deffry Vale High School when Mr. Finch and his gang were running the show.  (School Reunion)

- I was in London for the 2012 Olympics when people started disappearing and we all ended up inside a child’s drawings. (Fear Her)

- I was in London / Paris / New York / any major city when our dear “ghosts” revealed themselves as Cybermen and began wreaking havoc all around. (Army of Ghosts / Doomsday)

- I was at the Battle of Canary Wharf (possibly working for Torchwood One) when Cybermen battled Daleks and killed pretty much everybody around. (Doomsday)

- I was in London that Christmas when those crazy mechanized Santas began to kill people in the streets. (The Christmas Invasion… and The Runaway Bride)

- I was a patient (variant: working) at the Royal Hope Hospital when the whole building was transported on the moon by those crazy rhino-headed alien cops. (Smith & Jones)

- I was a guest at professor Lazarus’ reception when we were attacked by this nightmarish monster straight out of a horror movie. (The Lazarus Experiment)

- I was there when Harold Saxon began Prime Minister of Britain and – not wait, this is not possible since all the events from the Year That Never Was were later Forgotten by Everybody… except those who were on board of the Valiant!  Which gives us: I was on board of the Valiant when Harold Saxon was finally defeated by the Doctor and his companions… and I remember the Year That Never Was (interesting option for a player-character, don’t you think?). (The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords)

- I was in London (or anywhere else, really) when those damned ATMOS cars began to choke people to death. (The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky)

- And of course, there are the planetary events of The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End. (I was on planet Earth when it was stolen by the Daleks – well, everybody else was too, I guess)

- Finally: I was on planet Earth when we all became the Master Race – but I’m not sure I really remember or understand what happened back then. (The End of Time)

And of course, we can extend this approach to characters from Earth’s past:

79: I was in Pompeii when the Vesuvius erupted – but I survived and I could tell you a most prodigious tale about a giant made of living lava. (The Fires of Pompeii)

1599: I was at the Globe when William Shakespeare battled evil witches from some infernal otherworld with the power of his words. (The Shakespeare Code)

1748: I was at Versailles when those horrible Clockwork Men crashed a royal ball, looking for Madame de Pompadour. (The Girl in the Fireplace)

1851: I was in London, that Christmas, when a monstrous metal giant walked the earth and was defeated by fearless ballooners. (The Next Doctor)

1869: I was in Cardiff when the Dead began to walk the Earth. (The Unquiet Dead)

1913: I was a student / teacher / staff member at the Farringham School for Boys when scarecrows started walking and the sinister Family of Blood threatened to kill us all. (Human Nature and The Family of Blood)

1930s: I was in Manhattan when those Dalek machines turned people into pig-men and took control of the Empire State Building. (Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks)

1941: I was in London during the Blitz, when the gas-masked horrors were stalking the streets. (The Empty Child)

1953: I was in London for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, when people had their faces eaten away by their television sets. (The Idiot’s Lantern)

And since we are talking about the past, there is no reason why this idea could not be extended to all those wonderful Classic Who episodes – like, say, Talons of Weng Chiang, Remembrance of the Daleks or The Curse of Fenric

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Season 6, Episodes 4-5

Hello everybody!  Here are the two latest blurbs from our Lady Penelope's Odyssey ongoing campaign. These two episodes featured various characters, elements and references from several classic Doctor Who stories (perhaps as a semi-conscious "50th anniversary tribute" sort of thing) - Jago and Litefoot, characters from Shada, surviving Renegade Daleks from Remembrance of the Daleks, meshed with some major elements from Penelope's background and past adventures.
Episode 4: The Time Keeper

It’s “there and back again” time for Lady Penelope, from Edwardian London to Elsewhere Manor to a lonely planetoid called Shada…  Featuring Henry Gordon Jago, professor George Litefoot, the deadly Mr. Clockwise and the Time Keeper himself, the mysterious Mr. Alias.

Episode 5: Remembrance

Cambridge 1985 - Penelope goes looking for the lost memories of Professor Chronotis – but Time has another blast-from-the-past in store for her. Featuring Lord Percivale Ashworth, PM Margaret Thatcher and, for the very first time in Lady Penelope’s Odyssey, the Daleks! 

The two above episodes are part of a three-story arc focusing on the eventual (and post-Time War) fate of Professor Chronotis a.k.a Salyavin, which should logically be concluded in our next scenario... 

One last piece of information: this ongoing sixth season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey now has an official title: Timelines.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

My Other Campaign: Bureau des Affaires Extraordinaires

As I mentioned in my last post, I have recently started another, completely different DWAITAS campaign, with my wife Sylvie (Lady Penelope’s player) and two very good friends of ours, Cyrille and Nathalie. We had recently finished a long-running Amber Diceless RPG saga in which Cyrille and Nathalie and we were looking for a new campaign concept – and since they are both Doctor Who fans and steampunk enthusiasts, DWAITAS came out as a natural (if slightly obvious) choice.

Of course, it had to be completely different from the ongoing Lady Penelope’s Odyssey, for my own gamemastering comfort and because Sylvie would play in both campaigns; she and I decided right from the start that this new campaign would be set in a completely different universe, a parallel timeline if you will, to avoid any sort of interference or crossover temptation between the two series. I also decided that, while Lady Penelope’s Odyssey takes direct inspiration from the Doctor Who continuity, this new campaign would be modeled after Torchwood – but with quite a few key differences. The basic concept is the same as that of Torchwood: an Earth-based team of agents who investigate the mysteries and perils of the wider Whoniverse… but with the following variations:

The characters are not members of Torchwood, but belong to its French counterpart, the Bureau des Affaires Extraordinaires. They are not based in 21st century Cardiff… but in 1900 Paris (which does change quite a few things, in terms of atmosphere, style and story opportunities). The three player-characters are actually the only active field agents of the Bureau, which has just been created as the French answer (riposte?) to those darn Brits with their oh-so-victorian Torchwood Institute; in this campaign, Torchwood will be used as the heroes’ main rival organization with the mysterious, deathless Jack Harkness as the British’ newest asset (remember he was recruited by Torchwood in 1899!) in the continuing secret struggle to prepare for the futuristic challenges of the 20th century. But as the characters themselves have begun to discover at the end of our first episode, things may be more complicated than this, with some mysterious forces at play around (and behind) their very own Bureau (more on this later).

So what about the characters? I handled character creation as a group session, to make sure that we ended up with a well-rounded team – but I also wanted to make sure that each player would create a unique character. Not just a “typical 1900 adventurer” kind of character, but a hero (or heroine) who would really have the flavor of the Whoniverse – and the results really lived up to my expectations.

Cyrille plays a character named Théophraste – but it’s not his real name you see, because he is actually a blue alien who fell to Earth a couple of years ago and has forgotten pretty much everything about his past, including the history of his species – but has the elusive certainty of being the last of his kind. Yes, that’s right: the only male agent of the Bureau is actually an alien.  Of course, he has a holomorphic gadget which allows him to appear human (think Abe Sapien masquerading as Adrian Brody). Thanks to his high Science and Technology skills (and native Tech Level), Théophraste is the main “techie” of the team, but also plays the part of the eccentric, detached investigator.

Nathalie plays Philippine de Blois, an independent, free-spirited woman of adventure, explorer and aeronaut, with her own steampunkish dirigible (full of futuristic tech, thanks to Théophraste). But because of a scandalous tragedy in which she played a major role (to make a long story short: she rebuffed the courtship of a young man, who then committed suicide – and since he was the son of a wealthy and powerful industrial magnate, she also gained a powerful enemy in the process), her social reputation is more than slightly damaged, which adds a darker touch to her character and personal history. As the two other characters, she also has a mentor (more on this later), who played a key role in the creation of the Bureau and more or less acted as a role model during her adolescence – her aunt Cordelia, an aging, eccentric spinster who has obviously quite a few secrets to hide (more on this below).

Sylvie plays Louise Moreau, an elusive adventuress with a combination of scientific and espionage skills… and a few dark secrets in store. Secret n°1: she is a Torchwood defector (and stole some precious alien tech from them). Secret n°2: she is actually the daughter of the infamous mad scientist Dr Moreau – yes, that one (and yes, in this universe, the novels of H.G. Wells are based on real facts – for a number of reasons which will become clearer later in the series). Secret n°3: as you’ve probably guessed by now, her father experimented on her during her childhood and she is actually a feline hybrid, complete with heightened senses, retractile claws and catlike curiosity. She (rightly) sees her late father as a monster, who abused her in a terrible (if rather unusual) way.

Each of these characters was given a mentor – and these three mentors are the founders and what we might call the “old guard” of the Bureau:

Théophraste’s mentor is professor Varende, a scientific genius / classic absent-minded professor who rescued him after his traumatic arrival in our world  through the Paris space-time rift, and whom he regards as a father figure, the human who taught him everything about Earth and humanity.

Louise’s mentor is her uncle, Colonel Forestier, a gruff military officer with government and secret services connections – which allowed him to create the Bureau as a semi-official organization, an obscure branch of the French secret services dealing with “weird stuff” and trying to outplay the British Torchwood.

Philippine’s mentor is the aforementioned Aunt Cordelia. At first, I hinted that Cordelia had obviously been a spy or secret agent of some sort in her younger years, but (part of) the improbable truth was revealed in the very final scene of the first episode: the characters discovered that Aunt Cordelia was actually not Philippine’s aunt at all… but a time traveler from the future - echoes of H.G. Wells again!  She went on to explain that History was in danger, because there was a big space-time rift around Paris – a rift which was obviously tied to Théophraste’s arrival in our world and also explained the real purpose behind the creation of the Bureau (beyond the whole “riposte to Torchwood” thing). So the adventures of our heroes will not simply be about investigating strange events in 1900 Paris: it will also be about exploring a hidden, larger world, with space-time rifts, hidden agendas and history-manipulating forces…

But what about the adventure itself?  Well, for the first episode, we obviously needed something quite straightforward – a classic Whovian investigation (with all the added French flair and Parisian panache of la Belle Epoque, naturellement!) which could set the overall tone of the series and would not throw the characters right in the eye of the whirlwind from the start, while still lifting a significant corner of the proverbial veil. So I went for a story involving spontaneous human combustion, the spiritualist movement, the Pyroviles and a tragic family backstory. The title was  Le Bal des Ardents (“Dance of the Burning Ones”, after a rather horrendous 15th century event of French history) and I must say it worked really well.

The next episode will probably have something to with the 1900 Universal Exhibition… Stay tuned for more information about Le Bureau des Affaires Extraordinaires