Sunday, September 27, 2015

Bureau des Affaires Extraordinaires (2)

I will soon have the pleasure of launching the second season of my other DWAITAS campaign, Le Bureau des Affaires Extraordinaires, set in 1900 Paris (see this previous post for more details about the main characters and the historical background). 

Since we don’t get to play as often as with the one-on-one Lady Penelope’s Odyssey, I’ve decided that each season of the Bureau will comprise four episodes – think of it as a returning mini-series J. So here are the blurbs for the first season.

Season 1: Fin de Siècle

Le Bal des Ardents: All over Paris, people are going out in flames!  The agents of the Bureau of Extraordinary Affairs investigate these mysterious spontaneous combustions – and end up uncovering a psychic alien infestation which could threaten the whole planet. Paris brûle-t-il?

Le Fantôme de l’Opéra: Mysterious phenomena are disrupting the rehearsals and performances at the glorious Opéra de Paris. Could there be a resident Phantom – just like in the famous-but-yet-unwritten novel?  Our heroes are sent to investigate, pour l’amour de l’art.

The Praetorians: Investigating Aunt Cordelia’s mysterious disappearance, our heroes uncover the mad schemes of the Baron d’Arcier, armaments magnate and personal enemy of Philippine – and face his invincible praetorian guard of Cybermen! Légion étrangère, indeed.

History In Motion: While the Parisian Universal Exhibition of 1900 is going in full swing, our heroes are trying to track down the partially cyber-converted Baron d’Arcier, now known as the Baron d’Acier. And they must act quickly, for History itself is hanging in the balance…

At the conclusion of this first season, the historical background of the campaign gave way to a full-blown continuum divergence, resulting in the following uchronia: after the Président de la République succumbed to a cardiac arrest, French government fell into the hands of Général de la Hire, after what was essentially a legal military coup and the Universal Exhibition came to an abrupt (and very symbolic) end. France now prepares itself to enter the new century under the auspices of war and steel. 

As for the Bureau of Extraordinary Affairs (a government-sanctioned organization à la Torchwood), our heroes were first tempted to “go rogue” – but finally decided to stay on. Whatever the 20th century holds in store, someone has to protect Paris (and the planet) from the unknown menaces of the Rift…  Not to mention the fact that Aunt Cordelia, their mentor from the future, has disappeared. Could she (and her whole timeline) have been erased from existence by the temporal divergence?

As they say in Torchwood: Everything Changes

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Season 9, Episode 8

Episode 8: Saving Zoe
Whatever happened to Zoe Heriot? Did she stay on Space Station W3? Did she survive Earth’s war against the Cybermen? Did she recover her stolen memories, like Jamie did?  Has her life been changed forever by the echoes of the Time War and the vicissitudes of History? Of course, the answers are never quite the ones you expect…

The ninth season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey is now taking a short break, before the final 4-5 episodes run... See you in a few weeks!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Season 9, Episodes 5-7

Lady Penelope's Odyssey goes on...

Episode 5: Last of the Mentors
The Myriad of Aldebaran: a bustling, cosmopolitan alliance of worlds, hundreds of intelligent species, a culture of ethno-diversity, fascinating business ethics… and no humans in sight for 900 years or so. Or at least this is how it should be… Can the Time Lady put history back on track and save the Myriad from the machinations of the Last Mentors?

Episode 6: Interesting Times
China, October 1901. In the wake of the Boxer Rebellion, Lady Penelope and Trev come to Peking to deliver a very important letter from Professor George Litefoot to a mysterious woman. A purely historical episode – with a lot of drama, some difficult decisions and a bit of danger too. A tale of troubled times, family affairs and unexpected futures.

Episode 7: Stolen Pasts
Her quest for time sensitives takes Penelope to the Scottish Highlands, twenty-one years after the Battle of Culloden. As secret plans are being hatched and old debts are about to be repaid, tragedy looms on the horizon for the last highlanders… A tale of changing times and erased memories, featuring the return of a very different Jamie McCrimmon.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Season 9, Episodes 1-4

I'm talking, of course, about the ninth season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey (what else?). No season title, yet - we'll see this once the season is over. If all goes according to plan, this season should be structured into three arcs of 4-5 episodes each. We've played episode 4 yesterday evening, completing the first arc. The common underlying theme of these episodes was continuity: dealing with memories, facing the consequences of past events and making new choices. One last note: the basic plot of episode 3 was inspired by the Torchwood audioplay Golden Age (but with different characters and consequences).

Episode 1: City of Sighs
Venice, July 1825 – a city of sighs and shadows, of bygone dreams and Byronic nostalgia… Who knows what terrible vision lurks beneath the dark waters of Venice? It is now time to look below the surface and behind the masks. A tale of two cities, of white masks and black stars, featuring the return of Lady Penelope’s oldest arch-enemies, the Porphyrs of Carcosa.

Episode 2: Tinker, Time Lord, Soldier, Spy
As Torchwood and UNIT are locked in a major crisis, Penelope crosses the path of Professor Andrea Millington, 22 years after their last, dramatic encounter – and the former pawn of Fenric is now following her own hidden agenda. A tale of loyalty, suspicion and cooperation. Featuring the third death and final sacrifice of Torchwood agent Yvonne Hartman.

Episode 3: Days of Empire
Her search for a time sensitive takes Lady Penelope to the city of New Delhi, where she soon discovers that the golden days of the colonial Raj have left some very living ghosts behind them. More than 90 years after its official demise, Torchwood India is still here – or is it?  For some, the empire never fell –and the present must pay the price for the past.

Episode 4: “I am a Gallifreyan”
Back on Avalon, Lady Penelope must deal with the consequences of the New Delhi Incident – including the traumatic regeneration (or is this a retro-generation?) of her current travelling companion, the Time-Lord-in-training known as Trevor. A tale about identity, empathy and change - oh, did I forget to mention the TARDIS’ ultimate secret?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Season 8 Finale

So we've finally wrapped up the eighth (and longest) season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey, with a couple of extra episodes. Pieces have finally fallen into place, questions have been answered, loose ends have been tied - and I've already been gathering ideas for season 9. See you soon - for some new adventures in space and time!

Episode 14: Farewell, Alexandria
One year ago, the Book of the Gods vanished from Alexandria, taken away by the mysterious stranger calling herself the Time Lady. One year ago, destiny took a turn and history was put back on track – or was it?  One year ago, Penelope had a different face. A tale of unfinished business, unfulfilled dreams and unwritten history - an epilogue and a new beginning.

Episode 15: Reichenbach
Season finale. Bad news bring Lady Penelope back to Avalon. There is something wrong with the Doctor. But WHAT exactly is that “something”? A shadow from the past?  A ghost from the future?  A dark reflection of everything he has ever been?  The Book is the Key, the Book has always been the Key and Time will soon come full circle, from Gallifrey to Reichenbach…

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Temporal Toybox 2.0

The revised, updated and augmented version of THE TEMPORAL TOYBOX, my collection of house rules for the wonderful Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space RPG is now available online. Just click HERE (or on the image below or on the link in the left column) to download the PDF.

The Temporal Toybox is an exclusively non-profit, unofficial, fan-made supplement, written by a DWAITAS gamemaster for the enjoyment of other GMs and players. Most of the contents are taken from the pages of this blog, but some of it has been revised and expanded for the occasion. So, speaking of contents, what do the 16 pages of the Toybox PDF actually contain?

- Optional rules, new skills and profound thoughts about technology, science and knowledge.

- Variant rules for perception, feats of strength and (of course) something on Story points.

- Variant combat rules – no, don’t run! We are talking quicker and simpler fight scenes here!

- Alternate fear rules – you know, scary monsters, hiding behind the sofa and all that…

- Variant rules and various thoughts on NPCs in the DWAITAS game system.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Season 8, Episodes 11-13: The Tanu Trilogy

We've played the thirteenth episode of the eighth season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey yesterday evening - but the season itself is not over yet and will most probably run for a couple more episodes (see the last post for more details about the whys and wherefores of this wild decision). Episode 8.13 was the third and final part of a trilogy of stories (a big, three-parter of sort, if you will) - so without further ado, I bring you...

The Tanu Triad

Episode 11: Twilight of the Tanu
Back in the divergent future of King Arthur II, Lady Penelope returns to the Otherworld of the Daneans.  Surrounded by ancient secrets and growing tensions, she soon discovers that the Hidden Kingdom is dying, deprived of its vital earth-power. As the clouds of war gather on the horizon, the Time Lady must find a way to heal old wounds and forge new ties…

Episode 12: Trial of the Tanu
The ancient order of things has been restored in the Hidden Kingdom – or has it?  As Lady Penelope continues to explore the mysterious history of the Tanu folk and her own mixed heritage, an ancient evil is rising behind the Gate of Exile. Can the Time Lady help her lover Lord Fenn free his people from the shadows of the past and build a new, brighter future?

Episode 13: Time of the Tanu
As the Hidden Kingdom celebrates the coronation of King Fenn and the Tanu prepare to enter the Third Age of their exile on Earth, Lady Penelope must help the new monarch to turn an ominous prophecy into a promise of a bright and glorious future – but first, she will have to uncover the last secret of the Shining Folk. A tale of destiny, duty and decisions. 

(Credit where credit is due: the Daneans / Tanu are loosely based on the Tanu aliens featured in Julian May's Saga of the Exiles - as well as on their original model, the Tuatha dé Dannan and Sidhe lords of Celtic myth).

Monday, February 9, 2015

Season 8, Episode 10 + Season Update

After running the 12th episode of our eighth season Saturday evening, it occurred to me that it would be very difficult to run my planned season finale next time without sacrificing the current, ongoing storyline - or, depending on how you look at it, to wrap up the current, ongoing storyline while still finishing the season with a suitably conclusive "season finale". This is mainly due to the impact of Penelope's regeneration (at the end of episode 8) on the character's personal arc as well as on the pacing of the season itself.

So, to cut a long story short, we've decided to add one or perhaps two episodes to the current season, to make sure that it does not end with a premature, rushed or "unfinished" feel. The oncoming episode 13 will not be the season finale, but the third part of a trilogy of linked scenarios (I'll post their blurbs once we've played the whole triptych) - then we'll move to the season finale proper (one or two episodes, I've not made up my mind yet). In the meantime, here is the blurb of episode 10, a direct follow-up to the post-regeneration episode 100...

Episode 10: Forgotten Faces
At last, the newly-regenerated Penelope is back on Avalon, catching up with the Doctor and quite a few other people. But when the Time Lady decides to delve into the pages of the Book of Time in search of the forgotten story of Omega, she finds herself transported to the edge of the antimatter dimension to meet the entity that once was her ancestor…

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Variant Combat Rules

Let’s get things straight right from the start: combat should never be the focus of a DWAITAS scenario. So when combat does happen, you want it to be fast and furious - or, depending on how you look at it, quick and dramatic. The goal of the following variant rules is to make combat scenes quicker to resolve, with fewer dice rolls involved, while maintaining genre emulation and fast-paced action as the main priorities of the system. And how do we achieve that, you ask?  Simple: by doing away with reaction rolls (which are only used during combats anyway) and replacing them with quicker resolution procedures, as detailed below. 

Fighting Combat

Forget about defensive reaction rolls. Melee combat should simply be resolved as a series of conflicts based on Coordination + Fighting. Since these rolls are made simultaneously, there is no need to compare each opponent’s Coordination to determine who goes first.

This roll represents an overall combination of offensive and defensive maneuvers. The one with the highest roll wins the conflict, with the result being interpreted as usual (i.e. the loser suffers an amount of damage based on his opponent’s Strength, weapon and degree of success), unless the winner was going for a special trick or maneuver (see below).

If the two rolls result in exactly the same total, the advantage goes to the player-character (incidentally, the basic conflict rules as they stand already integrate this, since “the Gamemaster uses the antagonist’s result as the Difficulty for the player’s rolls” and that a result of “0-3” above the Difficulty means success).

Characters have the option of fighting defensively, focusing on dodges, parries and other defensive actions rather than attacking their opponent; in this case, they gain a +2 bonus to their roll but will not inflict any damage if they beat their opponent. In this case, a simple Success result (“Yes But”) means that the character escapes from harm but will not be able to attack during the next round (i.e. he must continue to fight defensively), while a Fantastic result (“Yes And”) means that his swift defensive maneuvers put him in an advantageous position for next round, giving him a +2 bonus to his Fighting roll next round, whether he chooses to fight normally or defensively (in which case he receives a total bonus of +4), or allowing him to break away from melee and start running for his life.

Special maneuvers (like disarming etc.) can be handled by the Gamemaster on a case-by-case basis and should normally require a Good result to succeed – or even a Fantastic one for the most acrobatic or spectacular tricks. In most cases, attempting such a special maneuver should prevent the character from dealing the usual physical damage for his attack. If you use areas of expertise in your game, each specific trick or tactic (including defensive fighting) could be chosen as an area of expertise – or the Gamemaster could allow characters to develop a particular fighting style, granting the usual +2 bonus to a whole repertoire of maneuvers.

When a single character is facing multiple opponents in Fighting combat, simply make a single Fighting roll for the group, using the highest (Coordination + Fighting) total among its members (provided they do not have the same combat total to start with) and granting a +2 bonus for each extra attacker. Thus, a bunch of three guards with a Coordination of 3 and a Fighting skill of 3 will actually have a combat total of 10 when acting collectively. If the group wins the conflict, their opponent will only suffer a single injury, again corresponding to the deadliest damage total in the group. In other words, a single character heroically facing two or three opponents at the same time is far more likely to get hurt than if he was facing a single opponent, but if this does happen, he will not be hurt significantly more (which seems perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the game and its source material).

Marksman Combat

Marksman combat can also be made quicker and simpler with a few changes and adjustments here and there, using the same basic principles as for Fighting combat above. In this variant system, Marksman combat should be resolved using the same rules as Fighting combat above, with the following differences and adjustments:

Unlike Fighting combat, Marksman combat is not resolved as a direct conflict between opposed dice rolls but as a succession of separate dice rolls. Within a round of Marksman combat, shooters act in order of initiative, i.e. in decreasing order of their Coordination score. Ties can be broken by comparing the characters’ Awareness scores; if two shooters have the same scores in both Attributes, they are assumed to act simultaneously. Also note that the Quick Reflexes trait allows a character to always act first, regardless of his actual Coordination score.

Hitting a target requires a (Coordination + Marksman) roll. As for all other standard actions, the Difficulty of this roll is set by the Gamemaster, taking into account factors such as distance, terrain, visibility and cover - simply use the same modifiers as in the standard rules, adding them to the Difficulty instead of subtracting them to the shooter’s skill roll. Thus, if the target is under cover, the shooter’s skill roll will suffer a Difficulty increase of +2, +4 or even +10, depending on the amount of cover available.

Characters involved in Marksman combat (or trying to run away from shooters) can also attempt to make themselves harder to hit by using evasion. This does not require any roll but allows the character to add his Coordination score to the Difficulty of all Marksman rolls made against him. Evasion counts as an extra action, meaning that any Marksman roll made by the character during the same round suffers a -2 penalty.

The rules on special maneuvers and multiple opponents given above can also be applied to Marksman combat to handle trick shots and concentrated fire by multiple shooters – keeping in mind that the main goal of this system has nothing to do with ‘tactical realism’ and everything to do with fast-paced drama and genre emulation.

A Note on Psychic Combat

Some forms of psychic conflict can also be viewed as a form of combat. Most situations (like Possession attempts, for instance) will involve a psychically active ‘attacker’ and a resisting defender. In such cases, each character will make his own roll, according to the usual rules: as far as such powers are concerned, defining the defender’s roll as a ‘reaction’ or as an ‘action’ really has no consequence in game terms. If the defending character is attempting another action while resisting to the psychic attack, this other action should incur the usual -2 penalty. Lastly, note that the variant system detailed for Fighting combat above could also be adapted to psychic battles and other “clash of wills” between characters endowed with mental powers.

Story Points in Combat

Since these rules no long require the use of “reaction rolls”, my variant rules on the use of Story points in conflicts (as detailed in some previous entries and compiled in the current-and-soon-to-be-revised version of the Temporal Toybox) become significantly simpler: since reaction rolls per se no longer exist, it is no longer necessary to make a distinction between “competitions” and “oppositions”.

Shifting the Scales: In all conflict situations, each character involved in the conflict is allowed to spend one or several Story points after the roll once for each character, period. In the case of Fighting combat, spending Story points after the roll can revert the outcome of a conflict, i.e. turn a failure into a “Yes but…” success (but not into a Good or Fantastic result), according to the usual rules. Using the variant rules detailed above, this means that a single, well-spent Story point can prevent you from being injured AND allow you to injure your opponent.

Escaping from Harm: In addition, a character should always be able to reduce the damage of an attack he has just suffered at the cost of 1 Story point for each degree of success. This applies even if the character was completely unaware of the attack (the infamous “sniper situation”), if he didn’t have any defensive roll to make (as in the case of Marksman combat) or if he has already spent Story points to affect his conflict roll (in the case of Fighting combat).

Example: The Doctor is fighting a fencing duel against a renowned swordsman. En garde! The first round is resolved as a direct conflict of Coordination + Fighting. This conflict is won by the swordsman, who gets a Good result, but the Doctor’s player spends 2 Story points, turning this into a simple Success for the Doctor – enough to avoid all damage AND injure the swordsman. But wait!  The swordsman has some Story points, too – and the Gamemaster decides to spend 1 point to shift the result from a simple Success for the Doctor to a simple Success for the NPC. At this stage, the Doctor’s player cannot spend further Story points to shift the scales once more, since every character involved in the conflict roll has already spent Story points… but he can still spend 1 Story point to escape from harm and ignore the damage from the swordsman’s attack (“It’s just a flesh wound!”), without changing the outcome of the conflict roll (i.e. the swordsman does not suffer any damage).

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Season 8, Episode 9 - yes, that's Episode 100!

(Meanwhile, back in the imaginary world) 

Well, since the previous episode had resulted in a new regeneration after an epic battle, it would have been a bit redundant and over-the-top to go for another earth-shattering conflict for Episode 100, so I finally settled for a more personal story - with shades of The Next Doctor, but without Cybermen (or any other major bad guys for that matter - and no, I'm not turning into Steven Moffat).

Episode 9: The Other Penelope
A funny thing happened on the way to Avalon… Her TARDIS takes the freshly-regenerated (and still slightly disoriented) back to the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare – where she first met the Doctor, four lifetimes ago, in 1907. But it’s now January 1930 and the Time Lady must solve new mysteries. Why has her timeline brought her back near the majestic Grand Pier at this precise point in history? What is the retired H.G. Jago doing here? And who is that other woman calling herself Penelope Ashworth?  A tale of identities and memories.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Season 8, Episode 8

So, we played the second part of our "Xmas trilogy" (third and final part, aka Episode 100: this evening). It was Episode 99... and well, these things happen.

Episode 8: Silver Dawn
All Lady Penelope wanted to do was to reunite with her old friends at the Torchwood New Year’s Eve bash – but then Cybermen crashed the party and she soon found herself hunting the living weapon known as the Nemesis – one of the creations of the great Omega, revealed as Penelope’s ancestor. When she discovered that the validium entity was possessed by the surviving psyche of the sorceress Lady Peinforte, Penelope gave her life to save the Earth, ending her fourth incarnation…  A tale of reunited friends, sacrifice and new beginnings.

So, Lady Penelope is now in her fifth incarnation... which will give Episode 100 an extra touch of "special" - but also forced me to make quite a few changes to the more-or-less defined plotlines of the next episodes and season finale. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice, men and gamemasters...