Sunday, December 16, 2018

Season 13, Episode 5

Episode 5: Hope Ultima
A long time ago, Lady Penelope and Jack Harkness exchanged farewells on the lonely dunes of Boeshane Peninsula. As they parted, he shared with her the Face of Boe’s secret prediction: the Time Lady and the immortal Captain would meet again, one last time, for one last case of cosmic force majeure, for one last, desperate stand. And now this time has come.  

The farewells on the dunes of Boeshane Peninsula occurred at the end of season five’s seventh episode (The Face of the Future) – or, in other terms, eight seasons and three regenerations ago. And more than five years ago for us in the real world. 

I always knew that this “one last stand” would come but I was waiting for the ideal moment – and for enough game time and real time to pass, so that it would really feel like “a long time ago, in another life”. 

Of course, Captain Jack’s ultimate return has everything to do with the threat of the Dissonance, the current’s season recurring meme / theme / gimmick. As a unique, living Fixed Point in Time, surely he will be of use when the Web of Time comes crashing down…

But for now, we are taking a break. The thirteenth season of Lady Penelope’s Odyssey will resume in a few months, for its second tier. See you then!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Season 13, Episode 4

Episode 4: Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out
Dorian takes Penelope on a trip to 1967 San Francisco, right in the middle of the Summer of Love. As her companion indulges in the ambient zeitgeist of peace, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, the Time Lady finds herself transported to another reality, where JFK’s Camelot never fell and psychics are hunted down by the FBI. Welcome to the Altered States of America!

Obviously, this episode had a very strong Philip K. Dick vibe, with elements borrowed from The Man in the High Castle (well, without the Nazis, obviously) and various other PKD novels and stories involving alternate realities, twisted perceptions, psycho-active drugs and hidden conspiracies (and then some). 

Other sources of inspiration included the DW episode Inferno and Steven Moffat’s Silence, who were re-imagined here as the Unseen, the results of a secret US government experiment on psychic powers gone terribly wrong… 

This scenario also allowed me to reveal a bit more about the Dissonance (a.k.a. the Multiplicity), the temporal phenomenon which will be this season’s main continuity gimmick /meme.

Last but not least, this episode included cameos by JFK, Jackie Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover and Philip K. Dick himself.

And now for something completely different...

I've updated the TOYBOX, my PDF compilation of house rules for Doctor Who, now in its fourth incarnation. No new stuff this time but some tweaks and fine-tuning of existing articles, including an even simpler and quicker variant combat system and some (decidedly inescapable) clarifications on Story points... 

The new, streamlined TOYBOX can be found HERE

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Season 13, Episodes 1-3

Hello everyone and welcome back to Lady Penelope's Odyssey!

Our one-on-one campaign has just entered its thirteenth season, starting with a triad of Roman Mysteries. The Time Lady has decided to continue her new companion’s time-travelling education by taking Dorian to Rome in 82 AD for some holidays in ancient history. It’s been so long (three incarnations and eight seasons to be precise) since she has visited the Eternal City… What could possibly go wrong this time?

Episode 1: Tempus Rerum Imperator (Time, Master of All Things)
Since she is in the right place at the right time, the Doctor has asked Penelope to bring his greetings to the Caecilius family, who escaped the Fires of Pompeii three years ago and went on to live happily ever after in Rome, leaving behind them the nightmare of the Pyrovile. But as the Time Lady will soon discover, even aborted empires can cast long, burning shadows…

Episode 2: Acta Est Fabula (The Play is Over)
Drawn into a web of intrigue and conspiracy at the heart of Emperor Domitian’s entourage, Penelope soon finds herself caught between the plans of various historical personages and the repercussions of her own actions. Now she must find a way to escape the deadly games of the imperial court, while preserving the future of the Empire – and of the Caecilius family…

Episode 3: Terra Incognita (Unknown Territory)
Britannia, 82 AD. As Roman general Julius Agricola prepares for another campaign against the savage barbarians of Caledonia, Penelope arrives just in time to foil his assassination and save History-as-we-know-it. But even History-as-we-know-it has some unwritten pages, where unsung heroes, time travellers and the Dark Powers of the Earth come into play…

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Season 12, Episodes 13-15

Episode 13: The Red Queen
Back in Lord Christopher Marlowe’s alternate timeline*, History has twisted yet again with the wedding of King James of Scotland to the mysterious Red Queen – the new guise of Penelope’s shadow nemesis from the Dark Dimension**. As the black clouds of war (literally) gather overhead, the Time Lady has no choice but to walk into her evil double’s deathtrap…

* Last visited in episodes 9.9 (Should Old Acquaintances be Forgot) and 9.10 (The Banquet of Ashes)

** See episode 12.4 (Heir Apparent) for more details

Episode 14: Bad Penny
Her hunt for her Dark Dimension shadow clone leads Penelope to an alternate 1978*, in a timeline where the Doctor’s TARDIS has been destroyed, UNIT and Torchwood have been merged into a single entity (M.I.7), a big space-time Rift has opened in the heart of London and (for some obscure reason) punk rock never happened. Joining forces with an alternate, earthbound Doctor**, the Time Lady prepares for her final duel with her nemesis…

* Last visited during her quest for the Segments of the Key to Time (see episode 11.3, Time Oddity)

** Who looks, of course, like Richard E. Grant in “Curse of the Fatal Death”

Episode 15: Loose Ends
London, 1978, in an alternate reality. Following her final battle with her Dark Dimension shadow double, the Time Lady must now face the consequences of her victory. How long will her disembodied nemesis stay trapped into the deepest recesses of Penelope’s own mind?  And how exactly is she going to heal her companion Dorian, whose soul has been ravaged by her now-captive enemy?  A story of farewells and returns, of closures and new beginnings!

These episodes formed the final trilogy of our twelfth season, which we have called Adventures & Avatars – “Avatars” being a reference to various characters encountered over its course, from Penelope’s Dark Dimension shadow double to alternate versions of the Doctor and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (as a Susan-like teenage companion).

The final episode itself gave me the opportunity to indulge in some “Easter-egging” by including a hint or reference to every setting visited during this season – be they in the form of personal memories, material souvenirs or brief returns by way of TARDIS. It also was a very personal episode for Lady Penelope, focusing on her habitual reluctance to take travelling companions (for fear of putting their lives in danger) and the reasons why she chose to make an exception in the case of Dorian-Miranda, her current companion – who WILL be at her side when we start Season 13 in a few months…

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Return of Docteur Qui

Bonsoir messieurs dames!  Some of you might remember my slightly-silly-and-utterly-pointless exercise in imagination about an alternate French Doctor (yes, this was five years ago, for the 50th Anniversary - how Time flies...)...

Well, here is a follow-up feature (for the 55th Anniversary?), with twelve blurbs for episodes-that-might-have-been – each of them inspired by an actual DW episode… I know, utterly pointless but it was really fun to imagine...

First Docteur: The Time Interloper
1815, a few days before the historic battle of Waterloo… As the armies of Wellington and Napoleon prepare for their final clash, a mysterious time meddler is manipulating events to ensure the victory of the French emperor over his enemies… unless le Docteur manages to save history-as-it-should-be!

Second Docteur: The Chouans
A purely historical episode, set during the French Revolution, among the royalist rebels of Western France known as the Chouans. A tale of civil war, divided loyalties and double-crossing, introducing a new travel companion for the Second Docteur – a young, adventurous Breton lad named Jacques.

Third Docteur: Avernus
As he tries to avert a disaster at a secret scientific base located in volcanic Auvergne, le Docteur finds himself transported to an alternate continuum, where the Vichy government never fell and 1970s France is still ruled by a fascist elite – including a one-eyed (!) version of a certain Brigadier…

Fourth Docteur: The Claws of Al-Ghul
Paris, la Belle Epoque…  A mysterious Arab master of mesmerism, women vanishing from the streets of Paris, rumours of monsters lurking in the sewers, a sinister society of Arabian assassins, an unseen foe from the future… Enter le Docteur!  Featuring professor Piedléger and Henri-Georges Gégaud.

Fifth Docteur: The Queen’s Serpent
Le Docteur takes his companion to 12th century France, at the court of Aliénor d’Aquitaine, a hotbed of culture and intrigue. Posing as travelling troubadours, they soon become embroiled in the affairs of the serpent-fairy Mélusine de Lusignan – in reality a shapeshifting living weapon from another planet.

Sixth Docteur: Tribunal of the Time Lords
A controversial four-story epic using an intense court drama as its framing device. Revolution has come to Gallifrée, the planet of the Time Lords – and le Docteur must now stand trial before the newfangled Comité de Salut Spatio-temporel, with the mysterious Veilleur as his prosecutor…

Seventh Docteur: Battleground
The TARDI brings le Docteur near an archaeological site in the Pyrénées, where the tomb of the legendary Frankish warrior-woman Bradamante has just been discovered. Soon, warriors from another dimension led by a ruthless Sorcerer King invade our reality, in search of the heroin’s mythic sword…

Eighth Docteur: Docteur Qui, le Téléfilm
The only appearance of the Eighth Docteur (who looked a lot like François-René de Chateaubriand), this stand-alone TV movie pits the newly regenerated Seigneur du Temps against his arch-enemy, the egomaniacal, power-obsessed trans-temporal renegade known as l’Empereur. Set in Paris, of course.

Ninth Docteur: Lost Souls / Le Docteur Bows
A two-parter set during WW2. In Nazi-occupied Paris, le Docteur and his new companion Fleur investigate the mysterious appearances of people from France’s past history, caused by an inexplicable space-time rift. Featuring the dashing and flamboyant gendarme temporel Capitaine Jacques Aramis.

Tenth Docteur: Blood and Snow
Russia, 1812. Le Docteur finally gets to meet emperor Napoléon Bonaparte face to face – but an already delicate situation becomes even more complicated when the imperial encampment is attacked by Skoptsy fanatics allied to what seems to be a huge, unstoppable and bloodthirsty were-bear…

Eleventh Docteur: Erik and le Docteur
Paris, 1904. Le Docteur meets misunderstood musical genius Erik Satie. Together with the Time Lord’s companions Amélie and Rémi, they investigate strange ghostly goings-on and a mysterious, haunting phantom music, which can only be heard by the eccentric composer…

Twelfth Docteur: Phantoms in Space
In a luxury space station recreating the décor and unique experience of the Opéra de Paris during the Belle Epoque, le Docteur and his new companion Belle must stop a series of mysterious and ghastly murders perpetrated by the ghostly entity known as the Lady in Black – la Dame en Noir

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Season 12, Episode 12

Episode 12: The Three Choices of Penelope
It’s R&R time for Penelope and Dorian!  The Time Lady takes her new companion to the supremely peaceful and serene world of Atala, among her Ganymedian friends - where she is greeted by dear old friends, some unexpected social developments and the inescapable consequences of her own past choices – as well as the regrets of a previous companion...

An episode of pure roleplaying – with no dice rolls, no Story point expenditures but some very important conversations and decisions, along with the appropriate foreshadowing of the season finale… 

This episode also saw the reunion of Penelope and one of her former companions, the Redhead Ganymedian Jeska (think of a blue-skinned, red-haired Leela), who briefly travelled with the Time Lady at the beginning of season 7, before Penelope’s fateful Constantinople regeneration (in episode 7.05) and her subsequent struggle against Fenric.

Lady Penelope’s Odyssey will return in a month or so, with the final three episodes of our twelfth season. Allons-y!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Season 12, Episode 11

Episode 11: City of Dreams
Hollywood, 1928: talking pictures vs. silent movies, all-night parties, prohibition and all that jazz! But not everything is fine and dandy in the Tinsel Town, as Lady Penelope is about to find out, following the mysterious suicide of a desperate actress. Behind the walls of the Dream Factory, bright light cast long shadows and dreams can easily turn into nightmares.

This episode featured the return of Lady Penelope’s arch-enemies, the Porphyrs of Carcosa, dreadful psychic vampires she had already encountered and battled in quite a few episodes and in all her incarnations so far, so our Sixth Penelope HAD to run into them at some point… In a way, Porphyrs and Lloigor are to Penelope what Daleks and Cybermen are to the Doctor – but while the Doctor’s ever-returning nemeses are clearly robotic / mechanical in their nature, Penelope’s own arch-enemies are firmly rooted in the psychic territory.

As suggested by its title, it could also be considered the final and third part of a very loose “Porphyrs looking for a city to devour” trilogy, composed of City of Chimeras (episode 1.4), City of Sighs (episode 9.1) and City of Dreams (episode 12.11).

After these last showdowns, the peril of Carcosa was supposed to be banished forever into nothingness – but some Porphyrs did manage to escape the final cataclysm and in order to survive, they had to adapt and change… so the creatures Penelope encountered this time were actually “Porphyr hybrids”, humans possessed and remolded (read: psychically as well as physically warped) by some of the (normally ethereal) Porphyr survivors.

Visually, I had based the classic Porphyrs on the Pau’an species from the Star Wars universe – but I naturally wanted something different for this new variation. The four “hybrids” featured on this episode looked like the creepy Gentlemen from the Buffy episode “Hush” – I had considered using the Strangers from “Dark City” but the overall look of the Buffyverse Gentlemen seemed more consistent with the story I had in mind.

Basically, this mysterious “Circle of Four” wanted to turn Hollywood into the New Carcosa, a vampiric city of dreams, decadence and nightmares, using specially-produced films to feed on the emotions of an ever-growing audience…

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Season 12, Episodes 8-10

Episode 8: Peace on Venus
3800 AD. For nearly a millennium, the planet Venus has lived in military peace, economic prosperity and political independence under the gynocratic rule of the Amazon caste. And then someone tried to assassinate the Prima Dona, shattering the serenity of the Pax Veneris. Can the Time Lady alter history? Should she? A tale of power, gender and red herrings.   

Episode 9: The Redemption Option
Continuing Dorian’s mini-grand tour of the universe, Lady Penelope comes back to the vibrant, multicultural Myriad of Aldebaran. There, she meets its new saintly icon, the revered Lady of the Sanctuary, Healer of Millions and Savior of Countless Lives, also known as the Rani. Yes, the Rani. Reformed, redeemed and regenerated. Could it be too good to be true?

Episode 10: The Quantum Phantom
After a brief stop on Avalon, Lady Penelope takes Dorian to her beloved Florence, in the beautiful summer of 1894. In a city full of memories, the Time Lady soon finds herself retracing her own steps, through a strange maze of déjà-vu, forgotten moments and echoes of the past. A tale of regrets and choices, featuring Vernon Lee (and a few of her acquaintances).

A few additional notes for the faithful Lady Penelope's Odyssey fans:

So, yes, following episode 9, the Rani is back - and NOT the short-lived redeemed version but the cold-hearted manipulative scientist we all love to hate. And she's back on Gallifrey, too. Yes, I'm definitely seeding sows for season 13 here...

Episode 10 had a definite "Room With a View" vibe - with quite a few historical celebrities: the extraordinary Vernon Lee (I had wanted to include her in an episode for quite some time - and this was the perfect opportunity) and "a few of her acquaintances" - namely the famous Henry James, Edith Wharton (who hadn't published anything yet) and the Italian artist Telemaco Signorini...

It was a very emotional episode, built as a "narrative backlash" of Episodes 10 and 11 of our Tenth Season (check them out HERE), which involved the character of Reginald Stanhope, a young, melancholic Englishman from the 1820s whose timeline had been manipulated by the (now defunct) Sirens of Time. Unbeknownst to Penelope (that is, until "The Quantum Phantom"), the resolution of this diptych had had some terrible temporal side-effects on the unfortunate young gentleman, turning him into a "Schrödinger ghost" (hence the title), constantly hovering in a state of quantum flux, between existence and non-existence - and becoming less and less real as time marched on, erasing the traces and memories of his former life. 

This new episode allowed Lady Penelope to make things right - she managed to rescue the poor lost soul from oblivion, stabilized his existence in a temporary manner and brought him to Avalon, where the Doctor will (hoperfully) be able to fix his existential problem once and for all...

These last three episodes also allowed us to explore Penelope's relationship with Dorian/Miranda and here me are moving into some new dramatic territory. 

For many years now, Lady Penelope had refused to take new travelling companions - sure, she did welcome quite a few temporary passengers onboard of  her timeship but she seemed to remain adamant that, unlike the Doctor, she now preferred to Travel Alone, that (unlike the Doctor). 

The most obvious reasons for this decision were Penelope's nostalgic attachment to her "best companion ever" (Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, the brig's grandson and now one of Torchwood leaders), whom she tended to see as The One and Only Companion with whom nobody could compare or compete, as well as the somewhat disappointing trial period of her relative Bernice Ashworth as a possible new travelling companion - this was back in season 5. All this to say that, as far as Lady Penelope was concerned, her "companion days" were over - barring, as mentioned above, a few adventures and escapades with temporary passengers. The main reason for this was NOT a desire for solitude (Lady Penelope being rather super-sociable) but her unwillingness to be responsible for someone else's safety and survival or, to put it more bluntly, her fear of putting a friend or close one in mortal danger. So rather than being constantly overprotective, Penelope decided to Travel Mostly Alone...

But since (s)he has joined Penelope for "a few travels", Dorian-Miranda and the Time Lady simply seem to get on like the proverbial house on fire... And of course Penelope tends to be overprotective: the more she gets to know and like her new guest-passenger, the more she fears for Dorian's safety. 

Neither Sylvie nor I know how this new relationship will evolve - but I'm pretty sure we'll have a fairly good idea by the time this twelfth season ends... but for now, the future IS unwritten!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Season 12, Episode 7

Episode 7: The Mysteries of Montmartre
Paris, 1893: it’s all la Belle-Epoque, le Moulin-Rouge and holalas for Lady Penelope and her new travelling companion Miranda/Dorian (née Eric) as they explore a world of ingénues, enfants terribles and true artistes. But behind the joie de vivre of the boulevards and the laissez-faire of the blasé lurks a dark and menacing je-ne-sais-quoi - or is this déjà-vu?

The Mysteries of Montmartre was designed as a sequel-cum-homage to The Talons of Weng-Chiang, one of my favorite DW stories

Its main antagonist was Magnus Greel's own sister, Ursula, (a cruel, cold-hearted ice-queen type villain from the 51st century) and the consequences of her own Zygma beam travel to the late 19th century. To make a long story short, her original plan was to join / rescue / retrieve her brother but her own time cabinet crashed a few years too late and now she was stuck in this primitive century, facing the same genetic decay problems and entertaining the same insane dreams of revenge and power...

I deliberately took some of the essential elements of the story and replaced them with different equivalents, resulting in Something That Felt Completely Different In Play, while still retaining the echoes and déjà-vu effects I was aiming for. Here is a quick list of the substitutions I made:

Talons of Weng-Chiang                                               Mysteries of Montmartre 

Setting: London, lates 1880s / early 1890s                      Paris, 1893

The East End                                                                           Montmartre

Typical Victorian mystery atmosphere                              Parisian bohemian atmosphere 

Main apparent villain: Li H'sen Chang                              Count Kuryakin, a russian noble

Real hidden villain : Magnus Greel                                    Ursula Greel

The Peking Homunculus                                                      A superstrong cyber-golem 

Jago's theatrical world                                                          Parisian cabarets and cafés

Lost time cabinet                                                                   Wrecked time cabinet

Catalytic chamber / life-energy                                          Catalytic chamber / life-energy

The Time Agent never came                                                A Time Agent did arrive

Of course, some Talons elements had no real counterpart - such as, for instance, the involvement of professor Litefoot or the presence of giant rats in the sewers. 

I also added some uniquely Parisian characters to the story, allowing Penelope (and her player) to indulge in memorable encounters with artists Toulouse-Lautrec and Suzanne Valadon, as well as with the composer Erik Satie, who all operated at the periphery of the mystery (but were not involved in its resolution), plus a few cameos by Paul Verlaine, Claude Debussy and Aristide Bruant - historical characters whose very presence gave Mysteries of Montmartre the distinctively Parisian feel I was aiming for. In Lady Penelope's adventures, art and culture often play a very important part - we could even say that our Time Lady is as artistically-inclined as the Doctor is scientifically-minded, so she was really at home here.

As usual, we had a great time playing - and this episode was also highlighted by the first steps of Penelope's new travelling companion, "Miranda / Dorian / Eric", a crossdressing young man from 1980s London she met during the last "Everett Special" we did. Miranda's embarking on the TARDIS was not pre-planned and developed as a logical consequence of what happened in actual play - and, well, Penelope and Miranda just got on as a house on fire. One of these unforeseen, delightful twists which bring instant freshness and unexpected developments to a campaign, after almost 8 years of play and more than 150 episodes...

Next stop: VENUS!


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Everett Blake Returns!

Everett Blake Crossover 3: Fade to Grey
Lady Penelope takes Everett Blake seventy years forward to 1982 London to show him how people dress, dance and party in the future – well, at least that was the plan until the Time Lady and the Edwardian psychic investigator met a very special girl and the grey ghost hanging over her. Underneath the decadent Paradise Lost nightclub, something silent and sinister waits for the end of the world, preying on those who would do anything to be the next icon of the new romantic twilight. A tale of false promises, lost souls and stolen voices.

I had posted THIS on the excellent DWAITAS forum before running the episode... 

So how did it go?  

Well, it went very well. It was perhaps a bit short and could probably have benefitted from an extra plot twist- but all this was more than counterbalanced by my two players' stellar roleplaying performance, including the interactions with Miranda, the crossdressing Blitz kid who acted as the main plot hook / endangered NPC of this scenario. In fact, things went so well between them and Miranda that, once all ths trouble with the Gods of Twilight was over, Everett and Miranda had a short & happy affair - started in 1982 and ending (more discreetly) in 1912, after Penelope had taken the psychic investigator back. Yes, Miranda boarded the TARDIS for a short temporal escapade... and then decided to try some more time-travelling in Lady Penelope's company, preferably in "flamboyant spots", just for fun and thrills. So Lady Penelope's next regular episode will feature this new (presumably temporary - but who knows?), unexpected companion - see you at the Moulin-Rouge!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Season 12, Episode 6

Episode 6: The Cardiff Syndrome
2012: following the closure of the Cardiff Rift and the departure of Jack Harkness from Earth, Torchwood 3 was dismantled, its Hub closed and its Rift Manipulator disassembled. 2018: Everything Changes – again. The Rift has reopened and an ancient, unstoppable evil is rising from oblivion. Can Penelope and Gwen Cooper prevent the return of Abaddon the Devourer?

In Lady Penelope's Odyssey, the closure of the Cardiff Rift was one of the most important events of Season Four (yes, this takes us way back - back THERE, actually) - but I felt like reopening it once again and the recent space-time cosmic crisis generated by the reassembly of the Key to Time and  the return of Gallifrey from the Time War gave me the perfect excuse to justify this kind of continuity-warping events. Everything Changes, right?

The actual plot of the episode involved the return of Bilis Manger (remember him?) who was attempting to bring back Abaddon into being by a complex process involving stealing and harnessing the psychic energy and sleeping time of a growing number of Cardiff citizens (hence the "Cardiff Syndrome" of the title) to create a "reality focus" acting as an interface-cum-beacon (yes, this is "psycho-techno-babble") and allowing the dispersed essence of Abaddon to reshape itself through the space-time maelstrom of the Rift...

Eventually, Penelope DID manage to defeat (and destroy?) Manger, using the time-honored method of turning a villain's weapon against himself - here, the process involved unleashing her own psychic strength AND the formidable power of her TARDIS through the psychic conduit which linked Manger to his growing army of sleepless psychic drones / puppets / pawns. A desperate, next-to-impossible move which involved massive expenditure of Story points and some lucky dice rolls - but in the end it succeeded and Penelope even managed to repair all collateral psychic damage...

The epilogue saw the resurrection of Torchwood Three - complete with its beloved Hub and a reassembled Rift Manipulator, with a new team entirely composed of existing NPCs - including Gwen Cooper, Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (grandson of the Brig, former time travel companion of Penelope and Torchwood One wonderkid), the time-sensitive Indira Kapur and a few others...  This new development creates a new "21st century anchor" for Lady Penelope's adventures, giving new roles to existing NPCs and reinforcing the sense of continuity of the campaign - Everything Changes but the Odyssey goes on!

One final note: in a way, this episode could be seen as a homage to the Torchwood series, just like the previous one was a tribute to Quatermass... now I might (not sure yet) complete this emerging pattern by another 'TV sci-fi show homage' episode - but our next episode will be what we now call an "Everett Special" - you remember Everett Blake, our occasional guest-star, don't you?  Check HERE and HERE for more details.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Season 12, Episode 5

Episode 5: The Cavern of Kronos
For years, fans of Nightshade have tried to solve the mystery of Penny Smith, the never-seen-before, never-seen-after actress who co-starred along Edmund Trevithick in the final (and now lost) episode of the 1950s cult TV series. The truth (which is, of course, stranger than fiction) can now be revealed, in this tale of buried memories, phantom pains and secret lives.

This episode was a bit of an exercise in style. It was conceived as a homage to Mark Gatiss’ brilliant NIGHTSHADE novel – itself a nostalgic homage to the great QUATERMASS TV series of the 1950s. After listening to the wonderful Big Finish audiobook adaptation of Nightshade, I knew I HAD to build a scenario related to this fascinating fragment of the Doctor Who mythos. Since Sylvie had remarked that Penelope had never been to the 1950s, I decided a few months ago that her first trip to this decade would definitely involve the making or impact of the NIGHTSHADE TV show… but I wanted to find the right tone, without interfering with the contents of Gatiss’ novel so I built a story focused not on Edmund Trevithick, the fictional actor who played the part of Professor Nightshade (although I did use him as a supporting character) but on the people who actually created the character and his adventures, which led me to invent a whole backstory.

My main sources of inspiration were (of course) Nigel Kneale, the creator of Quatermass (and some other brilliant stuff), as well as the TV movie “An Adventure in Space and Time” (also written by Mark Gatiss, so yes, our session had a very “Gatissian vibe”) – but instead of depicting the creation of a brilliant, classic TV show, I portrayed its final triumph and unfair demise at the hands of narrow-minded, begrudged BBC men-in-suits - so yes, the story also carried echoes of the 1989 cancellation of Doctor Who.

Despite what the title of episode* might suggest, the story included no fantastic / weird / alien element – except for Penelope’s own involvement, decisions and actions, so in the end we had a very moving, human-focused story that could only have been lived by a time traveler… and we had a fantastic session!  No chases, no fights, no alien menace to battle, but lots of roleplaying, period atmosphere and memorable moments.   

* “The Cavern of Kronos” is mentioned in the Nightshade audiobook as one of the most popular episodes of the series – but oddly enough, it is mistakenly identified as “Cavern of THE Kronos” on the TARDIS wikia website.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Season 12, Episode 4

Episode 4: Heir Apparent
S’ral, the Throne Worls of the S’rax. 25 years ago, Prince Mordred sacrificed his life to help his half-sister Penelope to defeat the psychic, sun-eating ghost of their mother Morgana*. And now the Time Lady has returned to claim her rightful title of Empress and rule the Nine Worlds – or has she, indeed?  Introducing the Dark Lady, Penelope’s own shadow nemesis…

* This was back in Season 2, Episode 13…

Talk about a "blast from the past", eh?  So who (or what) is this new "shadow nemesis" anyway?  And how can she have the face of the Second Penelope?  Is she a clone, an evil twin, an alternate Time Lady from an alternate timeline, some kind of doppelgänger?

Well, here again, we must look back at some earlier (but far more recent) episodes. In our previous season, Penelope had a multi-episode battle with the Dark Dimension, which was trying to get hold of the Key to Time in order to create a new omnipotent avatar of itself, a new Fenric or Black Guardian (since both entities have ceased to exist in Lady Penelope's current reality - yes, that means there's a vacancy!). 

This battle involved, among other things, facing an evil copy / dark doppelgänger of the Doctor and preventing the "Millington Entity" from reaching the Dark Apotheosis which would have made it the new supreme avatar of the Dark Dimension... Last but not least, Penelope's victory was obtained at a very heavy cost: to escape the hold of the Dark Dimension and to prevent it from corrupting her TARDIS, the Time Lady had to regenerate, triggering the "regeneration / purification" of her ship in the process - all this being made possible by the now-completed Key to Time. The Dark Dimension had been defeated - but as the one who had defeated it, Penelope was now right in the middle of the whole dimensional struggle.

And now the Dark Dimension's riposte has manifested itself in the person of the Dark Lady, an evil doppelgänger / clone wrought by the Dark Dimension itself, using all the biodata and psychic stuff which it had managed to record and copy during an even earlier confrontation with Penelope (we'll get to this in the next paragraph). This Dark Lady doesn't have a "dark TARDIS" - probably because Penelope DID manage to save her ship from contamination by bringing its aforementioned rebirth - but seems to be able to open "dark portals" allowing her to arrive at some chosen times and places, most likely linked to Penelope's own timeline, as was the case here. As for the Dark Lady's agenda and personality, she could be described as her negative twin or Shadow, in the Jungian sense of the word, embodying her "anti-personality", a reflection of her own inner darkness. 

So why does she have the face and body of the Second Penelope?  For two reasons: first, probably because this was the face that the S'rax knew, allowing her to pose as the Time Lady returned to claim her imperial birthright... but also (most probably) for a darler, deeper reason: back in her second incarnation (and shortly before entering her third), Penelope had been captured by the Black Guardian (who was still active at the time - those were the days...) who had tried to influence / manipulate / possess her. The Guardian had failed but this meant that the appearance, personality and surface memories of the Second Penelope had long been stored / imprinted in the abstract, unliving "memory" of the Dark Dimension (which can be seen, among other things, as the Black Guardian in a completely disincarnate and abstract form - or if you prefer, back when he existed, the Black Guardian was the embodiment of thie dimension).

So if the Dark Dimension HAD to create a dark clone of Penelope, her Second incarnation would definitely be the most logical choice - but at the end of our latest episode, Penelope's player wondered whether or not the Dark Lady would now be able to alter her face to imitate her current's appearance...

Last but not least, Penelope's first encounter with the Dark Lady gave her the opportunity to discover a unique, quite weird (but quite "logical", in the broadest sense of the word) feature of thie new Nemesis: they have symmetrical psyches, as if the Dark Lady was the dark reflection of Penelope's own mind... and consequently, they CANNOT enter any form of psychic conflict between themselves, because that would be the equivalent of attacking yourself - or, as the Doctor explained it afterwards, like adding "-X" to "X": the result is always zero. And this "psychic neutrality" (along with the intertwined / interdependent nature of their fates) will, of course, impact the way their next battles are fought... when and where will these take place?  As always, time (i.e. the GM) will decide - and it's interesting to note that Penelope has decided NOT to try and track down the Dark Lady, being 100% certain that their paths would soon cross again anyway...

Monday, January 1, 2018

A New Year - and a NEW SEASON!

So, 2018 kicks off with the first three episode blurbs from the twelfth season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey, starting with a triad of adventures in the 18th century...

Episode 1: Cry of the Banshee
1771. Answering a call for help from the time-sensitive Alicia Maddox, Lady Penelope returns to the Scottish highlands to investigate what is either a typical case of autosuggestion through superstition or a genuine menace from the Grey Dimension - but where exactly is the frontier between belief and reality?  Perhaps the answer can be heard in the Cry of the Banshee…

Episode 2: Britannica
It’s still 1771 and Penelope is still in Scotland, but in another world entirely – in Edinburgh, at the hub of the Scottish Enlightenment. The first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica has just been completed, heralding an age of Reason, Learning and British grandeur - provided the Time Lady can save history from the sleep of reason and the madness of kings.

Episode 3: The Art of Escapade  
Back in 1790 Sweden for the New Year royal ball, mademoiselle Penelope soon ends up trapped in the TARDIS of the mad Collector, along with the chevalier de Marigny, the mesmerist Hesselius and her theatrical rival Louise Saint-Rémy. Will the Time Lady manage to save them, herself and the entire Braxiatel Collection from her captor’s deadly ultimatum?

So what's in store for season 12?   I'm not telling yet (SPOILERS!) but after the tumultuous events of season 11 (which saw, among other things, the reassembly of the Key to Time, a new regeneration for our Time Lady AND the return of Gallifrey from the Time War),  I felt a change of pace would be welcome and deliberately focused on the human angle for these first three stories, which shared the same historical era (actually, it was Penelope's player who decided it would be nice to stay a bit in the 18th century after the first episode so I had to react swiftly) but had very different atmospheres: eerie and gothic for Cry of the Banshee, historical light drama (well, at least that's how it started) for Britannica and a more caper-like feel for The Art of Escapade, which also introduced a new, hopefully recurring villain in the person of a greedy, obsessive elderly Time Lord known as the Collector.

Due to various time constraints (ah, Time...), we didn't have a real Xmas Special this year BUT the resolution of episode 2 borrowed quite a bit from Dickens' A Christmas Carol (well, if you replace the various Ghosts of Christmas by a Time Lady and Ebenezer Scrooge by George III but I'm sure you get the idea) AND episode 3 was both set AND played during New Year's Eve (1791 and 2018, respectively).

Bonne année à tous !