Monday, August 19, 2019

Season 13 Finale

Episode 15: The Music of Time
On the heels of their uneasy reunion, Penelope and her former travelling companion Dorian go back to the Paris of the belle époque - only to discover that the eccentric musical genius Erik Satie, who once graced her TARDIS with a private piano recital, has disappeared from Montmartre… and from History itself! Did he even exist at all? In order to save the unique composer from oblivion, the Time Lady will have to create a temporal Dissonance of her own.

So here goes another season of Lady Penelope’s Odyssey! 

This season finale was really emotional, starting with a bittersweet, awkward, not-as-I-had-planned reunion with Penelope’s former travelling companion Dorian / Miranda… and ending with their heart-rending farewell, which was somewhat reminiscent of the Tenth Doctor’s adieu to Rose in “Doomsday”.

One of the most interesting aspects of this very moving denouement was its unexpectedness.

When I built the plotline of this episode, I had (somewhat naively) thought that Lady Penelope would be delighted to be reunited with Dorian / Miranda, considering they had got on like a house on fire while they were travelling together across time and space – and indeed, I was more or less expecting this NPC to be welcomed back aboard the TARDIS, embarking for at least another season…

But things didn’t take this direction. At all. Penelope was completely caught off-guard by Dorian’s sudden reappearance. Following the harrowing events of the whole Avalon/Gallifrey crisis (including her encounter with a new incarnation of the Master), all she wanted was to “turn the page”, as we say in France. Dorian’s departure (back in episode 7 – only eight episodes ago but it felt more than a lifetime away to her…) had deeply saddened her – but it was now in her past, a finished story, with Dorian / Miranda living the high life of a galactic singing superstar of the 40th century. He was safe. He was no longer in danger. Penelope felt ready to move on to other things.

And then Dorian was back, without a warning, her responsibility once again. He was no longer safe, once again vulnerable to the perils of travelling along the Time Lady – and it was too much for her.

Needless to say, this added a very intense, almost brooding emotional mood to the whole episode – and the difficulty and consequences of this (from Penelope’s perspective) unwanted reunion quickly became at least as important as the “mystery at hand” (a timey-wimey conundrum about musician Erik Satie).

In the end, I did what I always try to do as a GM – follow the players’ decisions and their logical consequences, even if it takes things in a completely unexpected or unplanned direction. The final scene of the episode was, as I said, almost heart-rending - but also solved the problem in a very neat way, with Dorian now living in an alternate 1978, as one of the companions of an alternate, earthbound Doctor (first met in the final episode of season 12)… an unexpected but perfect conclusion for a season where alternate timelines and parallel continuums featured prominently.  

The Parting of the Ways…

See you in a few months for a new season!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Season 13, Episodes 13-14

Episode 13: The Darkest Hour
The fall of Avalon is at hand. The home of the free Time Lords is under attack! The Master has breached the quantic gates, opening the way for hundreds of Cybermen, who are now wreaking havoc on the once safe haven created by Penelope and the Doctor. As Jack Harkness, a newly-regenerated Doctor and the other valiant defenders prepare for the last stand, the Time Lady must evacuate the entire civilian population before it is too late...

Episode 14: The Hand of Harmony
Avalon has endured. Lives have been lost – but the Darkest Hour is now over. The Cyber-Master and his legions of steel have been defeated. But what about Gallifrey, still shut off from the vortex and the rest of the universe? With the Dissonance under control, it is now time for Avalon to extend the Hand of Harmony to the Time Lords of the Capitol, with Lady Penelope as the peacemaker. A tale of power plays, diplomatic intrigue and hidden agendas.

The Cyber-Master mentioned above is actually The Master (or, more properly, one of his incarnations from an alternate continuum - but this doesn't really change anything, really, since He Is The Master And You Will Obey Him) after a partial cyber-conversion - yes, that is a weird idea but one that made perfect sense in the context of our storyline. Having forged an alliance with the Cybermen of the Cyberiad, he was supposed to offer them full time-travel technology and capabilities, in exchange for their services as a tireless workforce and as an armed force to carry out his grandiose plans of conquest of the universe...  But after Penelope's daring deeds in episode 12, he was put in a very difficult position with his Cybermen allies, who demanded a solid proof of his loyalty and commitment - and (you guessed it) decided to partially cyber-convert him against his will. 

How THIS will affect his next regeneration remains to be seen - for yes, the Cyber-Master did suffer some heavy physical damage before escaping from the Avalon debacle in his special stealth-model TARDIS... Needless to say, I plan to answer this particular question in a forthcoming episode, probably in the next season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey.

NEXT POST: Episode 15, the Season Finale!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Season 13, Episodes 11-12... and the Greflings!

Episode 11: The Eye of Madness
The Master is back!  Coming from yet another alternate timeline, trapped in our continuum by the Dissonance, the Doctor’s nemesis is now intent on becoming the sole Master of Time… which, of course, implies the destruction of all other Time Lords!  Following the shutdown of Gallifrey’s and Avalon’s Eyes of Harmony, Lady Penelope and the Corsair must track the power-mad arch-villain through the vortex… The chase is on – but Time is running out!

Episode 12: Scar(ed)y Cats
Following her brush with the Master and his Cybermen allies, still awaiting news from Avalon, Lady Penelope lands her TARDIS in Ulthar, the out-of-time city of her friends the Greflings. She soon learns that something dark and very nasty is threatening the very existence of the adorable Quantum Cats… a menace known as the Kitlings!  A tale of secret origins and feline paradoxes, featuring yet another ancient, half-mad Time Lord renegade!

Episode 12 gave me the opportunity to indulge into some retcon fun about the Catkind (e.g. Brannigan, the Sisters of Plenitude etc.) and one of my earliest creations for the campaign, the Greflings, also known as the Quantum Cats.

The Greflings

The Greflings are friendly (if insatiably curious) creatures who look exactly like Sphynx cats (you know, the hairless ones) – fully intelligent cats with the power to wander at will through space and time, slipping and sneaking through dimensional interstices; they also have the power to track virtually anyone or anything through the vortex and are irresistibly attracted by paradoxes and other temporal anomalies (as well as by TARDISes, who see them as pesky pests and simply DON’T want them aboard).

The Greflings have been around in Lady Penelope’s Odyssey from the first season (they initially appeared in Episode 4, The City of Chimeras, set in 1920s Paris). I introduced their home of Ulthar during Season Eight (how time flies) and finally had the opportunity to reveal their origin story in Season Thirteenth. Here are their quick & dirty stats:

Attributes: Awareness 4, Coordination 4, Ingenuity 4, Presence 2, Resolve 2, Strength 1

Skills: Athletics 2, Convince 2, Knowledge 2, Subterfuge 4

Good Traits: Keen Senses, Vortex (“the Whisk”), Lucky (side-effect of the Whisk), Run for Your Life, Sense of Direction (on a cosmic level), Feel the Turn of the Universe, Networked (Minor), Face in the Crowd (actually a form of mild psychic/sensory cloaking, making them “unnoticeable” as long as they keep quiet - except by people with Feel the Turn of the Universe, Alien Senses and other perception-enhancing abilities)

Bad Traits: Tiny (Major), Insatiable Curiosity, Cowardly (but adorable)

Their leader, the Grand Grefling, has a Presence and a Resolve of 4, as well as the Psychic and Telepathy traits.

A Convoluted Origin

For quite some time now, I’ve had the idea that these adorable creatures were somehow descended from the ferocious, wicked Kitlings – the teleporting, scavenging black cats from Survival. In “Scar(ed)y Cats”, I was finally able to do this idea justice (in case you were wondering, the Greflings are the scaredy cats, while the Kitlings are, of course, the scary ones). So what happened to the Cheetah People and the Kitlings after the end of Survival?

As hinted in the last images of the episodes, the Cheetah People “found a new home” – but nothing is said about the fate of the Kitlings, with which the horse-riding, hunting felines clearly had a deep symbiotic bond… I decided that the two species were somehow separated from each other – because every existing Kitling had been captured by some mysterious force (more on this below).

For the first time in their history, the Cheetah People were alone; cut off from the symbiotic influence of the Kitlings, they quickly changed, as the “Cheetah virus” in their blood adapted itself and its effects to their new, more peaceful surroundings; over a few millennia, they gradually lost their more feral instincts (killing for fun, hunting humanoid preys etc.) while still retaining their other feline traits, evolving into (you’ve guessed it) the Catkind from the 10th Doctor era!  I even allowed myself a small improvisational luxury by suggesting that the commitment of the Catkind in the order of the Sisters of Plenitude could be a way of atoning for the savage past of their ancestors, of showing humans and other sentient species that Cat persons were nice, trustworthy and altruistic, the best healers (as opposed to the best hunters) in the universe.

But what happened to the Kitlings, you ask?  Right after the events of Survival, they were captured en masse by a crazy Time Lord (using their own teleportation powers to lure them into a trap) who wanted to experiment on them – to “improve” them, in all senses of the word, i.e. to refine their unique abilities, boost their intelligence and suppress their feral instincts... Why he wanted to do this remains a mystery – perhaps the mad renegade was simply experimenting for the sake of scientific curiosity or perhaps he wanted to create the ultimate feline pet for style-conscious time travelers. Who knows?

Anyway, after many genetic, psychical and quantic manipulations (involving, among other things, a deliberate sequence of partially-controlled Blinovitch Effects), he finally managed to transform the last Kitlings into the first Greflings. And their transition from black cats to hairless ones coincided, of course, with the complete suppression of their feral, nasty side.

But the first Greflings, blessed with their dimension-walking powers (they call it “Whisking”), quickly wandered away from the abode of their Creator, who probably forgot about them (he was absent-minded like that) before eventually annihilating himself after a catastrophically failed experiment into time paradoxes… When the Quantum Cats returned to what they perceived as their home (a strange, somewhat sinister-looking mansion house located Somewhere Out of Time), they found that their maker had left them forever. They named the place “Ulthar” and went on their curiosity-driven expeditions through time and space, meeting Time Lords and other Highly Interesting Things along the way.


The basis for the concept of the Greflings was simply the phrase "Quantum Cats" - I hadn't seen Survival back then!  When I discovered the Kitlings, well... it was too beautiful a coincidence to ignore!

The name “Ulthar” is of course taken from the City of Cats in Lovecraft’s Dreamlands stories. As for the mad Time Lord who became the Greflings’ mythical Creator, I had first toyed with the idea of using the Seventh Doctor himself but for various reasons I finally settle for my own version and reinterpretation of a more obscure character – Astrolabus, from the Sixth Doctor graphic novel Voyager.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Season 13, Episodes 8-10

Season 13 of Lady Penelope's Odyssey continues, with three new episodes:

Episode 8: The Gilded Age
New York, 1883. Following the departure of her travelling companion, Lady Penelope is taking a vacation in history, enjoying a glorious Indian summer in Manhattan, attending the inauguration of the Metropolitan Opera and mingling with the Whartonesque locals. And then Time Agent Cyrus Ward appeared out of nowhere, before being shot by a mysterious staser-totting assassin… The holidays are over – and the (temporal) game is afoot. 

Episode 9: Passing Ship
On her way back to Avalon, Lady Penelope intercepts a distress call from another TARDIS caught in the eye of a vortex storm created by the elusive, ubiquitous Dissonance. Rushing to the rescue, she manages to save the Corsair from certain annihilation – only to discover that the renegade Time Lord was actually chasing her on behalf of the new masters of Gallifrey. And then the Corsair starts to die, spinning the regeneration roulette once again…

Episode 10: Trial of a Time Lady
As the conflict between the two Eyes of Harmony escalates, Lady Penelope arrives on Gallifrey to face the Tribunal Supreme of the Time Lords on charges of Grand Conspiracy and Generally Being a Temporal Nuisance. Will the Time Lady and the disembodied Professor Chronotis uncover the identity of the mysterious Black Eminence before the final verdict? With the fate of Avalon hanging in the balance, it’s time for some serious courtroom drama…

(To be continued...)

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Season 13, Episode 7

Episode 7: Starvox
Welcome to Simak 9 space station and to the 3988 AD edition of the great interstellar Starvox song contest! As thousands of billions of hyperlinked viewers prepare to sing along, cheer, applaud and vote for their favorite contestant, the Earth Alliance candidate has just pulled out!  Enter the Time Lady - and her travelling companion, Dorian aka Miranda. The rest is (or will be) history. A tale of rivalry, empathy and fame (with some disco songs).

So, Lady Penelope's Odyssey is back for the second part of our thirteenth season!  

I borrowed the setting idea (Eurovision... in space!) from the Big Finish audiobook Bang-bang-a-boom featuring the Seventh Doctor and Mel - but with a completely different plot and cast of characters.

It was quite a tricky episode to run - and proved a joy to play. On one hand, it was deliberately kitsch (Eurovision in space...), with quite a lot of cheesy moments - and on the other hand, it had an extremely emotional ending, with the departure of Penelope's companion Dorian / Miranda (her only real companion in the classic DW sense since her early travels with Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart- those were the days and all that...). So the young nightclubbing guy-girl from 1982 left the TARDIS to become the new Hyperstar of the Earth Alliance, exchanging a life of adventure for interstellar fame - a dream come true, as well as a bittersweet (and very moving) farewell with Penelope. 

A bientôt !

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Season 13, Episode 6 / January Special

Episode 6: Wintertime
January 2019. The UK is caught in an unprecedented wave of cold, with snowfalls, ice storms, frozen rivers and the whole gamut of wintry weather phenomena, leaving experts baffled. Only the Torchwood Cardiff team knows the truth behind this aberrant climate shift: it came through the Rift, from a long, long time ago. Winter is coming - time to call the Time Lady!

So, despite what I announced last time (about “taking a break for a few months”), I couldn’t resist the lure of running my own New Year’s Day special (well, sort of, since this was played on the 5th of January) for Lady Penelope – an episode with some nostalgic echoes from the Russell T. Davies era (Torchwood, Cardiff, the Rift…).

And despite what the above blurb may suggest, most of the action took place in 1895 (but still in Cardiff), during another of Britain’s “great winters” – at a time where the Cardiff Rift already existed… but NOT the all-too convenient Rift Manipulator!

The main antagonist for this story was directly inspired by Kim Newman’s “Time and Relative” Telos novella: primeval, prehistoric Cold as a sentient entity trying to reclaim its lost dominion on our post-Ice Age planet. At first, I had contemplated using the Great Intelligence as my main villain (see HERE) but as I was working with this idea, I kept on ending up with something that felt like a remake of Steven Moffat’s “The Snowmen”, with no real extra element of interest. This episode also gave me a wonderful opportunity to reunite Penelope with her present-day friends at the Cardiff Torchwood Hub, including Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, one of her very first time-travelling companions…

The basic idea behind the whole Cold / Rift thing was as follows: the Cardiff Rift allowed the Cold from Earth’s Ice Age to “travel” (or disseminate itself) to various times in our history (including, for instance, the great winter of 1962-63), with January 1895 acting as its most potent “open window through time”. There, the Cold entity managed to possess and manipulate a naïve, pious Psychic, using her as an entry point and interface with reality. Of course, being blinded by faith, the poor soul thought that the visions and commands sent to her “from beyond” by some seemingly eternal, disembodied “whiteness” could only come from God, heralding His new divine reign on Earth. Through the powers invested in her, she even created the Angel of Frost, a terrifying, immaterial being embodying her “righteous wrath” against unbelievers and sinners… 

In the end, Penelope could only defeat / banish the Cold by calling on the supreme power of the Sun - yes, in our campaign, suns are actually sentient beings, as Penelope discovered a few lives ago, in the reign of pharaoh Akhenaten (back in Season 5)…