Sunday, December 27, 2020

Season 15, Episode 9 (Xmas Special)

Episode 9: A Star in the East

With the obliging (if slightly ironic) help of Lady Penelope, Saint-Germain has decided to solve one of the Great Mysteries in human history and visit the Bethlehem Nativity – he must have answers!  Here comes a truly biblical Christmas Special, featuring a meteorite, shepherds, a newborn baby in a manger, the wrong King Herod and far too many Wise Men!

So, as a departure from our previous Xmas Specials (usually involving snowy winters and, well, a suitably Christmassy atmosphere), and after years of play, I finally decided to tackle the Big Issue of the Christian Nativity – and the newly Time Lord-ified (ouch) Count of Saint-Germain was just the ideal character to suggest such an expedition (remember that the real-life Count spuriously claimed to have personally met Jesus Christ…).

Why the reference to the “wrong King Herod”?  Since Herod the Great (the one who supposedly ordered the Massacre of the Innocents) had actually died in 4 BC, I reasoned that, even with some uncertainty about the dates, this part should actually have been played by his son, the Tetrarch Herod Archealos (who, by the way, had a very short reign and a very interesting end – just check it out).

The aforementioned supernumerary Wise Men (six of them – yes, two sets of them!) were in fact (rival) time-travelling scholars from the 48th century, whose intervention could have caused a historical disaster but who were eventually rescued from imprisonment (if not worse) and put to good use by Penelope and Saint-Germain’s cunning plan, eventually fulfilling their legendary part (well, at least some of them) in the story. In the end, Penelope and Saint-Germain did briefly met Joseph, Mary and their newborn child – but the mystery (if any) was not solved, leaving history, legend and belief run their courses…

This was a light-hearted episode, with a predominantly comedic atmosphere – but is also had some surprising moments of gravitas. We had a great, completely improvised scene where Penelope and Saint-Germain, two obviously foreign and decidedly mysterious wayfarers having appeared from nowhere, were mistaken for angels (a word which really means “messengers”) in disguise by the shepherds and some citizens of Bethlehem. Penelope also demonstrated great poise and confidence when she took the matters of the time-stranded, bickering Wise Men in her hands (“First, let me begin by telling you that you are all rubbish time-travellers…”) and there were great conversations with Saint-Germain about the responsibilities and risks of time-travelling.

 Next stop: New Byzantium in the 42nd century – at last!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Season 15, Episode 8

Episode 8: Ship of Fools

2993 AD. 300 of the wealthiest people in the Earth Empire have abandoned all their worldly riches to embark on the ultimate voyage – a one-way trip beyond the Gates of the Sun, to the cosmic city of Heliopolis, where the divine Solarians will grant them the gift of immortality. Yes, they’ve been conned and will soon meet their fiery doom. Enter Lady Penelope...

Another great adventure – and a masterful performance from Sylvie, who played Penelope with a perfect mix of self-confidence, wit and humanity. So far, the Seventh Penelope has displayed a brilliant form of grace under pressure and what I can only describe as sprezzatura – an elegant and nonchalant self-assurance, which was already a strongly latent personality trait but seems to have become full-blown since her latest regeneration…

The plot was directly based on the recent Big Finish audiobook Shadow of the Sun, with some significant alterations and somewhat different NPCs. I changed the identity of the main villain and greatly emphasized the “happy cult suicide” angle, drawing inspiration from the real-life OTS tragedies, but with space opera trappings, including a crumbling (and slightly decadent) galactic empire and a lot of space VIPs in white and beige (with some slightly kitsch gold bling thrown in for good measure).

Last but not least, the presence of the newly-transformed Count of Saint-Germain at Penelope’s side added a very interesting dimension to the episode, which served as the perfect illustration of what the Time Lady has discussed with him during the prologue (their responsibilities as time travelers, the temptation to act as demiurges, etc.) – a great moment of narrative serendipity.

Next episode: our Xmas Special!

Monday, December 14, 2020

Season 15, Episode 7

Episode 7: Incroyable!

Lady Penelope decides to take a holiday to 1799 Paris, at the time of the Directoire – an era of post-revolutionary extravagance, salon intrigue and moral liberation, where the foppish Incroyables walk the streets in their eccentric attire and the scantily-clad Merveilleuses reign over high society. Soon, she will meet an old enemy with a new face and an Eternal grudge…

We really had a magnificent time with this episode!  Somehow, it encapsulated my favorite ingredients for DWAITAS adventures: a historical setting with colorful NPCs and some leisure time to get a taste of the chosen time period; a sudden twist with direct connections to the past or continuity of the campaign; witty, delightful dialogue; a lot of dramatic tension, with occasional flashes of humor and darker overtones; tough choices for the heroine and a great master villain – in this case, the Eternal known as the Marquis de Carabas (see episode 14.08 for more details). I had been searching for a new, interesting and really powerful Nemesis for Penelope and I clearly found it with the Marquis. The scenario also involved the beloved Count of Saint-Germain… whose body was destroyed but whose mind, memory and psychic consciousness Penelope managed to save in extremis.

The story ended with the Doctor (who has been tampering and experimenting with the secrets of regenerations for the few last seasons…) giving the Count a new body (as he had done with the disincarnated Zoe in an earlier episode) – and turning him into a Neo Time Lord!  And of course, the new, regenerated Count wants to travel.

Time to bring back the old Lady & Count duo!  Allons-y!

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The First Six Penelopes: A Retrospective

Following Lady Penelope's recent regeneration into her seventh incarnation, I thought it'd be a good idea to present a summarized retrospective of her six former selves...

The First Penelope (season 1) was raised as Lady Penelope Ashworth, the daughter of a British aristocrat and top Torchwood agent in late 20th century England, before discovering her true heritage and the reality of time travel. She still thought of herself as human and had to earn the respect of her TARDIS’ resident ghost-in-the-machine. She took an active part in the creation of an alternate Earth timeline (known as “King Arthur’s future”) and died by sacrificing her life in order to ensure the death of the Witch Queen Morgana, her true mother.

The Second Penelope (season 2 to mid-season 4) was much more self-confident than her first incarnation – and eager to fully embrace her heritage as a semi-alien Time Lady. She had quite a lot of adventures in space and time, during which she had a fling with Lord Byron, enlisted Christopher Marlowe as a travelling companion, battled a resurrected Morgana, fought to escape the enthrallment of the Black Guardian and eventually met her end by (once again) sacrificing herself to save her friends from certain death.

The Third Penelope (mid-season 4 to mid-season 7) helped to consolidate Arthur’s future and, most importantly, assisted the Doctor in the creation of Avalon, which would become a safe haven for the few surviving Gallifreyan Time Lords, Neo Time Lords and temporal refugees. She developed a unique relationship with her former foe, the renegade Mortimus, and helped the Doctor defeat a regenerated Master. She died a violent and unexpected death, mortally injured by an axe blow from Harald Hardrada in medieval Constantinople.

The Fourth Penelope (mid-season 7 to mid-season 8) was the most short-lived incarnation of the Time Lady – as well as the most militant, a “War Time Lady” if you will. Strengthened by the Sisterhood of Karn’s Eternal Flame, she fought against the resurgent Fenric, whom she eventually defeated, along with his would-be successor, the Eternal known as Wayland the Smith. Having vanquished other powerful foes, she died a hero’s death inside her TARDIS while preventing the returning Silver Nemesis from destroying Earth.

The Fifth Penelope (mid-season 8 to mid-season 11) lived a very varied life of adventure. After becoming the lover of her former enemy, Lord Fenn of the Tanu, she travelled through time, space and beyond - entering E-space, meeting the Tharils, the Rani and the War Chief in the process… Her exploits included saving the Count of Saint-Germain, defeating the Medusa Entity and, of course, gathering the dispersed fragments of the Key to Time. She willingly regenerated to purge her body from the energies of the Dark Dimension…

The Sixth Penelope (mid-season 11 to season 15) was notable for her love of arts as well as for her unique relationship with her travelling companion, Dorian-aka-Miranda. On the cosmic side of things, she witnessed the return of Gallifrey from the Time War, helped the Doctor solve the Great Dissonance, fought the Haemovores alongside William Blake and prevented the apocalyptic rebirth of Kronos… She died in 22nd century Ireland while battling the Lloigor, allowing the Power of the Earth to surge through her body to destroy her enemy.

See you soon for the blurbs of (the Seventh) Penelope's latest adventures!


Sunday, December 6, 2020

Season 15, Episode 6

Episode 6: The Shadows of Yesterday

Penelope takes Constance from 1895 to the astounding future of 1965, the era of Swinging London, Beatlemania and miniskirts… There, her path soon crosses that of the recently returned Miss Wright and Mr. Chesterton, who are doing their best to Get Back to Normal. But some memories just won’t go away - and somewhere, a lost child is screaming in terror. 

This episode was quite reference-heavy; in addition to Ian and Barbara, it also featured the Counter Measures group and the little girl from Remembrance of the Daleks - the "lost child" mentioned in the blurb above. Two years after the Shoreditch Incident, the child was still in a state of deep psychic trauma, haunted and terrorized by her own memories / ghosts of the Daleks (particulary the black Supreme Dalek). For two years she had lived under the watchful eye of the Counter Measures group, who kept her in a secret clinic near London. Her subconscious psychic struggle had connected with the recently-returned Barbara's own traumatic memories of the Daleks, creating the mystery that kicked off Lady Penelope's adventure in 1965 London.

During Penelope's own investigations and her final battle with the child's "Dalek nightmares" , Constance Norcott (the young Victorian woman who had embarked in Penelope's TARDIS at the end of the last episode) had a very long, offstage talk with Barbara, who told her how adventuring in time and space had changed her life forever - and during the epilogue of the scenario, Constance finally decided that she was not cut for this kind of life and that it was time for her to go back to 1895 Florence - to face her mother, make her own choices and build her own fate. 

So now Lady Penelope is (much to her satisfaction) back to her usual "lonely traveller" mode, ready for some advenures and fun in time and space. Next stop: Paris in the complicated time of the Directoire (1795-1799), right between the Revolution and Napoleon's rise to power - a time noted for its unbridled extravagance, with its "Incroyables" and "Merveilleuses"...

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Season 15, Episodes 4-5

 Episode 4: The Last Star Whale

Before embarking on a new series of adventures in time and space, our freshly-regenerated Time Lady decides to make a quick stop at Avalon to speak to the Doctor about a few things and entrust Rose Doherty to the Count of Saint-Germain. Well, at least that was the plan before she received a desperate call for help from a very old friend - Victoria the star whale…

Episode 5: Strangers in Florence

Florence, 1895. Lady Penelope is enjoying a summer holiday of dolce vita, farniente and post-regenerative contemplation in one of her favorite destinations… but Time soon catches up with her, in the shape of a familiar face and a mysterious, anachronistic gentleman, who turns out to be a 28th century professional assassin sent to kill her… The game is afoot!

Victoria the star whale had appeared back in our fourth season (2012...) - in episodes 4 and 11, where she had guided Penelope to the secret, block-transfer-computation-created "spare" Eye of Harmony. This crucial discovery eventually led to the creation of Avalon, which has been her "home" (or "port of call"?) ever since (as well as the home of the Doctor and a growing number of NPCs)... So having her appear again after all this time, right after a new regeneration, created a pure moment of wonderment for Lady Penelope (and her player!) - but this time, the star whale needed the Time Lady's help to save her from a horrible and gruesome death at the hands of ex-space pirates turned star-whalers-for-hire - acting for another (more or less) forgotten NPC from 2012, the Bothan crime boss Akkam Velek (who looks like THIS), who wanted to adda few centuries to his already far-too-long lifespan by consuming the cerebral kernel of the (supposedly) last star whale. 

This adventure was started by an "emergency call" between Penelope's regeneration and her brief return to Avalon. I wanted to catch the character off-guard and throw her into action before she even got the time to get used to her new body and find out if she had developed any new personality traits. 

It worked like a breeze, with a confident and cool-headed Penelope quickly grasping the problem at hand and its possible solutions. Before she discovered the identity of the whalers' patron, there was a really great scene of witty, easy banter between the Time Lady and Captain Korba, the captain of the star whaling expedition, a roguish space adventurer à la Lando Calrissian - a character whose assistance Penelope cleverly enlisted during the following episode and whom she intends to see again in a later episode - a completely unexpected and delightful development.

In the end, Victoria the star whale escaped unscathed... and sent a "thank you" song to Penelope, before being joined by several other star whales - so no, she was not the last of her kind! 

The destination of episode 5 (Florence in 1895) had been chosen in play by Penelope's player during the final scenes of episode 3 - after her quick stop in Avalon she wanted to take break (for some post-regeneration contemplation) in a beautiful, familiar place and Florence in the late Victorian times immediately came to her mind. She had visited it in 1894, back in season 12, during a very James Ivory-esque episode featuring the author Vernon Lee and (among other NPCs) a Miss Honeychurch-like young woman named Constance Norcott. 

Of course I went along with the idea (I always try to give Penelope's player as much control as possible on her character's destinations) but this particular choice was something of a GMing double-challenge (but hey, isn't this what Doctor Who RPG GMing is all about?).

The first challenge was to give the episode a novel, fresh atmosphere, while playing on the memories of Penelope's previous stay in the city, three seasons and (historically) one year ago. In other words, I couldn't simply just play the James Ivory vibe again - a feeling of déjà vu may be an interesting element of atmosphere but I needed a new, fresh perspective. Since the 1894 Florentine adventure (The Quantum Ghost, episode 10 of our 12th season) involved the investigation of  mysterious, seemingly supernatural events already tied to Penelope's previous stays in Florence (back in 1827 and season 10 - yes, I told you she LOVED this city), I needed to bring something new - and unexpected - into play.

And this brings us to the second challenge. Every time Penelope visits a historical destination, I try to avoid as much as possible using the "Big Temporal Coincidence" alibi - you know, a time traveller chooses to visit a certain place at a certain time just for fun and, BANG, she just happens to choose the time and place where Something Mysterious and Otherworldly is going on. I know it happens on a regular basis in the TV series but, whenever possible, I try to devise a slightly more complex explanation or to tie the mysterious events / otherworldly threat / whatever to Penelope's very presence or to her own timeline. Of course, it's not always possible and the "Big Temporal Coincidence" is also part of the spirit of the game... but in this particular case, I felt I really couldn't play this card. I needed a plot which was somehow tied to Penelope's own actions yet also would also create an element of surprise.

First, I decided that Penelope would meet miss Constance Norcott again - I wanted to play on the "déjà vu" vibe as a distraction, to establish the familiar James Ivory-esque atmosphere in which Penelope's player wished to re-immerse herself... before bringing a completely unexpected twist - a threat to escape from or to neutralize, a mystery to solve and, of course, some timey-wimey elements. After some ruminations, I came to the conclusion that the best choice would be a direct backlash from the previous episode - yes, the one about the star whale in the 25th century.

I eventually came up with the following plot: back in the 25th century, Akkam Velek had carefully plotted a vicious, merciless revenge against Penelope... Having managed to locate Penelope in time and space (how he did this was one of the main mysteries of the adventure), he had sent a Vortex manipulator-equipped professional assassin (masquerading as a Time Agent) after her... in 1895 Florence! Of course, Penelope had not entirely dismissed the possibility of a vengeance from Velek - but certainly not as quickly (from her perspective - it actually took him 13 years to put up the whole operation) and certainly not outside of the 25th century...   so the element of surprise was, I must say, complete!

In the end, she managed to neutralize the assassin (who almost managed to kill her with a regeneration-preventing disintegrator so yes, the stakes were indeed quite high), hand him to the Time Agency, unmask Akkam Velek and, with the help of Captain Korba (see above), discover HOW the 25th century crime boss had managed to track her down through time and space - a shocking and moving moment, involving the artificially life-supported brain of a precognitive / time sensitive individual she had met (and seen killed) in the previous episode.  

After laying the long-suffering brain to rest (at its request), she left the 25th century and returned to 1895 Florence. There, during the epilogue, she (more or less reluctantly) took a new passenger on board of the TARDIS for a few travels - miss Constance Norcott, our aforementioned Lucy Honeychurch-like NPC. 

Next stop: London, 1965!


Monday, November 16, 2020

Season 15, Episode 3... and Regeneration!

Episode 3: Rising Kings

Following her clash with the Lloigor in 1901 and her discoveries about the Lost Branch of the Tanu, Penelope goes back to the alternate future of King Arthur, in 2123, to study the situation of Ireland in this bright new age and, perhaps, the possibilities of regenerating the last of its dormant Tanu - only to discover that the dark powers of the earth are rising again…

Episode 3 was the epic conclusion of our ‘Irish triptych’ – and marked a new beginning for Lady Penelope, who regenerated into her seventh incarnation after a climactic and desperate battle with a gigantic Lloigor incarnate!

When the regeneration occurred, we proceeded as usual: we took a short (15 minutes) break to choose a new appearance for the character (who now looks like Eleanor Tomlinson) and then resumed play, with a slightly dazed Penelope waking into a new body, with a new face. Still unsure about her new personality, she tied a few loose ends in the 22nd century (with a very moving scene with her ex-lover King Fenn of the Tanu – more on this in a future post) and then got back to her TARDIS.

Next stop: Avalon. The Time Lady needs to talk with the Doctor about a few things, to entrust Rose Doherty (from episode 1) to the care of the Count of Saint-Germain (so that she can free her from Aleister Crowley’s hypnotic conditioning) and to settle down in her new body, before resuming her travels and adventures in time and space.

Long live Penelope the Seventh!

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Season 15, Episodes 1-2

Sylvie and I have begun a new season of Lady Penelope's Odyssey, starting with a diptych set in 1901 Ireland featuring the visionary poet W.B. Yeats and misguided mystics meddling with the Ancient Powers of the Earth... 

Episode 1: An Otherworldly Lady
Dublin, October 1901. The energy of the new century has reinvigorated the spirit of ancient ages. Enjoying a bit of temporal tourism in a beautiful city brimming with dreams, ideas and visions, Lady Penelope meets the greatest Irish poet of his time, William Butler Yeats, who also happens to believe in Magic, Faeries and the Unseen… Let the play begin!
Episode 2: Sleeping Gods
Samhain draws near. A time where the Gates to the Otherworld open and the Unseelie wreak havoc upon the world of man. Following the events in Dublin, Penelope and Yeats arrive in Coole Park, home of the famous Lady Augusta Gregory on the west coast of Ireland. Can they stop the agents of the Red Twilight before they awake the dark, ancient powers of the land?

As can probably be guessed from the above blurbs, the two episodes were linked by the same overall plotline but each adventure also had its own objectives, making them a diptych rather than a two-parter. They had somewhat contrasting settings (Dublin for episode 1 and Coole Park - that's near Galway, on the west coast of Ireland - for episode 2, with some glorious autumnal woods) but explored the same milieu (the Celtic Revival, in its various aspects - cultural, political and even mystical). 

Episode 1 was centered on a devious scheme hatched by the notorious Aleister Crowley (who had quite a history, to put it mildly, with W.B. Yeats, his "fellow" Golden Dawn member) to destroy Yeats' reputation, involving a certain Rose Doherty, a (fictional) young woman completely enthralled by Crowley's hypnotic powers who would have met a tragic end if Penelope hadn't intervened to thwart the Great Beast's dark designs. Crowley himself was absent from the story (he was travelling abroad at the time and had set the whole thing beforehand, much like switching on a time-bomb before leaving the scene) but his presence was felt throughout the story, as the unseen manipulator and mastermind.  In order to carry out his plans of vengeance, Crowley had allied himself with an Irish (fictional) secret society, the Red Twilight, whose own dangerous dabbling with ancient powers provided the narrative link between the two episodes. Of course, their secret emblem was a radient red sun on a green field - Crowley's own design for the future flag of Ireland (yes, he did that too). 

Episode 2 involved the Lloigor and an undiscovered, very important bit of Tanu lore - two races who have regularly featured in our series (check the previous seasons...) and who really couldn't be left out of a story set in Ireland, since the Tanu are obviously based on the Tuatha dé Danann (or, as far as our series' fictional reality is concerned, the other way around...) and my own version of the Lloigor include quite a few parallels with the mythical Fomorians...

Both episodes were a joy to play, with quite a few beautiful (and even poetic) moments of emotion. Penelope acted as the elusive woman of mystery, with some decidedly fey undertones - an Otherworldly Lady, to quote the title of the first episode - as well as a very responsible, level-headed Time Lord, putting things right, safeguarding History and dropping a few words of wisdom and inspiration before vanishing in her TARDIS...  

We also had some nice comedic moments - such as when the Red Twilight guys realized that Penelope perfectly understood Gaelic (thanks to the TARDIS' translation circuits) or when Yeats narrated the notorious "Battle of Blythe Road" between him and Crowley (just check it out...), turning what had obviously been a somewhat grotesque scuffle into a mystical battle of wills between two mages.

The diptych featured some notable Irish historical personages in addition to Yeats and Lady Gregory: George Moore, Douglas Hyde and Lady Gregory's son William Robert, a future WWI flying ace whose death in 1918 inspired one of Yeats' more moving poems, An Irishman Foresees his Death (which I gave to the player during the epilogue).

Last words: the starting events of our next episode will obviously be dictated by the consequences of episode 2... so perhaps our Irish Diptych will turn out to be a Triptych. 

See you soon! 


Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Problem with Episode 200

 Hello everybody

Next week or so, we'll be resuming Lady Penelope's Odyssey for its 15th season!  

And as some of you might remember, I had mentioned that the very first episode of this forthcoming season would be the 200th of our campaign - something of a landmark, milestone or whatever that I intended to celebrate with a Very Special Episode (a concept which gave me hours and hours of ruminations, myriads of promising-but-eventually-doomed ideas and numerous returns to Square One...

And then I finally found a great idea for the beginning of our next season.

And then I recounted the episodes, just to be sure. And there were 200, not 199 as I had first (mis)counted. I probably forgot a Xmas special in my calculations - we'll never know.

Probably some timey-wimey interference...

So episode 200 is already behind us - it was the grand finale of season 14, with Penelope and her allies facing Kronos himself so I do think we did have a Very Special 200th Episode indeed.

And now... forward to Episode 201 !  Which will be based on Another Idea - I'm keeping the "ex-200" one in store for later (probably somewhere between episode 4 and 8, we'll see...).


Friday, July 17, 2020

The Temporal Toybox Returns!

Hi everybody!

THE TEMPORAL TOYBOX (being my compilation of house rules & other stuff for the Doctor Who RPG) has just regenerated!

The book now incorporates my "radical re-engineering" system for NPCs, dice rolls etc. (see my previous post), which has also been retro-fitted in the variant combat and chase rules, making them even faster, meaner & leaner!

This new version (the fifth one!) is available from the usual link:

Monday, June 22, 2020

My Radically Alternate House Rules

Once More Unto the Breach!

As those among you who have been following the successive iterations of The Temporal Toybox (my compilation of optional house rules for the Doctor Who RPG) might have noticed, the subject of Story points and their expenditure in play has always given me food for thought, ruminations and variant experimentations.

I’ve been GM-ing the game on a regular basis for more than 10 years now and I’ve finally come to some pretty definitive (and probably heretical) opinions on how Story points should be used in the game. I will not bore you with the history of how and why I came to these conclusions – suffice it to say that it didn’t happen overnight or on a whim.

While I think Story points are a great concept and work splendidly well for players, allowing them to emulate the unique logic and spirit of the TV show, I feel they do not work as well as far as GMs are concerned: having to keep track of separate pool of Story points for each NPC or monster (even if you restrict them to the more important characters or creatures) can really be tedious – and perhaps more importantly, having to decide when to spend these points (Before the roll?  After the roll?  At every opportunity until they are exhausted or on a case-by-case, piecemeal basis?) often feels like an unnecessary mental burden for the GM, distracting him from his most important task, the general running of the story itself. This can actually become quite bothersome in scenes involving many dice rolls, which is usually the case of most (supposedly) fast-paced action scenes. Of course, an experienced GM can juggle the system pretty well – but the same experienced GM is also likely to wonder: why all the hassle, when things could work much more quickly and smoothly?

For quite some time now, I’ve been working with a radical variant system – or, more exactly, a radical approach to the Doctor Who game system. And it works really, really well in play. But before I go into the specifics, a word of warning: this variant approach, while it does not alter a single aspect of how characters, NPCs or creatures are defined in game terms, changes the way the game mechanics work in actual play quite radically. It may not be to everyone’s tastes – nor does it purport to be “better” than the original system. It’s simply a variant approach that has worked very well in play and that might interest GMs looking to make their games easier to run and faster-paced… while keeping all the drama that Story points inject into the flow of the game.

But enough rhetorical precautions. Allons-y!

A Very Simple Idea

This variant approach is based on a single basic principle:

Story points and dice rolls are for players only. The Gamemaster never has to roll a single die in play – nor does he need to spend any Story point during the course of the game.

Thus, the GM can concentrate exclusively on his storytelling and story-guiding duties, which are the very essence of his job. It also means that all actions and situations are always resolved from the player-characters’ point of view – which makes the game more focused and also emulates an important aspect of dramatic TV shows, where the heroes are almost always at the front stage.

This is all very well, you say, but how the heck does it work in play?

Let’s start with Story points. Since an adversary’s expenditure of Story points is almost always symmetrical to a player-character’s (i.e. the villain making his best to foil, counter or otherwise oppose the hero’s actions), making Story points the exclusive privilege of players will simply give their characters that extra bit of luck, edge or pizzazz that scriptwriters always grant to the heroes of the show.

A villain may have style, charisma, willpower, luck or genius – but the chance to turn the tables at the last minute will always belong to the heroes of the tale. The only exception to this general principle is the “last-minute escape” ability granted to most master-villains, a specific case which will be treated in detail later on. 

But what about the DICE ROLLS, you ask?  Well, since the Doctor Who system is 2D6-based, you can simply replace them with pre-calculated target numbers, based on average rolls – and this will work just as well in play, since the element of randomness remains strongly present in the form of the players’ dice rolls.

Thus, if you want to shoot a Dalek with a blaster gun, you roll your Coordination + Marksman against a fixed target number taking into account the Dalek’s defensive capabilities, with no roll for the Dalek itself. But if the Dalek shoots at you, you roll your own defense (say, Coordination + Athletics or Coordination + Awareness, depending on the situation) against a fixed target number based on the Dalek’s Coordination and Marksman scores - again, with no roll for the Dalek itself.

That’s as simple as that!

But wait, you say, the Doctor Who RPG system isn’t entirely 2D6-based, since major villains can often roll 4D6 or even 5D6 or more by spending Story points before their rolls!  Isn’t it where your pretty little system crashes down?

No – because, as we’ll see in a few paragraphs, this element can also be taken into account by giving such unique NPCs a special status (which the rules as they stand already do, by giving them more Story points).

NPCs in Play

When NPCs (whether they are allies or adversaries) act, do not roll dice. Simply assume that they rolled 7, the average sum for 2D6. Or in other words:

NPC’s action total = 7 + Attribute + Skill

Thus, a standard Dalek (Coordination 2, Marksman 3, minor character) would have a marksmanship total of 12 (instead of rolling 2D6+5), while a standard Sontaran Trooper (Coordination 4, Marksman 5) would have a marksmanship total of 16 (instead of rolling 2D6+9).

What happens when two NPCs fight or oppose each other?  Simple: give the advantage to the one with the higher action total (taking into account all possible circumstance modifiers) and break ties according to the interest of the story. It does not really need to be more complicated!

As mentioned above, unique NPCs – arch-villains like the Master as well as long-term, recurring allies like the Brigadier – enjoy special advantages reflecting their special dramatic status.

Unique Characters

As noted above, such characters are the most important NPCs – the ones who are likely to return in multiple episodes, unique individuals like the Master, the Brig or Madame Vastra (unless she is a player-character, of course). The “unique” status should also be applied to, well, truly unique beings like Omega or the Destroyer in Battlefield, as well as to all characters fitting the “master-villain” label, like Magnus Greel or the Racnoss Empress – whether or not the GM intends to have them returning afterwards. 

Instead of Story points, such characters are now given two privileges to reflect their special dramatic status in game terms:

1) A unique NPC’s action totals are calculated with a basis of 12 (instead of the usual 7).

Thus, the Brigadier at his peak (Coordination 4, Marksman 3, unique character) would have a marksmanship total of 19 (instead of rolling 2D6+7 with the possibility of spending Story points).

Likewise, the psychic resistance of the Destroyer (Ingenuity 5, Resolve  8, +2 for Psychic Training, +4 for Indomitable) would be equal to a formidable 31 (total bonus of +19, added to 12).

2) Once per story, a unique character may perform a unique action (see below for details).

So why the arbitrarily higher action total?  To counterbalance the disappearance of Story points for such characters, who were previously given quite a lot of those points.

Here’s a bit of number-crunching to explain the whys and wherefores of this specific rule – if such things bore you, just skip to the next paragraph. In the original system, when one spends a single Story point before an important roll, the dice pool is raised to 4D6, which means an average roll of 14. This is obviously higher than the basic rating of 12 given to unique characters in the variant system. Does this mean that such characters are now disadvantaged?  No, because these characters and creatures get this basic rating of 12 on all their actions – and not just on a few Story-point-boosted rolls. This does, however, change the way they work in game terms: they can no longer ‘over-perform’ or ‘under-perform’ but remain much more constant in their abilities.

Last but not least: the ability of unique characters to perform unique actions (once per story – and at the GM’s discretion). This reflects things like the Brigadier single-handedly defeating the Destroyer in Battlefield (which, incidentally, was supposed to be the Brig’s death-scene but was hastily rewritten) or the Master’s ability to (nearly) always escape at the last minute.

In game terms, a “unique action” corresponds to those exploits and amazing feats (or moments of improbable luck) that would normally require a massive expenditure of Story points. With the simple “once per story” rule, this possibility can easily be retained in the game, without the need for random dice rolls or NPCs’ Story points. And of course, the possibility of such unique actions should always depend on the GM’s discretion and the needs of the story – just like big Story point spends in the original rules.

Last Words

While it works differently from the original rules, this variant system does not, I believe, contradict anything we’ve seen on the screen: it is just another way of emulating the same fictional reality – and one that works equally well in actual play. Why not give it a try?

A more concise version of this article will be included in the next edition of The Temporal Toybox (coming soon).

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Season 14, Episodes 14-15

Season 14 (aka "The Wings of Time") has ended tonight!  Here are the blurbs for its two final (and quite memorable) episodes!

Episode 14: The Prague Convergence
Hoping to rescue Alecta from the thrall of Kronos before he is reborn as a single, godlike entity, Lady Penelope and the Doctor arrive in 1913 Prague, where the Weeping Angels are gathering en masse for the Great Event. In the Café Louvre, Franz Kafka direct them to the enigmatic Kronos Institute, where a man from the future is attempting to rewrite history...

Episode 15: Facing Kronos
Avalon is the only thing that stands between the Weeping Angels Gestalt and their final rebirth as the omnipotent Kronos. The only way to stop them would be to rewrite their very reality using the Key of Time, recreated by the Doctor through the mathematical magic of block transfer computation. It is now time for Lady Penelope to face Kronos – or die trying…

Perhaps more than any other, this fourteenth season was full of twists and surprises, with Penelope’s choices and actions having a major impact on the overall continuity – like when she decided to take the Comte de Saint-Germain on board of her TARDIS for a few adventures in space and time… or when she did the same for Alecta (the daughter of Rassilon and a major NPC in the previous season – and probably in the next one, too).

The “metaplot” of the season (i.e. Kronos’ scheme to be reborn as a single, almighty entity, as opposed to his current incarnation as the Weeping Angels) also ran exceedingly well; with a bit of judicious retcon and improvisation here and there, it was (in one form or another) present in most episodes, without ever being too blatant, gaining critical momentum as the season entered its final tier.

And we had a very moving epilogue, which saw Lady Penelope attending the funeral of William Blake. Her decisive encounter with the visionary artist (in episode 13) was one of the high points of the season and left a profound mark on Penelope (and her player too).

Last but not least, episode 14.15 was also our 199th episode. Yes, that’s right: our next scenario will be Penelope’s 200th adventure, which is quite a milestone - but then, we’ve been playing for more than 10 years…  At this point in time, I don't know if we'll play Episode 200 as a one-off special or as “Episode 15.1”… but I’ve already started thinking about it. I'd like to do something special and unique for this occasion – and NO, for obvious reasons, it won’t be a “multiple Penelope” episode.

That being said, I’ll update my blog in the meantime; I’m currently working on the fifth edition of the Temporal Toybox… and before that, I’ve got some pretty nifty and radical house rules in store. See you soon!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Season 14, Episode 13

Episode 13: Burning Bright
After being ambushed by a Weeping Angel, Penelope finds herself stranded, alone and TARDIS-less, in 1827 London… But Time works in mysterious ways and a good Samaritan soon offers help and hospitality to the “lost traveler”. His name is William Blake – visionary artist and man of faith, madman and sage. Together, they will battle the Power of the Abyss…

We had a fabulous time!  This proved to be an extremely moving episode, with great moments of emotion and humanity – as well as some memorable classic horror, as Lady Penelope and William Blake faced some terrifying Haemovores… which they managed to defeat, thanks to Blake’s indomitable (if bizarre) faith and to Penelope’s unique connection to the Eternal Flame – a real “blast from the past”, taking us back to season 7, when Lady Penelope was battling Fenric and his minions.

The moment when Sylvie realized that Penelope’s good Samaritan was not just a weird guy called Mr. Blake but was in fact the famous visionary artist was invaluable – the perfect mix of incredulity, bafflement and wonder.

Penelope’s estrangement from her beloved TARDIS changed quite a few things, adding an extra layer of emotion and humanity to the story… but in the end, her TARDIS came to fetch her back, piloted by none other than the Doctor himself!  And now, time is running out; together with the Doctor, Penelope must find a way to prevent a disaster of metaphysical magnitude – the rebirth of Kronos himself!  Here comes the season finale…

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Season 14, Episodes 11 & 12 - and some stuff about the Angels!

Episode 11: Sanctuary
On her way to New Byzantium in the 42nd century, Penelope catches a distress call coming from a 22nd century starship… not from space but from within the vortex itself!  After rescuing the crew from certain death, the Time Lady and Alecta soon discover that the family of four is obviously hiding something. A tale of shattered pasts, guilty consciences and hard choices…

Episode 12: Race Against Time
Following her arrival on New Byzantium with Alecta and the Andersons, Penelope once again meets the enigmatic Velkis, who are waiting for her with some very important information to impart. Ancient secrets are revealed, patterns emerge, seemingly unconnected events come into perspective… and Something Terrible is about to happen somewhere in Time and Space.

Episode 11 was full of emotion and great interactions with NPCs – and unless I’m mistaken, it’s probably our first episode ever which took place entirely (well, almost) inside the TARDIS. It also acted as the perfect “scene-setter” for episode 12, which was one of those tricky pre-finale episodes where apparently unconnected events from the soon-to-be-finished season lock themselves together to reveal the Big Picture. In this case, Penelope learned two very essential facts:

1) The Weeping Angels are actually Kronos himself, whose essence had been scattered during the Time War by the Guardians of the Universe (unbeknownst to everyone else, of course); they couldn’t destroy him so they reshaped him as the weird, quantum-locked species we’ve all come to love. Incidentally, I confess I was quite proud of this bit of alternate retcon – which really does make some sense (in terms of powers as well as in terms of appearance).

2) Kronos is planning to Become One once again and the Weeping Angels were after Penelope – or her TARDIS?  She didn’t really have the time to reflect upon this, since the episode ended with our Time Lady thrown back in time by a Weeping Angel... 

When and where will she end up?  We’ll find out in episode 13 (i.e. next Saturday). See you soon!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Season 14, Episodes 9-10

Episode 9: Ends and Means
Following her deliberate regeneration, Susan has decided to leave Avalon to find a place in Gallifrey’s rising new order. A saddened Doctor asks Penelope to take his granddaughter back to the Time Lords’ home planet, where the usual amount of secrecy, scheming and skullduggery awaits the Time Lady – not to mention the Rani’s latest soulless science project.

Episode 10: Night of the Machine Men
The Time Lady returns to Avalon with a new travelling companion – Alecta who, being Rassilon’s daughter, is fed up with being used as a pawn on the grand Gallifreyan political chessboard! To celebrate this decision, Penelope takes her new protégée to 1928 Paris! But in the shadows of the Grand Guignol theatre, the Machine Men are already waiting for her…

Episode 9 proved to be more pivotal than I had anticipated, with Lady Penelope inviting Alecta to join her in her travel… ah, I realize I must explain who Alecta is. I’ll try to be as quick and clear as possible but as you’ll see, the matter is somewhat convoluted. Very early in our campaign, I introduced my own version of the Sirens of Time (based on the Big Finish entities of the same name), who first acted as recurring villains before becoming the subject of a very important, timey-wimey mystery. A few seasons ago, Penelope first discovered that the so-called Sirens of Time were actually once known as the Harpies of Rassilon and had been originally created by the progenitor of Time Lord society as temporal retaliators and harbingers of temporal justice. According to legend, there were twelve of them.

In season 10, Penelope managed to finally defeat the Sirens, theoretically erasing them from reality, before discovering the true origin of Rassilon’s Harpies: they were, in fact, splintered remnants of Rassilon’s own daughter Alecta, whom he had used as an experiment subject, managing to split her past and future incarnations into separate (but obviously) linked temporal beings (hence the number twelve). And in season 11 (our “Key to Time” season), Alecta finally came back as a single, wholly regenerated (but slightly disoriented) individual… who was eventually returned to Gallifrey – before deciding to take leave in Ends and Means.

Episode 10 was a great classic Lady Penelope episode, with the Time Lady facing the now disfigured Master (you know, the one who came from an alternate reality and got partially cyber-converted - the big hidden villain of season 13, which culminated with his attempt to invade Avalon with an army of Cybermen… It ended up with the Master being captured by Penelope and with a very rare ‘mopping up’ intervention by the Doctor (a case of force majeure), who decided to deliver the prisoner to Gallifrey – not the end of the story, obviously… This episode also gave me a wonderful opportunity to portray the real-life Paula Maxa, the Grand Guignol actress known as "the most assassinated woman in the world" (check her out...).