Sunday, January 24, 2021

Season 15, Episode 13

Episode 13: A Murder in Fiction

Where could Lady Penelope meet Hercule Poirot – as well as three other, somewhat less famous French-speaking master sleuths Jules Poiret, Inspector Hanaud and Hercule Popeau?  Well, in the Land of Fiction of course!  A meta-whodunnit, also featuring Jeeves, Professor X, Socrates the Bulldog (don’t ask), the Butler (of course)… and Agatha Christie herself!

The Land of Fiction was another Second Doctor setting I've been wanting to explore for quite some time - and oddly enough, this episode came right after the one with the Warlords...

As usual, I used my own take on the setting - but this time reinventing it took me quite some time, which is why I didn't run a Land of Fiction-based episode before. I guess I was waiting for the right combination of plot, characters and background... and it just fell into place a few days ago!  

See HERE (on our beloved Doctor Who RPG forum) for a more detailed analysis of my alternate version of the Land of Fiction. 

Some after-play notes: we had a grand time!  During the first half or so of the scenario, Lady Penelope was (understandably) sure she was trapped into some kind of fiendish mind game created by the Marquis de Carabas (see a few episodes ago...), the Toymaker or some similar twisted "playful" entity... and her insistence on derailing the intended plot made the scenario even more comedic and wackier in actual play and also forced (or allowed ?) me to improvise a lot, using various twists of plot, ellipses and other narrative devices as active forces in the story itself, making the whole "Land of Fiction" theme even more relevant.

For example: the plot (as you might have guessed) revolved around the murder of Hercule Poirot, complete with the usual assortment of usual suspects, cryptic clues, hidden agendas, dissonant alibis and mutual accusations. Initially, Poirot was supposed to be found murdered in the library, where he had spent the best part of the night secretly looking for clues... but right from the start, Penelope stated: "A library?  Great!  Murders always take place in libraries!  I'll stay in the library and see what happens..."  So I had to hastily change the intended march of events so that Poirot's murder could take place outside of her sight and this was just one instance of our Time Lady's deliberate plot-jacking. 

Of course, making things happen-as-planned ANYWAY felt unashamedly forced - and would have been quite unsatisfactory in a standard scenario (I usually try to avoid railroading and give the player as much as influence as possible on the unfolding of the plot - something which is probably easier with a single player than with a group)... but since we WERE in the Land of Fiction, such shows of Arbitrary Narrative Force actually enhanced the whole feel of the story and really gave the feeling that Fiction and Reality definitely operated under different rules (no mean feat since any RPG adventure is actually a form of Fiction but I won't go all meta on you...). 

When the story entered its Resolution stage, Penelope had figured out that the true culprit was none other than Agatha Christie, who was fed up with her character (she actually loathed Poirot, whom she once described in an interview as "a little creep")... and the only thing she could do to resurrect Poirot (who had not yet lived some of his greatest adventures) was to persuade the author herself to do so. I had counted on Sylvie's usual flair for emotional dialogue and I can only say that she surpassed herself here. 

She delivered an amazing speech, which felt like a rehearsed and perfectly delivered scene from a play or movie. She spoke about the "Reichenbach precedent" and Conan Doyle's decision to resurrect Holmes, about Molière's "Don Juan", who surpassed all the previous incarnations of the character and proved that imitation could actually spawn literary chefs d'oeuvre (this was about the legitimacy of Poirot as an original character since, as you may know, he was obviously based on previously existing - and now quite forgotten - fictional detectives: Inspector Hanaud, Jules Poiret and the ludicrously-named Hercule Popeau), about Jorge Luis Borges and his labyrnthine libraries... and most of all, she spoke about Poirot as a character, a very moving defence of the Belgian master sleuth's idiosyncrasies, which hid a somewhat darker obsession for justice... 

Well, I was awed. 

See you next week!


Monday, January 18, 2021

Season 15, Episode 12

 Episode 12: The Forgotten Foe

Following the discovery of Narvin’s fob watch in the previous episode, Penelope and Gale (the neo-Time Lady formerly known as Ace) are sent on a very delicate mission (let’s call it diplomacy in enemy territory) to the forgotten, more or less time-locked home planet of the War Lords, more than 100 years have passed since the War Games… A tale of secrets and lies.

So I finally got to run a "return of the Warlords" story - I've been wanting to do this for years and it was (at last) the right time to do so. Sylvie and I had just re-watched "The War Games" so we were in the perfect mood for this one. So what happened to the Warlords during the last 100 years?

Well, cut from the rest of the universe by the Time Lords' barriers, they quickly turned their conquering tendencies against one and another and a global plantetwide civil war soon erupted, with weapons of mass destruction ravaging and poisoning most of the surface and the last, victorious faction living in a force-field-protected bastion. In addition to a semi-amnesiac Narvin (a deep infiltration mission gone wrong because of the distorsions created by the Time War), Penelope also discovered a fully grown,clone-daughter of the War Chief - an intriguing new character who will obviously have some significant impact on the season finale (three episodes left!) - wait and see.


Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Temporal Toybox is Back... AGAIN!

 Hello everyone

Just a quick note to let you know that The Temporal Toybox, my collection of unofficial, optional and alternate rules for the Doctor Who RPG has just regenerated into its sixth edition!

You can access the new/updated/regenerated version from the link on the left of this page or directly from here:

See you soon for the blurbs of Lady Penelope's latest episodes!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Season 15, Episode 11

Episode 11: Reunion

Following her harrowing encounter with Amekh the Devourer, Penelope decides to take a short holiday with the two Anderson kids on the main island of Shetland, away from all the troubles of time, space and other dimensions. But the past is about to catch up with her, in the most unexpected manner. A tale of (not so) old memories and (not so) new discoveries…

This was a short episode, entirely based on emotion and interaction (as opposed to action, problem-solving and more adventure-oriented stuff) – the kind of scenario you can only play in one-on-one mode and which give the player a unique opportunity to explore the character’s feelings in play, turn some personal “pages”, etc. We really enjoyed this particular, off-beat episode, which followed a classic three acts sequence.

First act: Tourism.

Penelope and the kids simply enjoy the Shetland setting, hiking around, meeting some locals, etc.  

Second act: Unexpected emotional reunion.

Penelope is contacted by Torchwood Shetland (actually a single individual) because “someone wants to see her”. That someone turned out to be Judith, the little girl from Remembrance of the Daleks and from five episodes (and 55 years) ago – now a woman in her seventies. The reunion scene was very moving, highlighting the differences between time travelers and those who “take the Long Way”. The fact that the two Anderson kids were also “Dalek survivors” added a unique touch to the whole thing.

Third act: Setting things in motion for the next episode.

Contacted by her Torchwood Cardiff friends, Lady Penelope is given a very special artifact which was recently washed away from the dormant Rift – a Time Lord fob watch! Back on Avalon, she takes the ominous item to the Doctor, who confirms that it does indeed contain the memories and regeneration energy from a Time Lord and, thanks to his Matrix backup, later identifies this Time Lord as Narvin*, former right-hand man of President Romana and Celestial Intelligence Agency coordinator, declared “missing in action” during the great Time War. Thanks to his unique psychic abilities, Professor Chronotis managed to access the cache of the stored memories and found the when and where (but not the why) of their extraction – for some reason, Narvin last used his (?) Chameleon Arch some time during the Time War, after arriving on a forgotten, forsaken planet - the War Lords’ home world!  

* A character from the Big Finish Gallifrey audiobook series. 

To be continued…


Sunday, January 3, 2021

Season 15, Episode 10

Episode 10: The Dark Pyramid

4124 AD. Professor Svenka Lewis has just made the greatest archaeological find of her life: an authentic Osirian pyramid, lost on a cold and lonely planetoid. Will her friend Lady Penelope and the Count of Saint-Germain arrive in time to prevent the reawakening of Amekh the Devourer, acolyte of Sutekh and Eater of Eternity?


This was the “Osirian tomb” scenario I’d been wanting to run for quite some time now – but I never seemed to find the right moment to weave it in the ongoing continuity of our series. Basically, it was a “mummy’s curse” story – with a terrifying, life-devouring Osirian as the Monster whose sleep should NOT have been disturbed… 

I was a bit uncertain about how it would actually unfold in actual play… Would the horror movie clichés work in play or would they just feel hollow?  Would I manage to maintain dramatic tension throughout the story, albeit its somewhat über-classic and predictable plotline?  I wanted it to be an ordeal for our heroine – as well as to give her the opportunity to show grace under pressure, save lives and use her own unique assets to defeat the dreadful entity (which she did – but more on this later). 

I had ensured that the emotional / personal side of things would be pretty strong right from the start by involving NPCs with whom Penelope had strong ties or, at least, history: as a connoisseur of all things mystical, the Count of Saint-Germain was the one who absolutely insisted that they explored the Osirian pyramid (a curiosity for which he paid a very heavy prize – see below). As for the archaeological team, it was entirely composed of familiar NPCs: professor Svenka Lewis (whom Penelope first met back in season 7…) and three members of the Anderson family (father, mother, daughter) whom Penelope herself had rescued and brought to New Byzantium in the previous season (see episodes 11-12). This lineup really made the stakes personal for Penelope – not just like rescuing some NPCs you meet for the first time and will never see again afterwards…

So how did it work in actual play?  Well, we had a blast. Right from the start, Penelope’s extreme reluctance to disturb anything Osirian created a very strong tension in the dialogue scenes with Saint-Germain and (once they had go to the accursed planetoid) with professor Lewis. Penelope warned them of the danger in very strong terms but she also understood the necessity to uncover a mystery which could well prove even more dangerous if left uninvestigated… And when all hell broke loose, thanks to her presence of mind, she managed to save all of them from the regenerated Amekh – even the poor Saint-Germain, whose life-energy got heavily drained in the process. The Count eventually regenerated (after only a couple of episodes in his first Time Lord incarnation!), having lost two of his future regenerations in the process. This traumatic experience made him far less adventurous – in fact, he has decided to stop travelling and spend his days in his beloved Braxiatel Collection - “travelling” through books and artefacts exclusively.

Thanks to her resourcefulness and a little help from her TARDIS’ resident ghost-in-the-machine, Penelope defeated the horror (using a cleverly inverted version of the Elixir of Life from the Karn Sisterhood) and trapped its disembodied Ka in her fob watch, before bringing it back to the Doctor, who stored it into yet-another-inescapable dimensional cube.

In the end, our Time Lady (who very wisely refrained from yelling “I told you so!” at the others, even though she had been Right All Along) decided to take the whole Anderson family to the safety of Avalon, where they will live with all the other (but mostly Victorian or Edwardian) temporal refugees. As for professor Svenka Lewis, she brought her back to her native 42nd century, after some pretty harsh words (“I never want to see you again!”), followed by a less hostile farewell (“Who knows?  Perhaps our paths will cross again…”).

I was really happy at the way things turned out. We had a very dark, dramatic episode full of tension, tough choices and danger – but which also highlighted Penelope’s increasing wisdom (a noticeable trademark of her current regeneration…) and gave her the opportunity to make some unexpected, season-affecting decisions – bringing the Andersons to Avalon. Next episode: Lady Penelope takes the two Anderson kids to 21st century Earth, to show them how life was on the old planet before mankind took to the stars…