Sunday, April 24, 2022

Season 16: Episode 12

Episode 12: Time and the Land

Penelope is back in the alternate 22nd century of New Camelot, in the court of King Arthur the Second – but her true destination is the Hidden Kingdom of the Tanu, where her former lover King Fenn is about to face his ultimate destiny. There, she will discover the answer to the Riddle of the Two Dragons and the last secrets of Excalibur, her father’s masterwork.

As usual, a few notes about this episode:

It was a very character-driven episode, centered on Penelope’s decisions and with no real antagonist or conflict – but it was certainly not a “time-off” story. Indeed, it marked a pivotal milestone (so to speak) in our Time Lady’s personal evolution, as well as in the whole King Arthur / Tanu plotline that has been around since our first two seasons.

Penelope’s seventh incarnation seems to be clearly marked by the pursuit of wisdom and the “great-power-great-responsibility” theme.

The story itself revolved around her interactions with various key NPCs, including the Tanu King Fenn, who played a major role in several previous stories – his last appearances were in the first episode of season 14 (where he was at the very heart of the story) and, less prominently, in the third episode of season 15 (Penelope’s latest regeneration, which gave her an even greater link than before to the Power of the Earth, the telluric energy which has played such an important role in our various New Camelot / Tanu / Lloigor stories). There were still some loose ends to tie regarding this character and his ties to Penelope and NOW seemed the perfect time to do so.

Having recently realized that her old arch-enemies the Lloigor seemed to be entirely absent of the main future continuum (as opposed to the alternate timeline New Camelot) and that her father Morrolan’s own discoveries about the Power of the Earth hadn’t yet revealed all their secrets and mysteries, Penelope had decided, at the end of our previous episode, to seek some answers from the Tanu – particularly from Queen Alba (wife of King Arthur II) and her half-human, prescient daughter Princess Dana.

So I decided to wrap up my various New Camelot / Tanu loose ends into a coherent storyline, adding two new narrative elements: the aforementioned Riddle of the Two Dragons (my own interpretation of the well-known tale about the boy Merlin discovering two fighting dragons beneath King Vortigern’s tower) and the first clear indication of a “new deal” regarding the Lloigor, Penelope’s most enduring arch-enemies… who have apparently completely vanished from this continuum too. Could this have something to do with the incoming season finale?  We’ll know soon enough!

An important aspect of this episode was how it brought Penelope back to the very first elements of her unique heritage and odyssey: the sword Excalibur, the very existence of the New Camelot future, her father Morrolan’s secret experiments and his connections to Arthurian legend… and even the mysteries of her own TARDIS…

Last but not least, New Camelot also provided the perfect new home for Just Penny (Penelope’s single-lived clone – see last episode). We’ll take a short break next weekend – see you in a fortnight or so for the antepenultimate episode of our season!

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Season 16: Episode 11

Episode 11: Lady of the Future

Cheem has been saved – but the battle has just begun!  On New Earth, Penelope and her allies have decided to strike back at Lady Cassie… but how do you fight a quasi-immortal, über-rich, mega-famous galactic icon? In the New New York Senate? At the Galactic Stock Exchange?  In the dark streets of the Undercity?  And what will be Lady Cassie’s next move?   

 As usual, a few notes about this episode:

 A direct follow-up to last week’s episode, this story had an even stronger RTD-vibe, with a serious dose of political satire and social commentary. Set in New New York, a hundred years or so after the Bliss disaster (and several decades after the Renaissance of New Earth), this episode also gave me the opportunity to play former Novice Hame (yes, I’ve decided she was still alive after all this time – this is the far, far, far future, OK?), now Mother Hame, founder of the Sanctuary (the new, post-Plenitude galactic hospital) and leader of the Church of Boe (waiting, of course, for the Face’s Second Coming).

As an extra nod to the RTD era, the story also featured a clone of Lady Penelope (à la Metacrisis Doctor), nicknamed Just Penny, created by none other than Lady Cassie herself (who else?) and whose very existence proved to be the pivotal element of the story.

In the end, Penelope resisted her urge to go all “Time Lord victorious” on Lady Cassie, wisely illustrating the proverbial saying about great power and great responsibility. A great episode, which proved quite personal and emotional in actual play.

Next week: Penelope take Dorian, Xara and Just Penny to her beloved alternate New Camelot timeline, where she intends to delve further into the mysteries of Earth Power…

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Season 16: Episode 10

 Episode 10: Evergreen

In the impossibly distant future, Penelope and her companions visit the lush, beautiful green world of Cheem, home of the noble Tree People, humanoid descendants of Old Earth’s primordial forests. Unbeknownst to the travellers, their arrival will set into motion the cogs of a long-prepared plan threatening the freedom and the very life of the Forest of Cheem…

A usual, a few notes about this episode:

This story was long overdue, since Penelope and Dorian had been invited to Cheem by the Tree Lady Twane (cousin and lookalike of the beloved Jabe) back in episode 5 of season 13 (yes, that was three seasons ago…), during a brief but memorable encounter in New New York’s hospital. At the time, my intention had been to run a Cheem-based episode before the end of the season but this was not to be, mainly because I couldn’t find a suitable slot in the ongoing season arch and by the end of season 13, Penelope and Dorian had had their own (and quite moving) parting of the ways.

But I kept the “Cheem rendez-vous” idea in store, should Penelope and Dorian get reunited, which they did in our last episode. The presence of Penelope’s other current companion, the young Xara Anderson, a would-be ethnologist-planetologist, made the green world of Cheem an even more relevant choice of destination for their reunion trip…

The episode obviously made heavy use of RTD-era lore – the Forest of Cheem, New Earth (which Penelope and her friends will visit next episode!) as well as the main villain of the story, who was none other than a certain Lady Cassie, clone-child of the original Lady Cassandra and heiress to her fabulous fortune (and an interplanetary corporate empire known as Cassandra Unlimited), still looking like a beautiful woman in her twenties, since she was only in her eighties…  And unlike her progenitor who found redemption at the moment of her death, this Lady Cassandra was as callous, greedy and narcissistic as the original when she first appeared in The End of the World

Due to the structure of the story (and to her role as the hidden mastermind of a very ugly corporate conspiracy), Lady Cassie remained mainly off-stage, appearing only in a single scene (and as a hologram!) but she’ll definitely play a prominent role in our next episode, which will see an angry Lady Penelope take the fight against Cassandra Unlimited to New New York (more on that below* and next week).

The plot dealt (quite predictably) with ecology, as well as with politics (we could sum up the main themes as political independence and ecological integrity), allowing me to develop my own version of the Forest of Cheem’s society, which I divided into two opposite political factions: the Anthropophiles (eager to preserve and even strengthen their ancestral ties to Humanity) and the Primordians (in favor of an isolationist return to roots). In the end, the two factions had to unite in order to save their beloved world from either ecological destruction or corporate enslavement, heralding a new age for the Forest of Cheem… 

And of course, this particular Gordian Knot could only be cut by the Lady Penelope, using her current incarnation’s unique connection to the power of primal Earth. This special link, which owes to the circumstances of her last regeneration (see episode 3 of our last season), already played a significant part in some of our latest episodes… Wait, could this be the hidden theme-meme-McGuffin of the current season?  Well, only Time will tell.


Originally, our next episode was supposed to be a New Earth-based futuristic yet retro mobster story, somewhere between “Dick Tracy” and “Judge Dredd”, called (you’ve guessed it) “Gangs of New New York” (too hard to resist, eh?) but since Penelope’s player has decided that foiling Lady Cassie’s Evergreen scheme was not enough and that she deserved a swift, devastating and fully-fledged riposte (yes, episode 10 ended up on a somewhat Time Lady Victorious vibe), I’ve decided to throw away “Gangs of New New York” to the scrap heap to cook up a direct follow-up story to “Evergreen”, set in New New York and centered on the clash of these two very special Ladies. 

This will give me the opportunity to fully play Lady Cassie (whom I already planned to keep in store for a future comeback, since she makes such a perfect ‘reverse image’ foe for our Time Lady), while making Penelope’s own decisions the “prime mover” of the story – something that does not happen that often in an ‘adventures-in-time-and-space’ type campaign, where things tend to follow a ‘destination of the week’ pattern. As a GM, I always try to favor players’ ideas and decisions over preplanned possibilities and Sylvie’s choice to initiate a “round two” against Lady Cassie (which really flowed logically and made perfect sense in actual play) gives me the perfect opportunity to do so.

So it’s adios “Gangs of New New York” (hey, I even have my own Lost Stories now!) and hello “Untitled Episode” – see you next week for the actual title, the blurb and some after-play notes.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Season 16: Episode 9 (yes!)

Episode 9: Under the Loch

After some R&R time on Avalon, Penelope decides to pay a visit to her former companion Dorian, now living in the “M.I.7.” alternate reality, working with its own earthbound Doctor and a young Kate Lethbridge-Stewart for Her Majesty’s most secret service – just when the team is investigating some weird happenings in the depths of Loch Ness. Sea Devils, anyone?

A few notes about this episode:

It took place in an alternate 1980, with its own alternate (and earthbound) Doctor acting as a super-agent for the M.I.7. (think of UNIT, Torchwood and UNCLE all rolled into one). Both had featured prominently in the two final episodes of season 12 and this alternate reality was the one where Penelope had dropped her former companion after their own, bittersweet parting of the ways at the end of season 13.

The overall story bore deliberate similarities to that of Doctor Who and the Silurians, but with a much shorter and simpler plot.

Of course, my use of the Sea Devils was not entirely unrelated to their imminent TV return but it also allowed me to explicitly introduce in play a notion which had only been implicit so far – the fact that Silurians and Sea Devils are NOT native to Lady Penelope’s own continuum. So far, these two species had never been featured (or even mentioned) in our past fifteen seasons – and for a good reason. In Penelope’s home reality (which also differs from the continuum of the TV show in other, more obvious ways), Silurians and Sea Devils simply do not exist - so the so-called “M.I.7.” reality, with its strong Third Doctor vibe, was the ideal setting to introduce these creatures in play.

Aside from the emotional aspect of Penelope’s and Dorian’s reunion, one of the strongest moments of this episode was a very tense (albeit purely verbal) confrontation between Penelope and the new incarnation of the alternate, earthbound Doctor, who now insists on being called “the Major” – think of the Third Doctor, but with a personality resembling a particularly unpleasant caricature of the Brigadier (who, incidentally, was prematurely killed off in this specific alternate reality). I had anticipated some tension between this character and the usually more pacifist Penelope – but it actually went beyond my expectations, making the entire episode even more focused and emotionally charged.

So, Dorian is back in the TARDIS – at least for a few adventures. Both he and Penelope have changed since their last encounter but they instantly “clicked back” as soon as they got reunited. The presence of Penelope’s new travelling companion, the very reasonable and responsible Xara, will undoubtedly add an interesting element to the mix!  

Next stop: the forests of Cheem, in a very, very far future, to honor a promise made a few seasons ago between Dorian and one of Jabe’s cousins…