Luther Arkwright ~ part 2: Characters

This second of three installments in our short series on Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels will look at character creation in a modern or futuristic context, with the added prospect of psychic abilities (Traits) included. For the purposes of this post, we will go through the steps of creating a Valhalla Agent for Luther Arkwright as though we were new to RuneQuest. As we go through that process, it will be noted where using Luther Arkwright as a toolkit for modern RuneQuest gaming might diverge from what is covered.

The character creation section starts on page 17 and runs in clear stages to page 38 (including brief career and new skill descriptions), with additional reference material for additional abilities and powers continuing on until page 70. As is usual for the Design Mechanism, careful attention is paid to laying out a simple process with step-by-step guidance which inspires character ideas as it shapes the mechanical details. As we saw in the series overviewing the Mythic Britain campaign setting, the initial stages of character generation begin with the RuneQuest core rules, or the free RuneQuest Essentials. As we looked at the random generation method in that previous review, this one will use the point-buy method, and start with a specific concept in mind.

It should be noted that as Essentials, while immense for a quickstart product, does not contain every option for play that might be desired for an Arkwright campaign (such as the rules on the occult powers of Mysticism). That said, practically everything you might want is in there, including a kitchen sink. In this post, page and content references will be for the RuneQuest 6th Edition core rules only.

When using the point-buy method in RuneQuest (RQ, page 12), the authors helpfully note on page 18 of Luther Arkwright that the process will generally flow as listed below:

  1. Begin with a basic character concept
  2. Determine Characteristics (RuneQuest page 18)
  3. Identify Traits (Arkwright page 40)
  4. Derive Attributes (RuneQuest page 18 + Arkwright page 19)
  5. Determine Culture (Parallel and Sociological Type, Arkwright page 22)
  6. Determine Passions (Arkwright page 20)
  7. Decide Pre-Valhalla Career (Arkwright page 24)
  8. Determine Background Events (Arkwright pages 31 to 34, or RuneQuest pages 27-30 as appropriate)
  9. Determine additional Background elements, such as Social Class and family (Arkwright page 30)
  10. Determine Dependencies (Arkwright page 45-47)
  11. Decide how the character came into Valhalla’s service (Arkwright page 29)
  12. Determine final skills

For campaigns not in the Arkwright setting, these basic steps will still occur but 3, 10, and 11 might be skipped or altered as needed, while steps 5, 8, and 9 would be flavored as appropriate for whatever it is that you decide to run. Step 3 handles giving a character a psychic power and so might not be appropriate to a campaign setting you devise. Step 10 handles the genre-element of addiction and vice which is a part of the series and related fiction, but might not be an aspect you desire for your campaign. Step 11 is an Arkwright-specific stage that may or may not be relevant to a campaign you design unless you intend to have characters be recruited into some form of organization or conspiracy outside the normal purview of their occupations, such as joining the Rebel Alliance, or earning 00 status.

The bulk of this range of pages is taken up by specifics of character details, such as explaining the new skills and powers. For absolute newcomers to RuneQuest, depending on the style of their previous gaming background, this might seem like a lengthy section for something like character generation. Others will perhaps take the opposite view. The first time through generation will entail becoming familiar with its terms and options. If new to Arkwright as well, it will mean becoming familiar with that setting if its use is intended. Once done once, subsequent passes will flow more and more from memory or the character sheet, due to the nature of the process.

Some may comment on the interruption of linear flow in the stages of character generation, such as leaping between Arkwright and RuneQuest, and jumping forward and backward through the Arkwright book. From my perspective, the layout of the book will make any reference in play and later in the campaign easier. For initial character generation it will have an impact on time needed, but that impact comes at the point where the book is wholly unfamiliar, and so has the least overall impact on the player in terms of needed speed. The process of character generation will acquaint the reader with the layout, and then afterward, the clearly-defined sections and their arrangement will be easy to access when in need.

If I were to be making a large number of characters, or assisting a group in generating characters at the same time, I might choose to order the stages differently, such as dealing with generating the characteristics and derived values first, then moving into Arkwright or my campaign specifics such as Traits and Background Events. Such a decision would depend on personal preference, group needs, and familiarity. As mentioned above, if there is familiarity with the process already, many of the steps which reference the RuneQuest core book will be done mostly by memory and not actually require digging into the book for many specifics. I would expect people to need to reference page 18 of RuneQuest for their derived attributes and skill bases, and reference the skills section to identify their cultural/professional skill options. For those with a group looking for a similar page for the Arkwright material, Belgath, a member of the Design Mechanism Forum, has put together a one-page guide which can be found in this thread.

Luther Arkwright and the Valhalla Project?

While phrased like that it might sound like a band from a list by Robert Anton Wilson, the setting features a few iconic individuals and organizations. For those new to the Arkwright setting, the Valhalla Project is an organization spearheaded by an AI called W.O.T.A.N which seeks to oppose the machinations of the Disruptors across all the Parallel worlds of the multiverse. The Project seeks to prevent the destabilizing and domineering influences of the Disruptors, ensure that each parallel is free to develop and diverge on its own, and ultimately to protect the multiverse itself from destruction. To do this, people with special talents and outlooks are recruited to serve in a shadowy war across the expanse of space and the panoply of dimensions. The characters we play, are such people. In the graphic novel, we follow the exploits of one such agent, Luther Arkwright and his allies and aides. In the game, we create our own exploits across limitless parallels, making our own enemies, striking our own blows, and suffering our own fates.

Sample Character

Concept

Generating a character using the point-buy method takes a little longer for the first step than random generation, but simply entails dividing 80 points among the 7 characteristics with a minimum of 3 in each except for Intelligence and Size which require a minimum of 8. The point of point-buy is to be able to produce a specific type of character and play it, rather than using the random rolls as inspiration and discovery of a character. For this sample character, I was curious about what active recruitment into the Valhalla Project might mean for a character raised in ‘small town nowhere’ whose isolation and lack of connection with others makes him a very unlikely candidate for altruistic action. With hints of Subdivisions by Rush floating in my mind’s ear I grabbed a pad of paper and began to produce a framework for an agent just recruited to Valhalla and beginning the rise up from alienation toward active participation in a cause beyond imagination.

I am imagining a younger character, fresh out of school perhaps, bleak of outlook and temperament, who was recruited more for his potential and his resilience in the face of abnegation than for his current abilities. He is very small and just coming to terms with the fact that he has reached his adult size and it is not something which matches his towering ego. He has endured enough teasing that his opinion of his neighbors could not realistically be lowered, but he has hopes of rising above all that one day. As we determine his trait, skills and more about his culture, this concept will take on more nuance and detail.

Characteristics

Assigning points in a range from 3-18 for 5 of the 7 characteristics I decided on:

  • Strength 9
  • Constitution 14
  • Dexterity 12
  • Power 15
  • Charisma 9

Assigning the remaining points in a range from 8-18, I decided on:

  • Intelligence 12
  • Size 9

Trait

For determining the special Trait of a character using a random roll is encouraged, although the GM and the flavor of the campaign should influence Trait selection as needed. My roll turned up Psionics, and as the development of such psychic abilities would both explain and support the background of alienation I wanted to explore in my Agent, I was quite satisfied with that. There are 37 entries on the Traits chart on page 40, and each one offers an edge of some kind to its possessor.

Traits range from physical enhancements through mental enhancements, and on to actual psychic or supernatural-seeming abilities. Examples are enhanced agility which offers a significant boost to initiative and reaction (Strike Rank), enhanced ability to absorb and retain information, or even developing a sixth sense they can rely on to alert them of danger. Some Traits are not easily categorized as being an obvious physical, or mental advantage, or even as some form of empowerment to act in some atypical way. Some do things such as singling the character out as being truly unique in the vast spread of parallels, or slowing their aging to a crawl. Generally speaking, the Traits are described in a short paragraph and have 1 specific effect on the character, such as enhancing their Strike Rank, or Damage Bonus, or something like ignoring penalties for darkness. If your character displays such a Talent, then it is time to note the effect on the character and move on to the next step.

The trait generated for our sample character was Psionics, which is somewhat more involved. How much more involved? Let’s get into it in detail as this represents the most complicated an Arkwright character could get.

Psionics provides a character with a new skill limited only to such characters called Psionics. That skill provides access to a single suite or Discipline of classical psychic abilities (Mind Games chapter, Arkwright p56). These are presented in a random chart of 9 Disciplines on page 57. Some rare Psychic characters might display an early talent for more than one Discipline, but with sufficient in-game support, any could can conceivably develop new Disciplines slowly over time. Each Discipline requires its own iteration of the Psionics skill. Each of the 6 talents within a Discipline are governed by the Psionics skill developed for that Discipline. For example, a character might possess the Clairvoyance Discipline which means they have a Psionics: Clairvoyance skill. At chargen, they will have access to 2 of the 6 Clairvoyance talents and each will be checked using the Psionics Clairvoyance skill, as will the remaining 4 talents in the Discipline when they are learned. Later in life, the character might be enabled to develop the Telepathy Discipline, and that will entail learning Psionics: Telepathy for the use of whichever of the 6 talents that Discipline contains that they come to develop.

Some groups might allow selection of the specific Discipline at character creation, or a specific concept might entail this, but I think it is more fun to go along with the suggested advice to roll randomly. My result was: Attrition, a nasty Discipline with a focus on draining others of energy in some way. I imagine my friends are chuckling at the appropriateness of this roll and a character I might play. Now, I need to select the two talents from the 6 available in Attrition I wish to start with. My character, now taking on darker and more reactive tones in my mind, will be likely to develop more talents as the campaign continues. My two choices are Drain Prana and Mental Shield. This was not an easy choice, as the whole suite of talents is very enticing, but these two tie most closely to that sense of alienation and isolation I am basing the character on, while representing something of potential value to the Valhalla Project.

Some aspects of Psionics use are limited by the character’s mastery of the Discipline they are using. This is referred to as Psionic Intensity and it is an additional derived value not seen in non-psychic characters. This value controls the impact of effects created by the Psychic’s use of Psionic talents, and acts as a limiter on how many talents may used at one time. For example, a character able to Absorb Heat would have the amount of heat they can absorb be determined by the value of their Psionic Intensity. If it were rated as a 5, then they could choose to lower the temperature by up to 5 degrees Celsius per round. Half of their Psionic Intensity rating would be the number of active talents they could maintain. In this example, that would be 2 talents.

The base skill for any Psionics: Discipline skill is the value of the Power characteristic multiplied by 2. This sample recruit we are generating therefore, has a Psionics: Attrition skill rated at 30% before we increase that with our skill point allotments. Psionic Intensity is derived from the Psionics skill rating and stands as 20% of its total. If our final score for the skill stayed at 30% after character generation we would have an Intensity value of 6. If instead I managed to raise the Psionics: Attrition skill to 50% in chargen, I would have an Intensity of 10. That would mean the character could conceivably use 5 talents at the same time (such as balancing offensive and defensive abilities) and using Drain Prana as an example, be able to leech 10 points of Prana (the internal power which governs abilities like these) from a target per round. That’s nasty. A talent like Mental Shield also has its effectiveness in protecting its user governed by Psionic Intensity. The Intensity of the offensive power used against it is compared to the Intensity of the Shield. The attack is negated if the Shield is of greater Intensity, and acts as armor to reduce effectiveness if it is of lesser intensity.

This part done, we are ready to move on to the next step. This step entailed some quick die rolls (1 for the Trait, and 1 for the Psionic Discipline) and the choice of 2 of the 6 available talents in that Discipline. What took me about 20 minutes to write about, took me about 5 minutes to do in real life. Once I am more familiar with the talents, this will be much faster.

Derived Attributes

As the Trait determined does not have an immediate effect on the derived values of the character, they will be:

  • Action Points: 2  (governs number of actions)
  • Strike Rank: 12  (initiative bonus)
  • Damage Bonus: -1D2
  • Luck Points: 3
  • Prana Points: 15 (energy for psychic or occult powers)
  • Tenacity Points: 15 (mental health in the face of terrible things)
  • Healing Rate: 3   (wound recovery rate)
  • Experience Modifier: 0  (bonus to XP)
  • Movement Rate: 6m
  • Height and Weight: 160cm, 60kg

Action Points and Strike Rank are tied to Intelligence and Dexterity in different ways. Luck, Prana, and Tenacity are tied to Power. Healing Rate is tied to Constitution, and the Experience Modifier is tied to Charisma. For greater detail on these relationships, check out the previous character creation examples on this blog, or the free RuneQuest Essentials.

Skills

Starting with the Standard Skills printed on the sheet, we can total up the scores using the listed characteristics as the base. We will have points to boost these later.

Standard Skills

Athletics STR+DEX: 21%
Brawn STR+SIZ: 18%
Conceal DEX+POW: 27%
Customs INTx2: 24%
Dance DEX+CHA: 21%
Deceit INT+CHA: 21%
Endurance CONx2: 28%
Evade DEXx2: 24%
First Aid INT+DEX: 24%
Home Parallel INTx2: 24%
Influence CHAx2: 18%
Insight INT+POW: 27%
Native Tongue INT+CHA: 21%
Perception INT+POW: 27%
Sing CHA+POW: 24%
Stealth DEX+INT: 24%
Swim STR+CON: 23%
Unarmed STR+DEX: 21%
Willpower POWx2: 30%

Culture/Parallel and Sociological Type

The next step is to delve deeper into where this character comes from and how that affects who he is. We do this by looking at their culture and sociological type. This is similar to what occurs in RuneQuest for fantasy games, but refined for Arkwright. This step might be predetermined by the setup of the campaign, or it might be used to influence the setup. As this is simple a sample character, we will model the need to choose one.

For this character, I am torn between a smoke-drenched Industrial Age, and a sanitized and disaffected Computer Age. What might be most interesting is a Computer Age with trappings of a pervasive and oppressive age of steam, where a ruling elite keeps a stranglehold on profits and inventiveness. We’ll see. Choosing the Computer Age culture for now, to explore more modern themes, we receive the skills which the character is most likely to possess.

Cultural Skills are arranged as a set of defaults, then a set of choices in a range for transportation skills and development skills. The selections I made are as follows:

  • Customs- This skill has a bonus of 40%
  • Home Parallel
  • Computers
  • Native Tongue – this skill has a bonus of 40%
  • Drive (Crawler) – Varied meanings in the game, but for this character think lumbering steam powered vehicles…!
  • Drive (Flyer) – He learned to fly (maybe Ornithopters!) to get away from it all~
  • Electronics
  • Engineering

Sociological type also influences available skills. I am seeing a strong thread of hard work in the character concept, so of the available types listed on page 22 of Arkwright, I am going to go for Manufacturing. There are 7 cultural types from pre-industrial through to starfaring, and there are 7 sociological types to choose from.

Manufacturing background for sociological type led me to these choices:

  • Brawn
  • Endurance
  • Engineering
  • Mechanisms

For the associated skills, you have 100 points to distribute, but 1arqskilllimtswithout the usual caps of 5% minimum and 15% maximum per selected skill. You do have to put at least 1% into each of these cultural skills. It should be noted that there is an error in the information on page 20, paragraph 2. The typical limits from a RuneQuest game were not removed from the text. The boxed note on page 18 has the correct information.

Professional Skills

These skills are determined by your career before recruitment. This stage works as in the standard RuneQuest rules. I am not sure that I want the character to be too much older than a recent graduate, but I definitely imagine a background of working since he was old enough… which in the parallel I envision might be age 10 or so…

I am going to go with Mechanic and imagine a small child who is growing into a small man being selected for his ability to get into tight spaces and work on hard to access components. It was oppressive, hard, and dangerous work, and it has comprised most of his existence until his recruitment. That occupation provides access to the following skills:

  • Brawn
  • Endurance
  • Home Parallel
  • Influence
  • Willpower
  • Two Transportation skills (I choose Pilot: Flyer again, and Pilot: Walker)
  • Commerce
  • Craft (primary)
  • Craft (secondary)
  • Electronics
  • Gambling
  • Mechanisms
  • Streetwise

Skills which are duplicates of previous availabilities may be further improved. Skills which are options, such as 2 transportation skills, open up new options to use, or allow for further improvement of existing choices. Again, we have 100 points to distribute, again with a 1% minimum, no maximum, but this time without the restriction to touch on each of the skills. Each skill, once made available via training in one’s career and society has a base value determined by the character’s characteristics in the same way Standard Skills are.

Passions

The next step is to determine his Passions and Dependencies. Passions are things like love, hate, or loyalty and are major drivers of internal character conflict and motivation. They begin with a base of Intelligence + Power + 30% so this character, now with the name Rudyard Mortimer, starts out with his at a solid 57%. For this character we will start out with Loyalty to his Country. This is a concept he scarcely understands, but he feels the hard work of his nation means something important and should be protected. Next would be the Love of his life, and coworker in the factories of his nothing little town. He even thinks of trying to be more than he is because of what it might mean for her if he were. Finally, comes Hate. Hate of something he has experienced all his life, and will never accept for himself or others. Bullying. He sees the managers as bullies and will come to view the Disruptors that way as well.

One additional Passion can be taken at a rating of Power multiplied by 5%. I imagine his might be an unexamined Loyalty to Company at 75%. How people can be tied to those things which shaped us with their hateful ways.

Dependencies

We start this element of chargen with another random roll. I got a 74 which put me very close to having multiple Dependencies, but the character will only be forced to wrestle with one. A second roll determines how intense the problem is. The roll I got this time was 36 which puts him in the category of regular indulgence… but in what? A final roll has him engaged in serious collecting. I now see him collecting engine parts and gears in great number, and kept highly organized. He keeps them sorted and cataloged, but never shares them with anyone.

Background, Past Events, and Recruitment

The last stages of complete character generation are to tease out some idea of how they came to be where they are at the start of play. By this stage, often a lot of pieces are falling into place and can simply be completed in tandem with the GM and group, but it is often intriguing to see where random chance can inspire and lead us.

A roll on the charts found between pages 31 and 34, a significant past detail which surfaces is that Mortimer has access to a secret hideout which he has divulged to no one. Due to my image of his poverty-stricken youth, I imagine this place might be beneath an abandoned factory and it is here that he has amassed his collection of engine parts.

Randomly rolling the circumstances of his recruitment, we find Mortimer was slowly groomed over several years by a front for Valhalla. This suggests to me that until he was old enough to enter the ranks, there were a few people here and there in the factory who nudged him in specific directions politically and in terms of his ambition to be an engineer. His development into a psychic and his penchant for piloting the vehicles on which he works was an added bonus.

The roll I made for Social Class turned out to be Citizen, unsurprisingly, as it makes up 50% of the range. This defines the amount of starting money the character has access to (1d100x100; 680 crowns for Mortimer), and helps define elements like their employment status, and personal assets. I see this as a recent elevation of status, and that Mortimer has been poor and scrimping his entire life. Now, thanks to steady support from his shadowy calling with Valhalla, he has both the confidence and potential resources to begin carving out a place for himself in his society. It makes sense to me that he has built himself an ornithopter from wreckage and cast off parts from his collection, and recently his improved financial condition has allowed him to make it relatively safe to fly.

He is still a working stiff, he has never traveled, he has had a very lean and limited education, and is lacking many rights, but the future seems to require shaded eye-wear.

Final Adjustments

With this complete, it is time to spend the last round of points to represent the training and investment of time by Valhalla in the character. This amounts to 150 points, and can be spent wherever needed among the character’s existing skills, or one combat or professional skill taken as a personal interest. These points can be distributed in increments of 1% and have no cap. On the record of the character below, skills in taken multiple times will be shown in one section only and will reflect the actual value of the skill after all adjustments.

I will distribute the bulk of these points among the character’s professional skills, but will take a Combat Style involving firearms to reflect a personal interest in the math and machinery of trajectories, and dreams of revenge against those larger and less-evolved. Wouldn’t it be grand if such thugs could be shot for sorting out by the divine?

Rudyard Mortimer (Complete Version)

Born poor and of value in a vehicle assembly factory only due to his small size and tenacity, Rudyard Mortimer grew up the butt of jokes and disinterest. As he matured, transient workers hinted a larger world awaited him once he reached adulthood, and guided him to books and concepts he never would have found on his own. Secretive and prone to collecting bits of shattered machines, Mortimer would never have found the love of his life, Carol Talbot, without such guidance.

Recently recruited to the Valhalla Project, he is uncovering hidden reserves of power he barely refused to acknowledge to himself, and learning that as an actual Psychic and example of Homo Novus, he is needed to fight a shadowy war against implacable enemies that exemplify the villainy and oppression he had been forced to endure his entire life…but no more.

  • Strength 9
  • Constitution 14
  • Dexterity 12
  • Power 15
  • Charisma 9
  • Intelligence 12
  • Size 9
  • Action Points: 2, Strike Rank: 12, Damage Bonus: -1D2
  • Luck Points: 3, Prana Points: 15, Tenacity Points: 15
  • Healing Rate: 3, Experience Modifier: 0, Movement Rate: 6m
  • Height and Weight: 160cm, 60kg

Standard Skills                          Cultural Skills                             Professional Skills

Athletics: 31%                           Customs: 65%                           Brawn: 33%
                                                 Home Parallel: 34%                   Endurance: 43%
Conceal: 37%                           Computers: 54%                        Willpower: 65%
Customs: 24%                          Native Tongue: 72%                  Drive (Walker): 37%
Dance: 21%                              Drive (Crawler): 60%                 Pilot (Flyer): 77% 
Deceit: 21%                                                                                Mechanisms: 54%
                                                 Engineering: 54%                      Streetwise: 34%
Evade: 44%                              Electronics: 34%
First Aid: 24%

Influence: 18%                         Combat Style – Urban: 51%
Insight: 27%                                  (Weapons: pistol, knife, Benefit: see Siege Warfare p135 RuneQuest)           

Perception: 27%
Sing: 24%
Stealth: 34%
Swim: 23%
Unarmed: 21%
 

Conclusion to part 2

This wraps up this look at character creation in Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels, and character creation for modern or futuristic settings via RuneQuest 6th Edition. As I hope is evident, just a little tweaking here and there could provide a group with a firm foundation on which to run any number of modern or SF games from Star Wars and Dr. Who on down to James Bond and Jason Bourne, or much, much more.

The first time through, I would expect a novice working between the two books to take an hour to generate a character they felt they understood. To generate this character myself after a thorough reading of Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels, and over a year of regular play of RuneQuest 6th Edition, took me less than 20 minutes including thinking and note-taking.

Typing it all up took ages. Ages.

Characters made for Arkwright have a competent feel to them, and a good degree of diversity. The Traits offer a lot of options and degrees of effect, and I find many of them to be very compelling and good hooks for character concepts. Whether ranging across many parallels, or working hard to save one, I feel like players should find a lot of depth to explore with this game and the characters it helps them create. These characters are more than just statistics which model fighting and bleeding for our entertainment. Each carries within it a hint of greatness and difference. Each is caught up in drives and emotions which push and pull them in different directions; bolstering them, but potentially tearing them down. Each suffers from all-too-human frailties, but each is capable of amazing feats of daring and prowess. These characters are heroes fit for a desperate future, a cold war past, a trippy metahorical deconstruction of the lies we tell ourselves, our last hope, or some combination of them all.

The final part of this series will focus on the new mechanics introduced in the book, to allow for such a huge range of modern and futuristic options.

In this series:

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