Luther Arkwright ~ part 3: Mechanics

This third of three installments in our short series on Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels will look at a sampling of mechanics and attributes for expanding the solid foundation of the RuneQuest 6th Edition core rules into  a modern or futuristic setting, as well as a look at the system for including learned mystical abilities.

Dependencies

One of the perhaps hidden strengths of RuneQuest 6 are the Passions. These ratings for things which are of importance to the character to such a degree that they impact on decisions as well as performance go beyond influencing the creation and portrayal of personality, they have a demonstrable effect on gameplay. Simple, versatile, and as varied as the imaginations which sit at your table, Passions offer a lot toward encouraging roleplay in both narrative and mechanical ways.

Given the nature of the source material found in works like Luther Arkwright, Jerry Cornelius, The Stainless Steel Rat, and Ringworld the idea of addiction, and how to portray it in a meaningful, yet simple way is bound to come up. Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels takes this head on, and on page 39 of the text, gives us the chapter Traits, Passions, and Dependencies. We looked at Traits and their effect on characters in the second installment of this series. Passions, we have examined before when reviewing Mythic Britain and in our ongoing series of actual play recaps for a fantasy world built using RuneQuest 6th Edition. Dependencies are one more aspect of character which the designers have chosen to bring into contact with actual mechanics in order to inspire, provide interesting internal conflict, and help represent the needs and/or loss of control such things truly represent.

One might have expected dependencies such as those which plague and define the characters in the Arkwright graphic novels to perhaps have been modelled using Passions. While similar mechanically, they play a fundamentally different role in a session.

Fundamentally, the Dependency score represents the likelihood of one’s needs rising up and demanding satiation. As a significant part of the character’s psyche these are not mere urges which come and go, but things which are present all the time, begging, whispering, hinting, and from time to time insisting. As the stresses mount around the character, as it is left to fester, or in periods where its indulgence produces a great sense of relief, the grip it has on the character may grow and the times when it makes demands will grow more frequent. This grip of dependency may be loosened with effort, and with experience which shows the lie of the need. Still, characters in a secret war between parallel worlds are being ridden hard by reality and their call to duty… everyone cracks in time.

As an aspect of the personality mechanics offered by the system, what this all represents is a gauge of rising and falling stresses and related effects on the character as meat for roleplay. The drive to indulge the need can be accepted as a part of the character, a small seed of self-destruction or loss which eats at them and defines them as it foes so. It can be embraced and celebrated as a savior in the morass of bleakness through which the character soldiers, or even as one more thing for which to fight. Afterall, you know the Disruptors are far too busy and malign to raise a pint on a Friday night. Likewise, it can be opposed. The cancer of want can be resisted with the iron of the character’s will… no matter how rusted that iron may be, or become.

It’s one thing to say a game offers adult or grim elements, and quite another to provide simple, useful mechanics for helping the player find their way through those elements in play. Luther Arkwright is an example where something so simple as a percentile score and simple mechanics for natural, and player-guided increase and decrease of that score can have potent and campaign-affecting results. It can guide play simply as a score, but also as an invocation of the system. Its influence on behavior shapes actions, sources of and dealings with stress, and even has a mechanical effect on the Tenacity of the character (see below).

The range of dependencies given cover a great deal of behavioral territory from the expected drugs and alcohol to more hidden needs, such as use of particular modes of speech, types of personal adornment, or extremes of personal action. The section on Dependency runs from page 45 to 47 and consists of a description of what the mechanics represent in an Arkwright campaign, moves into concise and explicit instructions, then finishes with a descriptive list of 45 types of dependency which can be tweaked and refined to suit the character. Dependencies can be randomly determined, assigned, chosen, and developed in play.

Tenacity

After establishing the Trait which sets the character apart from the masses, defining the Passions which drive and shape them, and divining the Dependencies which mark them, Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels begins to move toward the things which will break them. On page 49 that movement is toward madness and the weakening of the spirit in the service of a draining and horrific hidden war.

The psychological health and fitness of the character is represented by the Tenacity score. This score is reduced in effectiveness by Dependencies. The greater a hold such needs have on a character, the more susceptible they become to the pressures which assail them. Signs of this weakening are the development of Conditions, such as phobias or altered outlooks. With enough psychological harm, and a lack of treatment, the character may become irrevocably insane or catatonic.

As with Dependency, this section opens with a description of what role this attribute plays in an Arkwright campaign as a model of the rules in action. This then segues into clear instructions on how Tenacity works. The 5 sources of harm to a character’s psyche are spelled out, as is how to gauge the Intensity of their impact. Intensity governs the strength of effect based on the strength of the stimulus. Stronger shocks or attacks on the mind of the character will make resistance harder by raising the Difficulty of a Willpower roll, and will cause greater Tenacity losses should that resistance by unsuccessful.

Should Tenacity be threatened and a significant amount subsequently lost, a Condition will arise. Twenty different types of Condition are defined and presented as a set of tools for allowing the onset of the Condition to flow with the events of the campaign. Conditions may be tailored to suit the scene, and are defined as Immediate or Deferred. Random tables are provided for when appropriate. A character coming in contact with a horrific scene which defies everything they believe to be true about the universe might suffer a massive and Immediate reaction, which one undergoing cruel torture might slowly come to display the trauma of that experience later.

The section winds up with discussing natural recovery and the effect of professional treatment, and the relative challenges each might face due to the nature of the cause. Treatment or natural recovery may be less effective in some circumstances, or simply not available.

As a long-term Call of Cthulhu Keeper I have a certain sensitivity to how sanity mechanics are presented. I prefer them to be fast, flexible, and rooted in things which are important to the character. I do not see them as a source of humor, or something to just treat as a random effect. The Design Mechanism have once again shown their facility for clear thinking and clean approaches to system in this section. Tenacity adds a vector for the characters to suffer the horrors of their war, or other less comprehensible secrets, without unduly burdening the players with effects which are inappropriate, or systems which stop the narrative and bring out the books and charts.

Mysticism

The full rules for Mysticism are presented in the RuneQuest 6th Edition rules. Players already familiar with these rules in actual play will be able to pick up Luther Arkwright and run with them. Groups less familiar or unfamiliar will need to refer to the core book to get a sense of what Mysticism offers, how its abilities are chosen, and how they are implemented. Functionally the same as in RQ6, Mysticism in Luther Arkwright demonstrates a model of a functional, source-appropriate skin on the rules for a specific campaign.

Drawing on a character’s mystical attribute, Prana, students of a Path of Enlightenment may be capable of superhuman or supernatural abilities. A Path may be chosen at character creation as the character’s Trait, or may be something learned in play. Either way, the source and intent of the Path are to be worked out as an outlook, repository of knowledge, and valued secret protected by its adherents. Being a student of a Path is becoming part of a tradition, complete with the interactions of student and mentor, and with fellow students.

The description of Mysticism outlines which Mystic Talents from the core rules are inappropriate for play in Arkwright campaigns or need modification, and then defines seven new ones which are drawn from the source material. This is a fantastic example of how to do the same when building your own worlds or borrowing established media for your home game.

Technology

The Technology section firmly caught my attention on my first passes through the text as if there is anything which is a bane to SF and future-based games, it is the question of gear, devices, and tools of the trade. Some games are slammed for having too few, others for too many, and most for these items being inappropriate, ill-suited, or just woefully out-of-date even before they see print.

Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels takes on this problem with even greater potential for disaster due to its setting allowing for vast differences in development in its infinite parallels exposing the characters to different periods of history, levels of tech, styles of technical development, and so on. How can such diversity be modelled without exhausting the resources and imagination of the GM and players. How can the items and societies shown in the novels be extrapolated into effective meaning in game terms?

The Technology chapter begins on page 72 and deals with the core of this tricky problem until page 93. It does not truly end there, however, it simply shifts its focus to more specialized devices; those being weapons first and then on 108 to vehicles.

The basic approach taken by the game is that of a toolkit, loaded with a wide variety of very practical and source-appropriate examples. With the premise of the setting allowing for substantial differences in tech from parallel to parallel, any other approach may have been madness. Description, example, and sets of charts to guide planned or spontaneous creation are all provided in this section, and organized under specific guiding principles of design.

The chapter divides its take on design and development into types, offers guidance as to aesthetics and style, and then finishes up with rules and instructions in the clear voice which makes the Design Mechanism such a prize among RPG producers. The types described are suitable for more than just an Arkwright campaign, and should have a GM covered no matter what sort of modern or futuristic campaign they wish to convert, invent, or model. The types are Steampunk and Clockpunk; Alchemy, Biomancy and Chemistry; Psionicology and Multiversal Technology; Computers and Nanotech; Transhumanics; and finally Xenoscience. The chapter ends with sections on Item Creation, Random Technology, Standard Equipment, and Lifestyle.

Each type or area of design is described and given context, then a list of items in that area are described in one or two paragraphs. Specific rules for problems or perks associated with that design area, such as Bad Mixtures in the Alchemy, Biomancy, and Chemistry section, are provided after these descriptions.

Item Creation itself begins on page 80 and serves a dual purpose. It functions as a means to facilitate the creations of character inventors and engineers, and as a blueprint for the GM and collaborators to develop equipment for the campaign. This is organized along twin development lines, in-game and out-of-game. The process is defined by defining the concept, setting the tech base, isolating the game effect and its efficiency, preparing a description, assigning flaws and quirks, and the option of providing a unique or signifying trait. The tables associated with these stages are helpfully planned to allow selection or random choice, for ease of use whatever the situation warrants.

Modern Combat

Firearms and the rules governing their use, are provided between pages 94 and 107. Doing for modern and SF combat what RuneQuest did for pre-industrial and fantasy combat, the section describes numerous combat maneuvers and effects, special effects, and information for the creation of firearms-based Combat Styles (RQ6, p132) suitable for your campaign.

The new maneuvers put firearms use into gritty context as a means to kill or be killed, emphasize team work and tactics, and keep in mind the varied munitions of the broad palette of eras possible within the rules and source material provided. Like its predecessor for fantasy, Arkwright offers up a system which is streamlined, fairly quick to learn and use, and very punishing to characters prone to attacking without thought. Characters will get hurt, may get maimed, and have a good chance of dying or being forced into retirement by combat. Opponents are likely to lose their cool, break, or surrender, or be compelled to do so. The section lists out Special Effects from RQ6 which need to be modified, and then describes specific SEs for firearms and ranged combat. Users of the RQ6 Combat App will be happy to learn that the app has been updated to include all of these already. Special Effects include ideas such as pinning down opponents, weapons malfunctions, dropping wounded targets, and so on.

Death is not the most important or even the most likely outcome in this system, but it is a looming threat to be feared always. This has amazing effects on collaborative play, and on the options which open up despite a potentially deadly encounter taking place. From the grim and limb-removing nature of Star Wars combat, to the desperate battles of more hard-science fiction, much is possible with a familiarity with these rules which may spoil you for others.

The chapter contains Spot Rules for combat on pages 97 and 98, then delves into specific firearm creation rules. Rules for automatic fire are simple and effective, without creating a pull for all characters to go all automatic all of the time.

The section finishes up with a look at a variety of weapons from different tech bases, how to gain access to weapons, and then moves into armour and its effects. The chapter ends with notes about Psionics in combat, and the information tables for firearms.

Vehicles

The last item we will examine for this review is the vehicles section. Another area where rules can get bogged down or problematic is in its representation of vehicles, and their interactions with the characters. The intitial focus is on demonstrating how to describe vehicles in RuneQuest and explaining their primarily abstract context within the rules, then it steps into vehicle creation. Most vehicles in the game are described similarly, but large spacecraft or very advanced vehicles have some minor differences.

In essence, vehicles are represented as an arrangement of scores for Hull, Speed, Systems, and Size. Vehicles may also have Traits which define a special role or function it might have. Specific rules within the section govern combat, navigation, and pursuit interactions, appropriate weapon types and sizes for various vehicles, the distinctions between civilian and military craft, and vehicle construction. In ten pages of contextual description, detail, examples, rules, and charts, the Design Mechanism have given us the tools for a galaxy of options across an ocean of time.

Conclusion to part 3

This wraps up this look at RuneQuest 6th Edition system expansions and implementation in Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels.

The is the final part of this series until such time as the print copy of the book arrives, and until recaps of actual play begin. If readers of this series end up reading and using this sourcebook, I would like to hear from you about your experiences with, and uses for the material within its covers.

For my overall assessment, please refer to the Introduction, where it is given in short form, or between the lines of each of these three installments where I believe my praise for it glows brightly. Few supplements are must-haves. For a RuneQuest player, this is one of them.

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