Behind the Lines: Implementation

Let’s suppose that you are running the Luther Arkwright setting for Mythras, the Design Mechanism’s masterful take on the D100 rules made famous by RuneQuest. Let’s further suppose that you have picked up the loose campaign framework for Arkwright, Parallel Lines. Let’s go even further out into speculative territory and imagine that you have also read the first two parts of this series on the scenario supplement (Part 1, Part 2) and are looking for more context and advice on how to approach the second scenario in the book: This Corrosion. Well, if all or perhaps just some of those suppositions prove to be true, then this entry is for you.

Parallel Lines was done in a classic Chaosium style wherein the threads of a campaign are spotted and brought into play by those who play it. Which scenarios are played, what other scenarios are inserted in between those in the book, in which order the transposable scenarios are are played – all of these choices make these loose campaign-framing collections uniquely the collaboration between the writers, the GM, and the players. They will not play the same way from group to group or time to time. Some scenarios in the book are more explicitly connected than are others, but each has elements that suggest, either overtly or covertly, elements found in the rest. The title provides the biggest theme running through the full set of scenarios: Parallel Lines. What that theme turns out to mean, to you and those you play with, is yours to discover.

Running The Scenario: This Corrosion (Spoilers)

When you decide to run This Corrosion, I would not be surprised if the first time that you read it in preparation for play that you think of it as a railroad. It isn’t, but it certainly dresses like one. On the surface we have a tale of stranding with a clear and present need to escape that the GM is encouraged to foster and justify within the context of the setting, the campaign as it has run so far, and most importantly, within the context of who the characters are.

Arrival

First, the characters have either gotten stranded on Time Slip while returning from the first scenario in the book, or from some other scenario that has been used in between or in its stead. Their mission is incomplete, some or all of them may be wounded, and as they very quickly discover, this place is not at all hospitable on any level from the lowliest creature to the loftiest leader of men and once-men. It is conceivable that the scenario is being used on its own and simply starts with a translation mishap between parallels, which amounts to the same thing. The characters, from the very first moments of play find themselves in some place that they did not wish to visit, and once there, have every reason to want to leave.

Should I stay or should I go now?

The feeling of desperation is essential to the mood of This Corrosion. That feeling should grow in intensity and change in motivation as the scenario is played. The agents will at first feel some sort of desperation on a purely survival level as the horrors of Time Slip begin to reveal themselves, first in the form of monstrous beasts, then in the form of human and ostensibly human threats. By then, they will also have had to recognize and begin to come to terms with where they are. Somehow, the beauty of southern France has become a fractured and brutally dangerous hell-on-earth and has done so in such an extreme and perverse fashion that it can be in no way attributed to the work of petty local warlords and environmental disasters. Something far more insidious must be at work, and whether they realize it at first or not, the characters and their players will be exposed to what it means when the Disruptors are not opposed. As they recognize all of this, they will also experience reasons to stay – and those may cause feelings of desperation all on their own.

It changes a person

As the scenario continues, there is more to learn and so more to lose. In writing it, the idea that it was a campaign waiting to happen was a constant pressure causing a lot of rewrites to trim and refocus the scenario on a single experience that could be used to set up more visits, or serve as the basis of an ongoing campaign of the group’s own devising. Oddly, that set up a process of providing obvious and less obvious details for the GM to use to metaphorically bring home the experience of a world on the brink of destruction while the players try to actually (in the fictional sense) bring their characters home. Instead of giving the GM a battalion of NPCs to learn and try to do justice, the situations and motivations behind the individuals the Agents could meet were presented against a backdrop of physical movement from peril to perceived safety. At any moment, one of the detailed NPCs or any one of those presented as suggestions for the GM to run with might perish. Some or all of the PCs might get separated and be left trying to survive in this insanely unsurvivable place. Violence could erupt at any time. The weather might strike with deadly force at any time. Creatures beyond comprehension might attack at any time – or all at once. As the pressure builds and as the end goal starts to seem more and more impossible, the role of the GM is not so much to push on through events toward whatever comes of the struggle, but to give the struggle – however it plays out – a very human context with each experience having a very human cost.

Metaphors and Frameworks? But…

If you strip everything away from This Corrosion but its sequence of events and cast of NPC antagonists, what you have is a cruelly and unusually punishing race against time while trying to outwit, outlast, and outplay a vastly superior force that tilts the scale away from the PCs’ favor in terms of equipment, numbers, organization, and familiarity with the environment. If these dedicated soldiers and their powerful warlord do not stop the Agents, there are still the Rib Rippers, the Rolling Horrors, the Once-Men and a gruesome set of other deadly creatures arrayed against them at every stop, start, turn, and intersection. Any sane GM would expect the characters to die in transit. Stripped of nuance, and a specific effort to run it as a personal and demonstrable experience of what the Agents represent and why they oppose the Disruptors, there could really be no legitimate reason to run the scenario except as some form of judged tournament challenge. That might be fun, and the competition might get fierce, but it would be an opportunity lost. This Corrosion isn’t about the physical journey the Agents make across the Camargue. It is about how that journey affects them on a personal level, and how that in turn can inspire and inform the players as they embark on a campaign in the Luther Arkwright setting.

So… what if they die?

So… what if they do? You are, after all, running a Mythras game, not something where survival is expected or required. The violence as presented in the system is punishing and it takes wit and skill to reach a point where the odds are in the favor of the PCs. Player skill matters. Further, in Luther Arkwright (go read it and see) the violence is ultraviolence. It’s not for Agents who are faint of heart. The Agents are scarred. They are traumatized. They are hanging on by a thread in some cases and just one drink away from collapse – yet they fight on. Why? That is the point of This Corrosion – to show them why – even if they prove the point posthumously to a new batch of characters. The scenario, live or die, can be counted a success if the players get a real and personal glimmer of what the Disruptors want, who gets harmed by the Disruptors getting it, what natural and urban wonders are lost, and how easy it is to give up on a Parallel because it is too much, too hard, and too brutal. Giving up is how they win.

So… what if they stay?

Well, if they choose to stay and fight the good fight then your campaign has definitely taken a turn toward becoming fully yours. With a little time, a little success and failure, and the pressures of their duty as Agents, you may get them away from Time Slip and into some or all of the other scenarios in the book. With a little death, you may find the players taking on the roles of other variations of the characters from different parallels. If the time on Time Slip has been worthwhile, there is no loss, and much to gain as it is a fascinating location rich with possibility.

Preparation for Improvisation

In the end, as the GM of this scenario, you will be pressed to use the combat rules to their full extent in terms of varying degrees of technological weaponry. You will be given creatures of unnerving appearance and seemingly unstoppable power who will require good understanding of how to run creatures in Mythras. You will also need to be ready to run mass combats with mixed forces and machinery in soul-crushing environmental conditions. These are not small requirements, but these are just that surface level of the scenario. This is what informs and allows the real meat of This Corrosion to work its effect. That real meat is an opportunity for you as a GM to bring your players’ interests out into view. It is a chance for you to take on diverse and emotional roles against the backdrop of a desperate flight to hoped-for freedom, and you will need to improvise each of these roles and make them not only distinct but like vibroblades to the heart. In this scenario, the sick, the infirm, the young and hopeful? They do not die off-screen with a swell of violins and saccharine sadness. They die in the mud, blood, and gunsmoke. They die in the arms of the Agents. They die screaming for help and pleading not to be left behind. Each death is a scar to be carved into the Agents and you, as the GM, are the knife. How do Agents get the way that Bryan Talbot describes them and this came casts them? They get that way through you.

Do you want to know more?

If you do want to know more, let me know either in a comment below or elsewhere on social media.

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