The multiverse holds infinite possibility and diversity. Unfortunately, some individuals don’t appreciate that chaotic state of affairs and seek to impose an oppressive and entropic order. The Disruptors want to return the multiverse to a collapsed state, as was the case in the youthful eons of existence, and to that end seek the union of FireFrost, a sentient weapon of massive destruction.
Only the forces of Valhalla Nova and Parallel Zero-Zero stand against the ancient threat of the Disruptors. Alongside Luther Arkwright and Rose Wylde, can you uncover their plans and save the Multiverse?
Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels is an 186-page supplement for Runequest 6, published by The Design Mechanism and written/developed by Chad Bowser, Pete Nash, Bryan Steele and Lawrence Whitaker.
Based on the two-volume comic series by Bryan Talbot, the game comes complete with many excellent illustrations and full-page images. The supplement adopts a clean two-column format, scattered with examples and plenty of spot illustrations.
The PDF version contains ample bookmarking of chapters, sections and subsections. It also contains a table of contents and two-page index and has in context bookmarks scattered around the books where one section refers to something covered in another. All very convenient to use in play or when prepping a new adventure.
Luther Arkwright and the agents of Valhalla stand between the multiverse and absolute Disruption. Spawned from the mind of talented writer/artist Bryan Talbot, Arkwright’s battles have been charted through two comic series – since collected into graphic novels. Valhalla seeks to maintain order and end Disruption across the parallels, infinite dimensions that offer the series – and the game – a time travelling feel without any actual messing with temporal mechanics. Dimensions differ due to the absence or presence of key individuals or events, meaning one might embrace a Victorian steampunk ambience, another a transhuman singularity aesthetic – and yet all coexist simultaneously with now… in this case, sometime in 1981.
Every dimension has a Parallel designation, denoting their deviation from the core, Zero-Zero, home to Valhalla and the heart of resistance against the Disruptors.
For those familiar with the stories, the supplement covers events and characters from both the original and Heart of Empire, although it suggests setting your own game before either. For those who haven’t read the comics, the back of the book has an 11-page summary of events – or, you could head over to Big Finish and grab their David Tennent starring audio drama version of the original! Better yet, I thoroughly recommend you read the Luther Arkwright graphic novels, which I personally have read several times over the years since I discovered it.
The Design Mechanism has chosen to use a modified version of their Runequest 6 game to power the crunch of the game, layered with minor changes to match Arkwright’s multiverse. We do away with diverse Cultures, for example, as a means to differentiate characters, but expand Skills and Careers to consider the extended potentials of a contemporary setting and the unique facets of the Parallels.
To be clear from the outset, Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels is not a self-contained game and requires either the full Runequest 6 rule set or the free Runequest Essentials to play. The rules make this clear and also note that the section on Mysticism – describing the sort of processes that allowed Luther in the original story to transcend his Disruptor conditioning and probe his inner potential – only expands on the material in Runequest 6. To use the described material fully requires the full Runequest 6 rules – though you can manage without if you dispense with the Mysticism.
The game also embraces the unique potentials of individuals in Luther Arkwright – both in their special abilities and powers, and in their personal frailties, flaws and weaknesses.
Luther Arkwright’s adventures in opposition to Disruptors and sympathisers alike leads to a lot of physical and mental hardship – not to mention his own personal abuse through substance abuse and living rough! To better handle character condition, the supplement introduces Tenacity Points – a mental equivalent to Hit Points. When exposed to horrors, torture and similar mental trauma, characters take damage to their Tenacity. When the value drops below zero, temporary Conditions become permanent. Taking Tenacity damage double the original Starting Value drives the character into complete mental shutdown – and likely means it’s time to generate a new character.
Technology and Equipment undergoes a flavourful uplift for Luther Arkwright, given the fantasy background of the original Runequest core. With civilisation come firearms and bombs, but Arkwright seems to travel parallels rich in the arcane and the retro. Steam and Clockpunk reign, as do the questionable practices of alchemy and biomancy. The chapter on this offers a scattering of ideas and specifics, but rightly leaves the bulk of the work with the GM. Running adventures through the Parallels means infinite worlds and variations, and to catalogue all the potential gear would warrant too much space. Better to offer a flavour and save a tech manual for later, an option for those who want it.
One way the system assists the GM falls to a bunch of random tables that allow the rapid generation of Random Technology. Nothing like an interesting and mysterious gadget to spice up an adventure or provide the MacGuffin at the centre of a bizarre arms race, whether between the characters and Disruptors, or perhaps some upstart natives of the current Parallel. You roll the type of device, the technology level, broad game effect, description and flaws – and then round it off with some unique trait, like the possibility it came from another Parallel, the item’s owner is looking for it, or it appears to have been stolen from the deepest, darkest vaults of Zero-Zero with no explanation as to how it might have got here.
The Firearms & Combat section handles the key difference between vanilla Runequest and the Luther Arkwright setting – big, dangerous guns. The section importantly notes that guns hurt – and if someone starts shooting you should probably get into cover. Many games make this important observation and not all players listen! While Luther Arkwright himself might survive incredible physical harm, the characters probably need to use their quick wits, honey tongues and keen minds to avoid some of the flying lead or searing energy beams.
As with other sections, Firearms & Combat expands on the Runequest core, adding new actions and special effects. All the fun and games of automatic fire, firing two guns (for that high-action, Matrix-style moment) and weapon accuracy get coverage, along with guidelines for creating your own weapons – with examples and new weapon traits, like hollow point, ablating, fragmentation and scatter.
A little over half of the book deals with creating and equipping your player characters; the remainder supports the GM with background on the multiverse, non-player character information and an introductory adventure. So, W.O.T.A.N & The Disruptors, for example, outlines the situation, history of W.O.T.A.N and Valhalla, primary personalities, and the threat of The Disruptors. The Parallels chapter provides detailed coverage of some key dimensions – those featured in the stories themselves – along with several shorter descriptions, and a set of guidelines for creating your own.
These sections distil of a lot of useful information down to make them accessible and viable as a basis for setting up your campaign. In principle, a GM could use the setting to support adventures on a single Parallel or pursue a much wider campaign across many worlds. A particularly adventurous GM might even try running a high-powered campaign with characters from the graphic novels, like Luther Arkwright and Rose Wylde – though that might be better suited as a one-off, perhaps, or a change of pace in a lower level campaign.
The Games Master Resources section ruminates on the themes of Luther Arkwright and the importance of having fun – which is good advice for any game! Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels is not a historical simulation and shouldn’t be played that way. The milieu of the series occupies the ground covered by high adventure TV spy series of the 60s and 70s, and characters driven by sex and psychedelia, like Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius or even the Austin Power series (OK… that might be a bit of a stretch). The game offers the potential to serve up doses of time travel, espionage, high action, and gnawing horror, scattered with mysticism, retro-technology and magic.
The supplement rounds off with an adventure and an appendix with suggested references in books, TV, radio and movies. The adventure, Thin Ice, sets the characters on their way to a Parallel once thought lifeless, with Earth gripped by a savage ice age. However, W.O.T.A.N. has adjusted this assessment and discovered not only life, but a Disruptor plot to unbalance the worlds already tenuous existence.
At times, the system in Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels comes across as needlessly complex and could have done with more assistance boiling down long processes into simplified checklists. For example, any character with psychic powers can choose to train and develop their mind toward new abilities. Someone with the power to move inanimate objects with their mind might choose to develop an ability to wield water as a weapon, throwing bolts or blasts of liquid at their enemies. The process to achieve this involves spending Experience Rolls – those achievements that might normally go to skill or characteristic increases – then achieve a bunch of Critical Successes with the old talent applied in new ways, then formulate the new talent in mechanical terms, then spend more Experience Rolls… It all feels a bit much.
However, it’s also possible that I have been using a lot of very simple systems to run games myself and those have only needed to encapsulate one genre.
All the additional complexity and details for firearms, psionics, vehicles and invention should allow a wily GM to handle the many worlds of the Parallels concept with a firm sense of mechanical certainty. A game supplement like this has to walk a fine line between information overload and leaving a GM to straight improvisation. I think Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels cautiously provides more information to support the broad potentials of the game – and a GM can always choose to ignore new options if they add too much complexity.
If you have ever liked the idea of running a time travel game but got worried you wouldn’t be able to wing it, Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels could be your answer. While a dose of historical flavour might kick off the theme for an adventure, you have no need to slavishly stick with it. You can mix genres and mess with continuity, then put it down to the influence of Disruptor agents. It isn’t an excuse for hand-waving bigs holes in your adventure ideas, but it does crank down the pressure of adherence to historical accuracy.
In the end, what Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels does provide is a great potential for adventure. Like the graphic novels, the details herein just scratch the surface and provide the tools to explore Parallels as yet undiscovered. Let W.O.T.A.N. be your guide and prepare for the unexpected!
My review is based on a PDF review copy provided by the publisher. Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels, published by The Design Mechanism and written/developed by Chad Bowser, Pete Nash, Bryan Steele and Lawrence Whitaker. Available as a PDF from RPGNow for $10.99.