Brainstorming New GURPS Campaigns

As I’ve written before, I think GURPS is best suited for somewhat oddball campaign settings. Honestly, I feel like if one want to run a pretty standard fantasy campaign, D&D is fine. If you want a standard supers game, Hero System/Champions is really good (You can do it with GURPS, but the game mechanic in the Hero System of Stun damage vs. Body damage, makes it uniquely suited to supers.) But if you to do something unique, GURPS is the way to go. I cite Victorian Apocalypse as a great example. This guy came up with a really fun and novel game world, and GURPS is very well-suited to realize it in the game.

I am kind of interested in doing an urban fantasy/magic style game. Not sure exactly where to go with it. I started reading the Dresden Files books this week. I’ll read a few of them. The first one was really quite enjoyable. Coming up with a setting like this, the would allow players to modify some of the classic fantasy archetypes into modern versions might be fun. It might also be easier than cyberpunk to give them a continuing motivation to band together.

Back in the 1990s I read George R.R. Martin’s Wildcards series. It’s kind of a “what if supers existed in the real world” kind of thing. Really fun books. There is a GURPS sourcebook that came out back then for this world. I think I’d be interested in running that kind of supers campaign as well. Honestly, I’m really good with the Hero system, and it would be a lot easier for me to use it, but I think the level of realism in the GURPS system lends itself to a better approximation of this kind of world.

I’m also interested in a science fiction/space campaign, but I’m not sure where to go with it. I could see using some of the old Traveller materials like “the Spinward Marches” as a campaign setting. I’m really not interested in the whole space ship building and combat thing. I think I’d rather have people get around via teleportation or some Doctor Who-ish way. I don’t know. Haven’t thought enough about it.

However, I think that CyberTex is going quite well, so I’ll continue developing that campaign as I experiment with ideas for other game worlds.


Homebrew Worlds

Reading the blog for the Victorian Apocalypse campaign has been fun. Honestly, I’ve never had any interest in Steampunk as a genre. It’s always seem like more of a fashion movement. I don’t know if I’d say Victorian Apocalypse is straight-up steampunk, but I do like it. The time line (that link) is really well done. I’m always amazed when people can come up with homebrew settings that seem to well-reasoned, creative, and engaging. My friend Bob does that with his Wuxia games. He’s become very knowledgeable about ancient China, and he’s able to weave that knowledge into his campaign. Being a massive Wuxia fan, familiar with all that genre’s characteristics doesn’t hurt either.

From the time I started gaming, it really never occurred to me to run anything but a homebrew world. We bought dungeon modules, but we always just dropped them into our own campaign worlds and modified them as we saw fit. But being  young kids at the time, we didn’t expend a lot of brain cells considering the histories of our worlds. We just tried to create fun dungeons to explore.

Anyway, back to steampunk and stuff like that. Reading that blog has gotten me thinking a lot about my own cyberpunk world, it’s timeline, etc. I’ve been working on a timeline, and damn, coming up with something that doesn’t seem stupid is not easy. There’s some retconning that needs to be done too. There are some technologies that the cyberpunk literature seems not to have fully anticipated. Wireless tech is one of them. The Sprawl Trilogy seems like it largely missed that.  Bladerunner did too. The real game changer is nanotechnology. How far should I let nano go? Because if it goes too far things start getting really weird. Or quantum computing. I may simply have to say that those technologies — nano and quantum – are simply so dangerous to work with that few people are willing to delve into them, and perhaps there’s some super-secret agency that goes around “handling” those problems.

Such are the problems of a person of limited intelligence trying to design a tight homebrew world.

Yesterday I found a copy of GURPS Deadlands: Weird West at a local gaming shop. It’s a very cool setting. I bought it, and read the introductory chapters at lunch. Very well done. I think these kinds of setting books are great. I love seeing how talented writers create a good setting, incorporating real history with all sorts of weirdness and fun. I’ve never wanted to run a full western game. But the notion of weirding it up is really appealing. How about the world of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (already super weird!) with magic and monsters? I like that.

I need another five hours in every day to pursue all this stuff.

First D&D game in many years

I’ve had a standing invitation from members of my GURPS group to join their regularly meeting D&D 5e game for some time. This last week I decided to take them up on it, and joined their group for at least that afternoon. I’d like to play more often. They seem to play about twice a month. I might be able to do once per month. Depends. I have a lot of stuff to do on the weekends, and 6 hours of D&D is a large block of time. Still, I would like to.

I had a great time. I haven’t been involved in D&D since about 1993, when I ran a game for my wife and three others who had never played before. I haven’t played since probably 1984. So it was really enjoyable.

Jeff, our DM, is running the a series of adventures (I still call them “modules”) from the publisher. The group was all at 8th level, so Jeff let me roll up my character at 8th so I wouldn’t just immediately get killed. I rolled up a monk, inspired by the Wuxia RPG campaigns my friend Bob runs. Saturday night I watched this movie to get me in a good frame of mind to play him.

Not being familiar with the new edition, the party, or what exactly was going on in the game, and seeing as how my character is a quiet, thoughtful man, I mostly sat back and let the others do a lot of the decision making. I did however, in-character, remark on the animal-like behavior of some of the underlings the party had with us. Needed to say something judgmental to account for his low charisma score.

So I had a good time.

5e is a fun system. It retains the flavor of D&D while increasing the options for player character class, race, and abilities. Gone are the limitation of class and level based on character race from 1st Edition. It’s a much more open game now, and I think that’s really good. At first glance the player characters seem overpowered, but when you look at the stats and abilities of 5e adversaries you see that game balance is retained.

I’ve owned all the 5e books for a couple of years now, and I have to say they are well-written, well-organized, and very easy to use. My fellow players had some nice playing aids, like spell cards that give quick access to your PCs spellcasting abilities.

One thing I’d kind of forgotten is a what a blood bath a D&D game can be. I wouldn’t characterize this campaign as hack and slash at all, but man, we did a lot of killing. In my GURPS Cyberpunk game, the game centers more on skill use.  Of course, GURPS is a much more lethal system, so it’s harder to stay alive if you fight all the time.

Looking forward to playing again.

Interwebs Treasures #14

It’s been a while since I did an Interwebs Treasures post. So here’s a new one.

GURPS purchases, etc.

Pretty excited about this book. Writing clues/mysteries/etc is tough. Hoping this will have some good advice and techniques to make CyberTex a lot better.

It has been a week of significant financial expenditures with regard to GURPS. Steve Jackson Games has a number of previously out-of-print GURPS 4e books available now via print-on-demand. I took advantage of this to procure the POD softcover books, GURPS Space, GURPS Spaceships, and GURPS Mysteries. I got the Space book directly from Steve Jackson Games. It came with some extra stuff – a few little Munchkin plastic figures and Munchkin cards. The Space book came in last night, and immediately started reading it. The introduction, which just talks about how cool science fiction, as well as its history, is inspirational! I think the plan right now is to play tow or three more sessions of CyberTex, and then try a session or two of Space. So at the rate we play, that will be next year, but that will give me a lot of time to write.

As luck would have it, the announcement of the POD Spaceships book came out a few days after I purchased the PDF. No prob.

Combining this with other recent purchases, and let’s just say I need to run some games.

Speaking of Spaceships, this guy Ronald Stepp posts these incredible drawings on the Google+ Traveller page.  Check them out. Great stuff. Damn, I’ll like to play in one of his games! Besides cool ship drawings, he seem to come up with fantastic ideas for his games.

Oh, I discovered this blog, which chronicles the adventures particularly interesting GURPS campaign setting. Very entertaining. I love it.  Victorian Apocalypse! 

I also reorganized the sidebar of this blog a little, adding a section on my CyberTex campaign. Will start putting player resources in there this weekend.

Well, it is looking like a busy weekend. Aikido on both mornings. Then chill, read, and work on GURPS stuff. Then two or three hours of skateboarding in the evening, and I’ll finish both days by trying to finish season one of The Expanse.

I Hunger for CyberTex

OK, I’m posting a GURPS post again because, theoretically, tomorrow I’ll be on the GURPSday list, and I want something to show up from my feed! So yes, this will be a more rambling post than most on this blog.

Next game, I’ll be killing it in my new Ono-Sendai Cyberspace 7 tshirt. Yes, I purchased this.

Life is quite busy. The summer involves two overseas skateboarding contests I’m going to (don’t be too impressed — I’ll be in the “Masters” division, and I’ll come in last, but I’ll have a great time), and I’m also supposed to test for black belt in Aikido this summer. Combining the training for that with a very engaging but tiring job, and I’ve not had a lot of time for adventure design.

However, the need to roll the 6-sided dice is upon me. It has been a few months since the last adventures in CyberTex, so over the rest of this month I will without a doubt be writing CyberTex Episode 4.

My recent rereading of William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy has me in the right frame of mind. I have finished the books, and I’m listening to the audiobooks in the car on my drive to work (which is a short drive, so this takes time). I’m halfway through listening to book 2, Count Zero.

For a genre that is extremely dependent on atmosphere and mood, listening to a well-read audio book is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the author’s vision. Particularly with Gibson, listening to the book after reading it has greatly increased my appreciation for the work and the genre. It’s just cool.

Not sure how many plot elements I will steal and mutate for a CyberTex story arc, but I have purchased a nice little notebook (I’m a notebook nerd) to write down possible game themes, hooks, etc. I’m especially happy with the $5 Japanese Platinum “Preppy” fountain pen I’m using (it was cheaper at the cool Japanese bookstore we found nearby!) It writes a very fine line, and using this cool Japanese artifact makes me feel like I’m doing the “real” books for some black clinic in Chiba City. See? It all fits together.

I wrote a post last night that I felt was a bit too negative, so I have deleted it. I will say this. It had to do with the Steve Jackson Games 2016 Annual Report to Stakeholders, which indicated the struggles of producing hardback GURPS material in a profitable way. There are a number of really great GURPS books that I would LOOOOOVE to have in hardback, that have only been done in PDF thus far. First amongst them, the How to be a GURPS GM, by Mook Wilson. This is very well-written, inspiring, and useful guide to, well…, being a GURPS GM. I think that combining that product with a few other useful items into a nice hardback might be cool. I’m no game business expert. I’m just a player, but I know I’d buy that.

I like sourcebooks and genre books. I’ve purchased a lot of GURPS stuff over the last 2 years. If the book looks like it might be useful at all, or just looks cool, hell, I’ll buy it. I have no interest in running a WWII game, but dammit I’m going to pick up the hardback WWII book at a local gaming store this month. I think GURPS Horror 4e is one of the best things I’ve seen. I bought it, read it, and immediately decided to bring some Lovecraftian horror elements into my Cyberpunk campaign (Yes, I know there’s a CthulhuPunk book for 3e. Let’s just say I “found” it).

But yeah, I’ll pretty much buy any GURPS supplement that is even slightly interesting to me.  I’ll buy old 3e stuff if the material is good. I wonder — are there any interesting current or upcoming popular genres that might make a good GURPS book? A book all about post-apocalyptic stuff? (OK, now I see a whole post-apocalyptic section on the GURPS website. But you get my meaning.)

I will say this. I have thought about running one of our sessions on a Sunday afternoon at Madness Games and Comics, a massive and popular local store that provides lots of tables for folks use. I want to do this just to expose observers to GURPS. Here is a bit a problem. What if they like it, and and to get into it? The hardback Basic books are not available in the store. Are they available to retailers still? I see they can be procured from Warehouse 23. If a little interest was generated locally, could the local store get the books? I would hope so. The basic set needs to always always always be available. Two years ago when I started this, that particular store had both books. Now they have none. So the books did sell. It just took a little while.

Well, whatever. I’m looking forward to writing CyberTex Episode 4. Going to start using more of the Cyberspace Cowboy rules from the 3e book. Should be fun!

Traveller Books Are Here!

Well, thanks again to the Ebays, I now have the Traveller boxed set from 1979, as well as the High Guard, Citizens of the Imperium, Mercenary, and Spinward Marches supplements.

Of course the first thing I dug into was book 1, Characters and Combat.

The books are in amazingly good shape considering they are 38 years old.

It’s pretty weird going back into such an old gaming system. After many years of playing games that use point systems to create the character you want to play, Traveller seems like quite the throwback. The character generation process is a game in-itself — the PC can die before he/she gets out of generation! Then there’s situations like rolling up a character with a Strength of 12 (on a 1-12 scale), Dexterity of 12, and an Endurance of 4. It’s hard to make sense out of those sorts of stats, but you know, it can be done, and at age 52 (rather than 15), I can see the fun of doing it. How about, a big fat guy who is really strong, and has great hand eye coordination, but is just TOO HEAVY.  That works! And it might make the character kind of interesting as well.

Then there’s the skills. This isn’t like GURPS where there are dozens of skills and you decide how good your character will be at them. There are fewers skills, but they tend to be a bit broader in focus. Medic. Pilot. Engineer. Gun Combat (pick a particular gun). Jack of All Trades (I’ve always loved this one). So you don’t have the really detailed differences in PC stats that you might seen in GURPS or the Hero System. It’s more on the player to create an interesting backstory and give the PC some personality.

Looking at all the books together, it’s pretty clear why our games back in 1979-1981 always involved going to a planet, buying new guns, killing a lot of people, running to another planet, and repeat. We were young, immature, and really didn’t know that much about science fiction, and frankly we didn’t really do that much real roleplaying. The boxed set give you such a flexible framework within which to build a game that we just didn’t know what to do with it.

Finally (for now), I have to admit that the lack of a very workable improvement system for characters still kind of puts me off a bit. On the bright side, it encourages good storytelling and roleplaying. However, it does kind of suck to go through a lot of games and your character doesn’t really improve. A PC has to age four years, during which he/she studies like a maniac, to learn new skills or improve at old ones. I’m sure some of the newer versions of Traveller probably address this issue. I could see using the GURPS version of Traveller, and using the old books as source material and inspiration.

I’m thinking that after our next GURPS CyberTex game I may have my players roll up some old Traveller characters and see what we can do with this.

Next on the agenda

Saturday night’s game was really fun. Now I need to start brainstorming ideas for other games. Maybe a few standalone sessions and a two or three game series. That would probably be enough for this year. Given the sporadic nature of our game, some stand alone adventures (with hooks into other sessions or hooks into a longer subtext) might a good idea.

It was hard for me to get back into the exact flow of the first two games while creating session three. I didn’t really feel inspired until I was working on the final scene. I was thinking “what would be a fun environment for a fight?” For some reason the opening scene of the film “the Hunger” came to mind, so I modeled it after that — a super crowded CyberGoth club with Bauhaus playing Bela Lugosi’s Dead. THEN I was fully energized to make it all work.  Especially when I decided to actually play the song while the PCs were in the club. It helped me to then go back through the game again at that point, since my mind was more able to really start visualizing the scenes more cinematically, rather than just writing stuff down like a 15-year old filling a dungeon with monsters.


CyberTex Episode 3

After close to 2 years of family illnesses and other issues in our group, we finally played game 3 last night. I had originally planned this to be a 12 game story arch, but clearly that was a bad idea. Even without delays, I think that’s just too long for what is essentially the same adventure. So in writing last night’s game up, I decided to get some closure on this chapter of the campaign.

This was our first GURPS campaign. We were, and are still, just learning the system. The ability to start with simple rules and gradually add complexity as you see fit is a great feature of GURPS. Rather than a very tactical wargame style of play, I envisioned this campaign as more driven by the story, and less about technical combat rules. GURPS lends itself to this for a number of reason, some of which I will probably forget here, but including the following:

  • Deadly. GURPS combat tends to be a bit more lethal than many systems, especially when guns are involved. If you get into too many shoot-outs, you will not last long. This seems to really force a lot more role-playing, skill use, and problem solving in the game. It also mean the GM can’t just throw together a bunch of fights and call it a game.
  • [insert other reasons here — hahah — I guess the first one pretty much covers it]

I decided when I got into this that as a GM I wanted to raise my level of storytelling, and really treat adventure design and gamemastering as an “art” in itself. I know many people already do this, but I have to admit that most of my previous gamemastering tended toward just going from one fight to another. That’s just not a lot of fun, actually, and it makes each battle less important.

In the future I want to incorporate more of the PCs backstories into the game. The guys came up with some good stuff, and it will provide lots of opportunities for fun.

OK, Game 3…

The PCs begin where they left off, at the hacking lab of Reilly. The cranial chip they took from Jake the Painter successfully hacked, they discover the schematics and location of a building downtown — Childers Tower.

They go check out the building.  It’s about midnight. Light rain, The streets are crowded. It’s a highrise residential tower, with some retail in it too. There’s train station up on the 8th floor, and it is connected to other buildings in the area by many pedestrian bridges that span the street at high levels. The sides of the building, like most in this area, are covered by advertising and neon.  Information overload on steroids. They enter the building lobby and see a few lightly armed security guards, but there are many people around and the PCs are really not noticed. Joe and Max “stealth” over the known location of the express elevator to the 40th floor. It’s disguised as a freight elevator. They have no pass card. Hawk uses his enhanced senses and notices that one of the cleaning crew appears to have an access card. They tell the janitor that someone has puked in one of the common areas — a more secluded one. When he goes to clean it up, Inuyama grapples him and quickly chokes him out – unconscious – not dead. They hide him in a storage crate, get in the elevator, and go up.

Arriving on the 40th floor, guns drawn and expecting action, they find themselves in a long corridor apparently spanning much of the length of the building. Leaning against the wall, arms crossed casually, is a young man dressed like a futuristic cowboy, a gun on each hip, and cowboy hat tipped down. Remaining casual, he looks up and says “Mr. Childers has been expecting you.” The PCs notice a red reflection from one of his eyes. “Not very friendly to come up here with your guns drawn, friends. Y’all can put ’em away and follow me.” The PCs, realizing they are in no danger, comply. As the cowboy turns around they notice a hole the back of his hat allowing a cybernetic eye implant to keep an eye on them.

The cowboy leads them into a large room. Three walls are “monolith black”, with monitors at various points around the room. On each side of the room is an additional guard — a woman on one side dressed as a classic cyberpunk razor girl, and a burly man in fatigue pants, a Kevlar vest. Both are armed. Both look confident and relaxed, just like the cowboy.

“Here they are Mr. Childers.”

Behind the fourth wall — a wide and tall glass window — is the withered form of Lester Childers. He floats in a tube of nutrient fluids, tubes and wires protruding from his body, connected to machines above and below that maintain his bodily functions.

The PCs greet Childers and inquire about Dr. Salazar. Childers sounds like the actor Strother Martin. Childers says that Salazar once worked for him, trying to grow him a new cybernetically enhanced body to replace is failing natural body, but when Salazar got too involved in some “pervert shit” he fired him, and has not seen him since. He allows the PCs to search the lab. Hawk gets the woman’s phone number. She says “Nice eye”, to which he replies “I have an eye for beauty” (reference to his cybernetic eye). In the lab, they see 4 “grow tubes”, which containing a living, but mindless and misshapen human body, the failed attempts to create a new body for Childers. They discover an unusual computing system, that uses DNA to encode information into a living data matrix. Searching the rest of the lab, they find flyers of various occult oriented events — mostly bands — playing around town. Finally, amongst the many scientifically labeled vials of compounds, is a small jar of green goo labeled “R’leyh”. After much discussion, Hawk hacks into the computer and enters the word. A slot opens with a receptacle and a message appears on-screen that says “insert media”. He pours a bit of the goo into the slot, and an address appears on-screen. It matches the address of one of the clubs on a band flyer.

A little research reveals that the clubs is in the old Deep Ellum area of Dallas. It is called “the Hunger”. It’s a CyberGoth club. They go there and enter the club. It is shoulder to shoulder with people. The band plays Bauhaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. Lots of flashing lights. People jacked into cyberspace terminals, tripping out to the music. Joe goes to a spot with good visibility on the balcony. The rest of the team begins to look around. Eventually, Hawk notices several people in the club that look much like the cult members the team has encountered. Same kind of clothing and facial tattoos. He sees via IR vision that there are two people in what is probably an office behind the bar. He counts 5 cult members in the club, and texts the info to the rest of the group. Joe sneaks down from the balcony, and quietly garrotes the cultist near the stage, drawing no attention in the crowd of stoned goths.

A person comes out of the office. Inuyama intentionally bumps into him. The man gets a good look at his face. He continues to a table with two cultists and leans down to speak to them. Hawk successfully using his parabolic hearing to listen in. He moves through the crowd. “That big guy is one of the ones the Master wants us to find”. The man begins to return to the office. Hawk notices that now the office is devoid of human heat signatures. The two cultists start moving toward Inuyama. Hawk taps one on the shoulder with his cybernetic hand, injecting a knock-out poison. He drops. By this time Joe is moving toward the bard and office door, a bit behind the others. He is able to see that the remaining cultist, having seen his companion drop, begins to pull a gun. Joe quickdraws and uses his gunslinger skill, blasting the cultist in the back of the head.

The place goes wild. Screaming and panicking goths in a fire-trap club. The PCs take advantage of the confusion to enter the office, in which they find a hidden stairwell down. They go down the stairs and find themselves in an occult library/shrine. There is a cyberspace portal station in the middle of the floor. The walls are covered with occult art. On the many monitors is a constant stream of video imagery — primitive occult ritual, scenes of human disaster and atrocities from history There is a door a the other side of the room, with a cyberspace jack next to it and an intercom panel. Hawk jacks in and successfully hacks the door opening it. In doing so, his mind is taken through cyberspace corridors he didn’t know existed, and feels his sanity slipping away. He makes a save vs. Will and retains his identity.

Click to see image in all its Lovecraftian glory!

Beyond the door is a large room. Toward the other end is an instrument panel and a man furiously working the controls. Beyond him is a massive window, beyond which the PCs can tell is some sort of huge vault. The turns to look at the group, and in panic returns to his controls. They see that it is Salazar. Joe quickdrawns and shoots him in the ass, dropping him before he can release the 2 mini-shoggoths he has engineered to guard this lab — protoplasmic monstrosities kept alive in chambers to either side of the controls panel. The PCs rush to capture Salazar, and see the monsters behind the two windows. Looking at the control panel, they see the constantly changing image of a tentacle-faced being staring out from a cyberspace monitor. Beyond the massive window they see Salazar’s project — an almost complete but as yet mindless colossal body — 100 feet long, tentacles faced, wings, claws, slimy green flesh — floating and twitching in a massive grow tube.

Hawk successfully deactivates all life support for the abominations Salazar has created, and as the mindless creatures begin to die, the Inuyama throws Salazar over his shoulder and the team makes it way back up the stairs and out of the club. The deliver Salazar to the Pinky, who pays them in cash, and as he leaves says “Mr. Childers appreciates your hard work.”

5xp per PC.

During post game wrap up, I told the players a few things that I wanted them to discover but couldn’t quite work it all in. In game 2, Jake the Painter was set up by the cultists. The info on Childers Tower was disinformation. They were hoping the PCs would kill Childers, and stop coming after Salazar. Salazar was indeed working for Childers, but over time had become a member of the Cthulhu cult, and engineered his own kidnapping so he could disappear and work for them full time, to create a corporeal body for the cyberspace entity they know as Leviathan, but in reality Cthulhu. Also, they never discovered the identity of the “evil man” they had seen in pictures, who they thought was the cult leader. There was some additional info encoded into the DNA in the R’leyh bottle of good, but they didn’t continue hacking it. No biggie – they found the main clue.  Also, the bodies of Salazar’s monsters are still down there.

Lots of plot holes, I’m sure, but GMing a game like this ain’t easy. Honestly, we played for 5 hours, and had done everything I had planned, it would have been a 10 hour game and I’m just not practiced enough at GMing right now to pull it off. Still, everyone seemed to have fun.