Friday, June 28, 2013

GURPS Cabal: How Mailanka Designs a Campaign Part 2a: The Rules

The best supplement ever written for GURPS was GURPS Action 2: Exploits.  Technically, the Dungeon Fantasy series got the ball rolling, but Dungeon Fantasy is too self-contained (witness all the DF fans whining about how there needs to be a "serious" version of DF, or how they need "official" monsters).  GURPS Action 2: Exploits created a set of cohesive rules that could serve as a template for any similar campaign, and indeed, I think one of the reasons it isn't "better supported" is that generic support (like Gun-Fu or Martial Arts) work perfectly well with Action in a way that could suit a variety of campaigns.  I used it as the basis for G-verse, for example.  And it serves as an inspiration for how Cabal will work.

Let me take you aside and talk about how GURPS really works, for most people, and how Cabal was clearly designed, before I get to how I'm doing it and why.  Most people approach GURPS as a vast whole.  They grab the book, say "Like, make a character or something.  Oooh, here's a few ideas!" And off you go.  For example, GURPS Cabal lists the Scion template thus:

Scion

Within the Cabal, old blood will tell; families steeped in
occult knowledge and raised to fight the secret wars have
guided the Cabal for centuries. The scion of such a family
may be an eager blueblood or a once-carefree student who got
a big surprise on his 21st birthday. Either way, you can’t
resign from your family.

Advantages: Heir, Secret True Name, Status, Wealth;
your family may have (or be) a Patron or Ally Group; if your
childhood was really strange, you may be Unfazeable or possess
Racial Memory (at the 15-point level).

Disadvantages: Almost anything, from Laziness (“The
Black School has to take me, I’m a legacy.”) to a grim Sense
of Duty.

Skills: Leadership, Savoir-Faire; depending on the family
tradition, History, Occultism, or even Politics.

That's not a template, that's a suggestion.  Kenneth Hite clearly just thought you'd build "I dunno, something kinda magey." And then gave some additional suggestions: Build your mage with things like Heir, Secret True Name, Wealth, some Laziness, Savoir-Faire, and conjure up a back story of hoary, creepy old bloodline that has worked for the cabal for ages, like the Malfoys from Harry Potter or the Dresdens from the Dresden Files.

And that's fine, but it's not what I want.  The above creates situations where people might end up with skills and advantages that never get called upon (like what if Politics is never an issue in an exploration-happy game?) and frankly, that's how most campaigns work anyway, especially in GURPS (which tends to rely on players leveraging their talents rather than passively waiting for the GM to call for them).  But I prefer something tighter rather than a sprawling mess of "Sure, you can do that too." It works, but it's not for me.  I want Action.

So what makes GURPS Action work? Despite the fact that GURPS Action 1: Heroes came out before GURPS Action 2: Exploits, I think the second is what defines the first.  Sean Punch carefully skimmed over all the rules, skills and advantages, and pondered what sort of game he wanted to create, and then based on that game and the rules he devised for it, he created a list of appropriate skills, advantages and disadvantages, and from those, he derived his templates.  This means that every last character only has skills and traits directly useful to gameplay in a way that Sean Punch (and anyone who reads his books) understands.

I'm going to do the same for Cabal (just as I did it for G-verse and for Cherry Blossom Rain).  Is it overkill?  Perhaps.  I know plenty of people who run games the Hite way, and given my enormous respect for Hite, you'll never hear me criticizing that approach.  But my approach not only works well for me, but it generates material that lets it work well for others too.  My take on GURPS Cabal will let people hit the ground running.


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