In my review of GURPS Banestorm, I briefly mention one of the points that intrigues me about its gameworld: Unexplored pockets of diverse Earth cultures tucked among Yrth’s dominant European-, Middle Eastern-, and Asian-descended cultures. From page 9:
… African, Chinese, German, Indian, and Slavic groups popped up across the continent. Dominant local cultures quickly absorbed most of these smaller ones, but even today travelers can find isolated villages where almost all the inhabitants have black skin, worship Krishna and Vishnu, or speak undiluted German.
This is an opportunity for the GM to create any sort of interesting micro-culture that he can envision, as long as it is well off the beaten path!
While that’s pretty much all the book has to offer on the overall topic, it’s plenty to set the GM mind in motion. A few non-dominant cultures do get a bit more mention (like low-tech Hindi or Mesoamerican peoples around southern Araterre and Bilit Island), yet others remain entirely up to us to flesh out (African tribes? Slavic villages?).
I like the possibilities, and think there’s a supplement concept waiting to be born: Banestorm Enclaves, books detailing outlying clusters of humanity from non-dominant cultures. (Hmm, I thought I picked up the label “enclave” from within Banestorm, but a quick search shows I must have tacked it on myself. I like it anyway!)
SJ Games already lists Banestorm supplements on its GURPS wish list, so there’s nothing radical about that idea – and not surprisingly, the Enclaves concept itself is at least partially addressed by the existing call for Banestorm-focused books in the Adventures, Bestiary, Encounters, Foes, Locations, Martial Arts, and Supporting Cast title categories. Enclaves would be most similar to Locations, with a healthy dose of Adventures too, but I see it picking up elements of all those titles. Some ideas on content:
- The culture or society. Who are these people, what Earth people(s) did they descend from, what’s their post-Banestorm history, how have they changed from their origins, and what are they up to now? (Use and recommend any helpful GURPS references like Egypt, Aztecs, Vikings, etc.) What relationships do they have to existing Banestorm cultures/societies?
- The location. This could be a hidden village, a quarter in a city, maybe even a fair-sized (if remote) chunk of a country. Or for a more ambitious book, a far-flung diaspora linked by something other than geography.
- Points of interest. The good stuff that leads to adventure: caverns and forests, towns and ruins, laws and customs, beliefs and secrets, lore and legends, organizations and institutions, conflicts and alliances, dangers and rewards.
- Persons. Leaders and celebrities, PC-level friends and foes, and common folk too. Add notes on playing a PC from the society.
- Fun extras. Local beasts, monsters, weapons, tools, skills, martial arts, magic, more.
- Adventures. A solid multi-session adventure, plus a packet of quick-grow adventure seeds. Should include plot hooks that bring PCs into contact with the enclave in the first place, plus any connections to plot lines and adventures spelled out in Banestorm.
- Customizations. Ideas on moving the enclave to other spots on Yrth (or to a non-Yrth generic setting), hints for radical reworkings (an India-inspired village of Reptile Men?), tweaks for use with Dungeon Fantasy, any other interesting alternative possibilities that had to be left on the cutting-room floor.
- Resources. Suggestions for GURPS resources (per above) and third-party resources.
That’s the basic idea. Which, overall, boils down to something along the lines of what Banestorm uses for its central cultures.
I was thinking, though, about the actual appeal of a supplement centered on one tiny corner of one published gameworld. Yrth descendants of Masai herders may sound nifty to me, but I predict “meh” a-plenty from GMs in general.
Lots to like
For gamers not interested in the core setting, there’s still plenty of good stuff above. Skills, weapons, monsters, and so on are easily used elsewhere. Locations and adventures are recyclable too, especially if they have lots of maps and descriptions and other tangible stuff. NPCs are always nice to have, especially common folk that fit anywhere in a gameworld.
I think one key to appeal would be to hold the setting background down to modest length, and put a spotlight on the adventure(s). Whatever the setting, GMs can’t help but like a product that’s ready-to-go for the evening’s session.
The side trip
This is one more idea to broaden appeal. The side trip (for lack of a name) would be an exploration of a topic that’s vital to the book’s setting, but useful in other settings as well.
If the enclave is descended from Cherokee hunters, real-world info on the hunter’s craft, with new crunchier rules for PCs who want to try their luck, would be fun and widely useful. If it’s a Dutch-descended merchant’s quarter in a Megalan city, that’s a good place for a little extra research on merchant guilds, trade-related jobs, and what guild membership means for a character. A Tibet-inspired mountainside monastery? Include rules for crossing and exploring mountains, with detail on specific perils and how characters get out of those. Xenophobic fishing village with a dark secret? Details of the fishing life, with rules for what a boat (or just a PC with a net) can bring home, along with watery perils both expected and strange.
One crunchy side trip in each Enclave book would keep it useful after the setting and adventure are put aside. Given the fullness of the GURPS line, though, the trick would be to pick a topic that isn’t already, or soon will be, detailed in a core rulebook.
As a final thought, I’d suggest making series titles punchy. Banestorm Enclaves: Slavic Fishing Village on the Erythraean Sea is a yawner. Grab something juicy from the culture or the adventure. Banestorm Enclaves: A Net Full of Death hints at some delightful creepiness under those docks. (There will be tentacles.)
Anything worthwhile there?
This has been a bit of brainstorming on a passing thought, all for the fun of it. Do you think Enclaves would be an interesting Banestorm series? What specific installment would you concoct? What sort of installments would you buy?
That would be the sticking point. I love the idea of this kind of supplement to the world of Yrth, but you’re right on this count. An Enclave supplement would need a strong hook/twist; the enclave needs something else to become worthy of note. Maybe the culture changed radically upon arrival in Yrth or they developed a curious relationship with a local population. It’s not just a Slavic fishing village on the sea, but one’s whose customs and taboos changed to incorporate fantasy races, say.
Re that hook/twist: You’re of course absolutely right that the book’s subject culture needs some twist to make it unmistakably interesting. And an Enclave book would absolutely have to explore how the population changed since its Yrth arrival; that history and change may be tightly tied to the fascinating twist, as you suggest. (Just like the major European, Arabic, and Asian cultures of Yrth, though, any enclave should also maintain deep ties to its origins; visible rooting in real Earth cultures is part of the fascination of Yrth societies.)
Of course, that advice applies to any supplement, such as the Adventures or Locations or Encounters books or anything else on the SJG wish list. Any setting or people or location has gotta have some noteworthy twist that grabs the reader (and players).
Putting the “twist” aside, I’m going to apply the word “hook” differently with regard to my idea. What I’m proposing is really a rather mundane gameworld supplement: a location, an adventure, some characters, some monsters, and so on. Nothing unique there, as far as supplements or modules go. It’s the idea that each supplement introduces and focuses on one of those unexplored Earth cultures, IMO, that provides a “hook” defining the series and setting it apart from random, unconnected Banestorm supplements.
Incidentally, I followed your link to your site. Some good stuff there, and I liked [Read ‘Em ‘Cause You Got ‘Em] GURPS Fantasy II – I’ve always been a fan of that book, a stance not shared by everyone who’s read it. Then again, I haven’t played in that gameworld, so that says something as well… : /
The book’s monsters are great – especially, as you note, in that they’re tied by an interesting theme. My concern, if I were to play the setting, is that they seem ridiculously overpowering for low-tech, non-enhanced humans PCs. I don’t know how those Madlanders survive at all…
Anyway, with some work at making it fit (beginning with the removal of the Madlanders’ bizarre neighboring societies), Fantasy II itself could be used for an enclave of arctic peoples who ended up in a particularly hellish corner of Yrth. Heavily-armed, elite PCs discovering the Madlands might even stand a chance against a herd of Headless.
Part of the challenge is making the material equally attractive to both GMs and players. GMs get things because they sound like they could fit into an existing campaign or are a good place to start a new one. I think something the Banestorm setting could benefit from would be material geared towards players, to get them excited and engaged with the world in a way that GM-centric material can’t, either because it’s not something they want to read or the GM has put it off-limits for game purposes.
Just spit-balling here, but picture an Enclave supplement that incorporated aspects of Transhuman Space‘s Personnel Files. The book presents sample PC parties, composed of people from or passing through the enclave in question, in addition to the usual setting material. They could bill it as a one-shot in a box.
It’s not an easy sell. The world is totally atypical in a way that would put off the average gamer, I think. No special powers that don’t come with negative consequences disproportionate to the advantage gained and a general sense that the characters are beleaguered and outgunned by the whims of fate, gods and monsters. One would have an easier time pushing Call of Cthulhu. At least investigators get spells and tommy guns.
And it would certainly be a startling change for a group grown accustomed to adventuring in Ytarria. Their first trip off the continent and everything they think they know effectively turns upside down.
Thanks for checking out my blog, by the way. It’s nice to know people enjoy it.
Good point about GM-oriented vs player-oriented material. GURPS is quite heavy on the former, IMO, and you’re right that Banestorm (or any setting) would benefit from more material to make the players say “Hey, we want to do this setting!”. Alas, my idea for Enclaves is pretty much more GM-oriented material (as it’s primarily gazetteer + adventure).
Re Fantasy II: Agreed, the setting faces a special challenge in terms of character power – not just initial power (low-tech tools and skills, no spells, no powers, no magic weapons, no supernatural allies, no real wealth, etc.), but also growth in power (a dozen adventures later, still low-tech tools and skills, no spells, no powers, no magic weapons, no supernatural allies, no real wealth, etc.).
The author is clearly appealing to “pure roleplaying”, playing for the challenge and the stories, not for power, and I can respect that. But it’s too much to ask of a lot of players, that they run (relatively) static PCs who never gain much power, instead placing the village’s prosperity as their goal session after session.
Hmm, all I can think of as an improvement is that a Madlands GM hand out experience points at a mad pace. It makes sense given the ridiculous challenges PCs face, and it’s about the only (non-story) reward the setting can offer!
Of course, even there the setting’s limitations raise a challenge. PCs can spend those big point totals (for as long as they survive…) on good story-related stuff like Reputation, social skills, survival skills, and so on; and could purchase awesome (and much-needed) combat abilities too. But beyond that, the setting doesn’t allow a lot to spend points on!
Challenging stuff for players and GM alike. Back to the first point, Madlands too could use some more player-oriented material, in terms of offering more varied personal goals and rewards worth surviving for.
Yes and no.
I think your Enclave idea is pretty good. I think it should have both the standard GURPS layout that includes History, Culture, Character template, etc as well as section where the region is placed on a numbered hex grid or at least a map with keyed locations. Followed by a gazetteer detailing each of the locales.
You have to look at the banetorm maps and see what the optium scale is. I know the people think that 135 mile by 95 mile coverage (11.5 by 8.5 paper) I use in Points of Light is the right size for a campaign.
I think a continuing problem with GURPS is the fact it is not ready out of the box for a novice Gamemaster (to GURPS) to use. THere is no Keep on the Borderlands with a town, dungeon, and wilderness keyed and detailed with stats already filled out. It doesn’t need to be the focus of GURPS but it should have two or three adventures for each of the big three genres (Fantasy, Space, and Horror). These should not be in the form of a mini sourcebook like Harkwood but follow the form and conventions used by the major RPGs of the respective genres (D&D, Traveller, & Call of Cthulu). This way new players have a point of reference in understanding how to use GURPS with their favorite genre. In addition unlike Dungeon Fantasy is should not be emulating the main RPG of the genre but rather be stated like a normal GURP game would be (100 to 150 pt character etc)
Once Banestorm has it’s Keep on the Borderland I think your idea would be a great addition and show the strength of GURPS as a RPG.
Yes, standard GURPS layout would be good, plus the gazetteer format. (“Gazetteer” – there’s a word I was searching for but haven’t used in ages. Thanks!) The suggestion on location size is good too, though ideal size will of course vary with the physical spread of the society (and/or the setting’s points of interest).
(Question: I note that Points of Light is system-neutral. Does that mean it has stats for many systems, or no stats at all?)
Re GURPS not being ready for use by the novice: Some GURPS worldbooks do contain setting info and adventures, so I wouldn’t say there’s no ready-to-play setting – but I think many players would agree that there’s too little. For Banestorm, for example, I’m not aware of any ready-to-go adventures.
I played some D&D modules back in the day, and Keep on the Borderlands is a well-known module name, though I don’t think I played it. From your description, I think it’s something a single Adventures title for Banestorm could emulate: a core adventure (or series of linked ones), with enough supporting locations, characters, monsters, encounters etc. to make it ready-to-go. (That means an Adventures book would include some goodies that would also fall under the Bestiary, Encounters, Foes, Locations, and other Wish List concepts, but I don’t see how you could have a stand-alone adventure supplement without those things.)
Actually, I think an Enclaves book could do the job as well, since (per my thinking) it would bundle setting, locations, people, challenges, etc., with at least one ready-to-go adventure, to make it playable out of the box. Essentially, as I envision it, an Enclaves book is an Adventures book, but with a bit more focus on location and setting, plus the “hook” that it introduces one of the briefly-mentioned minority Yrth societies.
Either way, whether Enclaves or some Adventures titles, I agree that it’d be great for GURPS newcomers to have some ready-to-play supplements in the fantasy field. I suppose the remedy begins with someone stepping up to plate with a proposal!
Clak and Frull, hill giant (9 HD) brothers, moved their families and slaves across the Great River five years ago. They live in one steading (Hex 1207), with another under construction nearby. The Horde consists of the brothers, 2 giantesses (4 HD), 2 male young adults (7 HD), and 2 female young adults (3 HD). In addition, Clak and Frull can call upon 20 ogre allies (8 adults, 12 children) and 200 gnoll warrior slaves (80 adults, 120 children). Because of their close proximity to Curnitha [Hex 1309), The Horde has frequent run-ins with patrolling paladins, and skirmishes are quite common.
village of Terish De’Carn is located on the southern
shores of Lake Bovil. After the fall of Torra Norith (Hex
1104), the villagers used stone from the ruins to build a
tower as a refuge during a raid. The villagers have gone
through several seasons of hard times, and are hostile to
strangers. The village is led by the Elder Marik (Ftr2)
and is home to 155 people, including a militia of 15
men (Ftr1). The villagers know that darkness has fallen
on the ruins of Torra Norith (Hex 1104), although they
won’t speak of it to strangers.
Curnitha is located in a valley hidden in the roughest part of the Faris Hills. The only entrance is through a limestone cavern on the eastern end of the valley. Thirty years ago, during a battle with the Myrmidons of Sarrath, an experienced and powerful paladin named Captain Mithika (Pal12) was badly wounded. During his recovery, he was guided to the valley by a vision sent from Delaquain. A year later, Mithika established Curnitha as a refuge for paladins and clerics of Delaquain. Currently there are 500 villagers, 30 paladin candidates (Pal1), 20 cleric candidates (Clr1), and 20 guards and trainers (10 Pal2, 5 Clr3, Pal5, Clr5, Pal7, Clr9, Pal10) living in Curnitha.
You can see a preview here http://www.goodman-games.com/4380preview.html
The dirty secret of this product is that it was developed using GURPS. Multiply the HD or level by 20 to 25 pts and you will get the rough total I used for the templates.
My fantasy campaign was developed using AD&D then I switched to Fantasy Hero then to GURPS in 89. Since then it been my primary system. But we still played the campaign how it was under AD&D with monsters and dungeon crawls and the like. Over the influence of GURPS caused the campaign to shift to be more realistic and grittty.
What Dungeon Fantasy needs is generic setting about the size of one of my Points of Light and two to three adventure done in the same way D&D modules are done and not how Harkwood and other GURPS Adventures are put together which are mini-sourcebooks.
Yeah, that sounds good. A basic layout of what’s where, letting the GM fill in details of whichever spots the PCs visit. (I just checked out the PDF preview. Very slick production!)
Easier to do the one-point NPC overviews for D&D (or similar games) than for GURPS, of course. “Paladin 12” instantly lays out 90% of what the character is and what he can do. For GURPS, I don’t know what could be done; “300-point fighter” only takes us 10% of the way to a ready-to-use character. (I’m just making up silly numbers, of course.) Characters will have to be statted pretty fully. (And fully-statted GURPS character or monsters take up so much more text than D&D equivalents, a bit of a GURPS weakness at times.)
But it’s all very doable: characters in the main text can have a simple name or number that references separate pages of ready-to-play character write-ups. All that’s needed is for someone to do it: make such an adventure + setting for Dungeon Fantasy or Banestorm. (I see there is one published Banestorm supplement, Abydos, though it looks like purely a sourcebook, not an adventure.)
It’s interesting that Points of Light actually is based on GURPS. A GURPS-specific version of it would be a great tool to get fantasy GMs up and running, if you and SJG were to collaborate on that!
Standarized Templates perhaps. When you think about it for level based games a level is just a chunk of skills and powers. In GURPS you go up point by point but in D&D you go up say 20 points a crack.
The way to do it is have a compendium of templates, a 20 pt fighter, 50 pt fighter, 100 pt fighter and so on. 50 pt Mage, 100 pt mage, and so on. While it make the stats a bit cookie cutter you can personalize the NPCs in the descriptions and the possessions.
The Swamps of Acheron is directly pulled from my GURPS game translated into D&D terms. Borderlands best represents what my fantasy game feels like. Lots of intrique and politics involving mostly human and not a lot of monsters.
Hopefully this fall I will get some time to work up a Points of Lights style for GURPS Fantasy. Using the SJ Games Internet policy. If that generate interests then maybe SJ Games will commission one for themselves.
Agreed. While such templates still eat up a fair amount of space in GURPS, they’ll save a lot of text over completely individualized NPCs.
Whether a free fan resource online or a sanctioned product, either sounds great. If a GURPS group could jump right into a fantasy game using only Points of Light and BS (or maybe GURPS Lite instead?), with Fantasy or Dungeon Fantasy optional, that’d fill a lot of GMs’ wishes.
(I’ll add here a tangential plug for Caverns & Creatures, a fan supplement for an “instant GURPS fantasy game”. Good stuff, though unfortunately it doesn’t include setting or adventure, so it’s not in the category of what we’re discussing. Plus, the author chooses to make no GURPS 4e version, which is too bad, though 4e gamers will find that Dungeon Fantasy covers much of the same ground. Anyway, C&C is a nice bit of work.)