Roleplayer
Roleplayer #16, October 1989

37 Billion NPCs

Or, "You're dead. What do you do now?"

by Creede Lambard

Imagine a campaign that begins with the words, "You die."

No, this isn't a "killer campaign," nor is it GURPS Undead. You – along with other people, all around you – awake on the banks of a river. You have the body of a 25-year-old, free from any physical defects you may have had in your Earth life.

Welcome to the Riverworld, the scene of Philip Jose' Farmer's epic series about humanity's second chance. Farmer began the series as a short story in 1952; it has grown to five novels and a novella. Its premise is both simple and incredibly vast: Everyone who has ever lived is resurrected on the banks of a million-mile-long river which winds around the surface of its planet.

Most people are resurrected in groups of their own language and culture. Thus, most GURPS players would arise with other late 20th-century North Americans. But this is not always the case! There is always a "secondary" group, making up about 10% of each batch of resurrectees, and sometimes a person will be resurrected in the midst of a completely different group. Thus, our 20th-century GURPS-playing North Americans might find themselves in a minority among 12th-century Saracens, or King Harold's troops from the Battle of Hastings, or Spartan soldiers from the 6th century B.C. – and mixed in with their party might be a Neanderthal woman, a Mongol warrior, a French revolutionary guardsman – or all of the above!

This world is a mystery. After all, no one's religion or theories of the afterlife predicted this! So most player characters may want to try to solve the mysteries of the Riverworld – such as, Why am I here? and Who's in charge of the Riverworld? But first they will want to answer such questions as, What am I going to eat? what am I going to wear? What's this big metal cylinder strapped to my wrist? and, later, What's around the next bend in the River?

GURPS Riverworld is in many ways a break from traditional roleplaying. For instance: Time travel of a sort is possible! If a character wants to interview Louis XIV to find out who the man in the iron mask was, or to get Karl Marx's views on Soviet-style communism, or to see if Pierre Fermat really did have a proof for his famous Last Theorem, he can. All he has to do is find his subject among the billions of people who have lived on Earth.

Riverworld allows the players an unequalled op-portunity to play themselves! Or rather, an idealized version of themselves, free from many of the physical limitations of Earth life, with all of the skills they have attained (or hope to someday attain). Physical Disadvantages, such as Blind and One Hand, disappear. (Of course, so do quite a few Advantages, such as Wealth, Status and Patron – at least at first.)

The characters will be able to participate in the building of a society. On the Riverworld, everyone starts out on an equal footing. The nations and class distinctions of Earth are gone – the Valleydwellers only need to keep those portions of their Earth cultures they think are beneficial as they rebuild society. Some groups will turn to anarchy (both the violent and value-for-value types); most will band together for mutual defense (and, in some cases, for conquest and glory).

GURPS Riverworld, written by J. M. Caparula, will be out in November. Some of the things it will contain are:

We can't tell you everything that's in GURPS Riverworld – that would spoil too many surprises. Suffice it to say that, in a world where you can meet anyone who has ever lived on Earth, the possibilities for adventure are enormous.

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