Roleplayer
Roleplayer #23, May 1991

International Super Politics

The Birth of GURPS IST

by Robert M. Schroeck

GURPS International Super Teams may have one of the more unusual geneses of the many GURPS worldbooks. Its concept of a U.N.-sponsored super police force predates DC's Justice League International. In one way, it predates much of GURPS itself.

Nearly ten years ago, a Villains and Vigilantes campaign was started in New Brunswick, NJ (where I live). The PC super-team eventually split into two branches – Warriors East, and Warriors West.

About five years ago, a new GM took over and introduced a radical alteration into the game-world: the U.N. banned national superteams and appointed the player group its police force. The two branches of Warriors were renamed Alpha and Beta (because Warriors West was now in Tokyo, and Warriors East in London, which would have confused lots of people).

A couple of years later, in a fit of enthusiasm, I developed a history for the Warriors' World. Partly inspired by the Wild Cards series, it sought to explain the origin of superpowers, the state of advanced technology, and why the U.N. had become so strong. In early 1989, I posted it on the Illuminati BBS. SJG was developing a superhero worldbook, and I thought people might be interested.

They were very interested. Before I knew it, I had been asked to revise the timeline and write some accompanying material for the Supers book. The Wild Cards-like material was transformed into something less derivative, and the Warriors became a much larger body: the International Super Teams.

When Supers came out, the logical next step was a full worldbook for the ISTs, which left me with a problem. In a brief description, it was easy to say, "The U.N. took over." In a worldbook, I'd have to explain how and why, without losing drama and adventure – and make it make sense, to boot! Other details were easy – just look at what happened in the real world, and tweak them for better or worse. But justifying the central motif was a challenge.

I became, for several months, a student of international affairs. The original Warriors' World was much too simplistic; in it, the many nations of the U.N. had given in without a whimper to an ultimatum with no teeth in it. I had to find some way to insert those teeth without radically changing the nature of the U.N. I found my answer in the flip side of the history.

I'm a comic book reader from way back. I remember when Jack Kirby was doing counterculture super-hippies in Jimmy Olsen, Superman's Pal, and when Captain Mar-Vell and Rick traded places using the Nega-bands. From then to now, I noticed, comic worlds never changed. It didn't matter if Captain Genius invented practical teleportation; it somehow never changed society. I hated that. In the real world, if someone could throw lightning bolts, or teleport, or turn invisible, sooner or later someone is going to take him apart to find out what makes him tick.

All the way through the IST world's history, people do that. Supers are poked, prodded and thoroughly investigated – and scientific knowledge accelerates accordingly. Scientific knowledge was the key to the altered attitude of the U.N. What if the U.N. got its hands on something new which made it financially independent – and which gave it a bargaining chip to use against recalcitrant nations without being a weapon?

Fusion power. Cheap, easy to build fusion reactors, with the process owned outright and licensed by the U.N. – only to nations which toed the U.N. policy line. The U.S. wasn't going to let the USSR be the only major power with fusion, and the other way around. Greed and paranoia became the motivations of the member nations. "We can get away with this!" became the motivation of the U.N.

Of course, realism imposed after- and side-effects to the U.N.'s Edicts of 1982. A president's successor lost an election. Nationalism the world over began to rise. Espionage became the tool of the day. Radical political fringe groups gained wider support. U.N. ambassadors were yanked and replaced with reliable mouthpieces. But the IST had passed from proposal to bureaucratic juggernaut and was effectively unstoppable. Even as the U.N.'s council chambers became once again a forum for petty nationalist politics, a strong international police force with a mission and a sense of dedication arose. The Edicts could not be reversed without damaging the U.N. irreparably – and even a confused U.N. is very important to the nations of the world.

Some things in the IST world are wish fulfillment; some things are nostalgic holdovers from Warriors' World. But for the most part, reality-checking demanded certain results. Of course, I had the advantage of being able to set the initial conditions, but what resulted from those conditions is, I hope, a very logical and realistic extrapolation. This is the way the world might have been.

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