This article originally appeared in Pyramid #14
Designer's Notes: GURPS Illuminati University
By Walter Milliken and Beth McCoy
It was the end of the spring semester and finals week was nearly over. Parties were being held all over campus — including a faculty-only event in the Main Building, where numerous professors, chairthings and deans could sit back with a sigh of relief that, somehow, they'd survived another crop of seniors with their sanity and budgets mostly intact.
The ArchDean herself was in attendance, sipping champagne and lounging in a comfortable chair, legs hooked over one of the chair's arms. Kneeling on that side, one of her personal Kajones rubbed her feet. A little ways away, no less than three of Dr. What7 occupied a sofa; the College of Temporal Happenstance, Ultimate Lies and Historical Undertakings had had a busy semester (or two, depending on how one counted timestream loops), and they still weren't on speaking terms with the Dean of Metaphysics. Beyond them, the Dean of the Weird and Unnatural Sciences and Engineering was demonstrating a modified CIA Gull to the newly-promoted Dean of the College of Obscure and Unhealthy Professions; snatches of, ". . . and here's the cargo-bay, with enough room for a compact phased array sensor package, or a cheese sandwich . . ." rose above the general murmur of conversation as Dean Walters waxed enthusiastic about the technical details.
THE computer announced.
Dr. Walters tweaked the remote control, bringing the CIA Gull in for a landing. It crashed into a wall instead, exploding into flame directly above the ArchDean's chair. Fortunately, she'd gotten up a few seconds earlier. The Dean of WUSE frowned at the controller. "Must be a bug, or . . . 'Fred,' did you switch this for a VCR remote?" Across the room, the Dean of Metaphysics shrugged and stifled an overly toothy grin.
The ArchDean laughed over her shoulder, then opened the door to reveal a scruffy blond Team member. "Yes?"
Joe Calderwood opened his mouth to explain, and left it that way. It was not often that a freshthing came face-to-face with the leader of the University. It was even less often that She was barefoot at the time, and holding a champagne glass. Somehow, he realized he was holding the Coach's envelope, and mutely offered it. His heart started beating again when she smiled and took it, turning towards a black-clad person. "It's for you. Three percent of COUP's budget says he's settling the bloodfeud with folding-green."
"Done," the Dean of COUP purred, producing a switchblade to open the letter with. Joe hesitated a second longer, then decided that he didn't want to be around if either the Unseen Dean or the ArchDean lost a bet. He shifted into a blond, blue-eyed wolf and bolted for the exit, not changing back till he'd gotten out of the Main Building. After all, he had a paper due tomorrow, and he didn't want to waste most of tonight being dead over at Lazarus Health Center.
How it all started . . .Illuminati University started as a message area on Steve Jackson Games' Illuminati BBS, where a variety of truly weird people participated in a freewheeling hybrid between a shared-world anthology and a roleplaying game. Meanwhile, one of the authors had been running a series of GURPS games at gaming conventions, partly inspired by R. Talsorian Games' Teenagers From Outer Space, but with university students for characters.
The unnatural outgrowth of these antisocial activities was a GURPS worldbook based on the general "weird university" theme, since IOU clearly had great potential as a cross-genre campaign setting.
IOU Frequently Asked QuestionsFrom an interview with Albert Fredsneed, Illuminati University's Public Relations representative. (IOU's Private Relations representative is Madame Salome. That interview is only available by mail in a plain brown wrapper; please include a statement that you are over 21.)
Q: What does "IOU" stand for?
A: (1) Truth, justice, and the Illuminati way. (Well, one out of three isn't bad, and if you believe that, I've got some nice shorefront property in Bavaria I'd like to sell you.)
(2) Illuminati University.
(3) A GURPS worldbook.
Q: What does the "O" stand for?
A: You're not cleared for that.
Q: Where is IOU?
A: Somewhere — or everywhere — in the modern world. It may even be next door, in which case your insurance rates are about to skyrocket. Better sell quick . . .
Q: So is IOU a silly genre?
A: Yes. No. And maybe. It comes in three flavors: Silly (outright slapstick, even), Weird (generally strange and sometimes humorous), and Darkly Illuminated (gothic architecture, angst, constant gloomy weather and conspiracies under every plot device).
Q: What point level are IOU characters?
A: Just about anything will work (though 10 point characters may have trouble doing anything but running in circles, screaming). Freshthings are 100 points, but a campaign can be based on any point level, since high-level professors and administrators range up to 1,000 points or so.
Q: What are "freshthings"?
A: Illuminati University makes every effort to avoid using sexist, speciesist and genderist labels. Less-enlightened universities call them "freshmen." Besides, some of the students have no discernable gender — or species.
Q: What other GURPS books will I need to play IOU?
A: You can use just the Basic Set and IOU, but to exploit the full potential of the setting, you'll probably want Magic, Psionics and possibly Time Travel. Of course, IOU is a campaign where you can use anything — GURPS Ice Age, GURPS Bunnies and Burrows, even those old dungeon modules that have been moldering away in the cellar. (Did we mention the steam tunnels?) IOU is a cross-genre campaign setting that can easily serve as a starting point for horror, time-travel, universe-hopping or even space adventures.
Q: So I don't need GURPS Illuminati to play?
A: Fnord. No. Fnord. (Besides, we didn't write it.) Fnord.
Q: Can I bring my Power Ranger™ clone into an IOU game?
A: You can bring any character into an IOU game, with the GM's permission. But if you bring in Barney™, be prepared to design another character quickly. Characters with a high sugar content are usually known on campus as "lunch."
Q: What about my GURPS Vampire character?
A: Sure, though he might be in for a surprise or two — like animals with whipped cream instead of blood . . . Other characters from the World of Un-Illumination™ will be just as discomfited.
Q: Who shot JFK?
A: Sorry, you want the Department of Conspiracy History. Down the hall to the left, through the trap door in the floor. Knock twice, wait two seconds, then knock three times. Tell them K'tiktht'pik sent you. Then leave by the back door.
Q: Who shot JFK?
A: Sorry, the Department of Redundancy Department is next door.
Q: Who is the sound of one hand singing?
A: First base. And the College of Zen Surrealism is across the Pent . . .
Q: So where do I sign up?
A: Put $55,555 advance tuition in $1 bills into a regular #10 envelope and bury it in the backyard, under the rosebush. We'll get in touch. Or you can pick up a local franchise kit at your game store for $17.95.
Things That Were Not Meant To Fit Into The WorldbookThe following outtakes from the final draft (so many bad ideas, so little space) should give some of the flavor of what a GURPS Illuminati University campaign might be like. These excerpts are biased toward a Silly or Weird campaign style — to get the Darkly Illuminated versions, play this magazine backwards (in a dark room, at midnight).
A Sample Department
Department of Computer TheologyWhile this department is disputed territory with the School of Weird and Unnatural Sciences and Engineering (and the College of Obscure and Unhealthy Professions has an interest in it as well, from the jihad angle), it is currently run by the College of Metaphysics. This is the home for all those religious arguments and flamewars about computers and programs.
Faculty and students in this department tend to have the Bad Temper, Stubbornness and Fanaticism disadvantages. Strong Will is a common advantage. Actual knowledge of anything related to computers is totally optional. The primary skills taught here are Bard, Fast-Talk and Detect Lies.
There are no real career opportunities for graduates, except as columnists for specialized computer magazines.
Typical courses: CT101 — Mac vs. DOS vs. Windows, CT204 — Pentium vs. PowerPC, CT357 — Praying to DOS: Determining the Direction to Redmond, Washington, CT506 — User Interface Copyright Suits, CT710 — EMACS vs. vi, CT750 — Auto-Deification for Software Magnates.
Creatures of the Period Shortly After Tea-TimeThey don't quite make it to night . . .
ST: 1-2 Move/Dodge: 14/7# Size: <1 hex DX: 14 PD/DR: 0/0 Weight: 8-20 lbs. IQ: 3 Damage: 1d-5 cut Origin: Weird Science, Weird Magic HT: 14/2-4 Reach: C Habitats: Campus Grounds
These white, red-eyed hares were created in a rare, and ill-fated, WUSE and College of Metaphysics collaboration. Both colleges had a lab-animal shortage, and it seemed like the perfect solution.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the hares divide whenever they're frightened, turning into two half-size copies of the original hare. The cages shortly became very crowded, and the tiny animals leapt out through the wire mesh.
Copies grow back to normal size by eating — and they start out very hungry! The smaller the copy, the hungrier it is. One frightened splitting hare can devastate a large lawn, leaving dozens of kitten-sized copies looking for more food.
To this day, the high-strung survivors dwell in the Avant Gardens and other wooded or park-like areas of campus, which sends the Sahudese gardeners into incoherent rages. If anyone comes near the splitting hares, they divide and divide and divide and run in all directions; at least half will "trample" whatever scared them, in their efforts to get away. (And the Sahudese gardeners will descend upon whatever hapless student did such an idiotic thing, after the hares are gone.)
As if this didn't make the task of catching them hard enough, they breed in the usual manner as well. Fortunately, when the copies are very small, they are easy to stomp out. Furthermore, their Move and weight is in proportion to their current size, so small ones can be captured easily. The ArchDean's cats also help keep the population down.
Variations: These are strictly Silly.
Potential Adventures at IOU
Lord of the FriesWhile working off-campus at a locally-owned fast-food joint, the PCs observe the friendly owner being hassled by some thugs. Investigation reveals that the muscle works for the "Burger Baron," a European ex-aristocrat who's discovered a new purpose in life — taking over every burger joint in the world! Unfortunately for the students' job prospects, the Burger Baron believes in old-fashioned values . . . like serfdom.
Besides the obvious appeal of intercontinental ballistic food fights, this adventure offers the GM the opportunity to do a truly stereotypical, melodramatic villain with a funny accent. Sword-cane, cape and monocle optional. Offer good at participating stores only.
Beer-Barrel PolkaSuddenly all the stereos in the dorms will play nothing but Polish folk dances. The students need to find the mischievous spirit responsible and convince it to stop, before everyone's brain melts down. Perhaps the recent exhibit of Polish folk art in the Department of Quaint (and Profitable) Folkways would be instructive.
Get Down and Boo-gieAn off-campus disco on Halloween is the place to party this year. Unfortunately, the warehouse next door is the secret lab of Dr. Silas Mortimer, and he's trying to raise hell all by himself. Well, not Hell, precisely, but at least a lot of ghosts. Not being a fan of rock music, all the commotion next door is interfering with the functioning of his ultra-intelligent, twisted mind. So a few ghosts get sent to the party next door . . .
That isn't so bad — there are assorted ghosts on campus, and even a couple on the faculty (long-dead writers make terrific English professors, especially if they haven't figured out the inflation in salaries since they were alive). But someone with a less blasé attitude calls in some "professionals," the AAA Ghost Stompers. These guys make Campus Security look like the Green Berets. Can you say, "collateral damage"?
A Fistful of AngstThe English Department's classes can be real killers, but when over half of the English 502 (Imitating Flannery O'Connor) class winds up in Lazarus Health Center within two weeks, students tend to take notice — and take cover, if they can.
Unfortunately, the "accidents" expand down to Basic English 105, the course that every student has to take. Students are found drowned in pools of ink, electrocuted by word processors in bathtubs, and, most gruesomely, bled to death from numerous papercuts. All deaths have three things in common: the victims were at the top of their classes, don't remember how they died, and no longer want to write. Some are even considering leaving college!
Since talk about students leaving IOU displeases the ArchDean, the Unseen Dean chooses the characters as the perfect agents (or bait) to uncover what's going on. The PCs are given "surefire A" papers to turn in, but are otherwise on their own.
After suitable horrors of English (say, poetry), each "A paper" is returned — marked with a "C-." Then the attempts begin . . .
The source of all this is an evil, but Mundane, English professor, trying to eliminate better writers, especially successful ones. Can the students foil this crazed killer without dropping into angst and cliches? Or will they end up ghost writing their final papers?
Article publication date: August 1, 1995
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