This article originally appeared in Pyramid #2

Designer's Notes: GURPS Vampire: The Masquerade

"Plumbing The Depths Of Darkness"

By Jeff Koke

The task was insidiously difficult. When I was given the opportunity to write this book, I thought most of the hard work had been done already. It was an easy thing to believe. Vampire has a gorgeous, dark and detailed background, and GURPS is... well, it's GURPS - a sophisticated rules system that certainly doesn't need any improvement from me. I thought my job would be simple.

It wasn't.

I began by playing the game that I was to adapt to the GURPS system. I dove deep into that shadowy world, and discovered exactly what it is that makes Vampire a game like no other. It is a world where a character's personality is more important than his statistics, and where mood and ambiance take precedence over die rolls and tallying hit points. The game allows background to overshadow the rules... and it works.

And that's when the big question hit me. How do I adapt a game that underemphasizes rules to a system that has rules for everything? I mulled it over and lost some sleep. And when I was about to hand the project to someone else, I found the answer. I had been trying too hard. There was no dilemma to begin with. GURPS is a universal system. It was, however, going to be an interesting test of how far you could stretch the system before it would break... pretty far, I guessed, and it didn't break.

So, with the hard thinking behind me, I started writing.

In the Beginning...

I started with the Conversions chapter. Although it is the last chapter in the book, it contains the most technical information. It was the chapter that required the most detailed design work, and working through the various conversion notes helped me discover exactly how these vampires fit into the GURPS milieu.

Then, with conversion notes as a foundation, I hacked out the characters chapter - the basic rules for making vampire PCs. This was not easy. I had to decide which aspects of the original game needed to be added to the GURPS system (like Blood Points and Humanity), and which ones were already covered by existing rules (like Willpower and Clan Weaknesses).

The Permutations chapter was next, and it came pretty easily, since the groundwork had already been laid. After that, the Clan information was quickly adjusted to fit the new character rules. Then I ran into a wall.

It was called Disciplines.

Grappling with the Supernatural

GURPS has a number of systems to handle hundreds of supernatural powers. They appear in GURPS Magic, Psionics, Supers and even Martial Arts. I felt sure that one of these sources would be able to cover vampiric Disciplines.

The powers aren't truly magical, though. They aren't mana-dependent, they have no prerequisites and Magical Aptitude isn't required to use them (not to mention that Kindred have no special access to other magic spells). Many of the powers seem psionic, but most of them don't. The powers were either very different or they overlapped with those in GURPS Psionics. Some powers were similar (like Invisibility), but were subtly different in the Vampire genre. Super powers and martial arts were not right either.

In the end, I had to compromise to stay true to the original game. I used familiar GURPS mechanics (Fatigue costs and skill rolls), with unique powers and intriguing names. Only the Discipline of Thaumaturgy lent itself to be covered by the magic rules, and even then I had to come up with several new spells.

Perhaps with a great deal of work, the Disciplines could have been written as all magic spells, or all psionic powers, but I truly believe that to have done so would have caused this book to stray too far from the source. And let's face it, the source is what makes this book sing.

The Vampire Letters

When a book is opened, the first few sentences read will largely determine whether it will be purchased. 

With that truism in mind, I set about to write the introduction and prologue, as well as the vignettes that open each chapter. We were going to use the original prologue and vignettes but everyone felt that what we were offering, besides a conversion, was some new material. I wanted to create something that would capture the flavor of the genre, provide pertinent information about the world and captivate the reader with a sense of drama and intrigue. I hope that I have succeeded.

Finishing Touches

After the prologue, I knew the rest would be easy. Mark Rein•Hagen had done an excellent job detailing the world background, and also included good campaigning information that needed little work except to reword it to fit our standard worldbook form. After that, all I had to do was write a sample adventure.

The story line for “Mortal Desires” developed from a line in the original book about a vampire working his way through his lineage in an attempt to regain his mortality. I felt that this was an alluring premise for an adventure, especially if the antagonist were on the verge of succeeding, and it was the PCs' job to stop her. Throw in some heavy action, clan politics and several plot twists, and you have a perfect starting adventure for GURPS Vampire.

I have to thank Chris McCubbin for stepping in and finishing out the adventure. He helped me quite a bit, and did an excellent job realizing the plot that I had only roughly sketched out. I must admit, near the end I came to a point where I did not want to see or hear the word “vampire.” I was even avoiding people with pale skin.

Final Notes

Creating this book was for me a journey that was sometimes agonizing, sometimes exhilarating; I was forced to explore the darkness within myself to better understand an entire world of darkness. I had to adapt, compromise and create. Ultimately, I am happy with what I have done.

As I look at the finished product, I cannot help but think that I have been a part of something revolutionary. In the game business, licenses are common; Steve Jackson Games has produced at least ten licensed worldbooks, based on fictional worlds. But rarely does one see two competing companies cooperating in this manner. I think that the merging of an unequalled world background with an unequalled game system was too sweet an opportunity for anyone to ignore. I hope this is merely the harbinger of greater things to come.

Article publication date: August 1, 1993

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