Designer's Notes: GURPS Planet of Adventure
by James L. Cambias
I had a lot of fun writing GURPS Planet of Adventure. Even at the darkest times (when the manuscript was about 75 percent done and I began lying awake at night wondering if I was really cut out for game design) I was never reluctant to go back to work on it. Tschai is a fun place and I liked spending time there.
I did a close reading of the novels, taking careful notes which I then organized under the appropriate headings in the outline. Though in many places I expanded on what Jack Vance described (especially in matters like local government structure), my goal was to avoid actually contradicting anything in the text.
The book contains several adventure seeds and campaign outlines, but one idea which never made it even into the proposal was the notion of a random adventure generator. The concept fits Tschai's swashbuckling, peril-filled environment, but there just didn't seem to be enough room. So what follows isn't quite an outtake; call it a shard from a vanished reality in which GURPS Planet of Adventure was a 256-page tome.
The Random Tschai Adventure Generator
To create a Random Tschai Adventure, first roll to determine who the main adversaries will be. The table is biased in favor of Dirdir, Dirdirmen, Humans, and Blue Chasch, since those are the most active and numerous groups on Tschai. Wanek and Old Chasch are the least likely opponents. Since the aliens on Tschai are fairly territorial, the nature of the adversaries usually determines the location. If you're facing Dirdir, that probably means you're in Dirdir territory in Kislovan; Chasch as enemies indicates Kotan. Ordinary humans and Pnume can turn up anywhere, so the GM can pick a location that seems interesting, or simply use the current location of the party.
Example: Gamemaster Wilbur is creating an adventure for tonight's game. He rolls a 14 for the adversaries: Green Chasch. Since the Green Chasch spend all their time on the steppes of Kotan, that gives him the general location.
Next determine the goal of the adventure -- what the PCs are trying to accomplish. If the adventure is to be a long and elaborate one, roll multiple times. The first roll becomes the overall goal, with one or more subsidiary goals which must be accomplished first.
Example: Wilbur continues to create tonight's adventure. He rolls a single goal, number 12: Find an Object. He decides that the PCs will be searching for a Terran supply drop from space which was knocked off-course by hostile missile fire. It landed in Green Chasch territory, so the PCs will have to get it and avoid the alien nomads.
Another Example: Meanwhile, Gamemaster Jim wants to create an epic story arc for his Tschai campaign, which will span a month or more of gaming. He first rolls to determine the overall goal, and gets number 10: Rescue a Person. To perform that rescue, however, the PCs must first accomplish three subsidiary goals (one for each gaming session before the finale). Jim rolls three more times and gets 13, 15, and 9. So the party must defend a place, conquer a place, and reach a destination. Jim decides to rearrange them, so that the PCs have to help defend a way station against raiders, make a long trek by caravan, and finally recapture a fortress which has been seized by bandits. Only then can they proceed to rescue their lost comrade.
Once you have a goal, come up with problems. The adversaries are naturally the biggest problem, but there are others. Again, depending on how long a game session you want, roll once or several times on the Additional Perils table. For total randomness, roll a die to see how many times to roll on the table.
Additional Perils are difficulties, either serious or minor, which the characters must face in addition to the chief adversaries. Savage Beasts is pretty self-explanatory: the PCs encounter dangerous animals (or possibly carnivorous plants). In some cases the beasts may be connected to the primary adversary -- night-hounds and/or Phung if the party is in conflict with the Pnume, for instance.
Hostile Tribes indicates that the party comes into conflict with a group of humans for reasons unrelated to the main adventure. The humans can be pirates, bandits, religious fanatics, or just xenophobic natives.
Lack of Funds may mean the party are faced with exorbitant prices beyond their means, or that they have come to a region in which sequins are not the common mode of exchange and they must find some way to get some local currency. Fraud or Sharp Practice is common on Tschai; in this case it means someone tries to cheat the party in the course of the adventure. Note that the PCs may not realize they have been cheated until it is too late to confront the crook.
Lack of Transport indicates some difficulty in getting to a particular destination -- either the party's vehicle malfunctions or is lost, commercial transport is unavailable, or there simply is no way to go to a specific place. Coping with a Lack of Transport may mean working passage, stealing a vehicle, or surviving an arduous cross-country trek.
Complications provide opportunities for roleplaying and intra-party conflict; some GMs may prefer not to roll on the Complications table. Most are self-explanatory. A Person in Distress asking for help gives the party the choice to get involved; if they do help, they may gain a useful ally -- or get suckered by a con artist. If they don't, the person may hold a grudge and take revenge later on.
A Conflict between two factions means that the PCs stumble into the middle of somebody else's battle. The battle need not be strictly physical combat, of course. Note that if one of the factions is the current adversary of the PCs, the party may be able to form an alliance of convenience with the other group. A crash, shipwreck, or mutiny is a problem with transportation that occurs in mid-voyage. Sometimes it can serve as an opportunity rather than a hazard -- PCs could join the mutineers and gain control of a vehicle as leaders.
Erotic Attachments between PCs and NPCs can lead to trouble when the relationship goes sour. In this case an NPC previously attracted to one of the party grows to dislike him; results may include awaile (suicide), simple desertion, petty revenge, betrayal, or assault.
Inadvertently offending local customs is all too easy to do on Tschai. Every group or village has its own peculiar traditions, and many of them seem designed to entrap strangers. This can be as serious as violating a taboo which carries the death penalty, or as (relatively) minor as wearing an orange sash without knowing it's the sign of prostitution.
A Traitor in the Group indicates that one of the party -- an NPC or even one of the player characters -- is working to oppose the aims of the others. This can mean the traitor is in league with their enemies, but could also indicate a personal vendetta (possibly the effect of an Erotic Attachment which has failed), or simply personal goals at odds with the group's.
Escort one or more Individuals
Capture a certain Person
Steal an Item
Reach a Destination
Rescue a Person
Escape from Captivity
Find an Object
Defend a Location
Transport an Item safety
Conquer a Location
(roll 1d for the number of perils, then 1d for the nature of each)
Savage beasts (including Phung)
Hostile Tribes (ordinary Men unrelated to adversaries)
Additional Adversaries (roll again on table 1)
Lack of Funds
Fraud or Sharp Practice
Lack of Transport
(roll 1d for the number of complications, then 1d for the nature of each)
Asked for Help by a person in distress
Caught up in a conflict between two factions (roll for both on Table 1)
Crash, Shipwreck or Mutiny
Erotic Attachment Sours
Inadvertently Offend Local Customs
Traitor In the Group
Article publication date: August 22, 2003
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