This article originally appeared in Pyramid #22
The Mysteries Are Revealed:
Designer's Notes for GURPS Warehouse 23
by S. John Ross
A small minority, including myself, was hot for positive action; definite movements were to be made; in particular, the Mysteries were to be revealed. The majority, especially the Asiatic Masters, refused even to discuss the proposal. They contemptuously abstained from voting, as if to say, "Let the youngsters learn their lesson." My party therefore carried the day and various Masters were appointed to undertake different adventures. Mohammed, Luther, Adam Weishaupt, the man we knew as Christian Rosencreutz, and many servants of science, were thus chosen. Some of these movements have succeeded . . .
- Aleiester Crowley, describing his own role as a Secret Master in his Autohagiography.
GURPS Warehouse 23 has been the Project of Surprise for me. The book, at every turn, surprised me. My research, as each new source revealed itself, surprised me. The playtesters surprised me. People I never met who overheard me talking in convenience stores took time out of their day to walk over and surprise me. That dialogue went a lot like this:
Large Bearded Stranger Holding A Large 7-11 Coffee: Did I hear you say you were writing a book about cars that can go 100 miles on a gallon of gas?
Me: Eh? Well, and UFOs and things. Stuff hidden away. Secret discoveries. The 100-mile-per-gallon carburetor I was talking about is an old urban legend; that's the theme. Do I know you?
Stranger: My brother had a truck like that. Bought it back in '79. He filled it up once and it ran for six months.
Me (smiling, looking carefully at the exit and hoping my friends will hurry up and get their Slurpees): Oh my. Well, that must have been very convenient. Just drove it to the supermarket and back, I suppose.
Stranger: The tank was only half empty when the company recalled it. Said there was something wrong with the brakes. A week later they shipped the truck back, and it didn't work like that no more. It was like it was a different truck. Guzzled gas like a grizzly.
Me: Yes. Well, they do get thirsty. All that salmon. I have to go.
Stranger: I think he got it by accident. It was for the military or somebody. I asked the dealer and he said there wasn't any brake problem with that model; there was no recall on that truck. You put that in your book, son. You just put it there.
The next day I went to the same store to grab some chips. The big guy with the coffee wasn't there, but the cashier took the time out to bring the subject up again, and to tell me that her mother was visited by angels in 1988 and that her aunt was abducted by aliens for talking about it to a priest. I nodded solemnly and just bought the chips and left. Maybe she liked to tell that story to everybody in the hopes that she would get abducted. I don't know.
Word got around, and I still walk in that store and get new stories.
I started experiencing a strange kind of externalized paranoia. I didn't begin to see evidence of The Conspiracy around every corner, but I did begin to see evidence that everybody - or nearly everybody - believed in it.
With some, it was subtle - they didn't believe in the 100-mpg carburetor, but they did believe that, sure, maybe the automakers build cars so that they won't last more than a few years, in order to keep profits up. Greed, they reasoned, is a powerful motive. With others, believable motive wasn't important - I heard stories of demons living in septic tanks and Black Helicopters scrambling home satellite dishes.
GURPS Warehouse 23 is a compendium of 20th-century mythology - a collection of weird science, dark sorcery, and shameless lies. In writing it, I discovered that the myths of our modern world are often no less outrageous than the myths of the ancients. The manufacture of microwave ovens, it seems, doesn't make a society immune to superstition, especially when some believe the microwave ovens are built using technology taken from the wreckage of a UFO.
Getting Sucked In
The next step, for me, was to get into the spirit of things. A dialogue with a good friend of mine (I'll call him Kevin to protect his identity) is a typical example:
Kevin: So I explained to them about the Black Helicopters, and how they were mutilating cattle and how they could suck cows up into them where they had a cow-surgery facility and everything, just like in the book.
Me (Laughing Like A Loon): And they believed you???
Kevin: Yeah, they were asking "Oh, man, where did you learn this?" and I just said "Well, I know these things."
Me: That links up with what you were telling me earlier about that girl who's brothers went cow-tipping. Maybe the Black Helicopters don't mutilate cows - maybe they just tip them.
Kevin: Yeah, I can see it! "Cow on scope; lower the craft and prepare to Tip Cow!"
Me: It all makes sense! We know the Illuminati can cause earthquakes, right?
Kevin: Right . . .
Me: Well maybe they don't need a big machine to do it. If you tip just the right cows at just the right time, you set up micro-vibrations in the surface of the planet . . . with alien computers you could calculate the effects . . .
Kevin: And use Mind Control Lasers to make rural beer-swilling teenagers think "Hey! I know. TV is boring; let's knock over farm animals instead!"
Me: Right! So the Orbital Mind Control Laser can also be an Earthquake Projector, if you have the means to make those calculations!
We went on to make up a scenario between us: The PCs catch wind of the Illuminati plot to destroy California once and for all, and they have to break into Warehouse 23 to get the CowQuake Algorithms and steal a black helicopter. Mobilizing their own rural teens across the world, they must organize a massive counter-tipping exercise, fighting hordes of aliens and robots guarding the pastureland of the world from unauthorized Civilian Cow Tippers. An adventure about upsetting the balance of power, so to speak.
This is what happens when I go nights without sleep, reading books about mind control drugs and the connection between the Nazis and the lost continent of Atlantis.
Hitting the Books
Literally hundreds of books and articles - and individuals with stories - were consulted during the preparation of GURPS Warehouse 23. Some of the reading was just silly. Some of it was genuinely disturbing, like one man's book about what his father went through as part of mind-control experiments sponsored by the U.S. government. Some of it was easy to dismiss; some of it wasn't.
The research ranged far and wide, from mysticism to politics. The goal was to create a book full of ideas - a hundred springboards from which an enterprising Game Master could build entire GURPS campaigns out of. Piece by piece, the book built itself, taking on stranger shapes as the files grew larger.
Some of the research was only vaguely related to the book's theme. In order to drop convincing little references to the interior of The Facility (what the Secret Masters call the Warehouse), I researched the workings of real-world storage houses, docking facilities, and even freight transportation, just in case there might be a detail that I would trip over in ignorance. On the same day, my stack of books at the library would include the Hermetica, books about Bigfoot, and the Condon report on UFOs.
In addition to books and magazines and the World Wide Web, many friends and correspondents fed me ideas, gave me critiques, and provided moral support and junk food (both the physical and intellectual kind).
So What Is It?If you've followed the regular "Warehouse 23" feature here in Pyramid, then you've got a good idea of what the meat of the book will be like. There are books, technologies, chemicals, frozen bodies, places, and secrets - a book of modern "magic items," most of them more dangerous than valuable. The Facility itself is described, as is its role in history. The book includes a complete Illuminated timeline, complete with every significant date from both GURPS Warehouse 23 and GURPS Illuminati, with additional real-world history to provide context. There are adventure ideas by the truckload, rules for Black Magic and Mind Control technologies, and discussions of how to incorporate all of it into an existing campaign. The Flying Saucers are at last revealed, alongside dangerous computer game technology, the secrets of the ancient Maya, and the complete story of the Ark of the Covenant.
One popular rumor was that all of the geographical references in the book, if marked on a map, make an amusing connect-the-dots pattern. I deny this entirely; it would require a globe, not a flat map - and the dates are just as important.
Some of it is real. One of the most gratifying moments in playtest was the Internet correspondent who praised the book for containing a "convincing hoax" from World War II. I didn't have the heart to tell him that that it was no hoax - he had stumbled across one of the historical entries, sandwiched playfully between the whole-cloth items. Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense to the author. Truth doesn't have anybody to answer to.
At the end of it all, the links between fiction and reality became more complex and more complete. The book was full - with thousands of ideas still left to be explored. That exploration is left to the enterprising players and Game Masters who the book reaches.
Please, share your secrets with us. GURPS Warehouse 23 contains many beginnings; where they lead is of more than passing interest to us all.
The Random Reaching-Into-A-Box TableIf a group of PCs is ever exploring Warehouse 23, or a place like it, they might decide to reach into a box at random and pull things out. Make a tens-and-ones roll on the following table if you're in the mood for something absurd.
1,1 - A bottle of Coca-Cola that throbs with warmth at the pace of a human heartbeat.
1,2 - A handful of computer disks containing the archived contents of the Library of Alexandria. They are labeled "Hard Drive Backup."
1,3 - A silver whistle with three emeralds embedded in the top. Every time the whistle is blown, an emerald glows and cracks, and a powerful demon enters the world and starts killing people. The demon emerges 2d miles from the whistle.
1,4 - A handful of gray dust. In addition to being an effective sneezing powder, the box label indicates that the dust is from the surface of one of the "moons of Mercury."
1,5 - Some shuriken made of a mysterious green mineral. Natives of the planet the mineral came from will find the radiation from the shurikens to be fatiguing and ultimately deadly.
1,6 - A 9mm pistol that smells like chocolate. It is entirely edible, and uses standard ammunition with no problem. Firing it after part of it has been eaten would be dangerous.
2,1 - A desk-model Perpetual Motion Machine. It makes a good paperweight and an interesting sputtering noise.
2,2 - A large ruby containing the glowing soul of a long-dead King. It will attempt to take over the mind of the holder.
2,3 - A file describing the details of the death of Marilyn Monroe, including her own role as a major crime figure in the Hong Kong Triads.
2,4 - A book of recipes for (roll one die) 1-2: Human Flesh, 3-4: Extinct Animals, 5-6: Creatures Found In The Hollow Earth.
2,5 - A hamburger wrapped in wax paper, still warm, but with far too much mustard (nothing strange about it: a loader-operator stashed it here when he saw an inspector walking towards him - further exploration will reveal the french fries).
2,6 - A copy of Isaac Asimov's Foundation, in an edition that corresponds to no known legal printing. The cover painting, inexplicably, features an inverted pyramid.
3,1 - A bottle of children's chewable vitamins that turn the eater into an animal for 1d hours. The animal depends on the vitamin eaten, all of which are in animal shapes. There are several crates of these. They are highly addictive and each use will cause the permanent loss of 1 point of IQ if a HT roll is failed. Addiction sets in as soon as the first IQ point is lost.
3,2 - A small white plastic device with an orange lens set into one end, and two flat buttons. Pressing the left button will create a hologram six feet from the lens - a hologram of a Dwarf (the fantasy race; a bearded one with a strange smile). Pushing the second button will make him grin more and hold out his helmet as if wanting money in it. There is no obvious way to turn it off.
3,3 - A grenade resembling an ordinary modern defensive (frag) grenade. It is loaded with blue paint that eats through glass, but leaves everything else intact.
3,4 - A pack of Twinkies that have passed their expiration date. Small lizard-like creatures are hatching from them.
3,5 - A TV directory from the winter of 2108.
3,6 - A TV directory from the summer of 1844.
4,1 - A snake-charmer's flute, played like an ordinary recorder. It really works, even on default, but it causes the snake to grow rapidly. If the music stops, the snake goes berserk. If the music continues, the snake keeps growing. There is no limit to the size of the snake; it will keep growing as long as it hears the music.
4,2 - A very ugly slug-like creature making a sad little sighing noise. If eaten fresh, it is delicious.
4,3 - A switchblade with a hidden catch on the side. If pressed, the "knife" opens up and becomes a small hand-held computer with an internal cellular modem.
4,4 - A matchbook from the L5 Hilton, an orbital hotel apparently in current operation. The matchbook can be exchanged for a complimentary cocktail in the lounge.
4,5 - Picture postcards from Atlantis.
4,6 - A box of small bottles labeled "Damitol." It is an injectable drug that causes overwhelming apathy. Each bottle contains two doses.
5,1 - A silver rod which, when held until warmed, glows with green radiance. It can then be used to slice holes in space, opening doorways to an alternate universe with subtle differences from our own. Making a second slash there will make a doorway back here - or maybe to an entirely different alternate reality.
5,2 - A flat square crystal labeled Complete Works of William Shakespeare. It is what it claims to be, but it can only be "read" using Telepathy (an ordinary Telerecieve skill roll at +6; untrained telepaths can read it with an IQ-2 roll if they think to try).
5,3 - The keys to somebody's car. Further examination of the box will reveal a wallet, an umbrella, and a human body sealed in plastic and perfectly preserved. It looks like the current President of the United States. There are seven other crates with entirely identical contents.
5,4 - The high school yearbook of a major criminal figure. The "have a good life" notes inside the covers are from an astonishing variety of influential and beloved public figures.
5,5 - A TL10 Blaster Pistol with a full power supply. Once the trigger is pulled, however, it will continue to discharge at full rate of fire until the power is drained. This will mentally Stun the firer, but once he makes his IQ roll and snaps out of it, the gun can be aimed again with no trouble (except the mild recoil). Combat Reflexes gives the normal bonus to break out of the stun.
5,6 - A baby parrot. It can only say "Catfood! Wrrrawwrk!" but it will have an IQ of 12 when it reaches adulthood. It will attach to the PC and not want to be left behind.
6,1 - A small brass wheel, a model of the kind used to steer a ship from the Age of Sail. It bears the inscription "felis pardalis."
6,2 - A bottle of the hottest pepper sauce the world has ever known.
6,3 - A jar containing a fetal-like alien "corpse." In truth, it is only sleeping, and any strong light will wake it up. It will look pleadingly through the glass and signal to be let free.
6,4 - An alchemical formulary, in an affordable paperback edition. It was printed in 1991 and is labeled Seventh New Edition.
6,5 - A metallic armband that, when worn, doubles punching damage done with that arm through the use of a kind of force-technology. However, without the special foil glove (also in the box, buried a bit), the user will take 1d-1 crushing damage to his hand every time it is used. The power source is apparently infinite (it draws Orgone Energy from the wearer, causing him to take the equivalent of 1dx10 rads of Gamma radiation every time he throws a punch).
6,6 - A paper folder containing a complete dossier on the character that grabbed it. Photos, details from childhood - everything is there. Even a death date is noted. It's today, and the character apparently was found dead on the side of a mountain about 60 miles from the location of the Warehouse. Nobody knows what he was doing in the area, or how he acquired the strange burns on and through his body. When the character looks up, he is surrounded by security robots who are, against all odds, grinning pleasantly.
Visit the Warehouse 23 Basement for more fnordish warehouse ideas.
Article publication date: November 1, 1996
Copyright © 1996 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.