You walk into wherever your group plays, and say, "Guys, I was thinking of running a GURPS Supers campaign. What kind of characters do you want?"
The Secret Crossover
by Steven Michael Graham
"I want my character to have lots of psionics, especially cyberpsi, and maybe some astral projection."
"I'll be a wizard, specialized in just a few related colleges."
"Can I be a Garou? Please?"
"How about bringing in my alien character from that last campaign?"
Sure, you could just, "NO!" and hit them all repeatedly with your copy of the Basic Set (I hope it's not the hardcover.) until they all agree to make nice, simple characters with just GURPS Supers, but an unconditional "no" is never as fun as a conditional "yes." Besides, diversity is essential to the superheroic genre. If you have all the rules for their widely divergent choices, complete with more detail and an individual "feel," and they can be mixed together, then why not use them? One of the strengths of GURPS is its ability to accommodate elements from different worlds and genres. However, you also chose GURPS because you wanted it to be realistic. How do you realistically explain such a hodgepodge of different creatures and abilities? GURPS Wild Cards offers one explanation. But there's another worldbook that offers a more devious rationale: GURPS Mage: the Ascension
Mage postulates that the laws of reality are set by the consensus of the beliefs of all sentient beings in a region. Because of reality's true malleability, those with enough spiritual strength and conviction in a belief system can force local reality to conform to their personal reality model, and thus accomplish feats people of a different paradigm would consider "paranormal." Of these miracle-workers, those enlightened enough to understand this are said to be Awakened, and the near-infinitely versatile acts of Local Reality Adjustment they perform are called "dynamic magick." However, there are also those who, lacking true understanding of reality's nature, can only perform those wonders that their own beliefs consider possible, and can only bring about those effects by means of whatever their reality model considers an appropriate cause. Such phenomena are known as "static magic," and those who cause them are called "hedge magicians," at least in a normal World of Darkness campaign. In this one, they may also be called "mutants," "aliens," "psions," "cyborgs" or dozens of other things.
The system the players use to simulate a given paranormal effect is merely a reflection of the unique paradigm their characters imprint upon local reality to perform static magic. The wizard's Shape Earth spell, the psi's Telekinesis, the werewolf's Persuasion gift, and the immortal's Regeneration may all follow different rules, at both the game and story levels, but they are all static magic because the axiom that says, for example, that focused thought can set in motion a hyperspatial waveform that imparts kinetic energy of a desired amount and direction to an remote object, is not part of consensus reality. (Indeed, the personal paradigms of different telekinetics may not match completely, explaining the nuances of power usage that are represented in the GURPS rules by things like Enhancements and Limitations.)
So it's all static magic of different flavors. This ties everything together into one huge weird secret that it will take the party months to figure out. It sets the stage for some interesting crossovers with creatures from the World of Darkness. It also presents the potential for the PCs and everything around them to evolve into something totally different from what they had originally seemed to be, breathing new life into the campaign once it grows stale.
AdjustmentsSuperficially, this alternate requires little modification from any standard GURPS Supers setting, or any mixture of them. However, a few areas need to be rethought in light of the underlying magickal elements. For example, alien PCs "know" that space is an airless void. They've traveled through it to here. They "know" that their home is a sphere of rock circling the third Pleiades from the left. But unless they possess a terribly straightforward form of hyperflight, they probably took a shortcut through "hyperspace," a strange separate layer of the universe wherein space/time is distorted -- you know, like the Umbra. Their "home planet" is an Umbral Realm. Their limited ability to enforce the reality of their home may give them an edge over normal Earthlings. As for the "airless vacuum of space," if the aliens in question can survive in vacuum, their paradigm is free of void engineering. Tell the player his people never noticed that space was a vacuum. Characters who have never been exposed to space may just assume it's airless. (The question is why would other races assume that? Do they have their own equivalents to the Void Engineers?)
The super-advantages Time-Jumper and World-Jumper present difficulty because they provide an astounding degree of mobility that could prematurely puncture the secret nature of the campaign. Besides, travel into the actual past is one of the very few things no magi can do. Conversely, travel to an Echo of Earth's history shouldn't be a problem. Echoes (see GURPS Time Travel) would be part of the High Umbra. (Perhaps they are the collective memory of the past.) The World-Jumper advantage presumes that other worlds are directly adjacent to the Jumper's home dimension. In the World of Darkness, differing realities are all separated by the Umbra. However, just as gates provide a "tunnel" through the Umbra from one realm to another without exposing travelers to the environment in between, World-Jumpers can traverse through the Umbra without seeing it or realizing what they are doing. Nevertheless, it should not be easy. Have them take limitations like Unreliable, Fickle, and Nuisance Effect. Even with such limits, someone with such ability would be sought out for "study" -- possibly including dissection. -- by Nephandi, Void Engineers, and other unscrupulous magi.
Speaking of which, some thought must be given to the placement of Awakened mages and other "monsters" native to the World of Darkness. Be careful not to overstock them. Not only would a glut of such beings give away the surprise, it would also become ludicrous. (Of course, if ludicrous was what you were going for, then by all means . . .) They are, after all, supposed to be rare, and the PCs should have plenty of other problems to concern themselves with. An occasional vampire, werewolf, "siren" or "zombie" is normal for the supers genre. An entire society of them is a different story. Considering the Masquerade and the Veil, it should take unawakened protagonists a long time to uncover such a subculture. The Daughter of Cacophony isn't going to casually mention that she drinks blood, much less her weaknesses and alliances, and anyone attempting to read her mind should find it quite disconcerting, thanks to the unearthly music they'll find there. (If you're using Fright Checks in your campaign, now would be a good time for one.) Note that a capacity for static magic doesn't make one Immune to the Delirium. That must be purchased separately, and the players haven't been given any reason to.
The least conspicuous way to insert magi and the like into the campaign is to turn preexisting appropriate NPCs into monsters retroactively. For example, any exceptionally powerful or particularly versatile super could be Awakened. Villains such as Chemico or Doctor Radiation, with their scientific backgrounds, wide-ranging powers, and tendency to use pawns, make excellent Technomancers. Their actions show the masses how dangerous all this paranormality is, and allow them the opportunity to study and sometimes capture reality deviants. Even their fabricated "origins" serve to support the Technocratic line concerning the workings of superhuman powers.
Building the MysteryThe true nature of reality is, not surprisingly, quite difficult to figure out, so if you want your players to do so, you should plant a few clues early on. PCs with connections to government projects or cutting-edge scientific organizations may have received a number to call should they uncover certain "unnatural" phenomena. Regardless of whether their number is called, Men In Particular Colors may show up at the end of a scenario, intending to confiscate all the evidence "in the interests of national security." Certain types of characters, such as extra-dimensionals (In this case, that includes extra-terrestrials), gadgeteers, those who have been magically altered, and those who practice static magical paradigms like the ones in GURPS Magic and GURPS Voodoo, may have encountered the Technocracy or Nephandi before the campaign even starts, although they probably don't know them by those names. Perhaps an enigma in the area is the result of Awakened activity. (Example: Local Virtual Adepts use the Tapping the Line rote to reach the Net from the middle of the park, leaving those with Electrokinesis or Magnetic Sense to wonder why certain patches of grass and dirt are now electrically conductive.)
PCs will also discover that, regardless of how they know their paranormalities function, the scientific community and general public believe that all such abilities are the result of some single mechanism: genetic mutation, psionics, bioenergetics or something else. This is part of the Technocracy's massive offensive to hem in and limit magic. This is a setback for them compared to a normal World of Darkness campaign. Unfortunately, a weaker paradigm dictatorship is a gain for the Nephandi and Marauders. In a variation where the Technocracy was more in control, the public would be completely unaware of the existence of supers. The players would be sure to wonder who or what is hushing up all the weirdness.
AwakeningsAt some point, you may decide it's time for your PCs to Awaken. You shouldn't feel required to allow this, but likewise you should not hesitate if you feel it's the right time and direction. It doesn't matter whether the party has uncovered any of the World of Darkness elements in the campaign, although having Awakened allies helps the process along. Any climactic event could be the catalyst.
Since true magi cannot work static magic, you should replace all the newly Awakened characters' static abilities, including any super-equipment or technology beyond the current tech level, with equivalent dynamic traits. External devices become fetishes, talismans, or magickal foci. (Remember that any ultra-tech is actually technomagical in this setting.) Inherent or implanted abilities blossom into instinctive knowledge of the appropriate Spheres, at levels sufficient to re-create all or most of their previous effects. The GM should handle any such arbitrary selection of "equivalent" magickal abilities. Those seeking more rigid guidelines could base each Sphere skill on the average skill for controlling related effects, and require that the new mage receive a Sphere level only if she was previously capable of at least one effect from each previous Sphere level. (These only apply to the translation from static to dynamic. The fledglings may improve through experience normally. ) Alternately, the Game-Master could "melt down" the points in each character's paranormal abilities and use the points to purchase each PC's new traits, or even allow the players to, subject to GM veto.
Article publication date: January 8, 1999
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