Roleplayer #17, November 1989

"I am not a number! I am a free man!"

The Prisoner Comes to Roleplaying

by David Ladyman

The Prisoner. Unexciting title, right? Certainly doesn't suggest much in the way of roleplaying, does it?

Surprisingly enough, The Prisoner packs a powerful roleplaying punch, introducing some fresh and previously untried angles on the games we play with our minds. For those who've been eagerly awaiting GURPS Illuminati, GURPS The Prisoner takes an illuminated world to the extreme – not only are they watching us, they're playing with our lives any which way they want to.

Designer Notes are usually the author's thoughts on writing the book. However, the most interesting things I have to say in that respect are included in the book's Introduction, so I'll spend a few minutes here describing the book to you and perhaps convince you to check it out.

Briefly summarized, the worldbook is based on the British television series of the same name, starring Patrick McGoohan. He is a spy who suddenly resigns without explanation; he is soon kidnapped and taken to The Village until he reveals why. The Village is an idyllic resort in many respects, with one major flaw. You can't leave. Ever. (Oh, they may promise, but . . . )

In some respects, The Village is restricted as a roleplaying arena – it is less than half a mile across, its buildings and people are fairly mundane, and PCs don't have access to much in the way of magic, superpowers or firearms. All of these are in the hands of the masters (played by the GM). Roleplaying here addresses the basics of PC and NPC relations: Who do I trust? To what extent? Which PCs are on the masters' side? What can I accomplish on my own, without a fireball to blow away any petty resistance? Players must use their heads, rather than a sackful of handy gadgets.

This is a radical concept – that you can roleplay without spells, powers or automatic weapons to back you up – but one that appeals to me a great deal. I am much more pleased when problems require clever solutions, than when they have to be treated with fire, lightning or a cloud of death. And I find multi-hour combat boring, with lightning bolts, Fists of Thunder and plastique constantly bouncing off walls and into super-absorbent characters.

The Village, then, is just the kind of world I like to GM and play in – a world where roleplaying, not power-tripping, is emphasized. Which isn't to say that I'm looking down my nose at all other roleplaying genres. I enjoy occasional doses of fantasy and superpowers – perhaps you power-trippers out there will enjoy an occasional trip to The Village.

The Prisoner worldbook should be available as this issue of Roleplayer hits the stands – look for a flashy gold bike (the universal symbol for The Village) against a dark red background. (And, of course, my name at least half an inch tall!)

And, as I write this, Steve Beeman and I are finishing the first of what we hope to be three adventure supplements. This first one, "The Schizoid Man," is based on the television episode of the same name. However, there are significant differences between the adventure and the episode, so even if you've memorized the episode, you'll still experience this adventure properly – never quite sure what is real or who you can trust. It is a combination solo/GMed adventure; the storyline is broken into scrambled paragraphs, like a solo, but there is also a chapter filled with GM notes, an adventure flowchart, and an index to help you run it for others. This is the first time SJG has tried combining the best aspects of solo and GMed play – give it a shot and tell them what you think. As usual, the solo adventure doesn't require the worldbook for play, but if you GM it, you'll probably want to refer to the worldbook, also.

Frankly, a solo adventure of this sort is a pain to write; we hope the effort proves worthwhile. In essence, we're having to write a mystery, leading the PC to answer such questions as "Who do you trust?," "How can you decide?," and "What are you going to do about it?" We've introduced two potential confederates to the plot. If both are trustworthy, the PC's planned escape goes much easier, but can either one be trusted? Which one? Both? Meanwhile, a double for the PC has entered Village life, as part of No. 2's plan to crack the PC by convincing him he isn't who he thinks he is. (And who knows? Maybe he isn't . . .)

The second and third adventures are tentatively based on "A, B and C" and "It's Your Funeral," two other television episodes. With the "A, B and C" adventure, we'll be trying to address one of the most difficult problems in roleplaying The Prisoner: how to persuade players to stop acting as a unified party and start questioning each others' loyalty. We'll be presenting a variety of situations in which PCs should suspect each other (rightfully so, in some cases); several of these situations will be applicable to your own campaign.

The "It's Your Funeral" adventure will be the most straightforward of the lot (if anything in The Village can be said to be straightforward). A situation and potential allies are presented to the PCs; they must each decide who they can work with in solving the problem to their best advantage.

So far, roleplaying in The Village has been a two-man effort, first with my world book and then with the adventures Steve and I are writing (abundantly aided by plenty of editors and playtesters, of course!). We've enjoyed writing them; I hope what we've written will prove to be just as entertaining for you. If you're inspired, take a shot a writing an adventure yourself and I'll see if my own PC can survive in a Village run by some other master. Be seeing you!

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