Roleplayer #20, June 1990

Riverworld and the Village

Combining Two Unique Backgrounds

by J.M. Caparula

Part of the fun of a universal system like GURPS is that it provides the ability to mix genres and game worlds and come up with something new. The "Alternate Realities" chapter in GURPS The Prisoner showed how the Village can be incorporated into a number of different game worlds, but there's another interesting one to consider – that of GURPS Riverworld.

The Riverworld and the Village have much in common as gaming environments. Both place the PCs in a mysterious world that is secretly controlled by unseen but obviously powerful forces. Agents of these unseen forces operate secretly among the population and may even be members of the player characters' party. The technology of the controllers of the two worlds is highly advanced, yet the PCs primarily exist in a low-tech environment (unless they can access higher technology through their own cunning).

There are also important differences between the Riverworld and the Village. The most obvious difference is physical size; the Riverworld is an entire planet, while the Village is an area of a few square miles. The Valleydwellers of the Riverworld are free to move about the planet and do as they please, despite their limited access to resources, while the Villagers are strictly controlled and monitored. Both gaming environments create a sense of paranoia among the PCs, but where the Village represents social and political paranoia, the Riverworld is one of religious and philosophical mysteries.

Nevertheless, the creative GM should have no trouble combining the two worlds. This would be an interesting solution to the problem of the players' familiarity with the Prisoner TV series and the Riverworld books. By combining the most interesting elements of each, the players will never be quite sure of what they are really up against. Two approaches to the Riverworld / Prisoner hybrid are possible, and each are presented below.

Ethicals in The Village

The first approach is to incorporate elements of Riverworld into the Village as it is presented in GURPS The Prisoner. This means that the Village is somewhere on Earth in the 20th century and is controlled by some powerful agency. Naturally, this agency would be the Ethicals, the race of highly advanced extraterrestrials that built the Riverworld and resurrected the human race upon it. The purpose of the Village could be as mysterious as that of the Riverworld. The Ethicals may want information about humans who have knowledge of them and their plans. They may use the Village as a "recruiting ground" for potential human Ethicals to act as agents on the Riverworld. It may simply be a controlled environment in which to observe the development of wathans. Or perhaps the Village is a renegade plot to enlighten selected humans about the presence of the Ethicals.

Once a purpose has been established, a Prisoner campaign can be run pretty much as normal. How the GM involves the PCs in Ethical plots is up to him. The characters may have some knowledge or skills that the Ethicals find useful or interesting. This may give them special treatment or attention. The GM may wish to have the PCs ultimately learn that something extraterrestrial is operating the Village – perhaps Monat himself is No. 1, and the PCs catch a glimpse of him during the climax of the campaign.

The Ethicals possess a technology at TL15, so anything mentioned in Chapter 5 of GURPS The Prisoner could be used in an Ethical-Village campaign, and then some. Matter-energy conversion is possible, enabling the Ethicals to create virtually any object (organic or otherwise) out of nothing – and to reduce it to nothing again. Organic androids, indistinguishable from humans but soulless, are commonly manufactured by Ethicals and could be passed off as Villagers. The Ethicals also use "light rods" to question humans, letting them detect the emotional condition of the subject. See Chapter 4 of GURPS Riverworld for a complete list of the Ethicals' technology.

The biggest advantage to running an Ethical Village is that it can prepare the PCs in an interesting way for a full-fledged Riverworld campaign. Adventures in the Village could end in the death of PCs (heroically, we hope), who would then find themselves reborn on the Riverworld. Depending on what happened in the Village, the PCs may be armed with more information about the planet's caretakers than most of the other Valleydwellers. Lazari who were in the Village on Earth will probably attract special attention from the Ethicals – renegade or otherwise. Players unfamiliar with both The Prisoner and the Riverworld books should find this type of campaign puzzling – going from the Village to the Riverworld will be disorienting in the least! The paranoia of such a situation should be played up by the GM – who are these "Ethicals," and why have they taken such an interest in me?

The Village on the Riverworld

If the GM of a GURPS Riverworld campaign wishes to incorporate GURPS The Prisoner, he can simply place the Village somewhere on the Riverworld. Many variations of this are possible. The Village could be built by a group of humans using their own technology for their own purposes – perhaps they wish to "weed out" the Ethical agents among the Valleydwellers. In fact, the human operators of a Riverworld Village could be the same as those of the terrestrial Village – British Intelligence, the CIA, the Illuminati, etc. In this case, the Village would probably be isolated from the rest of the Valley, either by tall cliffs or man-made walls. Prisoners could be brought here after capture, or they could arrive randomly by translations through the Village's own grailstones. Once in the Village, a Prisoner campaign could be run normally, as long as the GM fully defines the extent and limitations of the masters' technology, and how they arrived at it.

A more likely prospect is that of a Riverworld Village controlled by the Ethicals. The Council would have the ability to bring selected Valleydwellers to the Village (by intervening in the translation process), and they would have all the wonders of TL15 at their disposal. The purposes of such an operation are obvious, especially if there is a renegade attempting to subvert the Project. The Council might have brought someone like Richard Burton to the Village in an attempt to get information about his contacts with X.

The Ethicals could hide the Village among the high cliffs that line the Valley, making escape virtually impossible. The Village might also be within the Dark Tower, perhaps in one of the world rooms. Thus, escapees might be able to confront the Ethicals directly. This would give the GM an easy way to start a Dark Tower campaign.

In any of these scenarios, unique situations arise when the Village is part of the Riverworld. The Villagers would include people from all across history, not just 20th-centurians. They would certainly not be as docile as the typical Villagers from the Prisoner series, unless the Ethicals choose such a populace and focus on one small set of prisoners (i.e., the PCs). In fact, the Ethicals may employ androids as their Villagers for just such a purpose.

In the end, what benefits the participants of a Prisoner/Riverworld hybrid is the double mystery. The players will have two enigmatic worlds nested together, one providing some of the answers for the other. The creative GM can construct elaborate schemes for the Ethicals and their enemies, weaving plots and subplots behind the scenes while dropping careful hints to the PCs as they interact with the Village and the Riverworld. Both worlds provide unique roleplaying opportunities that will allow the players and the GM to create a very different sort of campaign.

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