Designer's Notes: GURPS Y2K

Designer's Notes: GURPS Y2K

by Sean Punch

Designer's Notes: GURPS Y2K Before I write another word, I want to make clear that I am the designer of GURPS Y2K, but not the author – well, not the only author. This book would not have happened without the creative talents and cooperation of Mike Ford, Scott Haring, Ken Hite, Steve Jackson, Jeff Koke, Phil Masters, Dave Pulver, and Bob Schroeck. They wrote 90% of the book, and they were all good sports for going along with me: I contacted them in late March, signed them in early April, and asked for manuscripts by early June for a book that absolutely had to be out for the last quarter of 1999. For those of you who don't write for a living, let's just say that "give me something well-researched and creative in two months, and no slipping" is a tall order on a week's notice. But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .

Why did we choose to handle this as an anthology at all? Originally, we didn't. Plan A was for one writer to take this project, and we initially sought a freelance author by posting a call for proposals to our wish list. But as 1998 gave way to 1999, and as January became March seemingly overnight, we realized that we weren't going to get The Proposal – the one that would make us sit up and say "Oh, yeah!" There were lots of good proposals, but none of them portrayed Y2K as we saw it: a long look at millennial disasters in general. Maybe it was our title (we got lots of proposals to write books about computer bugs), maybe is was a deep-seated need to see GURPS Survivors (we got even more proposals for post-apocalyptic settings), but The Proposal never arrived.

Time for Plan B.

Suppose you're a line developer, it's March, you have to get a book out by autumn, and you don't have an author. To make it more of a challenge, let's add two caveats: First, the book requires a lot of research because it will cover a popular topic that people will nitpick. Second, the book has to be fresh and creative despite the subject being, well, a cliché. The honest developer will admit that he'd try to weasel out of it. ("Steve! I have this idea for GURPS Dustbunnies you just have to see! It's way cooler than Y2K!") But this is one deadline you can't weasel out of, because it isn't set by the managing editor or the editor-in-chief, but by the inevitable forward march of time. (And if I had managed to weasel out of that, I'd be immortal and writing grimoires of dark necromancy in Lost Tongues.) So what do you do? You contact a good writer. And what's faster than a good writer? Lots of good writers.

Come March, then, I embarked upon my first massively parallel writing venture. The first thing I learned was that choosing writers for an "all-star" anthology is tough. Our publicity mentions "favorite GURPS authors," but who's kidding who? Far more than nine authors have earned the right to that title, and a lot of them are my friends. Luckily, editorial procedure came to the rescue. All good books require an outline, and I set about creating one for Y2K. Suddenly, it became clear to me who would have to do the writing:

Chapter 1: An overview of millennial disaster. Who better to handle that than the creator of GURPS, the man with The Vision, Steve Jackson? (And yes, I did figure that some of the folks who have been dying to see Steve write Survivors might be mollified by this choice.)

Chapter 2: A humorous look at millennial idiocy. The natural choice was Scott Haring. Scott's ability to handle dark humor shone through in Horror . . . and anyone who knows Scott knows that he needs no instructions on how to plant his tongue firmly in cheek.

Chapter 3: A treatment of millennial woes as one big, deliberate conspiracy. I read Suppressed Transmission and concluded immediately that Ken Hite had to write this, even if I had to go to Chicago and kidnap him. (Luckily, I just had to make a Ken moppet and float it in a bottle of vodka.)

Chapter 4: A realistic look at global geopolitics at the turn of the millennium. This called for someone who had shown a good grasp of world geography and history in his writing, preferably someone who wasn't Yet Another North American. Places of Mystery and Who's Who creator Phil Masters, hailing from the U.K., was the logical choice.

Chapter 5: A piece on the American take on millennial disaster; i.e., an article on late-20th-century survivalism. My first choice was High-Tech author and survivalist Mike Hurst, but Mike's day job (all 60 hours a week of it) prevented this. Then I remembered the Steve Jackson-Survivors connection and whined enough to get Steve to write a second chapter for me.

Chapter 6: A look at the dark side of disaster: anarchy, opportunism, violence, social decay, and cannibals. Who writes about dark, evil stuff? Who has a grasp of attitude and angst? Black Ops coauthor and Vampire: The Masquerade adapter Jeff Koke came immediately to mind.

Chapter 7: An article on rebuilding – rebuilding in the image of the past, not just recreating what was lost. I needed someone with a strong grasp of settings twisted in time . . . and my mind settled on Time Travel coauthor John M. Ford.

Chapter 8: A science-fiction approach to the end of the millennium, showing how recent technology can cause new and wonderful kinds of disasters. A quick glance at the "tech books" (Bio-Tech, Ultra-Tech, and Ultra-Tech 2, not to mention Mecha, Robots, and Vehicles) was all it took to get me on the phone to David Pulver.

Chapter 9: A superheroic look at disasters and rebuilding. It was a foregone conclusion that Robert Schroeck, creator of IST, had to write this. I even titled this chapter "IST-2000" in my earliest outline. (I confess to an ulterior motive: More IST stuff! Yay!)

Chapter 10: A supernatural take on millennial disasters – Armageddon and zombies and other good things. I was nominated for the role by other folks at SJ Games simply because I had written Undead (plus it was generally agreed that I would be a zombie by the time this project was finished).

Designer's Notes: GURPS Y2K . . . and that's how it happened. Of course, I had to draft contracts, write product specs, write my own chapter, write ad copy, and edit the book, but although that was a lot of hours, it was easy next to the planning stages. I mean, it's a joy to edit good writers, and I like to write about zombies. Once that was done, all that remained was the introduction, which almost wrote itself. With the all-star author lineup and the millennial theme of the book, a "where GURPS has been and where it's going" piece was required – and it's one of those things that a GURPS geek like me can do in his sleep.

After that, Jeremy Zauder took over and did the layout, dealing with last-minute corrections from nine writers and an editor at the same time. Anyone who knows layout is probably crying tears of empathy at this point. Thanks, Jeremy!

Naturally, there were hitches here and there. How do you coordinate nine authors on a tight deadline? The answer is "You don't." Everyone had his section, everyone had the outline, and being professionals, everyone did his part without stepping on anyone else's toes. Don't try this at home. There was actually surprisingly little overlap or disagreement for me to edit out, despite the collaborative nature of the book. I'm almost looking forward to my next anthology.

The title was another problem. It started out as Y2K, was changed to the slightly less cliché Y2Krash, and stayed there until the last minute . . . when we realized that it might be read "Y2K rash," which sounds catching, not catchy. Quickly, all the web pages and cover layouts were changed back to Y2K. Whew – disaster averted.

Then there was the question of playtesting, as in "Do we?" Realizing that a playtest would push us into November or later, we decided not to test the book, counting on the combined experience of the authors and the rules geek at the helm (Yours Truly) to get things right the first time. Besides, we wanted the book to be a surprise! You can be the judge, but I'm rather proud of the book.

In the end, we negotiated the speed bumps and got a book to print. It was an exhilarating experience. I hope we managed to convey the fun we had to you, the reader.

Oh, and in case the Net dies on 01-01-2000: Happy New Year!

Article publication date: December 3, 1999

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