[Gurps 4E] Lorekeepers

Started by aleric, September 12, 2010, 08:02:03 PM

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Background: Gurps 4th Edition High Fantasy with Steampunk elements (loosely based on Wheel of Time, and elements from Game of Thrones and survival horror).
Setting: We're a group of thirty and forty-something guys who have been gaming together for decades. Setting is my house, the beer pours freely, and there are patches in my notes where I had to leave the table to deal with dog issues.
Game master: M
Players and Characters:
Me - Mina, Pagan (Civilized Human) Female, Team Leader, Fighter/Lawyer (Expert in trial by combat).
R - Rhys, Male Gomorran (Beautiful, Elf-like Humans) Bard.
E - Troq, Male Halfling (Heavily armored warrior – gruff, homely, weaponsmith).
L - Semiramis, Female Half-Elf  mind-control and protection wizard.
B - Lorik, Lycan (Nature-aspected Human) – missed the first week and was late on the second week.

In-Game:  Our characters are a cell of Lorekeeper agents. The Lorekeepers are an ancient group dedicated to collecting and preserving knowledge. They have a reputation for ruthlessness, and are also called Reavers for their willingness to do anything to gather knowledge. The Lorekeepers have survived many cycles of the destruction and reconstruction of civilization by surges of evil creatures from the northern half of the main continent (the Blight). The chain of events that end with the destruction or rescue of civilization is called The Prophecy, as in we need to stop The Prophecy to save civilization. The identity and location of the high-level Lorekeeper  leaders is secret, and probably mobile. Our characters get their orders from local offices, maintained in most large cities, though most settlements and regions have at least a contact person. Lorekeeper teams operate at many different levels, from diplomatic maneuvering in the courts of kings, to back-alley shakedowns, to exploring ruins far from any current settlement. Our cell is from the apply-force-where-force-is-needed side of the organization.

Our cell has been activated and ordered to meet with our handler at the Horizon Inn in central Harrenhall, a major Pagan city, at the third hour after noon. The leader of Harrenhall has ordered a large number of wagons to be constructed to begin the evacuation of the city away from the expanding Blight. Adding to the confusion a large pack of foreigners has begun screaming their battle cry in the central plaza, in an attempt to recruit followers for the person they consider a new avatar of their god "Die, Screaming – Die Screaming" implying the option to either go screaming towards a heroic death in battle, or screaming in fear while trying to run away.

Daylight suddenly fades away (leaving my darkness-phobic character near paralyzed with terror) and an army of brutal Trollocks materializes in the middle of town and commences slaughter. As the light returns, our characters run to the nearest group of Trollocks. In the middle of the pitched battles and seemingly random slaughter, we note across the plaza, too far for any of us to intervene, a Trollock carefully tear an apparently random citizen in half over a sewer grating, and pause with the portions as the blood drains away.

A few seconds later the Trollock horde fades away, leaving the streets strewn with the dead and dying. We go to check the oddly carefully handled corpse and see a large slug-like creature in the sewer drinking the spilled blood. It flees from us. While the others attempt to open the sewer grating, Mina grabs a bag of salt from a nearby merchant (leaving a note with name and contact information) and follows.

We track the faint trail of slime for hours without finding the slug, only the blood-drained corpse of an unfortunate wretch – probably a drug-addict who had sought shelter away from unsympathetic eyes. Rhys and Troq have painful wounds from Trollock blades; everyone is exhausted so we give up the trail and return to the surface to meet with our handler at a warehouse – away from the destruction in the center of town.

He has discovered that a half-Trollock/half-Human creature led the brief magical raid, and we request that he continue to investigate. His request for our cell, our top priority, is to investigate the emergence of a tree that bears magic fruit in a dangerous wild area known as the Primordial Park. This 'Tree of Change', produces fruits that resemble plums and pears – the plums increase intelligence, the pears boost strength, though they may also be physically addictive.  He gives us a scroll that will cause the tree to produce fruit, a map, healing potions, and advance payment.

- Eric


We get luxury zeppelin compartments for the ride from Harrenhall to Gregori – which only takes eight hours. From there it is a few days walk to the Primordial Park. Rhys tried and failed to sell some of the recovered Trollock weapons and armor – crudely made, no identifying maker's marks, rough workmanship. They were unwanted in Harrenhall due to well-justified fear of Trollocks, 'the weapons are full of evil'.

Troq sells the swords and armor for scrap in Gregori, his smith expertise enabling him to talk shop and win the confidence of the dealer, where Rhys's charm failed. He connects with the dealer after reassuring him that he didn't create them and also has only contempt for their craft. Troq sells the scrap for 12 silver, but tells us it was only 8 silver, sneaky.

A day and a half south of Gregori we come across a decrepit cluster of buildings that has a surprising amount of activity. A caravan was packing up to head back to Gregori. Twenty porters bustled around the wagon, and apparently every guide in this outpost was busy spending their just collected wages at the tavern.

The unnamed inn, the only large building at the outpost, appeared to be over a hundred years old, poorly maintained, sun-weathered wood, with a large balcony held up by one frail-looking post. We opt to stay inside, finding a group of cots in the large common room and begin to work the room for information and assistance. Mina has a hard time recruiting a guide, who tend to turn away from her blather about the importance of teamwork, and ends up in a corner talking to a handful of mostly-drunk old timers who are willing to tolerate her. Rhys has more luck with busking and using the proceeds to buy drinks for the house. He strikes up a connection with Jake, a respected and experienced guide, and convinces him to help us out at a rate we can afford.

After making arrangements we set out and reach the Park. An evening fog arises and we hear large creatures moving through the undergrowth. With long practice we draw up in a defensive circle around Semiramis, who begins to cast protective magic on Rhys and Troq. The giant birds charge out of the fog, but we're ready and the circle holds against their onslaught. We kill the largest bird, the apparent leader, and one other and the rest flee into the fog. We decline to chase and instead set up camp, butchering the birds and feasting on their flesh – despite a warning from Jake that the creatures here accumulate magic which can be toxic or have strange affects. The fresh roast bird is gamy, but much tastier than dried rations.

The next day passes without incident and we reach the tree the following morning. A large tree, bearing two different shapes of fruit, surrounded by bare ground. Mina, excited at reaching the tree, unwisely runs into the clearing and is grabbed by three massive roots. The roots begin to suffocate her, which protects her from the noxious gas that a large jawed and spiked flower monster (like Audrey at the end of Little Shop of Horrors) emits as it erupts from the ground and attacks her attempted rescuers.

Kronik reaches Mina and begins to cut her free, while the others temporarily drive away the plant monster and cut Semiramis free from the roots that had also grabbed her (the creature seems to have a thing for women, though it may have just been bad luck.) Kronik cuts Mina free, badly wounding her in the process, and everyone flees to the edge of the cloud of gas, the plant monster doesn't chase us, though we can see it still lurking through the haze.

Mina drinks a healing potion, and the group bandages and rests while thinking up a better approach for the next time.
- Eric


Out of game commentary: I designed Mina based on the a miniature and the Gurps gear table. Stats were selected to be able to use the weaponry, disadvantages are selected as ones that I think will be interesting to play, haven't used for other characters recently, and won't be too antisocial in play. I get impatient waiting for everyone else to finish their characters – I'd rather jump in to the game with a 75% complete character and finish it later, instead of trying to get everything perfect beforehand, especially considering that you're going to want to tweak later. I don't start with a strong feeling for her personality -  I hope for it to emerge from interaction with the other players.

There is a lot of exposition and rule-discussion in these sessions, though less in the second than in the first. I am uncertain how to engage this exposition – the tendency is to treat it as window dressing and focus on the interaction between characters – which tends to be horsing around. Though perhaps it's necessary to 'horse-around' to negotiate the character relationships and help get into character.

GM is disappointed in the Hatchet Bird combat – no players were wounded, though Semiramis used up a large chunk of her mana pool. I sympathize from prior GM experience, it can be difficult and frustrating to balance combat in Gurps – because of the complexity and the strong tendency for players and creatures to death spiral once wounded. We reassured the GM that if the birds had had better luck at the start (for example, if Mina had taken an arm wound early on and been forced to drop her Maul) it could have turned out badly for the characters.

Thinking about this highlighted what I think is a group problem, and how we tend to drift toward incoherence to resolve it. Characters are complex, death has a high RL impact (to delay the adventure to make a new character, and then renegotiate character relationships). Even disabling wounds create problems - a player could be left with nothing to do for weeks of play while their character heals. At the same time a lot of the in-game energy is coming from the gamism of using the high points of contact in the combat rules. My theory is that this increased investment in the group of characters leads us to flinch away from the initial Gamism (in combat, and in managing character points and finances) and drift incoherently either towards Illusionist Simulationism (our characters aren't really in danger in combat, but we all pretend they are as we follow the Gms story), or focus on Narritivism, character decisions and interactions, de-emphasizing combat (which can lead to a player feeling frustrated, if they have a lot of investment in combat abilities, which may explain a tendency toward escalating inter-character violence in some campaigns).

I think we need to explicitly choose one path or the other, to avoid crossed expectations.

There was also a funny comment from a player to the GM that has illustrated another point of conflict in the group dynamic, "None of us have common sense, so you can't tell us what to do." (Concerning eating the potentially contaminated birds). We all laughed, but it points to a conflict over character actions – should we take the safe route, as hinted by the GM, or act independently even if it means doing something silly or dangerous.

We need to work harder to find a middle space. Something like, less GM commitment to player character course of activity, and more player engagement with setting to avoid sitting blankly waiting for suggestions from the GM.
- Eric


GURPS is very confusing if you're used to the more highly structured format produced by other games.  If you're using the realistic healing rules, the GM is going to need to be on his/her toes to make sure that an injured player still has something to contribute to the story.  It's a big change if the GM is used to the standard fantasy trope of drinking a healing potion and you're all better.

None of the problem you discussed though are really system problems. If players are mentally wandering off, the GM isn't engaging them with the story.  There are plenty of techniques for doing that, and they've been discussed a lot around here.  I would encourage the GM to pick up a copy of Sorcerer for some excellent gaming advice.  Especially Ron's excellent advice about Bangs.  Everybody loves a good bang, and the GM needs to keep them coming like a crib girl to hold the player's interest (and if that seems crude, read the book and you'll understand).

I plan my games around the bangs.  I leave out the uninteresting bits and just get to the stuff that's gonna rock the player's world.  The games should reveal something shocking about the story, or provide an opportunity for a character to be heroic. I actually have a form that I fill out at http://www.obrienscafe.com/adventuredesigner.html but on thinking about it, I need to change the form slightly.
Clay Dowling
RPG-Campaign.com - Online Campaign Planning and Management


In my experience Gurps can help set up situations to address premise in character creation but it does little to put those elements forward in play or make the game about the issues raised so if you are going to use it for a Story Now game you will have to do most of the heavy lifting on your own.  For an illusionist Right to Dream game it works pretty well though it can have issues like you mentioned where healing takes a long time or death in combat is unwanted due to the work it takes to create characters.  You can skew the game in different directions depending on how much you emphasize the nitty gritty of the system or how much you ignore or outright fake to make the situations more thrilling.


Thanks for the feedback!

Clay - I think we may already be using your Gurps character spreadsheet. It strongly resembles one that was emailed to me a ways back - I'll see if the person who sent it to me remembers where he found the original. I'll give the adventurer designer a try and forward it on.

The first few sessions of this campaign were background and bookkeeping heavy - character building and relearning the rules. There should be more adventure and bangs when we meet next month - the GM likes to keep the horror flowing - so I'm looking forward to that.

Caldis - I agree with you about the awkwardness of bringing character premise into play, it seems like there are a lot of mechanisms (all the various conditions for rolls) but difficult to make it cohere into Story Now. My gut feeling is that our group enjoys the Step On Up part the most, the crunchy combat in (Gurps, D&D, Heroes, Lost Worlds...), but there is a deeply conditioned norm (viz the Role-play vs Roll-play debates) that that is not the *correct* way to play. So, I have been proposing embracing and reclaiming that part of the games, (at least for the above systems), and see how it goes.
- Eric


I just created an updated Key Scene Worksheet at http://www.obrienscafe.com/adventuredesigner.html based partially on our discussion here.
Clay Dowling
RPG-Campaign.com - Online Campaign Planning and Management