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GURPS Monster Hunters 5: Applied Xenology, Jason Levine 07 June 2015

This supplementary volume in the Monster Hunters series tweaks the game to allow the foes to be aliens rather than supernatural monsters.

Monster Hunters is one of the streamlined subsets of GURPS, like Dungeon Fantasy and Action: traits and rules which aren't relevant to this particular sort of game are removed, character templates are given in detail, and genre-specific mechanisms are added. This series has had rather less attention than the others (Dungeon Fantasy is obviously the most popular, and I at least have had a lot of use out of Action); it deals with high-powered humans and supernatural beings investigating, pursuing and then slaying horrors, in the manner of the Buffy or Supernatural TV series or the novels of Larry Correia.

This book takes that core concept and wrenches it slightly sideways, with three major options which can be used piecemeal or together. The first is the use of a scientific rather than a supernatural mindset, or at least the popular-fiction concept of a scientific mindset, where rather than a bearded old occultist who tells you what the monster can do you get a bearded old xenologist who tells you what the alien can do. The more explicitly mystical character types (supportive blessings against Dark Powers) are obviously out, but the others can be moved across without too much trouble; there's good advice here on how allowing particular sorts of PC will affect the flavour of the campaign and the sorts of story that can be told. With aliens the default foe, there are three campaign frames: defending Earth against subtle alien invasion, being alien immigrants hidden in human society under the threat of extermination by the Men in Black should anything go too badly wrong, or hunting aliens on other worlds. Other notes suggest that one mindset can be the "good" and one the "evil", whether that's in the style of Mage (technology corrupts your soul!) or of less consciously subversive games (shining the light of reason into dark places).

The second option is Technomagic. This is a modification of the Ritual Path Magic system (introduced in the first volume of the series, and expanded later in its own supplement), which as magic systems go is quite flexible and showy (and I really ought to use it more). This variant puts the spells onto computers, meaning that the users need programming and mathematics skill rather than Thaumatology. There are three modes: taking time to build a program to have a very specific function (with careful limitations for cinematic effect, so that the technomage still has to have a pocket full of USB sticks and old smartphones even if his laptop has vastly more capacity). On-the-Fly rituals are put together on the spot, taking several seconds or tens of seconds and with a higher chance of going wrong; Hand-Coding requires the calculations to be worked out the old-fashioned way, without the benefit of dedicated support software, but can at least be done anywhere. There's a handy short list of modern computing devices and approximate power levels, though as John Dallman points out there are other options that aren't mentioned. If I ever work on my Laundry GURPS conversion again, I'll almost certainly import this section; it's pretty much designed for it, even if to my way of thinking it doesn't fit well with the "scientific mindset" of the rest of the book.

The third section is a list of aliens: body thieves, greys, insectoids, and a range of exotic diseases. There are also notes on how to modify "supernatural" foes into a nominally-scientific world. The book is packed with advice to the GM, suggesting for example how to maintain a consistent tone in the campaign and how to keep player characters loaded down with neat toys from taking over the narrative.

I don't see myself getting direct use out of this, but if I run another modern investigative game (something I've done quite a bit) I can definitely see myself picking plenty of concepts and bits of mechanics from here. I'm less likely to use the aliens, since so much of alien and conspiracy lore is innately tied up with idiotic racism and I can't really take it seriously enough to use it as a genuine threat. GURPS Monster Hunters 5: Applied Xenology is available from Warehouse 23.

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:39pm on 07 June 2015

    For calculations there is also the Intuitive Mathematician advantage which I used for a spell caster in John Dallman's campaign, doing the calculations in you head. And if it has to be a computer, I see no reason why an intuitive mathematician can't run some sort of simple turing machine in their head. May need to be combined with Eidetic Memory (which my Laundry mage had).

    Digital hearing aids and bluetooth headsets are also programmable, if you have the correct toolset. Then there's your smartwatch, heartrate or pedometer, trip computer on your bicycle etc. Heck you can probably also use a washing machine, though it lacks portability (not the software kind...). And some people still carry programmable calculators, magic spells in reverse polish notation anyone?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:54pm on 07 June 2015

    Intuitive Mathematician is mentioned: it lets you hand-code at a lesser penalty than any other option, though having the proper support software is still much better. Good calculators are also mentioned.

    Yes, pretty much everything with electronics in it at all these days is a general-purpose machine with special-purpose software running on it; it's just simpler that way. But for the most part it's simply less trouble to carry a smartphone. Of course, the people writing this stuff tend not to be coders themselves, and certainly not to think about the implications of running on a closed OS… (What is Apple/Google doing with that "inevitable wastage" of the thaumic energy put through your device? Don't ask. In fact don't think about it. Too late.)

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