RogerBW's Blog

GURPS Social Engineering: Back to School, William H. Stoddard 04 September 2015

This GURPS supplement deals with teaching, learning, and games based on either or both.

Disclaimer: I received playtest credit in this book and therefore did not pay for it.

GURPS is an unusual RPG in that it includes rules for long-term learning: not just "I have hit lots of monsters, so now I'm better at hitting monsters" but "I have been taking evening classes in Russian for a year in between hitting monsters". As RPGs have evolved, there's been a sense that campaigns may not last very long, so having a character that's fun to play straight away is considered more important than being able to develop a character over time. But there's plenty of gaming potential in learning, and that's what this supplement is about.

It is split into four parts: the first and largest deals with learning, using the study rules in the Basic Set and expanding substantially on them. There are quite a few options here, and it would be a very unusual campaign that used all of them. There's the deterministic counting of hours from the Basic Set, but there's also the option of treating learning as a sort of job: the player makes monthly study rolls (against Will, with modifications) to see how much success the character has had. Learning from points, and from a hybrid of points and study, and simply in return for money (with various high-tech ways of infusing knowledge), are also covered.

There are some notes here on game events that arise from learning (what are the teacher and the class like, how to use classrom scenes, and so on) which are dealt with more in the Campaigns section.

Back to solid game mechanics: "What Can Be Learned" breaks down skills into several categories, which are affected in different ways by the learner's own traits. Things that aren't conventional skills can sometimes be learned too: spells, techniques, languages, and so on, but most interestingly to me disadvantages: sure, Pacificism (Reluctant Killer) can be trained out of you, but education can also bestow negative-point traits, such as Code of Honour or Sense of Duty. Specific advantages, disadvantages and skills finish off the chapter: everything that can affect learning is mentioned, from Single-Minded to Unfit.

The second chapter looks at teaching: when the focus is on intructors rather than students, how do their skills affect the process of learning? There's some consideration of teaching methods (e.g. real-time video links), and more on teaching in the game: heroic learning ("you must all learn basic swordsmanship in the next few days"), and dealing with reluctant learners. The chapter ends with another quick run-through of advantages, disadvantages and skills, this time considering how they affect a teacher's ability.

The third chapter puts the first two together and deals with the bigger picture: how do you find a teacher or school, and how reliable is the relationship? This can determine the attitude of the class or of individuals within it. Academic organisations are statted as in GURPS Boardroom and Curia, with details of facilities and available information. There's more treatment of instructional methods: apprenticeships, direct tutoring, classrooms, virtual environments, drill, and so on, as well as relationships between learners and others (academic communities, rival schools, etc.).

Thr final chapter discusses campaigns with an orientation towards learning: campaigns about students, or about teachers, or about a school as a whole. There's a long list of ideas that can readily be used in school stories, and some considerations of how such campaigns can remain interesting whether bound to the school itself (the "cloister" model) or proceeding outside.

I didn't have any plans to run a school-based campaign, but now I'm thinking about it. That doesn't say much in itself: every book I read causes me to think about running new campaigns. But I think there's potential here: consider a school staffed by retired adventurers (the PCs), who want to help the new generation avoid the mistakes they made, while also keeping them safe from outside threats… or a space-naval academy prequel to the actual game of space-naval operations, as a sort of extended character generation session.

Social Engineering: Back to School is available from Warehouse 23.


  1. Posted by John Dallman at 10:56am on 04 September 2015

    Ooo... that naval academy idea has potential for my intended-someday Transhuman Space Royal Navy campaign.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:12am on 04 September 2015

    Or for my non-Transhuman-Space ditto, depending on which of us feels like running it first. "John Winton the RPG" is obviously a key phrase to keep in mind.

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