RogerBW's Blog

End of an Era 27 September 2021

The longest, and I think the best, RPG campaign I've ever run has reached its end.

Irresponsible and Right started off because of Warehouse 23 – specifically, when GURPS 4th edition was still fairly new new, they sold off hardcopies of many GURPS 3rd edition books (which I didn't have, having not played all that much GURPS 3rd). So in 2006 I picked up Transhuman Space and started running that, and in 2007 GURPS WWII; both of these used versions of GURPS Lite so that you could run them with just the core books, but could be expanded into "full" GURPS relatively easily.

The Transhuman Space game ran for 13 roughly monthly sessions, as had the I-Cops game before it; that's a length of game that usually works well for me, with some room to explore most of the ideas I've had. I rather assumed that a WWII game would be the same; certainly I started with an idea of cinematic clichés I wanted to hit.

Given the desire to range fairly widely rather than being stuck in a particular theatre, this would be an espionage game; and given my desire to tweak things a bit, it would have magic. Thus Bureau 5(b) of MI5, loosely based on the chapter The Dangerous Element from GURPS WWII: Weird War II. The original introduction for the players:

September, 1939. An office in London.

"Are you prepared to serve Great Britain by means of unconventional warfare?"

"Would you be willing to operate in enemy territory? Without benefit of uniform, perhaps even wearing an enemy uniform?"

"Are you prepared to risk not only life and limb but your sanity, your spiritual health and your immortal soul?"

"Irresponsible and Right" is a gritty campaign of occult espionage and special operations in the Second World War. Characters will be civilians and soldiers with magical talents, gathered by Bureau 5(b) of MI-5 to form a specialised unit which will be travelling around Europe to investigate occult activities and recruit, subvert or destroy the causes. I will be borrowing John's concept of split character generation: 150 points for normal skills and abilities and 75 points for magical talents. (75 point disadvantage limit, which may be split between the conventional and esoteric point pools. All numbers subject to change.)

[etc.]

There will be no Cthulhu.

It got less gritty over time - not hurt by having 148 sessions with three points awarded per session, so the characters became quite powerful by the end. So did their opposition, though of course they also exerted quite a strong selection pressure on German and Russian magical operators, so the ones they met later were smarter as well as more powerful. The plan was to have about one (monthly) session per month of the war, but things slipped a bit; I never felt it lagged, though. For any given month there was usually something in history which would generate interesting adventure, with or without a magical twist.

There are bottomless lakes of research to dive into for a WWII game (actually easier than for a game set in the 1960s, because there's less locked away under the cold dead hand of copyright). The players helped a lot here.

The game started off pretty close to historical with hidden magic, and while it deviated quite a bit by the end, the timeline was still recognisable at least in the places the PCs were going. This was a deliberate metagame choice: it meant research was still useful, and by the time things started to drift I'd already absorbed enough actual information about WWII that I found myself correcting common misconceptions I met elsewhere.

The real trick, though, was to take NPC-running to extremes: I built mental models of senior Nazi magicians, and indeed of senior Nazis and various other important people, and tried always to determine how the actual people would have acted had they found themselves in this ahistorical world. (I'm quite glad not to have to have them taking up space in my mind any more.)

And now, I suspect, I write the campaign bible, or rather two separate parts of a campaign bible: how I went about picking and choosing things to use as a response to the way my players were acting and what they were enjoying, and separately from that a document of the choices I did make, which German magical agencies are operating when, etc.; there's certainly room in this setting for other stories to be told.

Tags: gurps rpgs

  1. Posted by DaveD at 01:58pm on 27 September 2021

    It was certainly the finest campaign I've ever had of the privilege of participating in. I&R has been a steady presence through the sometimes rocky events of the last fourteen years and I spent a fair chunk of Saturday evening feeling a little shell-shocked by the idea that it was over. It's still sneaking up and batting at me now, albeit more gently as time passes and I get used to the idea.

    You're no slouch as a GM under normal circumstances, but this may well be your masterwork and I'll add a heartfelt bravissimo to my thanks.

  2. Posted by John Dallman at 07:27pm on 27 September 2021

    Likewise. The sheer scale of the setting - the whole of the largest war ever fought (and hopefully, ever will be) - meant that there was room for the characters and their stories to develop in whatever way made sense. Pete Argas used parts of my own family's background, changed around a fair bit, and viewing the game that way made it all far more real to me.

  3. Posted by Shimmin at 01:16pm on 18 November 2021

    From everything you've said about it, this sounds like a fascinating campaign and I'd be really interested to hear more about it, and perhaps get a look at those two bibles. And as ever, happy to get involved in anything writing-wise!

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