One of the things that has been most influential to my roleplaying experience was the discovery, back in 1980, of the RuneQuest boxed set and my introduction to the Basic Role-Playing (BRP) system.
While a full review of that game is beyond the scope of this immediate discussion, one thing always stood out to me: RuneQuest and BRP included a spiritual characteristic in their character creation systems. This characteristic is called “Power” (shortened to POW) and is,
“the measure of a person’s soul, piety, or will. In games with magic, POW resists spells cast at the character and powers cast spells. Use it also as a ‘Luck Roll’ for tight spots.”BRP 1980, page 7
Loving the Power
I always liked this inclusion of the Power characteristic. My other experience in roleplaying had been two-fold: GDW’s Traveller (1977) and TSR’s Dungeons and Dragons. The former had no spiritual characteristic and the latter had the rather weakly defined “Wisdom”, more akin to the soul’s emotional intuition than being truly spiritual in nature.
In Basic Dungeons & Dragons, the set my friend Daniel owned, Wisdom is defined as,
“inspiration, intuition, common sense, and shrewdness. Wisdom aids in solving problems when Intelligence is not enough.”B/X D&D, 1981, page B6
That was useful to me but did not quite define something that I felt was true about human beings: that we are more than simply physical, emotional, and intellectual beings.
Looking back on it, I realise that the basic assumptions that we hold regarding the world around us and the nature of whatever objective reality we perceive – some people call this our ‘worldview’ – influences how we design our roleplaying games.
Without delving too far into a philosophical discussion about the nature of humanity, I simply want to express that I do view humans in the Orthodox Christian manner that has become far less fashionable in the 20th and 21st centuries.
In short, I see humans as possessing a body (physical), a soul (reasoning and emotional intellect), and a spirit (pneuma, nous, spiritual intellect). Because I see humans in this light, I want to express that view in my solo fantasy gaming. I feel it is natural to include a spiritual characteristic.
Wrestling with Spirituality
This insight into my own preference for playing with a spiritual attribute led me into a quandary regarding my use of GURPS as my core system of play for the fantasy world of Mykovnia. Put simply, GURPS doesn’t have that feature built in.
I was faced with a question:
“Why not simply play your game with BRP? It includes the characteristic of Power and that fits your desire for a spiritual attribute.”
Unfortunately, I was also faced with a strong desire to continue to use what I perceive to be the most reliable game system I have ever learned to use, as well as realise the conviction that GURPS was built to be able to handle these kinds of personal design decisions.
My problem, until yesterday, was that I didn’t know quite how to do it. My head was saying, “Just add a fifth attribute, dude,” while my emotions were whirling with my usual self-doubt yelling, “Yeah, but what if you screw up the system by mucking about with an extra attribute – for starters, you don’t even know how many points to price it at!”
Thank goodness for my friend Simon, one of the players in my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game, who pointed me towards two resources: Pyramid Magazine, Issue 3/120 from October 2018, wherein lies the article, “The Fifth Attribute” by Christopher R. Rice; additionally, he mentioned GURPS Power-ups 9: Alternate Attributes.
Finding the Essence
Power-ups 9 was too much but did provide a useful tip on renaming Attributes – a somewhat obvious idea in hindsight but, in my experience, obvious never is – and birthing the idea that I could simply call the new Attribute ‘Spirit’ or ‘Power’.
The Pyramid article, however, appears to be a good fit for what I need and thus has been ported into my design. I don’t like the name, ‘Quintessence’ much… but then I remembered that I loved the term from Rolemaster (another huge influence on me), namely ‘”Essence”.
Thus, I am adding the 10-point Attribute of Essence to the character sheet.
Rice writes that Quintessence, “measures the raw paranormal power the character possesses,” while, Quintessence Points, measure, “the person’s ability to use supernatural powers.” (Pyramid 3/120, page 21). This works well enough for me on a conceptual level. I would describe it differently but that is broadly semantic and tied more to the world I envision that the mechanisms in play.
Here I am, then, building a solo game for myself set within my mythic, primal world of Mykovnia… and hacking GURPS to feel and function in the way that I need it to. Feels bloody fantastic!
Thanks Steve Jackson Games for consistently offering countless options, ideas, suggestions, outright hacks, and all manner of inspiration to both illustrate how GURPS doesn’t have to be used in one prescriptive way, and also how the quintessence of roleplaying remains the customisation of one’s own system for the table.