Today I sat down with GURPS Traveller and the Third Edition rulebook and completely failed to start playing. Instead, I started reading… and because everything is play, arguably I started playing. But I didn’t roll any dice (yet). That’s because I got scared: too much of a detailed universe, too many options.
Then I remembered a video playlist recommended to me by a friend – namely “Learning GURPS” by Chris Normand (aka Nose). I started watching and found some much-needed confidence. He reminded me how simple GURPS is to play. He also reminded me that it’s ok to just choose a genre and begin.
I want to play some Science-Fiction. While I am inspired by Traveller, I want to explore and the real genius of GURPS is that you can adapt any tools you like to the game you want to run. I just want to begin with a simple character idea (“Explorer”) and get playing. I just need a planet explore and a character.
This opened up a realisation about science-fiction gaming that has somehow eluded me for 40 or more years: you don’t really need intricate setting notes or rules for starships or making planets. You just need a place to visit, a narrative trajectory, and a character. All those SF games I’ve collected over the decades with tonnes of detailed rules aren’t really necessary.
Can you imagine a place? Describe it. I’m picturing an Endor-like forest world within which are huge pyramids made from a black obsidian-like stone. These pyramids are huge and surrounded by deep forest, jungle even. Because I don’t like one-biome worlds in my SF, there are mountains and huge rivers on this verdant garden world’s main continent – perhaps a huge Pangaea-like place – but it’s not the only one.
What’s the situation and where is the story going? Scribble that down too. The Imperial Interstellar Scout Service (yes, I am stealing the classic Traveller terms) has charted a small two-person scout ship on Detached Duty to investigate the planet and the pyramids. The crew are tasked with scanning one of the sites and finding a way to determine what these structures are all about.
Who’s involved? Describe them. Once you’ve described them, note down the stuff you need on for a character sheet.
I’m going to give myself a little bit of time to detail some character ideas but my first image is of a scruffy-looking scout in a leather jacket with a sidearm – Han Solo springs to mind as inspiration. His friend is a wolf-like Vargr (from the Traveller canon) with a laser carbine and a pair of vision-enhancing binoculars.
My crew are landing in that classic-style Scout/Courier triangular-shaped starship in a clearing a few clicks from a pyramid. I think they are looking to score some ancient artefacts they might sell on the black market, being as a they are retired Scouts and the service isn’t really paying them.
Here’s how I am digging myself out of a hole: I have a picture of a place and characters who want to explore that location. I’m going to describe both of those elements as best as a I can. From the character description, limiting myself to just the Attributes, Skills, and Advantages in GURPS Basic Set, I will build my guys.
Then I’ll send the characters into the place to do the thing. The play has begun.