Last Sunday, we had our first session of the as-yet unnamed GURPS Horror game in which the main characters work for a clandestine agency in post-war Berlin, picking up — or off — Nazi scientists who delved into matters Man Was Not Meant to Know. After the session recap are some thoughts about the experience I’ve mulled over since then.
The Story So Far
Joe Fratelli, the weird science engineer, receives his instructions from a live drop and boards a train to Heidelberg the next morning. In the compartment, he meets his assigned partner, a German of undetermined background named James. Discussing the assignment to find a scientist by the name of von Waller who’d recently been sighted after an absence of nine years, the two discover a child eavesdropping on behalf of an unidentified party. Joe delivers a swat on the ear to send the urchin on his way.
Trying to investigate the club where von Waller was sighted, the pair are stymied by the lack of the password. Surveying the establishment’s patrons as they come and go, James takes an indirect approach and mugs three inebriated fellows as they stumble home. He eventually elicits the password from the most drunken of the three. Their wallets’ contents go into the assignment kitty.
The next morning, Joe makes fruitless inquiries at Ruprecht Karls University about von Waller before realizing the man dropped out of sight ten years ago and no one at the university has any idea who he is. After touching base with James, who serendipitously accepted an invitation to dinner on Joe’s behalf by an elderly gentlemen by the name of Schultz, believing Joe to be a visiting engineering professor, Joe goes on to research both von Waller and Schultz in Ruprecht Karls’ library. James departs to take the lay of the land around Schultz’s house.
There Joe discovers von Waller published several papers on non-Euclidean geometry before his disappearance. Schultz, on the other hand, mounted an archaeological expedition to South America, where he uncovered several artifacts with unrecognizable inscriptions, which Joe found in the university’s archives. Moreover, one object’s material characteristics defied categorization, being a conductor with variable resistance depending on ambient temperature.
Finally, misplaced at the bottom of a crate, Fratelli finds a package mailed by Doctor von Waller from South Africa in 1940. It happens to fall into his briefcase. Joe then meets with James in an park, where he examines the contents of the package. Photos and notes relate the discovery of a site in Antarctica dating long, long ago inhabited by beings inhuman in stature and frame. More curiously, are the records of a script matching that on the artifacts found by Schultz in South America.
While Joe goes off to his dinner with Schultz, curiosity thoroughly piqued now, James liberates the artifact from the university’s archives with a minimum of fuss. He is less successful at finding anything of fenceable value on his way out.
Things go significantly less well for Joe. Arriving at Schultz’s house, he finds the man dead at the table — until the corpse grapples with him, quickly moving to strangulation. After a debilitating struggle, Joe breaks away and jumps out a convenient window. Catching his breath, he debates whether to flee or fight. At the sight of smoke coming from the window overhead, he elects to rush back into the house, grabbing a convenient hoe from the garden shed on the way.
Joe fares even worse this time. He finds the zombie Schultz aflame, feeding pages from a book to the fire. Fratelli’s efforts to disable the zombie long enough to retrieve the remains of the book go to naught. Hoes are not a recommended weapon for fighting zombies. Joe once again escapes with his life, but no book. He limps off to an emergency room, realizing ruefully he and his partner still have a date to visit the Wassernixe before the night is out.
This was a different kind of game for me. I don’t think I’ve yet played with a GM who took so seriously the correspondence between what a player says and what the character does. Everyone misspeaks once in a while, or doesn’t think of the obvious. GMs I’ve played with in the past will sometimes point out the discrepancy or even help work to iron it out. Not so much this time.
In retrospect, it makes sense. James’ player gave the character Common Sense, an advantage whereby the GM will give the player a suggestion or point out when their choices don’t align with the expectations of the game world or character’s motivations. So if the GM did anything like that for me, it would make James’ player’s choice to buy the advantage moot.
More than a few times, I’ve read of GMs declaring that all characters unofficially have a trait like Common Sense or Weirdness Magnet, which does what it says on the tin. Doing so takes the question of who gets that kind of advice from the GM right off the table.