Thursday, January 19, 2017

Avoiding Choice Paralysis in GURPS Campaign Planning

So clearly my goal of writing and posting regularly has failed. But there is good news! I’ve discovered that my iPad Pro with a Logitech CREATE hard shell case makes for a perfect writing tool while on the bus. This is going to give me nearly 2 extra hours per day to write stuff. So, without further ado, I present my latest Apocalyptic Analysis: How To Avoid Excessive Choice Paralysis in GURPS Campaign Planning.

Lions and Tigers and Bears…and Wolves and Orcs and Dragons and Demons and Aliens and Cyborgs and Vampires and Werewolves…

GURPS has a lot of options. Which is a lot like saying that the ocean is made up of a lot of atoms of water. In short, GURPS can be overwhelming. I’m not the first to mention this and I won’t be the last. The important thing is that the GM make decisions early and often about the type of game he wants to run. Mailankahas a great series on how to construct campaigns. He takes you through a ton of choices and a very detailed design for a complex setting.

I’m going to suggest that you actually need to repeat that type of exercise on a regular basis when GMing GURPS . Why? The temptation to bring in more complexity “because you can” will be ever present. Fighting that temptation is key to running a successful campaign and avoiding choice paralysis in GURPS.

Choose a Limited Number of Themes

One of the best methods I’ve found to avoid choice paralysis is to choose a limited number of themes for your game. For example, I’m running a GURPS campaign using the old TSR Dark*Matter campaign setting. This setting features a lot of stuff. You’ve got psionics, magic, aliens, demons, conspiracies, and advanced technology all existing on what is otherwise TL8 Earth. If you don’t focus quickly, the game will begin to feel like you just tossed everything and the kitchen sink together and waited to see what would happen. That’s not a recipe for campaign success.

Instead, consider choosing to focus on just one or two components of a setting–even if the setting has a lot of possible choices. For example, I might decide to run a magic/occult focused Dark*Matter campaign (I’m not). I would be better served ignoring most of the other possible campaign themes rather than trying to build in everything the setting can offer. My adventures will be crisper and–if you’ve talked to your players–the PCs will be more suited. Which brings me to…

Help Your Players Create Relevant PCs

Something I’ve heard over and over again both on the SJ Games forums and the Discord channel is some variation of the question, “How do you handle a monk, a cybernetic hacker, and an elven mystic in the same group??” That question indicates that a GM avoided choice paralysis by not making any choices. That (lack of) decision will inevitably come back to haunt him or her. In all RPGs–but GURPS in particular–the GM must be involved in character creation. The characters in any given campaign will go a long way to defining that campaign–probably moreso than the GM’s actual adventure plots and plans! Why? Because who the characters are in a story largely defines how that story can play out.

In a GURPS campaign that could suffer from choice paralysis, the GM isn’t the only one to experience it. Each player will also have to decide what kind of PC to make. That can be overwhelming. This is where the GM must step in and help. Do not be afraid to “limit” the PCs. Most players will thank you for it. If you dare to say “just make something you think will fit” you will end up with a disparate group that will have a hard time engaging in logical adventuring together. Instead, create campaign character guidelines and circulate those to your players.

One of the issues that has come back up is related to GURPS’s notoriously detailed skill list. We discovered that a PC had forgotten to include a point or two in Computer Operation. A strict reading of that skill indicates that someone with no points in it literally cannot use a computer. For any adult in TL8 Earth, that actually takes some doing (assuming the adult is FROM a TL8 area of Earth, of course). Even if you don’t use full templates, providing lists of required skills–or even just giving away a free “everyman template”–is super important for a successful GURPS campaign. Otherwise you may end up with players complaining about their PCs’ inability to perform basic tasks (like drive a car).

In the Final Analysis

The GM has to be the game master from an early stage of any campaign. In GURPS–a system known for its flexibility–if you don’t make decisions early and often, you will end up in a morass of indecision and confusion. Even if you want to include everything because it’s “cool,” doing so will only limit the chances of a campaign success. Remember, you can always run Season 2 of your campaign and include things the second time around.

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