GURPS Midnight – Design

Off and on for a couple years now, I’ve been working (sometimes with help, sometimes not) on an adaptation of the Midnight setting to the GURPS rules.  The problem with D&D and Midnight is that they don’t really fit each other at all, and I’m certain that Midnight only uses D20 because of the Open Gaming License.

If you’re not familiar with Generic Universal Role-Playing System, this post isn’t likely to be of much interest.

If you’re not familiar with the Midnight setting – it was released by Fantasy Flight a few years ago under the D20 license.  The setting’s byline could be “Middle-Earth if Sauron got the Ring”.  It is a post-apocalyptic fantasy (in an original world, not Middle-Earth) set 100 years after the victory of the Dark Lord in the north over the last alliance, etc etc.

I like the setting because there aren’t that many post-apocalyptic fantasy settings – Earthdawn and Summerland come to mind, not many others.  I like it because it is gritty and hopeless, with heroes fighting a desperate battle against overwhelming evil and not just hanging out in taverns waiting for the next NPC to hand them the map to the next treasure-gorged dungeon.

(Addendum: obviously, Dark Sun is a big post-apocalyptic fantasy setting I forgot to mention)

Though I like the setting (Fantasy Flight does everything they do well), I’ve never thought that D20 was a good fit.  Ideally, the setting would have its own system that reinforces the setting’s theme and assumptions, but there is nothing about D20 that is desperate or gritty.  In Midnight, if you kick in a door and take a Goblin’s stuff, that Goblins friends will hunt down your family, sell your children into slavery, torture your wife to death in front of you, and kill you or sell you into slavery.  It is much more likely for a roving band of adolescent Orcs to kick in your door and take your stuff.

I thought that GURPS would be a good fit, because GURPS is by its nature gritty.  It is really, really to die in GURPS.  Every fight using lethal force is a real threat, and should be scary as hell when the average person has no armor, 10 hit points, and the average sword is going to do about 10 hit points of damage when it hits.  In real life, if someone pulls a knife on me, I am going to poop myself.  Part of me likes games that are like that, so that threats never take on the boring monotony that plagues D&D at certain points.

I’ve run a couple of one-shots using my GURPS adaptation of Midnight, and fun was had by all.  I also played in a campaign that ended before it’s time, unfortunately (as 99% seem to), but I also saw how the system works well for the setting.  GURPS’s granularity is actually a strength in a world where it is illegal to own a knife and where you have to beg, barter or steal everything you have in a way that it is not a strength in high-adventure/low-mortality settings.

In the cases of magic and things like physical equipment, D20 and GURPS map to each other pretty well – GURPS is a lot better for both, in fact, so it’s easy to adapt from D20 to GURPS.  What were left over as major setting elements to adapt were the many races of Midnight and the Heroic Paths.

Anyone who’s played GURPS knows that character creation is by far the most complicated part of the game (I say that never having run or been in a vehicle-based combat).  Similarly, designing racial templates in GURPS takes a lot of time, and ultimately, everyone will do it differently.  For a long time I had both simple and detailed versions of each race, depending on how deep I wanted players to have to dig in the system.  Since, I’ve decided to go with the simpler versions in all cases, bearing in mind that some races will be able to take Advantages that others imply cannot, both at character creation and through play.

Right now I am putting work into what I hope becomes a regular local GURPS Midnight game, and here are the four non-human races that are available where the PCs are starting off (south of Baden’s Bluff if you know the setting).

Gnomes [20pts]

-10 ST -2, Charisma +2
Size -1
-5 Move -1
10 Night Vision +5
15 Talent: Watercraft +1
0 Native Trader’s Tongue
6 Improved Magic Resistance +2 (does not hinder spellcasting)

Gnome-Raised Dwarrow [20pts]
Charisma +2, ST -1
Size -1
-5 Move -1

25 Dark Vision

0 Native Trader’s Tongue
Can buy DR +1

Halflings [25pts]
20 ST -2, DX +2
Size -2
-5 Move -1
5 Night Vision +5
5 Perception +1
0 Native Erenlander

Halfling-Raised Elflings [20pts]
10 ST -2, DX +1
Size -1
-5 Move -1
5 Night Vision +5

5 Perception +1

15 Magery +1
0 Native Erenlander

Ultimately, when all the work is said and done, pretty simple.  All of the races are like that.  Being  kill-on-sight is a big Disadvantage, obviously, represented by a powerful Enemy, but it only applies to Dwarves and Elves, and brings their racial package costs right down.  Obviously those would only count in a game where they’d be outside their own lands.  I could also always see ways to tweak these starting-points depending on the specific situation of the game you’re running.  There are more Advantages I could easily add to the template – things like Claim to Hospitality or Longevity or whatever, but I decided to err on the side of simplicity.

The next challenge was the Heroic Paths.  In the Midnight D20 system, you choose a Heroic Path, and each level  you get a new power or an extra skill or stat bonus.  The Heroic Paths basically describe how and possibly why you fight against the Shadow, and include things like Beast, Giantborn, Steelblooded and Shadow Walker.

For a long time I toyed with having a set progression like there is in the Midnight D20 system, but it became bewildering and too much given the amount of possibilities in GURPS.  What I hit upon instead I think is preferable.

For each Heroic Path, I list some options of the kinds of Advantages and Knacks that might come with it (Heroic Paths are one of the few ways to have magical abilities in Midnight if you don’t worship the Dark Lord).  Each session, the players will get 5 character points to spend however they want while 5 character points will go into a pool.  When there are enough points in the pool, the character in question will manifest a Heroic Path ability in some stressful situation, after which they’ll be use it normally.  The Heroic Paths give characters access to things they can’t normally have and let them advance Advantages, or buy them after character creation, that they normally could not.

For example, for the Beast Heroic Path (which is the first one listed in the original Midnight D20 book), a character can earn things like Animal Empathy, a special animal companion (special case of Ally), and spellcasting Knacks from the Animal school.

So far so good, I think, and I’m really looking forward to running this game.

Next up – I changed how character creation happens a bit, hopefully to reinforce not only the setting but the kind of game I want to run, and I’ll talk about that a bit too.

Last, I’ll make a big post, or possibly a link or a unique page, with all of the rules I have for GURPS Midnight in case anyone else wants to run it, or something like it.

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