I’ve written quite a few posts already about Sleepless Nights, a campaign I’m planning to run starting next spring. But it’s not the only one I’ve been planning – in fact, there are five campaigns I intend or hope to run sometime in the reasonably near future:
- Sleepless Nights, an occult action-adventure campaign with vampire PCs;
- Bangótomo initial playtest, once I manage to write a playable draft of my primitive fantasy rpg;
- Gates of Mournwater (Surunkymen portit), a traditional fantasy campaign I’ve been running sporadically since 2001, initially powered by Gurps 3e, and 4e since 2005;
- Haunted House (Kummitustalo), a sort-of Wraith: The Oblivion minicampaign I started in spring and which has one or maybe two sessions to go;
- Gonzostan, the subject of this post.
Gonzostan is the name of the campaign; the name of its setting, and its mission statement.
I’ll use Gurps to run this one, too. The books I expect to get the most out of, aside from the Basic Set, are Action 2: Exploits, High-Tech, and After the End, in that order. It will be an episodic campaign, with each session featuring an independent mission, or a clearly defined phase of a larger mission, using the Action framework. I’m not using Action 1, though: the characters will be 200 points each, and need not conform to specific roles, as represented by templates.
Gonzostan is a place: a vast, grimy stretch of sparsely populated land, spread out like a passed-out drunk from the Ukraine to Pakistan. It’s officially called the Pan-Eurasian Mutually Administered Demilitarized Free Trade Zone, but there’s little administration and less of it mutual. Set up in around 2040 by Russia, Iran, and China as a containment area for unwanted individuals, groups, and activities, and located in the most thoroughly collapsed part of the world outside of Central Africa, it’s a hostile backwater left behind by the latest global burst of economic and technological development: in the 2070s, when the game is set, the world is busier, richer, more connected, and more urbanized than ever before, but Gonzostan is just a dump. There are practically no regulations, so it’s a convenient place to ship garbage, set up unsafe research stations and factories, and sell obsolete and no-longer-legal hardware, like guns and combustion engines. Poor, violent, heterogenous, simultaneously cooped-up and boundless, and effectively in a state of anarchy, it’s a natural setting for a cross between procedural and picaresque.
I intend to use a wide variety of familiar elements from the cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic science fiction subgenres, always emphasizing that Gonzostan is the bitter dregs of the resulting trope cocktail. The desert is home to Narco-Primitivist biker tribes, obsolete cyborgs shoved aside by more advanced models, feral designer pets, Petroligarchs in their nuke-proof compounds, and the latest, confused generation of a hundred ethnic and religious groups with centuries of tradition rubbing against a hundred years of ongoing future shock. Most importantly, I don’t want to specify anything about the setting in more detail than the minimum I can get away with; I want to improvise, riffing on player input, keeping them and myself on our toes at all times.
The Mission Statement
The campaign will be gonzo in the sense that it need not proceed coherently, or make much sense even in retrospect. Instead, I’m gunning for a breakneck pace, abrupt shifts in tone, unexpected twists, and frequent detours into hallucinatory weirdness. The game will stick reasonably close to hard science fiction, but alien-related conspiracies, hints at ancient astrounauts, neurolinguistic brain hacking, Great Old One cults, and mutagenic nanotech might all make occasional appearances.
The player characters in Gonzostan will be a group of professional (but by no means elite) troubleshooters, investigators, couriers and bodyguards; a B-List A-Team in a fundamentally screwed-up environment. They’re always dealing with crooks, crooked authorities, and bad situations, without themselves being bad guys; they’ll often break the law, but not as much as the cops they’re evading.
I will require each player character to have two disadvantages that prevent the sort of super-competent, cold-as-ice special operators I’m not interested in:
- Pacifism. Any variety is OK, and will be strictly enforced: Self-Defense only means no pre-emptive attacks of any kind, and Cannot Harm Innocents will proceed from an assumption of innocence. The PCs’ competitors and enemies will not be hampered by similar scruples. (Incidentally, I think Reluctant Killer accurately describes most people, with the exception of specifically and realistically trained soldiers, cops, etc., mayber a few ‘born sheepdogs’, and psychopaths.
- One other disadvantage of the player’s choice, worth at least -10 points, that hampers the character professionally, either in their own specialty, or in situations they all find themselves in.
Like the heroes themselves, the jobs they find themselves on won’t be quite Mission: Impossible grade. Instead of breaking into a bank vault to steal a data box containing encrypted proof of some general being a spy, they’ll be breaking into a colonel’s car to steal a plastic box containing his betting slips.
This last part is actually the one I’m least sure about at this point: I’ve never run an episodic, mission-by-mission campaign before, as a meandering sandbox is a much more natural mode for me, and keeping it fresh and fast-paced is the challenge I’m setting myself here. Advice and reading recommendations are much appreciated!
I’ve written up some notes on character creation, and I’ll get to those in a later post.