Monday, November 25, 2019

GURPS: Illuminati University

It's a little mortifying to look back and realize what terrible taste my younger self had. I mean, I must have been an absolute rube, because I remembered this book as being somewhat amusing. . .

And it's not . . . at all.

So much of this game was just that nails-on-a-blackboard sensation of watching some impossibly earnest person trying desperately to be funny while knowing from bitter experience that they just can't. It was, at times, excruciating to read.

There's a running joke. The school is called "Illuminati University." That is always abbreviated IOU. What does the "O" stand for? You're not cleared for that.

Every time it showed up, I immediately wanted to put my fist through a fucking wall. It is quite patently obvious that the "O" doesn't stand for anything. It's just an obnoxious bit of sub-kindergarten-level "wordplay." An IOU is a thing. You didn't have a good joke to get there from the university's natural abbreviation of IU, so you just went ahead and did it anyway, and decided to cover it with the laziest sort of lampshade "oh, tee he, nobody knows why they abbreviate it 'IOU,'" but you're wrong. We know. We all fucking know exactly why you did it!


Sigh. Maybe the joke's on me. Maybe it is funny to have your cafeteria run by Madame ("not Mrs., not Ms.") Curry.

I mean, that's a joke, right? I've known myself to smile at a pun once or twice, the more labored the better. But I've always flattered myself that the best puns have a sort of artistry to them, that it's not sufficient to just match sounds, they also have to incorporate some level of double entendre. Like maybe Madame Curry is not just a lunch-lady, but also a food scientist, pushing the boundaries of culinary knowledge by experimenting with substances of hitherto-unknown spiciness. . .

It's something of a literary mystery, whether or not there is salvageable merit here, for the GM who is willing to do the work needed to dig it out  of the muck.

I did like the "School of Anti-Social Science." That was some pretty solid wordplay. Together with their rivals, the "School of Social Anti-Science," you could have the start of something genuinely funny. It's not a joke on its own, but it's a fertile soil in which jokes can grow. Unfortunately, like everything else in this book, it's only surface deep - any attempt to treat these schools as a true comic conceit would be stymied by the fact that neither is much more than a name.

Names are this book's greatest weakness. It just can't help itself. One of the schools is devoted to teaching students how to time travel. And the very idea is ripe with the potential for hilarity. Student time travelers. They've got access to time machines, but no clue on any of the practicalities of visiting the past. They don't know anything about avoiding paradoxes or blending in with the locals or any of that stuff. That's why they're in school. This isn't even a comedy pitch. It's comedy tee-ball.

So what is the name of this time travel college? It's the College of Temporal Happenstance, Ultimate Lies, and Historical Undertakings. You know, C.T.H.U.L.H.U.. Note: the college has absolutely nothing to do with the Great Old Ones in any way, not even thematically. It's just a funny acronym. . .

Correction. It's one of those absurdly tortured backronyms, of the sort that are often quite funny when the final acronym has anything to do whatsoever with the matter at hand. The book does unholy violence to the English language to arrive at C.T.H.U.L.H.U., and as far as I can tell, it would have done the same damned thing, regardless of what the college was trying to be.

This shallow approach wound up exhausting me. Did you know that the Dean of C.T.H.U.L.H.U. is Dr What? He operates out of a mysterious vehicle that is much larger on the inside than the outside. It's called the TOILET. . .

Excuse me while I storm angrily up and down the carpet for a few minutes. . .

I'm sorry, I just can't. Your campaign concept is that a thinly-veiled expy of the Doctor runs an academy for novice time travelers, and that's the joke you make?!

If you told me someone slipped this book into my collection in an attempt to assassinate me with high blood pressure, well, that wouldn't be very plausible because I've had this book since the early 2000s. But it would communicate an emotional truth.

There's probably the seed of a good campaign buried somewhere in this book. The Illuminati University (I refuse to call it "IOU") Board of Trustees consists of "Benedict Arnold, Genghis Khan, Mephistopheles, Judas Iscariot, Jimmy Hoffa, Richard Nixon, Hermes Trismegistus, Al Capone, and Professor Moriarty." Which is a pretty good list, though I'd replace Benedict Arnold with Thomas Edison (but I don't hold it against the book, because it predates the memeification of the Tesla/Edison feud). Where it falls down is a little bit before the list, where it says.
Technically, the ArchDean isn't the final authority on campus - the University is ultimately ruled by the Board of Trustees. As a practical matter, however, the fact that the ArchDean owns 87% of the University stock lets her overrule them if necessary . . .
Sigh. So unfocused. You've established your over-the-top Council of Evil, but then you pull its teeth before it's even used. That's the book's problem in a nutshell - it never thinks things through. I honestly kind of hate it for that.

Ukss Contribution: Aw. Do I have to? Everything in this book is so aggressively dumb. . . but the book isn't actively evil like The Complete Barbarian's Handbook, so I guess I'll just have to broaden my view of Ukss once more.

Since it would greatly misrepresent the book to choose something relatively unembarrassing, like the botany school that meets inside of a giant tree, I think I'm going to have to go with a pun. Just, please, imagine me hanging my head in shame as I do this.

The cat suit. It's a suit. You put it on, you turn in to a cat. If I squint, I can almost see my dignity from here.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry for your suffering, but as someone who has long hated that book and not understood its cult status, it was kind of a relief to learn I am not alone in this.

    (I suppose that having a cogent explanation of that status would also have been a relief, however.)