Inverting “Unusual Background:” Skills for Gamesmen (And Their Templates)

A bunch of skills belong on all templates in The Land of the True Game, at least for gamesmen. Every gamesman knows how to ride a horse, has some familiarity with the culture and geography of game world, and remembers some knowledge from schooltown. But these templates to follow have an important concept behind them that is different from most campaigns: they’re light on skills.

Inverting “Unusual Background”

In a lot of GURPS, there is discussion about settings where occasional supernatural people have amazing abilities. One of the things I’m trying to do with this campaign that I hope will be fun and interesting is to turn the usual meaning of this on its head.

By requiring all of the players to be gamesmen, they’ll all have supernatural powers. In the Land of the True Game setting gamesmen form an aristocracy and don’t mix with pawns. What I mean by this is not that I’m literally inverting the “Unusual Background” advantage in the Basic Set, but rather that in this setting I think it would be interesting to flip what is normal and what is unusual. The players will think superhuman feats are totally ordinary, while they may not have any ideas about how to boil an egg.

“So you’re saying that you have to spread this ‘manure’ as you call it… and this makes the crops in the ground grow? Amazing! I had no idea. At my schooltown we were forbidden to speak of pawnish things.”

Unlike many campaigns, the gamesmen are aristocrats and may NOT have much skill at taking care of themselves (housekeeping, survival)–they make their pawns do it. Even while travelling, gamesmen will have a pawn servant accompanying them.

All gamesman templates in The Land of the True Game campaign that follow are Mandatory Limited Templates (see GURPS Template Toolkit 1, p. 6). Every player must pick a template. The template costs less than the starting point value of a character, leaving the player to customize further up to the campaign’s starting character point limit.

Basics and Essentials

For all gamesmen:

  • Area Knowledge (city or demensne): Everyone is from somewhere.
  • Riding: Horseback is the primary mode of travel, all gamesmen know Riding (even Armigers–who can fly).

While it isn’t an “essential,” a general skill many gamesmen might have is:

  • Current Affairs (Headline News, Powerful Demensnes): As there are no newspapers or professional journalists, this skill could be re-titled “important gossip.” It would let you know e.g., who has declared Great Game and for what reason, where/which armies are massing or recently disbanded, what Queen has taken residence at a particular keep or demensne.

While languages are not treated as “skills” in GURPS, it is relevant to mention here that literacy is not the norm among pawns, but literacy is normal among gamesmen. Pawns quite often have some level of illiteracy.

Schooltown Skills

Gamesmen are like feudal nobles or aristocrats and are expected to be educated. If they attended a schooltown or were schooled privately they know how The True Game works. (Excepting The Immutables, who have an independent system of education that does not teach game-related skills.) This is represented by choices from a list of many skills.

(Edit: I’ve added these skills to a module named Educated, FYI.)

  • Game (True Game): As for any sport, this allows you to provide essentially color commentary or “armchair quarterbacking” for a Great Game or a Game of Two. And the true game is the #1 topic of conversation in this setting, by a large margin. This skill means you know the rules and are able to judge and comment on what has happened in play.
  • Heraldry: You can recognize the talent of a gamesman by colors, costume, emblem, seal, or crest.
  • Law (True Game): Like Game (above), you know the rules, but you also know what rules are reportable to The Referees, how to get rule violators caught and rules enforced, and how Referee judgements work.
  • Savoir-Faire (Powerful Demensnes): How to act among the important kings, queens, and wizards in a social situation.
  • Strategy (True Game): You can plan and execute the leadership of an army in a Great Game. This is an optional specialization but it does not grant a specialization bonus, it is written here for clarity.
  • Theology (True Game): You know the stories of how things came to be, and are able to judge whether an idea is heresy or not.

Many of these overlap. Heresy is something against religion, but it is also a crime: so you could roll on either Theology or Law to judge whether something is heretical. If an army makes a particular kind of attack during a Great Game, you could roll against either Game or Strategy to determine if it is a good idea or not. Either Savoir-Faire or Heraldry might allow you to intuit someone’s importance in a social setting. Etc.

The Index is fundamental to gamesman society. Any of these skills would allow you to recall some details about a kind of game piece that appears in the index from memory, but the kind of details you are able to recall will vary based on the skill you use. Strategy might tell you that a Shapeshifter is a “Greater Durable,” Heraldry that the Shapeshifter wears a cloak and beast helm, and Theology that Thandbar is said to have been the first Shapeshifter.

Gamesman, Where Were You Schooled?

Which skills you have might depend on which school, house, or tutor educated you. Vorbold’s House specializes in educating the wealthy, and is known to emphasize Savoir-Faire. Windlow’s School at the High Demensne is known to focus on the origins of the world: Theology.

The Pursuits of a Noble Athlete

There is a generic valorization of athleticism among gamesmen, who in schooltowns are continually are told to imagine themselves doing battle on a field of honor. This means that knowing one or two athletic pursuits or athletic hobbies is considered gamesman-like, well-rounded, and aristocratic.

“I understand your thalan took first ribbon in the races at Havard’s House. Please accept my congratulations!”

These skills might include:

  • Climbing
  • Combat Sport (any): For weapons unrelated to a character’s talent. e.g. Elators are always taught melee combat, some with swords, so this wouldn’t be a sport. In contrast, if a seer were to learn competition fencing (useless in relation to their talent of prognostication), use a combat sport skill.
  • Dancing
  • Jumping
  • Running
  • Throwing

Interesting Heresies

Wizards have an alternative educational system involving apprenticeship and annual conferences (see Wizard template, coming soon). They know things that are heresy to other game pieces. In addition, some occupations, pieces, or demensnes have a particular interest in one of these skills–e.g., it is said The Immutables and The Magicians keep recorded histories. Other people might be able to pick up one or two of these skills via exceptional experiences.

(Edit: I’ve added these skills to a module called Minor Heretic, FYI.)

  • Hidden Lore (Eesties or Shadowpeople): This amounts to piecing together specific evidence and myths about these aliens and taking it all very seriously. (Which could be useful because these aliens are real.) Only known by a few wizards. Probably requires unusual background. See this discussion of the difference between hidden lore and occultism.
  • History (Land of the True Game): Received wisdom says that the world never changes and that religious teaching *is* equivalent to history (see Theology, above), but of course that isn’t true. The world changes and history exists. History skill is then the heretical knowledge of what actually happened in the past 1,000 years. It is known by very few people.
  • Mind Block: The ability to resist Demons and other pieces with similar mind-related powers. Religion teaches that resisting a demon is impossible–that is not so.
  • Occultism: Stories and fables about mysterious supernatural phenomena. In this setting these are related to planet-magic, The Magicians, monsters, and aliens. Religion teaches that all of these things don’t exist. Since they all do exist, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ this is a very useful skill in this setting, but it is not common. Note that this skill is not the practice of said planet magic–see the Wizard template for that (cf. Thaumatology). Nor is it the way of life of an alien race, see hidden lore (above) and this discussion of the difference between hidden lore and occultism.
  • Paleontology (Paleozoology): The study of the planet’s alien dinosaurs, including where their fossilized skeletons are likely to be found. Religion teaches there are no dinosaurs. Or aliens. So we are told the alien dinosaur bones definitely don’t exist. They’re carvings made by the wind, it is said.

Pawnish Pursuits

Many skills that would normally be considered essential for adventurers who can take care of themselves are NOT PRESENT among gamesmen because pawns do this kind of work, although in occasional circumstances there is a specific kind of game piece who does this work.

“Do you REALLY think we should leave the road and journey about the wilderness? I must say I’ve never done it myself. I AM a fourth-generation Sentinel after all, not some kind of Woodsman or Explorer.”

Examples of extremely useful skills that gamesmen tend NOT to know are:

  • Animal Handling
  • Boating
  • Camouflage
  • Cartography
  • Cooking
  • First Aid
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Housekeeping
  • Naturalist
  • Navigation
  • Packing
  • Seaman
  • Solider: This skill doesn’t exist among gamesmen, as when True Game is called an an army of gamesmen is raised, it is waited upon by its own army of pawns. There isn’t really any kind of “generalized soldiering” or boot camp. Schooltowns (see above) are quite aristocratic and academic, and don’t teach anything like Soldiering.
  • Survival
  • Teamster

NOT having these useful skills should make for some interesting role-playing challenges, especially in situations where players do not have any pawns to assist them. At least that is my hope.

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