Thursday, October 04, 2012


While reading The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe over the last month or so (currently reading the sequel, The Urth of the New Sun), I was impressed by the depth of the world Wolfe created. It seemed tailor-made for adaptation to a game setting. So I set out to see if it had ever been done and sure enough (and much to my dismay, as it turns out), it had. The source of my dismay, it was a GURPS setting. I played a lot of GURPS back in the 90s. I was a university student back then and all the cool kids were playing GURPS (at least around the campus gaming club). They say familiarity breeds contempt. Well, for me and GURPS, the saying is true. After a couple of years of almost exclusive GURPS, I was completely and irrevocably done with it. I still kept a few of my favourite sourcebooks, like GURPS Conan and GURPS Terradyne to mine for ideas, but I haven't played the game itself in nearly 20 years. Needless to say, I was somewhat ambivalent about investing in GURPS New Sun, but in the end, the pull of the setting proved stronger than my antipathy toward the game.

One point before I discuss the book, GURPS New Sun is one massive spoiler. It is unlikely anyone would even think to buy it if they hadn't already read The Book of the New Sun, but be forewarned, the entire plot of both The Book of the New Sun and The Urth of the New Sun are revealed.

GURPS New Sun is a quality work and quite an interesting sourcebook even for someone who may not wish to play GURPS. It starts out with a history of Urth, starting with the Age of Myth, which is basically all of history up until humanity's ascension to the stars and the creation of the First Empire. When the First Empire began is unclear, but its slow decline began about 72,000 years before the events of The Book of the New Sun. This era of interstellar empire and decline is known as the Age of the Monarch, named for the Monarch Typhon, the last great ruler of the age and a character who makes a brief appearance in The Sword of the Lictor. The Age of the Autarchs follows. It is the current era in The Book of the New Sun. Finally, there is The Next Age: Ushas or Ragnarok. The future of Urth is governed by the prophecy of the New Sun. If it comes to pass, Urth will go through a catastrophic upheaval, but will emerge on the other side as a vibrant, abundant world (Ushas). If the New Sun does not come, Urth will eventually turn into a frozen ball revolving about a burned-out sun for all eternity (Ragnarok). It is not an easy choice. Those alive in the present would not see Ragnarok, not would their children or even their grandchildren. However, the catastrophe that would mark the beginning of the rebirth of the world would be devastating and immediate. Most would not survive.

Next are chapters on the geography of Urth, especially the Commonwealth and its capital city, Nessus, although a few pages are dedicated to Ascia. There is a chapter on religion, mainly the Church of the Conciliator, with some description of Yesod included in this chapter as well. There is also a chapter on some of the unique aspects of space and time as described in The Urth of the New Sun and how they can be adapted to the GURPS system. Being a sourcebook, there is, of course, a chapter dedicated to character creation. For those unfamiliar with GURPS, chargen is a point-buy system for everything. You can buy attributes, skills, advantages. If you buy low attribute scores or disadvantages, you get points back that can be spent on other things. It is a pretty straightforward system, but one that is easily abused. Anyway, the character chapter includes some new skills and advantages/disadvantages as well as advice on how to adapt some existing ones to the setting. There are also an impressive array of character templates in keeping with the astounding depth of the setting. Of course, there are also the usual components of any game setting, weapon and equipment lists, a bestiary and a bunch of adventure hooks. Finally, there is a chapter on thaumaturgy. The lines dividing technology, magic and psionics are very blurry in The Book of the New Sun. The impression I got from reading it is that everything is actually technological, although some of that technology, especially some described in The Urth of the New Sun, stretches the limits of what I would consider possible within the constraints of the laws of physics. Having said that, GURPS New Sun treats a lot of the seemingly mystical effects as sorcery or psionics. It is up to individual GMs to decide the nature of the technology in their campaigns, but from a game mechanics perspective, it seems easier to treat it as magic.

Overall, GURPS New Sun is a pretty decent sourcebook. Even if the game system itself is not my thing, I have always felt the supplements were invariably excellent. At a modest $20 for a meaty, 128 pg. soft-cover, it's a good bargain and I would say it's a must for anyone interested in converting The Book of the New Sun to a tabletop rpg game setting.


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