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Tabletop Game / GURPS Illuminati University

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GURPS Illuminati University (also known as GURPS IOU) is a setting for GURPS roleplaying system. The corebook was written by Elizabeth McCoy and Walter Milliken and illustrated by Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio. It was first released in 1995 by Steve Jackson Games.

IOU (you are not cleared to know what the 'O' stands for) is a fictional university campus populated by people and things from across the timeline, all around the universe and from alternate worlds. The students and staff include witches, demons, werewolves, time travellers, aliens, psychics and even normal young human students. The classes available are if possible even weirder than the students.

The default tone of the rules and illustrations leans very heavily comedic with silly puns and bizarre magic and tech aplenty but the book also provides alternate takes with 'Weird' being closer to something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (though the book predates the show) and 'Darkly Illuminated' being more serious and conspiratorial with the humour being greatly toned down.

GURPS IOU can be considered a Spiritual Successor to Teenagers from Outer Space, and the authors note the inspiration of the older game in the introduction.

This game provides examples of:

  • Alien Geometries: Instead of a quad like most universities, Illuminated University has The Pent, which has five sides for no particular reason; students who happen to have a protractor handy will discover that all five of the corners have 90-degree angles. One of the dorms is stated as having rather similar angles.
  • All Myths Are True: At least in the default 'Silly' setting the universe is teeming with aliens, ancient gods, cryptids, undead, everything. Some of them are probably your room mate (assuming you are not playing one yourself.)
  • Almighty Janitor: The most powerful character in the setting - the ArchDean - is in charge of the whole university, but the second-most powerful character is George the Janitor, who seemingly is always right where he needs to be when he needs to be, and he can clean up anything (in a World of Weirdness where nuclear reactor leaks, Cthulhu incursions, and tears in the space-time continuum are a boring weekday). He mostly uses his absurd knowledge and power to a) help him clean things up, and b) earn bribes from anyone who might need further info. Madame Lucrezia Curry, the woman in charge of the cafeteria, isn't quite on George's level, but it's worth noting that the only people who would even dare address her by her first name are ones who have received The Treatment.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: The best programmer (who can thus convince THE Computer that they deserve it) is the one who generally becomes dean (though if said programmer can't kick enough ass, they don't live long enough to stay the best programmer).
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Very much in place for the most part. The ArchDean has no listed stats, as anyone dumb enough to take her on is going to find themselves dead, then revived, then discover their bank accounts and credit ratings are Deader than Dead. Most of the deans are head and shoulders above their professors, as well, with Metaphysics run by an actual demon ("Fred" to his equals, the DeanMon to his inferiors) and C.T.H.U.L.H.U. run by a Captain Ersatz of the Fourth Doctor at his most capable.
  • Author Avatar: Or rather 'artist avatar'; Phil Foglio pops up in a couple of pictures, complete with trademark bowler hat.
  • Brain Uploading: One of several different ways in which deceased students and faculty are restored to life in cloned bodies.
  • Brainless Beauty: The university boasts two entire One Gender Races of these who work in the administration as secretaries and general flunkies. The female Bimbiras are Human Aliens introduced to the campus by the ArchDean while the Kajones, who are all male hunks, were created via genetic engineering at the University itself.
  • Brought Down to Normal: There is a specific trait called Mundanity, which is literally this as a power. Those with high-enough level of Mundanity can literally turn anything extraordinary into something normal. For example, any aliens threatening a character with high-level Mundanity with zap-guns will find that their arsenal has turned into stage props while he’s enjoying the antics of the “drama students.”
  • Complete Immortality: The results of receiving "The Treatment," which is apparently so traumatic that nobody remembers precisely what it entails, and which results in the recipient being impossible to destroy outside of intervention from the ArchDean herself. Generally, only the most powerful department heads and deans can afford this.
  • Contemporary Caveman: One of the sample characters is Og, a caveman with an eidetic memory. He came forward in time with a C.T.H.U.L.H.U. student who was fleeing a wooly mammoth, and arranged to stay by volunteering as a research subject in exchange for tuition, room and board.
  • Credit Card Plot: A sample adventure in the campaign book has the characters acquire a magical credit card with no limit - if you try to check the account's balance, it reads "JACKPOT". Later on - likely after they've purchased a bunch of expensive stuff - they'll find out that the card is made in Hell, and the debt is paid not with money, but in souls! The plot is played out as a parody of The Lord of the Rings with the card taking the place of the Ring.
  • Death Is Cheap: Part of the student health plan includes Resurrective Immortality - after all, students can't become rich donors if they can't live to get their degree. This does not mean that death is consequence-free, however - just because you're guaranteed to be resurrected does not mean that the university will be quick about it, and many teachers will view "I was dead at the time" as a poor excuse for missing a test or turning in an assignment late.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Illuminati University actually has several Department of Redundancy Departments.
  • Doctor Whomage: One of the faculty members is the Fourth Doctor with his serial numbers very lightly sanded off.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: A crossover example. On the page with the yearbook photo, two of the students listed in the yearbook are Agatha Heterodyne and Krosp (although the names are partly obscured by the student reading said yearbook).
  • Elaborate University High: Illuminati University is a large, sprawling campus, which includes nine separate colleges, a large library, a museum, two separate power plants (one of which is a gigantic sunflower), a stadium, multiple dorms, a Frat/Sorority Row, and a Botany building placed within a giant tree. Due to numerous reasons ranging from restructurization to shifts in reality, the exact layout and number of buildings on the campus is susceptible to change, to the annoyance of the faculty and student body.
  • Evil Twin: An explicit disadvantage.
  • Extranormal Institute: Classes at Illuminati University include hysteria and future history, the botany building is a tree, and destruction of any planetary bodies requires written permission from the Arch-Dean (who, according to rumor within the setting, is either a former angel, a former demon, or both). The favorite sport of IOU (you're not cleared to know what the 'O' stands for) is Moopsball, which... well... just look at the rules.
    • The various Colleges within the greater University are mostly devoted to various genres of adventure:
      • The College of Temporal Happenstance, Ultimate Lies and Historical Undertakings (C.T.H.U.L.H.U.)note  centers around time travel.
      • The College of W.U.S.E. (Weird and Unusual Science and Engineering) is made of mad scientists, slightly-less-mad students of Science! and devotees of The Computer (the A.I. that controls, among other things, student schedules and dorm assignments).
      • SPCA (School of Performing and Creative Arts) teaches classes in drama, melodrama, villain monologues, and applied courtesanship, among others.
      • COUP (College of Obscure and Unhealthy Professions) trains future spies, super-spies, ninjas, powers-behind-the-throne, IRS agents and the like.
      • The School of Social Anti-Sciences (a parody of pure academia and liberal arts majors) conflicts with the College of Zen Surrealism, since the first resents the second for being obscure and pointless on purpose, rather than concentrating on pure academics and only achieving obscure pointlessness as a side-effect.
      • The College of Communication mainly addresses propaganda, misinformation, and creating conspiracy theories for fun and profit.
      • The School of Conservative Arts (parodying liberal arts and conservative politics) teaches classes like Political Architecture 101: Empire Building for Fun and Profit.
      • The College of Metaphysics is a Wizarding School plunked into a genre stew, with majors like Applied Theology (with classes like AT 102: How to Start Your Own Church and AT 401: World Building in 7 Days or Less) and Political Thaumaturgy.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Everywhere. The History department (which focus mostly on time travel) is officially called the College of Temporal Happenstance, Ultimate Lies & Historical Undertakings (C.T.H.U.L.H.U). Another department which focus on Law and other 'dirty tricks' is called the College of Obscure and Unhealthy Professions (COUP).
  • Genre Savvy: More or less an actual skill that can be purchased as Survival (IOU), which can be bought up the same as any other IQ-based skill. It can be substituted in for any number of other skills to let the character know just what kinds of things will end very, very badly (one example was a character rolling against engineering to learn the state of a nuclear reactor... and someone with Survival (IOU) noticing that the Almighty Janitor was preparing for a massive cleanup).
  • Harmful Healing: The Lazarus Health Center approaches their job in an... unorthodox way. It's usually easier to just die and get resurrected.
  • Highly-Conspicuous Uniform: The Campus Security wear red uniforms with a literal Bullseye Badge, underlining their status as the setting's Red Shirts. Their most common nickname isn't "Targets" for nothing.
  • Insistent Terminology: The university prefers the use of terms like 'freshthing' and 'chairthing' to potentially sexist and/or humanocentric terms like 'freshman' or 'chairperson'.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: For all that she's listed as more of a force of nature than an actual person, the ArchDean isn't all that bad of a sort, particularly as she has rules about ensuring the safety of "freshthings," and she's so fond of her cats that one of the suggestions to mitigate her wrath are to distract her with one (not that this is guaranteed to work). And anyone who is dumb enough to mistreat a cat on campus is at best going to be suffering through a host of indignities to get their way back into the ArchDean's graces.
  • Lord British Postulate: The section on the ArchDean doesn't list stats, per se. It says that she has fnord character points, and it only suggests advantages with levels beyond comprehension (such as levels of Resources that would make galactic empires envious), and it only lists a couple of flaws (such as her fondness of cats and her greed) mostly as a guide for the GM to guide her should anyone be foolish enough to get her attention.
  • Master Computer: THE Computer, which is basically responsible for anything computer-related at the university (except that maintained by the Robocrat). It's sentient, and more than a little weird given just how often people mess around with it. It's not quite as bonkers as Friend Computer from Paranoia, but it can get pretty close on a bad day. It's also the determinant of who gets to be dean of WUSE - if you can convince THE Computer to give you the Dean's salary, you're the dean. Not surprisingly, the position is typically held by the best programmer on staff.
  • Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: One of the scenario ideas involves the final exam for the Advanced Cheating class. The questions are just random obscure trivia; the actual test is finding a good way to cheat in it. If you get caught, you fail. If you don't even try to cheat, you'll be expelled for "terminal cluelessness." The difficulty to this being, of course, proving that someone did not cheat.
  • Our Founder: There is a statue in the middle of the "Pent" marked "Our Founder". Said statue is humanoid-shaped, but worn down with age, and has hints of tentacles on the face. Oh, and testing showed it to be older than the universe.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Darker IOU games prominently feature this among the upper echelons of the school, particularly for the ArchDean. Lighter games will play with this as well, although it's just as likely a facade for a Jerk with a Heart of Gold. About half of the classes at the College of Obscure and Unethical Professions are all about teaching how to do this (the other half merely encourage it).
  • Riddle for the Ages: The setting runs on this. IOU is Illuminati University... so what does the "O" stand for? Just who (or, for that matter, what) is the ArchDean anyway? Who is the Unseen Dean, and how many have they gone through? And what's the janitor's deal, anyhow? Just what does "The Treatment" entail? The answer to all these, and more, is frequently "You're not cleared for that." It even says so on the back cover.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: The various departments and individuals within are so frequently at each others' throats (literally) that the ArchDean codified it with the Blood Feud system. There are severe consequences for anyone caught escalating a feud beyond bickering in journals without filing the proper paperwork. And woe betide the unfortunate soul who doesn't realize that their would-be foe already filed the paperwork.
  • Shout-Out:
    • One illustration features Terry Pratchett creating a physical version of the Discworld as part of the World Construction finals.
    • The main University (Dis-)Organizations picture features the XXXenophile Society.
    • In the Librarian's profile picture, he's holding Green Eggs and Spam.
    • There's a picture of a Martian war machine on p. 74.
    • In addition to the acronym for the College of Temporal Happenstance, Ultimate Lies & Historical Undertakings, there're a couple of student organizations actually devoted to Cthulhu.
  • Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: The Robocrat, who was the result of several WUSE Mad Science projects using the results of previous WUSE projects. The end result of an accident with a nuclear lawnmower was that boring nebbish Harvey Tillotson's brain was transplanted into what was meant to be a state-of-the-art combat cyborg. Despite being in a new Nigh-Invulnerable body, Harvey decided that life on IOU was dangerous enough and asked for a cushy desk job. Realizing just how useful he could be in administrative settings, the ArchDean quickly agreed.
  • Take That!: Several, particularly at the Gor series.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: There is the class in the Thaumaturgy department called "Things Men Were Not Meant to Know". There's also a class in "Men Things Were Not Meant to Know".
  • Vengeful Vending Machine: The campus vending machines will dispense almost anything a character might need, from a cold soda to a flamethrower. However, they don't always give you what you ask for.
  • Wacky College: The university nearly defies description. The Dean of the history department is a Captain Ersatz of the Fourth Doctor, the Botany department is housed in a giant tree, the sample characters include a witch-girl, a cave-man, and a football-playing werewolf, and the favorite sport on campus is moopsball.
  • We Sell Everything: The campus vending machines in can distribute almost anything. And we do mean anything.
  • World of Weirdness: The defining feature. The whole point is that a GURPS character from any setting would fit more at less at home at IOU.

Alternative Title(s): GURPSIOU