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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 authours 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: A 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 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.
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  • 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 Race 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.
  • 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.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Illuminati University actually has several Department of Redundancy Departments.
  • 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 monologs, 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).
  • 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'.
  • 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.
  • 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? The answer to all these, and more, is frequently "You're not cleared for that." It even says so on the back cover.
  • 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".
  • 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


Example of: