GURPS Warehouse 23, the third book I did for Steve Jackson Games (the first was GURPS Russia; the second was GURPS Grimoire, with coathor Dan Thibault), has generated a lot of (very favorable) email, compliments at conventions, questions at same, and gratifying odd looks from total strangers. After a long writing process where I stomped and kicked the manuscript until I was satisfied it was truly mine (a tricky prospect, since the cliche of the Secret Government Facility Full of Stuff has been with us for a while and has its own crop of expectations built right in), the thing got out there and got liked. That's satisfying, when one of my brianchildren goes out into the world and makes its papa proud, so to speak. And now it's done.
But those letters, and those questions, are not. People still write me, collarbutton me, and ask me at panels: Was such and such a reference to The Twilight Zone? Was the hoozits on page so and so taken from the Marvel Universe? Did that event you described really happen, or happen in a movie, or did you just make it up?
Naturally, Warehouse 23 has its share of in-jokes, private references, and hidden stories. This is a guide to a few of those, a blend of the ones that generate the most questions, and the ones you'd NEVER notice unless you knew me personally. After reading this, you'll know me a little better, no doubt about it.
That, for the slow and/or optomistic, was a warning.
These aren't really "annotations" in the traditional sense. The rule of thumb is: If you can look it up elsewhere, I didn't bother with it. If you want expanded "factual" data on UFO sightings, or the history of the Jews in Israel, or the chemical nature of the human brain, go visit your local library, or ask a friend, or search the net for it. If you want to know why those guys on page 100 of Warehouse 23 are smoking Yeti Dung, on the other hand, step right in . . .
When a game supplement passes through playtesting, editing, layout, illustration, and final desperate fixes before it gets set in stone (or rather, ink), things get lost, and things get cut. Warehouse 23 lost a number of little things, including half a book worth of art! Dan Smith accidentally illustrated the whole book instead of half of it, and many of his excellent pieces (I've been lucky enough to see some) were lost to the cutting room floor, perhaps to illustrate some as-yet-unwritten Plot Card for Illuminati: New World Order. I'll mention one or two of them as we go.
The most important "missing fragment," however, was my entire "special thanks" list, that was cut from the credits page. Had it made the final cut, it would have looked like this:
Other missing contents include the odd sidebar, sentences cut here and there, that kind of thing. Most of it is too fragmentary to be of interest, and some of it I'm simply not going to tell you about yet. The only complete sidebar to be lost was this one:
As you can see, it was a good cut (editor Sean Barrett did a superlative job), since, while the sidebar is amusing and even useful, it's hardly vital or packed with revelation. Other cuts are more tied to specific entries, and I'll adress them as I go.
p.3: The listing for "Enhanced Fnords" is something that I've received chuckles for, but I don't deserve any credit. The Table of Contents and Index are done by others. This is ironic, since reading the index is actually my favorite way to enjoy the book. All those terms out of context never fail to make me grin.
p.4: Some have wondered why my "About the Author" listing carries the title "Speaking of Whom" instead of the much more obvious "About the Author." What happened was that funky font used in the introduction. It made less room on the page, and the first part of my biographic entry was cut (with my permission) to make space. The first part was this:
p.6, Sidebar: The reference to "Warehouse 666" is a reference to the working title of the book, as it stood years ago when Steve Jackson first decided that such a book might be fun. When Pyramid Magazine came along, the column that the book-idea inspired was named Warehouse 23, instead, and an INWO card further cemented the idea. There is a Warehouse 666 card in Hacker, however! Curiously, this is the second GURPS book to be renamed like this. Flight 13, a GURPS adventure published a few years back, had the working title of Flight 666.
p.8-10, Sidebars: Charlie and Dora Wolf are both inside jokes. Charlie is the main character in the song "The MTA" made popular decades ago by the Kingston Trio. Charlie is sort of the flying dutchman of the Boston subway system, because he boarded the train a nickel short (he was unawareof a recent price-hike). His wife stands at the station every day and throws him a sandwich so he won't starve to death on the train. She never, however, throws him a nickel! He is doomed to an eternity of lonely sandwiches . . . until he is "rescued" by the Secret Masters, of course. Dora Wolf is a character from one of my long-running GURPS campaigns. This is her second appearance in an SJ Games product, but the first you haven't seen, since it was written for Space Knights, the first supplement for Hot Lead.
p.9-10: The Special Funds Division, and Division 19, were both real parts of the OSS, and (except for the Occult functions, added for the book) were essentially as described. A startling number of people seem to think I made Division 19 up! Another odd truth: Himmler did in fact commit suicide on May 23rd, a very illuminoid date (the 23rd day of the 5th month).
p.13: The subsection "primary cells" shows off how much I enjoy reading the Lab Safety Supply Catalog. If you've never done so, find a copy. The joke about Elvis Heads was done as a favor to Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch, and it's a reference that he'd be better at explaining than I. Just keep in mind that Elvis Heads can be potent weapons, if you will only believe.
p.18, sidebar: Dan Smith has a long history of hiding jokes and references on the spines of books (and elsewhere! Dan himself could fill several web pages with an Annotated Art of GURPS Cyberworld, for instance).
p.23: Another cute Dan Smith story. Dan illustrated this book at the same time he was doing art for the reprint of GURPS Illuminati. His harried work-schedule meant that he was often unsure of exactly which book he was working on at any given moment (hence the extra art mentioned above). The sidebar on p.23 for "memoranda" was illustrated with the "manson/alphans" theme because Dan momentarily lost track; the Alphans are described in Illuminati, not Warehouse! But in the end, Dan liked the result, since it created "cross-pollenized" references between the two books, which is only natural. Good things often happen by accident! (Big Thanks to the D-Man for sharing this story with me!)
p.28: One of the more curious changes wrought in editing stands out a bit here. Wherever I used the term "Hebrews," someone along the editorial assembly line replaced it with "Israelites," for reasons I can barely guess at. Just for the record, that wasn't me: The Ark of the Covenant is part of the semi-mythical origins of the Hebrews, folks; there are many other Israelites, then and now, that could care less about the temple mount, and who's own origins are very different from the Exodus. Well, fewer then than now, since the Hebrews kicked everybody's ass moving in! Pharoah picks on the Hebrews, so the Hebrews cross the desert and pick on the Baal worshippers, committing genocide and giving Baal (a rather dull rain and fertility god) a bad name.
p.30: The "Telepathic Hazard" sign is a remnant of an art idea that never got off the ground. I had originally wanted all the small blank spaces of the book to be filled with these "safety signs," and my art-specs included specific concepts for a few; this is one of those. Unfortunately, production and layout being the unpredictable animal that it is, only two such signs made it in. Maybe next time!
p.32: More "Israelites."
p.33: Check out the third paragraph. Everything after the page reference for the Chrysolite Sphinx was added in editing, presumably to "kill a widow." When just a short word or partial word is left over at the end of a paragraph, anal-retentive editors and layout people call that a "widowed" paragraph, and they hate it hate it HATE it. These same editors, who, if you corner them in a bar, will bitch and moan for hours about writers padding sentences and not comprehending brevity, will cheerfully add nonsense to a sentence just to get the paragraph to look right. The "clothes of Moses?" The "turban of Aaron?" Eeeeek!. Everything else in the section was drawn from real research. Those last two items are utterly bogus. No one has ever speculated, to my knowledge, that the Hebrews used the Ark of the Covenant as a footlocker or laundry basket.
p.44: Brian Despain's illustration on this page really made me smile, because my offhand reference to raising children in railway cars was an internal reference to The Boxcar Children, a kid's book that I enjoyed in the first grade! Having the picture there cemented the reference.
p.44: The name of the Green Grimoire is a reference to some of my first-ever "game writing" of any kind. The Green Grimoire was a regular AD&D column that ran in The RAGA Scroll, the club newsletter of the Rappahannock Area Gamer's Association, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. It presented new spells every issue, and made constant references to where they came from: The Green Grimoire, the repository of all magical secrets. When it came time to include some magic in Warehouse 23, the Grimoire (fleshed out a lot more than I did in the column!) struck me as a natural. In fact, I entertained thoughts of pitching a column called "The Green Grimoire" to Pyramid magazine, which would feature regular GURPS spells . . . And if any explanation was asked for the name, I'd happily be able to claim it was just a clever Warehouse 23 reference! (Additional note: I kept a "Green Grimoire" notebook of AD&D spells, which I sold off in auction before moving to Texas).
p.45: Mike Perry was a friend of mine, one of my gamer pals in Virginia, among the regular crowd at OtherWorld Adventures. He wasn't a hippie by any definition - just a lovable, goofy kinda guy who might have been a hippie (or possibly a beatnik) had he been born in a different decade. "Tiffany Reid" was a reference to two other members of the same group: Tiffiany Mork and [former World INWO Sealed Deck Champion] Chris Reid, who didn't really like each other, so it was fun watching Chris' face change color when I gave Tiffiany his last name. Tiffiany was (and probably still is) a dabbler in pop-culture occultism, and while my characterization was meant as a kind of jibe, she took it with good humor and sportsmanship.
p.46: The description of the Crystal Skull's storage cylinder (all the text between the first and second headers on the page) was my "warm up" for the book. It's the piece of text that I wrote before any other in GURPS Warehouse 23, to get my enthuisiasm sparked. I never write much of anything in order; I tend to jump around like crazy, right up to the finish, often having fifteen or twenty different sections (and sometimes literally a dozen sentences) in the works at one time.
[A further note: It just occurred to me to try to find a mention of that old story on the Web someplace, and I may have found it: "Ring Once for Death/The Rose Crystal Bell," by Robert Arthur, is a story that appeared in an old issue of Amazing (in 1954), and for all I know it's the same one. Do those weekly scholastics print stories from such sources? I've no idea. Anyway, it appeared in a recent anthology, Back from the Dead, edited by the ubiquitous Martin H. Greenberg, Master of the Endless Anthologies, in 1991. It's apparently a collection of stories about the risen dead, which I don't remember in the story I'm thinking of, but "The Rose Crystal Bell" sounds right for the title, so more research is warranted . . .]
p.46: Near the end of the page is one of those confusing "Black Magic" references. GURPS Warehouse 23 originally included rules for Black Magic, and kept right on including them up through the final layout and indexing process. At the last minute, Steve Jackson, who hadn't really paid attention to the mansucript at all until the book was produced and ready to go to the printers, felt that the Black Magic stuff was inappropriate for the book, and had it yanked, phoning me late one evening asking me if I had anything that could fill the space left by it, and quickly. More on this in the later pages, where those rules were to have appeared . . .
p.47: The phrase "alien crystal skull technology" came from a much more serious (?) article that ran in an early issue of Strange magazine (ditto for the references to "Dolphin Crystal Sorcerers," an image which, for me, sums up the goodness-and-light New Age version of the skull). Strange is worth reading for many reasons, but for me, rolling on the floor laughing myself nearly unconscious because the phrase "alien crystal skull technology" was written with what seemed to be complete sincerity, is the best reason of all. Tim Driscoll (supplier of All Things Worth Reading and Watching) used to bring issues by to keep me inspired when working on the book.
p.47: Like the Boxcar Children, here's another reference to childhood storytime. The Crystal Bell was inspired by a short-short story that I read in fourth grade in one of those "scholastic weekly" type kid magazines they handed out to the class. It was very Twilight Zone, with the bell granting wishes at a terrible cost - a classic Monkey's Paw. It provided the inspiration for the curious artifact taken from the Nazi sorcerers in France.
p.48: Okay, by this page, we've finally learned not to trust crystalline objects, and the Oracle Gem hammers the last nail in that particular coffin. This item, possibly the cruellest thing in the entire book to actually give to an unsuspecting group of adventurers, is entirely a backhanded inside-joke aimed at my old fantasy gaming-group. In an old run of mine, they had the original Oracle Gem, an inoccuous divination device that I constantly hinted at a larger signifigance, a greater potential, and possibly potential danger. The campaign never got around to exploring any of that, though - we had bigger fish to fry. I wrote this section with the hope that those players would read it, and go "Oh God Damn! Then everthing that went wrong was OUR fault for asking the Gem!" which of course would be entirely wrong, since when I ran that campaign I had never even decided what the sinister secret (if any) of their Gem was. But that's just the kind of mean GM I am, as evidenced by the fact that, until now, I never told them the truth about the Warehouse 23 version ;)
DOH! Time's up! More soon! I'll be adding a few more entries every couple of days, to celebrate the upcoming GURPS Warehouse 23 reprint! Stay tuned.
Note Added, Years Later: Okay, I probably won't be adding more entries just now. But someday, by golly. Someday. Maybe. I hope. I dunno.
For another, different type of "annotation" on the writing process behind GURPS Warehouse 23, check out the GURPS Warehouse 23 Last Meal page (which is exactly what it sounds like. Maybe). For the official SJ Games page (including my more formal Designer's Note), click right here.