When I was about 16 years old, I was into role-playing games. While these are meant to be a social activity, I was more interested in them as a form of fiction. I loved reading rulebooks and sourcebooks, seeing how worlds hung together. I’d design campaigns that were never going to be played, and I don’t think that time was wasted.
I must have been 16 or so when a friend, Mark Smith, lent me a copy of the GURPS: Illuminati sourcebook. GURPS was a universal role-playing system, allowing different genres to mix. Want to know how a spy can fight a dinosaur? Or need to resolve combat between Bugs Bunny and a delta force operative? GURPS would help you with this. They even did a version of Bunnies and Burrows, the 1976 game based on Watership Down, noted as one of the first games allowing play as non-humans. (I wonder if anyone has ever done a Watership Down meets Lovecraft GURPS campaign? Maybe I should make some notes on that, even if I never intend to run it).
The Illuminatus sourcebook was a guide to conspiracy theories. It talked about men-in-black, the Illuminati and referred often to Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s books. It was one of those volumes that opens a gateway to a whole world of strangeness. I don’t have a copy to hand, but I bet I’ve read most of the bibliography in the time since. It also introduced me to Discordianism, a joke disguised as a religion (or possibly vice-versa).
GURPS: Illuminatus was published in 1992 by Steve Jackson Games (SJG). There are some interesting stories behind the book. For a start, I think there was an issue with the rights. Also, at the same time as this was worked on, SJG were raided by the FBI. This was caused by their work on a cyberpunk volume, which the authorities believed might help hackers. This was one of the events leading to the founding of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Of course, SJG claimed that the FBI were really trying to suppress the Illuminatus book.
At 18, I found copies of the Illuminatus Trilogy at Sussex University’s Wednesday market. Those copies are long gone, abandoned between house moves, and I miss them, same as I miss my copy of the 1992 KLF annual. I found the Illuminatus trilogy confusing and difficult, but exciting too. I was aware this somehow crossed over weirdly with the KLF, who name-checked the Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu on their 1992 UK #2 hit, Last Train to Transcentral. I tried to lend the book to a few friends who weren’t interested; four years later, they started raving about this amazing book they’d read, and had I heard of Illuminatus? I followed the threads of Discordianism on the web, printing out a copy of the central text, the Principia Discordia.
Discordianism and the Illuminatus Trilogy changed a lot of people’s lives, but it didn’t for me, just like the Invisibles never changed my life. That sort of weirdness was too far outside my normal, ordered life. But it was an entertaining thing to follow, even if nothing weird ever happens to me. Although that is starting to change. The UK’s Discordian revival is growing, and it’s linking together a lot of interesting people. Maybe, even now, it’s not too late for the Illuminatus Trilogy to change my life.