Note: Unnecessary followup posted.

I like GURPS, but it has a problem.

Since I started poking around in RPG fora again recently, I see it all over the place. Some say it’s a perception problem; that doesn’t mean it’s not a real one. It usually boils down to this: GURPS is too complicated.

The common answer is: You don’t use every rule, just the ones you need.

Both of these statements are true. However, the real problem with GURPS is that people just can’t seem to get into it, particularly GMs, because of the complexity issue and the impracticality of the solution to someone brand-new to the game. How can we get people to try the game without getting buried under hundreds of pages of tables and umpteen zillion splatbooks? How can you tell a new player to just take the bits he needs when he’s already drowning in a sea of useless-to-his-campaign rules?

GURPS needs to be more accessible.

Here I’ll go over some observations and opinions, decrypt the awfulness of the GURPS ruleset and its presentation, ponder why GURPS is slowly making itself irrelevant (although I still like it), and then suggest simple ways for GMs to stop wasting time cutting out the clutter and get on with wasting time building a campaign that players probably won’t like anyway.

If you just want to know how to GM or be a new player of GURPS without all the rhetoric and hyperbolic venom, go straight to the TLDR. Warning: you will still be exposed to these things, but in a more manageable quantity.

What GURPS Isn’t

GURPS isn’t a game. It’s an engine for building your own game. It’s not like Pathfinder or D&D (insert edition here) or Gamma World or Macho Women with Guns, where you have a book that tells you what you can and can’t do, aside from some tweaking in the form of house rules. If there’s some question about how much owie you can inflict on a prismatic goblin with your considerably long sword, you can just look it up. There’s a consistent set of rules in place, and there’s a reason for them: rules provide an impartial arbiter of world mechanics so that everyone pretty much knows how things work and can thus get on with their make-believe lives. Hopefully the rules approximate some semblance of realism (more on this dreaded word later) so that things work pretty much the way you expect them to, or at least consistently.

In more minimalist universal systems like FATE or FUDGE, you also have to define your system boundaries, but these are more like a basic mechanic for resolving things, and the GM must then define what things are appropriate and add them in. This is convenient because it’s fast and simple; it’s a dilemma because even the best GM of a minimalist generic system doesn’t have a staff of nerds who spent thousands of manhours researching how things work in the real world, and so you wind up with shrug-and-go mechanics. You think looking stuff up on tables slows things down? Try sitting bored around a table when players and GMs argue about whether or not a freaking manriki-kusari can drag a maille armored hobelar off his horse or not, or exactly how a magical fireball works. You’d think people were defending their PhD theses the way those arguments go.

On the other end of the spectrum is GURPS. Using the real universe as a model, it tries to provide a framework to cover all sorts of activities in a way that makes sense. And I do mean all sorts of activities. Rules for long-distance running. Rules for how fast you can dig. Rules for maintaining the frizzens on your flintlocks. Rules for starving to death or dying of tetanus. Does anyone remember GURPS Ice Age? A whole supplement about being a prehistoric humanoid trying to get food every day, measured in kcal. The number of skills, traits, and rules on performing activities from the mundane to the outlandishly obscure are in there, or in some additional splatbook. This is why people pick up GURPS and read it like it was Pathfinder, vomit from information overload, and decry it as way too complicated. They’re right, of course; it’s left to maso-nerds to try and play GURPS with every single rule, all the time. To make it actually work for you, you have to chop out gigantic swathes of irrelevant information and distill it to what you actually need. Don’t worry; the rules for how much water you need every day while crossing the desert with camels will still be there if you need it at some point.

The recent update to 4th edition actually made this harder than it used to be. More on this later.


A variant of the "too complex" postulate is the "too much realism" postulate. Usually the writer means exactly the same thing, but confuses a focus on realistic mechanics with an overly-complex and burdensome system. The two have little to do with each other.

  • "Realism" is depicting things accurately within the confines of your medium.
  • "Complexity" is the quality of having many intricate parts.

In gaming, realism is a useful set of boundary conditions that ensures that things will generally work the way they are observed to work in the real universe. People need food and water, gravity keeps you from floating away, fire hot. These things tend to be true even if your game world has dragons flapping around and elves who are not annoying prisses. When these "unrealistic" elements exist, they still follow a set of laws that remain largely consistent, although you have to black box a few things here or there ("uh… it’s maaaagic!") to make them work. A better term for highly unrealistic games might be "consistency."

GURPS is based on "plausible verisimilitude" (as per Gaming Ballistic’s interview with Sean Punch), or an approximation of real-world laws designed to let the players… whatever. Call it realism. It’s a nice framework that you then deviate from to introduce your unrealistic elements. It’s also a complex system, and has way too many rules for anyone to sanely digest a leisure, let alone in real-time play conditions. But if you drop a bunch of those tables and rules covering corner cases and things that don’t apply to your game, it remains realistic and believable.

On the other hand are games like FATAL (shudder), Phoenix Command, and the like. FATAL purports to be realistic, but it’s about as far as you can get from realistic. Instead, it’s about a thousand pages of largely unnecessary tables and calculations that will (hopefully) never be relevant to play, if in fact the game is playable at all. Phoenix Command takes realism and drives it to absurd degrees. Someone shot at you? Get out the calculators, and about half an hour later, there’s a 99% chance you are dead anyway.

In all honestly, even games like D&D (especially 3.5/Pathfinder) and HERO are fairly complex. They get a little break, because they don’t require you to chop up the rules and build your own system before you play; you can get right to numbercrunching munchkinism. They also don’t have quite the library of ridiculous supplements that GURPS has, although based on forum postings, even people who don’t like GURPS like their supplements as source material. They like them because even without extra rules appropriate to their game of choice, the supplements are generally well-researched and accurate… that is, realistic. Take that.

One further note about GURPS and realism: its basic magic system, which has no realistic index to base things from, still sucks. Most experienced GURPS players do not use it, preferring Path/Book or Syntactic magic out of GURPS Thaumatology instead. This is great for experienced players and GMs, but Path/Book in its bare essence is, "write your own magic system," and Syntactic is, "make up your magic system during play." Neither is helpful to new players or GMs.

GURPS 4th Edition

When GURPS 4th came out, players of GURPS largely liked it. It dragged almost all of the skills, traits, and rules into the basic set, meaning less need for a jillion splatbooks to build what you wanted. Stat imbalance was, if not completely, largely fixed. You could actually build a superhero without breaking all semblance of balance. It was all there in the basic set, mostly in Characters. GURPS players, rejoice!

You know who didn’t rejoice? People who had never played GURPS.

Oh, the rule updates were fine. Very good, actually. But in an effort to unify the rule system and character creation, fourth edition actually made it more difficult for new players to digest. Let’s take a simple example: You heard that GURPS 4th was the shiznit, so you pick it up. You figure to introduce your players to it, you’re going to run a D&Dish adventure. You start making characters up and… what the hell? All of the skills are in a big freaking block. This means that if you’re a normal human being who has played standard RPGs before, you read it all the way through, including skills for using a vacuum suit, phobias of computers, and how to build a motorcycle-riding werehamster. It’s a giant database of things that might or might not apply to your game, helpfully presented in print so you can’t just sort them into a useful table. Oh, and its presentation is super-dry as well.

In 3rd edition, these things were broken out into logical categories like melee weapons, social skills, and physical/mental disadvantages. If your eyes got glassy by trying to get through the mass of text, you could always look for a subheading that seemed like it would fit. Now, 3rd edition didn’t cover everything, but it gave you a basic grounding in how things work, and would allow you to build a passable fantasy or modern campaign. You could always go pick up a supplement to cover other things like superheroes (albeit imbalanced ones), space opera, or martial arts if you wanted to, and when you build your World War II commando campaign, you just left Magic on the shelf. This is not an option in 4th edition.

The 3rd edition book also included two adventures for new players, which is something so important for onboarding that it boggles the mind how they could leave it out of 4th. One was a simple solo "pick your own adventure" style romp through a house with preset encounters and skillchecks, letting you familiarize yourself with the system using prebuilt sample characters. The second was a basic no-magic party adventure called Caravan to Ein Arris, which was actually pretty good for a newbie GM and players. Caravan is available as a free PDF, but that doesn’t mean jack to the potential customer at Barnes & Noble or that tiny little shelf in the game store where RPGs are still carried, leafing through the book and thinking, "How do?"

From a personal experience standpoint, GURPS 3rd Edition, with all of its flaws, made me want to do things because it was easier to envision a character, a game world design, and doing things in that world. GURPS 4th Edition made me think, "hey this is more refined than 3rd edition," but had I never played GURPS 3rd, I would have put the damn thing down right quick-like. If GURPS is a Lego set (a common analogy), then the pieces in 4th fit together a little better, but 3rd actually has a picture of a dinosaur you can build on the cover, and that’s what inspires you to build things.

The GURPS Playerbase: Only the Groggiest of Grognards

Perusing the SJG GURPS forum is similarly discouraging. Here you find numerous arguments over historically accurate wielding of guisarme-voulges, gonzo treatises on the mathematics of technical grappling, and similar discussions that would lead a new player (who is not a polymath with degrees in engineering and history as well as four black belts and a sharpshooter rating) to believe that GURPS is played by crazy people who live on the fringes of simulationism, where there is nothing to do but memorize all those insane rules.

Thing is, that’s exactly what the GURPS playerbase is becoming.

Pen and paper RPGs are already a dwindling subset of geekdom, and everything has taken a chunk out of it. "Miniatures games are killing RPGs!" "Collectible card games are killing RPGs!" "MMORPGs are killing RPGs!" All true, and everyone is fighting to control that little bit of the market that’s left. Everyone except SJG, that is.

SJG actually publishes financial and business reports annually, which is an awful nice thing to do for a company that doesn’t actually have to. Tracing forward through the years, one easily sees GURPS (and other, lesser-known RPGs) dwindle in importance to the point where the 2013 report’s top 40 gross dollar products included exactly one GURPS book: Basic Set Characters, at number 32. GURPS also gets shorter shrift in every report as the years go on, mostly limited to, "Hey, we continued supporting GURPS by having PDFs available!" That’s nice, but they’re all on e23, a store that’s pretty damn obscure for the general gaming public (not to mention the general public), where 26 page Acrobat files are worth eight dollars, and where it’s almost impossible to browse. Coincidentally, the first available report was in 2004, the year 4th edition came out. GURPS priority declines steadily, and by 2010 it’s not even mentioned as a strategic objective.

Munchkin dominates the financial report, and I’m glad that SJG is making some bank on it, otherwise they would have already closed up shop. However, despite occasional claims to the contrary on various RPG fora, this is not good for GURPS. If you make a lot of money selling Munchkin and various flavors of Munchkin, logically you don’t take that profit and throw it into games that are dying on the vine; you make more Munchkin stuff. Maybe you try out some casual dice games as well, or some other card games, or a board game (eep). Or maybe you try to tap into that online gaming market… hey, how long as Ultracorps been in beta? Eight years? Don’t even get started on the Fallout fiasco.

So the GURPS segment is dying off; fine. SJG doesn’t seem to care much. Their market strategy has certainly shifted completely toward the profitable (at the moment) products they make, which is pretty much Munchkin. That’s fine too. But why even bother putting out a product like the 4th edition when it so clearly does nothing to expand your market base? I think the original publication of 4th edition suffered from what I call "engineeritis," the malady that strikes product designers who have been living with their baby for so long that they can’t see what a new customer would see. Since about 2008, I think any GURPS publications (mostly PDF) exist only to squeeze a little more pocket change out of the remaining faithful. It’s now an Ouroboros business model, where hardcore GURPS nerds write material for other hardcore GURPS nerds while the whole product line circles the drain, effectively repelling any new customers. And why not? Maybe they’ll spend money on Munchkin.

Powah to the People, Maybe

The typical hue and cry here goes, "OPEN SOURCE BLAHBLAH."

Not gonna happen. SJG protects their intellectual property, even intellectual property rendered as worthless as GURPS. Still, things have improved. It’s possible now to write game aids and adventures and the like for GURPS without jumping through flaming hoops as a result of their updated policy on the matter. By contrast, my friend Randy once wrote a nifty program to track battle statistics and build character sheets, and sent an inquiry to SJG (probably in the early 2000s) about distributing it for free. His answer was a byzantine contract that stated that SJG owned everything he’d ever done in his life, and he’d have to agree to those terms before they’d even look at it. Needless to say, he dropped it and devoted his time to less asinine projects. Note that they only got around to posting a sensible policy in 2006, right about the time that nobody cared.

However, it could happen. And since SJG seems unwilling to put new player game aids or adventures into the market (at least into any market where anybody might find them), maybe it makes sense to publish some online. Stuff requiring GURPS Lite only, and for free. Maybe even one of those missing solo training adventures. Maybe some critters that new GMs can drop into an adventure right away. Maybe, you know, the stuff that’s completely missing from GURPS now that poses a barrier to entry.

"Hurr durr why don’t you do it then Mu?" Maybe I will, but my bitterness level has risen while writing this. I’ll have to wait for it to subside first.

Enough Bittervetting, How Do I GURPS?

So for a new GM who wants to get into GURPS, here are my recommendations. Take any or none of them; I make even less money from GURPS (zero) than SJG does (slightly north of zero).

  • Download GURPS Lite. Free. It’s a little less complete than the 3rd edition version was (also grr 4th edition) but it’s enough to actually play.
  • Think up a campaign setting, historical or modern, no magic or other supernatural powers (since these don’t exist in GURPS Lite). Go through the lists of advantages, disadvantages, skills and equipment. Cross out all the things that don’t apply in your game world. They do not appear in your game world, and players cannot take them. Congratulations; you have just chopped the hell out of the rules, which is exactly what you need to do to make an actual game out of GURPS.
  • Get the combat mechanics down. Many complaints about GURPS revolve around how long combat takes to resolve. They’re mostly right, so make sure you know how stuff works so you can keep things moving. Make up two 150-point characters fighting each other (or just assign some stats and skills and don’t worry about points). Check out this page of combat examples. I would suggest more pages, but I can’t think of any. Yet.
  • Build some more characters so you can see how they’re likely to turn out. If you like them, keep them around for NPCs or as instant PCs. Go ahead and make lots of them so your poor players don’t have to learn any of this nonsense when they first play.
  • Download Caravan to Ein Arris and read through it. It can be played using GURPS Lite.
  • Trick some people into playing GURPS.

For a new player, you can try to find a game online using Google + Hangouts or some other system (Skype and Google Docs is a barebones combination people seem to like). You can also try on Roll20 or the MapTool fora. Honestly, GURPS isn’t really too popular in those media as compared to d20 variants, FATE… hell, more people probably play Wuthering Heights RPG at this point. I’ll just assume that someone has tricked or coerced you into playing GURPS, and you don’t know anything about it except what you read on that Mu guy’s blog that it’s terrible but he likes it anyway. In that case…

  • Grab GURPS Lite. Or if that’s too much trouble, grab GURPS Ultra-Lite. And if that’s… well, you have some points and stuff, and some skills, and once in a while you roll three six-sided dice. Just download GURPS Lite and pretend to read it.
  • Tell your GM that you don’t know anything about GURPS and need help building a character. He’ll have to, since he’s invested way more time than you have at this point and is desperate for players. Tell him what you’d like to play. Try to make it fit inside his campaign description. Seriously, wanting to play a psionic vampire dill pickle with a rank of Colonel in the space marines and contacts inside McDonald’s corporate HQ gets old after you’ve heard it several hundred times, which all GURPS players have.
  • During play, just do things that would seem to be logical, and by logical I don’t mean intellectually logical; do things that would make sense if you were the person in the scenario instead of a nerd who got tricked into playing GURPS. Your actions’ consequences should make sense. (Realism! Hah!) 
  • If you have to roll some dice, roll some dice (usually three of them) and the GM, who actually has to know the rules, will tell you what happened. Over time you, too, may discern the mysteries of 3d6 roll-under systems, and will actually begin to read GURPS Lite for yourself, starting you on your journey to complex-system-snobbery. You are doomed.


Someday, I think it may be possible for player-created material to do the job that SJG has not, and that is to make GURPS accessible enough so that players might actually want to play it instead of being frightened away by clumpy lists of skills that have nothing to do with each other and fanboys debating the difficulty modifier appropriate to isolate the Higgs Boson. It could happen. Probably right around the time GURPS enters public domain.


32 Responses to “How Do GURPS and Why it Sucks Anyway”
  1. Very interesting read. I linked to it with comments on my blog, with the following intro: In looking for anyone making comments about TG, I stumbled across a comment/rant by a blogger calling himself Mu, that was a nice counterpoint t my post about complexity from the other direction. While harsh, it’s the kind of harshness that was very engaging, and with a huge chunk of wisdom in there for those wishing to distill it.

    So, while my next posts will get back to the rules and tweaks that I enjoy making, I thought his post was well worth linking to, and it inspired some of my own thoughts on how to make GURPS better.

  2. In a reddit thread I started on the topic, I proposed a publishing-level solution that is practical and removed the burden of rules reduction from the new GM, giving him a complete ruleset that works within a genre with the seeds of flexibility. I think this makes more sense, since the reductivity of the GURPS ruleset is barrier #1 for new customers.

  3. Honestly, I’ve been reasonably successful getting players to play GURPS.

    The secret is to control the level of buy in required to get their interest. Most players could care less about the system they care about the world as long as we don’t hurt them with the system.
    Here is what I do:
    1. Create worlds that work well with the players having imperfect understanding of the rules or what is going on.
    2. Put lots of hooks in to make them fascinating and to give the players lots of space to create characters. Note I’m not talking about the system at all.
    3. Let them describe what their character does translate that into system for them. All they really need to know if during combat you can attack or defend. If they say “ayyyy I’m going to avoid that no matter what” then they are doing an active defense. …
    4. Slowly phase in the combat rules first mainly the choices so they are making a conscious choice.
    5. Make it cool.

    The point is to give them some reward really early in the process. Don’t have them spend 15 hours learning enough system ask them about who their character is. Tweak it to fit the world not the system. Write it up as a character sheet and in some cases as “plain language”

    Note this works much better with someone who has an open mind and it works best if you have an established group that someone is joining but I suspect I could convince a group of people to try a very basic complete GURPS game as long as I made the world fascinating with plenty of room for the player to create a character they liked.

    At this point I have a group that pretty much only plays GURPS because they don’t want to learn a new system and they trust me to find fun worlds and everything else is just fluff.

    I don’t actually know that I believe GURPS is falling any faster than any RPG system. They are mostly being replaced with other forms of entertainment. MMORG, movies, skype etc.

  4. That’s good advice for starting any game. I actually have better luck with people who are not hardcore gamers, building their characters with them, and when it comes to play it’s usually, “Roll 3d6. Here’s what happens.”

    I do think GURPS is contracting at a faster rate than other RPGs, specifically because players are moving to different systems and no one is replacing them due to GURPS’s presentation and reputation for user-unfriendliness.

  5. Yeah, I think Mu got the point, gurps marketing strategy, assuming they want to sell more books, is full of blunders, and he pointed them very well.
    Instead of focusing on lessening the hardship of gurps learning curve, fourth edition efforts were directed almost exclusively to improve the coherence of the system. For those who already used to play the game, it was great news. But for newcomers and wannabes, it became twice as complicated getting into the game.

  6. I was introduced to GURPS back when the basic boxed set and the Fantasy book were first released, so I had a pretty friendly introduction. I doubt very much if I would pick up GURPS for the first time nowadays. It just looks too overly complex and frankly, uninspiring.

    It would be nice if SJG did some more ‘complete’ books like they did with the 1998 GURPS Discworld book. Which included the 3rd Edition GURPS Lite rules.

    Since GURPS Traveller (the highlight of the entire GURPS product line, in my opinion – purely for it’s regular release and progression) it’s just been ticking over and going nowhere. I would love to see a fully developed fantasy setting supported by multiple (regular) GURPS book releases.

    Ah well, back to Pathfinder. At least I can find players eager to actually play that.

  7. Whew. It’s not just me, then. A year or so ago, my gaming gang decided that GURPS was the bee’s bum. Most of these chaps are fetishists on complexity and gritty bits. As a veteran table-topper of many years, I had no objection. I had heard GURPS was on the complex side, but I smugly figured my experience with “Champions/Heroes” back in the day would stand me in good stead.

    I have yet to get a handle on GURPS. Every time I try and read a GURPS book (“Thaumatology” being the worst by far), I can feel all the joy and colour being drained from life. It’s like reading income tax laws in a dentist’s waiting room. I suspect my continued newbie-like incomprehension of the combat minutiae would have gotten me eased out of the group by now if I wasn’t so much darned fun in the RPG portions of the session. But they might not have the problem about voting me off the island. If we don’t switch systems, I may start swimming on my own…

  8. Can’t speak for 4th ED since the GM we had despised 4th with a fiery passion because it “Oversimplified everything”, but my group quickly left GURPS 3rd ED behind us after giving it a try. I think it was after the 12th failed attempt by 4 different people over the course of 3 weeks to make a spaceship that even functioned let alone functioned well enough to do what we wanted it to that ultimately drove us away. How many kilojoules of power a battery has means nothing to me. Just tell me if I can make the damn ship go fast or not.

  9. Sounds like the ravings of a lazy child who probably just opened up a GURPS rulebook and cried when he saw how much reading there was. GURPS is a very easy system to learn if you simply read the main book and get a feel for the system. Everything else serves as a guideline for world creation, and it doesn’t even require that much tweaking. What is more, the character creation process is much more interesting as it requires you to actually think about what sort of character you’re making, where as Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder simply give you a PC card with only a couple of tweaks. (Seriously, every Elf I’ve ever seen someone play, whether he or she is a fighter, mage, whatever, always acts the same. Same with the Dwarf race. Same with the Halfling race. Same with the Half Orc race, etc. etc. etc.)

    The books also show you how to simplify: if you think the spaceship idea is too hard, just give it simplified attributes: power of the ship’s motors equal ST, HT represents its hull integrity, which decreases as it takes damage, DX, which comes as a penalty to maneuvering with a pilot skill test, decreases from a small positive to a large negative as the ship size increase (tiny ship = +1, small ship =+0, medium =-2, large =-4, etc.)

    People who hate GURPS only do so because A: it doesn’t resemble Dungeons and Dragons, which served as a vehicle to bring most players into the PnP RPG realm, and because B: the length and size of the core rulebook looks scary because Americans are lazy and stupid and don’t know how to read (which I can say because I am a lazy, stupid American who reformed >:D)

    My final reason for loving GURPS is the fact that I can do whatever I want with nothing more than the core rulebook, a blank notebook, some pens, pencils and erasers, three dice and a group of imaginative gamers. All of this costs about $40 bucks + the cost of a large pizza where Dungeons and Dragons, with its myriads of books, will drop you into the lap of financial ruin (Seriously, we’re looking at $300+ bucks for used books, dice, miniatures, and every other product that WotC slaps you in the face every 3 years).

  10. If by “lazy child” you mean someone who has been playing and GMing GURPS for decades, in preference to all other systems, while also discounting what the article says, then spot-on.

  11. Gods would you shut the fuck up

  12. Fascinating – I’m just getting into this system and trying to figure out how to actually gt started with my gaming group and this was actually a pretty inspiring read in spite of it’s cynicism. I have been thinking I’ll just make people do Caravan to Ein Arris so that we can all learn since that actually seems like a pretty compelling little adventure.

  13. Well I just picked up GURPS core books as well as the Traveller main source book along with GURPS space and starships. I played back in late 80’s but haven’t played with the system since then. I’ve been doing Pathfinder since it came out and enjoyed it and spent hundreds on all the books and minatures. Wanted to do a space type of rpg game. I downloaded GURPS lite first and read all of that and then picked up the character and campaign books. Yes for a GM its lots of reading and I will have to come up with what skills and such players can take. Overall I like what I have read. I will take the advice and build a couple of characters and run a mock combat so I can get that down. Biggest thing has been deciding how many points to let players have. Ive always run epic type of games in Pathfinder. I want the PC’s to be badasses so I can throw big badies at them. So far from what I have read I’m thinking of giving them 150-200 points. For those long time GURPS GM’s what has been your expierence with build points? What has seemed to work to allow them to do enough things well so they feel like a productive member? Thats one thing I have found is to tell a good story, keep it fun and make sure the players character feels like he brings something to the party.

  14. Spawn: Difficult to say. There are some guidelines for building points where 150 is “hero material” and 200 is experienced but not superpowered. What you should be more concerned about is which skills/abilities will be relevant to your campaign, either by telling people ahead of time or by molding your campaign around the characters. For example, being a great astrophysicist can be more expensive in points than being a great gunfighter (based on realism, this makes sense), but if astrophysics is a lot less important than gunfighting that player will feel like his points are wasted, and he’d be right. If you go over a character and think its points are wasted somewhere, let the player know and offer to let him reallocate points or give the skill at a Hobby cost.

    Also, the more points you give the more opportunity you get for crunchy combos especially in combat skills/maneuvers, as well as unbalanced characters which leaves some of them left in the dust, contributing nothing, and having no fun.

    I like starting the players at a normal-ish level (150) and offering accelerated experience for the first few sessions to make up for the idea that the players need time to figure out what makes sense in the campaign and what doesn’t. Wasting 4 points on Embroidery is a lot different from wasting 20 points on Embroidery.

  15. Gurps IS the best roleplaying system there is right now. It’s a sole bastion of strength in a sea full off lazy game designers and bored tabletop-wargame strategist.

    All other roleplaying games nowadays are either extremely lacking in mechanical crunch or they are extremely “floaty” with the rules, or their are simplified to such a degree that “all-inclusive” because a downside rather than a benefit.

    I’ve roleplayed for 20 years, not a long time for a lot of you veterans out there, I’ve roleplayed all the big systems, and I’m putting GURPS up there because the fandom is dwindling. I’ve helped publish (scandinavian) roleplaying systems like MUTANT, JÄRN, Drakar och Demoner (RIP), etc.

    I playtest new roleplaying games in a bi-monthly basis with my groups and we run with it until it fizzles out.

    Why are 99999999999.9% of “new-age” roleplaying systems completely absent with tables, and instead have silly “Does your monster have big claws and a droopy smile? add +1 damage :)” design notes.

    Fuck it I can’t even finish this rant, it’s frustrating beyond belief. When did doing math and talking to your group to plan things become a chore? We’re supposed to be adults now, we can manage our hobbies easily.

    GURPS = Roleplaying at the core. Only downside is that Steve Jackson got a HUGE hateboner on “computer aid”. If GCA was developed by a real person and not a slav in a basement GURPS would be infintely more popular. Also their publishing/business management is a joke. They’re all good people but people work there for fun, and when they have a whole year of negative sales a guy-with-a-name writes “OH dang! on his mailing list and pretends it isn’t a big deal because Steve can buy them out 9999 times over anyway.

    Everything else = Miniature wargaming pretending to be RPG or Self-mastubatory talk-simulator traps OR babby-shit that is easily digestables for grannies no assembly required (Sweden, you are to blame for this) and LASTLY “INDIE SHIT” which brags about the future of roleplaying, but when you ask the GM if you can step on the dragons toes or if you can cleave through a persons arm onwards to his torso with your sword or if you ask why your character is arbitrarily “limited” to do certain things in combat and certain things outside combat the black and white pdf spontaneously file self-combusts in a fit of self-existentialist crisis.

    TLDR; Megarant at the end of the night after a long session of awesome gurps. Found this webpage RANDOMLY because of the sexy furry decadance on the top. Don’t reply, odds of me casually visiting this site is near zero, no ill intended, I’m just busy.

  16. I knew EXACTLY where you were going with this when I read in the first paragraph: “get on with wasting time building a campaign that players probably won’t like anyway.” Whatta blowhard. You also say, “it’s a perception problem; that doesn’t mean it’s not a real one.” They say perception, because that’s exactly what it’s like. Ifd your perception is off, doesn’t mean it’s off for everyone. Perfect example., I’m doiung a Mutant Chronicles game, GURPS style. I already know that unless you’re Brotherhood or a Heritic, you won’t be getting Exotic or Supernatural Advantages. If you glance at the advantages of the “umpteen zillion splatbooks”, you already know which type of setting you’re building, so you can avoid those “umpteen zillion splatbooks” that you don’t require for your setting. You make a list of the advantages you WILL be using and referewnce the page number of the add-on you WILL be using. Sure, it’s a bit-more preparation, but still lets you design a game that’s more detailed and interesting than say, those built for FATE. I am a fan of Savage Worlds, but feel the games just don’t give enough when it comes to building a character, even with all their differences, Savage Worlds characters still seem too much alike, partly because, (IMHO), there just isn’t enough variety during character creation. I’ve never played GURPS, but I understand it, and with the “umpteen zillion splatbooks” I have more than enough options to create the setting specifically tailored to my vision of what The Mutant Chronicles setting is all about, and isn’t that why we GM, anyway?

  17. I concur. Yesterday, while I was looking through my collection of RPG materials and housecleaning redundant systems and materials, I picked up a Zombie RPG where you play a zombie. This “sounds” like fun until you read the rules. Everything is there damage, attacks, health, etc. You know what WASN’T there? Zero rules for movement, so I had no idead how fast a zombie could move; and human NPCs to munch on. So, we have a game about zombies who just stand in one spot and nobody for them to eat. Doesn’t sound like much fun to me. EXtremely lazy. I thought the publisher of this article waas a little biased when he wrote how GURPS was so unlike “D&D” ( he said so himself). I played D&D since ist edition, (2nd was my favorite), and what are we at here, 5th edition? How many “umpteen zillion splatbooks” were released for THAT clusterfuck? Talk about milking the consumer. Ever since WOTC bought out TSR the game has become a money-grabbing crapfest. Yes, I’m bashing D&D, a system I used to love, but has become more or less a parody of the greatness it once was. Hey, I refuse to drown in a sinking ship just because it’s my favorite ship. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I took the time to learn GURPS, and find it a fascenating jouney with as many rules as “I” want my game to have, I can make it complicated for my players who want it that way, and simplistic for my players whoi want it easy-all in the same session if I wish. Quit your crying about how “complicated the system is” and how “unlike it is to D&D”, and grow as a GM. I’m sure some people who have played D&D as long as I have, abandoned ship long ago as well for something that has matured with them. I feel GURPS just may be the system I’ve avoided for too long because I didn’t want to take the time to absorb what it had to offer. After all, I owe it to my players to give them the greatest roleplaying experience I’m able to offer.

  18. I read the article and I have to mostly agree. I started playing Gurps back when it was first published in 1986 and so I had the advantage of learning it one step at a time. We started with 1st edition basic. It may have seemed complicated then but, compared to later, it was nothing. We then got the original Gurps Fantasy (which was, among other things, their magic system and world setting). Maybe a year later, we also added Horror. Then Supers came out and proved Gurps could not pull off a superhero game. But, way before 4th edition, I saw how impossibly complex Gurps had become and how daunting for a new player. This is made worse when experienced players try to gain character creation and game advantages by taking advantage of their experience with the system to make it impossible for newbies to compete.

    I’ll also be honest that, while I liked and still do like things about Gurps, there are many things I don’t like. But our GM (and my best friend to this day) considered it to be the dream game he always wanted to GM. So that’s what he did. At first, the players hated it. Then the “hostage mentality” set in. This is what he was going to run so we might as well like it. I may be the only one that consciously realizes there is a bit of the Stockholme syndrome in there. 🙂

    Personally, what I hated most about Gurps was the experience system. So you’ve got your 100 pt. fantasy game. You can’t be Conan or Gandalf or whatever your heart is set on. Fair enough. You’ve just described almost every rpg that ever was. The difference is that, in Hero Games for instance, you could get there and do it in a period of time that felt like something faster than watching paint dry. In Gurps, you’ll eventually have the skills of Conan, Gandalf or whoever but you’ll never be really on that level because you’ll never have the foundation of ungodly expensive attributes and advantages (some of the advantages being ones you have to start the game with to have and that just is not going to happen on 100 points). In short, you feel like you’re never going to get anywhere and that your character is a wimp.

    Of course, Steve Jackson has a profound solution to that: just start with a higher points total. My solution is: start with a better game.

  19. Anyone that thinks Gurps was to hard or complicated to understand was doing it wrong. It was one of the most easily understood and used pnp systems ever. The player did not really have to worry too much about anything it was the gm that needed to make the choices first and then let the players know what the available choices of skills and abilities and equipment would be as the game progressed. It was only hard or complicated if you made it such, otherwise it was very simple and easy to use for both player or gm.

    The rules were not rules but references, you could make and be and do anything in gurps very easily. You want a space faring cat that lands on a medieval world full of magic.. easily done. you want a western gunfighter horseman thrust in to the futuristic world of lasers and plasma blasters with flying dragons easily done.

    anyone that said it was too hard was just lazy and wanted simple game play and not to have to think; but then again the players did not have to think much, it was the gm that needed to do most of it and is how it was meant to be. it was the gm’s responsibility for crafting the world, and making the choices of what skills would be allowed before the players ever began to make their characters. a good gm could do this fairly easy, a great gm would have had it done long before the gamers got together to explore the world and then explained it as the players made their characters.

    the rules were only needed and used as simple reference to what might be done, not what had to be done. Even then they were not absolute or limiting. for gurps allowed you to bend and twist them as you wanted or needed. they were just examples and not set in stone as how the game had to play out. that was for the gm to decide before and during the game play and inform the players as it progressed

    that is why it was called gurps… aka generic universal role playing system. but dnd players tried to think it was meant to be like dnd too much and it was not meant to be yet could be in as far or as much as the gm or players wanted.

  20. Vermonster says:

    I find I must respectfully disagree with much of this, but there is one piece you bring up one piece I also grumble about but in a different way.

    I got into GURPS with the WWII variant back in 2003, where you buy a core book that has everything you need for type of setting and the light rules. I would love to see SJG make more like this, even if most of it is on e23 and Amazon. So when you buy a setting book, you could have the option of getting just basic rules and stripped down skill and (dis)advantages lists that fit that setting. This would make it more accessible to many modern gamers whos only experiences are video games, CCGs and canned adventurers where they don’t have to think for themselves- they are like hungry kids let loose in a candy store.

    That being said, I’d been GMing for almost a decade at that point and gaming for many years prior, and was disgusted with the narrowness of the characters possible with D&D. WoD was just caricatures, not characters, with most players and the game design supported that rather than role playing. Shadowrun had a wonderful setting (until the one-upsmanshipped themselves to death) but the rules had too many things where characters of a certain class play with the GM while everyone else makes a beer run. And Rifts…. I made it through 6 years of engineering school without learning what all the buttons on my calculator did, but Palladium apparently wanted me to do so. GURPS can do everything, and as anyone who has ever seen a mage-like character using the Psionics book destroy a wizard from Magic, you learn that just like in cooking you don’t put everything in the pot every time. Give your new players a copy of GURPSLite, have them read it. Then the GM works with the players during character design, and clearly communicates what the setting is and is not, and what is available- I routinely make up lists of what skills and advantages aren’t available when I’m doing a new setting.

    GURPS can overwhelm a new player. So can Pathfinder. So can any rules system. GURPS does not test the player-it tests the GM. More so than any other system I’ve played, if the GM doesn’t communicate with the players, then your table will never have characters that make sense as a group and the players will be lost. And if all you do is say “100 points character” and let them go with a couple of books, that is exactly what you’ll get. But if as the GM you communicate well to them what you expect, and you listen to what they want out of the game, tell the story. This just gives you a framework that allows for ANY story. Even if it is samurai and cowboys with starfighters rather than horses. Or you can spend money on a meh script and crank out a grindhouse game.

  21. FunnyBone says:

    The name of the article is quite a clickbait one.


    It’s a shame the game isn’t more accesible, cause the game design of gurps is pretty solid. A way I’ve found to make character creation more simple, oddly enough, is to change a bit the rules of gurps ultra-lite. Instead of using 3 to 5 levels use 12 to 20 level-points, having every level-point do one quarter of what the level used to do. In effect, you’re using discrete 10 point blocks with wildcard abilities only.

    Gurps would definitely benefit from being more open-source, though.

  22. Okay, I can see several people here claiming GURPS is very easy.

    Well it is. It neatly packages everything you will need for your character into simple sections.

    But it’s unintuitive for new players, and it’s very easy to fuck up a game.

    The very first GURPS game I played was online on roll20, with a group of players I did not know. (some were assholes).
    I was a total noob at GURPS, having come from D&D, and did not realise when I made my character the incredible nessecity for skills.
    So I entered a wild-west campaign without any skill in guns.


    I worry I was more responsible for the death of that campaign than the GM.

    The problem with GURPS was very neatly and well described in the article.
    You need to shuffle through pages on pages of rules to make a character, and its easy to miss very important parts of your character.
    The only way to unnderstand GURPS is to play it, which leads many people into making similar mistakes and fucking up their first character.
    Now, if helpful GM were to guide you through the process, I’m sure there would be no problems, but there’s ur problem.
    The only way for someone to effectively get into GURPS is either trial-and-error, or support from someone who already understands the system
    When I came back to GURPS the second time, I went through a moderately successful campaign, playing as a magic-user.
    The system genuinely is broken.
    We were probably expected to burst in through the front doors of a castle and fight the guards inside.
    I cast Walk on Air, climb up the side of the building, Devitalize Air, removed the oxygen from the room they were sleeping in, and left.

    If you know GURPS, teach other people how to play it.
    Otherwise, they might fuck it up.

  23. I have had pretty good success introducing players to GURPS. I don;t think you give the average gamer enough credit, most of them (in my experience), could either take or leave GURPS, or, love it. I’ve met very few gamers that downright hate it, or even dislike it. All that aside, I personally love GURPS because I can run pretty much whatever I want, without having to change the basic rule-set. This is exactly what GURPS was designed for, and it accomplishes it, very well.
    Also, I have about 9 bajillion GURPS books, and at this point, I’m way too heavily invested to quit playing it! 🙂

  24. Is it difficult to pick up the general rules of gurps? I realise any new rpg ruleset will take time to learn all the ins and outs. I am not looking for that though.

    I have not played Gurps yet but am considering using it with a Gurps Uplift campaign as I loved David Brin’s series. I have Contacting Aliens: An Illustrated Guide also.

    I have mainly played D&D via tabletop and dm’ing on Fantasy Grounds. Is Gurps Uplift too difficult to run as a gm without loads of experience with Gurps?

  25. dm-kevin: Hard to say since I’m not familiar with Uplift. The basic mechanics are pretty simple: 3d6 roll-under, contests, damage resistance. I would say in general GURPS is hard to pick up and GM out of the gate just because there are so many options presented (and presented badly in 4th Ed). If you’re unfamiliar with GURPS I would recommend playing out some encounters by yourself just to get familiar with the mechanics and maybe run a simple one-shot, or go in as a player in a newb-friendly Roll20 campaign/game.

  26. Thanks very much MU, some great advice there.

    I’ll look to play in a Gurps session or three before taking this any further.

    I’d like to try Roll20 anyway. I joined over a year ago but never played a session using it.



  27. The lamentations of table-top role-players, some things never change. My observations are as follows,

    1. Getting any number of people gathered around the same table at the same time for the same purpose is a challenge, and that’s before you even get to the questions of systems and settings.

    2. The clash of system vs. setting. I’ve seen many games with compelling settings (Twilight 2000 [yes, that], Blue Planet [Google it], A Song of Ice and Fire [yes, based on the books/show], Deadlands, Millenium’s End [Think Miami Vice if co-written by Tom Clancy], Cyberpunk 2020) and rule sets that should come with Surgeon General’s Warnings for mental health risks. I’ve also seen games with fairly forgettable settings but with user-friendly rule sets. (I’m looking at the corpse of White Wolf Games for that.) Then there are what I would call plug & play games. AD&D, D&D and Pathfinder all fit into this spectrum. The settings have just enough detail so that you can get a hazy notion of the Kingdom/Empire of Greater Generica, and a system that uses a Central Casting approach to characters. Add somewhat conscious/coherent humans, dice, and whatever accessories they can afford and go. GURPS always offered the flexibility to create the setting I wanted and the characters I wanted without driving myself further insane.

    3. There is always a need for a GM, and for the GM to be willing to say NO. That great flexibility in character creation can and will bite the unwary in the ass. Blind quadriplegic Delta Force Super Ninjas with Dark Vision and Enhanced Move may be possible, but a GM should always be willing, and able, to say no.

    Now, all this may well be moot anyway. GURPS is slowly rotting away as a system, and is already dead in mainstream retail (when was the last time anybody say a GURPS book outside of a second hand retailer). SJGAMES may keep dribbling out PDFs and press releases, but it’s now up to the gamer community to preserve the system.

  28. This was insightful, both in terms of the original article, the comments, the whining, and everything else. I’m not sure if I’m soliciting advice or whining as well, but here I go none the less:

    I’ve been GM’ing rather successfully for a few years now. I’ve had a few groups that have formed, and have managed to run 3 epic campaigns from battling kobolds to fisticuffs with gods complete with a massive story that took way more time to curtail than I care to admit. It’s been fun along the way, but I’ve been fighting the tools I’ve been using. This is because the tools I’ve been using have been Pathfinder. I have houseruled more things than I’ve sighted the rulebook on. “Yeah, your a wizard that prepares spells and you can only cast certain spells per day and the requirements to create that would mean a level 6 caster and access to… and uh… look this is stupid. What does your character want to do? Roll Spellcraft. Okay, here’s what happens.”

    And like that, Pathfinder has become GURPS. Or at least, the spirit of GURPS as either I understand it or hope to someday.

    I saw this utopian system that has about as much online resources as a second hand Roland Keyboard from the 90s. I found character builders featured prominently that run in MS-DOS (!). So I’m reading books, and slowly watching my eyes read the same line over and over again. And perhaps it’s my own fault. I took the advice of starting my own setting and using “only what I needed.” I want to create a galactic structure similar to what was found in games like “Star Control II,” where there are reasonably thought out systems, diverse aliens that aren’t 1-dimensional caricatures of human cultures, planets that pay some mind to actual science, and space ship combat that feels realistic. I was tired of players that lived in a world with powerful monsters and dirt farmers (and for some reason the powerful monsters didn’t eat the dirt farmers), a world where the reward for adventuring was substantial, but not more gold than what could buy a town. So I’m doing some world(s) building, and I’m trying to fill out the basic part of the Planetary worksheet (because I made several aliens that should have homeworlds and justifiable features from said homeworlds). And in trying to figure out if my alien race would be 5′ or 6′ I’m now trying to understand their planet’s albedo and the chemical makeup of volatiles in their atmosphere. On the plus side, I now know what albedo is (thanks, wikipedia). On the minus side, I’m no closer to creating the star for the homeworld for that one alien race, let alone all the other planets every other alien lives on, etc etc etc. And I haven’t even begun to wrap my head around spaceships.

    At this point I’m thinking I’ll just grab some stuff, scoff at realism, die a little inside, and throw together a handful of skills as they relate to ship operation, and give some aliens some default advantages / disadvantages… and call it good.

  29. LordMunchkin says:

    I was initially attracted to GURPS because of its supposed realism and well researched sourcebooks. However, I was quickly repelled by its overbearing complexity and poor organization. It was only when I came back, years later, and focused on wrapping my head around it that I truly came to appreciate the system’s considerable strengths. Now it is one of my favorite if yet least used systems.

    In my humble opinion, the main reason GURPS isn’t more widespread is because of SJG mismanagement. Like the article stated, the GURPS Basic Set is seemingly designed for people who already play GURPS. This is a losing proposition on any day.

    I think making the Basic Set, which is now out of print, freely available online would do a lot to make GURPS more popular (it worked for D&D). Not that I think it will happen (SJG is anal when it comes to their intellectual property).

  30. Shane Roach says:

    SJG had a MOO (object oriented mud) back in the mid 90’s which led me to think they would be at the cutting edge of tech and maybe even be foundational for computer rpg’s where it’s complexity would be neatly tucked away in the code.

    Their attitude to IP is what ruined it. One of the folks commenting above mentioned their experience making online aidsfor it, for example. Their policies on that front are fan-unfriendly.

    At some point they forgot they were making a GAME, and needed to let folks PLAY with it. That’s my take.

  31. Was this a different online gaming disaster than Ultracorps?

    Their policies toward any sort of fan contribution have always been shit. I think recently they may have softened a bit, more out of a realization that they can’t actually monetize all of it rather than any sort of recognition that it’s good for the game. Too late; by the time they started changing course, nobody cared.

  32. Michael Wolf says:

    It’s just not that complicated. A Bajillion splatbooks is more like 3-6 if you’re doing a LOT of detail. Most games I’ve run work perfectly well with the core rulesbooks. The rules aren’t complicated they’re just detailed enough to allow players to make meaningful choices with their character. GURPS isn’t perfect. GURPS Lite is a weak starter set and GURPS does need reprinted adventures for GMs that don’t want to carve their campaign out of stone.

    Yes you don’t need every word on every page to run your game but if you do GURPS right you use just about all of them. Because GURPS isn’t about running the Wolrd of Greyhawk with decent rules or putting Saving Private Ryan on the table for your players or allowing players to play magically animated teddy bears, it’s about being able to do all three at the same time and making it awesome. It’s about the freedom and flexibility to customize your game world to exacting standards and empowering your players to do incredible roleplaying without having to throw together a bajillion notebooks of scrapped-up rules to patch the mess together.

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