SInce I hadn’t updated for a year and a half before the last post, I’d forgotten that people can and will respond. First, clearing this up:

  • I do not dislike GURPS. It’s the only tabletop RPG I play anymore, although I’ve checked out the rulesets for others. Yes, including the new kids on the block.
  • I  have been playing/GMing GURPS on and off for about 22 years, 32 if you count The Fantasy Trip, so I don’t personally find it too complicated. Man, that’s depressing.
  • I do believe that GURPS is too complicated for new players, and that this can be objectively proven. The proof is that potential customers say it’s too complicated.

I stand by the idea that GURPS is uninviting to new players. However, I think this can be fixed. Here are some ideas that grew out of the Reddit thread on the idea, plus some feedback from Gaming Ballistic’s followup. Note that unlike me, Douglas Cole updates regularly and therefore has readers, so it only makes sense that more feedback comes from there.

GURPS Lite Fill-In-the-Blank

This is my personal favorite. Instead of GURPS Lite as it exists today (no advancement rules, still requires a lot of trimming, can only run limited modern or historical), publish individual genre Lite variants: GURPS Lite Fantasy, GURPS Lite Spies, GURPS Lite Space Marines, whatever. Trim all of the unnecessary stuff from the ruleset (why is Jumper in there at all?), add enough simple rules to make the system work for your genre (simple magic system, maybe?), and go. New GMs have a book with enough stuff to run a genre adventure without spending hours crossing out irrelevant chaff, and players no longer get into arguments with said GM over why they can’t take Gunner/Beams/TL12 on their dark ages magician. Limit the extra stuff to things that exist in the Basic Set.

Now, this would require incorporating some rules from the Basic Set, which is something I’m sure makes little commercial sense to SJG, as it seems to reduce reasons to upgrade to Basic from free. However, you don’t need that many rules, and you’re still missing the nice crunchy stuff like hit locations, so there’s still value in buying the full rules. In addition, GURPS Lite doesn’t seem to be all that successful in bringing in new customers, which is its presumed purpose. At least with individual genre versions you can reach more customers with self-contained, hit the ground running rulesets that show the customer how full-on GURPS provides crazy good flexibility without driving them crazy. A much larger pool of potential customers cannot possibly be worse than what exists now.

In the likely event that SJG feels the need to charge money for this stuff, I suggest a low price point (~$2.99-$4.99 max), and put the Lite purchase price toward an e23 credit. There are two strong advantages to this approach:

  • The customer will not feel ripped off when he buys GURPS Lite Fantasy and then buys some of the same material in GURPS Basic + Fantasy + Magic
  • If the customer still doesn’t like GURPS enough to buy the full sets, at least SJG can sell more Munchkin

Discworld Coming Soon(TM)

SJG is working on an updated version of the Discworld splatbook. I liked the first versions, although I have no idea how well they sold. The approach is apparently very similar to the genre GURPS Lite proposal above: setting and Lite rules printed in-line, so you (hopefully) don’t need anything else to play immediately. This is a higher-priced version of the genre Lite rules, and could work for any other semi-popular IPs. The only thing that remains to be seen (in addition to the book ever releasing) is how easily it will translate to a full GURPS treatment; that is, does it make sense to buy Basic in addition to Discworld, or are the Lite rules too specific to allow for easy translation?

I hope it works out. There are other IPs that have been languishing in the pipe that might get half a person assigned to them if it sells (cough Girl Genius cough).

Powered by GURPS, Only Less Batshit Insane

The Powered by GURPS concept seemed awesome. Sign a license agreement with SJG, produce a third-party supplement. The problem is that there really was no Powered by GURPS system; it was just a trademark that one would, in theory, slap on the cover of a third party GURPS supplement. Getting the license to use GURPS rules in your third-party material… well, you write to SJG, and maybe they entered negotiations with you if your IP was attractive enough. Probably not, though. And if your property isn’t Harry Potter or Star Trek, chances are that nobody will get back to you. There aren’t many people bothering to work on GURPS anymore; there’s no reason to have anyone give you a call about your homegrown campaign that’s been running successfully for 10 years that could be a salable property.

A person who would like to make a little PDF campaign for sale, or just some generic adventures, isn’t going to go through the hassle. He’ll just convert his game/material to d20, FUDGE, FATE, or any other OGL-style system and get on with things. This may not seem like a big deal; after all, there are a ton of bad games on the market using these licenses, but there are some good ones as well. The problem for GURPS is that these good and bad materials aren’t designed to work with GURPS, so there is even less reason for Joe Gamer to try out the system. It also perpetuates the problem of having no convenient "modules" for GURPS, which is another failure that’s been used in arguments against adopting the system, especially for new GMs or people who want a casual pickup game at a con.

So once the problems with presentation are handled, once people can get GURPS Lite Fantasy and actually have, you know, a playable game, the licensing requirements for adventures need to be looked at. It would be nice to see several lines of adventures available for GURPS by third-party authors, probably set up in the style of old TSR modules (G1-G3, huzzah). Even if they’re free… especially if they’re free. And if they get a lot of downloads and some exposure? "Hi SJG. My Geekzerker campaign materials and series of adventures have gotten a bazillion downloads on e23’s Free Shit section and were used at Nerdicon 2014 to great effect. Would you be interested in working out a deal for a commercial splatbook and a bunch of paid adventures?" Maybe they would, even though you’re not J.K. Rowling.

GURPS TL 9 Edition

As virtual tabletops become more widely used (and necessary, since the population density of tabletop gamers approaches 1/40km2), the makers of said VTTs include default plugin mechanisms to support popular pen and paper gaming systems, meaning systems that are not GURPS. Part of this is due to GUPRS’s falling market share, part of it is from the insane complexity and customizability of any given GURPS campaign. But an important part comes from this nugget in the GURPS Online Policy:

Run a game of GURPSToon or In Nomine on an online chat system, with a Game Master?

Yes; as we see it now, that’s really no different from running a game for your friends in your living room. Anything more than a character creation game aid is a problem, because at that point it’s not just like a game in your living room; it’s more like a "computer game."

When I last ran a GURPS game in MapTool, one of the strongest points in favor of the VTT was its ability to do combat calculations within a script. This allowed me to use a bunch of crazy, crunchy options without slowing the game down to a snail’s pace. Range/speed? Hit location? Deceptive attack? Shock? Fright? Encumbrance? Tons of maneuvers? Musket ball damage penetrating a wooden shield? No problem. Yes, I could do most of it from memory, but not all of it. Looking up a chart or a rule stops the game dead; even a very small delay to do a mental calculation is a bad thing in the flow of play.

When playing tabletop, something as simple as a combat calculator speeds play and makes it more enjoyable for everyone involved. When playing on a VTT, a macro does the same thing. In my old campaign, a 41 turn combat with 15 participants took 4 hours to run. This may seem very long, but it worked out to at least 10 times as fast as any of the GURPS combats I’ve seen on Twitch or YouTube using Roll20 without the use of macros. GURPS combat is great and detailed, but it can bog down a game like nothing else. Let your customers use tools to speed this up, and this problem becomes less of a problem, and GURPS becomes more playable. And if your answer is to use basic combat, my answer is to use a different system with simpler combat rules in the first place.

Note: If anyone seeks to take action against me for daring to write my own non-distributed combat macro system in my own game, I can’t get that campaign file to open anyway, so I don’t have them anymore. Just assume I was making all of that stuff up.


By presenting self-contained, playable mini-rulesets, SJG could reach GMs who might be interested in the flexibility of GURPS, but are turned off by the block-of-text approach of the Basic set. These GMs could get right into running a game, maybe see how combining two Lite sets makes for a hybrid game with no hassle (the way we used to do by combining two or three random 3rd edition splatbooks), and ease their way into full-fledged GURPS. It’s a lot easier when you can just play a game without learning Expert Skill (GURPS Reductivity)-16 first.

And if that GM has some free adventures he can plug into his playable rules set? Why, it’s almost like playing a game!

It’s even easier to approach the rich options in full GURPS when you can use a computer to do the calculations for you. It’s especially important for Player #2, who twiddles his thumbs on the sidelines while the GM figures out the mechanics of Player #1’s maneuver for three minutes. That guy is bored.

Bottom line: In order to make GURPS more approachable, SJG needs to take a step back and hook players with a simplified approach, and the current GURPS Lite does not count. The rules are simplified, but the process to make it playable is not. And if they want to keep those players hooked, they might want to relax their control-freak instincts and adopt the practices of their competition, once they figure out who their competition is. Hint: it’s not D&D anymore.

6 Responses to “Refreshing the Paint on GURPS”
  1. Jonathan Larsen says:

    I agree with all of this. I started a reddit thread on the GURPS subreddit asking why SJ Games was so determined to keep GURPS unfriendly to new players and, specifically, why they were unwilling to put out GM friendly things like modules. I was starting a GURPS campaign and wanted things as simple as pre-rolled NPCs, maybe some module type things, with maps and room descriptions, and found very little on E23. I got a lot of negative feed back from people telling me that if I wanted to GM a GURPS campaign and didn’t want to put in tons of work than I should just use a different system, which of course missed the point. I like the GURPS system, I like the crunch and flexibility, I hate that I have to make everything from scratch. To this day, I’d like to talk to the guy who decided to take out the introductory adventure that was in 3rd Edition Basic Set when creating the 4th edition and get that guys reasoning, because it just seems so new player unfriendly.

  2. Pretty sure the reasoning behind removing the solo adventure was to reduce page count, which is also a likely cause of the datadump presentation.

  3. Hello, Musashi!

    I’m sorry for being offtopic, but would you mind giving a read to the design document I’ve been working on? I also linked your design theory page there, as it has inspired a lot of what I’ve written so far.

    So, if you wouldn’t, here is the link:

  4. I just had a wee response rant to GURPS on your previous archived posting. Perhaps I should have read this one first, as I really thought you disliked GURPS. I only continue my thinking here because of your TFT reference. I played The Fantasy Trip from the day it was “Microgame Melee”. “Microgame Wizard” FINALLY came out and it sucked mops so bad, I created my own magic system. I totally bypassed all D&D experiences most gamers share among themselves. I was a TFT GM and ran happy campaigns all thru the 1980’s. Then I moved cities and the new kids I met were heavily into “Champions”. I couldn’t rouse interest in TFT nor its new descendant “GURPS”. When in Rome, as they say…

    I mention that nostalgic resume only to underscore one reason why the current gang talked me into GURPS being our system of choice. I had always been curious as to how TFT’s stepchild played. I’ve always been a fan of Steve Jackson’s games. I had just never had occasion to realio-trulio try GURPS. Well, now I have. Cycle back to my reply in the previous post for my keen incomprehension and dismay.

  5. […] Many people have pondered far bigger changes than I offer above. Like this suggestion: […]

  6. […] Many people have pondered far bigger changes than I offer above. Like this suggestion: […]

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