Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for GURPS

***********Just for the sake of clarity - the theme for my A to Z postings is gaming in the 1980's with my friends.*************

GURPS
Several of the products from Steve Jackson Games were played quite frequently by the members of our gaming group.  It all started with Car Wars.  We were thrilled to find a game and play experience that reminded us so much of Death Race 2000.  The price of the game -$3.95 - was enough to lure us quickly into snatching up more of the SJG pocket box games.  Some of our favorites included OGRE, G.E.V., Illuminati and One-Page Bulge.

One of my favorite contents included in the SJG game boxes was the catalog.  It was like a miniature SEARS catalog of gaming goodness with sections devoted to each product.  There are several I would have liked to have tried like Raid on Iran, Kung Fu 2000, and others.  The catalog also included a little blurb about the upcoming products by SJG that were going to be released sometime soon.  I enjoyed reading about the products I did not have and the products that were coming soon and then one day I noticed the product spotlight for an upcoming product that grabbed my attention - GURPS, the Generic Universal Role Playing System.  The announcement promised that this one system was all a group would need to play in any style of game they wanted.  Most companies did not do that and expected you to buy a new game with new rules for fantasy, western, science fiction, supers, or other gaming.  I read the further previews with great interest and waited for the release of the game.    

When the original boxed set of the rules were released I bought them at the game shop I used to frequent as much as possible at the time.  I took it home and started reading through the rules.  The more I read, the more I liked and blazed through them pretty quickly.  I thought it was extremely revolutionary that you actually designed your character from points, used advantages and disadvantages to "balance" your character, and also had a basic combat as well as advanced combat system; there was also tons of GM advice available in the rules.  I played through the included solo adventure - Caravan to Ein Arnis, I think? - and was pretty excited to see more.  In short time I purchased GURPS Man to Man (basically a slimmed down fantasy combat version of the system), GURPS Autoduel (roleplaying in the Car Wars universe), GURPS Cyberpunk, GURPS Fantasy, and GURPS Supers.  With these additional rules volumes it became apparent that not every genre would use the exact same rules - some would be added or changed from the core - but all of these different genres did use a basic starting point that was the same.  Everything else could be figured out or dealt with in a reasonable fashion since the core was intact.  I began jotting down notes and ideas for a campaign that I wanted to run everybody through.  I was next up in the Game Master rotation and I wanted to introduce the rest of the group to this awesome new system I had just learned.

It turned out that GURPS would become my single biggest disappointment in my gaming experience.  No, it wasn't from play experience or any other dissatisfaction with the system.  My gaming group had one simple problem with GURPS - they believed that all of those rulebooks were mandatory and voiced opinions such as "if we're going to need all of those rulebooks then we might as well just keep using D&D, Gamma World, and Star Frontiers".  I tried in vain to convince them otherwise but Jamie was the only one that would listen.  We played around with Man to Man a few times but never did get a GURPS campaign going.  I would occasionally pick up future GURPS supplements - they are generally so informative that they can be used for other games - and even bought GURPS 3rd Edition even though I knew that none of my gaming buddies would give it a shot.  It remains a system I am highly interested in using.  Perhaps I will get the chance someday?

19 comments:

  1. I almost did GURPS for G as well.

    You did a better job than I would have.

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    1. Eh, who knows? I'd like to read your thoughts on GURPS as well...

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  2. That's an all-too common reaction to any game. "We need all of these books, so forget it." Often coupled with "I only want to play a game with lots of supplements available." Which is totally maddening.

    1-3e GURPS really only needed the core books plus one or two supplements that covered the genre you wanted to play. 4e even more so - you can play with only the two Basic Set books* and maybe 1-2 supplements if you want more detail.

    Even then, it has a reputation for complexity because it gives you so many rules options, and people feel like it's "we have to use all of these rules at once!" instead of a big toolbox of rules you can use in whatever combination suits your needs.

    I have a similar disappointed with other games - just couldn't get people to play them, or get them to stop buying "one more book" that they "need" so we could actually start playing.

    * And, of course, 5-10 copies per person per book of the ones I wrote. That almost goes without saying. ;)

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    1. Agreed - I have heard the "too many books" or "just one more book" way too many times. Either one can be extremely irritating.

      My first impression was to try to use every rule option but I am glad that you confirmed my suspicion that GURPS is best thought of as a buffet that you pick and choose from. The Basic/Advanced combat split should have been an indication of that.

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  3. I think the solo adventure was "All in a Night's Work"... staring Dai Blackthorn unless you were a weirdo an had to play it with the girl character. Although... if the markings on the sample characters mean what I think they do, I scored 3 character points with Dai and 1 character point with Robyn of the Meadows. (Quirk: -1 Likes Cats.)

    Maybe I'll try it with Corwin Bearclaw and see what happens

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    1. Ah ha - that IS the correct title! Once I heard it I knew I would remember it.

      I might just pull this out and play through it again sometime soon.

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  4. I nabbed $5,327 with Dai and $977 with Robyn. Dai may be a wimp, but breaking and entering is a good deal for him. ;)

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  5. It came with the Solo adventure "All in a Night's Work" and the group adventure "Caravan to Ein Arris". Third Edition Revised dropped the caravan adventure to make room for more advantages and disadvantages from sourcebooks that were deemed "generic" enough to be core.

    I've been a GURPS fan for quite a while, but haven't had much luck in getting players for it.

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    1. Thanks, Mr. Wall! I thought there was an adventure by that name.

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  6. This is great! I'm not a gamer or anything, but I do enjoy reading about others interests very much. Cheers to further GURP adventures, I hope it does work out :)

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  7. GURPS tries to do too much. It is really of use if you are going to time travel or alternate dimensions. Something where one day you are in the modern world, then dinosaurs, then in some alien future, and finally end up in a fantasy world.

    When you look at any particular setting/genre there are better options in terms of rules and support. Why play GURPS Cyberpunk, when you could do Cyberpunk 2020 or Shadowrun. A more developed world, dedicated products, and a fan base.

    GURPS is not bad by any means, it just is that there are better options. I think it tried to do what WotC tried with d20. Put out one system and then when people want a different setting you just by a supplement. That way you don't have to redo the rules.

    The downside is that GURPS developed as a set of core rules, then optional rules, then genre books. There isn't a setting. There isn't anything to get excited about or interested in. It places a HUGE amount of work on the GM. He has to decide what books can be used and what can't. He then has to build a world from scratch.

    IMO, I think the best way to accomplish what GURPS (and d20) want is to put out a series of games in different settings that have the same core, but they all have settings and rule tweaks to make it work for a setting. For example, in a steampunk world you will have an ability called natural philosophy. In a modern setting you would have biology, but it is still the same ability. In a space adventure you might have xenobiology and maybe keep biology (or just have a medicine skill that would cover human biology). So you have some different labels, a few different abilities, some rule tweaks as needed (cyberpunk needs hacking rules, fantasy needs spells, space might need space combat, etc.)

    If you can keep it all the same, say a d100 system, point based character creation, ability lists, general modifiers to success, etc. then you end up with people being able to transition from one genre to the next if your group wants to. At the same time, you have supported product lines, fans of those lines, setting material to help the players/GM.

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    1. I dunno.... GURPS seems pretty well own the mostly-realistic crunchy modern day, near future, and gritty space opera. It's got dials to crank up the detail or to change how cinematic it is. The complexity is high during char-gen, but (once you're over the initial learning curve) the rules are pretty light and almost invisible during play. And there are PDF lines to support Dungeon Fantasy, Action, Monster Hunter, and (soon) Post Apocalyptic games for people that don't want to roll their own. But most people actually want to roll their own if they're picking up GURPS.

      Steve Jackson Games is pretty well on top of their game when it comes to GURPS. I suggest Basic Set + High Tech + Martial Arts for an encyclopedic approach to gamine awesomeness.

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    2. That's one of the things I was wondering about with GURPS. I think you bring up some very points and ideas on how to fix them. It sounds similar in product release as Palladium's approach. Definitely food for thought.

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    3. Interesting, Jeffro. It is cool to see both sides of the coin in reference to GURPS.

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    4. Jeffro is spot on here - it's really meant as a DIY toolbox, and there are more tool options (Martial Arts, Social Engineering, Magic, Powers, Mass Combat, etc.) and genre books and gear catalogs (Supers for the former, High Tech or Low Tech for the latter). There are also completed kits in the form of Action, Monster Hunters, Dungeon Fantasy, and there is IIRC another on the way. So there are both DIY stuff and "grab and go" completed examples.

      I'm unapologetically a GURPS fan, and my opinions might be suspect because I write for SJG. But I've been playing GURPS since 1985, and I write for the game because I play it not the other way around. But I think it puts me in a good place to discuss it, because I write a lot of rules and then pick and choose from them for my own games. I used to do that for AD&D, too, since it was hard to use it all together (I mean, GURPS is complicated? Check out unarmed combat, multiple options for chargen, two different options for fighter's to hit progressions, and endless discussions of WTF is up with determining initiative).

      I also run GURPS because my players won't play anything else for more than a one-shot. They really seem to like the system. :)

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    5. @ Charlie

      I do not think any of us are saying anything different. It just happens to be what I take as a minus, others take as a plus. For example, Peter describes GURPS as a toolbox. I am fine with that description. However, that has the consequence of placing more work on the GM. If you are running nothing but one shots and wanting to constantly change genres, then GURPS could be a good fit for a playing group.

      GURPS has its core players and it works for them. However, ask people what pops into their mind when they think of GURPS. The word that I think of (and when I have done this with others) is generic. Contrast that with what people think of when D&D or Warhammer 40k, White Wolf, Shadowrun, etc. All of those games are tied to a systems and settings. These will come up when people think of them, e.g. Shadowrun - cyberpunk with elves and magic that uses d6 dice pool.

      My point is that if someone wants to play a cyberpunk game, they will think of Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun, or Eclipse Phase. They do not think of GURPS. No one thinks of GURPS, unless you happen to be a GURPS fan. That is what I mean by generic. It can play anything and in doing so is tied to nothing that would define it in people's minds. It is a bland amorphous wall of books at your game store. Its purpose is and will continue to be the toolbox provider.

      There is nothing wrong with being the toolbox provider. SJG is a very successful company and the game has its fans. However, I do not think that the GURPS system is great, nor does it work well for everything. Rules provide a flavor. For example, in Cyberpunk 2020, it has the Friday Night Firefight combat system. It is pretty simple, but also gives you great realism for modern combat. The combat system is so connected with the game and the setting that changing it ruins the feeling of the world. Using GURPS would make it work and feel differently for combat. That, to me, changes the game because the combat system was designed to create a feeling. I am much more careful about combat in that game than others.

      Other example is White Wolf. Their combat system was so bad, you did your best to avoid it, so not much fighting. I don't think it was intentionally designed that way. However, give me the GURPS system and I would be much more into using my Vampire skills to kill people. But that would mean a different feeling to the game.

      The current standard of gaming is either a rule system is bundled with a setting or your have GURPS. WotC tried to find a middle ground, but class/level systems don't work well for non-fantasy gamers. I think there is a middle ground between generic toolbox and genre specific rules/setting. It is something I think gaming publishers should think about. I think that is partly happening with the Savage Worlds system.

      In terms of what you play at your game table, that all comes down to what works. That depends on the players, what system mechanics you like, and what types of things the GM wants to do. Do you want random one shot games that switch genres? Do you want to keep the same basic rule system so people don't have to learn new rules? Then GURPS might be for you. Do you want a long term fantasy campaign that has published adventures? Do your players want the thrill of seeing if their weak mage that will die if someone sneezes on him can survive? Then AD&D might be a better choice.

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    6. Interesting comments from all participants - definitely food for thought.

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