Friday, April 8, 2022

A to Z 10 Year Update: G is for GURPS

This post has been updated from the version originally uploaded on April 7, 2012.

A to Z 2012: Gaming in the 1980s


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?

I never have managed to get a GURPS game up and going.  I eventually gave all of the material I owned to my cousin. He seems to have a pretty steady group and they play several games.  I need to check with him and see if he has had any luck bringing it to the table.  I never bought into GURPS 4th Edition just because of the bad luck I experienced in finding interested players of previous editions.  It doesn't seem to me that it reached the same level of popularity as 3rd but since my finger isn't on the pulse of the GURPS fandom, that is purely conjecture on my part.

One thing that always stuck out to me when reading through the GURPS rules was the mention of his earlier work, The Fantasy Trip.  I was just old enough at the time it would have been in the stores, but I missed out on buying the game.  I would catch glimpses about TFT over the years and I could see that GURPS was basically an evolution of that earlier game.  Eventually, Steve Jackson obtained the right to the game and launched a kickstarter for The Fantasy Trip: Legacy Edition.  I backed it and got everything.  Although I have only used TFT for solo play - and I'm about to introduce it to my teen son - I am NOT getting rid of it.


  1. About two years into introducing gaming to some kids at the local comics shop, my husband ran a GURPS campaign that went on for quite a while. Probably 80% of the fun was creating the characters. I think most of the reason it bottomed out was the sheer number of modifiers that go into combat. Keeping teenage boys (and me, a numbers-challenged English major) on task was difficult.

    1. I can definitely understand that! Great books with great information but it sure seemed like a lot to try to keep straight.

  2. I was lucky enough to play GURPS under an Awesome GM for about 10 years. He always had two prime house rules: 1) you started with 40 pt. characters (this dropped your chances of success on rolls to a 11-12<3d6 so he didn't have to look up modifiers), 2) if you called a technical tiny rule you or he had five minutes to find it or he made it up (usually the latter).
    That mostly worked. I used GURPS to run games later and I either found (or made, found I think [decades ago]) a combat formula that made things smoother.
    That whole, I need a formula thing burnt me out on most game systems till this day.

    1. That being said most of the GURPS world books are still some of my favorites.

    2. That is 100% true! I also felt like they pushed the envelope with several of their world books. I've seen some amazing fan world books over the years as well.

    3. Interesting house rules! I dig them and would definitely try them out if I was in a game.

    4. Thanks! I wanted to share what works. If I did it now, I would use GURPS Ultra-lite for rules (one page). For me these days lighter is better (or easier).