Mike’s Tavern – Gurps

Mike’s Tavern – Gurps

Mike’s Tavern – Gurps

0 comments 📅14 December 2016, 22:16

I decided that this time around I wanted to write a brief overview on my second favorite tabletop RPG, GURPS. I know it sounds like a giant goo monster race on the bottom of the Dead Sea, but its name is actually an acronym that makes total sense. It wasn’t as popular as D&D, but it had a decent fan base. In fact, games like Fallout and Elder Scrolls based their earlier games off of the system presented in GURPS. The best way I can describe GURPS is that it’s not so much a game as it is a game-engine. Very much how video game developers take video game engines to create the rules of their video game, GURPS provides a variety of mechanics that you can use for any setting you want. Going over all of these settings would make for a very large article, so I’m just going to review the major mechanics that I think make the game fun. I’m also going to provide a link to a free pdf of the Lite version of the rules for you to check out in your own time.

Welcome to my Tavern.

GURPS, Generic Universal Role Playing System, is produced by Steve Jackson Games and was first published in 1986. The game is built on a point distribution system for player characters and enemies. A player will start with an established point total, usually 100 points, and create their character by buying stats, skills, spells, and what are called “advantages”. Players can also take “disadvantages” or lower than average stats to earn more points to further build their character.

The game really carved a niche out for itself in the 80’s and 90’s because it lived it to the first word in its name: Generic. It’s not genre specific and the system works across all settings. Many pen-and-paper games in the past have attempted to create a rule set in order to adopt different settings (Dungeons and Dragons, or the d20 system, has made rule sets for a Star Wars setting for example), but the major flaw in these designs was that characters had to be converted from one setting to the other in order to participate in a game. You couldn’t make an awesome wizard in D&D and a Jedi master in the SW setting and use them together unless one or the other was converted. GURPS was the first of its kind in that the rules worked “Universally” (see what I did there?) across all settings. You could create Dovahkiin from Skyrim and send him to the Star Wars Universe to fight the Sith and the system won’t even break a sweat.

The rolling mechanics are a lot simpler than conventional pen-and-paper games as well. You do not use typical polyhedron dice, but regular six sided dice (good bye d12s and d20s). The idea is that you want to roll low, or underneath your ability/skill scores, with a combination of dice. Let’s say that you are controlling a computer hacker character and you have the “Computer Programming” skill. During character creation, you put in enough points so that your skill level is 13. You are attempting to create a program that will hack into some standard mainframe with minimal security. You roll three six sided die (3d), and add them all together to get a 12 result. Because your skill is 13 and you rolled under your skill level, you succeeded on the roll. It’s extremely intuitive to figure out: an increase in your character’s skill level results in a higher number which makes it easier to roll underneath.

Modifying the difficulty check for these skill rolls is really easy too. Say you are hacking into the pentagon, the GM may tell you to add 3 to your roll to represent the difficulty of hacking into a heavily secured and monitored system. Using the results from above, rolling a 12 means that you actually got a 15 when your skill is 13, so you failed. Different results may happen depending on how bad you fail or how well you succeed. For the roll above, you might have also been caught and traced by the government. Now let’s say that your computer hacker met the Doctor from Dr. Who and travelled far into the future (it could happen in this game) and now the setting went from a modern, urban adventure to high Sci-Fi. You could run into a computer system that is way beyond the technology your character is used to and you may need to hack it. The difficulty check could spike up to a +6, so you roll 3d and get 5. This means your actual roll was 11, underneath your skill of 13, and you succeed! This skill system makes creating skill checks on the fly incredibly easy and understandable.


Advantages and Disadvantages work slightly different than skills. An Advantage is typically defined as an edge your character may have in the game world. Normally advantages are fixed, meaning that no more can be purchased beyond character creation. There are exceptions to this rule as it basically comes down to what your GM permits.

Advantages vary wildly. You could have something as simple as Alertness, costing 5 points, giving you a bonus to notice something, or you can have something like 360 degree vision which could cost a full 100 points depending on how you modify it. Let’s say that the computer hacker character we’ve been talking about has the Alertness advantage, costing 5 points. However, you want your character to only be alert when it comes to technology, so it applies if say another hacker is secretly trying to hack your system, but you might as well be looking for a needle in a haystack when it comes to noticing that someone dropped something important. In this case, the Alertness Advantage doesn’t apply in all scenarios, so the GM may designate a discount for you. The discount can vary in this scenario. If you are in a futuristic setting where most things are controlled by advanced technology, the limitation isn’t very severe so the GM may give you a 20% discount (costing 4 points instead of 5). But let’s say the setting takes place in a town that isn’t super advanced, then your Alertness advantage may be incredibly hindered. The GM may designate a 60% discount (Alertness goes from 5 points to 2 points).

Disadvantages are a way of gaining extra points to spend on your character instead of costing you points. They are defined as anything that can hinder your character in his or her goal. It can be anything from Greed to a serious physical disability and the amount of points awarded to you can vary. Strange enough, Disadvantages are one of the most fun aspects of GURPS. You can, for the most part, incorporate your disadvantages into your character’s personality. Your hacker may have a Code of Honor so that he or she may not hack anyone who hasn’t “deserved” it. While a Code of Honor may sound like an honorable thing, it can still hinder you from accomplishing a task. Maybe you are looking for a supposed murderer and one of the victim’s family member has a computer that could have vital information on where the murderer could strike next. Your Code of Honor may prevent you from hacking that person’s computer.

My favorite Disadvantage by far, as both a player and GM, is the Weirdness Magnet disadvantage. A character that takes Weirdness Magnet basically gives a free pass to the DM to do the most random things. The GM doesn’t need an explanation either. You could be walking down the street one day and suddenly aliens teleport right in front of you to ask for directions to Roswell New Mexico. The catch is that this Disadvantage must be extremely inconvenient for your character. If your high school age character is trying to impress the girl at school, a portal may open right next to you in mid conversation. Out comes Pinhead and his Cenobites saying that they have an appointment for *checks a list and squints* your character’s “pleasure session” which freaks out the girl and makes her run away. Upset, you tell Pinhead that he’s got the wrong person so he checks his list one more time to find that he got the last name wrong. Whoops. He then asks if he can make it up to you by getting together for coffee later on and disappears.

This is basically it for my GURPS primer. There is a ton of content you can pull from that extends way beyond what I wrote about. I really enjoy this game and it’s my go-to for unique non-fantasy campaign ideas. I recommend that you download the free “Lite” version of the rules in PDF format and take a look at the basic stuff in your own time. The link is posted below.
Thanks for visiting my Tavern. See you next time!

GURPS Lite: http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/lite/

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