07 August 2015

You've Never Even Tried To Play

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It's no secret I am a fan of GURPS.

I've literally been playing it longer than it's existed because FuzzyGeff bought Man-To-Man.  1985.

GURPS is on its 4th edition in those 30 years, but one thing hasn't changed: If someone complains about another table-top RPG, damn sure someone is going to insert how much GURPS sucks.

And it's always by someone who obviously didn't actually play it.

Yes, you idiot, I can tell from here because what you're complaining about doesn't actually exist in the game.  I know that because I have actually played it.  Not only played it, Gamemastered all four editions.

Gamemastered for people who don't even like me as a person, but the gaming was good enough to keep them coming back.  If the game was as bad as all that, these people would have taken the excuse to leave and run.

Do you know what the complaint is really about?


GURPS is the first game system that was actually designed to be generic (it's in the bloody name!) and non-genre specific.  That means there's going to be sections of the rules that never get touched for any given genre.

Generic means there's going to be some amount of cumbersome, but I've played a lot of systems since I started gaming in (oh shit) 1978 and keep coming back to GURPS because it really shines at the worlds I like to create.

Some of my enthusiasm is of the "born again" variety.  I really loathed the idea of points based character generation when I first had to deal with it.  In 1981... with Champions 1e.  GURPS was the second point-based system I played.

As an aside, it seems that most complaints about GURPS are actually realized with Hero 5e, can it be as simple as people getting the point-based games confused?

A gigantic hunk of my enthusiasm for GURPS comes from converting from other game systems.  Twilight 2000 got converted first.  Then Traveller.  Then Megatraveller.  Then, well just about anything GDW made since they did good world design but not so much good game design.  GURPS never failed to adapt to the new worlds.  Not only did it never fail, it also got easier to hammer into shape with progressive editions.*

When you're converting other games and trying to maintain the tone and feel of a genre, you've really got to open the hood and see what makes the other game tick.  You are forced to confront how much of your game isn't actually in the rulebook, but are house-rules to bypass errata or just flat missed by the game designer.

LBB Traveller and AD&D were two such games where we didn't hardly use the actual rules while playing the game because they are HORRID game systems.  We used the skeletons of the system with our own flesh hung from the bones.  It made bringing new players to the table extremely tedious.

Hopping back and forth between game systems when hopping between GM and genre got old fast too.  Especially when everyone remembered a good rule from a different game to handle a situation and the GM put their foot down about the not-as-good rule that actually went with the game we were playing.  Then the argument about it that wasted so much game time...

GURPS, although complicated and a bit cumbersome, at least had the charm of once learned you'd learned it.  The worst part of the game is still, after thirty years, character generation.  Scope comes to play again.  For players used to and comfortable with the narrow scope of character classes the sudden lack of constraints is a problem.  Here's where the real meat of the complaints is.  They simply don't know how to make a character without the constraints channeling them into their party role, so they take it out on the thing that's "hurting" them, the game.

The next thing that always gets that player is balance of points.  The core complaint about people who hate GURPS, is their favorite spell or ability from another game doesn't work the same (different rules, duh) or is brutally expensive when it has to be given a fair point value.

It's been fun to compare it.  Back in 1982... when we split off of Bear's home-brewed D&D to play "real" AD&D we all rolled up 1st level characters and played the game.  Four years later, with GURPS: Fantasy for GURPS 1e in hand, we recreated our party from 9th grade...

It was interesting.  The fighter was about the same.  The thief was more fighter-like, but also far more versatile.  The magic user was more survivable.  The ranger and the cleric were fucked up, but we figured out how to mash something together.

Where things got interesting to me was how the characters progress from the start position.  After a bit of running in AD&D, the fighter wasn't really much more effective, but the cleric and magic user... Oy vey!  Their advancement was exponential compared to non-spell users.

With GURPS the power level stays fairly flat.

To capture the epic scope of AD&D in many campaigns you've got to issue your players epic points.  (Here's a hint the GM decided how many points you start with, not the GAME).

*GURPS has actually been through 6 editions.

0e is Man-To-Man which is just a combat system. (1985)
1e and 2e are nearly identical. (1986)
3e was a substantial change and this is where the game started to actually live up to it's promise. (1988)
3eR or 3rd Edition Revised came out and this is the definitive 3e version, but it's also starting to collapse under its own weight.  (1996)
4e is 3eR pruned back and rationalized.  (2004)

Looking back at 3eR I can see clearly what a steaming mess it'd become.  We happily played it because we'd been playing 3e and the changes to the system occurred incrementally and organically through supplements and errata so we didn't notice we'd stepped into a new edition so much (we also ignored a good hunk of the optional rules).  3e had forgotten it was supposed to be generic and had new core game rules introduced with every world specific book.  3eR was an attempt to consolidate those rules into the main book, but the contradictions were insurmountable if you were attempting to combine some genres.

I sometimes wonder if complainers are talking about this mess.  It'd be a valid complaint, if the specifics of what they're complaining about hit on the contradictions!  And if the complaints were different from when it was the far simpler, but definitely incomplete 2nd edition.

It's the scope they don't like.

They don't like that a world doesn't come with the game.  They don't like their role is not narrowly defined for them by character class.  They don't like that their starting power level is identical to the other players and the system, by design, tends to keep the player's power level similar as they advance.

If I were cynical I'd say it's because they have to use their imaginations and think for a change.


  1. One of the things I like about GURPS is its versatility. If I want a thief-type who can fight in a pinch, I give my character points in lockpicking, climbing, stealth and combat skills. Instead of cookie-cutter fighters, thieves, magic-users and what-not, you can create individual characters that are more like real people.

    I've mulled a conversion of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay to GURPS...the main problem would be coming up with templates for the beginning and advanced careers. Reason I'd want it would be that I love the background world of WFRP (it gets a lot farther from Tolkien than other fantasy role-plays I've seen, and could be brought even farther by completely replacing Orcs and Goblins with Beastmen; you could say that the Beastmen and mutants just out-competed the greenskin races) and eliminating Halflings (replace them with Gnomes; rules exist for them even though they aren't in the main books). But WFRP is a brick-and-a-half to play, rules-wise.

    Another thing that's fairly easy to do with GURPS is to mix-n-match. Take your fantasy party and plop them down in the world of the Horseclans, and see what happens.

  2. Google is your friend!


    If you look long enough, someone has done the work for you converting to GURPS.

  3. Actually, the name during playtesting was Great Unnamed Role Playing System.

    They even had a contest through The Space Gamer magazine to come up with a name for it.

  4. "Champions 1e"

    THAT takes a girl back. Wow. I'd almost completely forgotten about Champions...

    1. Did your copy have "The Superhero Role Playing Game" or "The SUPER Role Playing Game" on the cover?

      Our GM had a first printing (box set not the ORIGINAL from the convention) before Marvel and DC sued over their trademarked word.

  5. Whenever someone complains about GURPS being too complicated, I tell them the same thing "It's pretty much 3d6 for everything, or however many dice it says for damage, and all the complexity is in character gen." I've got a few players who can manage the gameplay but just don't quite get the character gen stuff, who are content to just tell me what they want and let me take care of it for them. Thanks to GURPS' helpful convention of naming things what they do rather than getting creative with it to show off, a sheet pretty much gives most of the info needed to use it even to someone with no knowledge of the system.

    On a system conversion note, I'm presently in the process of fixing up someone else's WH40k RPG conversion where they handled a few things in relatively questionable but easily fixed ways. Most of the party for a potential Dark Heresy has wholeheartedly agreed to run it in GURPS instead, with its much better done, more resilient rule set.

    1. Plus people who come in at 4e never see how bad the various optional rules interacted with the several world-specific alterations.

      4e is far more comprehensive and simpler than 3eR, yet I still hear complaints about rules that were broken in 2e. 2e lasted all of two years before being replaced by the substantially different 3e.


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