20 May 2018

Too Much Freedom?

This is a gaming post, not a political one.

I think I've established that I'm a fan of GURPS.

I know several gamers whom hate it because it's got a character creation system that's complex and cumbersome compared to most other role-playing games.

Aside: your computer doesn't have a role playing game on it; so I am not going to say "table-top RPG" like the computer "gamers" want.

GURPS is a point-based, skill driven system.

What this means is you get a pool of points to spend to create your character "spending" your points on traits and skills and getting credit from flaws.

What determines what your character can do is primarily derived from what skills you purchased and what level you raised them to.

It takes a while to make a character.

The beauty is, once you've made your character, everything you need to play further is already on your sheet.  Only the situationally defined variables assigned by the GM are missing.

It's a system that, literally, allows you to make any person you can imagine within the limits of the points given by the GM.

This induces vapor lock in players who're more accustomed to systems that actively walk you through the character generation process.

Think back to AD&D.  The first step is randomly generating the stats.  That give you a limited set of choices for your character class depending on how well or poorly you rolled for any given stat.  Once you've chosen your class you're done making decisions about your character except for picking out spells (if any).

Later editions of D&D added some skills, but I've never played them so can't talk authoritatively on them; but the character class is still the main choice and subsequent choices fall from that first choice.

Traveller was the same thing in the main.  You randomly generated stats.  Then you picked a service (if your stats were high enough for it) and then just followed the table until you died in character generation, got mustered out by a bad roll or simply quit rolling.  Even service choice could be taken away if you rolled poorly.

Game after game follows this mold.

GURPS and Hero are the two main exceptions, and both have people complaining about the same issue.  It boils down to a lack of guidance from the rules to determine what a character should have.

I think that players don't really like the freedom.  Time and again I've watched players struggle to make their character with GURPS and spend hours picking out five skills.  Yes, their character is GOOD at those five things, but as play progresses and they are confronted with situations which don't need those five skills... they get mad.  They blame the GM, they blame the rules.

They don't blame themselves.

GURPS introduced character templates as a way to guide the players.  A template gives a list of stats, skills, advantages and disadvantages.

Guess what the players do.

They take the template and virtually nothing else.  So in a GURPS: WW2 game I end up with at least 70% of the players with the identical character.

They treat the template as a requirement that cannot be altered or changed.  Says here "Guns/TL7 (rifle) 12" so they buy the skill to 12 and leave it.  No higher, no lower.

No matter how many times I say the templates are guides not manifestos.


  1. I haven't had too much trouble with that, but I spend a fair amount of time handholding my players who would probably otherwise have trouble through the process. Get them a good character concept, and give a few guidelines to get them moving, and some leading questions and templates to help them along. Sometimes I'll even build them a skeleton of a character according to what they're thinking if they're struggling, because once they have SOMETHING on the paper they can decide what's too high, too low, etc.

    My main problem is with the depth of gameplay; the system is pretty straightforward past character creation, but there's still a LOT of stuff on the sheets, and sometimes stuff gets bumped off to sheet 2 when you have a lot of utility skills.

    1. I ended up making my own character sheets with AutoCAD of all things. Made the lines much smaller so you could fit more skills on the page.

      I had to do much the same thing with 3e too.

      There's a whole other post on this phenomenon burbling in the back of skull too. I've seen players who created wonderful, deep and textured backstories and descriptions for very simplistic AD&D characters utterly fail to make any such thing for a GURPS character.

      I'm like, "DUDE! All that stuff you did for that 2nd level magic user will get you points back on a GURPS character!"

  2. Hey Angus;

    I used to play AD&D 2nd edition, and it was fun, but I had to quit after I got out of the service in 1991. There has been several additions since Gary Gygax started the game. and I don't have the time, RL keeps getting in the way

  3. Same as Mr. Garabaldi, RL intruded before I could get into GURPS. And I found the later over-profusion of AD$D books to be more limiting than more expanding. Almost as if they were writing and changing rules in order to generate more dinaro.

    Kinda like how Avalon Hill screwed all their Squad Leader players. Hey, buy $700 worth of core rules and supplements and, hey, here's the consolidated new rules and new counters and new this and new that and, haha, the only thing you get to keep is your original map boards. I hit the ejection seat at that junction of the game.

    GURPS does sound interesting. May have to look into it when I have a chance.

    1. GURPS 3e was getting very cumbersome with all the special and optional rules. Almost getting to the point that if you didn't have a couple of experienced players already, you couldn't get it started.

      4e streamlined it a lot. I've never looked back. It's accessible for the beginner again.


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