I wrote this post before I started my GURPS CyberPunk campaign a couple of years ago. I think it clearly explains why I chose GURPs. Over the last two years, I’ve really grown to appreciate the ability to go “rules-lite” or “rules-heavy” or anywhere in between with GURPS. Honestly, I think the character creation system might be the most daunting thing for new players. It requires some thought, and it isn’t easy when you have never played. Anyway, though our play sessions have been sporadic, I think the campaign has been a big success.

As I have mentioned here before, I’ve always liked GURPS a lot, but seldom used or played in that system. By the time GURPS evolved out of the Fantasy Trip, my friends and I were pretty well entrenched in the Hero System, and rarely played in the fantasy genre. After we got out of college, a friend ran a fantasy genre game or two in the GURPS system for me and one of the other guys. It was great, but adulthood had set in and we simply didn’t have time to play.

Since discovering yesterday I’ve been revisiting GURPS and I must admit I’m kind into the idea of running a GURPS campaign in some non-fantasy genre. I read Mook’s game notes on his GURPS Cyberpunk games. It sounds really fun. I also bought a copy of his How to be a GURPS GM, from Steve Jackson Games. It was on sale for less than $10 (it’s a PDF), and after reading his blog I decided it would be a good purchase. It was.

Apparently GURPS can seem overwhelming to a lot gamers. I was going to say “new gamers”, but I get the feeling experienced gamers sometimes feel the same way. It is easy to see why. There are no character classes. Players build their characters using a point system, as in the Hero System. So as soon as you go into character creation there are a lot of decisions to make. You don’t just roll some dice, pic a class and race, and write down what your character can do. Since there are dozens (if not hundreds) of skills to choose from depending on the genre of the game, well, you have a lot to think about.

Mook advises that perhaps a character creation session and test combat are good ways to start a GURPS campaign. I couldn’t agree more. I won’t divulge any more of his advice here — buy his supplement if you are interested.

For the GM, GURPS also requires a bit more work from the outset. The GM has to pick a genre (fantasy, science fiction, modern, or whatever), decide what skills and advantage are available to players, decide on stuff like power level, tech level, etc. In other words, the GM must decide on things that most RPGs include already. Frankly, a lot of people just aren’t up for this. No foul, right? People are busy, and there are some damned good game designers out there.

So, with these “weaknesses”, why would I want to run GURPS?

Because it kicks ass.

For many genres GURPS is ideal. The sourcebooks available for GURPS are fantastically well-written. Steve Jackson Games really has this down. No matter what kind of game you want to run, GURPS will do it. From power levels barely above average person to godlike superhumans, GURPS can do it. It really is quite incredible. And once you have a little experience with the basic system, you can keep it simple or make it as complex as you wish.

In class/level – based games like D&D, I always kind of feel like I’d be cheating if I started characters out above 1st level. I realize there is really no “cheating” in these games, but I still feel that way. To me, part of the point of D&D, part of the fun, is starting out weak and getting stronger.

Character point systems, like Hero and GURPs, allow you to easily get around this if you are weird like me. By selecting the starting power level of the characters, and determining where the campaign will fall on the Realistic vs. Cinematic continuum, you have the option of starting characters where ever you want. You determine the lethality of the campaign too.

GURPS, from what I’ve experienced, is a bit more lethal than some RPGs. Highly developed GURPS characters seem easier to kill than highly developed D&D characters. It’s just the nature of the system. GURPS, I think, tends toward a bit more realism. That’s not bad – just different.

So here’s where I’m going with this.

In my life, I don’t have time to play every week. I’m thinking once a month, or twice, is the most I can manage. I think that for this kind of life, GURPS is ideal. You can determine at the beginning about how long a campaign will last. A 12-month/12-meeting Cyberpunk game? Sure. Just determine the desired power level to start it.  You don’t have to go through the process of building characters up to “levels” at which you can actually have some fun with them.

Anyway, I am working on some campaign ideas. I’m still digging the new D&D system, but I think I might try running GURPS.

7 thoughts on “GURPSing”

  1. I remember running some GURPS for you and Furbrain a long time ago – I think that’s the GURPS experience you referenced in your post. I ran the session using the GURPS Fantasy: Harkwood ( supplement. I remember that your characters fought some dudes at a medieval tournament, but don’t remember much else.

    I’d like to play some GURPS, too, but at least half the players in the group I host have bought into the unfair criticism that it’s received in some quarters. As you described above, the rules depth in games like GURPS and HERO makes it easier to create with greater precision the campaign/story/narrative that you want to run, and without having to create a bunch of house rules and guidelines out of thin air in order to realize your vision for the game.

    1. Yes, that was the game. It was great. I played a fighter type with a 2-handed sword, who attacked with something like All-Out-Attack every time. hahaha.

  2. Mook’s good people – besides being good people he’s a damn fine GM and knows his GURPS. And yeah, his book is going to go a long way to help dispel the “GURPS is too mathy!” meme, in my opinion at least. I’d also point you towards the Gamemaster’s Guidepost section of my blog ( for other helpful tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years while running and writing for GURPS.

  3. All through high school our group played “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”. I was introduced to GURPS in college. (Back then, GURPS was a boxed set with two white books.) We played GURPS for many years during college and after. I met some excellent people that way.

    Later, our lives got in the way of gaming. That’s why I really like the point you raised about busy people being able to sculpt the character you want to play rather than feeling beholden to leveling up from 1.

    I recently returned from GenCon where, for the first time, I ran a GURPS game. I’d noticed that GURPS wasn’t being played much at GenCon (and other cons) and wanted to evangelize the system a little by running it. Coincidentally, I too spotted “How to be a GURPS GM” on Jackson’s web site literally a day before I ran my game. I love cosmic coincidence! I bought it and read it that night.

    1. Hi Johnny. I looked through the Gencon events list and yeah, I saw not that much GURPS. I am glad you ran a game! My 2 new 4th Edition core books arrived today, and I’m busily devouring the Characters book. It is exceptionally well-written and organized, and I am even more impressed with the game mechanics now than I was 26 years ago (I think that is when I last played GURPS). They have really fined-tuned this system. Thanks for the comment. I appreciate your readership.

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