I’m sure many people have posted their takes on this over the years. In a continuing attempt to procrastrinate on finishing the Dragon’s Dogma bestiary, I decided to post mine.
My History with GURPS
GURPS has always been one of my favorite systems ever since I first heard of it somewhere during the early Nineties. Back then, GURPS 3rd Edition was one of the Big Three systems in Brazil, mostly because it was one of the three systems that had been translated by this one publisher who had a strategy of buying All The Licenses from US companies. The other two were AD&D 2nd Edition and Vampire: The Masquerade, at the time also in its second edition.
Of those three, I went with GURPS, mostly by a process of elimination. Buying only one core book was way cheaper than buying three, and I wasn’t a fan of vampires as player characters. I read and enjoyed the book, but didn’t actually use it in play very much. I mostly played Tagmar, which is a fantasy system that should be pretty much unknown to anyone outside of Brazil, and later on a bit of Shadowrun 2nd edition (and my relationship with that one deserves an article of its own).
After ‘96 or so, when my English skills had improved considerably and I had moved to a bigger city with a proper FLGS, I began to discover the joy of GURPS supplements. Some of them had been translated to Portuguese, but the ones I found myself drawn to only had English versions. I still have and cherish my physical copies of Russia, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, the first Discworld, and consider my relative recent finding of a used GURPS Goblins to be a major stroke of luck. Even though I still didn’t play much GURPS, the books were a joy to read.
I bought the GURPS 4th Edition corebooks when they came out in 2005, in English. By then the Brazilian edition of the game had been languishing for a while, publishing-wise: aside from those first few translated sourcebooks, all we had were some locally-produced historical games based on GURPS Lite, and even those were fading out of print by the time Fourth Edition rolled around.
I liked the new core rules quite a lot, and kept buying print books as they came out until I switched to PDF for good. These days, GURPS is pretty much my absolute favorite system, though ironically that doesn’t seem to be an opinion shared with any of my fellow face-to-face players. But they’ve all moved into board games anyway, so they don’t count here.
Now, every time I watch or read some particularly interesting piece of media I try to think what it would look like adapted to some RPG system. And pretty much the first system I always try to fit in there is GURPS. 90% of the times the result looks pretty good, at least for a 15-minute purely mental effort, but sometimes I find it’s not the best system for the job.
When To GURPS
GURPS excells at representing settings and stories where the specific details of the actions you take are important and have mechanical weight. This usually means relatively grounded and internally consistent settings, though not necessarily realistic ones. Most action movies fit here, as does a whole lot of science fiction and quite a few martial arts stories.
Fantasy does, too, as long it has the traits above. IMHO, GURPS does low-to-mid-level D&D a lot better than most actual editions of D&D. If you want “I wait until the armored ogre lifts his arm to attack and stab his armpit with my spear” to actually mean something mechanically, GURPS is your system!
I would use GURPS for a game inspired in say, the Killjoys science fiction series, the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon movie, the My Hero Academia comic, or the Valkyria Chronicles video-game. I have used GURPS for games inspired on X-COM and plain old Dungeon Fantasy, and wrote a fairly complete Dragon’s Dogma adaptation.
In a more general note, GURPS also thrives when your group has a little time to prepare for the game - choose which subset of the rules to use, create characters, that sort of thing. The more of that the GM does themselves the less experience with the system their players will need to have.
When Not to GURPS
Now, the other 10% of times, I find GURPS wouldn’t be the best fit for the show/book/video-game in question. These works usually have the opposite traits from the ones I listed above: action details are much less important than their effects, and their settings tend to lack one of “grounded” or “consistent”. Often they lack both! This doesn’t imply they’re bad works, just that they have a different focus.
GURPS bases all of its numbers in real-world measurements. Powers have ranges in yards or meters, an attack’s damage is based on the force behind it, and so on. Therefore, stories where characters have fuzzily-defined skills and powers are hard to pin down. If your character’s specific capabilities are defined more by the needs of the story rather than by anything measurable in-world, it would be best to use a system that supports this.
The sort of science fiction that has characters switch bodies a lot is also hard to model in GURPS, whose rules assume its characters will usually not undergo this sort of drastic change so often.
And if you don’t have much time to prepare for a game, the best system for it will inevitably be whatever your players are more familiar with! At least where I live, that’s unlikely to be GURPS.
What about you?
What have you used GURPS successfully for? If that game fit into my “When Not to GURPS” description, what did you do to make it work well? Please leave a comment!