Monday, July 31, 2006

Game System

We will be using the rules of GURPS. I think it is an excellent system, both for ease of learning and for providing fun and excitement. A free copy of GURPS Lite can be obtained at Steve Jackson Games.

From Wikipedia:

The Generic Universal RolePlaying System, commonly known as GURPS, is a
role-playing game system designed to adapt to any imaginary gaming environment. It was created by Steve Jackson Games in 1986. GURPS won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Rules of 1988, and in 2000 it was inducted into the Origins Hall of Fame. Many of its expansions have also won awards.


Prior RPG history

Prior to GURPS, roleplaying games (RPGs) of the 1970s and early 1980s were developed especially for certain gaming environments, and they were largely incompatible with one another. For example, TSR published its Dungeons & Dragons game specifically for a fantasy environment. Another game from the same company, Star Frontiers, was developed for science fiction-based roleplaying. TSR produced other games for other environments, such as Gamma World, Top Secret, Gangbusters, Boot Hill, and more. Each of these games was set with its own self-contained rules system, and the rules for playing each game differed greatly from one game to the next. Attempts were made in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons to allow cross-genre games using Gamma World and Boot Hill rules, but the obscure rules went largely unused. Though it was preceded by the extremely obscure and poorly designed Supergame (DAG Productions, 1980), GURPS was the first successful attempt to create an all-encompassing, "universal" roleplaying system that allows players to roleplay in any environment they please without having to create a new set of rules for each game.

The GURPS "Concept"

GURPS was part of the first wave of roleplaying games that eschewed random generation of characters in favor of a point-based system.

Roleplaying games of the 1970s and 1980s, such as Dungeons & Dragons, used random numbers generated by dice rolls to assign statistics to player characters. GURPS, in contrast, assigned players a specified number of points with which to build their characters. Together with the Hero System, GURPS was one of the first roleplaying games in which characters were created by spending points to get attributes, skills, and advantages (such as the ability to cast magic spells). Additional points can be obtained by accepting lower than average attributes or disadvantages etc. This approach has grown increasingly common in part due to the success of GURPS.

GURPS' emphasis on its "generic" aspect has proven to be a successful marketing tactic: it is one of the most popular roleplaying games on the market today. GURPS' approach to universality includes using real world measurements wherever possible (“reality-checking” is an important part of any GURPS book). This allows players to fairly trivially convert things from the real world, other games or their imagination to GURPS statistics.

Another one of the strengths of GURPS, say its proponents, lies in its hundreds of worldbooks describing settings from several science fiction, fantasy, and historical settings, adding specific rules but mainly giving general information for any game. Many popular game designers began their professional careers as GURPS writers including C.J. Carella, Robin Laws, S. John Ross, and FUDGE creator Steffan O'Sullivan. It is something of an open secret in the gaming community that a large contingent of people who do not play GURPS (or any other RPG) nonetheless faithfully buy GURPS worldbooks because of the talented and creative writers.

GURPS history

Before GURPS, Steve Jackson wrote a set of games called The Fantasy Trip, which is mechanically similar to GURPS.

GURPS intersected part of the hacker subculture when the company's Austin, Texas, offices were raided by the Secret Service. The target was the author of GURPS Cyberpunk in relation to E911 Emergency Response system documents stolen from Bell South[1]. The incident was a direct contributor to the founding of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. A common error suggests that this raid was part of Operation Sundevil and carried out by the FBI. Operation: Sundevil was in action at the same time, but it was completely separate[2]. See Steve Jackson Games, Inc. v. United States Secret Service.

Steve Jackson Games released GURPS Fourth Edition at the first day of Gen Con on 19 August 2004. It promised to simplify and streamline most areas of play and character creation. Some of the changes: an edited and rationalized skill list, clarification of the difference between ability from experience and from inborn talent, simplifed language rules, and revised technology levels. The 4th edition was sold as two full-color hardcover books.

Overview of the GURPS mechanics

Character points

A character in GURPS is built with character points. For a beginning character in an average power game, the 4th edition suggests 100–150 points to modify attribute stats, select advantages and disadvantages, and purchase levels in skills. Normal NPCs are built on 25 or fewer points. Full-fledged heroes usually have 200–250 points, while superheroes are commonly built with 400–800 points. Using character points, Gamemasters can easily balance the power of foes to the abilities of the player characters.


Characters in GURPS have four basic attributes:

  • Strength (ST) — A measure of the character’s physical power and bulk, ability to lift, carry, and do damage
  • Dexterity (DX) — A measure of the character’s physical agility, coordination, and manual dexterity
  • Intelligence (IQ) — A measure of the character’s mental capacity, acuity and sense of the world
  • Health (HT) — A measure of the character’s physical stamina, energy and vitality, ability to resist disease

Having only four attributes is arguably much simpler compared to other roleplaying games which can have several main stats that cover more defined abilities. Each attribute has a number rating assigned to it. Normally they begin at 10, representing typical human ability, but can go as low as 1 for nearly useless, to 20 (or higher) for superhuman power. Anything in the 8 to 12 range is considered to be in the “normal” (more or less average) area for humans. Basic attribute scores of 6 or less are considered crippling — they are so far below the human norm that they are only used for severely handicapped characters. Scores of 15 or more are described as amazing — they are immediately apparent and draw constant comment.

Players assign these ratings spending character points. The higher the rating the more points it will cost the player, however, assigning a score below the average 10 gives the player points back to assign elsewhere. Since almost all skills are based on Dexterity or Intelligence, those attributes are twice as expensive (or yield twice the points, if purchased below 10).

Attribute scores also determine several secondary characteristics. The four major ones are each directly based on a single attribute:

  • Hit Points (HP) — how much damage and injury can be sustained, based on ST
  • Will (Will) — mental focus and strength, withstanding stress, based on IQ
  • Perception (Per) — general alertness, based on IQ
  • Fatigue Points (FP) — body energy levels, based on HT

The other secondary characteristics (Damage, Basic Lift, Basic Speed, Dodge, Move) are calculated from one or more attribute values using individual tables or formulae.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Profusion of advantages and disadvantages is one of the key selling factor and immediate differenciating element of GURPS (especially in the past, when such an approach was uncommon).

A player can select numerous Advantages and Disadvantages (including above-average or below-average Wealth, Status and Reputation) to spice up the character with special abilities and weaknesses. These are categorized as physical, mental or social, and as exotic, supernatural, or mundane. Advantages benefit the character and cost points to purchase. Selecting Disadvantages returns character points. Disadvantages include such positive attributes as honesty and truthfulness which limit the way a character is played. There are also many Perks and Quirks to choose from which give a character some personality. Perks (minor Advantages) and Quirks (minor Disadvantages) benefit or hinder the character a bit, but they mostly add roleplaying flavor.

Enhancements and limitations can tailor an advantage or disadvantage to suit. These modify the effects and point cost of advantages and disadvantages. For example, to create a "dragon's breath" attack, a player would select the burning attack 4D advantage (normally 20 points) and modify it as follows: cone, 5 yards (+100%); limited use, 3/day (-20%); reduced range, x1/5 (-20%). The final percentage modifier would be +60%, making the final cost 32 points. This addition to the system greatly increases its flexibility while decreasing the number of specific advantages and disadvantages that must be listed. Finally, mitigators can themselves tailor advantages and disadvantages (see GURPS Bio-Tech for such an example).


Complementing the stats are numerous skills. A player buys skills with character points. Skills represent physical and mental areas of specialty which can prove useful in the game. Skills vary widely, from Acrobatics to Vehicle Piloting. The availability of skills depends on the particular genre the GURPS game is played. For instance, in a Medieval Fantasy world, skills for operating a computer, or flying a fighter jet would not normally be available for the player to choose unless they time traveled. Skills are rated by level, and the more levels purchased with character points, the better the character is at that particular skill.

Skills are categorized by difficulty: Easy, Average, and Hard. They are also categorized as Physical or Mental skills, with Very Hard as an option for some Mental skills. Easy skills cost fewer points to purchase levels in, while Hard skills cost more. A player can purchase a skill for his character at any level he or she can afford. The lower you choose the fewer points it costs to buy the skill, and the higher you go, the more points it costs. Some skills have default levels, which indicate the level rating a character has when using that skill untrained (i.e. not purchased). For example, a character with a Dexterity of 12, uses the Climbing skill untrained. Climbing has a default of DX-5 or ST-5, which means that using the skill untrained gives him a Climbing skill level of 7 (12-5) if he tied it to the Dexterity stat. If the character had a higher Strength stat, he could have a better chance of success if they tied the Climbing skill there instead.

Many Skills also have a Tech Level (TL) rating attached to them, to differentiate between Skills that concern similar concepts, but whose tasks are accomplished in different ways when used with differing levels of technology. This helps during time traveling scenarios, or when characters are forced to deal with particularly outdated or advanced equipment. For instance, a modern boat builder's skills will be of less use if he is stuck on a desert island and forced to work with primitive tools and techniques. Thus, the skills he uses are different when in his shop (Shipbuilding/TL 8) and when he is on the island (Shipbuilding/TL 1).

Success rolls

GURPS uses six-sided dice for all game mechanics. For instance, if the damage of a weapon says "3d+2" then you'd roll three six-sided dice, add the results of each die together, and add 2 to that result. Likewise, if it said "2d-1", you'd roll only two dice and subtract 1 from the total result. For stat and skill checks, the player always rolls three six-sided dice. Note that this makes a "default" skill check (a skill of 10, based on an unmodified attribute) 50% likely to succeed.

Making stat and skill checks in GURPS is the reverse of the mechanics of most other RPGs, where the higher the total of the die roll, the better. GURPS players hope to roll as low as possible under the tested stat's rating or skill's level. If the roll is less than or equal to that number, the check succeeds. There is no "target number" or "difficulty rating" set by the Game Master, as would be the case in many other RPG systems. The GM may, however, calculate various modifiers to add or subtract to the die roll. In this way, positive modifiers increase the chance for success by adding to the stat or skill level you must roll under while negative modifiers deduct from it, making things more difficult.

For example: a player makes a pickpocketing test for her character. The player has assigned a Pickpocket skill with a level of 11. Rolling 3 dice, the result must be 11 or less to succeed. If the player rolls above 11, then her character has failed the attempt at pickpocketing. No matter the level of the skill, a die roll of 18 or 17 is always a failure, and a roll of 3 or 4 is always a success. The Game Master may decide in such cases that, in first case, the character has failed miserably and caused something disastrous to happen or, in the other case, that she succeeds incredibly well and gains some benefit as a result.


Like most other RPGs, combat in GURPS is organized in rounds. A round is equal to one second of real time (other RPGs typically have longer rounds). In one second, a player can make her character take an action, such as attack or move. Free actions are simple actions that can be done at any time. Characters in a party have a set initiative every round that is based upon their Speed factors.

There are two kinds of attacks: Melee (possibly with hand-to-hand weapons) and Ranged (e.g. bows and guns). Attacks made by a character are checked against their skill with the particular weapon they carry. For instance, if a character is attacking with a pistol, it is beneficial to have a high level in the Guns skill. Like any other skill check, a player must roll equal to or less than the level of the skill to succeed. Failure means a miss, success scores a hit. Similarly, rolls of 3 or 4 are "critical hits", which means the weapon deals its maximal damage to the target. Attack modifiers are set by the GM when factoring in things like body armor and cover.

Damage and defenses

Damage from melee weapons, (clubs, swords, daggers, etc.) is calculated based on the character's ST rating. The weaker a character is physically, the less damage he or she is capable of inflicting with a handheld weapon. Ranged weapons have a set damage value for the projectile they fire. When damage is inflicted upon a character, it is deducted from their Hit Points, which are calculated with the Strength stat (prior to GURPS 4th Edition, Hit Points were derived from the Health stat). Like any other RPG, when characters lose their hit points, they're in trouble. Depending on the nature of the attack, there will sometimes be additional effects. GURPS calculates shock penalties when someone is hit, representing the lasting harm it causes. Different weapons can cause different 'types' of damage, ranging from crushing (a club or mace), impaling (a spear or arrow), cutting (most swords and axes), piercing (bullets), and so on.


Finally, the most useful award after playing a good session of GURPS are more character points, which can be used to advance the character with enhanced stats, skills, or other goodies. Points are distributed by the GM at the end of each session. Unlike many RPGs, however, players receive no experience for killing monsters. GMs are free to distribute experience as they see fit, but 1-3 points for completing objectives and 1-3 points for good roleplaying per game session are considered normal.

Advancement can also come through study, work, or other activities, either during game play or between sessions. In general, 200 hours of study equals one character point. Self-study and on the job experience take more time per character point while high tech teaching aids can reduce the time required.

Some intensive situations let a character advance quickly, as most waking hours are considered study. For instance, characters travelling through the Amazon may count every waking moment as study of jungle survival, while living in a foreign country could count as eight hours per day of language study or more.

GURPS in other media

The computer game publisher Interplay licensed GURPS as the basis for a post-nuclear war computer role-playing game in 1995. Late in development and after disagreements between the two companies, the GURPS character-building system was replaced with the SPECIAL System, the GURPS name was dropped, and the game was released under the name Fallout.

GURPS For Dummies, a guidebook by Stuart J. Stuple, Bjoern-Erik Hartsfvang, Adam Griffith, was scheduled to be published on April 3, 2006. It is available now. ISBN 0471783293


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