Generic Universal Role Playing System
What it says on the tin.
In 1986, Steve Jackson Games released the first edition of the GURPS
Basic Set. Although the system has roots in Jackson's Melee
, and The Fantasy Trip
was developed in direct response to Hero Games' Champions: The Super Roleplaying Game
(the original Point Buy
game). The name comes from both Steve Jackson's description of what he wanted and the in-house code for the project, "The Great Unnamed Role Playing System". However, when the time came to release the product, they had not been able to come up with a better name for it.
As a generic system, GURPS
has no inherent story or background, although a number of settings have been developed and published specifically for the system, and others have been adapted; see GURPS Settings
For those curious about where GURPS
fits in the taxonomies of game mechanics, GURPS
rather than level- and class-based
. All tasks are resolved by rolling three six-sided dice, creating a bell-curve of probability instead of a flat line of equal chance.note
Success is awarded if the total of the die roll is equal to or less than a target number, usually a character's skill level. The difficulty of a task is represented by a modifier to the character's skill level, and not by the target number itself. All modifiers can only apply to that target number, and never to the number rolled on the dice.
In combat, each round represents one second, which is a point of contention among people who argue the merits of roleplaying systems. If you want to do anything in combat that's more complex than moving and attacking, GURPS
will require you to describe your tactics in terms of several successive one-second-long maneuvers, and then go through several rounds of combat before you discover what the results are. It can kind of interrupt the flow if you want to play an Exalted
-style game full of elaborate stunts
. The Fourth Edition supplement GURPS Action
was created to remedy this.GURPS
has been described as a "simulationist" system, because it includes lots of rules that tell you what's happening in the gameworld without much affecting the outcome of the relevant event. For example, when an attacker succeeds at his roll to hit, the defender always gets to choose how to defend, and makes the appropriate defense roll (unless it was a critical hit, or a surprise). The defense could be handled as penalties applied to the attack roll, and the odds of dealing damage would be the same—but in that case, should your opponent avoid taking damage, you wouldn't know if it was because you missed entirely, or nearly-hit but the defender dodged, or hit too soft to do any damage, or hit hard enough to do damage but your opponent is too much of a Bad Ass
to notice. This is helpful to game masters narrating the combat, because it tells them exactly what to narrate, but it does take longer.GURPS
has been criticized as being very math heavy and overly complex compared to other systems like d20
. These are only fair criticisms if one uses a bunch of optional rules; basic character creation and basic gameplay require no mathematics more advanced than simple addition. The extra rules mostly take the form of modifiers to apply to rolls in specific situations, and each optional rule helps and hurts everyone about equally, so those rules can be safely ignored without affecting game balance. However, there are few systems with quite so many
optional rules as GURPS
, so Rules Lawyers
are naturally attracted to the system. The complexity can range quite widely depending on the game master.
is too math heavy" critique that people level at it tends to stem from the overly complex GURPS Vehicles
. The book was notoriously convoluted, requiring the designer to specify the surface area of various parts of the vehicle, and keep track of power requirements in kilowatts. The outcome of all that number-crunching was an insanely detailed listing of items—that is, you didn't find out at the END of the design process that you had 120% of your vehicle's volume occupied, or that you'd badly underestimated the amount of kW compared to the final mass and so can't meet your performance goals (like, say, driving on the freeway). A computer spreadsheet made it possible to actually design vehicles in less than 4 hours of work. Even the majority of GURPS
players didn't like this, so they used the much simpler and more flexible character creation rules to make their own custom cars. This new method was so much more popular that in Fourth Edition it became the standard of vehicle creation.
Perhaps the best feature of GURPS
is the huge number of Sourcebooks
that have been written for it. Pick any genre or topic, and you will probably find at least one GURPS
book covering it (often available in PDF rather than print form these days). Broad categories are covered in genre books; specific settings may receive their own books
. In addition to suggestions and notes regarding the topic of the Sourcebook
, each volume invariably includes additions to and errata for the basic rules set.note
This has led people to ask why they should buy a so-called "universal system" that requires the purchase of a new rulebook every time the players wish to use that system to play in a new genre. Because of this, GURPS
is often compared unfavorably with the Hero System
, a universal gaming system whose sourcebooks and supplements have never had to add new rules to the Core Set — though the 4th edition evolution has made such additions less extensive.
On the other hand, new rules aside, many of the supplements are useful enough as setting sourcebooks that people using other Game Systems
will occasionally buy them as references; this was, in fact, part of the original mission statement for the the game, and the reason the "U" stands for "Universal". The opposite is also true; with a little work, most game worlds can be converted to GURPS
, usually with an increase in utility and flexibility. The intention was that, by building the game around "real world" units of measurement instead of "rounds" and "hexes", it would be easier for people using other systems to make use of the information in the supplements. Of course "real world" in this context means the USA
; pounds, feet, yards as originally developed in the UK (international editions, however, are metricated). GURPS Traveller
subjects the previously-metric Third Imperium to this Cultural Translation
(though the original was also American) on the grounds of "fitting in with existing products". Some 3rd edition products would randomly throw in some metric units anyway
, because trying to use two unit systems at the same time always works
. As of the 4th edition official conversions from and to metric units are printed at the beginning of the basic set.
Several supplements have their own page: GURPS Alternate Earths
, GURPS Reign Of Steel
, GURPS Supers
, Infinite Worlds
and Transhuman Space
GURPS provides examples of the following tropes: