In 1986, Steve Jackson Games released the first edition of the GURPS Basic Set. Although the system has roots in Jackson's Melee, Wizard, and The Fantasy Trip, GURPS 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 several settings have been developed specifically for the system — see GURPS Settings.For those curious about where GURPS fits in the taxonomies of game mechanics, GURPS is point-based and skill-based 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 This serves to partially counteract Min-Maxing by adding a sort of "diminishing returns" logic to one's probability of success, since past a certain point each increase in skill level gives a smaller boost to the success rate than the one before. 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.The "GURPS is too math heavy" critique that people level at it tends to stem from the overly complex GURPSVehicles. 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 (though possibly out of print). In addition to suggestions and notes regarding the topic of the Sourcebook, each volume would invariably include additions to and errata for the basic rules set.note With the release of 4th ed., sourcebooks shifted to showing applications and examples of existing Basic Set rules rather than inventing new rules whole cloth. However, rules like Styles, Social Engineering mechanics, and Power Modifiers push the envelope, and several popular books like Spaceships, Ritual Path Magic, and Technical Grappling still do introduce new/optional rules. 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.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.
ALL OF THEM.: If it doesn't exist as is in one of the books, a trope can be used with applications of limitations and enhancements. Oh, you wanted specifics? Okay...
Abnormal Ammo: GURPS: High-Tech has a two-page table of ordinary ammunition. You modify the bullets on that table to make bizarro ammunition. Incendiary shotgun slugs with silver cores? No problem!
Ultra-Tech has smart missiles that are statted as characters. Any ability a character can have, and any item a character can carry, can be the payload of a smart missile.
Acrofatic: Fat characters have no penalty to dexterity, speed, or Acrobatics. They also float well. However, their maximum Health is limited if sufficiently fat, which affects speed slightly, making it more expensive for them to be fast.
In 3rd Edition and before your extra weight is counted as part of your character's carrying encumbrance, which does provide penalties to movement and a number of skills. These rules were reworked in the Fourth Edition.
The Ageless: Unaging. This means only that the character will never grow older or die of old age it confers no resistance to disease or harm. Other forms of immortality require additional powers.
All Swords Are the Same: The basic set plays this straight, grouping various similar kinds of weapons together. In the Martial Arts and Low-Tech books, however, weapons are only grouped together if they are completely identical, like a Japanese yari and a generic spear.
Annoying Arrows: Averted, arrows do a lot of damage, and a good archer stands a good chance to bring down even really tough fighters with 1 or 2 shots.
Arbitrary Gun Power: One of the most systematic aversions possible. The closest anyone been able to come to divining the formula used by the authors goes on for pages.
Armor Is Useless: Spaceships, at least in 4e, carry weapons that massively overpower armor of their size or smaller. At TL 10 a 1000 ton ship can carry enough particle beams in one system to destroy all but the most heavily armored 1000 ton ships in a single turn.
Bold Inflation: Their official style guide notes that the game's title is bold, italicized and all caps (GURPS) and long citations to their own products can get this look.
Born Lucky: Serendipity for happy coincidences. Luck allows rerolls and is noted in a few places as being pseudo-realistic for highly skilled people. Super Luck gives the power to completely dictate the outcome of a single action.
Blood Bath: Vampires in GURPS Fantasy can only heal their injuries by bathing in blood.
Blood Knight: The Bloodlust disadvantage often makes this a defining character trait.
Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: High-Tech recommends several things that can be laid over barbed wire to provide a safe way to get past it: a log, a sheet of metal or thick plastic, or a body.
Chunky Salsa Rule: If a character is damaged to -10x HP, they are not only dead (which occurs automatically at -5x HP if they don't die sooner) but destroyed. Exactly what this means depends on the source of the damage, from total incineration or dissolution for fire or acid, to merely being very very much pincushioned by arrows. This will often preclude means of resurrection that require a recoverable body.
Combinatorial Explosion: The treasure tables in the splatbooks aren't unusually long, but there are a lot of modifiers that can be applied to said treasure, and those modifiers can usually be stacked. So a generic "armor table" extends to cover helms, animal armor, and everything else that might protect your skin.
The Dungeon Fantasy supplement on treasure claims to have eighty trillion possible treasures. Accomplished by having each table tell the GM to select another table to roll on.
Powers adds several pages of generic modifiers that cause the same effect with advantages.
The Conspiracy: Steve Jackson Games is quite big on conspiracy gaming in general, and GURPS Illuminati is an invaluable resource when it comes to such games.
Contrived Coincidence: Serendipity lets you, the player, specify a random event that would be helpful to you, the character, and have it happen.
Crazy-Prepared: You can make character sheets for just about anything, like plants and planets. Some GMs like to do this for pretty much every obstacle the players might encounter. There are also Techniques, a way to brush up on a specific aspect of a skill; meticulous players can use these to "buy off" any penalty they might have to roll against.
A good roll against Tactics skill at the start of a battle means your character thought ahead, so you get an advantageous starting position.
The Traps skill is just as good for setting traps as disarming them.
Critical Existence Failure: Averted. When you're below 1/3 HP, you can only move half as fast as usual, which makes you easier to hit. When you're below 0 HP, you have to roll your health every turn to do anything at all without collapsing. But game masters who want cinematic hack'n'slash games often just ignore this when it's inconvenient.
Affliction: Heart Attack will make your victim roll against HT. If they fail, they die in a few minutes. Within those minutes, they can be resuscitated... unless the affliction was Irresistible.
Crossover Cosmology: Infinite Worlds suggests that echoes exist for many, if not all fictional works (at the GM's discretion). A throwaway line mentions the existence of the Land of Oz on one alternate world.
Damage Reduction: The primary benefit of wearing/installing armor is reducing damage received when your other defences fail you. DR is also an advantage that can be purchased by characters, races, etc. One to three points of damage reduction seems to be the "realistic" limit for natural DR, possessed by real animals with thick hides/scales or purchasable by players without needing specific GM approval. Previous versions featured the Toughness advantage, a more expensive DR with a two point Cap specifically for human use, with the base advantage restricted to supers or races.
Armor piercing attacks generally take the form of a divisor, reducing DR by half or more.
The Damage reduction advantage also has a host of options to modify its function, in particular conjunction with Damage Typing. The advantage could be used to simulate anything from thick skin to magical resistance against a given element to an ablative force field that needs recharging.
Damage Typing: Nearly every possible way it could be handled. There's burning, corrosion, crushing, cutting, impaling, small piercing, piercing, large piercing, huge piercing and toxic. All damage types will end up reducing the victim's hit points—you don't have to track damage separately for the different types—but some damage types give a multiplier to the amount of damage that gets through the victim's armor. Further, some kinds of armor give varying amounts of protection depending on what sort of damage they are protecting from. On top of that there are also attacks that damage fatigue points, making characters more exhausted rather than damaged. Then after all of that it also handles radiation damage as a sort of hybrid between the other types of damage. In short, rules for every possible way one could cause damage and different ways characters are expected to react to them.
The Supernatural Durability Advantage is basically custom made for this trope.
Dance Battler: The Dancing skill can be used to feint or even kick enemies in melee combat.
Determinator: Stronger characters in good physical condition can take enough damage that would kill lesser characters outright.
Development Gag: When Steve Jackson was working on the system originally, he referred to it as the "Great Unnamed Role-Playing System" in his "Where We're Going" columns in The Space Gamer, until he could come up with a "real" name. The acronym amused him sufficiently that he just made a name that worked with the letters.
The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: GURPS sourcebooks are notorious for how complete they are, in many cases the setting and research in them is used by gamers using other systems because of how well written they tend to be. In something of a Crowning Moment Of Awesome, the third edition Bio-Tech book, published in 2002, was noted to be as up to date on it real world Biotech as some college textbooks on the issue, by a variety of professionals in the field. The Transhuman Space supplement Deep Beyond includes calculations about the conditions on the Galilean moons and Titan from the space scientist who co-wrote the book... and details that were in GURPS before they hit print in the academic journals. And in 1997 the Camelot sourcebook actually ended up on the recommended reading list for a course in Arthurian Literature at Indiana University.
Diving Save: Possible by combining dodge and drop with sacrificial dodge. If the dodge is good enough the rescuer can escape harm too.
Dodge the Bullet: Sort of. You can use the Dodge defense against bullets but it doesn't strictly represent dodging. Most moving things get a Dodge stats to represent that fact that they're not perfectly predictable.
Don't Sneak Up On Me Like That: The "Berserk" disadvantage, in addition to everything else the disadvantage entails (rabidly attacking every enemy on hand with whatever weapon is on hand), also conveys this, treating anyone trying to restrain the character, friend or enemy, as an enemy. Earlier editions nicknamed the berserker rage "the Doom of the North" for this very reason.
Fiction as Cover-Up: In GURPS Illuminati, the Conspiracy encourages the Weekly World News and similar publications to write up stories about conspiracy so that the Serious Press won't believe them.
Flamethrower Backfire: Technomancer. If a flamethrower's backpack fuel tank is penetrated, it has a 1/6 chance (1/3 if it was a fire attack) to explode. The damage done depends on how many shots are left in the tank.
Genericist Government: Government regulations are represented by Control Ratings. If the CR is greater than the Legality Class of an item or action, you roll a die against the difference between the CR and the LC to decide if it's legal.
Genre-Busting: Most volumes come with tips on how to use other volumes with them.
Genre Savvy: The 4th Edition Basic Set has notes on alternate forms of play (like email and IRC roleplaying), and includes a short bit on MMORPGs. It fully admits that any discussion of the games will be "outdated in six months and laughably crude in two years", and declines to provide details beyond "Look it up."
Tactical Shooting, the two volumes of Pulp Guns, and SEALs in Vietnam add even more.
Hack and Slash: The Dungeon Fantasy book is for when you want to roll back GURPS to the days where adventurers looted tombs for no reason other than random treasure. It's notable for showing their work as much as they do anywhere else, and explicitly banning any abilities (such as teleportation or great wealth) that work against dungeon-crawling.
Hard-Coded Hostility: In GURPS} War Against The Chtorr, as in the novels it's based on, there is no way to communicate or negotiate with the alien ecosystem and giant man-eating worms invading and un-terraforming Earth. It's eather kill, or be eaten.
Impossible Item Drop: Parodied in GURPS: Creatures of the Night which includes a completely immobile plant monster that comes complete with a treasure trove full of things that are useful when trying to kill plant monsters. Why? Because it enjoys murdering adventurers and taking their stuff (which it then buries somehow).
Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: To an extent. Beam weapons do less basic damage than projectile weapons because the developers scale the damage differently. On the other hand beam weapons are usually better at bypassing a target's armor.
Lawful Stupid: The Honesty disadvantage can encourage this. Though the character can break the law if he makes his control roll for the disadvantage, permitting characters with less severe "Honesty"
Like Reality Unless Noted: GURPS tries to be realistic, and games using the default rules will be fairly gritty. But if you enable the relevant optional rules, and buy "cinematic" traits, you'll bring the game away from reality and toward the genre of your choice.
The common term among fans is that GURPS presents a "gameable abstraction", the more realism you insist on the harder it is to actually play the game. Forums posts are nonetheless full of people trying to make things more realistic.
Loads and Loads of Rules: Most of them are described as "optional" in the books. Hardly anyone really plays the game with only the mandatory rules, so to get a game started, the game master needs to make a list of the optional rules he wants to use.
Long List: Most of the character creation "rules" are really menus of traits that characters can have. Enormous menus. There are over four hundred skills! Of course, only a few of those will be useful for a particular game, so GMs regularly make their own less-intimidating lists, perhaps in the trait sorter.
Magic A Is Magic A: The sourcebook GURPS Thaumatology exists entirely to handle strange and unusual magic systems.
Magic Knight: Being a classless system it is very easy to make character that fits this description
Magitek: More or less the point of the Technomancer setting. Turns out that atomic bombs are really useful for summoning Eldritch Abominations!
Mama Bear: A sidebar in GURPS Bestiary makes it very clear why you shouldn't get between a mother animal and her young.
New Rules as the Genre demands: Keeping with the generic nature of the system the rules are designed to be turned on and off depending on genera, each genre sourcebook has a list of core rules to not include and/or new rules to act as substitutions to make the game closer the target genre. This has led many critics of the game to say that GURPS isn't as "universal" as Steve Jackson likes to advertise.
The new rules were collected into the Compendia in Third Edition, and the Fourth Edition corebooks include most of these additions. They do not include the detailed rules for interconnected superpowers, or martial arts styles, or spaceship construction; but those additions are comparable in scope to the addition of a new equipment list.
And even some of those are just combinations of traits from the basic rules. A Martial Arts style, for example, is just a slate of skills, advantages and techniques, most or all of which have already been laid out in the original rules; the supplement just gives the "blueprint" to put the "parts" together.
Plot Hole: Yes, there's a trait for this: Gizmo allows you to retroactively have always been carrying a small useful item, regardless of how little sense it makes. You can still be carrying the item even if you were strip-searched recently. Serendipity allows you to get even more arbitrary.
Psychic Powers: A whole chapter is dedicated to explaining how to modify advantages and disadvantages to become these, and how to build characters that use them effectively
Quicksand Box: The excess of options for character creation can cause this effect. Templates mitigate the problem, but if you stick too strictly to them, you'll miss out on the main benefit of the system.
Ranked by I.Q.: The game uses "IQ" as the short-form name of the Intelligence stat — a measure of all forms of intelligence, independent of culture or species — although it has barely any relation to actual measures of IQ. Apparently it wasn't meant to.
Raygun Gothic: Tales of the Solar Patrol covers Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers-type space exploration, while Atomic Horror covers the aesthetic of the 1950's B movie, such as radioactive giant insects, flying saucers, man-eating plants and the like.
Retcon: The introduction of sheath rules in 4e to explain why swords were so heavy.
Reality Quakes and Ontocylsms are mentioned as having this effect in Infinite Worlds and are "especially common in words with superhumans".
Rules Conversions: Even if GURPSdoesn't have the sourcebook you want, someone has probably made a conversion guide for it.
Rule of Cool: "When in doubt, roll and shout!" Book 2 of the Basic Set includes some guidelines for how to fudge modifiers when the action is too awesome for looking things up in tables.
The Daredevil advantage gives a bonus to all rolls made in situations where you're taking unnecessary risks, because that makes you cool.
For one point, you can buy a "Schtick," which allows you to define a Character Tic, and then guarantees that you'll always be able to do that, even when you'd expect it to be impossible: run in high heels across rough terrain at no penalty, for instance, or keep your clothes clean and cool while swimming in the wilderness.
Rule Playing: If you buy too many Obsessions, Phobias, or Duties.
Running Gag: After many years of waiting the 4e Low-Tech has gained an extensive mythology due to the number of questions for which the offical answer was "It will be in Low-tech". Now not only will it answer all of your questions about GURPS, it will contain the cure for cancer and be hand delivered by Jesus.
Sapient Cetaceans: The Transhuman Space setting plays with this, as described in the deep-sea sourcebook Under Pressure. On the one hand there are "Cetanists"; "Ghosts" and AIs who believe in the intelligence and spirituality of whales and dolphins, and express this by wearing dolphin bioshells (biological bodies that can run an AI or Ghost) and joining a pod. On the other hand, there are actual dolphins; who are certainly bright enough that translator software works, but are also bullies, mildly sociopathic and, in short, wild animals. And on the third hand there are Doolittles and Delphi; dolphins who've been uplifted, but who often have the same "personality disorders" (by human standards) as their wild kin. They also find Cetanists a bit disturbing. And then there's Coak, a Delphi who wishes he was a normal dolphin to the extent that he now runs an anti-uplift terrorist organisation.
And then, of course, there's the GURPS adaptation of the Uplift setting, where Fins (Uplifted Dolphins) are also a playable species, complete with the tech from the books that lets them operate out of water.
Sapient Tank: Shows up in Reign Of Steal and OGRE or a player character in the right games.
School of Seduction: The School of Performing and Creative Arts in GURPS: Illuminati University.
Scoundrel Code: The game offers a Pirate's Code of Honor in addition to the more standard types. It is, needless to say, less restrictive.
Serial Escalation: Any character from ANY setting can be made into a player character in GURPS (with enough points).
Sharpened to a Single Atom: Superfine blades divide damage resistance by two. Monowire blades divide damage resistance by ten. Nanothorn blades divide damage resistance by ten and shreds the bonds that hold the atoms in molecules together.
Shout Out: In GURPSInternational Super Teams, Steam-Tech and Illuminati.
Shown Their Work: The sourcebooks have bibliographies that regularly span three or four pages.
Simplified Spellcasting: 3E Technomancer. Mages start out needing to use words and actions, but experienced casters just need to concentrate.
Square/Cube Law: actually taken into account when making characters, larger characters can purchase Strength more cheaply, but have a higher minimum, and with the higher Strength a character gets a higher mass, the weight and size tables also support this data.
The Growth advantage uses what could be called the square/square law: strength measured in weight you can lift only needs to scale with the square of height. Probably falls under Acceptable Breaks from Reality, since Growth already blatantly violates conservation of mass/energy.
Squishy Wizard: generally averted, but can be played straight, as characters with lots of exotic supernatural powers rarely have a use for Strength (which is tied to HP), but it is not a core aspect of the system.
Technology Levels: Used by name. Every skill that relies on tools has an associated Tech Level. If you try to use that skill with tools of a different Tech Level, you'll get a penalty in proportion to the difference. The rules acknowledge that the TL ratings are arbitrary, and technological progress isn't really linear, so the GM can assign different TLs to different parts of a society, and for some skills, he's advised to let characters quickly learn how to use individual items of an unfamiliar TL without putting points into it.
The Multiverse: Most obviously, Infinite Worlds. But if that doesn't suit you, a variety of other planar cosmologies are available.
The Tetris Effect: Because of the eclectic nature of the system, enthusiasts are always trying to incorporate characters, powers, weapons... etc. into it.
You know you're a true fan when you find yourself unconsciously figuring out how you would stat up your friends and co-workers.
Time Travel: The basic set includes it as the Jumper (Time) advantage.
A large number of those source books exist for time travel games.
Token Evil Teammate: Among the sample characters given in GURPS 4th Edition, Baron Janos Telkozep seems to be one. He's a vampire who's backstory is that he's working for the good guys for purely selfish reasons, and close inspection of his character sheet suggests he's not a Friendly Neighborhood Vampire but rather a murderous, greedy bastard. Oh, and he's named after a god with two faces.
Variable-Length Chain: The Monowire Whip from GURPS Ultra-Tech is so thin, you can fit miles of it in a spool the size of your hand. (It's also invisible, unless you deliberately build markers into it.)
Vengeful Vending Machine: The campus vending machines in GURPS: I.O.U. will dispense almost anything a character might need: from a cold soda to a flamethrower. However, they don't always give you what you ask for.
Violation of Common Sense: While this trope is common to tabletop RPGs in general, GURPS takes the extra step of providing an advantage called Common Sense. If the GM makes you take it (and if you're the sort of player who needs it, he really should), he'll roll your IQ when you're about to do something stupid; success means he stops you. This makes it possible to fail a Common Sense roll.
We Will Wear Armor in the Future: Armor starts to make a comeback in TL 7 with the discovery of lightweight, bullet-resistant synthetics such as kevlar. In some TL 10+ campaigns armor is vital, while in others weapons are so devastating that dodging or shooting first is far more important.
Weirdness Magnet: The trait's description provides the page quote. Technically a disadvantage, but your mileage is gonna vary there.
It's counted as a disadvantage because it's inconvenient for the character. Cool, but inconvenient. (With the potential to be downright dangerous sometimes.)
Writers Cannot Do Math: Averted. The editor's original career track was particle physics. 3e's infamous Vehicles books was notoriously complex. In 4e all the difficult math is done beforehand and put in tables. When supplements (and issues of Pyramid) let people peek behind the curtain phrases like "nasty transcendental equations" have been known to show up.
X-Ray Sparks: 3rd Edition supplement Myth. One of the illustrations (on page 98) is an archmage named Rabican using a magical sword to fire a lightning bolt at a Fallen Lord named Shiver. Shiver's skeleton can be seen inside her body when the bolt hits her.