Why Play GURPS?

Basic Set

Right now is a great time to be an RPG player. There are dozens of great games out there, and the roleplaying world is constantly growing with new systems, Kickstarter campaigns, livestreams, RPG shows, and online communities. In fact, there’s so much out there that even experienced gamers face a paradox of choice: with so many great games, how do you decide what to play?

This site aims to promote GURPS because GURPS has one of the strongest offerings on the market today. It’s not a perfect game—no game is. But there are a lot of reasons to take GURPS seriously. If you are a new gamer, learning GURPS is like getting the master key to playing almost any kind of RPG. If you are an experienced gamer, you can use GURPS for your games and tailor it to include the vast majority of elements from other systems. In either case, there are a lot of advantages to playing GURPS.

Learn Once, Play Anything

GURPS is designed to be infinitely flexible, which means that you can run or play any kind of game within GURPS. Lots of systems are tailored for specific kinds of games (such as hack-and-slash fantasy, esoteric horror, or cyberpunk). But, the problem is that running a game in any of those systems requires learning the system from scratch.

One of the biggest advantages of GURPS is that you can learn one ruleset and transfer that knowledge from game to game. Instead of learning a new set of rules for each game, you and your players can use the same rules and simply add in a few options to customize each game. By using the same core rules, you can spend more time playing and less time re-learning the fundamentals of each game system.

The more games you play, the more this advantage matters. If you have a single ongoing campaign, it doesn’t matter much what system you run because you’ll become fluent in that system with time. But, if you play a number of different games, running all those games in GURPS is like being able to concentrate all your experience points into a single skill—you’ll get to demigod levels of skill quickly instead of knowing a bunch of games at the novice level. This usually translates to a more rewarding game experience, because instead of wondering “can I do this?”, you’ll be able to act on your moments of creative inspiration because you’ll know how to use the rules to accomplish what you want.

Ease of Play

Fundamentally, GURPS is played with a simple mechanic: decide what you want to try, roll three dice, and compare the sum against your target number for the skill or ability in question. That’s it.

The game has a reputation for complexity because it has so many options to model a wide variety of game styles, but all of those are optional (hence the word, “options”). I’ll admit that the rulebooks would benefit from a more streamlined presentation so new GMs can determine what rules they need, but the core mechanic is simple, elegant, and straightforward.

Even character creation can be simple within GURPS. Again, the presentation obscures how straightforward characters are. Even a novice can build a functional character in minutes by just choosing attribute levels and skills. With a little help from an experienced player or a selection of setting-appropriate templates, even complex characters can be designed with ease.

Just like some people love GURPS because it has rules for every situation, some people love GURPS because there are options to model anything on their character sheets. That level of detail is possible, but it’s not required. Underlying all those details is a simple framework for building characters, and it can be as easy to build those characters as it is to play them.

Support Resources

GURPS Fourth Edition was published in 2004, and the sheer breadth of supplements published since then is stunning. Quite simply, it’s hard to think of a topic that hasn’t been written about for GURPS. If you want help in crafting the perfect magic system for your setting, setting a mood for your mystery-horror table, or modeling your PCs on the latest superhero blockbuster, there’s a resource for that.

Not only is there an extensive catalog of GURPS products, but those products are some of the most detailed RPG resources you’ve ever read. GURPS Martial Arts is more than rules for combat—it’s a crash course in fighting styles from around the world as well as film, books, and other media. Gear books like Low Tech and Bio Tech include a massive list of items as well as detailed descriptions of the worldbuilding assumptions that underlie the lists.

When you add in the fan community behind GURPS, which includes frequent answers from the line editors and authors to questions posed at the official Steve Jackson Games Forums, you have some of the best game support available.

The two things you won’t find in GURPS publications are pre-made adventure modules or extensive setting books. However, because GURPS is a universal system, it’s possible to convert other RPG campaigns or sourcebooks (as well as movies, comics, and books) into GURPS mechanics. The bottom line is that, if you need a resource, chances are that GURPS has it or can borrow it.

Some Drawbacks

Although GURPS has lots of strengths, there are kinds of games that it doesn’t do well. If you want to play one of these styles, GURPS may not be the best choice. While you probably can make these things happen in GURPS, it may be messy and you may be better suited with a ruleset designed around these needs.

  • GM-Less Play: GURPS is intrinsically a GM-based system, and it relies on GM judgment calls to use (or turn off) specific rules, to set limits on player characters, and to adjudicate in-game situations. If you want to play a game without a GM, GURPS will be challenging because you will need a way to fill those responsibilities from your playgroup. It can be done, but it requires some deliberate alterations.
  • Solo Play: For the same reasons, GURPS requires some heavy tweaking in order to accommodate solo play. It can be done, but the end result is a different experience from most RPGs that are built for solo play. Whether GURPS offers an acceptable solo play experience depends on what your expectations are, but it’s quite possible that you’ll have a better experience with a different system.
  • Player-vs-Player: In theory, GURPS can accommodate player-vs-player gaming as well as any system because PCs and NPCs are built on the exact same point scale. However, GURPS is written from the assumption that the players are a cooperative team rather than competitive individuals, and so there aren’t unique mechanisms for resolving player-vs-player interactions like what many player-vs-player RPGs provide. If you understand that and have a GM who is confident in handling inter-player conflict, GURPS will work—but it may not be as easy to run as other systems.

10 thoughts on “Why Play GURPS?”

  1. Hi Colin, great article!

    I think you nailed exactly what makes GURPS an excellent choice for GMs (and especially GMs who like to play in various settings). Many of the advantages you detail here are part of the reasons I chose to stick with GURPS a long time ago, and never looked back.

    I have a question though: what do you mean when you say GURPS isn’t tailored for solo games? By ‘solo’, do you mean one GM and one player, or just one GM/player person?

    1. Hi Gotha, thanks for reading!

      By solo games, I mean where there is one participant total; GURPS really isn’t built for that. I suppose you could do it, but it would be more challenging for a new roleplayer because the rules aren’t written with that scenario in mind. GURPS does work for pairs (one GM and one player), although I don’t have much experience playing in games that small.

      1. I just to be a GURPSer, but two years ago I ‘discover’ EABA v2 (from BTRC.net) and I switch and naver look back. I LOVE GURPS but it’s showing his age in some spots, EABA does for me the same that gurps does but ‘fixing’ a lot of things I don’t like: (the necesity of sourcebooks apart from the core to have more options for ‘powers’, gadgets, magic, etc) is one, EABA have a system to build everything a la HERO but it’s faster to do once you get it and it’s right there in the corebook, the same for ‘martial arts’, magic, gadgets… other thing is the 1s combats, EABA has and exponential growing turn, and this is the main thing that turn me off when I see EABA the first time, but after tried it works to do the same things to eaba (like a duel of revolvers in the wild west) but it permit other things too, it just works fine…I still love GURPS but I don’t fine any reason to play it again, I still use the sourcebooks since EABA is also ‘reality based’ it pretty easy traslate things I find useful in GURPS to EABA.
        I don’t came here to start a flame war, I still love GURPS, I just give another option for those who are looking for a generic and universal system and don’t like the one second turns (and slow combats) or don’t like to have many sourcebook and only have the core book for everything (yeah, you can just use GURPS corebooks but if you want more magic o equipment you have to rely on his sourcerbooks, cause don’t have a system to BUILD that for yourself other than ‘eyeballing’ things).
        I’ll keep reading your blog, is nice to see more blog about GURPS (there is a lot of savage worlds and fate) so any blog of any system with a more ‘reality’ feeling is thumbs up for me.

        1. I’m not familiar with EABA, but I appreciate the constructive comments comparing the systems. Can you say more about the exponentially growing turn idea from EABA? It sounds like an interesting idea.

          1. Well, EABA it’s a pretty unknow rpg cause the lack of marketing and cause it’s a pretty small company buy for me stands in perfect balance between ‘realistic’ feel and playability (and scales up to the cinematic pretty easy with little tweaks)…about the expanding turns a put it in the worlds of the author:
            “The EABA v2 combat model

            EABA v2 uses a new system for “combat time”. Everyone loves to do “stuff” in a fight, but aside from standing in one spot and shooting (or swinging), getting things done in the normal turn scale of a second or so is really difficult. Hotwiring a car, hacking a computer, defusing a bomb, all kinds of stuff that happens in movies, but which is a bit unrealistic to cram into a ten-second firefight. So, EABA v2 uses an expanding turn scale that accentuates the immediate in the early stages of a fight and the dramatic in the later stages. This lets one player say “I’m shooting at the bad guys”, and another say “I run around the building, hotwire a car and then crash it through the back wall”. And both of these actions work out on the same time scale, using the same set of rules. It’s cool, it’s different, I think you will like it.”

            The first time I checked EABA 2 it turn me off (I was pursuing EABA v1 since uses 1 second turns like gurps)…but after tried it’s no really ‘different’ of 1 second turns, it still manage pretty well things like modern firearms, its just that, if combat gets longer, are more probabilities than you can do something else, and the best part for me its that you can put ‘deadlines’ in encounters, say: the police arrive in 15 minutes and you don’t have handweave it, it’s pretty sure that in 15 minutes you will finish a fight, but if its a diferent type of encounter (say, in the case of a zombie apocalyse and the help it’s coming in 15 minutes then its not like you spend all night of real time gaming running a combat against the zombies waiting for the help -I know it’s a bad example :/ – you just running 10 turns and after that it will have passed 15 minutes but, like i say, it keep it ‘real’ so by that time you probably are gone of ammunition and pretty fatigued if not dead)…

            You can check more in http://www.btrc.net I don’t work for BTRC, I just liked the system, even if you keep playing gurps you can pick up some ideas I think (like the way the armor works, and it’s not different from what I’ve seen sometimes in ‘gurpsballistics’ about using some similar sistem for the armor in gurps).

        2. How are sourcebooks mandatory or a drawback to GURPS? Nothing beyond the Basic books are required to play, the Basic Campaign books includes magic, martial arts, powers, gear, etc.

          The internet is full of reviews of GURPS sourcebooks as the opposite in fact, people that dislike GURPS buy the sourcebooks as … sources.

          Classically if you were interested in playing Vampire the Masquerade, you were forced to play the White Wolf system, the GURPS Blood Lines yielded a port of the system mechanics and source book for the genre. This is a bad thing? Why would someone want this if they weren’t interested in the Genre. Is there anything unique to this that an experienced GM couldn’t do on their own? Of course not.

          If someone enjoyed The Prisoner series, that source book is quite a thing. Why is that a bad thing for GURPS?

          If someone was interested in a alternative magic “systems” (Mage the Assension, a Call of Cthulhu like magic for example), GURPS had you covered with a number of written tools, none of these required. They are obviously just formal presentations of the existing system, formal inspirations as it were.

          The presentation your giving is if you want Martial Arts or Magic, you need to go to the sourcebooks. That just isn’t true. The Martial Arts book is the same mechanics and rules that are in the Basic book. They MA book gives a lot of background in a wealth of combat styles, history, attempts to build a lot tooling to recreate movie/historic settings options.

          1. Well, yes. You can ‘expand’ the system by your own fiat but then why to use ‘the system’? Yes, there are rules for magic, the GURPS magic system, if you want something different then you have to make it on your own or GET A SOURCEBOOK. If you do it for yourself then its a drawback cause doesnt give you tools for make it, you have to eyeball it all. If you get a sourcebook then you get rules tested about the subject of the sourcebook, so yes, you need the sourcebooks (depend which genre is the sourcebook that you will need)…If you can do it eyeballign this doesn’t count as a system, you can do that in any other system too. And you have to undesrtand that it works that way because SJG it’s a company and need to sell books, if they only sell the corebook and that will work for you forever then his bussines model isn’t going to work (it has already problems selling GURPs with all the sourcebooks and material in PDFs that they keep putting)…in systems like, for example EABA the intention of the author its that you only need the corebook and he doesnt care if you don’t buy anything else cause there is not sourcebooks, there are only ‘settings’ that gives you examples of how to use the powersystem in EABA to build anything for that genre in that setting, thats because his company its only one guy and he can afford to make it with one purchase only one time per person…but my thing here is not to be the EABA advocate… I love GURPS but the ‘universal’ part its more a marketing thing for which you need the sourcebooks or are on your own (yes, you have the forums too, but they don’t will give you ‘the system’ by which they ‘build’ or ‘balance’ their rules)…it’s matter of preferences, I like to tinker with a framework to build the thing that I need (a la HERO SYSTEM), I see the selling point of GURPS of have it gear, magic system, powers(the “powers” book is something more akin to HERO SYSTEM too, and for me it’s a bad thing that the little things that adds are not in the cores and that they keep the ‘old magic system’ instead of building with powers…but its the SJG’s way: all it’s “ad hoc rules”) in a ‘catalog’ way.

  2. Hi Colin!
    I’m a veteran player of Gurps and really liked your blog – It was a precious discover for me, who believed since the first time mastering the game that it could be played by an “easy way”. Last year I’ve started with some friends a RPG blog in portuguese (GURPS was in Brazil, for some time, the number one played RPG). I would like to know if you can grant me permission to translate and publish your articles on our blog giving, of course, the proper credits.
    Thanks in advance!

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