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Some musings on GURPS

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
Inspired by this thread, I'd like to write a bit about why I like GURPS.

I use GURPS preferentially because to me it is a very solid system onto which I can hang almost any campaign framework imaginable - and which allows me to work out the consequences of mixing wildly different elements.

Many games, especially "narrative" ones, abstract many mechanical details. A fireball does damage like a hand grenade, and thus they are both functionally the same. Instead, there are often "narrative" descriptors. This seems to work for a great many people, and far be it from me to say they are having BadWrongFun. But maybe it's the physicist in me but I need to know precisely what something is capable of, and such narrative descriptors leave too much open for interpretation for my tastes - and when the player's interpretation clashes with that of the GM, the player's carefully laid plans will fall apart. Or worse, player character competence will be based on how much the player can fast-talk the GM.

In GURPS, effects are generally spelled out clearly and precisely, and if you want a precise effect you usually have a good idea of how to get there in terms of mechanics.

And it is this precision that, IMO, makes mixing different genres truly interesting. The basic GURPS framework has all sorts of different "power sources" for player characters. A partial list includes:

- Modern-day technology.
- Ultra-tech technology (including bio-tech, cybernetic implants, "super-science"...)
- Basic GURPS Magic
- The numerous magic alternatives and variants from GURPS Thaumaturgy
- Psionic powers
- The "Powers" system from GURPS Powers, which itself can be tweaked into innumerable variants.
- Martial arts styles, both realistic and cinematic

and so forth. And all of these not only look differently, they feel differently and are far more than just "reskins" of each other with a few narrative descriptors on top. So when you pick two (or three, or four...) different power sources for your campaign, you can work out how they interact and what it means for your setting - when a particular power source is superior or inferior, and what happens if you combine them. And this in turn can inspire you and add to your setting in ways you hadn't even imagined when you started out.


I realize I was rambling, but I hope I made sense nonetheless. Anyway, this is why I like GURPS - it's not for everyone, but it works for me.
 
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Toms dad

New member
Banned
I agree with that, and it's big part of why I like GURPS as well.

For me I find different mechanics influence the 'feel' of a game which helps me emulate the genre.
 

downer

Fairy Tale King
Validated User
While I understand the appeal of GURPS, I find it quickly exhausts my capacity for remembering all those mechanics. It's certainly cool if a fireball is unique and different from a hand grenade or a pyrokinetic strike, but that means I actually have to know what those differences are and apply them correctly, because otherwise that uniqueness is going to disappear. And GURPS has so many options, dials and fiddly bits, I simply get lost, even if I just use two different approaches, let alone more. I end up digging through several books anytime somebody wants to do anything at all. That slows the game down to a crawl and ruins everybody's fun.

I guess it's a problem of running too many different systems. If all I ever used was GURPS, it might work, because eventually I get to the point where I have it all down and can do it without looking up anything. But GURPS has its own distinct style and doesn't always fit the feel of what I'm trying to do. For example, I've found it completely unsuited to cinematic stuff, even with what it calls "cinematic" rules options, because it is just too ponderous and can't sweat the small stuff. So I have been unable to make it my universal go-to game, and will never be able to run it as smoothly as I'd like to.

Games focused around universal mechanics, on the other hand, where each power is just a reskin of a generic mechanic, allow me to pick them up and play them, without having to learn all the differences between fireballs, hand grenades and pyrokinetic attacks. The results may be a little bland mechanically, but at least they remain manageable.
 

ShawnDriscoll

New member
Banned
People should use the RPG that works for them. I've used GURPS for computer games. But I would never play GURPS manually with pen and paper.
 
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Mailanka

Honest Eshu
Validated User
A few stories.

The first: One setting that has been bumping around in my noggin I've called "Protocols of the Dark Engine." The eponymous Dark Engine is a set of vast, interstellar machinery that powers mankind's ancient civilization. The heart of the Dark Engine are the (intelligent, matroshka-brain) Dyson Shells that orbit red dwarfs. The arms of the Dark Engine are filaments of dark matter and entangled particles spread whisker thin between stars, and the hands of the Dark Engine are the many devices scattered on human worlds, things that control gravity rigs, weather satellites, and even keep floating cities in their skies. The Dark Engine even allows FTL travel, once it's in place. But you have to put the Dark Engine in place, and you must follow standard physics to do this, thus you have vast STL ships that travel from star to star, laying down down the "tracks" of the dark engine, and once it gets to the new system, it begins to dismantle asteroids, laying down the ground work for dark engine components in this new system, prepping worlds for colonization and so on, then it fuels up and takes off for the next star system. These, completely automated, ships have been doing this for eight thousand years. If you take a map of the galaxy on an A4, the amount of space mankind has extended its grasp to would cover an amount of space occupied by a quarter placed on the map. Still, that covers THOUSANDS of stars.

Naturally, a civilization cannot continue uninterrupted for 8000 years, and so the Protocols of the Dark Engine is about the collapse of that civilization, the devastation wrought by rogue elements within the Dark Engine itself and rapacious new empires trying to impose their dark will, while the last relics of the will of lost paradise Earth stand, waging war against the coming of the long night. But as I worked on the design, a friend asked me "So if you got ahold of one of these constructor ships, turned it around, and shot it at a planet, what would happen?"

So I dug out the GURPS Spaceships book and worked out what it would take to build such a ship, starting with a variety of parameters (how much material did the ship need to create and in how much time? And then how quickly did I want it to move from system to system?) I ended up with a ship over a mile long, a vast behemoth that could travel at 0.9c. We calculated the results of firing it at a planet in two ways. First, we took the actual math from Atomic Rockets, taking the speed and the mass and getting our results. Atomic Rockets reports boiled oceans, blasted atmosphere and a vast, molten crater: a total extinction event (but not planetary destruction). Then we took the GURPS Slam rules, derived the HP of the planet based on its mass, and found out what would happen based on those rules: The result is that the planet would not be "killed" but it would be below 0 HP, requiring both a "stun" check and "consciousness rolls" to keep "functioning." In short, a total extinction event, but wouldn't destroy the planet.

Amused by this, I told my friends, one of whom was a GURPS-hater. He groaned "This is what I hate about GURPS!" But I don't understand that. None of this was necessary. I could have just said "Constructor ships, really big, whatevs, you get it." It would be fine. It would work. But if I want I can explore the deep, internally consistent logic that GURPS provides and find these sorts of answers. I think my settings are richer as a result.

Another story

I'm running a samurai game in GURPS called "Cherry Blossom Rain." My players compare it to Game of Thrones if it was done as a high-octane Shonen Anime (So, I suppose, Warriors Orochi). One player, a lovely lady who's preferred system is no system at all or, grudgingly, Everway, who is too polite to voice her distaste for D&D and such games and merely avoids them like the plague, plays a tragic geisha in my game (the bastard daughter of one of the other players, who was sold to a brothel at a tender age by her stepfather who could not stand the shame she brought to her family, rescued by a skilled and powerful geisha who taught her how to love, dance and kill a man with a touch, and then was purchased by the prince of the most dangerous and untrustworthy clan of the game). I waited on pins and needles for her to become frustrated with the complexity of the system. But it never happened. She took to it like a fish takes to water... and as she played, it became increasingly clear why.

In D&D, she had to know the rules. She had to know what move to make, she had to know how the abstractions worked, and that she needed to use her Trumpeting Astral Seal of Hope against the Orc Captain as a Minor Action, but with a bonus from her Action point, etcetera and so on, and this hopelessly confused her. In GURPS, though, she never had to do this. Because GURPS works in a "realistic" manner, it operates basically the way one would expect real life to operate. She says what she sees her character doing, I tell her to roll something, and then it happens. If she finds she likes that, she just raises that (logically named) skill to improve that one aspect of her character. She's a huge fan of Flower Arranging, Poetry, Artist (Calligraphy), Meditation (Tea Ceremony) and Push. She's also investing deeply in the recently released Romantic Genius powers.

She descends from two clans: the cold, icy and beautiful Yukiumura clan from her mother's side (which is the clan she will claim, if you ask her), and the elegant, flawless and prestigious Shimada clan on her father's side. The Shimada have the motto "Hawks breed hawks, frogs breed frogs," a statement to their belief in breeding and class, but represents their association with hawks, including their eyes. The Shimada are masters of iajutsu, and their finest can defeat a man without drawing his blade, just by putting all of their imperious disdain into their gaze and looking deep into the eyes of another. The "Shimada Eyes," we call it, and it has a very simple representation in GURPS: the perk "Intimidating Gaze," which allows her (and her father) to simply glance at someone, not say anything, not DO anything, and roll Intimidation, to get what they want. Nobody else can do this, and indeed, it's pretty minor, but it adds so much flavor. So she's utterly in love with GURPS. She would never run it, she says, and I can understand why, but she would happily play in it again and again.

This is why I love GURPS. It provides me with details that other systems wouldn't. It shapes my creativity the way other systems don't. It's easy for even noobies to grasp, despite its reputation for complexity, and it allows for such specific depiction of characters that little signatures and beautiful bits of nuance begin to show up.
 
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Professor Phobos

Sweeper of Arcane Lore
Validated User
I like GURPS as well, though it's as far from my tastes as it is possible (suffice it to say I'm more a Fate type person). Perhaps to explain why I feel basically the exact opposite, and so shed some light on why GURPS is a good thing.

There are some specific things that bother me that involve that very precision; like appearance rolls for Patrons or other NPCs. I, as a GM, would rather say "Okay next week I'll do the spotlight episode for Player X, he's been kind of ignored lately, I see he has a dependent, I'll work that into the story." Oh no, says GURPS, you must roll to see if the dependent appears; it is unfair to just declare that by fiat, however much fun it might be. And the player gets mechanically penalized for dependent's death, even if that was like, the best session we have all year what with the tragic loss of Sidekick Bob! You should be rewarded for losing dependents! The tragic loss of supporting characters is practically the point to their existence! (I run a lot of horror games)

There are basically a host of examples where the rules exist to define an outcome I'd rather arbitrate myself or leave to the players. Like some of the other disadvantages; I'd rather let the player determine when, say, he has an alcoholic breakdown. What ends up happening is GURPS gives me the impression it wants to play the game for me; that players and GMs can't really be trusted to contrive good gameplay scenarios, that things need to be "balanced."

So it's basically the same feeling of disconnect and arbitrariness that people dislike about more narrative games where there's a mismatch in the conversation between players/GM, only it's GURPS in the discussion, it's not necessarily a neutral voice, and I don't like what it's saying and oh god it's obsessed about the petty details of firearms jesus shut up GURPS already.

Sorry, where was I?

Anyway on the other hand, the books are remarkably well produced, the system is thorough and robust, it scales well from rules-light to rules-superheavy. GURPS is the game I wish I liked, because there are any number of campaigns that would be fine and dandy with it I'd love to run. I'd love to compartmentalize down to one go-to system. If you want the game to be a very strong (and yet extremely flexible) voice at the table, and not fade into the background or model the narrative more directly, GURPS is like, the best there is at that. But the game, by default, extends too deep into what I consider firm character territory as a result.
 
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Toms dad

New member
Banned
While I understand the appeal of GURPS, I find it quickly exhausts my capacity for remembering all those mechanics. It's certainly cool if a fireball is unique and different from a hand grenade or a pyrokinetic strike, but that means I actually have to know what those differences are and apply them correctly, because otherwise that uniqueness is going to disappear. And GURPS has so many options, dials and fiddly bits, I simply get lost, even if I just use two different approaches, let alone more. I end up digging through several books anytime somebody wants to do anything at all. That slows the game down to a crawl and ruins everybody's fun.

I guess it's a problem of running too many different systems. If all I ever used was GURPS, it might work, because eventually I get to the point where I have it all down and can do it without looking up anything. But GURPS has its own distinct style and doesn't always fit the feel of what I'm trying to do. For example, I've found it completely unsuited to cinematic stuff, even with what it calls "cinematic" rules options, because it is just too ponderous and can't sweat the small stuff. So I have been unable to make it my universal go-to game, and will never be able to run it as smoothly as I'd like to.

Games focused around universal mechanics, on the other hand, where each power is just a reskin of a generic mechanic, allow me to pick them up and play them, without having to learn all the differences between fireballs, hand grenades and pyrokinetic attacks. The results may be a little bland mechanically, but at least they remain manageable.
I will admit that I'm still finding stuff in GURPS, GURPS does need a GM who knows it all, or in reality a GM who knows what they need to know.

I like GURPS as well, though it's as far from my tastes as it is possible (suffice it to say I'm more a Fate type person). Perhaps to explain why I feel basically the exact opposite, and so shed some light on why GURPS is a good thing.

There are some specific things that bother me that involve that very precision; like appearance rolls for Patrons or other NPCs. I, as a GM, would rather say "Okay next week I'll do the spotlight episode for Player X, he's been kind of ignored lately, I see he has a dependent, I'll work that into the story." Oh no, says GURPS, you must roll to see if the dependent appears; it is unfair to just declare that by fiat, however much fun it might be. And the player gets mechanically penalized for dependent's death, even if that was like, the best session we have all year what with the tragic loss of Sidekick Bob! You should be rewarded for losing dependents! The tragic loss of supporting characters is practically the point to their existence! (I run a lot of horror games)

There are basically a host of examples where the rules exist to define an outcome I'd rather arbitrate myself or leave to the players. Like some of the other disadvantages; I'd rather let the player determine when, say, he has an alcoholic breakdown. What ends up happening is GURPS gives me the impression it wants to play the game for me; that players and GMs can't really be trusted to contrive good gameplay scenarios, that things need to be "balanced."

So it's basically the same feeling of disconnect and arbitrariness that people dislike about more narrative games where there's a mismatch in the conversation between players/GM, only it's GURPS in the discussion, it's not necessarily a neutral voice, and I don't like what it's saying and oh god it's obsessed about the petty details of firearms jesus shut up GURPS already.

Sorry, where was I?

Anyway on the other hand, the books are remarkably well produced, the system is thorough and robust, it scales well from rules-light to rules-superheavy. GURPS is the game I wish I liked, because there are any number of campaigns that would be fine and dandy with it I'd love to run. I'd love to compartmentalize down to one go-to system. If you want the game to be a very strong (and yet extremely flexible) voice at the table, and not fade into the background or model the narrative more directly, GURPS is like, the best there is at that. But the game, by default, extends too deep into what I consider firm character territory as a result.
That said while I can see what your saying mechanically GURPS has rule zero as much as any other system, it's just it gives you rules if you don't have a better idea yourself.

TBH I think the fine art of GURPS is working out what to ignore and when to ignore it rather than what to use, but then it is Generic.

GURPS punishes good role-players because there are so many role-players out there that try to min/max.
Truly in the forty two year long war between the fair nation of 'good roleplayers' and the evil empire of the 'min maxers' the battles utilising GURPS and (insert your favourite system) were the fiercest. Thankfully the gods of the war torn world of roleplay-ia sent their chosen representatives known as GM's to help arbitrate both sides peacefully
 
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