Reflections on GURPS

Reflections on Feng Shui

The first GURPS book I bought was GURPS Space. It was the only the bookstore had in stock, and for some reason I thought it might be a complete and standalone game. I’d never heard of the system before, and had no idea what I was getting myself into.

A read-through cleared things up for me, but I wasn’t bothered. The book was still fascinatingly useful, collecting a whole bunch of interesting and useful information about both real world space, and fictional genre applications.

Most interesting, perhaps, was the system to randomly – but logically – generate star systems. Even without the core GURPS book… which I did eventually buy… I spent hours just rolling up starfaring settings to set stories in.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always been a huge GURPS fan. I love research. I love learning new things. GURPS books are amazingly handy reference materials, and long before I was writing professionally, I used them to make sure what I was doing was as accurate as I could manage.

But oh my god the system is so crunchy!

It’s really not. GURPS can appear intimidating at first blush – so many options, so many skills, so many choices – but all that crunchiness is front loaded, and optional. The raw basics of the system is very simple: 3d6, get under your target number.

Everything beyond that can be fine-tuned.

I’m not a system evangelist, though. I firmly believe that a game system is only a tool, and that while you can really use any system to run any game, there is always a best system for any given project.

To me, where GURPS excels is in two cases:

  1. Where no other system exists to do what you want to do
  2. Low-powered realistic gritty gaming

And when I was playing GURPS, in the mid-90s on, that was largely what I was looking for. I ran street-level superhero games, dark low-fantasy games, brutal cyberpunk murderfests. There were a few years where I used it for basically everything, but as I collected other systems, I’d find something better for certain types of game.

For everything else, though, there was GURPS. I learned it well enough that I didn’t even need the books, most of the time.

I still bought them, though. I spend hundreds of dollars on GURPS books, sold them when 4e was released, and used the money to buy the 4e books.

I won’t lie.

GURPS is showing its age. It creaks a little when it walks, and gets this pain in its knee when it rains. It’s still the best there is at what it does: what no other system wants to.

Michael Coorlim

Michael Coorlim is a teller of strange stories for stranger people. He collects them, the oddballs. The mystics and fire-spinners, the sages and tricksters. He curates their tales, combines their elements and lets them rattle around inside his rock-tumbler skull until they gleam, then spills them loose onto the page for like-minded readers to enjoy.
Michael Coorlim

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Reflections on Feng Shui

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