A Roll of The Dice – GURPS – Steve Jackson Games


Review three in our journey around the world of Role Playing Games, and this week is one of my favorite systems to play, and the main game that actually got me into Role Playing in the first place, GURPS. Generic Universal Role Playing System, or GURPS for short, is a system that keeps itself so broad you can literally build any type of game you’ve ever wanted.
Space pirates raiding planets for uranium? Yeah that can happen. A circus of people who travel from town to town fighting evil and entertaining others? Oh yes, I’ve done that one too. Cyborg love bunnies whose only existence is to please one another and eliminate the leader of North Korea? Seriously, this is one I read a bit about and please don’t ever do it. The point is though, it can be done. GURPS gives the player and DM the ability to create a whole lot of something from nothing. There is so much to talk about, but I will do my best to condense it into a smaller review.

– GURPS was derived by Steve Jackson for the company Metagaming Concepts, under the moniker The Fantasy Trip. While not the exact same game, it carried most of the same elements.
– GURPS was later released in 1986 and 1987, giving us a book for developing characters, and one for basic adventuring rules.
– The FBI raided the Austin, Texas headquarters targeting the co-creator (author) of GURPS Cyberpunk. Apparently for crimes of hacking and cyber security (I know right, in 1990?).
– Fourth Edition was released in 2004, and promised to streamline the character creation process. It did make things quite a bit less convoluted, but you could not have gotten any more confusing than the original. They did a great job of making the system easily accessible for more basic role players, instead of catering to those players who spend days, months, or even years learning all about a new system before playing it.
– That brings us to modern day, and 12 years since GURPS did any sort of major releases for the public. Hopefully Steve Jackson gives us something in the near future. As of now, most players I talk to have not even heard of GURPS, because it is not played around town all that often.


This is not an easy question to answer, as there is no “singular” way to play. There is no end all be all, and there definitely is no way to over power the game, because when you are good, you are merely good at a few key trained things.
GURPS uses a D6 based system (you roll three six sided die) to make all of your checks. Be they skill checks, attacks, defense, deflects, magic, etc, you are using three D6 and trying to get the LOWEST score possible. Wait, back that up, lowest? Yes sir and madam, you heard me right. You want to get the lowest roll you can. A three or four (added between the three die) is considered a critical success, while a seventeen or eighteen is considered a critical failure. All right, while that can be fairly simplified, so I parry his blow and swing my mighty hammer in an arcing blow and WOAH, hold on there Tex. Do you have ranks in hammer? What about training in parry? Did you pass your agility test to not fall off balance when trying to do both? Oh yes, it is that kind of game.
In GURPS, you have the ability to create the worlds most dynamic Role Playing Game characters, out of any of the systems I have ever used. That being said, it is also one of the largest choices of skills and feats I have ever seen. One of my favourite characters to play was a fencer. I had to spend experience on Rapier, Lunge, Punch, Deflect, Riposte, Feint, and Quick Draw, just to be able to be proficient in that ONE weapon. Imagine a character like in pathfinder, who can use any one of like thirty weapons by being proficient in one class of weapon. If I wanted to use a side arm, I had to purchase points in a specific secondary weapon to be able to properly use it.
The more “training” (experience) that is used on a weapon or a skill, the easier it becomes to hit with it. So instead of your target being six or seven (meaning you need to roll below that one three die) it may end up going right up to ten or eleven (or higher as well). Know that by doing that though, you are sacrificing the ability to raise something else. This could include attacks, personality, any sort of haggling, making magic, flirt, etc all use the same experience points to level. In order to join the rest of the party, fighting is not the only thing you would need in most cases.
Like all role-playing games, the creativity of the player is one of the only limitations on the character itself. Unlike most role-playing games, there is so many different options, that there is no perfect combination of character to play. You just stick with what you want and hope for the best.


+ The system itself being as dynamic as it is, and completely unforgiving at the same time, puts it up there as one of the greatest games of our time.
+ Allowing a Dungeon Master complete control of his/her dungeon also adds to the creativity and flavor of the world. With the amount of options you will never run out of usable material to play with.
+ The leveling and learning system is a really fun one to use. A bit more original than most of us are used to, which is always an extremely positive thing when we are talking about role-playing game.
– With the game being as diverse as it is, it creates an infinitely ridiculous amount of character customization. Learning new things can take many sessions, since you need to train them, but also pick one of the million things you want to do.
– There has not been a lot changed or added to it since it’s release in 1986, giving us a third edition in 1988 (as the first and second edition both came out in ’86), and finally a fourth edition in 2004. Since then, not a whole lot of action. This is mostly because of the massive flood of RPG’s out in the market now.

+ For truly hardcore Role Players, this game allows you to manipulate everything and everyone around you. There is no limit to what can be done by a character, and that is both amazing and frightening at the same time.
+ The same can be said for the Dungeon Master, as he can meld the world into anything he wants it to be. Combining magic, medieval times, and a small piece of robotic tech while you’re at it, and BAM you have the universe.
+ Since it has such a univerlistic feel to it, you can make this system compatible with any other RPG system that has been released, creating a fluid world you already love, just with more options.
– One of my only downsides are one of the same for Design. With nothing new coming out to support the series, it almost feels like they’ve washed their hands with the player and have moved on to their new big fish, Munchkin.
– My other downside, is one a close friend of mine taught me about GURPS. Since literally everything is based on the three D6 system, a small child with a fork could be lucky enough to kill a character you’ve been making for three years. It is a lot of luck, with a little strategy.


+ The customization of a single character can be redone in a million ways so the same person you have played before is one hundred percent different in this campaign setting. You can literally carry over the character to every single game you play, by changing the skills he or she has learned.
+ Since the world is only limited to imagination, with the right group of players and the right Game Master, you can create a world that lasts years. In the first game I played, I jumped in three years into the campaign, and we played for at least another year.
+ Time flies when you’re having fun, and that is especially true with GURPS. You will literally be missing hours, not upset in the slightest, and feel more accomplished that somehow you made it work.
– Since there is no actual “leveling” system per se, gaining exp is extremely important to the abilities you have. If you miss sessions, you lose out on that valuable resource, and will start to fall behind the rest of the party.

GURPS is a game that I feel fits in almost every single scenario you can imagine. You can slay the beast, raise a city from ashes, or go on to live a peaceful life and run a farm stead. No matter the choices you make, there is no wrong option, and working with that same train of thought, it will cause you to love seeing the repercussions of said decisions.

The main selling factor for me about GURPS is that you can have it meld into any setting you can even begin to imagine. There is a book for hundreds of different settings, and even with using the individual books, you can usually mix and match different things you like from several books, again creating a more unique and diverse game. This adds an amazing amount to the monetary value for Steve Jackson games, but also adds to the value for the player, since your imagination will never limit your ability to create a universe.

Remember that you are the only sword that guides the hands of the God (Gods, or whatever your character believes in) straight into the heart of your enemies.

I hope you enjoy the game, I hope it speaks out to you like it did me, and know that this would also fall into my top five RPG systems.

5) Dragon Age (The RPG)
3) Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition
2) Pathfinder
1) 7th Sea

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