View Full Version : [GURPS] Myths About GURPS

06-16-2013, 10:47 PM
I was thinking about 7 (edit: make that 8) GURPS myths I’ve heard, which don’t match my experience. I figured I’d reply to them. Do you have more to add?

1) GURPS is a game of gritty realism.
If gritty realism means modeling the experiences of ordinary people, including the harsh consequences of combat and other dangerous activities, then no. “Vanilla” GURPS is strongly biased toward “heroic realism”, as the designers call it, and that is an important distinction. Characters are believable as the leads in action/adventure tales go, but they still transcend the limitations of ordinary people. And the system errs on the side of keeping the PCs alive, to help maintain a coherent storyline from adventure to adventure.

Gritty realism is actually the style of play the game pays the least attention to. Some advantages which are allowed in standard campaigns grant unrealistic abilities. It is easy to give a starting character unrealistically high skill levels. The optional “harsh realism” rules are an afterthought, scattered among various sourcebooks. And gritty realism in a campaign with ancient/medieval armor requires house rules, since strong characters can penetrate armor with unrealistic ease. There is still no official rule to bring armor penetration with melee weapons down to realistic levels.

That said, GURPS is a great system if you like harsh realism. Making the system friendly for over-the-top power fantasies was certainly a higher priority for the designers, but GURPS still handles gritty realism better than any other system I know of. It just requires “turning on” some optional rules, setting a lot of limits in character creation, and maybe using a few house rules. But does the game emphasize that style of play? Hardly. The fact that the game handles it so well is a tribute to its flexibility, nothing more.

2) You can’t play GURPS “out of the box” using only the Basic Set. That is, a campaign either requires a lot of prep time by the GM, or you need to buy a fully-worked expansion set like Dungeon Fantasy.
To an extent, this is true. Many settings and genres do require either a lot of prep or the purchase of an expansion. But there are exceptions. Your options are limited, but the game works fine with minimal prep. All you’ll need are Basic Set: Characters and a free download or two. New players can make characters quickly and easily, as well.

The Basic Set has templates for fighters, sneaky/brainy types, and wizards, which work for any time period from ancient times through the future. (See chapter 7, starting on page 258.) They only work for normal humans or members of human-like races (elves, cat-people, etc), and you are limited to the (disappointing, but playable) core magic system. But the templates are ready to use, and you can make characters in minutes.

To keep play simple, download GURPS Lite (http://e23.sjgames.com/item.html?id=SJG31-0004) (it’s free), and use it alone for combat and game mastering. You don’t need to buy the second book of the Basic Set at first; GURPS Lite has the essentials for a GM. You will be limited to the “heroic realism” that is the default flavor of GURPS (no gritty realism or “cinematic” power fantasies), and the tactical options in combat will be limited. But there is still a lot of potential to explore.

You will need to supply a setting and adventure, so there will be some preparation. But there’s not much work involved if you pick something well known, like the real world, or invent a basic medieval fantasy setting and fill in details as needed. And you can download Caravan to Ein Arris (http://e23.sjgames.com/item.html?id=SJG37-0031), a free fantasy adventure.

GURPS may be primarily for GMs who want to lovingly sculpt new campaigns in great detail, but there is definitely a quick-play option, using only Basic Set: Characters and GURPS Lite. For more information on this, see these tips for running your first game (http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/content.php/196-Getting-Started-with-GURPS).

3) GURPS combat is slow.
This myth is hard to evaluate, since the speed of combat will vary dramatically depending on the scenario and the rules the GM has chosen to use. It is certainly possible for a fight to be a long, drawn-out affair. But I have not found this to be true as a general rule.

I find that the speed of combat compares well to other systems I’ve played. The GURPS combat system has lots of “switches” the GM can flip to adjust the level of speed and detail. When using the right options, combat is fast and rules-light. Or you can go for a slower, more tactical feel if you enjoy that.

When I run Call of Cthulhu I prefer GURPS, in part because the combat is reasonably quick, brutal, and unnervingly detailed. And I switched to GURPS after years of using BRP for CoC, so I know how the systems compare. For CoC I like to use hit locations, but no minis.

But I do like to use the minis rules when I GM fantasy campaigns. I also use some optional expanded rules from GURPS Martial Arts. And, of course, fantasy characters often wear armor and use shields, making them harder to hurt than CoC characters. Combat doesn’t move as fast that way, but I find the speed compares favorably to other fantasy systems I’ve played.

I could speed up combat considerably by using the optional “cannon fodder” rules, but I don’t generally go for the kind of feel that produces. For me, that makes combat too fast.

I find that when GURPS combats drag, the problem is operator error. The GM may be putting the PCs in situations they weren’t built for, the players may be making poor tactical choices, etc. If you have problems, go to the SJG GURPS forum (http://forums.sjgames.com/forumdisplay.php?f=13) and find out what you’re doing wrong.

4) Hit location rules slow down combat.
This isn’t a GURPS myth per se, but I’ve noticed some people take it for granted that this applies to all RPGs.

In GURPS I’ve found the exact opposite to be true. In my experience, they make combat less a matter of wearing down HP, and more a matter of ending fights with decisive attacks. It also adds realism, and generates drama and suspense, since characters can suddenly be debilitated or critically wounded. I can’t imagine GMing GURPS without hit locations, even for a group of newbies.

If you have indecisive players, giving them extra options can slow down play. And play can slow down temporarily while the players digest new rules. But I find that once the players understand the rules, and develop the confidence to make decisions, combat flows quite well. And when I am GMing beginners, I do not expect them to know the rules. I tell them to simply describe what they are doing in ordinary English, then I tell them how to resolve the action.

YMMV, of course. There are GURPS fans who don’t like these rules. But my experiences have generally been positive.

5) GURPS is extremely complex.
GURPS Lite, the free introductory rulebook, is just 32 pages long. It has everything needed to run a campaign – character creation, combat, injury, weapons, gamemastering, experience awards, etc. And the Basic Set has templates for the 3 most common character types. Using those templates along with Lite makes it even simpler, by expediting character creation.

The 32 pages of information in Lite are the real core system of GURPS. The rest of the Basic Set is just extra options and details, to be added to Lite as desired, to get the effect you’re looking for.

The books are big because GURPS isn’t a single game. It’s like a roleplaying Lego kit, from which you can make countless games as you please. But only a fraction of it will be needed for any given campaign.

That said, GURPS can be overwhelming if you try to do too much at once. The books throw a lot of options at you, with very little guidance on what to actually do with it all. Ease into it, as I suggest under Myth 2, above..

6) GURPS is very math-intensive.
For a child, the math might be an issue at times. But if you are a full-grown adult with no learning disorders, you'll do fine.

Most of the math you will do is adding and subtracting whole numbers. You need to be able to roll 3 six-sided dice and add the results together. You also need to be able to add or subtract modifiers from your skill levels, to find the “effective skill” for a task. When building a character, you need to be able to (for instance) subtract 20 from 150.

In combat, you may need to double or halve the damage you roll, depending on the damage type of the weapon. I’ve yet to meet a player who couldn’t do that in his/her head.

From time to time you may need to multiply or divide, to find out how far you can jump, or how much damage you’ll deal with a flying tackle. But you can always write down the result for future reference, if you expect it to come up again. When creating certain types of characters, like superheroes, you may need to multiply by a percentage to build your character’s abilities. That’s the worst math you will deal with. Admittedly, I would grumble if I needed to do this sort of calculation by hand. But it is still quick and simple with a calculator. And in this age of cell phones and laptops, how often do folks get caught without a calculator?

Though you’ll have to pay a little extra, you can also download GURPS Character Assistant (http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/characterassistant/), to make character creation easier. It does all the math in character creation, and will also calculate your jumping distance and slam damage (for tackles and such). GCA makes GURPS friendlier for children and folks with learning disorders. Neurotypical adults like it, too.

7) The 3d6 bell curve makes skills over 16 useless, and/or makes it hard to challenge characters with high skill.
I thought about omitting this one since it’s just so silly, but I’ve heard it more than once.

Characters often have to roll at serious penalties. The more difficult the task, the higher the penalty. And players can choose to take penalties to get enhanced results with skill rolls. The effect is especially pronounced in combat, where characters with extreme skill levels can become whirlwinds of death. It shouldn’t take long for a player to work this stuff out.

As Sean Punch points out, in some campaigns, it can pay to buy skills up to 30 or more (http://forums.sjgames.com/showpost.php?p=1072531&postcount=134).

8) The vehicles rules require crazy nastybad math!
This is just a variant on #6 above, but it is so specific that I figure it should get an entry of its own. One form is the claim that building vehicles requires you to take cube roots. Another revolves around a scan of some arcane calculations, which are alleged to have been used to stat a sailboat for GURPS.


Both claims are nonsense.

The math in the old 3e Vehicles sourcebook was not that hard. Cube roots were used if you wanted to know the precise performance of a water vehicle. But a table of cube roots was provided, so you never actually had to take the cube root of anything. You only had to multiply and divide. It was complicated enough that I always used a calculator, but not at all hard to follow.

About the scan of the calculations in the meme, I literally have no idea what they are for. My math skills are more than adequate to do any math used in any GURPS sourcebook, including Vehicles for Third Edition. But I have been out of school too long to make sense of that. The only thing I can tell you is that you will never use math like that while playing GURPS.

I didn't care for the 3e Vehicles sourcebook, because I found the process of vehicle building to be slow and cumbersome. Sometimes I would write up a vehicle only to find out the stats of one component were incompatible with another. But I never gave a second thought to the math, even though I don't particularly like math.

And it is important to note that the Third Edition was phased out a decade ago. The 3e Vehicles book, which wasn't well received to start with, is irrelevant to the current edition of GURPS.

There is no 4e Vehicles sourcebook per se, but there is a very user-friendly series on spaceships. There is also an article in Pyramid magazine (http://e23.sjgames.com/item.html?id=SJG37-2634) which converts the Spaceships rules into a general-purpose vehicle design system. And no, it will never ask you to take a cube root.

06-17-2013, 09:36 AM
i've played gurps a fair amount, mostly 3rd edition, and even then actual gameplay was easy and fairly quick. and i was playing with a tableful of people. i've had nothing but good experiences, personally.

however, there is one myth that you should probably add. the vehicle myth. (well, it's at least partially true, but only if you use ALL the optional rules....) i mean, there is even a demot about it:


06-17-2013, 10:14 AM
i've played gurps a fair amount, mostly 3rd edition, and even then actual gameplay was easy and fairly quick. and i was playing with a tableful of people. i've had nothing but good experiences, personally.

Yeah, I think the flow of play in GURPS always compared reasonably well with other popular systems. And the Fourth Edition rules steamlined and sped up the system significantly, to keep pace with newer games. The great PK estimates that "combat takes about 2/3 as long as it used to in a modern game, 3/4 as long as it used to in a fantasy game (http://forums.sjgames.com/showpost.php?p=1372776&postcount=4)." Which sounds about right.

however, there is one myth that you should probably add. the vehicle myth. (well, it's at least partially true, but only if you use ALL the optional rules....) i mean, there is even a demot about it:


Good point. One variation on that is the cube roots myth, the claim that either Vehicles, or GURPS in general, requires using cube roots in calculations. I don't have a copy to refer to anymore, but I think that was inspired by a strictly optional rule in the Vehicles book for Third Edition. And 3e was discontinued a decade ago, besides. So it isn't relevant to GURPS as it exists in the 21st Century.

Edit: I scrounged up a copy of GURPS Vehicles for 3e to check. Cube roots were in fact used to calculate the performance of watercraft. But a table of cube root values was included, so you never actually had to take the cube root of anything. The only math you had to do was multiplication and division. So, yeah, the crazy sailboat calculation meme is a load of bull.

I wasn't a big fan of Vehicles for 3e; I didn't find it very user-friendly. But the math wasn't a problem at all. And I say that as someone who doesn't much like math.

06-17-2013, 02:11 PM
I went ahead and edited in an eighth entry, on crazy math in Vehicles. What do you think?

06-18-2013, 04:34 PM
very nice. =D

08-01-2013, 05:02 AM
There actually are certain mechanics in GURPS that do require you to calculate cube roots, but fortunately they don't come up very frequently. The one I can remember off the top of my head is the formula for calculating ST for massive creatures (i.e. elephants, dinosaurs and such) that derive most of their strength from their great size. The specific formula is ST = 2 * (cube root of weight in pounds). This is a 4e formula, by the way, and is a product of the new "quadratic strength" mechanic. I ran into it while checking out the 3e GURPS Dinosaurs book, as I wanted to see what the dinosaur stat blocks would look like in 4e, so I had to consult the 3e to 4e update guidebook, which is where that formula is found.

I also recall some other less than newbie friendly calculations, for example in the 3e Steampunk book there are calculations for etheric ray weapons, which also involve cube roots and power output in kJ. GURPS Vehicles honestly looked far too complex to work with for the average player... it looked pretty insane and intimidating, but I heard the HERO system is even worse, with some calculations requiring the use of logarithmic scales and such.

That being said, I am one of the least mathematically capable people I know, but we now have access to things like calculators and computers, so I fail to see why a calculation or two involving cube roots should be a reason to freak out, unless you suffer from a 15 point Calculophobia or something.

08-01-2013, 10:06 AM
especially considering that most of the free downloadable scientific calculators can calculate cube roots.