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Pen & Paper Games - [GURPS] Getting Started with GURPS
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  • Featured Post: Getting Started with GURPS

    GURPS is a “universal” roleplaying system, which can be used for almost any setting or genre. It is a “toolbox” game from which the GM selects options to get the feel he/she wants. If you are thinking of trying it, I recommend you read this short explanation of what makes GURPS different from other RPGs. If you like the sound of this, GURPS may be right for you.

    The down side to GURPS is that it offers so many options it can be overwhelming for a new player or game master. I like to say it isn’t just one game – it’s like an RPG Lego kit, from which a GM can build many different games!

    But it doesn’t have to be complicated. The key to running a smooth GURPS campaign is to limit your options, using only the rules you need. What follows is a guide to running a very simple introductory campaign, to let an inexperienced GM ease into the system. After that, I will give you some tips on moving forward with GURPS, and learning to do more with it. You certainly don't need to get started this way; people often bite off more with their first campaign, and have good results. But if you are unsure of yourself, this plan will get you going with a minimum of headaches.

    There are two ways to create a character. The first is to build the character from scratch, spending "character points" on any traits you want. This gives you exactly the character you want, but if you don't know the system well, you could make an incompetent character by accident. It also takes a long time for a beginner, due to the wide range of options to consider. And the GM needs to know the system and communicate well with the players, since not all options will be fair or useful in any given campaign. I do not recommend this for your first game!

    The second way is to use a "template", which is similar to a character class, but more flexible. This allows a player to create a competent character quickly, but reduces freedom. There are three templates in chapter 7 of GURPS Basic Set: Characters. They are the Investigator (a brainy/sneaky type), the Soldier of Fortune (fighter), and the Mage (magic user). Other sourcebooks offer more specialized templates, and the GM can make his/her own. I recommend using the Basic Set templates for your first game.

    GURPS Lite (the free, introductory rulebook) has all the rules necessary to run a campaign, but unfortunately it has no templates or magic rules. So, for the simplest possible campaign, use chapter 7 of Characters for character creation, chapter 5 of Characters for magic (if needed), and Lite for everything else. (You might need to use Characters to look up a few traits from the templates that were not included in Lite, but otherwise, ignore it!)

    For your first adventure, a modern-day “black ops” scenario is a good choice. The player characters are part of a top secret organization that sends teams to deal with dangerous situations that the public shouldn’t know about. You can take adventure ideas from newspaper headlines, and throw in things like space aliens or werewolves if you like. Since most of the combat will involve guns, and the PCs won’t have magic or other exotic powers, it will be a simple game to GM. Give the players 150 character points to work with, and require them to make characters using the Investigator and Soldier of Fortune templates. They will have points left over after buying the templates; let them spend them on increased skills or attributes, additional options from the templates, or other things from GURPS Lite. Don’t let them shop for traits from the Basic Set yet. Ideally, you should build characters a week before the actual game, so you will have time to look them over beforehand.

    For the first adventure, run them through situations involving combat, influence rolls, and various uses of skills. You can get inspiration by just reading through the skill lists of the characters. After all, if a player chose a lot of computer and electronics skills, he/she probably wants to use a lot of technology! If someone is good at Tracking, give him/her some tracks to follow. For Fast-Talk, throw in a suspicious guard to bamboozle. And a fistfight is nice, so the combat won’t always be with guns.

    Another option is to start out with medieval fantasy. This will be a little more complicated, but you can handle it. In this case, give your players 125 character points to spend (since that is what Caravan to Ein Arris recommends – see below), and let them use any of the three templates in Characters. But if anyone chooses the Mage, do not let them buy spells. Instead, let them spend the same number of points on other skills from any of the templates.

    You don’t need a well-developed setting; just outline the local area, and fill in details as needed. For the first adventure, run them through situations involving combat, influence rolls, and various uses of skills, as for a black ops game. Alternately, you could just download Caravan to Ein Arris, a free adventure set in a land called Lantara. (Note: there is an error on pg. 3, under “Character Creation”. There is no such skill as “Bard”. That should be Public Speaking.)

    During the first session, let them meet a wizard willing to teach them magic. (Perhaps they can rescue him from robbers, earning his gratitude!) Now any mages in the party can spend earned character points (what are called experience points in other games) on spells. (Be sure to check the prerequisites of the spells, though, so they are learned in the right order.) Next session, you can ease into the magic rules, as the mages try out their new spells.

    Moving On
    Once that’s done, you and your players will have the fundamentals down with a minimum of confusion. Now you can expand your options, and learn to use the system to create exactly the sort of game you want to run. Start familiarizing yourself with the other traits in Characters that look appropriate for a campaign you'd like to run. Be aware that you can get excellent guidance on the Steve Jackson Games GURPS forum. If you run into problems anywhere, like slow combats, imbalances in the party, or just trouble making sense of an advantage or skill, don’t hesitate to get help.

    Also note that I have posted a page of useful GURPS links. You may even want to use some of them for your first game. The One Page GURPS handout is useful for getting new players up to speed, for instance.

    For more combat options and GM guidance, you might want GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns. It offers more detail in combat, with rapid strikes (to run an opponent out of parries), deceptive attacks (to make attacks harder to defend against), and hit locations (to quickly incapacitate or kill). In discussions of other systems, people sometimes complain that hit location rules slow down combat. When I hear that, I always think, “You haven’t played GURPS.” Once you get the hang of them, hit locations make combat less about wearing down hit points, and more about ending the fight with a single, decisive blow.

    Campaigns also offers miniatures combat, as well as other optional rules like bleeding (to add drama after combat, as the medics try to stabilize the wounded.) There are also tips on running campaigns, and rules to change the “flavor” of the game. The default flavor of GURPS is “heroic realism” – characters are believable as action heroes go, but they sometimes exceed the limits of ordinary mortals. If you want harsh realism or over-the-top, “cinematic” power fantasies, you’ll need to tweak things a bit.

    I should also note that GURPS has multiple magic systems, to cover all the bases of the fantasy genre. The system in the Basic Set isn’t your only option, and a lot of players prefer one of the alternatives. If you like Basic Set magic, you may want to invest in the GURPS Magic sourcebook, which expands on it. Otherwise, you might like GURPS Thaumatology, a collection of alternate systems and ideas for tweaking the Basic Set system. GURPS Powers might also be useful, depending on the sort of magic you prefer. And GURPS Monster Hunters (see below) introduces ritual path magic, a very interesting system which will soon be getting its own expanded, stand-alone sourcebook. I point these out not because you need them, necessarily, but because getting magic right can be a major concern in adapting your favorite fantasy setting.

    If you like wildly larger-than-life heroes, you may want to check out GURPS Action, Dungeon Fantasy, Monster Hunters, or Supers. These expansions simplify campaigns in these over-the-top genres. I am drawing attention to them because high-powered campaigns can be challenging to run using just the Basic Set.

    There are lots of other setting and genre sourcebooks as well. But you can do a decent job of almost any sort of campaign using just the Basic Set. You don’t actually need anything else. The other books are just for people who want more detail. If you’re having fun with just Lite and characters, why spend more money?
    This article was originally published in forum thread: [GURPS] Getting Started with GURPS started by Ceo_Druidechta View original post
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. nijineko's Avatar
      nijineko -
      very nice exposition. as an MIB, and as a gamer, i approve.
    1. Farcaster's Avatar
      Farcaster -
      Nice writeup, Ceo_Druidechta.
    1. whenderson04's Avatar
      whenderson04 -
      Very nice. Outstanding game that really needs more players, especially near me...