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Don't Call It A Comeback: Mars Attacks And Discworld For GURPS 4E


During the Nineties I played a lot of GURPS. For a long time, it was my go-to system for just about everything from horror to conspiracy to science fiction gaming. If there wasn't a GURPS 3E supplement for a genre or setting idea, I might not have played it. Yes, GURPS was everything that people who aren't fans of the system leveled at it: it required a lot of work, it could be complex and players could face paralysis when faced with so many options during character creation. Despite all of that, for me and the people that I gamed with at the time, it was a familiar and comfortable kind of complex. It suited us, and it suited my play style at the time.
I haven't actively played GURPS in a long while, nothing more than a one-shot or two here and there. I kept up with the GURPS 4E rules (in fact I was a playtester for GURPS Powers back when I was still playing the game actively). One of my favorite GURPS-related memories, outside of the gaming table, was meeting comic artist Gene Ha at a comic convention, around the time of the release of the core GURPS 4E books, and spending so much time excitedly talking about what we were hoping for with the new edition that we drove away another DC Comics artist at the same signing table with our "nerd talk."

Over the years, I have hung on to my GURPS 4E books on the off chance that I might get to play it regularly again. So far, that hasn't happened, but that is the "problem" with being in a world where there are more games than I can ever play.

A couple of months ago, I got a couple of the new GURPS books: the Discworld Roleplaying Game and GURPS Mars Attacks. Both utilize the fourth edition rules. Discworld is a standalone game with all of the GURPS rules, while GURPS Mars Attacks is a supplement that requires the core GURPS rules.
I'll start with GURPS Mars Attacks, because it is the smaller of the two books. Steve Jackson Games has made some fun games with the Mars Attacks franchise over the years. Their Mars Attacks Dice Game is one of my favorite party games, and I've been a fan of it since I demo'ed it at Gen Con a few years back. The point is that the company gets the Mars Attacks franchise, and, as the company who has brought use supplements like GURPS Atomic Horror in the past, they understand this genre as well as they do Mars Attacks itself.

There is a good deal of information on how to build GURPS characters to resist the Martian attacks in this world. There are a few different variants of the Martian invasion that can be used to trigger a GURPS Mars Attacks campaign. There isn't really anything new in the way of GURPS rules for the setting, but there isn't a lot of need for new rules (which I really appreciate). The book does do a good job of explaining how to make the GURPS rules specific to the setting. New weapons and examples of Martian technology are provided. Everything that you need for a Mars Attacks game is in this book.

My only real complaint about GURPS Mars Attacks is that it is much too small of a book. Weighing in at less than one hundred pages, they still pack a lot of information about running Mars Attacks games into the book. I would like to have seen the sample campaign frame get more development, maybe even have some variants that could be sprung into different styles of ongoing campaigns. There is a lot of different worlds that could have resulted from an attack from Mars, and I would have liked to have seen more of those. One of the strengths of GURPS is the versatility of the types of worlds that you can explore with the rules, and I would have liked to have seen more of that.

There have been enough Mars Attacks comics over the years to show that you can do ongoing stories in the setting, and I think that GURPS Mars Attacks could have really benefitted from that. Maybe we will see a GURPS Mars Attacks 2 that will get to address this.

The art draws heavily upon the Topps trading cards, which is a good thing, but much like with the book itself, it is something that I would have liked to have seen more of. It would have been nice to have seen some full page pieces scattered throughout the book.

If you're a fan of the Mars Attacks movie, the trading cards, or any of the comics that have explored the worlds of the franchise, you will probably find something of interest in this book. It is a solidly designed game supplement that leaves you wanting more.


The odds are that you probably already know about Terry Pratchett's Discworld setting. This is the third version of a Discworld game that the company has put out, all powered by Steve Jackson Games' GURPS rules. The first two used the third edition of the GURPS rules, while this current one uses the current fourth edition of the game.

Everything that you need to play in Discworld is included in the game. There is a detailed explanation of the setting and backgrounds of important characters and personalities in the stories. Pratchett collaborated on developing the setting material with the game's developer.
On the off chance that you aren't familiar with Discworld, it is a humorous fantasy setting that parodies many of the genre tropes of fantasy fiction that also revels in puns and slapstick humor. The game captures all of the humor of the setting, and if that is something that you wouldn't like in a game then the Discworld Roleplaying Game might not be for you.

My complaint for the Discworld Roleplaying Game is that it doesn't feel like it uses the fourth edition rules as fully as it could have. It feels like a book that was written for the third edition of GURPS that had a conversion done at the last minute. This isn't an indictment on the quality of the book, or the game's design, because this is still a robust game that groups can get a lot of play out of. It just feels like it could have been more if it had more fully embraced the fourth edition of GURPS. However, I think that if you are a fan of Pratchett's work and you are looking for a solid game that won't require your group to do a lot of the conversion work, the Discworld Roleplaying Game is what you are looking for.

One thing that the Discworld Roleplaying Game did for me is make me really want to see what the upcoming GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game is going to be like. I think that a solid set of fantasy rules, designed around the GURPS 4E engine will really cause a lot of excitement for the system. While the Discworld Roleplaying Game is a good game, the setting and the style wouldn't work well with generic fantasy, as well as some of the expanded rules like Techniques and Wildcard! skills.

It is good to see material for GURPS being developed in formats other than PDFs. Despite the fact that there has been a wealth of material developed for the fourth edition of GURPS over the years, most of it has been done in digital format, and sold directly by Steve Jackson Games from their website. Getting books like the Discworld Roleplaying Game and GURPS Mars Attacks into stores can do nothing but raise the game's profile out in the wide world where people are buying and playing their games. With any hope, these games will pave the way for a GURPS resurgence when GURPS Dungeon Fantasy finally comes out in stores. I know that while I am at Gen Con this summer I will be looking for information about when this game will be out in the world, where we can all play it.
 

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Ghost2020

Adventurer
Very happy to see new GURPS products, but what they choose to publish baffles me. Very odd.
Why not put a few scenarios , a few campaign options for invasion, during and post?
 

I own GURPS, but do not have much experience with it. That being said, my mind has trouble grasping the idea of GURPS, which has over 600 pages of crunch in the two basic books, being used to play Discworld. While it is understood that most of the options are not suitable for most games, I would like a "player's eye view" of Discworld play; either the current edition or a previous one.

I am fairly sure it can be done... Intellectually speaking. :)
 

darjr

I crit!
Discworld is a standalone GURPS RPG. The other books are not needed to play it. You can use them for options, however. Great crunchy options.
 


Winghorn

Explorer
I got to play a few hours of the Discworld RPG with the author at a UK convention, and it worked out pretty well.

I'm not hugely familiar with GURPS, but it seemed like they stripped out some of the crunchier parts. Combat, in particular, was very straightforward and enough things had been tweaked to feel nice and Discworld-ey, both in the crunch and the fluff.

Of course, the fact that it was being GM'd by the dude who actually wrote it may have given me a slightly unusual perspective on its quality...
 

When I played GURPS, we only use the core 4 pages of basic combat and rarely used a hex map. I think we used damage types from the standard rule and that's it.

Like a lot of the games from that era (like Battletech), players know they can use the simple engine underneath, most choose not too. I don't know if it's a completeist thing or a show of my mastery of the system (and thus my IQ) thing or what.
 


mxyzplk

Explorer
I find most of the "GURPS is complex" complaints are actually baggage from "back in the day." Sure, in 1986 it was super complicated compared to e.g. D&D. But now we live in a world where D&D 3.5 became easily as complex as GURPS ever was. So while sure, it's complicated compared to <random indie game that's popular this year here>, I think it's as accessible to mainstream gamers as most of their other popular choices.
 

Koloth

First Post
For those interested in these but with no knowledge of GURPS, you can download a copy of GURPS Lite for free from the Steve Jackson Games web store. Might let you make a more informed decision on purchase.
 

I find most of the "GURPS is complex" complaints are actually baggage from "back in the day." Sure, in 1986 it was super complicated compared to e.g. D&D. But now we live in a world where D&D 3.5 became easily as complex as GURPS ever was. So while sure, it's complicated compared to <random indie game that's popular this year here>, I think it's as accessible to mainstream gamers as most of their other popular choices.
I also would have trouble with using year 2000+ editions of Dungeons and Dragons for Discworld. :)

GURPS is crunchy, not complex, and realistic, not toonish - In my experience. Something simple and toonish would seem to fit Discworld better; but if GURPS is generic enough to handle Discworld, then it is quite a bit more generic than I had suspected, which is something I'm happy to know. :)

For further disclosure, yesterday I ran a 150-point human warrior against a 75-point orc warrior in GURPS for something to do. The final result was a newly-knighted human warrior with a brief backstory, "unnecessary" social and other skills to support that backstory, horse, plate, layered cloth, and mail armour (for travelling); lance, broadsword and shield, in a plain medieval "Earth", against a dimensional transfer barbarian orc with axe, shield, large knife, and coinage.

Whereupon, even with a lance charge, the 75-point barbarian nearly killed the knight, and only failed because the barbarian fell unconscious first, and I rediscovered that broadswords are a poor choice against armour; even just 3/2* armour.

I greatly enjoyed every bit of this.

So, for tl;dr, I do not think of GURPS as "complex", much less "too complex". :)
 

Jer

Hero
I find most of the "GURPS is complex" complaints are actually baggage from "back in the day." Sure, in 1986 it was super complicated compared to e.g. D&D. But now we live in a world where D&D 3.5 became easily as complex as GURPS ever was.

The problem with 4e GURPS is that it's published as a toolkit, not a game. You can buy all of the core books and sit down and create a hell of a game, but if you just want to sit down and play a game (and you don't already have extensive knowledge of the system carrying over from 3e) good luck.

This is where a product like GURPS Discworld can shine a bit. By making it a full game with rules included instead of a setting book you can distill it down even more and give it a focus that the core books lack.
 

dbm

Adventurer
[MENTION=6804772]Christopher Helton[/MENTION]: there was some discussion that Mars Attacks had new gadgeteering rules in it. Did you see anything like that? If so, did you have an opinion on the rules?

Cheers for the reviews :)
 


corwyn77

Explorer
The problem with 4e GURPS is that it's published as a toolkit, not a game. You can buy all of the core books and sit down and create a hell of a game, but if you just want to sit down and play a game (and you don't already have extensive knowledge of the system carrying over from 3e) good luck.

This is where a product like GURPS Discworld can shine a bit. By making it a full game with rules included instead of a setting book you can distill it down even more and give it a focus that the core books lack.

I'm also hoping that the new Dungeon Fantasy boxed set will help in this regard as well. Fully self-contained with only a couple of hundred page rulebooks that players need.
 

corwyn77

Explorer
[MENTION=6804772]Christopher Helton[/MENTION]: there was some discussion that Mars Attacks had new gadgeteering rules in it. Did you see anything like that? If so, did you have an opinion on the rules?

Cheers for the reviews :)

Yes, it does. I haven't played yet, but they basically use the rules from the Basic Set with a few simplications:

A less rigid determination of invention complexity
No required skill levels, relying on skill penalties to keep it in check
Generous use of the mods for existing (Martian) technology
A new shortcut rule that gives you a bonus on all inventing rolls but invites more bugs

Overall looks pretty good and some of it will probably work into my other campaigns, probably merging with the rules from After the End (post-apocalypse).
 

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