Grade the GURPS System

How do you feel about GURPS?

  • I love it.

    Votes: 21 13.9%
  • It's pretty good.

    Votes: 38 25.2%
  • It's alright I guess.

    Votes: 41 27.2%
  • It's pretty bad.

    Votes: 17 11.3%
  • I hate it.

    Votes: 7 4.6%
  • I've never played it.

    Votes: 27 17.9%
  • I've never even heard of it.

    Votes: 0 0.0%


Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
Have you used the GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying) System? If you're not familiar, it was pretty much the first major game system designed to support multiple games and game formats. Before GURPS came along, most tabletop roleplaying games were developed for one specific game or game environment on a case-by-case basis, and were largely incompatible with each used Shadowrun mechanics to play Shadowrun, and you used D&D mechanics to play D&D, and there wasn't really a way to switch back and forth. But all that changed in the mid-1980s, when Steve Jackson wrote a universal system for all games. Wikipedia has the following to say about it:

The Generic Universal RolePlaying System, or GURPS, is a tabletop role-playing game system designed to allow for play in any game setting. It was created by Steve Jackson Games and first published in 1986 at a time when most such systems were story- or genre-specific.
Players control their in-game characters verbally and the success of their actions is determined by the skill of their character, the difficulty of the action, and the rolling of dice. Characters earn points during play which are used to gain greater abilities. Gaming sessions are story-told and run by "Game Masters" (often referred to as simply "GMs")

He didn't build it in a vacuum, though. GURPS borrowed mechanics and ideas from other game systems like the Hero System and Champions, and the whole project benefitted from all the different RPGs and setting books being released at the time. So exactly who came up with the idea for a "generic universal game system," and what resources and inspiration they used, is always going to be a matter of some debate.

As I've said before in the other threads, the D20 System is the undeniable favorite for tabletop RPGs today, but there are plenty of options out there for those who don't like D20 or might be looking for something different. My goal in these little surveys is to highlight the different systems and options available to tabletop fans...not bash on anyone's favorites. So! If you've played GURPS, I'd really like to hear about your experience. What did you like/dislike about it? What games did you play? And if you've never played it, what's keeping you from giving it a spin? I'll collect everyone's votes and give the system a "grade" from A+ to F, just for fun.

Grade: C+
Of those who voted, 100% have heard of it and 82% have played it.
Of those who have played it: 17% love it, 30% like it, 34% are lukewarm, 13% dislike it, and 6% hate it.

The "grade" is calculated as follows:
  • Votes from people who have not played it will not affect the grade.
  • "I love it" votes are worth 4 points. The highest score, comparable to an "A" vote.
  • "It's pretty good" votes are worth 3 points. The equivalent of a "B" vote.
  • "It's alright I guess" votes are worth 2 points. This is your basic "C" vote.
  • "It's pretty bad" votes are worth 1 point. This is considered a "D" vote.
  • "I hate it" votes are worth 0 points. The lowest score, considered an "F" vote.

The grading formula:
GPA = Σ(PiVi)

GPA = "grade-point average," the grading score used in the Key below.​
Vi = percentage of votes in each category (Love, Like, Meh, Dislike, or Hate)​
Pi = corresponding score for that category (4, 3, 2, 1, or 0)​

Over 3.75 = A+
3.51 to 3.75 = A
3.26 to 3.50 = A-
3.01 to 3.25 = B+
2.76 to 3.00 = B
2.51 to 2.75 = B-
2.26 to 2.50 = C+
1.76 to 2.25 = C
1.51 to 1.75 = C-
1.26 to 1.50 = D+
1.01 to 1.25 = D
0.75 to 1.00 = D-
Under 0.75 = F
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Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
I feel like I never gave GURPS a fair shake.

When it first hit the shelves in my local game store, it was the late 1980s and my friends and I were still playing the heck out of some red-box Basic adventures...and we were having trouble finding the Expert, Companion, and Masters sets that we needed to keep playing our characters. TSR had discontinued that whole product line, and were trying really, really hard to get folks to switch to AD&D. I ended up having several frustrating encounters with the game stores around town, where one clerk in particular told me that "the little kids version" had been discontinued but he had these "advanced" books for "older kids" instead. Also, look at this one, it has a seashell on it that's also a spaceship! And this one has ninjas! Isn't that awesome?!

No sir, it is not "awesome," it is frustrating. I didn't want "the new stuff," I wanted to continue playing the game I already had, and getting told repeatedly that I needed to move on was annoying.

At one point a store clerk, who was probably just trying to be helpful, offered an alternative: there is a new game called GURPS that will let you play any kind of game you can imagine with it. It can be as caked up or as stripped-down as you wanted, it could be historic or fantastic or futuristic or mythic as I needed, etc. And I was hearing none of it. By this point, I had been to every comic shop, game store, and used bookstore in town looking for exactly one used copy of the Expert Rules, and my interest in literally anything else could not have been at a lower ebb.

So for the longest time, GURPS was imprinted in my mind as "something else I don't want" and I never really challenged it until the Pathfinder/4E edition wars soured me on D&D. I bought a PDF of GURPS Fantasy in PDF format, and read through it, and took it for a spin. I enjoyed it a lot more than my friends did--they were pretty much bored with the whole idea of it and kept clamoring to "just play D&D already," but I had a lot of fun. It was a refreshing change of pace from the rigor of 3.5E.

I never went back to it, though.
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I’ve played and GMed GURPS for about 30 years, and it was my favourite system for a good chunk of that time. I still like it, but the system has certain features which mean that it is no longer my favourite, and so I voted ‘pretty good’.

There are two or three key features which made me cool to it.

The first is the way it models competence, which is predominantly through high levels of skill giving the ability to absorb penalties from doing cool stuff, like called shots or acrobatic manoeuvres etc. The implication of this is that when the chips are down your best route to success is through doing the most basic actions available to you, absorbing things like damage or shock penalties rather than manoeuvre penalties. That feels a bit anti-climactic to me, and doesn’t promote the more ‘pulp action’ feel that I prefer for my gaming.

Second, the one second combat round is counter productive in my opinion. It is confusing to people with experience of other games; most games allow a number of significant actions to be taken in a round but with a one second allowance actions in GURPS are quite tightly constrained. It has side effects like an archer only being able to fire every two or three (or more) rounds due to drawing an arrow, nocking it, aiming, then firing.

Finally, the system is tightly engineered which means that making changes in one area can have significant and unexpected side effects in another area. This makes home brewing more difficult in my experience.

It’s still a good game, however, and I would pick it for games where having a very extensive list of detailed skills would be useful. The system is truly encyclopaedic.

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I rate GURPS rather highly because I think it sets out to do what it was designed to do. i.e. It's a system designed to be used to play games within a wide array of genres. I started playing GURPS with 3rd edition around 1987-88. In fact, the first time I played Ravenloft we were using GURPS instead of AD&D. The way the rules are written, as long as you can translate abilities into imperial units you can adapt material from just about any source to use for GURPS be it another game or a work of fiction. i.e. If you know something can move at a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour that would translate to a basic speed of 10. Meaning it can move 10 yards per second.

The last time I ran GURPs was 4th edition back around 2005 or so. My players decided they didn't want to use GURPS. The bewildering number of options at character generation was just so overwhelming for them as was the sheer number of skills. There was a situation where one of my players wanted to drop something on an enemy from on high. There's a dropping skill in GURPS and it defauts to Dexterity -4 I think. They found that annoying.

While it's a good game, it really isn't for everyone. You have to be the type of person who enjoys building everything from scratch. Which is one of the reasons why I don't play GURPS these days. That and my players would rebel and burn down my castle.


Another thing about GURPs is that it had some of the best books ever produced for games covering a wide variety of subjects. Even today, GURPS Rome is a must have for anyone who wants to make a game set in Rome or some alternative history version of Rome because it was just that good. Anyone remember their Cyberpunk book which proudly proclaims the offices of Steve Jackson Games was raided by the Secret Service?

I bought a few GURPS books/PDFs, because I wanted to check how they do stuff. But I never really read them so far, let alone get them to the table (so it get's a "never played rating"). And I think the likelihood of a GURPS game is rather low for me. I appreciate what GURPS is doing in theory, though.


Front Range Warlock
It's pretty good. I rate it this high because of its library of most excellent sourcebooks. They have no peer in RPGdom. If you want an incredibly detailed sourcebook on a given topic or IP that you can use with pretty much any game system (given a small amount of work), GURPS likely has you covered. I'm also a super-huge fan of GURPS Lite 3e and GURPS Ultra-Lite, both of which can get you into all of those sourcebooks with little or no work needed.

If you've played GURPS, I'd really like to hear about your experience. What did you like/dislike about it?
I like the rules for running a game, especially fantasy games with wizards and warriors, and also for modern gunfights. Rules are in most cases well-thought out and realistic enough to make it easy to align player expectations and gameworld results: if a new player tries to stab an ogre in the eye it's difficult but possible, and if it works it has the effects they expect. None of this "you can't do that because <handwave>" stuff.

I dislike the rules for character generation, because they either encourage min-maxing or require a detailed back-and-forth with the GM about whether a given combination of traits counts as min-maxing. Can wizards pick up Rapier Wit for 5 points for the amazing synergies it has with high IQ? If not why not? I walked away from GURPS about 10 years ago largely because of my dissatisfaction with chargen; and last year I discovered Dungeon Fantasy RPG, which fixes the issues I had with chargen by imposing additional constraints in the form of professions (i.e. classes) which restrict how you're allowed to spend your points, both by requiring you to spend points on basic archetype traits (you can't have a wizard who isn't trained in Occultism and Meditation, even if you as a player would have rather spent those points on more spells instead) and restricting which traits you're allowed to buy (you can't spend 50 points on Broadsword even if you want to, and if you're not a Knight you can't buy Shield Wall Training at all).

The end result is that DFRPG has all the things I like about GURPS (rules that are simple and sufficiently realistic to satisfy my suspension of disbelief, and easy to improv; good balance between wizards and warriors, and between swordsmen and archers) and most of the things I like about D&D too (interesting chargen; high replayability; playing through an adventure with a Knight in the party is a very different experience from not having one, and that goes for Bards, Clerics, Druids, Martial Artists, Swashbucklers, Scouts, and Wizards as well).

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