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GURPS 2020 PDF Challenge & Book of Dungeon Encounters – An Interview With Philip Reed and Sean Punch

Philip Reed, CEO of Steve Jackson Games, Warehouse 23, and his own gaming company, never lacks for new projects. On Kickstarter, he has a GURPS project from SJG and another from Philip Reed Games. Phil, who I’ve spoken with several times, and Sean Punch of SJG talk about both of these Kickstarters and why they’re doing so well.

Philip Reed, CEO of Steve Jackson Games, Warehouse 23, and his own gaming company, never lacks for new projects. On Kickstarter, he has a GURPS project from SJG and another from Philip Reed Games. Phil, who I’ve spoken with several times, and Sean Punch of SJG talk about both of these Kickstarters and why they’re doing so well.

Steve Jackson Games' GURPS 2020 PDF Challenge.png

EGG EMBRY (EGG): Thanks for taking a break from running Steve Jackson Games, Warehouse 23, and Philip Reed Games to talk to me about about the Kickstarters you’re running. Let’s start with GURPS from SJG. What are you making available via this crowdfunding campaign?
: Our team, headed by GURPS Line Editor Sean Punch, created a dozen different short GURPS titles that build on existing GURPS releases and give fans of the game more new PDFs than we typically release at one time. This is an experiment of sorts, that builds on some personal experience, and when I took the idea to the team, everyone was willing to try something new in the interest of (we hope) bringing more eyes to GURPS than we would get if we simply posted a new PDF or two for sale at our online store.

EGG: You’re shooting for 12 GURPS PDFs for a ridiculously low price (25 US pennies per PDF if you unlock all of the stretch goals). I know 12 products is a lot to give a soundbite on, so let’s talk about a subset and discuss the top ones you think core GURPS players are going to really get mileage out of at the gaming table. What will the community be most excited about?
: I hope that every one of the 12 will be “top” for someone, but here are a few I’d like to highlight:
  • Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 3: Deep Night and the Star, by Matt Riggsby. Hack ‘n’ slash gaming needs adventures . . . so have another! Matt wrote the first two adventures in the Dungeon Fantasy series, and an adventure for the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (this could work there, too), so this is good stuff from our best adventure-writer.
  • Hot Spots: The Incense Trail, by Matt Riggsby. Matt is also the mastermind of our popular Hot Spots series, which has already visited Constantinople, Florence, Venice, and the Silk Road. Now he’s taking us to the trade routes linking the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean. GURPS is famous for historical game content, and this lives up to our standards.
  • How to Be a GURPS GM: Ritual Path Magic, by Christopher R. Rice. Ritual Path Magic (RPM) is probably the most popular of the countless magic systems in GURPS, but it isn’t easy on beginners. Christopher is RPM’s #1 champion, its adoptive father, so who better to walk newcomers through the forest and show old hands new tricks?
  • I feel funny putting one of mine in here, but I think gamers will get a lot of use out of it: Action 6: Tricked-Out Rides, by Yours Truly. Stripped-down vehicle customization for the action-movie genre. It isn’t a full design system, but gamers who’ve been waiting for Vehicle Design will be happy to have something to use in games that need stupidly fast, gimmicky cars.
EGG: Who is working on them? How many pages will the average PDF be?
: The other eight and their authors are Action 7: Mercenaries, by S.A. Fisher; Boardroom and Curia: Tomorrow Rides, by Steven Marsh (of Pyramid fame); Dungeon Fantasy 21: Megadungeons, by Peter V. Dell'Orto; Horror: Beyond the Pale, by Christopher R. Rice and J. Edward Tremlett; Monster Hunters Encounters 1, by Christopher R. Rice; Reign of Steel: Read the Sky, by Roger Burton West; Steampunk Setting: The Broken Clockwork World, by Phil Masters; and Template Toolkit 3: Starship Crew, by Yours Truly. We shot for 10 pages each (11 pages with the ad), but I confess that I went a page too long on Starship Crew.

EGG: The backer levels on this offer some unexpected discounts via Backerkit. Can you talk about some of the backer tiers?
: To keep the project as streamlined and straightforward as possible, we limited the campaign to only three rewards.
  • $3, which gets the backer all unlocked PDFs. (Which could be as many as twelve, if we unlock all of the project’s stretch goals.)
  • $30, for all unlocked stretch goals and $30 in credit to spend on GURPS PDFs during the BackerKit survey. This is essentially getting all of the unlocked PDFs for no charge when buying $30 in existing PDFs.
  • $99, which is similar to the $30 reward except that the backer has $125 in credit to spend on GURPS PDFs in BackerKit. This is the best deal we’re offering in this campaign and an awesome bargain for someone looking to give the GURPS series a shot.
EGG: The structure of this campaign is born out of your Philip Reed Games Kickstarter experiments. For those that don’t know, what are those experiments, and what did you learn from them?
: Late last year, I ran a personal Kickstarter campaign titled A Dozen Sinister Rumors. The project started with a very low goal -- only $100 -- and then the stretch goals added more PDFs to everyone’s rewards. This meant that for only a $1 pledge, backers were able to get every unlocked PDF which -- by the time the project closed -- was seventeen different titles in total. I had one major personal goal when I launched this campaign: To see if an incredible deal would attract a large number of backers . . . and that succeeded! The A Dozen Sinister Rumors project closed with 1,951 supporters and is, to this day, the most backers I’ve had on one of my personal campaigns. The second purpose for the project was to offer some of my previous PDFs to the world. Out of the $11,110 of the final funding, only $1,166 of that was only from the $1 backers. All of the rest of the funding was in reward levels that included older titles; and that’s a practice I continue to use to this day. That taught me two very important lessons: First, that a bargain is very much appreciated by the world. In the end, the $1 pledge secured a backer seventeen different 14-page PDFs and, second, that the demand for some of my other works was higher than I had realized.

EGG: What keeps GURPS vital to the gaming world?
: Many systems claim to be generic or universal; a few say they’re both. GURPS still does it best . . . that’s the benefit of almost 35 years of experience, 35 years of publications, 35 years of authors becoming experts in their niches (shoot, I hit 25 years on the job on July 5!). We have supplements – in some cases, series – covering any genre you can imagine. We have subsystems and optional rules for everything you might want in an RPG, yet all use the same core mechanics, keeping the learning curve sensible. You never have to use all this stuff, so GURPS is exceptionally modular, too.

EGG: GURPS has so much history and, like all games with long tails, lapsed players. If you were going to put any one of these twelve PDFs in one of those lapsed player’s hands to get them to come back to the fold, which one would it be?
: Just one? Gamers from Back In The Day tend to remember GURPS for its historical content, so I’d have to say Hot Spots: The Incense Trail. Ask me on another day and I might say that people who’ve been away since the Old School days would want Dungeon Fantasy 21: Megadungeons (for obvious reasons). Or that, since Space was one of the earliest GURPS supplements, Template Toolkit 3: Starship Crew, because it simplifies creating space adventurers, and character creation often trips up people who’ve taken a break.

EGG: 2021 is the 35th anniversary of GURPS. I know it’s too early to announce anything specific, but will that anniversary be commemorated?
: It would be amazing to do something special for GURPS next year. Unfortunately, at the moment, our focus has to be on today and keeping everything flowing smoothly. The global pandemic has shaken the distribution network, and we find that more of our attention must go on generating sales today which leaves less time for “let’s do this next year!” It is my hope that we can put more attention on 2021 before the summer comes to a close.

EGG: When it comes to RPG zines, you are a machine, Phil Reed, an RPG zine machine! How many have you written since Kickstarter did Zine Quest and started pushing zines again?
: Well, for zines I have created three issues of Delayed Blast Gamemaster, all funded through Kickstarter. In addition to those three issues, I’ve also produced five different decks of cards, a book of potions, a dungeon sketch book, two city books, and several PDFs.

The Book of Dungeon Encounters, for use with Fantasy RPGs.png

EGG: You have a new one out, what is it?
: At the moment, The Book of Dungeon Encounters is funding on Kickstarter and is my excuse to provide GMs with 100 encounter ideas. The 52-page PDF -- which is only $1 on Kickstarter right now -- is packed with monster encounters, odd room encounters, and random nonsense that was written to guide and inspire the gamemaster when it comes time to design a dungeon. As a systemless work, everything is presented in as generic a manner as possible -- which is true of all of my fantasy projects!

EGG: This partners with another creator’s project? How did that come about?
: Ed (SkeletonKey Games) and I have known each other for years, and way back around 2004/2005 we were both publishing PDFs and created several crossover projects. That was always successful for us, and we decided that it might be fun to return to the old ways and run simultaneous Kickstarter projects that are loosely connected. And yep, it has been a blast to spend time working with Ed and coordinating our campaigns! I hadn’t realized how much I missed those calls we used to have when we were working on PDFs about fifteen years ago.

EGG: Off the subject of these campaigns, I planned to ask you about Pocket Boxes, but I know shipping for those has been impacted by the pandemic. So, let me turn to a different question amid all of the slowdowns and tragedy brought on by this disease and the state of the country and ask you if anything positive occurred at SJG, or with Philip Reed Games, since the pandemic began?
: When the distribution network and physical sales ran into serious troubles back in March/April, we shifted our attention to projects that we could complete and deliver as quickly and easily to gamers as possible using direct tools. We managed to get more out-of-print GURPS titles up for print-on-demand sale, the team created a book of dice games (that will go to Kickstarter later this year), and we even posted some free PDFs to the web so that those trapped at home would have new entertainment options while in lockdown. At the same time, we also continued to produce new titles and send them to the factory, and I have been impressed with how well the team has shifted to a work-from-home approach to creating games and accessories. We managed to send a new Munchkin game, several new dice sets, as well as new dice bags and new Munchkin expansions to the factory while also managing the Car Wars Sixth Edition project. Yeah, I would say the one huge positive for Steve Jackson Games that has come out of the pandemic is that our team adapted fast and we have been able to keep everyone employed and working without pause despite being out of our office. As to a personal “silver lining” from the pandemic, I’d chalk up the Fantasy City Sites and Scenes book as a win. I was unable to sleep for about a week, so over the course of that week I selected the artwork, wrote, and completed layout on the 52-page PDF and then took everything to Kickstarter. By the time the project closed, there were over 1,700 backers and I had a book that I consider to be my best work of 2020. I then rested, and returned to Kickstarter with a sequel. Considering that work started on the first book on April 5th of this year, I am immensely proud that both books -- including print editions! -- are already in the hands of backers. I think these two books are my current record for going from idea to delivery in as short a time as possible.

EGG: What other projects are you working on?
: At the office, Car Wars Sixth Edition continues to eat a lot of our time as we finalize everything for print. We’ve been reviewing the miniatures test shots, and a good deal of my time has gone into photographing the minis as they come in. On the personal side of things, I have a few new card decks in the works that I might take to Kickstarter later this year. That will depend on how happy I am with the decks once I finish the design; so far, things are looking good to go!

Adventure Tiles- Darkharrow Crypt.jpg

EGG: Thanks for talking with me. Where can fans follow your work?
: For Steve Jackson Games, visiting [the website] is always the first and best stop. For me, personally, Twitter seems to get the most attention: @philipjreed
Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG and Amazon.

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Egg Embry

Douglas Cole

I note that, especially for newcomers, that there's a missing fourth pledge level.

For $49, you get what is increasingly looking like all 12 new PDFs PLUS a copy of the Characters and Campaigns books: The Basic Set. If you JUST wanted to start off, this is your huckleberry...to borrow a phrase.

But consider that with the $99 pledge tier, you can get all 12 titles (included in pledge), the Basic Set (about $55 for both PDFs), and an additional $70 in credit to spend on PDFs in the Backerkit phase.

You can do a LOT of happy damage with that.

Want to go dungeon crawling? Pick up Dungeon Fantasy 1 and 2 ($8 each) and still have $54 to drop on more than 20 other books in the Dungeon Fantasy line. Any rumors that GURPS isn't a supported system die on the vine on this page. Pay particular attention, if you want a quick start, to Pyramid #3/72 and #3/113, both of which offer tools to make the on-ramp from "let's think about playing" to "dice hit the table" shorter and faster...and both penned by Kromm himself.

But wait . . . fantasy not your thing?

Then you need to take your $70 and check out the Action line. $44 gets you the entire five-volume set (I review the first four here, and I maintain Action 2 is one of the least appreciated, most useful book in the GURPS body of work for ANY genre). Three of the PDFs you'll get (all unlocked at this time) fit right in to an Action game. Want to play Fast and the Furious? James Bond? The Expendables? Jason Bourne? Six Underground? This is your entry point.

STILL don't feel it? Fine.

Perhaps you want secret magic, in a world where monsters are real? Monster Hunters takes it over the top, for those whose tastes run to Buffy, Angel, or Monster Hunters International. Or Dresden Files, for that matter. The Monster Hunters sub-line can be completed for $54. You get an outstanding primer and guide on Ritual Path Magic, the embedded magic system, as part of your PDF haul. All of the Action books and many of the Dungeon Fantasy books can be mined for monsters, mayhem, and enemies...plus Ken Hite's truly outstanding Horror book. I review that on my blog as well (much more briefly than action). Monster Hunters explores some very powerful characters (400 points!) . . . but you can play Sidekicks (MH4) at a lower point value for more challenge.

All of these . . . plus the even more streamlined Dungeon Fantasy RPG (which is different than the Dungeon Fantasy sub-line) . . . have the advantage of providing Templates. Pre-worked building blocks for easing the part of GURPS with some activation energy to it: character generation. With the structure provided by these (which totally aren't class-and-level, really) you get a faster time-to-start, some niche protection for those that want it, and the hand of many fine authors in helping build effective characters while still preserving the open, near-limitless growth options inherent to GURPS.

There's tons and tons more. Not including the huge variety of historical sourcebooks and technical works from third and fourth edition. Or the "-Tech" series which can serve as a gear catalog. Or 120 issues of Pyramid Magazine, guaranteed to find something you can use there, from adventures, to rules tweaks and modifications. Character templates.

Most of GURPS is "3d6, roll and shout." One you have a character, play is as quick or as detailed as you and your group wants it to be. I ran GURPS in my home setting of Nordlond for 13 people at FnordCon, and it felt light and fast, despite half the group never having played GURPS before. I ran it for six people at GameHole Con, and it was still immersive.

Check this out. It's worth your time.


I've been a GURPS fan since the mid-late 1990s. I got a lot of 4e when it first came out. As such, I don't have a lot of the 4e PDFs. I've picked up some core ones, but not a lot. The $99 tier looked good to me. I can easily come up with $120 worth of GURPS PDFs that I want, and being able to get them at a 20% discount is nice. (Oh, yeah, and, I am looking forward to the 12 PDFs that are the actual subject of the Kickstarter...!)

I strongly suspect that the $3 price for this Kickstarter is a gateway drug to get all of us paying attention.... It's am amazing deal, but looking at the backing numbers, lots of people are going in at higher levels.

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