How do you get to GURPS?

DMMike

Game Masticator
This game has a steep learning curve - enough to scare off entry-level players.

A game master gains a level of prestige AND demand when she is able to GM a difficult or enigmatic game.
Recent ENWorld comments like these beg the question: how do you condition your gaming group for increasingly complex RPGs? I use GURPS as the titular example because it's the first system that comes to mind when I think of the sheer number of pages and books dedicated to rules and tables.

The answer, in GURPS's case, is "one book at a time."

But what if you have a different end point, or starting point? Do you soften up a game group with a light game, with the hopes of conditioning them to play a more difficult/complex game?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I think you just find the right players for the right game. Some people hate lite games, others hate crunchy games. There’s no truck in forcing those who like one to play the other.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
In one group, I learned to play GURPS because it was popular with several members of the group (more on that below). We were even occasional playtesters for GURPS products, as well as other projects by then current or former SJG employees.

I don’t really care for GURPS- my complex toolbox system of choice is HERO. But it was a suggestion I made that led to me playing more GURPS...and even buying a couple of books.

It was a largish group, and everyone had certain time commitments that occasionally impacted game night, for both players and GMs alike. Time pressures and no-shows sometimes meant we played M:tG or board games instead. While fun, it wasn’t ideal.

So I proposed that every week, we scheduled TWO games, a primary and a backup. If the primary GM couldn’t run his game for whatever reason, the backup would step up. And every player brought whatever they needed to play in each campaign. Boardgames were only played as the tertiary backup, unless we actually scheduled them for play.

In addition, everyone in the group was responsible for having at least one campaign to run, with everyone likewise having at least one PC for each campaign. I either ran D&D or HERO. One guy ran RIFTS. Another infamously couldn’t settle on a single system, so he wound up running a bunch of unrelated campaigns centered on Mecha, each in a different system.

And several people ran GURPS campaigns.

In fact, despite my dislike of the system, one of my favorite characters in that group was in a playtest campaign for GURPS Vampire: the Masquerade.
 
Honestly, I rarely have a problem with getting people to play “complex” games. My preferred rules as a GM is Hero System, which is generally considered to be a complex system. The dirty little secret of a well designed complex system though is that most of the complexity tends to be front loaded. Complex character creation but relatively straightforward game play. I help the new players build characters (or just create them myself), and explain the “in play” rules while running the first session. My experience with players has generally been that - outside of people who only play one game - they are usually more concerned with genres and themes than what system is being used.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Recent ENWorld comments like these beg the question: how do you condition your gaming group for increasingly complex RPGs?
First, answer this question. *WHY* do you condition your gaming group for increasingly complex RPGs?

I suspect there are at least two common answers to this: 1) Because, I, the GM, prefer complex games, and 2) Because, I, the GM, have a *specific* more complex game in mind.

The second one is easier to answer - if you want people to accept a particular more complex game, sell them on the *other* things the game can give them. If you can't come up with a good enough list of those to entice them to join you... maybe that game isn't as great a choice as you think it is for the group.

When I was trying to sell a group on Shadowrun, for example (the mechanical system of which is kind of baroque), I told them about the cyberware, and magic, and dragons and elves and orc with automatic weapons, the complex near-future dystopia... and they were in to at least give the mechanic a try.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
...if you want people to accept a particular more complex game, sell them on the *other* things the game can give them. If you can't come up with a good enough list of those to entice them to join you... maybe that game isn't as great a choice as you think it is for the group.
And just ‘cause you know the people at the table, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you know their taste in games. I tried to get my group to play a campaign in HERO. At that point, I’d known those guys maybe 15 years at least, and some 23 or more. I’m the Mac guy in a group of PC dudes, some of whom were professional programmers. One even did some big games.

So in addition to the overarching plot, I tried to sell them on HERO by appealing to what it was they always preached about PCs over Macs- customizability.

The *chirp*chirp* of disinterested crickets was deafening, with HERO itself- not the plot- being the most often cited reason for declining.
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
Generally, I don't. I've found that players, much like their normal human counterparts these mysterious "people" will learn things that interest them, regardless of complexity, and not learn things that don't interest them, regardless of complexity.

Ya'll know that one kid who had knew calculus down put, but always seemed to fail history?

Yeah, players are like that. So generally speaking if you can make the learning fun, or make the subject something they give a squat about, they'll learn it. Otherwise you're just SOL.
 

ccs

39th lv DM
If someone wants to run something using some system we just throw it out there & discuss it.
 

Michele

Visitor
Do you soften up a game group with a light game, with the hopes of conditioning them to play a more difficult/complex game?
I've been a GURPS GM for two decades now. I never thought in terms of "conditioning" people towards a more complex version of GURPS.
Rather, since my friends understandably wanted magic and wizards in our initial fantasy setting, rules concerning magic were introduced. I did so gradually, after a few games with mundane-only stuff. After that initial gaming group, I continued to do so for new players.

A player came up with a character concept who could be described as a specialist bare-handed wrestler. That was why I introduced more detail as to close combat and bare-handed fighting, and eventually GURPS Martial Arts. Another player loved his character's brute strength and greatsword and he never cared to learn the subtleties of close combat; actually his standard tactics was to avoid close combat.
So the first player learned the details and maneuvers and tricks, the other player did not and simply trusted me and the first player to handle all of that.

In short, it's the players driving the amount of complexity, not me (the GM). They want it more complex, it can be more complex. They want it simple, it can be simple.

This is easily done with GURPS, by the way, because it's not just universal - it's modular.
 

uzirath

Explorer
I've been a GURPS GM for two decades now. I never thought in terms of "conditioning" people towards a more complex version of GURPS.
Yeah, me neither. GURPS has been my system of choice since the mid-'90s, though I've certainly played plenty of other systems.

I long ago stopped expecting my players to completely digest the rules of whatever game I'm running. When I began recruiting new players (non-gamers) to join my RPG groups, I discovered that for most RPGs, the game rules form a real barrier to entry. I experimented with rules-lite games like Fudge, but we found that these systems weren't satisfying for long campaign play and they irked the more dedicated gamers who enjoy the crunch. In response, I just pushed the rules completely into the background. This is still my go-to method.

I work with new players to develop a character. If they're into the rules, I let them have free reign. If they aren't, I just ask them questions and build the character that they want to play. During the game, I simply ask people what they want to do and apply the rules that make sense. I always explain the mechanics that I'm applying in a conversational way, and I'll let a player back out of something that the mechanics don't support. Most players begin to learn the rules and end up borrowing or purchasing books themselves, but I don't expect or require this. Some people enjoy learning the details; others just want to enjoy the immersion and don't care about the books. This has been true with both GURPS and D&D (among other games), though I was surprised to find that GURPS, despite its potential complexity, makes it easier for me to keep the rules in the background because it is built on a more simulationist core.

A player came up with a character concept who could be described as a specialist bare-handed wrestler. That was why I introduced more detail as to close combat and bare-handed fighting, and eventually GURPS Martial Arts. Another player loved his character's brute strength and greatsword and he never cared to learn the subtleties of close combat; actually his standard tactics was to avoid close combat.
So the first player learned the details and maneuvers and tricks, the other player did not and simply trusted me and the first player to handle all of that.
I have had this same experience at my table. Some players want all the grit from GURPS Martial Arts. Others just want to swing their swords. I make sure that things stay balanced so that both characters can be equivalently competent.

In short, it's the players driving the amount of complexity, not me (the GM). They want it more complex, it can be more complex. They want it simple, it can be simple.

This is easily done with GURPS, by the way, because it's not just universal - it's modular.
I've found this to be true as well. Have you tried DFRPG yet? It's a great system for new players who want the standard D&D-style swords and sorcery genre with GURPS under the hood. We picked up a few boxed sets for our middle- and high-school RPG clubs and they've been quite popular.
 

ART!

Explorer
Start with a "lite" version of the game, like GURPS Lite? See if they like the way it feels. Go from there.
 

Michele

Visitor
...In response, I just pushed the rules completely into the background. This is still my go-to method.

I work with new players to develop a character. If they're into the rules, I let them have free reign. If they aren't, I just ask them questions and build the character that they want to play. During the game, I simply ask people what they want to do and apply the rules that make sense. I always explain the mechanics that I'm applying in a conversational way, and I'll let a player back out of something that the mechanics don't support. Most players begin to learn the rules and end up borrowing or purchasing books themselves, but I don't expect or require this. Some people enjoy learning the details; others just want to enjoy the immersion and don't care about the books. This has been true with both GURPS and D&D (among other games), though I was surprised to find that GURPS, despite its potential complexity, makes it easier for me to keep the rules in the background because it is built on a more simulationist core.
I try to do this too, but I'm not always as successful as you sound above! Yet, I think it's a very good way to go.


I've found this to be true as well. Have you tried DFRPG yet?
No, but we'd surely try that, if we went back to classic fantasy. We have spent the last few years in the 1930s/1940s with secret magic, monsters and GURPS Cabal. We've done Monster Hunters moved back to that time frame, too. The last time I GMed a fantasy adventure was when playtesting for GURPS Locations: St. George's Cathedral, and that was six years ago. But who knows, maybe someday we'll go back to the dungeons.
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
I agree with [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] and others.

You seem to be under the premise that complexity is good. Not all of us agree.

For me, it was it was about personal development and growth. Different phases of my life I wanted different things. Decades ago I like crunchy and complex systems. I liked learning all the complex interactions and how things might go together. Then I learned how to "optimize" and as part of that I learned how to "break" these complex systems. And that was fun for awhile.

But now, nope. I'm not interested in breaking systems or optimizing. So, I prefer simpler systems where we can role-play and use any character theme etc and not worry about balance or not accounting for some esoteric or obscure situational rule. Fun to me is now not about what I know or how lever I am, but rather the interactions I have with the other players.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
And just ‘cause you know the people at the table, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you know their taste in games. I tried to get my group to play a campaign in HERO. At that point, I’d known those guys maybe 15 years at least, and some 23 or more. . .
The *chirp*chirp* of disinterested crickets was deafening, with HERO itself- not the plot- being the most often cited reason for declining.
Long-time players (or just friends?) can develop some pretty strong preferences. Were they averse to any new games, or just HERO?

First, answer this question. *WHY* do you condition your gaming group for increasingly complex RPGs?
Could be any reason. The GM has a preferred game, some players (but not all) want something crunchier, or a new game was released that doesn't look like it would be easy to dive into, but is appealing nonetheless.

I think the players, or lack thereof, are really the driving factor here. Maybe the GM is making a public offer to run a game, and just about anyone could reply. Or you have Danny's group of long time associates. Obviously, there are plenty of combinations between these. Are there players who might be interested in a complex game, but you want to give them something digestible to start with?

Another player loved his character's brute strength and greatsword and he never cared to learn the subtleties of close combat; actually his standard tactics was to avoid close combat.
I feel justified, in using GURPS as an example of complexity, if fighting with a greatsword can be done while avoiding close combat.

In short, it's the players driving the amount of complexity, not me (the GM). They want it more complex, it can be more complex. They want it simple, it can be simple.
Say your coworkers have picked up on your dirty little secret (GMing), and want to give it a try. Do you run GURPS and hold their hands when they need it, or do you start them off with a game of Microlite20?

So far, it looks like the thread answer is "throw 'em in the fire!" Which is brutal, but an admirable GM trait :)
 

Michele

Visitor
I feel justified, in using GURPS as an example of complexity, if fighting with a greatsword can be done while avoiding close combat.
"Close combat" in GURPS means fighting so close to your enemy that you are within less than one yard from him. That's where you can grapple him, bite him, use a small dagger - in the same hex, if you use a tactical combat hex grid (which is, again, optional). A greatsword by definition has a reach of 1 or 2 hexes, so it is basically unusable in close combat, and it is very advantageous to try and use it from a distance.

Yes, that's complex, I know.

Say your coworkers have picked up on your dirty little secret (GMing), and want to give it a try. Do you run GURPS and hold their hands when they need it, or do you start them off with a game of Microlite20?

So far, it looks like the thread answer is "throw 'em in the fire!" Which is brutal, but an admirable GM trait :)
Since it's the first time I hear about Microlite20, it's GURPS or nothing. But, as mentioned, it would be gradually introduced. If, as it would be likely, they are thinking RPGs = fantasy = dungeon crawl, I'd start by leaving out wizards and magic, any creature that isn't basically human-shaped (elves OK, centaurs, maybe later), supernatural beings, etc. And tactical maps, and close combat, and missile weapons.
That still leaves a light-hearted treasure-chase with something like shortsword-armed, none-too-clever goblins as the opposition. Or, given that none of us is a high-school student any more, something a bit more challenging from the POV of the morality and motives, but still no more complicated than that as to game mechanics.
if they like that, things can get more complex, over time.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
Long-time players (or just friends?) can develop some pretty strong preferences. Were they averse to any new games, or just HERO?
All but one person in the group were- at that point in time- long-time gamers. A couple of the guys were “D&D only”...but at least one of them had consented to play RIFTS and/or later tried my M&M II version of the campaign I intended to run in HERO. I believe they consented because it was derived from D20, and as a whole, 3.5Ed was the group’s edition of choice.

That turned out to be a mistake in a different way. My relative inexperience with the system showed, and that hurt the game. But equally, M&M II’s different method of modeling things like iterative attacks proved very unpopular. The speedster character’s iconic super speed punching was not intuitive; it didn’t feel right just giving a damage bonus instead of giving the character more attacks and thus, attack rolls.

Unlike HERO, which does exactly that. :erm:

The campaign crumbled after a handful of sessions.

So, like I said, an aversion to HERO itself was one reason the game didn’t get run as I intended.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Could be any reason. The GM has a preferred game, some players (but not all) want something crunchier, or a new game was released that doesn't look like it would be easy to dive into, but is appealing nonetheless.
The point was that there isn't a "one size fits all" answer. How you go about getting folks to play a more complicated game depends on why you want to play a more complicated game. In terms of positioning, approach, and setting expectations, we need to know why the move is to be made before we can suggest fitting plans to make it.
 

uzirath

Explorer
Say your coworkers have picked up on your dirty little secret (GMing), and want to give it a try. Do you run GURPS and hold their hands when they need it, or do you start them off with a game of Microlite20?
I would start off with GURPS because it's the system I know best. (I have done this exact thing many times over the years with different groups of coworkers.) If I'm going to be managing the rules behind the scenes, then I need a system that I know well. Most RPGs, GURPS included, have a very simple core mechanic of trying to roll higher or lower than a target number. With GURPS, you roll three dice and aim low. I usually use a marker to highlight key numbers on the character sheets of new players. I also have digital copies of all the characters on my laptop so I can look up anything I need to during play. I've never had a new player complain about complexity.

Every once in a while, I've had a group who wanted more complexity than they could actually digest. This usually relates to combat. Everyone wanted tactical combat with every optional rule from GURPS Martial Arts, but nobody read the books and mastered the details. In these cases, we have developed play aids to make things run faster. For example, I have a few custom sets of laminated combat cards that players can use to select combat maneuvers. (They're based on the free set distributed by SJG.) Slap a card down in front of you during your turn and we're off to the races.

So far, it looks like the thread answer is "throw 'em in the fire!" Which is brutal, but an admirable GM trait :)
If the "fire" in this metaphor is "complex game mechanics," then I would say that my job as GM is akin to being the engineer who manages the ship's boilers. The rest of the crew have different jobs and should enjoy the voyage without getting burned.
 

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