Learning GURPS: Play Some Adventures

This post is as much for my players as it is for anyone else. It is also the means by which I am working out how I plan to tackle the challenge of learning to run games of GURPS: the Generic Universal RolePlaying System (Fourth Edition) published by Steve Jackson Games.

GURPS was first published in 1986. I didn’t discover it (beyond a passing glance in the friendly local games store in Norwich, back in the late 1980s) until sometime around 1998, when I returned actively to the hobby after many years in the wilderness. I think I probably bought GURPS Third Edition (Revised) and the Compendium I book around this time, although I never really played with them – I think I played through the solo adventure, “All In A Night’s Work” once prior to the release of Fourth Edition in 2004.

Since 2004’s Fourth Edition of GURPS, I have bought pretty much all of the core supplements pretty religiously over the years. That said, I didn’t play it very much for two reasons: 1) the folk at my table weren’t keen (especially after three botched attempts at play); 2) I was scared of botching it again. This changed slowly from around September 2017 when I began a blog series entitled, “Learning GURPS” by running a simple fight with the Basic Set. By February 2019, I had returned fueled by the arrival of the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (boxed) and began a parallel post entitled, “Solo Dungeon Fantasy“.

It was around October 2019 when I began to more seriously step into the “active” category with my GURPS gaming: I began to evolve the Dungeons of Thaarl, initially conceived as a simple fighting pit game followed by a delve into a classical dungeon. Over the course of the last 6 months, the game grew and was at one time played by four groups of players totalling around 20 people. It has been a LOT of fun and I have learned the basics of how to play GURPS… albeit with a switch back to the Dungeon Fantasy RPG in recent sessions. That said, I feel as though I am ready to go further and thus I have pushed “pause” on Thaarl. For now, at least.

Learning More About GURPS

I came to the conclusion, some months ago actually, that GURPS is probably my favourite all-round set of roleplaying game rules. I have great affection for Mythras and the Classic Fantasy range from The Design Mechanism, certainly – especially as they published two of my modules. I have also enjoyed a lot of recent exposure to Old-School Essentials (a clone of Basic/Expert D&D) in playtesting Gavin Norman’s forthcoming Dolmenwood. Overall, however, GURPS gives me a sense of total freedom within a game engine that can be customised to suit whatever a particular game needs. It’s a toolkit unlike any other.

On Monday evening, I took the plunge and parked the Dungeons of Thaarl by contacting my players to invite them all to join me in learning GURPS more deeply through actual play. Using the Roleplay Rescue Discord server, I set up a channel entitled “learning-gurps” and posted the following:

Open call for players who would like to join me in learning to play GURPS. As I have outlined on the podcast, GURPS is the game I want to develop mastery with. First step is to form an online play group. I would like to start with a simple adventure. Interested players will be invited to collaborate with me to create a game that is mutually interesting. Shout if you want in.

@ubiquitousrat, 13-04-20 20:20

Initially, I had the idea that I would try and assemble one or two players and offer to run some adventures in one of three Worlds:

The three Worlds in my head are a) Fantastic Isles (low-fantasy prehistoric/early Bronze Age); b) Dark*Matter (modern conspiracy-horror Investigations into Weirdness); c) a near-future SF cyberpunkish setting that is barely conceived in my head yet.

@ubiquitousrat, 14-04-20 07:28

The response was much more positive than I expected: as of writing this, there are 6-7 interested players and we have begun an online “Session 0” type discussion. It has been this discussion, coupled with a lot of enthusiasm from those potential players, that has shifted me to some new thinking. Another strong influence came during my pre-interview chat with game designer Sean “Kromm” Punch – the Line Editor of GURPS – in which he suggested that my best next move was to take a strong look at some e23 Sourcebooks specifically designed with gamers like me in mind.

What follows is where my head is at right now…

Four Worlds For Adventure

Let’s lay out my stall, revised from my thinking over the last 24 hours and heavily influenced by the ongoing discussion on Discord:

  1. I am aiming to initially run a pretty simple GURPS game using Basic Set as a starting point.
  2. I will prepare and run one adventure at a time. Adventures will be designed around a 1-3 session window. Players are asked to commit to one adventure at a time.
  3. To begin, I am following the advice in “How To Be A GURPS GM,” which means the first few games will be without magic, psionics, or other complications. Learning slowly through play is the goal and those things will be added over time.
  4. Players will be expected to create characters to fit each World. GURPS templates will act as a guide. Character creation will follow the “GM Sets Limits –– > Players Create Characters –– > GM Vets Characters –– > Game Begins” approach. You always have the option to discuss the character idea with me and have me build it for you, as recommended for new players.
  5. We can play in more than one World. Players can propose other World ideas and I will consider them. I am not looking to only run one World because that doesn’t help me learn the game.

Where shall we look for adventure? Well, it seems to me that the best starting point is to use the resources that SJGames specifically designed for Game Masters like me. There are four supplement “sets” that were created to jump-start play into some different types of game all utilising the GURPS Basic Set plus the first booklet in each.

These are .PDF products available at relatively low cost, right now. I’m going to post them in rank order of my personal interest as I sit here today. My plan, however, is to run at least one adventure from each of these supplements over the coming months.

Monster Hunters

You are all that stands against the forces of darkness. Humanity doesn’t believe in the wicked things that lurk in the shadows. Demons, vampires, rogue psis, werewolves, chupacabras? All real. And all very dangerous. A powerful demon can make short work of an entire police department or a squad of soldiers. Normal human beings simply cannot fight these things – they lack the skills, the will, and the strength to do so. That’s where you come in. Your team is better than the best, with something setting each of you apart – making this mission possible.

GURPS Monster Hunters 1: Champions, SJGames, v1 April 2011, page 4

After The End

Armageddon. The End Times. World War III. The End. It finally happened. Maybe the bombs fell. Maybe someone weaponized a virus or it just mutated out of control. Maybe our own machines rose up against us. Or maybe the dead started to walk the Earth. Either way, it spelled the death of billions and the end of civilization as we know it… But that was generations ago! Why focus on old news like that? That’s no fun… not when there’s a wasteland to explore!

GURPS After The End 1: Wastelanders, SJGames, v1.3 June 2019, page 3

Dungeon Fantasy With Added Wilderness

It’s strange that hack-’n’-slash gaming is so dungeon-bound, given how many of the sword-and-sorcery tales that sowed the seeds were set outdoors… GURPS Dungeon Fantasy tends to overlook the trip in favor of the destination… Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures sets out to redress this shortcoming.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures, SJGames, v1 June 2014, page 3

This one needs some extra commentary because, as mentioned above, I have been running Dungeon Fantasy in a mega-dungeon for months. Hmm. Initially, I was thinking I am ready to jump to GURPS Fantasy proper. Then I realised that, given that I own the entire Dungeon Fantasy range, I am far from exhausting the possibilities. Honestly, I’d like to grab one of my old AD&D settings – like Mystara or Dragonlance – and run some adventures classic style… but not confined solely to the dungeon.

Action!

The modern cinematic thriller seems like simple-minded entertainment but is hardly simple. Centuries of adventure stories proved the timelessness of its key motives: honor, loyalty, and revenge. Many of its essential plots and archetypes originated in 1920s and ’30s pulps. Its visual style borrows from the gangster flicks, war movies, and Westerns of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. Its edginess owes a debt to ’60s and ’70s directors, who took great risks with graphic violence, raw language, and controversial but highly influential exploitation films. And the fancy guns and gadgets snuck in from Cold War spy fiction.

GURPS Action 1: Heroes provides character-design guidelines for the sorts of lead roles common in action films and television series made and set in the 1990s and 2000s. As befits their origins, these men of action are more complex than their screen portrayal suggests. The ambition of Action 1: Heroes is to bring that depth to the game without doing violence to the genre (violence should happen in play!).

GURPS Action 1: Heroes, SJGames, v1 July 2008, page 3

And there we have it! Four broad areas for exploration expressed through four supplements. These are ready-made treatments of their respective “genre” pieces and require nothing more than GURPS Basic Set to run.

The question for my players: Which would you like me to prep for first?

Game on!

6 thoughts on “Learning GURPS: Play Some Adventures

  1. I would want to go for Monster Hunters or Action! first. I think the world that you would really want to make sure you ran well should be the last to be prepped so you would have ‘learned’ the most GURPS by that point.

  2. This post prompted me to imagine an object first discovered, sought-after, and perhaps worshipped in the prehistory era. It’s encountered again in the modern mystery era but baffles people as to how this object, apparently from the future could actually be so old? Then finally, in the cyberpunk setting, we see the object created for some dark purpose but a group cast it into the past to prevent destruction.

  3. I’m definitely thinking of trying to run After the End at home as it’s a setting I think might tempt my wife to play. Certainly a non-magic setting is up her street. Thank you for sharing your journey with us via your blog and podcast. It’s really inspiring me to get back into GURPS.

  4. You’re welcome, Barry. I am glad you find value in my words. As for my journey, it’s certainly a long and circuitous path that I am walking. Glad you feel inspired!

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