For the first time since I bought the GURPS Powers book (2005?), yesterday I sat down and started to use it. It wasn’t as scary and complicated as I expected – impressions forged with my first experiences with GURPS Fourth Edition around 2005 – but it did emphasise a big truth about that game system: there is more than one way to build a special ability in GURPS.
GURPS is a toolkit. It’s a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, system for roleplaying games. I’ve known this all along… but it’s been a relatively recent realisation. The gap between knowing something and understanding is often larger than we realise. The GURPS Powers book is probably the most obviously “toolkit” supplement I have read so far.
I was trying to build a particular effect for a game I’d like to run very soon. I had scoured GURPS Magic and concluded that the exact approach I wanted to take didn’t quite fit the standard GURPS Magic system. Nothing wrong with that but it wasn’t quite the right fit. Next, I read read GURPS Thaumatology and explored the ideas there. Ultimately, the “magic as powers” approach seemed most flexible.
For readers who are rolling their eyes and shouting, “Just use a simpler system!”, well, this isn’t a matter of complex. It’s a matter of approach. It’s about rummaging for the best tool for the job. Thus, I arrived at GURPS Powers: a very large – and optional – toolbox.
But this is also where I felt the warmth and enjoyment that I so often get from GURPS ignite my heart. Here is a game in which I can specifically customise the system to give me a special ability that works just exactly how I want it to work. It was also pretty easy… except for the discovery that there is more than one way to build the effect I was imagining.
Sensing the uncertainty in that discovery was initially difficult for me to handle: uncertainty triggers anxiety – the “am I doing this right?” feeling – and that, in turn, can cause me to stutter or stop. This time, however, I realised something simple and profound: there is no single “correct” way to build a Power in GURPS. You do it the way that makes sense to you as GM.
From there, I began to explore the couple of different ways I could build the effect and price it out with Character Points. Different mechanical dials get twizzled as you play around with the options and it’s pretty engaging stuff. You become a game designer, tweaking the system to fit your vision of the game world. This is a reversal of the regular way with most other systems where you have to adapt your idea of the game world to fit the system.
It seems I am finding my feet in the ever-rich soil of GURPS roleplaying. This is where I can make things work my way without having to write (or re-write) all the rules of the game. Here is where I can customise the experience I want using the tools already offered by the publisher. This is the system wherein I can find my particular style and flavour to build the game worlds I truly want to explore.
I’m beginning to imagine more possibilities as a consequence. The choices are all mine to make.