You are probably aware that I have become an enthusiastic supporter of the GURPS game system over the past few years. The observant reader/listener will also have noticed that I also enjoy and play many other games. Some might ask why, when I enjoy the GURPS system so much, would I still choose to play with other sets of rules?
For me, the use of a generic and universal set of game rules for my roleplaying games is very appealing because it means I can run any kind of game world with the same system. Given the basic assumptions that GURPS operates under, which I am happy to accept, the game has become a very reliable standard for me to use.
That being said, let’s be clear: GURPS offers a very specific range of experiences that are based around the assumptions of grounded real-world physics, a pretty traditional organisation of the group (with a GM and players), and a fairly detailed range of choices for players to make. While it can be shaped in many different ways, GURPS as written offers me a great way to play in the way that I usually like to play.
When I think about other games out there, I tend to be looking to enjoy one of two things: a game that has been customised to give a particular experience that is in tune with a specific fantastic world; or a game that has been built to offer a very different type of tabletop narrative gaming experience, such as a storytelling game.
An example of the game that has been customised to give a particular experience that is in tune with a fantastic world would be Star Trek Adventures (powered by 2d20). Each time I have played this game, I have been immersed into the feeling and flavour of Star Trek in a way that previous incarnations of Star Trek roleplaying haven’t quite attained. While I COULD do this setting with GURPS, it’d be more work than it is to read and play with 2d20 STA. The same could be said of RuneQuest by the Chaosium in relation to Glorantha.
In regards to different narrative gaming experiences, I have enjoyed various offerings on the market: the Cypher System gives me a great play experience with a similarly generic gaming engine but offers a more player-empowered narrative style that I find refreshing; Savage Worlds appeals to me for the use of miniatures during combat and the easy way the game scales larger skirmishes to offer a more wargaming style of play – especially with military settings, such as Weird War II.
On top of all of that, I simply enjoy reading and playing with different games. While GURPS can offer me much of what I want at the table, there is much to be said for variety in one’s diet. The only downside with collecting and reading the many hundreds of roleplaying systems I own is that I can’t really learn them all. But it doesn’t stop me enjoying the attempt.
The more my system mastery of GURPS increases, the more likely I am to simply import a given game world into that system. But it does take time to work out how you are going to do it. Evangelists for GURPS often overlook this, I feel, largely because once you have internalised the rules it’s very easy to forget how much time you have invested in doing so.
All of that said, I think GURPS gets poor service when it is described as being complex and difficult to play. This is simply not true. What is perhaps more accurate to say is that GURPS requires some assembly before you can play.
My experience has been that the game encourages more roleplaying (as in “making decisions in-role as your character”) than many other systems but that this comes with a huge upfront requirement for you to work out exactly what you want to play.
Where D&D (for example) wins is that is prescribes a whole range of elements that give a broadly entertaining middle-of-the-road roleplaying experience which appeals to the majority of players. Where GURPS wins is that it allows me to take my gaming to the edges of the field and see how far I can push the boundaries for myself.
But sometimes… you can just save yourself a whole bunch of time by playing a bespoke game designed to give you just the experience it was designed to offer.