Sitting down to play Hiraeth the other day, I was suddenly struck by how much simpler this would all be if I used GURPS instead of AD&D2e. That thought spawned another, the idea that I have been hankering to explore the genesis and evolution of GURPS. How has the game changed? How would it feel to go back and play through the journey SJ Games took fans of GURPS through from 1985 until 2004, with the arrival of GURPS 4th Edition?
To begin, I grabbed Man-to-Man off my shelf. I also grabbed by 1st Edition GURPS Boxed Set and my Third Edition Revised rulebook. I would explore the game through the lens of a couple of characters. I would begin with a warrior.
Man-to-Man presents the combat system of the proto-GURPS. It’s nominally a fantasy set of rules but there is no magic. In many ways, it’s more like a low-fantasy Ancient or Medieval fighting game. Except it has fantasy races like Orcs, Elves, and Reptilemen. The later supplement, Orcslayer, introduced the realm of Caithness (now part of Yrth) and that’s a pretty grounded type of fantasy. Just my type of thing.
Making a Warrior
Here’s my solo character creation notes from mucking about with Man-to-Man.
I decide to create a warrior-type character with Man-to-Man and play a fight or two. There are loads of pre-gen characters in the book but I want to build my own to learn the system. I know that GURPS will later pitch characters at 100 points, so I decide to build a 100-points hero and see how it plays.
Printing off a character sheet (actually, 2 sheets on A4), I turn to page 5 and begin to build my hero. I want to build my favourite type of fighter, a dexterous and lightly-armoured raider. I am thinking Saxon or Celtic Dark Age for my inspiration.
Beginning with 100 points, there are four basic Attributes: Strength (ST), Dexterity (DX), Intelligence (IQ), and Health (HT). The average human has a score of 10 in all of these. I know I want to boost DX to 14, listed as “Athlete” level, and this will cost 45 points. For 10 points I can also boost HT to 11, so I do that too. I might come back and tweak the others once I see how my remaining 45 points will spread out.
Adding DX and HT together then dividing by four gives me the character’s Speed. That’s 14+11 = 25 / 4 = 6.25.
There are only four Advantages to choose from in Man-to-Man: Ambidextrousness; Combat Reflexes; Peripheral Vision; Toughness. I decide to buy Combat Reflexes for 15 points because it’ll give big bonuses if my character gets surprised.
Skills come next. This is just the fighting game, so all the Skills are combat-related. Fair enough. Let’s try a sword and board hero, keeping it simple, but make sure I can test other styles in play. I decide to buy skill in Shield, Knife, Brawling, Fast-Draw (Sword), Broadsword, Spear, and Bow. I have 30 points to spend on 7 skills. I decide to drop 16 points on Broadsword, setting it to DX+3; 8 points to Shield at DX+3; Bow gets 2 points for DX-1; Spear has 1 point for DX-1; Knife gets 1 point for DX, as does Brawling; Fast Draw (Sword) gets the last point for DX.
Looking at the appearance notes, and making some rolls, he’s 5’9” tall, 150 lbs, white but tanned skin, bright orange hair, brown eyes. I call him Ulric Brighthair.
For equipment, I decide to choose Heavy Leather Armour, a Medium Shield, a Large Knife, and a Broadsword. Working out encumbrance, this puts him 1lb over the limit for Medium (2) Enc, but I will live with that for now. I scribble down the basic damage values and shield / armour stats. I then work out my Dodge, Parry, and Block scores.
Looks like we are ready to fight! I decide to print off the four 100-point pre-gens and have a 2-on-2 fight.
I played a quick fight, 2-on-2, with Ulric in a 9-yard hexed arena. The fight lasted about 5 turns – that’s 5 seconds of action in Man-to-Man – and took about 15 minutes to play through, including rules lookups as I learned the game. This was highly enjoyable tactical combat and although the basic rules encourage abstract “theatre of the mind” play, I was deeply into the hexed battle map and stand-up figures
Two reflections: firstly, I enjoy tactical combat way more than I perhaps like to admit. Yes, it triggers my wargaming past and yes, up until now this has always felt like an element of shame in the roleplaying community. How many times have people reinforced the idea that roleplaying games shouldn’t be played like wargames? Well, I think tactical combat is a lot of fun so yah, boo, I don’t care!
Secondly, the Man-to-Man (early GURPS) combat system is really quick and very easy to learn. Even with the advanced rules in play, it felt natural and logical. It was grounded in the fiction of the battle, by which I mean that every action I took in-character was taken in-role. It was simple and easy to play.
I want to play more. I want to move beyond character into roleplaying with the larger GURPS set. Next stop: GURPS 1st edition boxed set.