GURPS Third Edition

Being about 20 years late to the party is a feeling that I imagine several gamers have experienced, especially those who returned to the earlier editions of D&D over the past couple of decades. While my return to GURPS Third Edition isn’t nearly as significant as some other’s re-discovery of classic roleplaying games, the past few days has been a revelation.

This week I have been curious to explore the genesis of GURPS from 1985, with the arrival of Man-to-Man, through to the 2004 arrival of GURPS Fourth Edition. As I wrote earlier in the week, the aesthetic of the GURPS Basic Set, First Edition and the ease with which I got to playing stood in contrast to my frustrated first attempts to get into the current version of the game.

This is probably my earliest GURPS book, which I had forgotten I owned.

The past two days have been a joy as I delved into my dusty old copy of GURPS Third Edition, Revised. The revision, by the way, was mostly the addition of an appendix of commonly-deployed rules which were also due for release in the Compendium tomes. Out went “Caravan to Ein Arris”, the scenario, and in went a load of extra “generic” stuff.

What I have discovered – for, in truth, while I bought and read this game, I never really got it to the table back in the day – is that GURPS Third Edition is entirely my kind of game. The aesthetic that I enjoyed from the Basic Set boxed game published in 1986 is still there but the game has grown and matured. In many ways, the flaws are evident and the whole line is a jumble of sourcebooks and supplements that boggles the mind, but it’s a beautiful thing.

In exploring the Third Edition, I have found the whole thing much more approachable and understandable. It’s hard to express why this is the case because, in essence, it’s the same game as the current Fourth Edition… which I also greatly appreciate and enjoy playing. It’s easier on the eye, certainly: the black-and-white two-column interior is far less distracting to my colour-blind and ADHD brain. But the Third Edition feels… more fun to read and play!

Last night, a friend and I hopped online and created a character each using the free GURPS Lite Third Edition rules. Then we had a quick fight with some skeletons while discussing all the exciting campaign ideas that were running around in our heads.

I was amazed at the simplicity of the game – an impression that flies in the face of common beliefs about GURPS – and delighted to dig into the possibilities. The most striking thing about 3e Lite was the inclusion of magic! You could easily begin a campaign with just those 32-pages.

There’s far too much to say for just one post and it’s hard to know quite where all the passion I feel for the Third Edition bubbled up from. Yet the whole thing feels much more possible to me.

I want to build the interesting characters that GURPS offers. Instead of merely accepting the staid and limited character classes of many other games, this game lets me plumb the limits of my imagination. Or not… because you can easily build those staid stereotypes if that’s what feels familiar. The point is that you, as the players and GM, get to decide.

I want to explore the cross-genre and multiple-worlds flexibility of GURPS. More than anything, I want to delve into the many, many GURPS Classic sourcebooks that I have collected over the years. While I have long advocated that all GMs read GURPS sourcebooks due to their excellent quality of research and ideas, putting the game stuff inside to use feels like fun to me. From World War II to the far reaches of GURPS Traveller, I have heaps of these old books to explore.

A few of the many books I collected over the past 25 years…

I don’t think I’ll stop playing Fourth Edition because, ultimately, it’s much slicker and better organised than the classic GURPS. But I think I might visit a while and play a little because it’s helping me to appreciate the scope and depth of this venerable game. GURPS is one of the most undervalued and misunderstood games. It’s a champion for roleplaying and a beacon of grounded, reliable rules for those of us who like detail.

Thank you to Steve Jackson Games for continually supporting the old game, even when they’ve made an even better version and supported that for 20 years. It’s a credit to the company that they see their customers and serve them choices rather than just trying to sell them on the latest edition. Some how, about twenty years too late, I feel like I have come home to GURPS.

Game on!


  1. I get excited flipping through 3e books. I find the layout of the core book to be better for me, it’s less dense, the art is weirder and more evocative of the possibilities than the fairly average art in 4e. For me, 3e is strange and wonderful and full of possibilities. The writing can be a bit dry, but not nearly as much as 4e.

    I collected far more 3e and earlier books because when I finally started to look at 4e, a lot of the books were too expensive or no longer in print. I’d rather have a physical book in my hands than read on a screen. I think I have the two core books for 4e and maybe one splat. Earlier books were plentiful on the used shelf at the local gaming store and on Amazon.

    I can work with that excited energy and work around messy rules. I tend to run lighter games anyway and ignore the crunchier parts when possible. Powered By the Apocalypse games have been a huge boon for me and my group. I’d happily play or run in a GURPS lite game with the 3e rules.

    Liked by 1 person

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