GURPS and Science Fiction

Today I sat down with GURPS Traveller and the Third Edition rulebook and completely failed to start playing. Instead, I started reading… and because everything is play, arguably I started playing. But I didn’t roll any dice (yet). That’s because I got scared: too much of a detailed universe, too many options.

Then I remembered a video playlist recommended to me by a friend – namely “Learning GURPS” by Chris Normand (aka Nose). I started watching and found some much-needed confidence. He reminded me how simple GURPS is to play. He also reminded me that it’s ok to just choose a genre and begin.

I want to play some Science-Fiction. While I am inspired by Traveller, I want to explore and the real genius of GURPS is that you can adapt any tools you like to the game you want to run. I just want to begin with a simple character idea (“Explorer”) and get playing. I just need a planet explore and a character.

This opened up a realisation about science-fiction gaming that has somehow eluded me for 40 or more years: you don’t really need intricate setting notes or rules for starships or making planets. You just need a place to visit, a narrative trajectory, and a character. All those SF games I’ve collected over the decades with tonnes of detailed rules aren’t really necessary.

Can you imagine a place? Describe it. I’m picturing an Endor-like forest world within which are huge pyramids made from a black obsidian-like stone. These pyramids are huge and surrounded by deep forest, jungle even. Because I don’t like one-biome worlds in my SF, there are mountains and huge rivers on this verdant garden world’s main continent – perhaps a huge Pangaea-like place – but it’s not the only one.

What’s the situation and where is the story going? Scribble that down too. The Imperial Interstellar Scout Service (yes, I am stealing the classic Traveller terms) has charted a small two-person scout ship on Detached Duty to investigate the planet and the pyramids. The crew are tasked with scanning one of the sites and finding a way to determine what these structures are all about.

Who’s involved? Describe them. Once you’ve described them, note down the stuff you need on for a character sheet.

I’m going to give myself a little bit of time to detail some character ideas but my first image is of a scruffy-looking scout in a leather jacket with a sidearm – Han Solo springs to mind as inspiration. His friend is a wolf-like Vargr (from the Traveller canon) with a laser carbine and a pair of vision-enhancing binoculars.

My crew are landing in that classic-style Scout/Courier triangular-shaped starship in a clearing a few clicks from a pyramid. I think they are looking to score some ancient artefacts they might sell on the black market, being as a they are retired Scouts and the service isn’t really paying them.

Here’s how I am digging myself out of a hole: I have a picture of a place and characters who want to explore that location. I’m going to describe both of those elements as best as a I can. From the character description, limiting myself to just the Attributes, Skills, and Advantages in GURPS Basic Set, I will build my guys.

Then I’ll send the characters into the place to do the thing. The play has begun.

Game on!


  1. When introducing players to SF settings they do not know, I always use this method – I start small and local and work my way out and up.

    The same is true for my DIY settings. Start at the bottom, create/decide only what you need immediately and in no time at all you’ve got a pretty impressively fleshed out setting.


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