GURPS: Renaming Skills

The key intent for my fantasy world is to create a primal, primordial, prehistoric, and deeply primitive Otherworld. Given that my chosen rules set is GURPS, the biggest realisation I’ve had is that I need to customise my game in ways I’d not considered… like changing the names of skills.

In GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns, it says:

Rules are guidelines . . . Many things are left up to the GM to decide. A game world gets realism from its completeness. The GM adds all the details that make it come alive. With a good GM, even a bad set of rules can be a lot of fun. With a good set, the sky’s the limit. We semi-modestly believe that GURPS is a very good set of rules indeed – but without the GM, the rules are nothing.

GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns, page 486

Underneath that, in an outbox, is a list of page references for different customisation options offered in the text of the game. Because of this, I’ve generally thought of customising the game as meaning choosing which options to turn on or off. But, in dealing with my primal fantasy idea, I’m starting to realise that it’s deeper than this.

In a forthcoming interview with Daniel Jones – the originator of the term Otherworld-immersion – we discussed the need to ensure that everything within the game is tuned towards maximising the time spent by players in-role within the Otherworld. Thinking about this, I realised that even simple stuff can jar against and spoil this goal. For example, the names of skills used in the game.

What if a character in a primal fantasy world is injured and bleeding? The players will probably be thinking, “Hey, let’s do some First Aid.” Except that prehistoric humans would not think in these modern terms at all. Rolling First Aid skill assumes a whole boatload of medical knowledge and lets us picture cleaning wounds, binding them, and maybe even going as far as injecting a person with painkillers. But not in a primal world.

In GURPS Ice Age, published back in 1989, the prehistoric humans can learn an Herbalist skill, described as being, “…the TL0 version of the Physician skill.” It might seem like a small detail but changing the language we use at the table will change the experience we are having in our head. While I am not sure even that word is quite right, the point was to realise the power of changing the names of skills within the game for the purpose of changing the effect on our game.

This probably seems obvious to the GURPS veterans out there, and doubly so if you are wise enough to realise the depth of connection between the way we describe something mechanically and the effect we are imagining in the game World. For me, this was big and has me working (slowly) towards both editing down the Skill List to only contain that which I need but also to change the language used to fit the primal feel I am seeking.

It’s perhaps not what most gamers would choose to spend time on but, given my goals, it’s an example of precisely the sort of methodological change that I have only recently understood to be important. Surprisingly, I am also deriving a great deal of enjoyment from developing the core GURPS game to fit the vision of fantasy that I am imagining. Old tropes are being let go and new opportunities are bubbling up.

Game on!

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