On Old-School GURPS

My journey back through the editions of GURPS – from Fourth Edition back to the First – has been illuminating. Perhaps it has been akin to those intrepid gamers who, some twenty years ago, began to trek back from the newer editions of D&D and rediscover older and warmer climes.

I have found the GURPS Third Edition to be where I feel most at home right now. It’s a less onerous tome and the game it presents is very simple to grasp. Fewer choices and options is a key attraction, as is the earlier design decision to provide what you need and nothing more. The presentation – the black and white art, the columns and sidebars for text, the larger font – all makes it easier on the eye too.

To be clear, I think that GURPS Fourth Edition is a seriously awesome game and one of the most misunderstood and under-rated systems out there. This is not a “editions war” commentary. For me, the key is that I largely expect that time spent with Third Edition will prime me to more readily manage the Fourth.

Which brings me to a serious point: not all design development and progress is beneficial to the outsider. For established GURPS gamers back in 2004, the Fourth Edition must have been an amazing step forward. But for me, as a person who never played GURPS before, returning to the First and the Third Editions has been a much better journey.

In many ways I prefer the flawed and scattered feel of the earlier GURPS game. I enjoy collecting the old books and discovering different approaches to similar problems. This is a feature and strength of GURPS for me, the idea that each GM can do things in their own way using what is still a strong standard as their starting point.

It’s fair to say that this is akin to the Old School Renaissance in D&D, albeit on a very small scale and without the need to build my own retroclone (because SJ Games have kept Third Edition in print for nearly 40 years). The creativity I am discovering in returning to that old Basic Set book has been magnificent.

Whatever games you play, I think there is value in exploring the evolution of that game system. Looking at where we have come from, acknowledging the mishaps and mistakes of the past, is a great way to also rediscover the joy and creativity that was gifted to us. Just because there’s a shiny new edition of a game doesn’t mean that it replaces the earlier versions. Perhaps it just sheds new light on the past.

Game on!

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