GURPS: Losing My Fear

I was always curious about GURPS back at the tail end of the 1980s. I remember seeing a copy on the shelf in one of the FLGS back around 1987 or 88. I didn’t know what it was so I put it back. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that I bought a copy.

In 2004, GURPS Fourth Edition was released to great fanfare and I decided to dive in. I bought the Basic Set and started collecting the early releases over the next couple of years. I even read “GURPS for Dummies” and set about enthusiastically exploring the game… but I never quite got it to the table.

Frankly, I found the whole thing all at once really attractive but also entirely arcane.

There were a few abortive attempts to bring the game to the table throughout the 2010s. I ran one-shots of “Reign of Steel” and “Infinite Worlds”. My group bounced off it, largely because I was treating it like your typical prescriptive roleplaying game.

GURPS is a toolkit and it took until I was talking to luminaries like Doug Cole, Sean Punch (aka Dr. Kromm), and Steve Jackson – who repeatedly told me this – for the message to permeate. But still, even though I knew it’s a toolkit in theory, I didn’t know what to do with it.

Last year, things began to change. I opened up my GURPS First Edition boxed set in August and something began to unlock.

The 1980s aesthetic grabbed me and the simpler, more limited rules set became accessible. As we rolled into this year, I began to mess around with the GURPS Third Edition books and, somewhere along the way, the penny dropped.

About a week ago I was looking over the gaming books in my room and suddenly noticed that I didn’t get the knot of fear in my stomach when I looked at GURPS Fourth Edition Basic Set. Opening it up, I clearly understood what the statements about it being a toolkit mean. I could see the simple core of the game and all the layers of optional detail on offer.

As I sit here today, I am excited to be picking up old issues of Pyramid magazine (on offer at 50% off until May 31st when you buy three or more) and enjoying flipping through the ideas therein. The sense of overwhelm that I felt before has evaporated.

There’s a sense that although someone will probably have come up with one way of doing most of the ideas I might have for GURPS, and looking those up is cool, there isn’t any kind of One True Way.

The fear was always, “Am I doing this right?” Today, I know that this is not the relevant question. Instead, the question is, “What kind of enjoyable games can I run with this?”

I’m increasingly keen to find out.

Game on!

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