James – GURPS Apologist

James – GURPS Apologist

I’m an avowed table top RPG guy. I love writing stories, I love spreadsheets, I love making characters and, you probably will have guessed, I love building worlds. The systems we might choose says a lot about, not just our GM style but the worlds we’re making. The question of narrative tone, of the established boundaries within our worlds, of the players we have around our table should impact system choice powerfully.

For this blog I’m gonna dive into GURPS a bit. It seems, if I’m honest, that GURPS isn’t that popular as a system. GURPS is Steve Jackson’s Generic Universal RolePlaying System and I think it’s a work of art. But, I’d argue that it’s best thought of as a toolbox rather than a system per se. There’s just a ton of stuff there. The equipment lists, tables, equations and rulesets are enough to make any even slightly mathy GM drool. It’s all about the detail and GURPS has it all. Their supporting material is incredibly well written and immaculately researched. I’d frankly recommend grabbing just about every sourcebook you can get whether you play GURPS or not. Their discussion on particular elements of worldbuilding and inclusion of sources from tons of different media make the GURPS supplementary archive a must have for GMs who want to break out of the high fantasy mold (but there’s plenty of material for that too). 

I’ll say this, though: most of their rules are complex and pretty lethal. That may fit your tone super well. You can adjust it to make it more cinematic but RAW (Rules As Written) a standard 9mm does 3d6 (3 six sided die) of damage and average health for a human is 10. Once injured you suffer crippling shock penalties in your next move, you also can easily cripple limbs or suffer any number of negative effects, or just die outright. Unless you have a decent flak jacket which’ll make all but the luckiest shots just bounce off you. Or you could ditch the crunchy injury rules and do things a little differently it’s a toolbox after all.

Because it has these great rules and supplements GURPS can really fit almost any genre but here’s a few I’d recommend:

  • Hard Sci Fi
  • Post Apocalyptic
  • Tactical Spy Thriller
  • Martial Arts
  • Military Sci Fi
  • Harder Fantasy
  • GM just wants to make the players reckon with their short, meaningless lives.

The exhaustive equipment lists make GURPS ideal for harder military campaigns, the flexibility of the combat make martial arts and gun play potentially very tactical and entertaining. If your world is bleak in tone the injury and survival rules will suit you just fine. Long story short GURPS is a crunchy system that suits worlds with harder boundaries. If you want to be swinging from the rafters and somersaulting into combat then you’d better bring a spreadsheet and some sharp pencils. The results will be fair, I promise you, and they’ll be gritty and if your setting (or player expectations) don’t match it you may have a player revolt on your hands.

This is my favorite system, and I’ll love it forever, but this additional layer of complexity for TTRPG stories means that your mechanics must comport with your tone for your world to be coherent. Play GURPS. It’s great, but remember ye well this warning.

Here are some links to get you started:

That’s all you really need, but if you’re feeling squirrelly and want some other product recommendations:


Stay tuned for more writing from the WorldCraft Club as we explore worldbuilding and the crafting of fictional settings to inspire your creativity.

James wrote this! James is a host on the Worldcraft Club Podcast. He loves tabletop rpgs, running and drinking too much coffee. He lives with his wife and young son somewhere in Central Pennsylvania.

We’re happy to host guest blogs on here whenever we can, it gives James a break and let’s other people contribute their ideas. Let us know if you have a worldbuilding concept or strategy to get off your chest, we’d love to hear it.

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