It's been a while

It’s a while since I’ve blogged about role-playing, mainly because I’ve had my head in the books for weeks. I’ve been hopping between Rolemaster, d20, and HARP. There’s a new kid on the block though that’s gotten my attention: GURPS 4th Edition.

This is only new in as far as I’ve just found out about it. The 4th edition of this veritable Generic Universal Role-Playing System came out back in August of last year, though that completely passed me by. I’ll disclaim now: I didn’t like GURPS 3e very much at all. The layout was terrible, the feel of the basic rules was too “low-fantasy” and not generic at all, and HERO system just did everything so much better.

That was then, this is now.

I’m working from GURPS Lite, the free pdf that’s available for download. If this is the mark of quality for the core books, then they’ll be mine very, very soon. The reviews I’ve read of the core books are extremely favourable.

GURPS Lite is 32 pages of the core rules and concepts for GRUPS 4e distilled into the barest minimum needed to play. There’s not a lot missing either, so this really is a complete, free game system that’s both flexible and easy to use. What you don’t get are the big world-deciding stuff. There’s no magic, no superpowers (apart from the odd inclusion of “Jumping” – being able to teleport between alternate realities), psionics and no racial templates. As most of this can be culled or adapted from your existing games or grabbed from the ‘net anyway, that’s no biggie.

What is does let you do is create a “normal” of any power lavel from 0 points value up to….well, whatever you want. I’d have liked some guideline as to a decent baseline for certain campaign levels. I’ve settled for 100 points plus 40 points of disadvantages for a typical fantasy setting. This should create a character very roughly equivalent to 2nd level in D&D. The Lite rules suggest disads equal to no more than half the base points; I’d go for fewer than that if you want a more optimistic tone to the setting.

Using just the Lite rules it’s possible to create and play anything from low fantasy (where magic is a plot construct for GM’s use only), to 1940s pulp fiction, to modern horror and beyond into space. For my first test character I decided to try creating a low fantasy character in an effort to exorcise one of my bugbears about GURPS 3e. One thing that I just didn’t like at all is that every character in GURPS basically came out the same; a thin, mimble streewise thief who used light weapons and a pretty high IQ. Didn’t matter the era or genre, it was always the same. Of course, it was possible to create anything at all, but to do so just felt….wrong. GURPS 3e was the system for streetwise thieves, and that was all.

My first attempt at creating a character using GURPS Lite was a dismal failure because I came to it with too many preconceptions; I set the stats way too high because I’m used to D20 stats, and so ran out of points far too quickly. ST 15 in GURPS is most befinitely not the same as STR 15 in D&D!!! Once I reaslised that each point over 10 in GURPS is equal to a +1 stat bonus in D&D, all was well though. This means that IQ 14 is roughly equal to a +4 INT stat bonus – an INT of 18 in D&D! Getting that into my head took some time.

I wanted to create a character that came close to my cursed streetwise thief without being one at all; was GURPS Lite powerful and flexible to handle that level of distinction? The answer is an emphatic yes.

Here’s the end result, built on 100 points + 40 points disadvantages:

 Failed legionnaire officer now sword for hire
 ST: 10  DX: 11  IQ: 13  HT: 11
 HP: 10  WILL: 13  PER: 13  FP: 10
 Basic Speed: 5.5   Basic Move: 5
 Reaction: +2 (attractive + charisma)

 Ads: Attrractive, Charisma, Combat Reflexes
 Disads: Poor, Code of Honour:Officer's, Curious,
   Secret: Failed Officer, Sense of Duty:Friends
 Quirks: Hates the rain, likes bright clothes,
   nose for trouble, panics when hands bound,
   dislikes taking orders

 Ledership-14, Public Speaking-13,Influence:Dioplomacy-12,
 Influence:Savoir-Faire-14, Influence:Streetwise-14

 Area Knowldge:Local-13, Carousing-12, Merchant-13
 Shadowing-13, Stealth-12, Riding:Horse-10, Tactics-11

 Brawling-12, Knife-12, Shortsword-11, Shield-12

 DR: 1 - cloth armour
 Dodge: 9 (+1 w/ small shield)
 Parry: 9 (+1 w/ small shield) with Short Sword or Knife
 Block: 11 with Small Shield
 Short Sword: 1d sw cut or 1d-2 thr imp, 11-
 Knife: 1d-2 sw cut or 1d-2 thr imp, 12-

In short, not a streetwise thief at all, and even more importantly the character ‘feels’ right. The system was flexible enough to allow me to create someone with a past and represent that in the skill choices, advantages and disadvantages. I could create someone who’s clearly got military history yet had fallen on hard times and has had to take less than noble jobs to stay alive.

In short, GURPS Lite hits all the sweet spots when it comes to character generation. Combat as represented in Lite looks clear, fast and efficient. I just hope that the ‘full’ version of GURPS doesn’t muddy the waters too much with a dizzying array of options, “enhancements” and tweaks.

When I find out, I’ll let you know.

GURPS Lite: 4.5/5 stars – loses half-a-star because a minimal look at magic/psoinics/ultratech would have been worth an extra page or two.

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