Why I Play GURPS Over Other RPG Systems

I’ve been playing table-top role-playing games since I was 15 (and I’m currently 23). Over the past 8 years I’ve played many RPG systems. I started when my friend in high school introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition (technically 3.5). I ran several D&D 3.5 games during high school, but never branched out into other RPG systems. Once I got to college though, that situation changed dramatically. The University of Maine at Farmington has a very well-organized gaming group called the Table Gaming Club (TGC). The TGC was a gold mine of gaming opportunities! The TGC was the oldest club on campus, dating back to the 70s. It was one of the only clubs to have its own space (that was not administered by Student Government), and they had whole bookshelves full of RPG books, along with board game and console games. I quickly joined the club, and was an officer in the club my whole tenure at UMF (including serving as the TGC President).

During my time in the TGC I played in, and ran, many different game systems. I continued playing D&D 3.5, I played D&D 4th Edition, AD&D 2nd Edition, Pathfinder, Star Wars Saga, World Of Darkness (Vampire, Mage, Promethean, and Hunter), Shadowrun 2nd Edition, Savage Worlds, d20 Modern, Spycraft, Traveller (from Mongoose Publishing), Unknown Armies, dabbled in Alternity (the old TSR Sci-Fi game), and GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System). While some of these systems I only played only once or twice, and others I played for years, GURPS quickly stood out as my preferred system. I should qualify that by saying GURPS is my favorite system for fantasy games, and for modern-setting games. Because GURPS generally stresses realism (and I’ll detail what that means in a little bit), it doesn’t work well with certain settings. It works great with fantasy (which one could argue isn’t very ‘realistic’), but where it can clashes with setting is in space-opera type games. I ran a Star Wars Saga game for over a year, and I thought I’d give Star Wars a try with GURPS. It did not work out, to say the least. Besides the fact that any realistic blaster would nearly obliterate a person, any competent Jedi would be something like 500+ character points (read: Too much). Plus spending the time making up a system for the Force, and all the different force powers was not something I wanted to do. There was also the fact that Star Wars Saga is a superb system (really what D&D 4th Edition should have been), and I just couldn’t justify the time to convert. So if you’re interested in a Star Wars game, Star Wars Saga is without a doubt the way to go.

That being said, I feel that GURPS is a much better system for playing fantasy RPGs then D&D 3.5, and especially D&D 4th (truth be told…ANY fantasy system is better than D&D 4th Edition). GURPS is my favorite system because it is realistic. First I need to define exactly what I mean by “realistic.” I am not talking about realism for realism’s sake. This is escapism after all, the idea is not to emulate real life as much as possible. When I say “realistic,” what I mean is that the system makes conceptual sense, along with mechanical sense. Both D&D and GURPS work mechanically. Their rules are fairly straight forward, relatively balanced, internally consistant, and the basic mechanics are applied evenly throughout the intricacies of the system. Both games can be picked up and enjoyed. Most table-top RPGs with mechanics that do not work will not be successful, so most games available are mechanically sound. GURPS’ mechanics work great, in my opinion. But what is special about GURPS’ mechanics is that they also make conceptual sense. Everything in GURPS is “realistic” in that the mechanics represent sensical and logic possibilities in the world. This is best explained by counter-example. Ask a group of D&D players exactly what “Hit Points” and “Armor Class” mean, and you will bear witness to an intense debate. This is because while these constructs work great mechanically, when analyzed as representations of something the could possibly exist in the real world, they disintegrate conceptually. Let’s take Armor Class (AC) for example. In D&D 3.5, AC is almost entirely based on what type of armor you’re wearing, and it’s supposed to represent how hard you are to hit. You’d think, logically, that how agile and quick you are would help you dodge attacks, but having an 18 Dexterity, which is supposed to be the near pinnacle of human agility, only give you a bonus to your AC of +4, which is the equivalent of wearing a mundane chain shirt. The average character has a Dexterity of 10, which give no bonus to AC. So if your entire AC is based on armor, then just standing still and just looking at your enemy is as effective a defense as actively trying to dodge. Then there’s the question of whether an attack misses your body or just deflects off your armor when your attacker doesn’t beat your AC. There’s also the issue of if an attack beats your AC, it does damage as if you were not wearing armor. It’s either all or nothing with AC. Hit Points (HP) are even worse. In D&D 3.5 your HP goes up exponentially with every level. Mechanically, what this leads to is if your level 20 character walks out into a field, naked, and get’s shot with 50 arrows, they will be perfectly fine. Your maximum HP can be 3000, and until you’re at 0 HP, you act as if you’d never been touched by a weapon. Even if the rules say you’ve been “hit”  20 times by a sword, or spell, or dragon’s breath, it somehow has literally no effect on your ability to function.

GURPS doesn’t have this problem. In GURPS, whether you get hit or not depends not only on your attackers skill, but on your skill at defending yourself (you know, like how combat actually works). And in GURPS, your HP doesn’t increase arbitrarily (few things are arbitrary in GURPS). It can increase slightly, but even the strongest characters will only have double the average person’s HP (where as in D&D 3.5, your HP doubles the first time you level up). In GURPS you can be a Navy Seal, and if you get shot in the leg, it’s not gonna be all that different from if a normal civilian got shot in the leg. In GURPS, your characters’ awesomeness is not based on a collection of magic items, or min/maxed feats, or some unique (and probably broken) special ability, your character is awesome because of their awesome skills! In GURPS, the most powerful and deadly character I ever played was a Samurai. This samurai never wore armor, he used only a mundane sword, never used any magical item or any magic, and was the most badass mother fucker I’ve ever player. My GM couldn’t lay a finger on him for weeks. This focus on character, and the character’s ability, versus a focus on magic items, arbitrary special abilities, and combinations of feats/skill/items leads to very different kinds of games. This can be epitomized when you ask a D&D and a GURPS player about their characters. Ask me about my Samurai, and I’d say something like “Well he’s a master Samurai who killed his master because he order him to murder innocent families. He now lives on the road and on the run, being constantly chased by his former classmates at his dojo. He’s quite, reserved, stoic, lives extremely frugally, and is the deadliest swordsman on the whole continent. He has come to learn that there is no honor in serving a master with no honor, and he seeks a place in this world where his skill can be used to serve a better, higher purpose.” Ask a D&D player about their character and you’ll hear something like “Well my character has 10 levels in (class 1), 3 levels in (class 2), and 7 levels in (prestige class 3). This allows him to use (ability one) in combination with (ability 2) and (feat 3) that I took to do (x amount of damage). His AC is (x), and he has a +5 (whatever) that allows him to do extra damage against (x type) enemies.” Do you see the difference in these two descriptions? The former is a character with a story, a narrative, a personality, and with human flaws. The latter is a mathematical construct, designed for maximum efficiency and output, lacking of anything that would differential it from a well constructed BOT on a World of Warcraft server farming for gold.

This is why I play GURPS, because when the rules are meant to reflect the way the world works, players focus on making “real” characters. When an RPG system is nothing more than an internally consistent set of mechanics that make no attempt to emulate real human experience, players play to the rules. In GURPS, the rules are a tool by which you can actualize your character. In D&D (and similar systems), the rules are a tool in which you actualize the rules. They are arbitrary, self-referencial, and exists only for their own purpose, not to actualize something about your character. GURPS is a class-less and level-less system. Your character is based on skills, advantages and disadvantages (Yes, disadvantages…GURPS actually has you quantify your character’s flaws…you know, those things real people have).

In D&D you commonly get a situation like this: Player X selects a set of abilities/feats that allows them to perform some special attack that does an extremely high amount of damage (let’s say it’s a fire based attack). Because this is D&D, pretty much the whole game is focused on combat. So as a GM, you have this player who’s blowing through all your challenges because they’ve min/maxed to get this over-powered ability. Often you’ll respond by putting that player up against monsters that are resistant to fire, for example. When you do you, Player X says something like “you just did that so I couldn’t use my ability.” At that moment, all immersion is shattered. The pretense that the game is something other than a delicate balancing act of arbitrary abilities and mechanical quirks is gone. The player min/maxed his character exactly because that’s what the rules incentivize him to do, and the GM presented the fire-resistant monsters to counter this broken character. None of this was done for character development, plot development, or because it made sense, it was done to reestablish the mechanical balance that allows the grind to continue. This never happens in GURPS. First off, in GURPS all skills and abilities are equal, whether social, mental or physical. In D&D any skill based around combat is overly complicated, where as any skill not useful in combat is significantly reduced in complexity. This means that D&D games will be mainly focused on combat and grinding. Whereas GURPS games can be a mix of anything. I’ve had many GURPS games where no combat was performed. This means that if you mix/max your character to do one thing really well, it’s very easy to counter that in GURPS. If you have a player who’s put all their points into Karate, for example, just present them with a social situation. They can’t say something like “you only did that to counter my character’s abilities” because their character is the unrealistic one, and it only embarrasses the player and shows how useless their character actually is. Well rounded characters survive in GURPS, not characters designed for maximum damage output. And if you do have characters that are killing machines, just present them with equal powerful killing machines. Again the “you only did that to counter my character’s abilities” excuse doesn’t work, because if a renegade master Samurai exists, it only makes sense that a master assassin would be sent after him.

Because GURPS works conceptually, along with mechanically, it allows it to function in pretty much any setting (hence the “Generic Universal” Role Playing System). It doesn’t have to fit within a specific and narrow setting. Notice how the d20 versions of settings that are not fantasy systems are generally terrible? d20 Modern, d20 Star Wars, Spycraft etc…Yes it’s a great thing that the d20 system is open source content, but it translates very poorly outside of fantasy games. GURPS is the opposite. If there’s a mechanical problem, or something’s not directly addressed by the rules, 90% of the time it can be resolved by asking yourself “how would it work in real life.”  GURPS’ fidelity is what makes it so versatile.

GURPS is a wonderfully underrated system. I know many people who don’t like it solely because they can’t “figure it out.” But what they always mean by that is they can’t figure out how to cheat the system. They can’t find the holes in the rules that allows them to break the rules. They can’t see a clear path that allows them to min/max one particular action or skill. They can’t see an easy combination of abilities that gives them the biggest bonuses. This is only true for a few people I’ve met though. Most role-players I’ve introduced to GURPS love it. I’ve been running a GURPS fantasy game for almost 2 years now, and I played in a GURPS fantasy game for the 2 years preceding my game.

In the near future I will be writing more about role-playing, and I’m sure some posts be specifically about GURPS. Until then, go take a look at GURPS (currently in its 4th Edition). It’s a wonderful system, and I plan on sticking with it for a long time! And as always, feel free to ask any questions, or challenge anything I said 🙂


76 thoughts on “Why I Play GURPS Over Other RPG Systems

  1. You have primarily bashed Dungeons & Dragons (and most other Role Play games for that matter) on the basis of enjoying GURPS better. I understand some points, and agree on a few, but protest violently the rest.
    I agree that the increasing Hit Points of D&D are flat out wrong. I have fixed this in games I’ve run previously by saying that your HP is some multiple of your Constitution Score so that no character has an overly high amount of damage they can take. Though you seem to demonize D&D for having HP while GURPS also has HP, a little one sided.
    I Understand that Armor Class is odd, though explainable. You are essentially taking a 10 on a “defense check” to make the combat less lengthy. After all, if every time someone makes an attack you have two people rolling and calculating that will slow down the combat and in turn slow down the game.
    To say that D&D promotes “minmaxing” and that GURPS does not is, however, a flat out lie. In D&D you have a few explained limitations to certain characters (the paladin, the monk), however you are never given extra experience for playing these classes. In GURPS you get to be better at anything simply by saying you have an irrational fear of spiders (something that even the rules say you have to Role Play). I am all about awarding XP for good RP, but I will never give you a mechanical bonus for doing your job as a character and “playing the game”.
    Finally, I am personally offended that you say “I know many people who don’t like it solely because they can’t “figure it out.” But what they always mean by that is they can’t figure out how to cheat the system.”, because I honestly have read the pdf, the hard cover, and have had friends explain it to me multiple times but still find it difficult to understand. I am the GM, I am the one specifically there to stop the “cheating”, so that’s your own ignorance talking. I have played skill systems before, this is why I hate them. You say that D&D promotes “broken characters” yet skill systems require them if combat is going to be involved at all.
    I think that skill systems, GURPS included, would be wonderful for a completely non-combative game such as real life, however as everyone already lives that why would they then also come together to play that? I am still on the fence because two of my three players are big GURPS fans and I want to give it a chance, but everywhere I turn I find another reason not to.
    Thank you, for being one more reason.

    • I have run a homebrew RPG for several years now that uses Defense Roll as opposed to Armor Class. Nobody has ever complained, even people who are used to video games calculating for them, and yes, even people familiar with D&D. I’ve had 20 players, beside myself, and a few of them have even made their own homebrew games. The only comments i’ve heard about the Defense Roll mechanic is that it is preferred as it gives a sense of having made an actual attempt at evasion.

      I recently ran about a 4 hour adventure, moderating 5 players and the game myself. Some interesting role-play evolved out of that play, and it was nice to see that people were able to develop personalities for characters that were pre-generated. Out of this 4 hour game, we ran 3 encounters. In the first encounter there were something like 7-9 enemies. In the second encounter there were something like 10-12 enemies. In the last encounter there was a boss, 6 minions, and two surprise enemies that were both boss level.

      If i were to compare this game to the D&D that i’ve played, D&D almost seemed to take longer, with so many things to account for, and it seemed that the PCs missed an inordinate amount of their crucial attacks. I’ve played a few fantasy board games and the combat in them also seemed to be unruly and longish for simple one-off fights.

      Point i’m making is that having two people roll and calculate really doesn’t make that huge a difference. Besides that, doesn’t the D20 system also include Defensive rolls under certain circumstances? Armor Checks, Reflex Checks, Will Checks, Concentration Checks, etc… D&D isn’t exactly free from reaction rolls either, it just does it much more spontaneously, which in my opinion slows the game down by invoking rules conditions that players may not be prepared for and may joggle the flow of the game a bit.

      All opinions, but there they are.

      • I’m curious as to what system you used for this 4 hour game? I attempted to use a “Defense Roll” as opposed to “Armor Class” in a d20 setting…I will doubt I can ever live that down. The resulting “Zombies made of Superman” had the potential to be so drastically over powered with their defense that it made the game unnecessarily difficult. A simple encounter turned to a deadly force. Part of the Challenge Rating is being able to know how easy it is to hit, and by relation damage, an enemy. Not being able to gauge that means you cannot accurately determine what threat level those enemies are to your players.
        Also, are you saying that your players “missed an inordinate amount of their crucial attacks” by not rolling high enough or by neglecting to attack? You can’t really blame the system for how the dice roll. For that matter, what exactly are the “so many things to account for” that you speak of? Attacking in the d20 system is fairly straight forward: You point, you roll, you either hit or you don’t. Every system in which combat is taken into effect has a certain set of required factors such as distance, size, etc. That isn’t a sole representative of the d20 system.
        If your combat is taking too long in the d20 system then I hate to tell you, but you’re doing it wrong. If I made up an encounter of approximately 9 opponents for 5 character to face the combat will not take more than 10 minutes (not accounting for jokes, and break-away conversations), at least in the d20 system.
        There are no “opposed checks” in d20 combat, no reaction rolls as you call them. The Fortitude, Reflex, and Will saves are made against an established DC just like everything else, the only difference is that the DC comes, in part, from an ability modifier (but that is all still calculated well before combat). The only time an opposed check would be made in the d20 system is when two opposed skills (hide/spot, move silently/listen, bluff/sense motive) are used, and that’s not usually in combat.
        I value your opinions, they show where improvement can be made. I have, myself, started exploring other systems such as the d10 system of World of Darkness, and find it to be fun and exciting for a much more Story driven game…but d20 still has my heart.

    • I would say very similar things to what you said and would like to add that I think the newer D&D like 3.0 and up does sorta promote that behavior in the role players but that can be dealt with by the GM or DM. I like the 2nd edition AD&D myself but any system relies on the character and personality of its players. Age and maturity is always a plus to creating a balanced fun adventure.

    • Just a thought: The reason I play games with a modern setting: It’s not always about escaping TODAY, but about escaping my life. My GM has a GREAT story line! With modern day, a lot of imagination and research must go into game prep, I am sure. However, no one ever has to actually look up prices or maps in a book. We’ve got the internet there to help. W/ Google, we get maps and prices for items in different states, for example.

      Granted, I am still a noob at GURPS, but it seems easy enough as a player. That could be because the GM does a lot of work behind the scenes that I am unaware of.

      I am very much about Role Play (see how I spelled that with 1 “L” and an “e”). I want to talk through the actions and growth of my character. I want there to be reasons that other people’s characters behave the way they do. I want my Party to grow together, not just meet as strangers and fight next to one another, blindly trusting the fella to my right will fight to the death to protect me. My chara. trusts the party members because we watch our characters develop lives of their own. We watch them grow, and become new people. This is the realism we players love.

      I can’t stand Meta-Gaming. Hate it with a passion! Therefore, knowing a mechanic and a long list of pluses and minuses does no good, except to help someone calculate, before hand, that they can win against certain opposition. The idea is that the players shouldn’t be sure. If all regular sized orcs have the same HP and skills, then a player can figure out the exact move to take him out of play, and it’s over in a heartbeat… no fun in that. In skill based games, your first encounter w/ someone, you have no idea what this ordinary looking guy standing in front of you is thinking, nor do you have any idea of his training. Which means, he could surprise you. This makes for some amazingly cinematic game play.

      D&D 3.5 and GURPS are tied for my “fav game” spot. I can understand why someone would think players don’t like GURPS b/c they can’t break the system to suit their desires to be power game heroes. I can also understand what you are saying about it being the GM’s job to keep players from cheating. I’ve run several D&D 3.5 games, and ended up w/ difficult players who, at every turn, tried to power game my NPC to the grave. They did not enjoy the fact that I’d jump in and say, “nope, can’t do that.” But then, I am not all that experienced in GMing. Only been gaming for about ten yrs, and GMing from time to time for six.

      Perhaps, there is still a lot for all of us to learn. 😀

      Happy Gaming, my friends!

    • Hey Tim, i don’t know why it won’t let me respond to your reply below mine, so i’ll leave my response here.

      Wow. June ’12. Hard to remember the details from that far back.

      The system i used for my 4 hour game, as i said, was a homebrew. This one in fact: http://rpggeek.com/rpgitem/126138/amalgam-rps-world-of-terrabia

      (A major revision is currently in the works)

      What i meant by “missed an inordinate amount of their crucial attacks” was that they didn’t roll high enough.

      In D&D, an unarmored person has AC 10. An average character with 10 in all Abilities gains no pluses or minuses to their attack roll. Using a D20, this gives every average person 50% chance of hitting anyone else (forgetting BAB for the moment). Considering that Dex bonuses add to AC, and Armor adds to AC, and other odd spells here and there add to AC, but characters and monsters also get BAB, this all kinda tracks together from what i’ve seen.

      I really have to question whether a 1/2 chance of hitting someone is considered good odds in any game. This does not seem to indicate any level of skill on the part of the character, it seems to more simulate the random thrashing and flailing of schoolkids. That’s better than casino odds, but c’mon!

      I can’t fault a system for the rolls of the dice, but i can fault it for how it lays out the probabilities.

      Long combat in D&D is something i’ve heard quite a few people complain of, and i’ve experienced it personally multiple times as DM and player.

      If doing it wrong means doing it by the book, then the book is wrong.

      But here’s where i have to come out and say that we didn’t use the D20 System of D&D, we used 2nd E AD&D. There was no CR in that edition, and i had to base the enemies i threw at the players on the players’ +’ses to attack and the monsters’ AC and HD.

      What really lead to the long combats was where the Monster Manual included randomly rolled appearances of monsters. When i had them go underground and came up against some Derro, i think i rolled something like 24 Derro to go against a party of 6. The only thing that saved them was a partially collapsed opening into the cavern where they were holed up, and i really should have re-routed some of the Derro to go through the other hallways. The players didn’t “win” this encounter. They retreated and collapsed the opening.

      But maybe that’s a difference in editions. Even so, i’m playing 3.5 now, one of my friends wanted to run Ravenloft, and in 4 sessions we’ve had about 5 combats because they take so long. This is a group of 6 players and 1 DM.

      “There are no “opposed checks” in d20 combat, no reaction rolls as you call them. ”

      Semantics. Sometimes a player gets to roll reflex vs a spell. Sometimes a player has to roll to cast the spell. Sometimes a player has to roll to even maintain concentration to be able to cast the spell. Sometimes these rolls oppose an action being taken by another character. Sometimes both sides have to roll.


      Like i said, it’s sporadic and slows the game down.

      I stood there and watched as an enemy spellcaster read a circle of death scroll that could have lead to a 4/5 party wipe in one fell swoop, but the DM missed two rolls, and ended up killing itself instead.

      All this being said, as stated above, the system i homebrewed is currently being given a major overhaul. I’m giving Players the benefit of attack rolls (d20) and defense rolls (d10), but monsters and unnamed NPCs simply add the average of what the dice’s potential to their Dexterity. If a monster’s Dexterity is 5, when attacking their accuracy is 15 (5+10), and when defending their defense is 10 (5+5). This speeds up combat even more, especially so when encountering large groups of mobs. None of the mobs ever have to be rolled for aside from damage (or miscellaneous actions and reactions not normally done). At the same time, players get the sense of control over their defenses, rather than their defensive actions being out of their control.

      Zombie Supermen??? Jeepers! What did you use for defense rolls? Did you adjust the AC any? I’d like to hear more about that. Sounds like what we encountered in Ravenloft the past couple weeks. The 5 of us ganged up on a zombie that had something like AC 21 or 22, and we were all Lv 6 with no magic weapons…

      All opinions, but there they are.

    • Now, I have to question… Could your dislike of the system be because you don’t understand it? I’ve tried playing many RPGs, and GURPS is really the only one that ‘clicked’ with me. Yeah, it took me an ungodly amount of time to learn the basics even, and after all this time of playing, I still have so much to learn about it’s additions. But one of the best things about it is, and the Basic Set book explains this, if you don’t know how to play a specific part, make it up, act it like you would in the real world. I feel like you’re being much too defensive over D&D. I will admit, he gave that specific system much more flak than any others, but I feel like that’s because that’s the most well known, to get his point across to more of an audience. Some things, I dislike. For example, I agree moderately with your comment on “min/maxing”. However, it’s much harder to do in GURPS than other games, and when you can, it’s because you could in the real world. If you’re flexible, it goes without saying that you’re gonna have an easier time slipping out of someone’s clutches or something similar. It’s only natural that some things compliment others. There’s no universal “best character recipe” like there is in many other games, and it doesn’t depend solely on level, like many other games. GURPS has its quirks, I’ll admit, as do all things. You can’t expect it to come easily, especially when used to another system, things can only be harder (“Well it works this way in D&D, why doesn’t it work that way in GURPS?”). You seem very angered by his post, and decided to attack him back. The truth is, there’s no RPG that’s gonna work for everyone, and it just so happens that GURPS works for him

  2. I’m sorry that you had such an adverse reaction to my post, but many of your points just betray the fact that you’re never played GURPS, and that you really don’t understand it.

    1) “Hit Points” in GURPS and D&D represent fundamentally different things, and because so they work very different mechanically. That was my point, I wasn’t bashing HP just for the sake of it, I was bashing D&D’s way of doing HP.

    2) Just because Armor Class turns two potential roles into one doesn’t mean a) that combat is faster, or b) that it makes any damn sense, conceptually. Yes in GURPS there is an attack and defense roll, but because those roles are streamlined, there is no trying to figure out all the random and obscure bonuses and penalties that come with making an attack role in D&D. Combat in GURPS is much faster that in D&D, mainly because it’s not bogged down with obscure rules and unnecessary mechanical complications.

    3) I’m pretty sure you have no idea how disadvantages work. You don’t get extra point just for RPing a fear of spiders, that fear of spiders makes a mechanical difference. If you encounter spiders, you have to pass a fright check. A disadvantage is anything the limits your character’s options/ability to act in a situation. Disadvantages not only help facilitate role-playing, they add depth to your character that is missing in most combat focused systems. Plus you cannot take an unlimited number of disadvantages, you’re restricted at character creations to a certain amount, depending on your starting character points.

    4) When I was talking about some people who didn’t like GURPS, I was thinking of people who have played it, and didn’t want to play it anymore. Particular people from my past experiences were who I want thinking of. Those people preferred D&D to GURPS because in D&D it’s pretty easy to find the perfect combination of feats/abilities to break the game (aka min-max). Any experienced D&D player can, and often happily will, tell you how to use a certain combination of feats/abilities to do a high amount of damage (because that’s really the only important thing in D&D). These people I’m thinking of in particular didn’t like GURPS because that wasn’t possible. There was no clear path to maximize one particular ability that they could use to break the game.

    There’s a reason your friends are GURPS fans. It’s an exceptional system that doesn’t play out like a pen and paper version of World of Warcraft. It’s conceptually sound (unlike D&D), it’s not solely focused on combat (unlike D&D), it allows for original characters (unlike D&D), and it promotes role-playing (unlike D&D). I played D&D for years, but when I found GURPS, I never went back.

    • 1.) No, I have not played GURPS, I said that in my post.
      2.) “Hit Points” in both systems are the measure of how much damage a character can take before they die. Well at least in D&D, in GURPS from what I’ve read it’s how much damage they can take before making a seemingly infinite number of “saves” to never die.
      3.) Yes, GURPS puts your ability to attack directly up against your opponents ability to defend…just like D&D. Both systems have bonuses and penalites for certain things, the difference is that D&D has a place for each possible attack you could use right there on your character sheet to be easily seen, and every one of the combat mechanics are easily explained, and every one of them are conceptually sound.
      4.) As I said I have played multiple systems with disadvantages in them and I am all too aware of how they work. Any creative player can come up with a character that has “quirks” without being rewarded with extra points for doing so. I have never played a character that didn’t at some point act against what a “minmaxer” would do or piss off my party because I refused to “break character”. Disadvantages serve to try and force someone who doesn’t role play to do so and to reward the people who do role play by giving them extra points for something they would have done anyway.
      5.) You didn’t specify that you were talking about a specific group of people, you said everyone who says they don’t like GURPS does so because they can’t “break the system”.
      6.) While I agree whole heartedly that 4th edition D&D works very much like a table top version of WoW, every point in the final paragraph of your counter argument solidifies your own shortcomings as a role player. Just because you dislike D&D does not make it conceptually unsound. Saying that D&D is a combat based system is saying that all role play games are combat based because aside from character creation the only real rules to a game are comabt rules because everything else you do outside of combat in ANY system is role played. The only thing that limits your originality of character in D&D is your own lack of creativity do not blame a system for you not being able to be original. Saying that D&D doesn’t promote role playing cements that you are biased, if you WANT to role play you WILL role play, if you DO NOT want to role play you WONT role play. Your lack of role playing is not caused by the system.

      Let me also point out that you are diminishing GURPS as the viable option it might be. Rather than promote all the things about GURPS that are good you’re simply holding it up to D&D to try to make a time tested tried and true system look bad, and failing miserably at doing so. Had you made a single point about how GURPS is a good system standing on its own merit rather than showing how it isn’t D&D then I might have been more inclined to use it. Instead you attempted to treat GRUPS as little more than a cudgel in an attempt to beat D&D into submission for the simple fact that you don’t like D&D. Play GURPS, you clearly like it, but don’t rag on D&D just because it’s a (viable) system that isn’t GURPS.

      • Tim
        I realize that you’ve played GURPs since posting this but your question wasn’t clearly answered. There are a number of things that the Hit Points in Gurps represent that aren’t reflected in D&D
        For one they don’t reflect how much damage you can take before you die. Gurps uses a positive system to measure accumulated damage. While this does seem a semantics difference it affects both mechanics and play experience. Gurps has no ‘gas tank’ of life.Your character might fall unconscious and bleed out after a single serious blow or they may weather a brutal onslaught before succumbing to their wounds, much like real life players cannot assume they are still in the fight for a number of blows after they’re seriously wounded and bleeding.
        Hit Points (Or more so the capacity for them) in Gurps represent a characters resistance to crippling injuries by virtue of larger bodies needing more severe blows to crush a foot or cut through a bicep. This mechanic is totally absent in D&D
        Hit Points (Or more so the capacity for them) in Gurps represent a characters likelyhood of falling unconscious or being stunned or knocked away by a single powerful blow. In essence you could disable a powerful foe with a well-planned attack to a vulnerable hit location, such as a kick to the groin or a stab in the eye. In opposition in D&D the only way to disable an opponent is by exhausting their ‘gas tank’ of life or employing a restricted special feat or ability attained through class and level.
        Hit Points in Gurps are not representative of exhaustion or mental weariness as they are sometimes used in D&D. Those effects are measured with a different pool off of a different statistic.
        Taking Hit Points in Gurps is more immersible mechanically than in D&D. D&D Hit points are a running tally to remind you of your mortality. Hit Points taken in gurps apply penalties to action, affect movement and skill as serious wounds are taken, they can result in crippling injuries or even cause instant death. Racking up hit points in Gurps increases healing times in a scaling fashion.The Hit Point mechanics in Gurps motivate players to avoid combat because of the serious consequences to their character’s ability to function. The HP system in D&D encourages players to pursue combat because it is a simple scale with one predictable extreme result.

      • Michael, thank you for your attempt at enlightenment. However, what your comment says to me is that GURPS uses Hit Points not only as a measure of damage that a character can take, but also just how severe of a hit that character can take before being penalized. Now, I don’t know if you are aware of the rules of the d20 system, but there is a thing called “massive damage” which in the original 3.x D&D meant that if your character took over 50 points of damage (now it’s actually your Fortitude Defense) regardless of how many Hit Points you have you die. That is essentially the same thing as the “extra” aspect of HP in GURPS from what you’ve described.
        My original point was that you can have a high number of hit points in both systems and that Jeff seemed to simply be stretching to find ways to make GURPS stand out as better but doing so only by comparing things that were not different between GURPS and d20.
        I would also like to point out that a lot of people look at HP in d20 not as actual damage to be ticked off like in a board game but instead the amount of stress you can take avoiding or “rolling with” damage before falling in combat which you learn how to take more of as you get stronger (i.e. increase in level), and that’s how I have also started viewing it seeing as the damage of a weapon itself may only be up to around 12 points but HP can be in the hundreds. Just a thought.
        You also say that Hit Points in GURPS doesn’t act as a “gas tank” however, and excuse me for quoting, but as per page 16 of the basic set characters book: “Hit points represent your body’s ability to sustain injury. […] You can temporarily lose HP to physical attacks, energy attacks, supernatural attacks, disease, poison, hazards, and anything that can injure or kill. […] If you lose enough HP, you will eventually fall unconscious; if you lose too many HP, you will die.” Now the 3.5 and Pathfinder explanation of HP is a bit lengthy, but essentially it boils down to: HP is how much damage you can take before falling unconscious and dying. That being said, my original point still stands comparing the two directly side by side.
        Finally, to say that d20 HP encourages players to engage in combat simply because they have more HP to “throw around” is negated by the “massive damage” possibility which is ever more likely in higher levels so the only thing you are doing with that comment is suggesting that d20 players are easily manipulated simpletons, though I commend you for also implying that GURPS players are condescending sycophants.

      • Tim, citing the book’s definition of HP is hardly a salient point as my whole argument is that D&D’s given definitions for what HP represents are conceptually unsound. Even you acknowledge an alternative conceptualization of HP as a character’s ability to “roll with” damage. I’ve heard that conceptualization many times before and it’s as conceptually nonsensical and the pretense that HP in D&D represents direct damage. And I’ve played in and run many 3.5 D&D games and I don’t know a single GM that uses the “massive damage” rule. It’s a poor attempt to add realism into a system that fundamentally isn’t realistic, and for that reason no one uses it.

        Michael’s point about the “gas tank” of HP is also apt. You yourself acknowledged that most weapons in D&D do a relatively fixed and low amount of damage. So a player with 500 HP can enter a fighter knowing, with almost certainly, that their characters will be able to continue fighting, with no real threat to their mortality, until their HP gets below 100. And because damage in D&D is relatively low and consistant, the player w/ 500 HP can pretty accurately judge how long it’s going to take before their character’s HP drops below 100 and they have to start worry about not falling unconscious. This is never the case in GURPS as even tough characters who enter a fight know that their lives are always in danger. They don’t have a big gas tank of HP that they can trust to allow them to fight unhindered for dozens of rounds. And as Michael pointed out, unlike D&D, in GURPS as you lose HP your are negatively effected, so even taking one hit can cripple your character, literally and metaphorically, even if your HP is still above zero. In D&D players know how big their gas tanks are, they know at about what rate they’ll lose gas, and they know that as long as they have a drop of gas left they can functions at 100%, and then when they run out they automatically faint. It’s a very predictable cycle and in many normal fights in D&D HP is more like a consistently ticking clock of how long you can fight than any representation of your ability to handle damage.

        Lastly, while your ability to find insult in completely amiable discussion is quite impressive, it only diminishes your own arguments.

      • Jeff, citing the book’s definition of HP is entirely salient as it demonstrates that both core books state that Hit Points are exactly the same: a measure of damage you can take before dying.
        I acknowledge that HP could represent something other than how many direct arrows a naked warrior can take to the chest before dying such as the strain of having to avoid those arrows which conceptually a person might get better at doing over time which makes perfect conceptual sense.
        If you choose to house rule the core massive damage rule out of the game that is your choice. It is, however, there to simulate realism as with any combat rule.
        I said “weapon damage”, not all damage. Weapons like a longsword do 1d8, with modifiers for skill and tact that 1d8 can turn into 21-28 points of “damage” in the hands of a capable fighter. Still something more than worrisome for a group of adventurers.
        Also, if a character has 500 HP, they are well beyond the level of playing I’ve ever known any character to achieve as most get a max of about 8 to 10 HP per level x 20 = about 200 max.
        Now, I’m not going to excuse that you, yet again, ignore the fact that the rules state that HP is exactly the same “gas tank” for either of these systems. The massive damage is put into the d20 system to act as your GURPS “negative effects” when damaged. You are, zealously, refusing to accept that your point has been proven wrong with your system’s own documentation. Classy.
        Also, with modern incarnations of the d20 system there are mechanics that implement dangers and penalties on you for dropping to low hp percentages.
        Lastly how hypocritical of you to say my argument is diminished based on something that has nothing at all to do with the discussion. I would say you’re losing your touch, but you must first find it to lose. Thank you, good night.

    • I’ve read your original post five times. The only message I can gleam from it is that GURPS = Good because D&D = Bad. You do not give any clear reasoning for why you like GURPS other than that it wasn’t d20 based. If you could write a post about why you like GURPS that has nothing to do with D&D then that would be helpful.
      I don’t mean to sound like a…foul person, but I’ve looked all over the place for someone who can tell me why they like GURPS, but all I ever find are people who use GURPS to bash D&D without ever saying why GURPS is better aside from “It’s not D&D”.
      Honestly, all I am looking for is to know why you like GURPS. If the only reason is that it’s not D&D then that’s fine, it doesn’t really help me, but that’s okay.

  3. There’s a reason my post is called “Why I play GURPS….” instead of “Why I don’t play D&D,” the post is not about bashing D&D! It’s not easy to make a case for a role-playing system without comparing it to another. I chose to compare GURPS to D&D not because I hate D&D (which I do not), I chose D&D because it’s the system I’m most familiar with (after GURPS), and most role-players reading this post are probably very familiar with D&D. I can understand that someone who really likes D&D might be turned off by the polemic nature of my post. That reactions is perfectly understandable, but don’t let that reaction blind you from my central message: GURPS is a system worth playing! If I was to write a post about GURPS without making any D&D comparisons, I’d just go through my original post and delete all the example/comparisons, but everything else would stay the same. There are plenty of positive reasons/arguments in my post, and I’ll quote directly:

    “GURPS is my favorite system because it is realistic. First I need to define exactly what I mean by “realistic.” I am not talking about realism for realism’s sake. This is escapism after all, the idea is not to emulate real life as much as possible. When I say “realistic,” what I mean is that the system makes conceptual sense, along with mechanical sense.”

    “What is special about GURPS’ mechanics is that they also make conceptual sense. Everything in GURPS is “realistic” in that the mechanics represent sensical and logic possibilities in the world.”

    “GURPS quickly stood out as my preferred system. I should qualify that by saying GURPS is my favorite system for fantasy games, and for modern-setting games. Because GURPS generally stresses realism (and I’ll detail what that means in a little bit), it doesn’t work well with certain settings.”

    “In GURPS you can be a Navy Seal, and if you get shot in the leg, it’s not gonna be all that different from if a normal civilian got shot in the leg.”

    “In GURPS, the rules are a tool by which you can actualize your character.”

    “In GURPS all skills and abilities are equal, whether social, mental or physical.”

    “Because GURPS works conceptually, along with mechanically, it allows it to function in pretty much any setting (hence the “Generic Universal” Role Playing System). It doesn’t have to fit within a specific and narrow setting”

    “If there’s a mechanical problem, or something’s not directly addressed by the rules, 90% of the time it can be resolved by asking yourself “how would it work in real life.” GURPS’ fidelity is what makes it so versatile.”

    “Most role-players I’ve introduced to GURPS love it.”

    I’m not surprised that you find that most people speaking in favor of any less popular RPG will always compare it to D&D. D&D is the big dog, it’s going to draw the ire of most people who choose a game other that it simply because it’s the most popular. Take that for granted, and you’ll find that those people, myself included, are not just trying to dump on D&D, they’re trying to explain why their preferred system is equally as good, and possibly better than D&D.

  4. Please explain what GURPS HP represents. Not how it does it differently from D&D, but just what GURPS HP represents. [“Hit Points” in GURPS and D&D represent fundamentally different things, and because so they work very different mechanically.] I assume this means that in GURPS HP is not simply a measure of how much damage you can take since that is what HP is in D&D.

    Also, while I detest side by side comparisons, I will ask that you explain the one you used in your original post: D&D Fire damage vs. GURPS Karate. In your post you essentially blame the d20 system for a character who has been minmaxed to deal ridiculous fire damage but a character that is ridiculously good at Karate in GURPS had the player to blame rather than the system. Please explain how the d20 system is to blame for it’s minmaxed character but the GURPS system minmaxed characters are blamed on the players who create them.

    • (apologies in advance for the length of my reply)

      So when it comes to HP, I want to make two important distinctions: 1) What HP represents conceptually, and 2) How HP works mechanically. On both of these points, GURPS and D&D differ, in my opinion. At the shallowest level, HP in GURPS and D&D are the same things, they’re both a mathematical representation of how much damage you can take. However the two distinctions I made above become important at this point. To put it simply (and to highlight what I was arguing in my original post), HP in GURPS, conceptually, is a realistic representation of how much damage someone can take. The point I was attempting to argue in my original post was that HP in D&D does not make conceptual sense. Because GURPS and D&D have different conceptions of HP, the mechanics in the two systems differ. Allow me to elaborate on HP in GURPS via example:

      So in GURPS your HP is based on your strength (ST). At character creation the two are equal, and HP is always a derivative of ST, but HP can be raised independently as well. So let’s say you start out with an ST of 10, which is average for any normal character. So that means you have 10 HP as well. If you raise your ST to 11, you’re HP goes up to 11. However, you can instead just raise your HP to 11, and keep your ST at 10 (raising HP is cheaper then raising ST). If you do that (ST 10, HP 11), then raise your ST to 11, your HP will go to 12. However, there is a limit to how high you can raise your HP independent of ST. That limit is 150% of your ST. So if the average person has an ST of 10, that average person cannot independently raise their HP above 15. Okay, so given that, what do these numbers mean in terms of physical strength? The average person, with an ST of 10, can bench press 160lbs, and carry 20lb of equipment before it begins to affect their ability to move (aka, encumbers them). So let’s imagine an extremely strong person with an ST of 20 (which is ridiculous in GURPS, I’ve never seen a human character with a ST higher than 16, and I’ve played some really high-powered games). This would be your record-breaking weight lifter. A person with an ST of 20 can bench press 640lbs, and carry 80lbs or equipment before they even begin to be encumbered in any way! So that person with an ST of 20 can have a max HP of 30. That is a HUGE amount of HP in GURPS! But then how much damage can a person with 30 HP take? Well the average assault rifle does 5d6 damage per bullet, which on average is about 15-20 points of damage per bullet. So in GURPS, the average person (HP 10) can take probably only one bullet, on average, from an assault rifle. Where as a world-class body builder with max HP can take 3, on average. This is what I mean when I say realism. Because HP in GURPS represents something conceptually different than it does in D&D, the mechanics play out in totally different ways.

      Okay, on to your second question. Here I also want to make two important distinction that help illustrate my point: 1) How easy it is to min-max in a game systems, and 2) How a system incentivizes min-maxing through its mechanics. On the first point, it is, without a doubt, easier to min-max in GURPS. Allow me to use my Karate vs. Fire damage ability example from my original post. If you wanna mix-max in GUPRS, it’s really simple. Just put all your point into a very small set of skills. In D&D, if you wanna min-max, you have to have a very good understanding of the combat systems, class abilities, feats etc. However, while it may be much easier, on the surface, to min-max in GUPRS, the mechanics of GURPS heavily discourage min-maxing, where as the mechanics of D&D heavily incentivize min-maxing. In D&D the whole mechanics of the game are based on combat, so damage output is probably one of the most important aspects of the game. Because of this, those who have figured out how to maximize damage will perform very well, mechanically. And the game allows very little recourse, both narratively and mechanically, to discourage mix-maxing. That was my point with the fire damage/fire resistance. That’s really the GMs only recourse other then telling the player they can’t a certain feet. It just all belies the idea D&D’s mechanics is anything other then just a delicate balance of arbitrary mechanics. In GURPS however, the mechanics of the game are built around realism, both in mechanics and in narrativity. So if someone min-maxed Karate, as a GM I just give him or her a social challenge. One-trick ponies are useless in GURPS, because the system isn’t based around one component like damage output. Narratively, it’s also easy to counter. Like in D&D it makes narrative sense for your opponent to be relatively close to you in power-levels. Unlike in D&D however, equal power-level in GURPS does not denote a delicate balance of mechanics, it means someone has about equal skills as you. A master assassin sent after a karate master makes narrative sense, a monster that just happens to have the very particular and arbitrary resistances needed to make it a challenge really doesn’t make narrative sense.

      • Alright. So what you’re saying about HP is, as I stated above in my first post, that HP is conceptually and mechanically the same thing in both systems the difference being that GURPS gives you less HP to make your character feel more “real”. After all, the idea of increasing HP in D&D is that you’re character develops (a highly ridiculous amount of) resistance to pain demonstrated by their (overly high) amount of HP. I agreed with the fact that D&D gives too many HP (I actually liked your level 20 naked warrior in a field comment). However, with the GURPS 4E Basic Set Characters book right here in front of me the only mention of a limit on HP is a “GM recommendation that HP not vary more than 30% from ST meaning a 10 ST would yield from a 7 to 13 HP”. It makes no mention of a forced limit to the cap other than GM specifications.

        On the second point, the d20 mechanic is that you roll a d20 and add your modifiers to hit above a specified difficulty class DC. That includes combat. If anything I would say that GURPS, with all of its interactive and hands on combat skills is the more combat based system. You have attack rolls (like d20), but you also have defense rolls, realistic Hit Points making combat more intense when it does happen, a second by second round rotation as opposed to a six second leap. That sounds far more combat intensive to me. Skill systems may do skills well, but that also usually means that it makes combat a more intricate dance than ” Hit! Damage!”

        Also, if the karate character spent his points on combat and not social skills, then chances are he intends on being a combat oriented character. If someone doesn’t do what he wants he’d “punch ’em”. He may not be good at doing what he “should do” according to the narrative, but he is good at doing what he “does do” which in this case is probably ruin the day of anyone in his party in most situations. He may not be “balanced”, he may not be a jack of trades, master of none, but that skill he has mastered is used one way or another.

        In d20 (specifically in D&D 3.5/Pathfinder) if you One-Trick-Pony yourself you are more than most likely limiting the amount of usefulness you will have in combat. After all, a character built to charge and slam enemies against a wall isn’t going to be much use in a close quarters fight nor a field fight. A mage specialized for high fire output isn’t going to be as prepared with utility spells, or even other damage types to counter the resistance of the opponents he/she may face.

        All of that, however, is beside the point (though it is still a good point and I will leave it in). The point I was making with my inquiry was that you stated the “fire” character could say you put fire resistant enemies in his path to counter his fire, but the “Karate” character couldn’t say you put a social encounter in his path to counter his martial build. I want to know why you feel that as a DM/GM it is less wrong to put a combat character in a social encounter than to put a fire resistant creature up against a fire striker.
        Before I end this let me point out that just as social encounters run rampant in Role Play games, the story that is being unfolded can easily have the party travel to a plane of fire, or go somewhere or face something “logically” that has fire resistance. I’m not asking about GURPS or d20, I’m not asking about mechanics or narrative, I’m asking why it is more acceptable to put a combat character in a social situation than to put a fire damage character up against a fire resistant creature.

        I appreciate your apology for the length of your reply. I, however, will not apologize as I feel that a lengthy reply denotes thought and passion put into the response one gives. I am also reconsidering GURPS due to your open dialogue rather than the childish responses I get from others when debating this topic. So if nothing else you know that you have put me back on track to considering playing GURPS.

  5. You are right about the hit point limit…perhaps I picked up the 50% idea from an earlier version of GURPS? So yea, hypothetically you could let people raise their HP really high, but as the book says, that would be “unrealistic,” and would, at a certain point, break the game. One thing about GURPS is that because it’s universal and generic, there are many rules (like HP) that sound clearly have a cap for “normal” characters, but they don’t explicitly make one because there needs to be the possibility for characters/creatures that are not “normal” (like dragons, gods, supers etc). But I cap my players at +50% of HP. If you’re going to run a GURPS game in the future, be ready to put your foot down on these types of rules, because inevitably you’ll get that player who’s like, “but the book doesn’t say I can’t.”

    The nice thing about GURPS’ combat is that you can be as intricate or as simplistic with the rules as you want, and it all still works. Many of the more advanced combat rules can be easily ignored if wanted, or easily applied if desired. The other thing too is that while there are many combat options (feint, deceptive attack, retreat, multiple parries, aiming, all-out attack etc)… 1) These are pretty simple to learn, most of my players pick up on them after only a few sessions, but more importantly, 2) once you know them, they are application in all situations! There are not class specific combat options, nor are their options only available to high-powered characters. All the combat options I listed above in the parenthesis are usable by any character in any combat situation. So once you’re over the initial learning curve, you’re all set! There are not new rules to learn if you play a new class, there are no new abilities/feats to memorize when you level up, etc. So while combat can be as complicated as you wish it to be, it goes pretty seamlessly once everyone has played it a few times (from my experience).

    Regarding my point on how complicated combat is: Every time I start a new campaign, I always ask my players how they want to do combat. I let them know that I am well versed in all the combat rules, and I’m happy to play very tactical/”realistic” combat, but I also let them know that I’m perfectly happy with a more “cinematic” game, where some of the more complicated rules that add realism can be ignored. Whatever their choice, the combat in the games always runs seamlessly.

    And regarding my fire/karate example: I’m not trying to make a normative claim that one is more “right,” nor am I even saying that you shouldn’t do either. Indeed, in my example, the GM in the D&D game has no other viable option for combating his player’s min-maxed character. My point is that the two scenarios are partially a produce of the ways in which the mechanics of the games incentivize mix-maxing and allow for option to counter such characters. Neither of those examples are “bad” or “wrong” in my mind, my D&D/fire example was only to illustrate a situation in which the game mechanics’ inability to facilitate narrative was painfully apparent.

  6. One thing I’d like to throw in here (if anybody still reads this) is this. I’ve been a d&d player for several years now. I normally end up playing the role of DM. We started out with a game of 4e, hated it, and moved to 3.5, then Pathfinder (we tend to play shorter games that last only a few months each). Several months ago, I ran the first session of a GURPS Steampunk game I’d been working on for some time. A couple of days before, I’d run my friends through character creation. I was shocked with what they came up with. These are people who in d&d would have made a super charging warrior, an unstoppable paladin, another unstoppable paladin, an untouchable rogue, and a glass-canon mage. They came up with, respectively, a hard-boiled detective, a dual-identity wealthy playboy/sky pirate, a French fencing instructor, a British philosophy professor from Oxford, and a slightly kooky gadgeteering engineer, all with a full and balanced assortment of stats, advantages, and skills. After a lengthy intro (which included no fighting whatsoever) they ran into their first combat encounter, surrounded by chain and crowbar-wielding thugs in a bad part of town. As the fight began, I handed out combat cards, which are a free print-off game aid from SJG which tell you what your combat options are and what the effects of maneuvers such as feinting are. At first, they didn’t quite get the combat system. But after a few minutes, I started hearing things like, “Oh, that’s how GURPS does it? That makes so much sense!”. The detective in particular was delighted that his above-average dexterity helped him avoid the clumsy blows of the untrained thugs. The first time the fencer hit vitals with his rapier, suddenly everyone got it. GURPS combat is smart and tactical, and my players quickly learned to ‘fight smarter, not harder’. Soon me and my friends will be playing a fantasy style GURPS game, and I’m confident it will outshine d&d in most respects.

  7. I’m glad to hear it! I’ve had very similar experiences with long time D&D players using GURPS for the first time. The fantasy GURPS game I run is great, and I hope yours goes well too!

    • I am also glad to hear it. I have now tried my hand at GURPS with the aforementioned players and am ecstatic to announce that with only one short (seriously like two hour long) session we all collectively realized that GURPS was not for us. We had one combat session (at the very end of the two hours) and of the three players participating there were somewhere around ten deaths (one player had the high score of five personal deaths all of which were out of combat). We are now (comfortably) back in pathfinder with a few modifications (I now make them roll the static +10 to AC so they have a chance to get a really bad defense for example). I may consider picking it up again if only to eliminate it as a candidate for a future game, but to be honest the d20 system is where my heart is and it is the system that makes the most sense to me.

      • Also…
        Seeing as I was distracted then honestly just lost the passion to continue the debate before, I am willing to rebut your previous statement, Jeff.
        Yes, having a ridiculously high HP total would be “unrealistic”. Tell me, Jeff, how many fireballs did you throw today? This is a fantasy setting we’re talking about, realism (as you yourself pointed out) has to be suspended to an extent.
        As for the combat maneuvers you mentioned from GURPS, all of those (or at least something similar to them) are in the d20 system and as easy as they may be to learn and apply in GURPS, the d20 system is far easier. Take multiple parrying, you get that basic in every d&d class from wizard to fighter, it’s part of your AC. Feint? Make a skill check, either you apply a penalty to the opponent’s AC or you don’t. Easy. Also, every combat maneuver can be used by any class, not just the classes that get the shiny armor, though (as one would expect) the shiny armor helps because those characters are spec’d for combat.
        Now, finally, back to the dwelling argument that my friends have affectionately dubbed the FNA or Fire Ninja Argument. Lets ignore that fact that you refuse to concede that GURPS gives just as much (more than) incentive to the player for min-maxing as the d20 system does. I quote: “Indeed, in my example, the GM in the D&D game has no other viable option for combating his player’s min-maxed character.” How, very, dare you. If a player is min-maxed to do fire damage and nothing else then the very first obstacle I throw in that player’s way is not a fire resistant creature it’s a trap or a puzzle or anything that the player cannot simply use the “burn it till it dies” approach to bypass. Any viable GM knows that you do not combat the players with COMBAT you combat them with SITUATION. Clearly you agree, your Karate example does this exact thing. The only painfully apparent thing about your argument is (as I have previously stated) you believe that the d20 system gives more of an incentive to min-max a character than GURPS does.

  8. Hey Tim, glad you gave GURPS a go! Sounds like you and your players had a rough time of it, I would think something must have gone horribly wrong for you. My Steampunk game was a smashing success, and the party didn’t suffer a single character death after numerous fights with thugs, gangsters, cultists, monstrous medical experiments, and even martians and somewhat magical atlanteans. And only two of my party members even used guns! I think your trouble lay in either throwing enemies or situations at the party that were too tough (and I will admit GURPS does an horrible job at explaining what your party can handle) or your players came into the game without an understanding of the lethality of the system. In a system where a single bullet can kill most characters, you have to be much more cautious than in a system where people routinely soak up multiple sword blows. May I ask what genre you and your friends were playing? I’m not seeking to try and browbeat you into playing GURPS, I’d just like to insure that your perception of the system isn’t unfairly clouded by a bad experience, because your account of what happened is extremely atypical of what GURPS games are usually like.

    Now, for my two cents about these arguments you guys are having. The whole ‘realism’ argument can’t be thrown out the window simply by having fantastic elements present in the setting. Logically, the ability to throw fireballs does not intrinsically entail that one also be many times hardier than the average human. So take a ‘Level 15 Wizard’ from Pathfinder, for example. I just rolled up a quick one, with a +1 CON modifier because I usually make somewhat balanced characters. After a few average rolls, I come up with 60 hit points. How many hits from a level 1 orc with a javelin can this character take while standing there laughing? The Pathfinder SRD tells me that a lvl 1 orc warrior with a javelin does 1d6+3, an average of 6 damage. The mage in question could take on average 10 hits before dying. Now for a GURPS wizard. Say you built a wizard on 250 points. In the interest of him being a human, he will not have fantastically high hp. Since most of his points will be spent on magery, spells, and IQ, he wouldn’t have a lot of points left over for hp, leaving him with a reasonable (for a normal human) hp score of 16. Now lets get back to that orc. A common orc warrior, built on 30 points, could conceivably have an ST of 12, giving him a thrust damage of 1d6 with a javelin. However, impaling damage (which javelins do) is doubled after rolling. An impaling hit to the vitals increases this to x3 damage. Thus, on average, an orc targeting vitals would do an average of 9 damage, for a total of 2 hits before dying. This of course does not take into account HT or CON rolls to avoid death, but it also does not take into account the effects of stunning and wounds in GURPS. Now, if the whole point is to have characters who increasingly transcend human boundaries simply by the virtue of becoming more experienced, GURPS can accomplish that, but doesn’t by default.

    As far as the fire-resistance attack argument, I happen to think you both are a little off. In both systems, you could conceivably challenge a twinked out character with situations in which his twinky-ness becomes useless. However, I’d say a better way to approach the problem is to be a little more heavy-handed when it comes to Gamemaster oversight. Be aware of what can lead to characters who blow one sort of challenge out of the water and fail at all others, and nip those problems in the bud. Just because the rules say you can do it, or don’t say you can’t, doesn’t mean you should let them. Just my two cents guys, I’m enjoying the debate 😛

    • We played a fantasy game. They died in traps having never gotten into combat except for the very last person at the very last second. I agree and thank your for your two cents on the FNA. My stance is that neither system dissuades you from min-maxing where as Jeff seems to believe that the d20 system forces you to min-max in order to build a “playable character”.

  9. Basically true, although it’s not black and white, per se. It’s more of a continuum. But yes I do believe that the d20 system, relative to other systems, incentives players to build characters based on optimal stat output, not on role-playing, and lends itself best to a type of gameplay that is very mechanical and rote. This is not to say that a GM of a different mindset can’t run a fantastic game that mitigates these incentives (or a fantastic game the embraces these incentives). But that’s how the incentive structure works, in general, and it’s not the way I prefer to play RPGs.

    • An almost perfect retort. Just that last sentence needs to be reworded. “I (Jeff), feel that is how the incentive structure works, in general, and it’s not the way I prefer to play RPGs.” I fixed it for you, no need to thank me it was my pleasure.
      I understand that you feel the d20 system promotes min-maxing just the way I feel that the GURPSystem promotes min-maxing. We have a difference of opinion about that.
      I still feel strongly that an able GM is able to run a game and a mature party (which I sadly lack) is able to role play regardless of the system in which they play.
      I have currently reverted to 3.5 D&D in order to run an Expedition to Castle Ravenloft in the 3.5 edition it was written in so I do not have to alter anything about it. Hopefully it goes well. I do have to admit I miss the days when I had players who didn’t know the game at all because they were perfectly happy to play classes straight out of the core rule books without wanting more.

  10. It’s true that any great GM will always run a great game, but the rules of the game will always have an effect on how it’s played. However I don’t wish to play any system were I have to actively fight its mechanics inorder to get a narrative based game with characters built around role-playing. If nothing else can be said, I can say the GURPS best suits my GM style.

    On a side note: Have you (or Seth) gotten the D&D 5th edition playtest yet? I just got it, but haven’t had a chance to look it over. And I get the feeling that Wizards will sue me if I write about it on my blog :-p

    • Definitely don’t write about it because they will most likely attack with +5 great axes of legal demise, lol. I have not had a chance to see it, but I hear Vancian casting is coming back so I will dismiss it out right. The only thing I partially liked about 4E was no Vancian casting.

  11. I liked Vancian casting. It makes magic feel distinct and special. I love playing mages, but I hated 4th ed’s magic because it felt just like everyone else “martial” powers. I no longer felt like I had unique abilities or talents, just carbon copies of everyone else’s abilities, just with different names.

    • Well, yeah, if only the caster classes got the spell like “hot keys” and not all the other MMO classes. I know that I spout all this “Any system is a role play system” mumbo jumbo, but lets face it you have one helluva hard time trying to role play when you are constantly hitting hot keys as if you were playing a computer game and not a table top RPG. I usually stick to the Spells Per Day system because then it’s just a strange mana casting system, but having to pick out a specific number of very limited use spells for the entire day, and not being able to change those spells for the whole day, makes casting very hit and miss and it usually ends up being miss. I find that if you don’t have that “Prep in advance” requirement that the casters really do focus on the role playing because they can use the spells they need when needed rather than the spells they chose when they can manage to find a use for them. Then again I’m an advocate for less powerful magic that can be cast repeatedly because you are a G.D. mage and that is what you do rather than having ridiculously powerful spells that you can cast only a few times. Scorching Ray is my least favorite spell, ever!

  12. If i may shamelessly self promote here, on the topic of magic systems, would anyone be interested in playing a system that incorporates the magic casting directly into one’s endurance, and vice versa? I’m looking for unbiased playtesters (and by “unbiased” i really mean “people who don’t know me and therefore won’t feel obliged to pat my ego”). I consider it my imperfect first edition. It has combat skill/magic spells that if used to excess will cause damage. If too much damage is taken a limit is placed on the rank of abilities your character will have access to during combat (this means no more naked soldiers in the middle of the battle field, if your character gets hurt, it will suffer the consequences). Several of the usual races are here, as well as some new ones (Dragonkin, Beastmen, Revenants). The system uses Experience/Levels, but is a “make-your-own-class” style of Skill Set list.

    Hope you enjoy tinkering with it. Feel free to leave some feedback in the forums, as i’m already working on a second edition and would like to know what people think it should have added to it.


  13. As a Pathfinder player and a GURPS admirer I agree with all points in your post. It drives me nuts that d20 is the only game my group will ever consider playing. I guess I should be grateful it’s not D&D4. I have several GURPS books and look forward to finding a cool group (and the time to do that) to play with. Consider me subscribed.

  14. This is a great discussion. Having played both GURPS and D&D4e under the same gamemaster, I can honestly say that I much prefer the feel of GURPS. I couldn’t care less about trying to run faster on the treadmill of so-called advancement as defined in D&D, and GURPS naturally encourages stories, roleplay, and interesting characters, as opposed to those things feeling “tacked on” in D&D.

  15. I’ve known about GURPS for a long while but frankly the size of the books scared me off until just this past week. Although I by no means have the system completely down, as a GM I’ve always been prone to more “Narrativist”-focused gameplay; surprisingly, GURPS is working better for this than DnD3.5 ever did!

    I guess the main reason would be the emphasis on individual’s abilities. In GURPS, you *are* a master acrobat, a witty scoundrel, a reformed criminal fighting the urge to kill again; the rolls are based off of *your* skills, primarily, and not, say, a “DC 25 lock” and a “DC 20 to smash this door”-style game. If you’ve got a character sheet, your trusty reference book[s], and a little imagination, you can play a GURPS campaign and make it fun.

    That’s incredible to see in a system, at least on my end.

    • I agree that a narrative game is far more fun to play in. Having finally gotten a chance to step out of the DM seat and be a player in a game is wonderful. Our group recently tried a campaign for five sessions with a new DM and it was all combat all the time, so we had no fun. We just started a new game with a new DM and we didn’t have a single combat encounter in our first session and we really feel that it was better than pretty much any game we’ve played in to date.
      We played this entirely role play session using Pathfinder. Now, while I find the d20 combat system to be a little too “tactical” for my tastes, the system for skills works just great as a narrative. We’re moderately novice players who shouldn’t be able to open every lock and “slit every throat” in the game. Sure, we still walk around like we can, because its fantasy and who wouldn’t, but we know we still have loads to learn about our chosen professions. In this sense the two (d20 system and GURPS) really are not different. In the d20 system you have a set “bonus” that you add to your roll to see if you beat the Difficulty Check, which basically means you have a set number to shoot for, subtract your “bonus” and that is what you have to roll exact or above on a d20. With the GURPS you have a number you have to roll under plus any “penalties” the GM throws on for excessive difficulty. You have a number, minus your “penalties” that you have to roll under on 3d6. So you have a number you have to roll above on a d20 or a number you have to roll below on 3d6, though different directions, both are mechanically the same.

  16. Jeff, great review on GURPS and breaking down in terms of Pros and Cons against D&D. You state it fails for most folks though in terms of not adapting to the core differences and therefore not being able to break/cheat /game the system. While that certainly seems true enough initially for me, I think upon further analysis the opposite is true for me: I am not trying to cheat or game the system, just understand the mechanics because it is classless/level-less. it is just so unlike D&D in that it rewards the PC who can min/max the system for his chosen class.

    Do you know of any sites or documents that provide a walk through of a basic campaign in terms of dissecting the mechanics? I’d ideally like to follow along with a GM/solo one shot that provides enough details to see the mechanics in action. I’ve generated a few characters as an exercise, but the rest is foreign. I have both Lite, Characters and Campaigns Core publications.

    As a side note: I know no one right now that currently is versed in GURPS. Thus far for me this has been a journey of singular discovery.

  17. Hey Steve, outside of the materials you already have, I can’t think of anything that would provide a walkthrough…that being said, as someone who GMed D&D 3.5 games for 2 years, then switched to GURPS, the barrier to entry for a GM running GURPS is much lower. Really the one skill you need as a GM running GURPS (other than being a good story teller, naturally) is to be able to quickly translate your conceptions of what an NPC the characters are interacting with (in both a hostile and social encounter) can do into game mechanics, which is surprisingly easy. There’s no need to sit with a copy of the Monster Manual open (and a bunch of other books) while running. All you need to be able to say to yourself is something like this: “Okay, the players are fighting Orcs, and these orcs are strong, but are only average fighters, even maybe a little inexperienced…so they should have 12 ST, 12 HP and a skill of 11 in Axe.” Or similarly…”The players are trying to bargin with a very experienced shop keeper. His diplomacy skills (for bargaining) are at least a 14.” Or similarly…”the players are being guided by an elite Ranger. Any skill he has that’s even remotely related to being a Ranger is 12, but more likely 14 or above.” This is what’s great about GURPS! Because it’s designed to easily be translated from conception into mechanics, the job of a GM becomes much easier….and a tip for new GMs when it comes to player’s rolling: Often they’re confronted with a situation and they’ll be thinking out loud “what should I roll?” Often it’s tempting for a GM to say “well role merchant…” This can be hard for a new GM though because they might not have a good knowledge of the skills available and their appropriate applications. Instead ask the players to “role whatever skill you think is appropriate.” Then when they choose a skill, ask for a justification as to how that skill applies. This takes the conceptual work off the GM, and it forces to players to think more coherently about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it in the situation.

    Do you have any other questions about running a game? I’m happy to help! I’ve been GMing GURPS games pretty much every week for the past 2-3 years! Also, do you by any chance live in NYC?

  18. Hi Jeff, and thanks for the reply. I’ve been putting a lot of time and effort into creating my first go at an Adventure (Dystopian, based upon a massive EMP event with focus in a rural community) and have wire framed probably the first 72 hours; this should provide enough for the first gaming session to give everyone both a taste of the game and exposure to GURPS.
    I’ve found six willing souls via Meet up (sorry no I live in Dallas, but once lived in Chelsea/Park Slope) and we are planning to meet and greet in 2 weeks. One player has GURPS experience and offered to be sous GM.
    Your comments about both how to conceptualize an NPC and not worrying too much about skill rolls have been extremely comforting 🙂 I’ve reached the point where analysis paralysis set in trying to:

    For NPCs, create templates and tool kits for quicker generation (town cop, Military home on leave, Dr, vet, university professor, etc.). This task has really bogged down arc building.

    Thorough comprehension of what should be consulted to make a skills roll (I believe somewhere in Campaigns there is an example of a skill check taking into account three or more skills and abilities ?!?)

    So your advice came at a most opportune time for me. Right now I would like to know if you use any of the GM aids that are available? Roll20 and Obsidian Portal to list two of them.
    The other question I have right now has to do with character creation process. My sous GM says even the inexperienced players should be able to do this for the most part on their own, and email me draft characters to review (he has done this as successfully as claimed. But I can see the others struggling some what). I don’t see how we will have characters ready and playable when we first suit down at a table.

  19. Hey Steve,
    Sorry for the slow reply! I don’t really use many other tools. I’ve never used Roll20, and I’ve tried Obsidian Portal, but I’ve never found it useful. And like any other game, the players will pick up the rules once they start playing. From my experience, it’s common for people to want to ret-con their characters once they’ve gotten and better sense of the system, and unless I suspect they’re trying to mix/max, I often let them do it.

    And has your game started yet? How is it going?

  20. The game has one session in the books with three PCs, and they all said at the end they were glad they signed on to play. In game time we played until dawn of Day 1, and it really consisted of nothing more than Role Play. I really enjoyed myself as well.
    I allowed the PCs to take on upto three other NPCs (think Stephen King’s The Mist) as we mutually got a sense of one another. Right away one leader emerged, but the other two are veteran gamers and their characters personality came out throughout play.
    Still have a concern about combat, but I’ve discovered a podcast that has a fair amount of GURPS content and they flowed a progression example, starting with Lite. We’ll try that out next time.
    I am toying with the idea of writing up game play using Obsidian Portal, and have ample amount of time to get that going over the holidays.
    So GURPS seems ideal to me. I’m hoping to form/find a long term group, and possibly hit some CONs in 2013. Already have my next Adventure in mind: Star Trek Section 31.

    • GURPS really shines at Game Conventions when you want to run around and play lots of genres. I don’t mind playing D&D, Shadowrun, Space 1889, Iron Crown’s Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Call of Cthulhu, and many others (including miniature games like Flames of War, GW’s Lord of the Rings, NUTS!) so I have a base of rules that I roughly know.

      At the game conventions in Los Angeles, there are a lot of GURPS gaming sessions in the conventions time slots (there are a lot more D&D Living City sessions which is a game that has a fantasy city evolve yearly and your continuing character, which you bring each year to the Con, helps evolve it). What I like about playing the GURPS system at Cons is that I know the mechanics. So on Friday night we might play GURPS Horror about a slasher, Saturday morning would be a Post Apocs Fall Out game, Saturday night would be an espionage game, Sunday morning would be a ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ game and Sunday night would be a Conan the Barbarian romp.

      The mechanics are the same, the polish would be detailed add-ons for talents, weapons and viewpoints. There are different gaming systems that handle each of the above genres and as a Con attendee, if the game seemed interesting enough, I would play what system there was even if I didn’t know it. But knowing GURPS allows me to freely merge into whatever genre is playing while knowing one system.

      I don’t bother with bashing a system. If I don’t think its for me, I drop it. BUT don’t drop a necessarily if you are the one trying to figure out how to run it for others. Play it with someone whose played it before and does a good job GMing. That will help you evaluate if it is for you.

      My 2 cents worth.

    • And that is precisely why the article isn’t titled “Explaining what GURPS Does.” D&D is used as a comparison for comparisons’ sake, nothing more. No I’m not a fan on D&D, that’s much is pretty clear, but I didn’t write the post just to hate on D&D…that post will be coming soon.

      • But the issue isn’t with using D&D as a comparison, it’s that your tone is not informative about GURPS only demonstrative towards D&D. I’ve already stated that I believe it would have been a better choice to simply write about the good points of GURPS rather than comparing it to D&D at all, so I won’t bring that up again.

  21. Hello Jeff. I was doing a search for some role playing system related content and came across your post. I am fascinated that it has garnered the attention that is has and found the growing conversation to be of interest. I’d love to drop my comment here and hope not to sound too out of place.

    I have been gaming for close to 20 twenty years and played in d20, pathfinder, GURPS, 4E, storyteller, harn, ad&d, besm, riddle of steel, ars magica, fudge, and many others. I have also created no less than eight homebrew systems of my own over my many years as a GM. For all of this I have learned one thing with certainty: the scope, power, and greatness of a campaign rests with the talents of GM and to some extent those of the players. The system itself is fairly unimportant to the “role-playing” aspect of the game. It is what you make it, IMHO.

    However, I see a lot of my early views about system-craft in your post and would like to offer some comment or perhaps advice. You’ve made a statement “I feel that GURPS is a much better system for playing fantasy RPGs then D&D 3.5, and especially D&D 4th…” I’d offer that it all depends on what you and your players want, and that goes for any setting – not just fantasy. Each system always has strengths and weaknesses. D20 offers a well-paced and fairly simple tactical combat option. GURPS has the capacity to inject more robust models at the cost of speed and simplicity. If your players (and yourself) are up for more swashbuckle – I’d argue d20 is a better match (or a number of other systems). I feel GURPS is better for the grittier and less combat oriented play (although I prefer a low pool version of story-teller for that style as a personal preference).

    Getting into a debate that pits d20 players against GURPS players and making the argument that the GURPS ones will actually make a better character because it encourages roleplaying more is a somewhat foolish statement in my view. Any player can try to break any system and min/max if that’s their goal (“play the rules” as you say) – just as any player can make a great story and generate great scenes. These two facts are true regardless if you are in d20 or GURPS or whatever. Role-playing is system agnostic. If you are playing d20 and finding that players aren’t making “characters” when that was the goal then the GM needs to step in guide toward what is desired.

    I will agree that GURPS tends to be easier to convert to different settings while d20 is harder (without a good sourcebook). But then again, I homebrew all the time so this is never really an issue. I find GURPS excels best at trying to emulate real-world scenarios that edge on heroic – it worked beautifully in trans-human space.

    But here is my real point: don’t let a system dictate role-playing to you. If you find the mechanics to your liking for a specific purpose: use it. But you can’t sell me that d20 (by merit of its rule set) automatically encourages min/maxing and poor role-play any more than GURPS does.

    Also, you can drive yourself crazy thinking about the “real-life” application of the rules. Sure, GURPS has some great physical models that seem more “realistic” if that is your thing. But they are only there to serve the purpose of crafting scenes. So are d20’s rules. Both are effective – but they offer different looks, feels, and play styles. Coming from someone who once made a very similar argument about GURPS, I’d offer that you keep an open mind about all systems as legitimate models (most do at least something well and for a good reason).

    Hope I didn’t sound too old man role-player. I wish you luck in your campaigns and all future endeavors.

    • Thank you, Matt. I agree fully that the GM makes the game fun not the system that is used. I know I come off as more that a little preachy with my sentiments, but it really irks me when someone criticizes a game for the only apparent reason being that they just don’t like the game.

  22. I completely understand that sentiment. And GURPS I think has a lot of value and good uses. I’m glad it is getting love in your circles. Of course, I love systems and system-craft – it’s something of guilty pleasure for me (I’m an engineer by trade so it makes sense I guess). In any case – good luck and always game on.

  23. OK, I see that the old debate of skill based and level based games is still alive and well. To start off with I’ve been playing RPGs since 1977, starting with D&D Basic. I have since played many, many games, including AD&D, D&D 3.5, GURPS 2-3-and 4th, Traveller all except 5th, HERO 5th, and the Basic Role-Playing System (Runequest, Call of Chthulhu) among others.

    My Preference is for GURPS a Skill based game but that is because it suits my style of play. I have found that most D&D players are intimidated by the size of rulebook for GURPS (and HERO for that matter). I personnelly feel that D20 and most level based games have a video game feel and this is fine and it’s easy, very modular.

    D&D is a more abstract system and require more disbelief from the real word. GURPS is a more realism based system or simulation system which is a more intuitive way (don’t read a better system).

    Both systems seek to do the same thing entertainment. At first I didn’t get the GURPS thing it took a while (years) before I got how it works. Once I had that a new universe or multiverse openned up for me.

    Basicly put all systems require a specific type of player and master for it to work and the rules are flavoring and the the true game engine is the players.

    This was my two cents worth enjoy. GAME ON!

  24. 4E fixed the very “Armor Class” problem you pointed out. “Reflex” is a defense that depends on Reflexes. “AC” is a defense that depends on armor. Problem solved.

    4E has other problems, but it was odd that you summarily dismissed it, and then used a failing of 3.5 that 4E solved.

  25. Thanks for creating this post Jeff! I have not played GURPS for years now since I moved to Argentina (RPG is almost inexistent around here), Brazil had a lot more movement on the matter. I agree with every word and this entry is very well written, congratulations I have also shared your words with friends that used to play to, they are also pleased with your conclusions. Stay Classy

  26. Hi. I’m an old timer, started playing in 1978 or so and have been running games for 35 years. I have also played a number of systems but and I’m considering GURPS at this time. I downloaded GURPS Lite and read it and see that it is a skill based system where the actual body/health of the character never changes to any degree…you just get better at making sure you don’t get seriously injured.

    I would like to compare 2 systems, the old AD&D 2nd Ed, and RuneQuest (original). Of course, AD&D is the mother of all the subsequent systems boiling down to Version 3.5. I have not played version 3.5 and my group is wondering why I won’t go there. I loved RuneQuest, back in the day. There was a system that really attempted to depict real life…this is not to say you could not play in a fantasy world and see dragons and elves and the like and interact with them, it was as if you yourself (Gregg in my case) was actually alive and trying to survive in that reality. So simulation of real life only means you are running the risks that any normal mortal would have in our reality, but in a strange and different, sometimes truly scary world. And there are things you just don’t attack without great care. Yes, if that giant actually connects with that thrown rock, your character is going to be seriously hurt. So you avoid it or outsmart it. Dig a pit trap and let the giant’s own weight impale itself on spikes at the bottom. I read a comparative quote once…”In AD&D you attack and kill ancient undead dragons…in RuneQuest you bluff the ogres” This is very true and describes well the fundamental difference between the two gaming philosophies. .
    Unfortunately for Runequest, you seriously have to dedicate much of your life to working on the game, if you are running it, and the players spend lots of time keeping track of things like HP for each limb and absorption from damage etc, when they are not figuring out what they are going to train in next. It was top heavy and not sustainable if you were only playing 1 game a week (had kids etc).
    Mongoose came out with a version of RQ recently which was pretty much the same, but the time consuming parts of the RQ combat system were sort of generalized in an attempt to simplify the old original system. I love RQ, but can invest the time to run it.

    I always seemed to gravitate back to AD&D because it was so simple. Yes, it is very illogical. HP in my mind, in that system, make sense when you consider the 1 minute round and how much actual punishment a character or creature can take. It does not necessarily happen in 1 blow. Lots of HP is supposed to measure your ability to avoid damage…so it takes more to bring you down. But I always had a hard time with the naked guy in the hail of arrows also…and falling off a 10 story and walking away. I integrated thinks like “Battle Manna” which is all the HP above and beyond your CON in HP. Once you were out of BM you started to get into your actual physical body. Certain things could bypass your BM, like the falling slab of iron…dodge it or get crushed…no argument.

    Anyway, my situation is this. I’ve integrated AD&D and RQ and other sytems I tried into a hybrid of my own…my players sometimes mock me for making them try a new system…because I could never be content with 1. a top heavy system, or 2. an illogical system.

    The skill based system, where you select a body of skills and advance your character by improvement to your skill set is what I need and want. I’m going to try GURPS because the brass tax is this. I read GURPS lite…I get it. My players will get it. I will enjoy running it. It is the story which unfolds that keeps us playing. The plot. When the system gets in the way of that, you are sinking fast. I don’t have time, in my old age, to work on my world in-between games. So I need a system which does not have a high learning curve and everyone will feel they need to play smart. Whoever it was who described their Steampunk adventure…sounds wonderful.

    I also respect the avid defender of D&D V3.5.

    Hey, anyone see the trailer for Zero Charisma?

  27. Have you ever tried the (Basic Role-Playing) BRP system? I haven’t played GURPS but BRP is by far my favourite system and for many of the same reasons you seem to like GURPS. It is showing some age but I have been looking at the Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed rules (based on BRP, kinda) and that is breathing some new live into it. Anyway I’ll have to check out GURPS myself and see how it compares. Thanks,

    • I’ve never played BRP, but from what I’ve read it’s very similar to GURPS. However GURPS’ combat rules are anything but basic. My guess is that BRP’s combat is much simpler than GURPS, even if they share the same philosophy regarding character creation.

  28. I like GURPS, too, but I think Gary Gygax was pretty clear what hit points are: your ability to avoid serious and disabling injuries. Armor is a bit weird, but Hit Points only have the problem you discuss if they’re treated as meat ala BRP or GURPS. They’re not. The reason a fighter is basically fine until 0 HP is because he has only minor injuries, if any. This whole ‘why can you survive 20 spear thrusts?’ Exists mainly because casual players don’t read the first edition books and Dragon Magazine articles where this is clearly explained. Armor affecta your opponent’s ability to deliver wounds, thus decreasing THEIR chance of doing damage, which is why it’s not your HP (HP is your ability to endure in a fight and avoid wounds). Dexterity gives a poor attack adjustment relative to armor because being fast is exhausting, and metal skin is a better and more reliable defense. Which is also true in BRP and GURPS, Dodge is crap unless you pump it to absurd levels.

    • I’ve heard that before, and I’m sure Gygax’s original conception sounded great at the time, but after 40 years of developments in RPGSs I think it’s time to drop the Gygax’s conception of HP, or at least present it differently. I can understand why Gygax may have wanted cinematic gameplay, where the heroes can power through foe after foe. The “realism” of a spear in the gut of a hero isn’t always fun, so I can see how HP came about to prevent the possibility of a hero dying a quick, unheroic, “realistic” death. Dave Anderson said himself that HP came around because they didn’t want gamers to lose their favorite characters from a low roll. As such HP serves its mechanical purpose of creating a certain style of gameplay, however it still isn’t conceptually sound. For HP to work in the “how do you survive 20 spears in the chest” problem, HP must at first represent an active defense on the part of the defender, and also must mean that a “hit” by the attacker isn’t really a “hit.” Conceptually this means that no matter how good my spear thrust is, no matter how strong or how on target, it’s deflected, dodge, or shrugged off. That means that ALL successful attacks on a character with positive HP are pre-determined to fail in some way. This also means that “damage” isn’t actually “damage,” but instead some reduction in the defenders endurance, or toughness? If an attack that does 30 “damage” would kill one person but have practically no physical effect on the second person, then it’s not doing “damage,” it’s doing something else. But of course you can’t say “this sword will proportionally reduce your opponents ability to avoid serious injury.”

      • This is merely your own opinion. Heroes, by definition, are exceptional individuals completely capable of delaying death through skill, luck and fortitude far beyond common folk. AD&D is about these heroes and has an HP system that offers extremely flexible role play opportunity while still offering balanced mechanics. I mention AD&D because I feel D&Dtakes it too far with HP bloat, However, fundamentally speaking, every point you make about what D&D HP must represent is how it is represented according to Gygax as Kane said.HP is meant to be an abstract measure of the physical and mental state of the player character. Through fatigue, cuts, bruises, etc. the character is slowly worn out.

        Role play is what AD&D is all about. If you have full hp and you take 2 damage, it doesn’t mean you were run through with a pike. It means he grazed your arm as you deftly avoided the brunt of the blow, or it means that you expended valuable energy to avoid it, hence lowering your reserves. As the battle wears on, you become more susceptible to that ONE blow which will take you from positive to negative health which is the one that runs you through. While I can understand that post 2e D&D doesn’t properly account for the fundamental philosophies from which it was derived, your statements about HP in D&D are overly assertive and fail to account for what it was designed to accomplish. Whether you find it conceptually sound is only relevant if you understand the concept to begin with. It’s safe to say you do not.

        If you intend only to attribute what you say to modern(3.0 and later) D&D, it should be specified. There, I think we would have more agreement since modern D&D indeed fails to properly depict HP as it is meant to be. However, 2e, despite the in crowd bashing it, is perhaps the most play-tested and balanced role play system available. Also, being an exact evolution of the 1e ruleset, which is arguably the foundation of the role play industry, D&D as a series knows more than GURPS about a mechanic which it itself pioneered. Therefore, it’s safer to say that GURPS does HP incorrectly by historical context, but perhaps it offers you personally a more satisfactory experience. In any case, nothing of what you say is fact.

  29. I don’t mean to double post.

    I seem to get the feeling that you believe some of your assumptions of how D&D abstracts HP are objectively bad. In combat, I expect my enemy to do all that they can to survive. The “To hit” roll doesn’t mean I succeed in stabbing my enemy in the face and only doing a few damage. Instead, it means through our interaction, I managed to break his defenses and land a meaningful hit upon his condition. This could be a bruise to his hip, or it could be an arrow through the heart. What I manage to do depends upon his current condition. Is he alive, well, and mobile? I’m probably not going to land a mortal would then. Is he near death on the verge of collapse? That’s the blow that ends him then.

    It’s a very elegant means of handling the wellness of an individual without breaking the verisimilitude of the game through multiple systems tracking, and number crunching.

    • I agree, I mean I also like GURPS and RuneQuest but for the purposes A/D&D has a nice high tension minigame. Barbarians of Lemuria and AFG have a similar setup, abstract combat with some crunch, it works well for its genre.

  30. Yeah, I don’t mean to imply GURPS is a bad game. More so I wish to offer a defense against blatant AD&D bashing. Truth be told, I’m not really into modern D&D and the author is right to think of the modern approach as absurd, but even in 2e, player characters are mortals whose lives can be snuffed out in a single round or even roll. It’s in many ways more realistic and intense because there is no method to pre-determine an outcome. I find that extremely satisfying. It rewards planning and tactical decisions rather than number crunching.

    • I’ve never played AD&D, so I can’t comment on how HP works compared to 3rd edition. I can say though that I really don’t have a problem with the abstraction. Games with clearly delineated “light wounds” and “heavy wounds” make for lots of fun. My problem with HP (3rd edition HP) is that the abstract isn’t presented as such, and that there’s no break from it. It’s impossible to land a “serious” blow on a character with lots of HP. In a system like I mentioned above it would be a “heavy wound” but in D&D it’s just a little more damage. So I can only land a deadly blow after fighting someone for minutes? Only after landing dozens of smaller blows is a lethal blow possible? And is a character at 25% of their HP wounded, or just a little exhausted? If they’re wounded then why isn’t that represented in game? I know exactly what Gygax and Anderson were trying to do, I just think they could have done better. HP is too much of an abstraction. Case and point: What would have to do it you wanted to transpose a D&D battle into a novel? You’d literally have to fabricate every detail, since what a “hit” means in D&D is so abstracted it’s impossible to transpose into any other mode of thought. The concept of HP completely fails to handle even the simplest counter example. If a character with 100 hit points just stands still, and someone stabs that character with a normal sword doing 1d8 damage, what happens to the character? HP only works in the very specific context of the original D&D, which is larger than life heroes going out and adventuring, and who will always be actively defending and attacking in a fight. Outside of a straight forward, good guys vs bad guys old-school RPG, HP has no place. Surprised characters who aren’t defending themselves? Helpless characters? Hit location systems? Deadly blows? HP can’t help you with any of that. The problem is that D&D become so popular people copied HP into different systems, setting and contexts, where it didn’t make any sense.

  31. Ok, I see more where you are coming from. I do agree that 3.0 and later D&D botched the entire philosophy. That being said, let me elaborate a bit.

    You bring up novels as a reference and I believe that is a good one indeed. If you read a good fantasy novel, fights are often as you say, two people skillfully dodging, parrying, evading. Sometimes they do so perfectly (attacker doesn’t get past the hit roll), sometimes they are knocked off guard or disarmed etc. (attacker lands hp condition damage.). This usually goes on until finally, the bad guy is apprehended through being bested one too many times… It’s always the final time that matters. Everything up to that is simply flair and narrative progression.

    AD&D was meant to be a narrative game. As such, it is up to the players and DM to narrate the results as appropriately as possible. Here is an example :”Player A says he stabs an ogre in the face and succeeds the hit roll. Well, the ogre has full health and only takes d6 damage. Hence despite the player’s attempt, he fails to get the face shot, but does manage to stab the ogre in the hand as it hurriedly blocks its face.” Notice that the narrative fits the scene and the condition of both entities. There is little keeping the ogre from intervening in the player’s plan. As players/GM of the game, we must challenge ourselves to “write” the novel with verisimilitude as it happens.

    Now as for your counter example. AD&D has rules for such situations which I believe deal with it. First, the willingness of a player to forgo a “save”. According to the PHB for 2e, a player may willingly forfeit a saving throw and expose themselves to full effect of whatever is opposing them. Furthermore, there is a rule of unavoidable death/damage. Based on these entries, the player as described forfeits his standard save (in this case AC is a save) and will have to roll vs death save to determine if he is killed outright or survives will a grievous wound. After all, Achilles wasn’t invincible due to his ability to take 10 spears to his chest. He was invincible due to his ability and skill at preemptively countering attacks(high AC through dodge and HP for recovery from imperfect defenses). He died because he forfeit his save(focused on his grief) and failed a death roll (putting it in RPG lingo.)
    Further rules exist for other cases including helplessness(willing or otherwise) where again, any hostile action may be taken as a fail proof assassination of the npc or player. I’m not sure about the specific rules of 3.0 regarding this, but AD&D doesn’t treat such meta gaming kindly. Most actions have logical consequences, and the rules are loose enough to allow the GM to impose common sense repercussions.

    Now that I know your specific background, I can understand why you approach it this way. I started in 3.x and moved to pathfinder. From there, I went to 2e and suddenly role play made sense. It was no longer this meta gamed board game emphasizing min and max game play. I too had to philosophically struggle with many concepts. I’m now an unabashed 2e fan, and I lament that its era was made obsolete by “superior” systems. It isn’t my expectation that you outright change your views, but I do hope perhaps you may have another viewpoint to consider.

    • That’s fair. Playing GURPS in an established setting requires an bunch of work on the GMs part that wouldn’t be there if the setting had its own game. And creating your own setting still requires a bunch of work. But this is an issue with any generic system. And as someone who runs a GURPS fantasy game, I like that using the generic system allows me to surpass some of the genre tropes evident in setting specific games. My fantasy setting and game are quite different, stylistically, from the standard D&D setting, and if I were using the D&D rules it would be hard for my setting to escape the tropes that come with using an established game that associated with an established setting.

  32. I’ve only recently got back into roleplaying after 20+ years off and I’m GMing a Pathfinder game. One of my players (who wasn’t born the last time I played) has been running a GURPS game for a while now with his mates and I think feels like it’s the poor relation. This article (not to mention very lengthy debate) should go some way to reassuring him that he’s got a good system that he shouldn’t be looking to swap out to something else when he gets the hang of it.

    I’m tempted by GURPS but having just spent a fortune and a lot of time on Pathfinder I’m fighting the “oh look another shiny new system to try out” temptation that I gave into so much when I was younger.

  33. Reading over this, I could care less what system people play. Play the game you like and try and get fresh blood into the hobby. I have introduced a few people to Pathfinder and Call of Cthulhu in the last year and have gained a few new players for my campaign, and they seem to love both systems for what they are. I have never played GURPS but I have been looking into it for a campaign idea I had for players to play time travelers trying to stop people from altering history and it seems GURPS is the best system to run that.

    The only thing I can’t figure out in this article is way you keep using the term “conceptually sound.” A concept is an idea, a fundamental principle behind something. If the concept behind the game is to be able to take 20 arrows to the face and still slay an army of orcs, then the system is “conceptually sound”. If the style leans towards realism, where a single hit can kill someone, than having a low wound thresh hold is conceptually sound. Simply not liking the concept behind something does not make it unsound.

  34. Hi Daniel,
    I think you misunderstood my point. You would be correct if D&D (and all the other role-playing system that have adopted its HP system) said “This is the game where you can take 20 arrows to the face and keep fighting.” But it doesn’t say that, ever. Instead is offers up several contorted explanations that I detailed in my post, and all those explanations don’t make sense under interrogation. D&D’s conception of HP serves an mechanical purpose: To allow for a certain type and feel of game play. Which is all well and good. My point is that in the act of abstracting damage into “HP” they sacrifice a coherent concept for a certain style of game play. For me it’s not a matter of style, I personally don’t like the intellectual discomfort I feel when I can’t ask the questions “are there 20 arrows sticking out of me?” Because to answer that question means exposing the fact that HP, and a concept, makes no sense. All role-playing games require a certain level of abstraction, without it there could be no rules. However if a question as simple as “is there an arrow sticking into my flesh” can’t be answered coherently and definitively, which is the case with D&D’s HP rules, I think that’s a crappy method of abstraction.

  35. So Jeff, the original statement you made was that you wanted people to play GURPS. I recently moved to Maine and found your statement “The University of Maine at Farmington has a very well-organized gaming group called the Table Gaming Club (TGC). The TGC was a gold mine of gaming opportunities! The TGC was the oldest club on campus, dating back to the 70s”. Do you still have your contacts at UM Farmington? Do you still know any other Maine GURPS players? I’m in Portland am planning to create a GURPS renaissance this year and have it being played at PortConMaine 2015. Email me some data. Go to my http://www.shadowhex.com and get ahold of me via the email address there.

    – John Paul

  36. Wow, this is some good stuff. Thanks for writing this up.

    I especially like this part: “In D&D (and similar systems), the rules are a tool in which you actualize the rules. They are arbitrary, self-referencial, and exists only for their own purpose, not to actualize something about your character.”

    That’s exactly what I dislike about, say, the introduction of multi-classing into the game. It’s D&D in terms of itself rather than an attempt to translate fantasy to the tabletop. Such a big difference!

  37. Excellent article. and yes, I do find the mechanical considerations of d20 games tend to get in the way of roleplaying, and I like level and classless systems for the same very reasons. I recently bought the “Ultimate Intrigue” Pathfinder book, and it feels like too much time was spent making feats work with social actions, stats for social character builds, spells to circumvent detective work, and other mathematical stat-block-y sorts of content.

    When the book got down to social and roleplaying things like “how to run a mystery” or “how to stage a heist” I felt things fell flat. In the “influencing NPCs” section, what a skill based system like GURPS or others would handle simply (interacting with NPCs using social skills and abilities) was broken down into large complicated stat blocks. Like anything not-combat in d20, it needed a lot of rules to explain and feats to support, where other games do these things much more elegantly.

    While D&D handles a video-game math and numbers-based wargaming style of play well (and I still play as well), I feel the same way as you when it comes to roleplaying and the story-based parts of our hobby. Excellent article, and you have rekindled my interest in GURPS as well.

  38. Tim –
    “You are an idiot.” “You are a liar.” “You are illogical.”

    This is the tone of most of your comments. They are not collaborative. Though I am sure you are not any of these comments above, you are much an energy drain to me.

    Try to play nice in the sandbox. Try to respect other’s opinions. Try not to act like a douche.

    – The Other Tim
    (who wishes more Tim’s were constructive and grateful.)

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