GURPS Basic Set
Author: Steve Jackson
Company/Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Page count: 256 pages
Playtest Review by Bradford C. Walker on 05/03/98. Genre tags: none
GURPS has come a long way from the first edition, which was published well over ten years ago. It evolved from a system best used for realistic low-tech adventuring and matured into the premiere generic RPG system we see today. Between the Basic Set and the Compendiums, nothing is impossible under GURPS.
The point-based character design system is still one of the best in the industry. It strongly encourages concept characters, instead of rolling randomly and making do with what you get. (That option does exist, for those who can't shake the habit.) It is based around four attributes: Strength(ST), Dexterity(DX), Intelligence(IQ) and Health (HT). From these stats, a handful of substats are defined: Fatigue, Basic Speed and Will.
After these stats are determined, you go on to buy Advantages and Disadvantages. Some modify your stats, such as Rapid Healing or Weak Will. Others grant you resources (Wealth, Ally, Patron) or take them away (Poverty, Dependant, Enemy). A few grant special abilities, or inflict peculiar weaknesses: Immunity to Disease, Magical Aptitude, Alcohalism, Code of Honor.
Then you buy your character's skills. These are divided into Physical and Mental. Both categories are further divided into Easy, Average, Hard and (for Mental only) Very Hard. Point costs go up under two conditions: increased proficiency and increased difficulty. (It's expensive to be a master fencer, a theoretical physicist or a master of the dreaded Greater Wish spell.) Unlike other popular systems, GURPS is entirely skill-based. If you don't possess the skill, you're in dire straights; the default your character works off of is so low (on average) that success is slim. (There are some skills that aren't allowed a default. Examples include Nuclear Physics, Karate, spells and psi abilities.)
Finally, you take your character's starting wealth- modified by his Wealth or Poverty- and buy the PC's equipment. Give the character a name and a backstory. Then you're done and you are ready to play. At first, this may take between a half-hour and an hour. Familiarity will cut that down to a half-hour on the outside. (This assumes that the GM is there to help. If he's not, the time will increase.)
As this is a generic system, it requires signifigant effort on the part of the GM to customize it to his satisfaction. Fortunately, SJ Games has taken the time to expedite the process through the release of the Compendiums. These compile all of the most-used information outside the Basic Set into two volumns. They are optional, but it never hurts to look them over; chances are that they already have a rule modification that does what you're looking for.
GURPS is designed to be realistic, and that means "As close to reality as possible." Fights are quick, dirty and lethal. (Wear armor, or don't get hit; preferably, don't fight at all.) It uses a simple 3d6 die roll for all skill checks, and they know how to work that bell curve. All rolls use some number of six-sided dice, which is a good thing in my book, so getting dice to play won't be a problem. The sheets in the back are perforated for easy removal. Remove them, store them and photocopy them ASAP. (Then store the originals where they will be free of stains and smudges.)
This is a great system for someone who doesn't mind some prepatory work, especially if they can handle some light math. It's also great for folks who love to do crossovers, but either hate the existing mechanics or don't have any to work with. (GURPS Rifts is a popular homebrew, for example.) I can't recommend it enough.
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)