Review of GURPS Uplift Second Edition

Review Summary
Comped Capsule Review
Written Review

December 12, 2003

by: Wes Johnson

Style: 4 (Classy & Well Done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)

The first edition of GURPS Uplift was one of the best translations of novels into an RPG setting. How does this second edition do after three more novels have been added to the sereies? The answer: stellar.

Wes Johnson has written 51 reviews, with average style of 3.92 and average substance of 3.71 The reviewer's previous review was of The Bag of Dice Holding.

This review has been read 7783 times.

Product Summary
Name: GURPS Uplift Second Edition
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Author: Stefan Jones
Category: RPG

Cost: $27.95
Pages: 176
Year: 2003

SKU: SJG02795
ISBN: 1-55634-427-9

Review of GURPS Uplift Second Edition

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If you have not read the Uplift novels by David Brin you are missing out.  It is easily one of the best science fiction works to date.  But does that translate into a setting that is good for a role playing game?  GURPS Uplift Second Edition delivers the goods every bit as well as the first edition did some ten years ago.  Heck the first edition of GURPS uplift is what got me interested in David Brin’s novels to begin with.


Chapter One:  The Uplift Universe

This chapter covers all the basics of the culture, philosophy, institutions and sapients of the five galaxies.  Brin’s setting is frankly so huge that one could either get lost in it or find exactly what they were looking for.  This section does  a very solid job of setting the foundation for the setting and how things work.  It might have been nice to see more page count dedicated to the various galactic institutions, but that is a minor quibble as they tend to be big, dogmatic and never changing.


Chapter Two: Characters

You usual fare of GURPS mechanics tweaked for a specific setting.  While it could be a good guideline for adapting classes from other RPG engines, it really is a section dedicated to using GURPS, which is okay as it is a GURPS supplemtn after all.:)


Chapter Three:  Family, Friends and Foes

Now we start getting to the meaty portion of the book for the setting.  Unlike many RPG settings race and culture are absolutely everything in the Uplift universe.  Humanity is the new kid on the block and in a very precarious condition, courtesy of them being wolflings.  A wolfling is a race that has no patron.  They achieved space flight all by them selves.  That makes them wildly unpopular.  Humanity also likes doing things their own way, even if it has been done by hundreds of races over millions of years.  Lastly Earth clan discovered something….something that shakes the foundations of Galactic culture.  Being in Earth Clan in particular means your character as an individual represents your race, not just yourself.  Along for this ride are Chimpanzees and Dolphins which are Earth Clans clients, both of whom had been in the Uplift before contact with the Galactic culture as a whole.  Both of whom also make very compelling characters to play in humanity’s adventure in the stars.

This chapter details many of the prominent clans in the setting,  at least the clans that are mentioned in Brin’s novels.  The neat thing about the setting is that its scale is so huge that there is more than enough room to introduce new clans and/or use established clans in different sorts of ways.  Here you will find the Tmbrini, Soro, Gubru and a host of others fleshed out with GURPS templates, but easily adaptable to any system you choose.


Chapter Four:  Uplift

Uplift is the practice of taking a pre-sentient species and uplifting them to sentience and star travel.  These clients are indebted to their patrons for about a hundred thousand years and then they in turn uplift a species.  This section is a good mechanical template for making Uplifted species be it via random generation or as a guideline…it covers all the bases.


Chapter Five: Technology and Equipment

The universe is very old and there are lots and lots of gadgets out there…and the Library has templates for all of them…assuming you can access the computers, convince them you need the information then have the industrial capability to make the devises.  There is a lot of equipment centric to the game in this chapter (like exo-skeletons fro dolphins) that are mandatory for the setting.  Some bend the normal GURPS rules, others add interesting ideas (especially the psionic devices) usable in other settings.  As a note sometimes Earth Clan’s way of doing things their own way has paid off, especially the wicked Flikker-Swivver missiles.


Chapter Six: Space

This section primarily focuses on getting from point a to point b…and there are a lot of ways to do that.  There are the varying level s of hyperspace, transit points (think naturally occurring hyperspace freeways) and probability drives.  All have their advantages and disadvantages.  Usually that translates to speed and danger…the faster you want to get someplace the more hazardous it will be and the harder the technology will be to acquire.

For game mechanics, the exceptions to the normal GURPS vehicles rules are described in detail.

As  reader of the series and a fan of the now two supplements I really liked this section because it is very concise about how to get from place to place and how it works.  It gives much better insight into the novels.


Chapter 7: Campaigns

This section is a sort of catch all for having a campaign in the Uplift setting.  Guidelines for role playing Earth Clan (humans and clients) are detailed.  Traveling is also covered.  One of the better sections is the consequences for character’s actions in the setting.  As said above, humanity is under a microscope and what one member does reflects largely on the race.  The tables and mechanical information for this aspect of the game is helpful and could lead to other adventures.  Speaking fo there are some adventure seeds in the campaign section, but mostly of this information is listed in the worlds and adventures chapter and the Jijo appendix.


Chapter 8: Worlds & Adventures

In this section are a number of planets that either the novels take place in or are referenced to, over the course of the six books.  Each world has a standard GURPS type map and the usual telemetry.  Each planet has a good amount of information written up about it and the ones selected are well chosen for their differences.  As well each world has an adventure seed or two, most of which are very good.  Not good because the world is interesting, but good because they are very focused on what the characters need to do and the context in which they are doing it.


Appendix A:  Jijo

Jijo is a world that sooners of a number of different races illegally colonized.  One of the many rule sin the Galaxy is that worlds are colonized in a logical and thoughtful manner.  This is to let worlds recover, but more importantly it is to give room for the galactic order and hydrogen order to share the same galaxies.  The twist is that Jijo is de-evolved for a variety of reasons.  Some just wanted to find a world where they cold de-evolve and go back to their prespient roots.  Others, like the whelled g:kek are running for their lives.  Still, the humans are simply hedging their bets incase galactic culture decided to stamp out Earth like a discarded cigarette.

From an RPG perspective Jijo is an interesting setting to play in because it has a number of dominant races and very valid reasons for being there, not to mention very distinctive world views.  Unlike many settings which explain numerous races as simply as the elves have lived in the forest, dwarves in the mountains and Halflings in shires…they all have compelling reasons and stories to tell.  It is also very neat to see the Traeki represented on this planet and not their malicious cousins the Jophur.

Jijo is the primary setting for the last three Uplift novels.  So there is ample material in the novels that might have been overlooked in this supplement.


Appendix B  Strange Encounters

The best part of this section is the information on the mysterious hydrogen breathers.  These are creatures that evolved from gaseous planets and while some galactic cultures might seem weird and alien, hydrogen breathers are utterly alien and typically hostile.  The specific clan mentioned in the books is given a bit more detail here: the Zang.  They are the only hydrogen clan that will deal with humanity…and even then it can be dicey.


Presentation and Production

GURPS Uplift is your standard GURPS book, the layout is not sexy, but it is entirely readable.  There are no sidebars, but there are windows for snippets of info that would have gone into sidebars. 

The art is light in this book.  Not a surprise given how much information packed between the covers.  What art is there is decent and represents the setting well, but I would not cal it really great either.  The cover art is bad for a variety of reasons.  I think it does not represent the setting very well.  Secondly it is just not very good, it is more than a little flat and not very well composed.  They should have used the cover of the first edition, that was a much better piece in regards to the setting and art.


The Good

GURPS Uplift is a very dense and information laden supplement, but it is logically organized and it never feels like you are being overloaded with information…despite there being so much there.

The ideas and concepts from Brin’s novels are translated very well into RPG terms.

There is enough new and clarified information here that it easily justifies buying this book if you have the first edition.

The five galaxies and Earth Clan’s place in them is a pretty broad subject to do just about any sort of campaign with

Snippets of author’s notes are in the book, which gives me hope for another Uplift novel


The Bad

Unless the players are familiar with Brin’s series or are very open to some ground rules for playing in the Uplift series it might be a tough setting to play in



This is a great supplement that is chock full of all the information (and then some) a player and a GM would need to play in the Uplift Universe.  It is also a setting based on a novel that has the unique quality in that it is one that has much playability built into it without being contrived.  If you are looking for a good science fiction setting to game in or are a fan of Brin’s novels this is a must have!

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