Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 1996
What you get/need
GURPS Basic Set 3rd edition, revised, $24.95
Concept - 6
GURPS stands for Generic Universal Role Playing System. That makes reviewing the concept a bit of a difficult topic to topple, as this game is supposed to be "universal". By universal this covers any possible world, from the mundane to the fantastic and back again. Conceptually I can't argue with the developers as I have always been in favor of only learning how to play one system. Steve Jackson Games attempted to allow the player to take his faerie into a cyberpunk world, if such was desired. One system, unlimited amounts of potential. An A+ for the idea.
Character Creation - 4
GURPS works off a point-based system; every advantage, skill, and attribute costs points. The GameMaster assigns a select number of points to the players to develop their characters, varying on how "impressive" the GM wants the characters to be. While I can't argue that this is a great idea, reality seems to get in the way as points must be distributed for simple skills like driving, and the initial character creation process steers away from developing a concept to a game of math-juggling and number-crunching. A detailed character may take days to develop, searching through skills and other advantages the character might have, and while I have no problems with spending time on character creation I'd rather have the creation revolve around concept more than point-distribution in relation to skill-levels. All-in-all though, it is a realistic character creation system, and can be worth the time spent on creation. All the skill listings allow for easy ability checks, as so the characters won't be able to do everything under the sun. In this manner it should be easy to resolve an argument if the GM should say "You can't do that."
Playability - 4
GURPS uses three six-sided dice throughout the game. When attempting an action you roll against your skill. For example - if a character was picking the lock on a door he would roll his/her dice against his/her skill, a 3 or 4 being a critical success and 17 or 18 being a critical mistake. Sound easy? It is... until the player encounters modifiers - and boy are there modifiers! In said example everything must be taken into account, the type of lock, the lighting, the pressure of the situation, etc. It once again becomes a taxing process of calculation, something that can slow a game down to a crawl. The true horror of GURPS game-play resides, like most games, in combat. Modifiers of range, aiming time, position, and targeting are all to be accounted for. What should be a simple combat session that lasts half a minute in game-time can last a few hours in real-time, which can be a pain for the players who aren't involved in the combat. However, it is not difficult to throw away the modifiers and have a relatively easy style of game-play, so long as the GM is semi-consistent in their view of the realism:modifiers ratio.
Writing - 4
The main book is well written from a technical stand-point. As this is a "universal" game it would be difficult to write it any other way. The sidebars, however can be downright annoying! In this reviewer's humble opinion sidebars are for tidbits of information that might never be used in game-play. I have discovered important rules in sidebars, however, that aren't found anywhere else in the book! And while that really shouldn't be accounted for in writing, I can think of no place else that comment fits! The book itself, however is well organized and well indexed. Some of the opinions of the writers, however, are a bit ... odd. The best example is found in a side-bar on page 71 of the core rules. I quote: "Contrary to popular belief, good armor does not make you clumsier (i.e., decrease your DX) when you are used to it. It's quite possible to do acrobatics in plate armor!" I'll leave it at that.
Highs - Realism. I don't think it's possible to find a more game rooted in realism. Also, the "universal" concept allows for one system, multiple gameplay.
Lows - Realism. It tends to bog down the system. Also makes for a less than entertaining super-hero game... Although you can play without any of the other books, I don't recommend it. This can lead to having your own "GURPS Reference Section" in your home library, but that's standard for most games.
Final Call - Can you guess? If you want a game that's realistic this is the one to go for! ...It also is probably one of the best "universal" systems out there. A good, solid buy.