Counterpoint: GURPS Complexity, by MU

After all of the pro/con discussion – most of it remarkably civil, thanks – I stumbled upon a fun (if strongly tilting towards the negative) counterpoint that ups the ante on the topic of GURPS‘ relative complexity:

How to GURPS and why it sucks anyway, by Mu.

The “TLDR” section contains a lot of goodness buried (intentionally) in what he himself calls Bittervetting.

While I might disagree with some of his points, I think there’s not much doubt that his perception of the perception of GURPS to the general public is spot-on, or at least a depressing amount of accuracy.

So, what would successful GURPS look like in his eyes? Based on his description, it’s simple.

Dungeon Fantasy

This answers all of his questions, more or less, except those about the presentation of the Basic Set.

It’s got pared-down character creation based on Templates. So a prospective player can look at a list of job descriptions, and say “yeah, gimme that.” Then only look at the basic mechanics enough to figure out what his character can do, as opposed to any character that might exist for the rest of time.

The GM has a list of simplified options, since DF is explicitly based on “kill monsters and take their stuff.” There are some fun pre-built monsters in Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1, and if you need NPCs or humanoid fodder, you can’t do too far wrong to pick up Henchmen, since that gives options for quarter- and half-strength guys with a lot of variability to their role. Need an enemy evil cleric? Grab a half-strength template, slap on a few mods, and roll with it.

Monster Hunters

I love monster hunter type settings in the modern day. The only issue with this one is that the templates are so huge (400 points go a long way in GURPS) that for a new player, it’s probably still overwhelming. Fortunately, you can bite a small chunk of the apple with the “only” DF-powered Sidekicks, which are 200-point “half strength” heroes that are probably easier to work with.


I think this is one of GURPS’ diamonds in the rough. A lot of the complaints people might have with option overload and rules depth are answered in this one, quite handily. It never took off, though, for some reason. Maybe not enough worked examples, or that those who want to play modern-day games don’t want simplified treatments. Dunno.

Parting Shot

There’s a clear recipe for success in here, I think, and it’s worth teasing it out.


First off, for the players, to get them “in the mood” to want to play the game, there needs to be a list of templates, which is something that the more successful sub-lines are already doing. Where I think that we could do better is that either in addition to, or instead of, the massive list of choices you have to make (and even that list is pared down from the full list in the Basic Set), we could present types of lenses that group the actual choices in a template into themes.

Monster Hunters already did some of this with things like Motivational Lenses (p. 6), which are fun little bits – but only 15 points of choices, which is digestible by basically everyone.

But head on down to the first template on the list, Commando, and I hate to say it but it’s a nearly unapproachable stat block. Choose 30 points from a list of over 30 options – some of which are categories, like “Perks” or have a lot of sub-options within them (point cost [Varies]).

I know why the packages are presented as they are – to save space on the page, and I’m sure that the bulleted list that this type of “Choose from . . . ” thing screams out for would look quite terrible in the standard two-column layout that is part of the trade dress. The massive amount of white space such a list might create would probably look bad on the page, but between “lots of white space” and “a block of text so dense your eyes glaze over” there must be a happy medium.

Granted, this template format works great using GURPS Character Assistant, and the program explicitly supports these templates (once the books are out and a happy volunteer does the coding) and presents the choices in easily digestible visual format.

But if perhaps we grouped some of these choices into pre-generated lenses:

Commando 30-point Advantage Lenses

Strong-Jawed Leader: Born War Leader 2 [10]; Danger Sense [15]; Fearlessness 2 [4]; Brave [1].
Fightin’ Machine: DX +1 [20]; DR 2 (Tough Skin) [6]; 4 Gun-Fu perks [4].
Will Never Stop: HT+1 [10]; Will +2 [10]; Fit [5]; Rapid Healing [5].

You might still list all the possible choices for people who like to fight the power and build their own specific mix. But these sorts of ready-made collections are simply gold for getting the game moving along in digestible pieces.

And in fact, if you get through the block of text, you find Customization Notes that provide exactly this in text, rather than bullet, format. So it might be easy to miss – but Jason did put it there.

Cutting to the Chase

While GURPS depth and coverage is impressive, it’s also daunting. And it’s likely that while I can draw pedantic differentiation between complicated games and worked examples of simple rules, the fact of the matter is there’s a lot to bite, and if people won’t play then the argument of whether GURPS is complicated or simple in the Clauswitzian sense is moot.

20 thoughts on “Counterpoint: GURPS Complexity, by MU

  1. Mu is pretty extreme and passionate. His argument is complicated and has a lot of hyperbole. I do conceded to the point that gurps is overwhelming but what can you expect from a system that tried to reach lofty goals? I am very aware of all its flaws but with all the hyperbole I think he's expecting perfection contrary to what he seems to be saying. With that I don't think anything will please him because in the end of the day the real engine is our imagination. If one is not willing there is nothing you can do about it.

    1. The thing is that he admits in his post he likes GURPS. He's also blogging with an address called '" So I think his hyperbolic argument is a rhetorical style, one which I found reasonably effective.

      If he didn't truly care, he wouldn't have written about it with care to include "this is how to do it better" advice in between the expletives, so to speak.

    2. I actually like GURPS a lot. It's about the only tabletop game I play anymore. My problem isn't that I don't like it; my problem is that it's almost impossible to find people who will play it because it no longer attempts to reach new players.

    3. Welcome to my last 20+ years of gaming. :-). A quick off the cuff answer is to sell your campaign first and GURPS second. Talk up your game and then at some point and I run it using GURPS. If you don't know it I can teach you and help you get your character going quickly. Although it still sucks if you want to play GURPS.

  2. Above all else, I believe that what matters is that playing GURPS is fun. And so is playing other systems. I rather tell people the cold hard truth: there are lots of options, you don't NEED them, but you got to love it.

  3. In a reddit thread I started on the topic (, I proposed a publishing-level solution that is practical and removed the burden of rules reduction from the new GM, giving him a complete ruleset that works within a genre with the seeds of flexibility. I think this makes more sense, since the reductivity of the GURPS ruleset is barrier #1 for new customers. It's a lot easier to make the argument to a GM that the strength of GURPS is flexibility if they can at least run the system once without too much hassle, and it's easier to convince players to pick it up as well.

    I haven't made a follow-up on this proposal yet since I need time to flesh it out and smoke test.

    1. I threw down my own thoughts on what a next generation RPG would contain here:

      If you're really going to do the work of making the game digitally friendly, going a little bit farther would be cool. I like the idea of a large core rulebook that's filterable – and even exportable. So you can take the master corebook, apply filters, and export that into a consolidated document that's specific to the game you want to play.

    2. I read your Reddit thread and all the comments. One thing that you might be interested in (assuming you don't already know this) is that the "GURPS Staff" is basically Steven Marsh, who manages e23 but really isn't a content creator except for his entries in Pyramid, and Sean Punch and Jason Levine. Nikki Vrtis does layout (for lots of things). That's the extent of the GURPS staff. Writing is nearly all freelance. And there's rather a lot of variability among "GURPS Writers," since they're all freelancers, and don't always see eye-to-eye on things!

    3. Not all GURPS writers agree, and even fewer GURPS GMs, which in my mind means you cannot try and present the whole cow to new audiences. But that's exactly how GURPS is presented to new players. It doesn't matter that Dungeon Fantasy makes things easier if the first thing a new customer sees is that huge infodump in the basic set. They'll never make it to a supplement.

      When I proposed a set of slimmed-down self contained genre Lite books, someone presented a fair counter that if it was a community project, everyone would be injecting their own "improved" systems into the mix. I think it would have to be done at a publisher level, since (1) you could mandate simple boundaries for what to include and exclude and stick to them, (2) you avoid Community-Built GURPS Fantasy Lite variant 47 and its twelve forking projects, confusing everyone, and (3) SJG doesn't like people modifying and redistributing their stuff.

    4. GURPS Discworld sounds like it could address the presentation problems, and it uses a popular IP, so yes it could work out well. I don't know how the previous Discworld supplements sold, but I liked them personally.

      I think I'd like to see more in this vein, specifically expanded Lite rulesets (fully self-contained) for genres. Hopefully they would be free, since it's pretty dirty to sell someone GURPS Lite Fantasy for even $5 and then expect them to buy the same stuff again. Alternatively, the cost of a Lite mini-ruleset becomes a credit that you apply to future e23 purchases, so you don't feel ripped off.

      SJG could also take what they did for their online materials license (make it more accessible and less insane) and use it to resurrect Powered by GURPS, which was supposedly a thing, but not really.

    1. I like that; with a bit of editing one could get it on two pages rather than overflowing into three, but I like how you lay out each trait with enough explanation that it's more than "consult these game mechanics."

      I stuck the template into Word, and it's about 1,000 words long (977). That means a Pyramid article with five templates is doable, and formatted as you have them (or a modification with the exposition first, preparing for the mechanics later).

  4. I'm still of a mind that there exists a middle-way between the core rules as presented and the worked examples of DF, MH, A! and the like. I think that instead of a worked example that keeps referencing the core rules, one that actually includes just those core rules that are relevant to the game you're presenting. Yes, it means that passionate players are going to wind up buying the same material multiple times, but it would really nip the complexity of the basic set in the bud.

    1. I think the Powered by GURPS concept is a real winner, myself, which is basically what you're describing. All the rules, templates, and tweaks you need to run a game in a given genre right there in the text.

    2. I agree – and I'm keen to see how well the updated Discworld will do. And it's the model that Hero is going in as well, with their Champions Complete and their Monster Hunters International books.

  5. I feel Mu's pain, as far as GURPS being either an overwhelming option for new gamers or an outright mocked one for gamers of other systems who have heard/seen bad things. I touch on this in my own blog's intro to GURPS under reasons why gamers fear it(linked below). That was written more than two years ago, but I think much of it still applies to GURPS today, too. In particular, I think it's important to point out that as simple as GURPS can be, it very rarely gets played that way, and that's telling and definitely comes across to gamers. It's straightforward, but the modular toolbox begs for expansions that are fun/interesting/gratifying even when unnecessary, and that ends up completely nullifying the absolute simplicity of the core of GURPS.

    Now, if they made a series of Lite supplements–$5 bite-sized versions of Dungeon Fantasy and the like–I think GURPS might be able to stand on its simplicity. But as it is quoting GURPS' absolute simplicity is like citing the free purchase price of a F2P game–everyone knows you can play for free, but unless serious, competitive gamers can and do play the full game for free, then it's a wash at best.

  6. Maybe I'm the exception that proves the rule, but I don't care for templates. They discard what I see as GURPS' biggest draw, the option to design my character my way. Folkloric archetypes exist for a reason, but it can be fun to twist 'em.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *