Review – GURPS Action 1: Heroes (Chapter 2 – Action Heroes’ Cheat Sheet)

This continues my deep-dive into the GURPS Action Series. I hit the Introduction and the Templates in prior posts, and now I move on to Chapter 2, the Action Heroes’ Cheat Sheet.

This is a worked example of something that’s recommended for most campaigns. Recommended enough that SJG hosts a web application – the Trait Sorter – to allow GMs to create such custom lists. 

What’s the list? Or lists, rather? The appropriate Advantages, Disadvantages, Skills and other abilities or notes for the particular campaign. Or in this case, genre.


Mostly, in this case Sean was weeding out magic, psionics, powers, and other supernatural or paranormal abilities that are not commonly found in pure action movies.

Of course, one of the reasons you play GURPS is so that if you suddenly want your action flick to take a turn for the bizarre, you can do it without breaking stride. But still, the bare bones of a genre treatment is what’s provided for here, and the chapter starts with a straightforward list of allowable Advanatages.

It’s not totally normal, though. It’s action movie normal. So Catfall and 3D Spatial Sense and Very Rapid Healing are all in there, because by Yoda the hero is going to be on her feet by the movie’s climax.

The book also tweaks or adjusts a few of the advantages. Two new variants of Enhanced Dodge are given (Dive for Cover and Vehicular Dodge). Extra benefits are provided for Gunslinger – and it needs them, because as presented in the Basic Set, it’s a poor choice relative to just taking +6 to skill at slightly lower cost (if there are questions on this, I can show my work upon request – it’s not hard to fathom).

You also get to variants of Higher Purpose, two more of Quick Gadgeteer, and four five-point talents specific to action-movie goodness.

Clearly laden with physical disads. Yup.

Gun Perks

A boxtext also provides four Gun Perks. As it came before both Gun Fu and Tactical Shooting, this might have been the first time these were presented, but perhaps not. They provide a nice entry into John Woo style gunplay.


The supplement makes no bones about supernatural and magical disads. Paranormal is Right Out.

But it also takes a lot of the crippling physical disads and tosses them out the window, with prejudice. Most action heroes are on the “dear god I want to be that man” end of the physical fitness spectrum.

The supplement goes further than this, suggesting not just a limit of -50 points for both Disads and buying down sub-attributes, but suggests ways to play this for fun rather than pain in some cases – it uses Lecherousness as an example, but it’s easy to find others. While playing Alcoholism for kicks is no joke to some, it was used effectively in both Independence Day (Russel Casse) and the reimagined Battlestar Galactica (Col. Tigh). 

This would have been good advice in the past, as I remember a game I ran where I had to fend off more than one one-legged, one-armed midget commando types. For a Black Ops game.


Obviously, skills get the same treatment. A cut-down list of skills, and where some are cut hard, such as Melee Weapon, key bits are preserved, as Axe/Mace and Broadsword, as examples.

Important specialties are pointed out for specificity, especially where “you need to have this specialty to use this typical action-movie plot staple” are concerned. 

A full page-worth is spent on Wildcard skills, which are appropriate for broadly capable characters. A template-specific Wildcard skill is given for each template in the series.

There’s also good advice on when to not use Wildcard skills. Diversity in skills for both expertise and characterization can be vital.

Parting Shot

This chapter is incredibly factual and to the point. Most of the page-count is taken with great tables of advantages, disadvantages, and skills. GMs running their own specific campaigns should take this as a how-to, and use the trait sorter to custom-create their own.

For what this is, it is worthy. A short version of the skill and trait list for a campaign will take a lot of the extended back-and-forth out of the character generation process.

The bits-and-pieces advice on specialties, wildcard and not-wildcard skills, and also tips to preserve the flavor of action-adventure movies via trait selection are likewise well taken.

This chapter is a workhorse, but no worse for it. The brilliance of the Action series does not lie here in this chapter, but it does serve as a reminder of how the trait-sorting process should be carried out.

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