Books we want: How to Be a GURPS Player

The first time I suggested “There oughta be a book” was here, with a suggestion for more mini-books on Yrth cultures and societies (because, hey, I like Banestorm).

Time for another suggestion!

How to Be a GURPS GM by Warren “Mook” Wilson is a great book. It’s packed with invaluable advice and insights for gamemastering GURPS.

Well, with the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game set to ignite (?) an explosion (??) of demand (???) for our favorite game system, perhaps it’s time to release a dedicated guide to playing GURPS. A book that would fill three roles:

  • Help existing players become better players
  • Offer a smooth intro for newcomers to GURPS (“Oh yeah, that game I read about with the weird name and the 10,000 supplements and the bizarre non-twenty-sided dice”)
  • Respond to common misunderstandings about the system

In short: Let’s have How to Be a GURPS Player! (Sounds like a fine new idea to me, though for all I know this is a name and topic that’s been proposed and heavily discussed elsewhere already. Humor me anyway…)

Between the covers

I haven’t properly pondered what this book would contain, but scattered ideas jump right to mind. Here they are in sloppy stream-of-consciousness format, for your amusement.

The disclaimer

Start the book with a note:

“This book is not necessary to play GURPS. Rather, it’s to help players get the most out of their time by (etc. etc.)…”

(Because without that disclaimer, you know what they’re going to be saying online: “OMG GURPS IS SO HARD THEY HAD TO MAKE A SPECIAL BOOK JUST SO YOU CAN PLAY!” Sigh.)

Moving on:

Content from How to Be a GURPS GM

Nobody would want the new book to be a full rehash of How to Be a GURPS GM, but some parts of that book are great for both GMs and players. Noteable parts worth nicking, especially from its first 16 pages, include:

  • An overview of what’s inside Basic Set: Characters (and a shorter overview of what’s in Campaigns)
  • An overview of gaming styles, campaign types, power levels, cinematic rules, and other meta-considerations
  • An overview of GURPS character traits
  • An overview of basic GURPS mechanics (character points, die rolls, etc.)
  • An overview of character creation

More stuff for understanding GURPS

The book might include the following. (Much of what players need to know to understand GURPS is already in Basic Set; How to Be a GURPS Player can help just by pointing new players to the key sections in Basic Set they should read.)

  • Quick overview of what RPGs are all about (for those new to not only GURPS but to RPGs)
  • What GURPS is (Explain how, with exceptions like DFRPG, GURPS is not a ready-to-play game itself; it’s a system the GM uses to create a game)
  • An overview of what “generic” and “universal” mean to GURPS
  • An overview of the genres GURPS handles (including “multi-genre”)
  • An overview of the system’s major optional books and book series (Martial Arts, Powers, Power-Ups, tech books, alternate magic systems, etc.), and, for each, what to expect if the GM uses it
  • Discussion of some key terminology in RPGs and GURPS (This includes the obvious, like understanding “2d+2”, but also non-obvious terms, like the meaning of “race” peculiar to RPGs. Terms like exploit, attack roll, meta-gaming, munchkin, rules lawyer, session, jumper, adventure, campaign, and many more may be unclear to newcomers; even an everyday term like martial art is a bit different in GURPS from what many people imagine it to mean.)

Clearing up GURPS misconceptions

A lot of this will be aimed at players coming from other game systems:

  • “You mean I have to read and know everything in Characters, Magic, Powers…!?” (No.)
  • “All those pages and books… It’s really complex, right?” (No. Broad coverage <> complexity!)
  • “We have to use all of these rules, right?” (No!)
  • “It’s pure simulation and math, right?” (No. Discuss what “realism” is in GURPS – generally the “realism” of adventure fiction.)
  • “What’s the setting for a GURPS game?” (There is no “the setting”.) 
  • “Where’s my character class? Is this ‘template’ my character class?”
  • “What’s my character’s level and where are her triple-digit HP?”
  • “What’s Active Defense? Is that my Armor Class?”
  • “Does GURPS have ‘modules’?”
  • “When do I roll my d20?”
  • “OMG ‘roll under’ is totally different from ‘roll over’!” (No, it isn’t.)
  • “How many XP do I get for killing an ogre?” (Explain how experience works in GURPS, and how combat is not everything.)
  • “Why does it take me four turns to cross the map, and four more to fire my crossbow?” (Explain the combat time scale.)
  • Additional translations: Per the above, explain what concepts like “opportunity attack” and “saving throw” and “round” map to in GURPS

All about character creation

This would obviously be a cornerstone of the book.

  • All the basics on good character design (a huge section right there!)
  • What to discuss with the GM before making a PC
  • Modeling historical or fictional characters
  • “What should I buy?” (Hm, it’d be awesome to see the BS pp. 297-306 lists of traits, but sorted by category – Animal/Athletic/Knowledge/Medical/Technical/etc. for skills, Physical/Mental/Social for advantages and disadvantages. (Also toss in little icons for Exotic and Supernatural… and Cinematic?) The lists would eat up lots of pages, but would be a huge time-saver for players and even GMs.)
  • An overview of what’s available outside Basic Set (i.e., what books offer additional traits, spells, etc.)
  • “How do I build a…” Describe common archetypes: Action archetypes (warrior, rogue, expert, etc.), personality archetypes (leader, trickster, socialite, etc.), role archetypes (front-line fighter, artillery, supporter/buffer, instigator, etc.), etc.
  • A list of purchases that almost every PC should consider
  • “What does Common Sense do again?”: Notes on oft-misunderstood options
  • Building the right PC for the genre, setting, GM style, player style, etc.
  • “How much backstory do I need?”
  • An honest overview of how to optimize – i.e., munchkinize – a character design, and the reasons why players would or would not want to do so
  • Magic: The default magic system vs powers-based magic vs other magic systems
  • Designing the PC as an individual vs as part of a team
  • What to carry (i.e., suggestions for equipment)
  • How to build a character quickly

Playing the character

Another cornerstone here:

  • The roles of players vs the roles of GM
  • Character information players should always have ready
  • Basic rules all players should know
  • Creating great character moments
  • Gaming for PC success vs gaming for player fun
  • Separating PC knowledge from player knowledge
  • Making disadvantages fun (Discuss how details like disadvantages and quirks offer “hooks” for the GM)
  • Staying alive (Discuss the lethality level of GURPS combat, and how to both avoid it and win it)
  • Tactics 101: Combat tips
  • Social 101: Making friends and influencing people (Many other “101” offerings are possible…)
  • Is it OK to munchkin combat and other actions?
  • How to work as a team
  • Using impulse buys
  • Powering up
  • How to play your turn speedily

Getting along at the table

  • The types of GMs (including problem GMs)
  • Dealing with problem GMs (Example: “Find another game” is good advice when the GM is a complete jerk; it’s not always good advice when the GM is well-meaning but flawed. How can players salvage such a GM? Example from personal experience: How do you tactfully tell a “let’s look up everything ad nauseum” GM to just make calls and get on with the action?)
  • The types of players (including problem players)
  • Dealing with problem players
  • How to not be a problem player
  • Ways to help a harried GM
  • Learning to accept GM calls (even the bad ones)
  • Helping everyone have fun (sharing the spotlight, helping newbie players, etc.)

Heavy stuff

  • How much input should players have in setting backgrounds, plots, etc.?
  • Playing more than one PC
  • Playing someone else’s character (the occasional NPC at GM request; the PC of an absent player; etc.)
  • Dealing with PC death
  • Is a move to GMing for you?
  • Why we do it: The end goal of roleplay gaming

Much more

I’m going to stop myself here, or I’ll be jotting ideas all day. There’s so much good stuff that could go in there. Going back to How to Be a GURPS GM, the “Relying on defaults” block on pp. 21-22 is an example of must-read material for players. Then there’s a whole world of fan material that suggests more content, like this random-ish selection of offerings just on combat topics:

And hey, here’s a player-friendly introduction to understanding the importance of modifiers on success rolls: Gaming Tips: Taking Your Chances on 3D6.

Stuff like that.


I see How to Be a GURPS Player as a how-to book with a pinch of sales pitch to prospective players (including a dash of misconception-squashing). A book that’s not just how to play GURPS, but also why!

Bonus freebie!

One last idea:

Write the book, then skim it for the most important information. The stuff that shouts, “Okay, GURPS players – even if you don’t read How to Be a GURPS Player, at least read this.”

Boil that down to a tiny read. (Four pages? One page?) The result: How to Be a GURPS Player: Lite.

Place that online, free, as a dead-simple introduction for new GURPS players (and sales pitch for the curious). Something a GM can freely hand out with the message “Take five minutes to read this and you’ll be ready to join in.”

Just an idea.

(And until there’s some official publication of this sort, you probably won’t be surprised to find that fans have been stepping up to bat. A great example is The GURPSICLE (A One-Page GURPS Game Aid / Cheat Sheet) from the Requires Concentrate blog. This single page won’t at all make a player an expert in GURPS character creation, combat options, and a hundred other things, but it will let a newcomer jump into a game within minutes.)

Here they come!

Remember: The DFRPG hordes (?) of new players (??) will be massing at the gates soon (???).

That boxed set may include everything the newcomers need to ease into the system. But for the players that want to move up to full-blown GURPS, or those that want to start out the hobby in your long-running campaign, wouldn’t it be nice to offer How to Be a GURPS Player as a welcome?

Well, readers! Do you think this book would be interesting? Do you think it might raise GURPS‘ appeal to outsiders? What would you add to it?


  • uE5Xg9p2

    Perhaps it’s only my unique, limited experience, but I’ve found that GMs tend to be the kind of people who like to control others. For whatever reason, they quietly savor the feeling of being able to ration enjoyment and levy punishments. (Maybe it’s a primate thing, such as how being high in the pecking order is as addictive to the brain as are hard drugs.) Whatever the cause of it, I have to question whether it’s really a healthy idea to have a book that trains people to be “good” players (i.e., obedient and willing participants in the GM’s private little S&M rat race).

    • tbone

      Some GMs do enjoy control a bit too much. Like the ones who enjoy inflicting “punishments”, as you note. (I’ve never understoond the ones who openly praise themselves as “evil” GMs, lording their death-traps and hundred-orc ambushes over terrified players. Tossing “evil” levels of traps and monsters and doom onto PCs is the easiest thing to do!)

      Of course, many GMs are awesome, too.

      In any case, I don’t think we’re on the same wavelength about dealing with GM imperfections. If the GM is an incorrigible controlling jerk, then I’d suggest the players find a new game. But if the GM means well, but just has a problem here, or lacks experience there… I think advice on successfully playing with such GMs would be helpful. Something between “shut up and be obedient to the GM” (not a good plan for long-term fun) and “toss the bum out” (not always practical when the GM isn’t terrible, especially if there’s a GM shortage in town!).

  • uE5Xg9p2

    I’m not a good improviser, so I kind of suck at being a player, and have totally bombed at GM’ing. After years of contemplation over what bothered me from both sides of the aisle, I came to a simple realization: Have the players play whatever they wish, as long as they’re made aware of the plot-ruining potential that includes. Teenage players are looking for an escape from the authority they’re so often subjected to, so it’s a mistake to take an “in charge” approach; in fact, by pairing rights with responsibility, role-playing could be a theraputic experience that helps them “grow up” without the direct pressure of real-life consequences.

    (I guess that has more to do with GM’ing than a how-to-play book, though.)

    • tbone

      Are you suggesting a scenario in which the GM says, “Sure, you can build this sort of PC that I think is going to derail a lot of plots… but you’re going to find the game isn’t much fun. Your loss.” ?

      If so: That’s a pretty interesting idea! I think it’d take a GM with plenty of patience and fortitude to sit through some bad games… and a GM with confidence that the people he’s gaming with actually will learn to enjoy playing power-constrained, non-munchkin PCs.

      If it worked out, though, then yeah, I think it’d result in players who have gone through a beneficial “growing up” experience.

  • uE5Xg9p2

    Pretty much, yeah. And I doubt it it would go haywire even the first time, provided that each player gets some alone time to discuss the facts of playing well with others.

    Now, I’m *not* saying the GM should hold it over their heads like, “You’d better not wreck this game for everybody else, or we’ll never talk to you again!” That could be traumatizing, even. No, just attempt to engage each player individually in a friendly but sober manner.

    In other words, if you want adult behavior, then treat them as adults. If you want pranks and antics and nose-thumbing at the work you put into the plot, then go ahead and treat them like they can’t think for themselves.

    On the flip side of it, we also have the societal problem these days of wanting to give everybody a gold star for trying. But the harsh reality is that, just as some folks will never be good at math, some won’t be good role-players. Further still, some might be in RPGs for the wrong reason — expecting the insta-thrill of a video game. *That* would definitely be something to make clear in a how-to-play book. Better that a prospective player spot beforehand that he’s not suited to the task than after he’s invested in a stack of books.

  • MEversbergII

    I can dig it; for earlier campaigns I’ve prepared something similar-ish, either in writing or orally.  It would be nice to have some kind of consistant reference manual, that is for sure.

    • tbone

      Your mention of “earlier campaigns” touches on what’s a bit difficult about such a book: “How to play well” really varies with genre, campaign, gaming group, etc., and really needs to be tailored (as you suggest you have done in the past).

      On the other hand, that concern is just as true for for “how to gamemaster well”. So, if it’s possible to collect some pretty universal basics into How to Be a GURPS GM, I think it should be possible to do the same for How to Be a GURPS Player.

      In any case, that was my thinking behind the post. Glad to hear you like the general idea!

    • tbone

      I have nothing against GURPS for Dummies! Then again, I haven’t read it; I’ve only skimmed it. But thanks for mentioning it; I didn’t think to point it out as an existing example of what I’m describing.

      Still, I’ll note that Dummies is a bit old (though written for 4e, so that shouldn’t matter too much), and is written for GMs and players alike. Nothing wrong with that! But I’d still like to see How to Be a GURPS Player as a new, player-focused tome, drawing on up-to-date experience and references to the full modern product line, with plenty of Kromm quotes, and published by SJG as a companion volume to the GM book.

      All because… well, because it’s fun to ponder what other people should do to amuse me. : )

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