Entry updated 11 August 2018. Tagged: Game.
Although it was preceded by such earlier attempts as Worlds of Wonder (1982 Chaosium) designed by Steve Henderson, Gordon Monson, Steve Perrin, Greg Stafford, Lynn Willis, GURPS (the Generic Universal Role Playing System) was the first widely popular attempt to produce a set of mechanics for RPGs that could be used in any type of setting. While a generic system cannot be tailored to reinforce the designers' choice of tone, as is done in Call of Cthulhu (1981) or Paranoia (1984), many players appreciate being able to participate in a variety of narratives inspired by different literary genres without having to learn a separate set of rules for each milieu. As a game, GURPS is more complex but also more flexible than its main rival, d20 (2000). The use of a unified set of mechanics for radically different powers (including magic, Psionics and extremely advanced technology) gives the system something of a Hard SF feel, which may have contributed to the relative scarcity of fantasy settings using GURPS compared to d20. Arguably, GURPS is more concerned with the accurate simulation of its various imaginary worlds, while d20 concentrates on the creation of an entertaining experience for the majority of players. One major innovation in RPG design popularized by GURPS is the use of points to construct characters, a feature borrowed from Steve Jackson's earlier design The Fantasy Trip (1977-1980 Metagaming Concepts), a major influence on GURPS. Most previous games required players to generate their characters randomly using dice; in GURPS, however, every character is allocated a fixed number of points which can be used to build the alternate persona by buying attributes (such as strength or dexterity), skills and powers. Additional points can be acquired by purchasing disadvantages, which have a negative cost. Many disadvantages relate to the personality of the character (for example, compulsive lying), a feature which encourages players to construct interesting characters.
A wide variety of supplements (now numbering several hundred) have been published since the release of GURPS first edition. Some of these books, such as GURPS Cyberpunk (1990 SJG) designed by Loyd Blankenship, describe how to simulate particular literary genres using the system. Others are sourcebooks which detail possible settings and technologies, or conversions of games previously published using different rules, such as GURPS Traveller (1998) (see Traveller). Many of the settings are original, as with GURPS Technomancer (1998 SJG) designed by David Pulver, which describes a world of scientifically approached magic resembling that of Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos (stories 1956-1959 F&SF; coll of linked stories 1971). Others are based upon licensed sf and fantasy properties, and can serve as detailed "non fiction" encyclopedias for their source worlds; examples include GURPS Humanx (1987 SJG) designed by Curtis Scott (see Alan Dean Foster), GURPS Lensman (1994 SJG) designed by Sean Barrett (see E E Smith), GURPS New Sun (1999 SJG) designed by Michael Andre-Driussi (see Gene Wolfe), GURPS Planet Krishna (1997 SJG) designed by James Cambias (see L Sprague de Camp), GURPS The Prisoner (1989 SJG) designed by David Ladyman (see The Prisoner), GURPS Riverworld (1989 SJG) designed by J M Caparula (see Philip José Farmer), GURPS Uplift (1990 SJG) designed by Stefan Jones (see David Brin), GURPS Wild Cards (1989 SJG) designed by John Miller (see Wild Cards) and GURPS Witch World (1989 SJG) designed by Sasha Miller, Ben Miller (see Andre Norton). In the twenty-first century, new sourcebooks and supplements for GURPS have increasingly begun to appear as Ebooks rather than as printed volumes, largely for commercial reasons. There have been several iterations of the core rules since the first: the second (1986 SJG), which added mechanics for magic, the third (1988 SJG), which improved and expanded on the underlying design, and the fourth (2004 SJG), which added greater flexibility to such core concepts as the definition of a player character. The original version of the system had no setting of its own. However, the fourth edition, designed by Steve Jackson, Sean Punch and David Pulver, introduced a generic GURPS background based on the concept of Parallel Worlds.
This setting first appeared in GURPS Time Travel (1991 SJG) designed by John M Ford, Steve Jackson, an award-winning overview of possible forms of Time Travel as presented in science fiction and theoretical Physics, which remains one of the best treatments of its subject in RPGs. As detailed in the fourth edition rules and the GURPS Infinite Worlds supplement (2005 SJG) designed by Kenneth Hite, Steve Jackson, John M Ford, the milieu assumes that player characters are agents of the "Infinity Patrol", an organization that operates across alternate universes in a manner reminiscent of H Beam Piper's Paratime Police (see Time Police). The vast scale and diversity of this background suggest an attempt to encompass the whole of science fiction, from super-science adventure to post-Cyberpunk Hard SF to the Cthulhu Mythos. Many previously published original GURPS settings are included, from the "Azoth" world, where an Alchemical Revolution occurred instead of an Industrial one, to the serious Alternate Histories first presented in GURPS Alternate Earths (1999 SJG) designed by Kenneth Hite. "Centrum", a parallel dominated by a rationalist and semi-totalitarian scientific Utopia, serves as the Infinity Patrol's major opposition as it attempts to expand into other timelines. Interestingly, some of the worlds presented are examples of Recursive SF: "Gernsback" is a parallel where social and technological evolution has followed a path reminiscent of technophilic 1930s magazine stories as favoured by Hugo Gernsback, while in "Campbell" the early death of influential sf editor John W Campbell Jr is a Jonbar Point that has changed the course of history. [NT]
- Bruce Sterling. The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier (New York: Bantam Books, 1992) [nonfiction: includes a history of the raid conducted by the US Secret Service on the offices of Steve Jackson Games in connection with the publication of GURPS Cyberpunk: hb/Kirschner Caroff]
previous versions of this entry