Thursday, June 28, 2007

GURPS 4th Ed. Basic Set Characters

Title: GURPS Basic Set: Characters, Fourth Edition
Product Line: GURPS
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games

What it is

This is the "players handbook" for GURPS 4th edition.

It has everything a player needs to build and grow a character for most settings. They pulled a number of advantages from the most popular settings in 3rd edition and packed them all in the players book. It gives no information on how to run a campaign (look for that in the GM's book).

The book starts out with the inevitable sections: why should they publish and you buy a 4th edition and the ever popular "What is Role Playing." The mini glossary is useful if you are not already familiar with GURPS. Next is a good "Quick Start" section that introduces most of the general concepts of the system including conventions (like only using d6 and how they round by default). They also have some fudge factor metric conversions that should make the game playable to those outside the US without needing a calculator. They give the imperial measurement, the game metric and the real metric conversions. The game metric conversions are what make the system playable. They convert 1 yard to 1 meter. Since many of the measurements are given in yards, this is a quick and dirty way of doing the conversions. Note that the game has a lot of real calculation in it (like just how fast a person can walk and run) that are thrown off a bit by these conversions but since the conversions are done consistently, it won't have a big impact on your campaign.

Chapter 1 begins the meat of the book with: Creating a Character. They talk about character points (new to DnD players but familiar to Champions players), character concepts, character types and a synopsis of the character creation steps.
Under Basic Attributes, they talk about the 4 character attributes: Strength (ST, Dexterity (DX), Intelligence (IQ), and Health (HT). They also give the normal human range for these attributes. All attributes start at 10 for humans and are bought up or down with character points. One thing to note here is that unlike the previous versions where the cost for an attribute increased as the attribute got higher, the costs in 4th Ed. are fixed (ST & HT cost 10 points and DX & IQ are 20 points per point).
Secondary Characteristics are based on your attributes but can be bought up or down. the main thing to note here for players of previous versions is that Hit Points (HP) are now based on ST and Fatigue Points (FP) are now based on HT (they were swapped from previous versions). I suppose they wanted to avoid mages bought as strong as Conan just so they could power their spells. They also give tables for Damage, Lift and Encumbrance.
Build is where you figure the characters height and weight. You can modify your character away from the standard ranges with disadvantages. Note that throughout this section, there are advantages and disadvantages sprinkled through the rules. Don't worry, they are listed in the advantage and disadvantage sections too.
Age and Beauty is next. They give tips on how to create a character that is younger or older than the average 20-40 range that most campaigns use. It also gives advantages and limitations for altering the characters appearance away from average (from horrific to transcendent).
Social Background sets the character's Technology Level (TL), culture and language. TL is an important concept in GURPS since GURPS is a generic system. It allows you to create a character from tech levels of cavemen to Star Trek and beyond. The TL is only important if your campaign spans time lines, worlds or cultures where different people would be at different tech levels. They give the language rules here.
Wealth and Influence deals with the character's starting wealth. If you have higher than average income, it's an advantage. If you have a lower than average income, it's a disadvantage. Starting income affects how much equipment you have at the beginning of play (and may affect social status in some cultures). Reputation deals with how recognizable you are and how people react to you. Importance is similar to reputation but deals more with your status and rank.
Friends and Foes deals with contacts and allies.
Identities deal with hidden, multiple or secret identities.

Chapter 2, Advantages discuss the types and origins of the character's advantages. Next are 76 pages of advantages ranging from mundane stuff to magical, psionic, martial arts and super powered advantages. There are advantages gleaned from many different 3rd Ed books. Next are limitations that can be applied to advantages and other traits. Finally they talk about how to create new advantages or modify listed advantages.

Chapter 3, Disadvantages begins with restrictions on character disadvantages. Some disadvantages are best suited for villains. It goes over the types of disadvantages (which are similar to the advantage types). They discuss the self control roll that is needed for some psychological disadvantages and how to buy off disadvantages. Next are 40 pages of disadvantages. Then it discusses Quirks and new disadvantages.

Chapter 4, covering Skills is next. This section deals with how skills work, how your tech level affects some skills and introduces the rules for familiarity. The skill rules are similar to previous versions. They drop the half point skills and the cost per level is 4 character points. It discusses probabilities for various skill levels to help you decide how high to buy beginning skills and then how defaults work. Next is a 44 page skill list. Then they introduce Techniques which are specialties based on other skills.

Chapter 5 discusses Magic. Not all campaigns involve magic so they don't devote too much of the basic book to magic but they do give enough to run a campaign involving magic without buying another book. It talks about how to lean magic and how to cast spells in the default magic system and briefly discusses alternate systems. The 11 pages of spells isn't all inclusive but it does give a good, useful subset of spells.

Chapter 6 deals with Psionics. Again they don't devote a great deal of the book to psionics but they cover the rules for psionics (which are mostly covered in the advantages section) and covers the different psionic techniques.

Chapter 7 is about how to apply Templates to a character. You apply a template as you would an advantage or disadvantage but it typically includes a number of advantages, disadvantages, skills and attributes.

Chapter 8 is Equipment. It talks about money, the cost of living for different status levels and how to buy equipment. The first type of equipment, near and dear to gamers' hearts, is weapons where is discusses the types, use and attributes of weapons. Next is armor, shields, and other gear.

Chapter 9 talks about Character Development. Characters can improve through adventure, through study, through some event (injury, cybernetic modifications, etc.).

The appendices (though not identified as such) cover some miscellaneous information. The most valuable for players (park a bookmark here) are the Trait Lists (advantages, disadvantages, modifiers, skills, techniques and spells.

Next are some sample characters (the same ones used in most of the examples in the book).

Combat Lite is a good overview of the GURPS game system. It is not all inclusive and doesn't get into fine cases but it gives enough info for players know what's going on and generally what their characters can do.

The Indexes and a blank, copyable character sheet round out the book.

What works

I like the GURPS system for the campaign creation aspects. You can create just about any campaign type using GURPS. Though if you aren't into super realism (the turns are 1 second long) and want to speed things up to a more cinematic pace, you will have to fudge the rules during play. However, by fudging out some of the super realism features, you can have a fairly quickly played system.

I like the separation of the player's book from the GM's book. It means that for most groups, you only need one copy of the GM's book.

The chapters are color coded so you can quickly find the chapter you want once you are familiar with the book.

I repeat: bookmark the Traits Lists. This is a very useful section that you will be using almost exclusively once you have mastered the book (i.e. bought the GURPS skill to IQ).

What doesn't work

I don't like the fact that the GM's book's page numbering begins at the last page of the players book. they should have rounded up to the nearest 100 (in this case, 400). As it stands, you have to remember that any page reference over 336 is in the GM's book.

I can see why some advantages and disadvantages are spread throughout the book. The rules are presented in the chapter in which they are used. Fortunately the advantage and disadvantage sections do reference the page that the appropriate advantage or disadvantage is defined. I think that it would have been much better to keep all of the definitions in one place and referencing forward to the appropriate page in its proper section. I can see why they did it the way they did. It helps to prevent confusion for the first time player. My thought is that you are only reading this book as a first time player once. You are using it as a reference several times.