Learning to Let Go, GURPS-Style

Happy GURPSDay, folks! I hope your 2018 is off to a rollicking good start that continues throughout the year.

Today’s post is a bit more meta than most: learning to “let go” as a GURPS GM. I don’t often write about general gaming thoughts and musings because I am so staunchly in favor of there being no One True Way to fun. But my way is a way, as is yours and every GM’s, and who knows which idea or post will click with someone?

So, for the first post of 2018, I wanted to talk about choosing game rules based on how fun they are over incorporating every rule just because of inertia and “Well, it’s in the book.” Even though the GURPS Basic Set frequently reminds GMs that many (most?) of the rules are optional — needing to be pruned and assembled to create the perfect framework for this game or that — there can sometimes be a strong urge to use the whole thing when just a little is plenty, and this can lead to later problems with rules bloat.

If you’re enjoying your group’s current play style then you should stop reading now and go play some games. Some groups love layers and layers of increasingly-specific rules to cover every situation as much as other groups hate the same, and if your group is already happy with its place on this spectrum just thank the gaming gods and enjoy the ride. But too often I see groups overly burdened by using rules they’re not enjoying, they just feel like they “should” be using them just because they’re written down somewhere. Again, use whatever rules you want, but maybe decide based on how much fun they are, not because “Well, they’re in the book so I should use them”?

That was me, by the way, for many, many years. If there was a rule in the Basic Set I wanted to use it, no matter how obscure or overkill it was. Thankfully, this compulsion only extended to the Basic Set, not Martials Arts, Powers, Technical Shooting, on and on, but still… it led to me using rules I didn’t particularly enjoy just because they existed and I felt like I should.

This isn’t really surprising because GURPS isn’t like most RPGs. I started gaming with Red Book D&D, where the goal was to use every single rule. At the time, most games were like that. It was just expected that the DM would learn everything, cover to cover, and use that encyclopedic knowledge to help create a fun game. Most RPGs say, “This is how it is. Learn it, know it, live it.” GURPS says, “This is how it is… unless you want a simpler way, then try this. Or a more detailed way, then try this. Or just create your own, here are some tips.”

That’s a big mental shift, and I didn’t fully understand the enormity of it for a long time. It’s going from “This is how the game is played, so learn all these rules” to “Want to create exactly the game you want? Mix and match these rules any way you want.” The rules should be the means, not the end. The end is to have a good time, enjoy a fun adventure, pretend to be someone else for a while. When the rules help support that, yes, give me double helpings. But if they are just there because of some nod to completeness for completeness’ sake… I’m no longer interested.

Wealth is a good example from GURPS. The Basic Set outlines a simple but workable (and tweakable) system for handling characters’ wealth from homeless indigents to billionaire CEOs and everything in between, but personally — I’ve barely ever used them. They simply don’t interest me — and, more importantly, don’t interest my usual players — so we’ve always just kept those kinds of things abstract without figuring specific details (“Seems like your Wealthy executive should be able to afford that”).

Many years ago, I would have taken the time to determine the campaign’s starting wealth, each PC’s starting wealth, where they had their resources tied up, what kinds of property and vehicles they owned… and I probably would have had fun doing it. But, the past few years especially, I’ve come to realize I no longer enjoy that kind of book-keeping, and we can have the same (or more!) amount of fun without it, so those rules fell by the wayside. They’re on the wrong side of the Fun/Not Fun dividing line.

I’m not saying the same is true for you and your group, but I do think it’s worth taking a look at your gaming now and then to see if you’re sticking with rules you actually don’t enjoy just because “they’re part of the game.” Who cares? It’s your game, it’s your scarce free time you’re giving up to play, so make sure you aren’t wasting any of it by cramming in rules that aren’t fun!


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1 Comment

  1. Spot on. As Exhibit A: Dungeon Fantasy, powered by GURPS. It doesn’t contain many new rules. Rather, it’s an artful implementation and customization.

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