GURPS for New Players

The New Omnibus, Open

“What’s the best way to introduce GURPS to new players?” is an incredibly common GM question (just this weekend I came across three different conversations), so I thought I’d post some of the ways I go about it.

Depending on the group, it may just be a total non-issue. I love to run one-shots for cool folks who are gamers but don’t know it yet — they’ve never played a tabletop RPG, or had a few brushes with it in high school or college, and are curious about gaming as an adult — and I never invite them to play “a GURPS Horror game.” I invite them to play “a story game about a haunted house and a missing will,” or whatever. The fact that GURPS is their introduction to RPGs is just the icing on top they can thank me for later!

For players like that, an interesting pre-gen character that’s fun to play, a quick overview of the (fewer the better) things on their character sheet, and a brief blurb like, “If you want your character in the story to try to do something they might fail at, describe it to us, roll three dice, and try to get lower than the number I give you” can go a long way. If anything is confusing, they ask, you answer, the game moves on. The great thing about this is, you’re never giving more information than the players are curious about. If the players have no interest in detailed combat rules, there’s no reason they need to know GURPS Martial Arts even exists.

A questionnaire like this one can be a huge help if you’d rather help them create new characters for their first outing. I’ve also posted elsewhere on other ways to speed up character creation.

Assuming instead a group of players who are familiar with other systems and are open to making a switch, I instead follow the mantra, “Start small.” GURPS is an incredibly comprehensive system, and simultaneously the simplest and most complex RPG I know. Running the gamut from “roll 3d6 under a target number the GM gives you” to “don’t forget the -1 hit penalty for having a ST one point lower than the weapon’s minimum and the +2 hit bonus for Committed Attack; and if you hit, there’s a +1 damage bonus because you’re using a reverse grip” is a pretty impressive range. But always remember, just use the pieces you want. Different groups enjoy different things — GURPS will happily assist your focusing in on just those things you enjoy.

Sticking with the core Basic Set is an excellent starting point, and more than enough for a lot of groups. Eventually someone will want to hit a foe in the spine, provoke an enemy to attack, or lead a mob into battle, giving you the perfect opportunity to either introduce the pertinent rules from the Basic Set, or bring in GURPS Martial Arts, Social Engineering, or Mass Combat, respectively. It all depends on where your group prefers the focus, from “winging it with 3d6” to “using all the options in the supplement written specifically to expand those rules.”

Ideally, for creating the PCs, the group could get together before the first game and run through some simple encounters and combats with one-shot pre-gens and the basic rules from the Combat section at the very end of Characters (or GURPS Lite, which has the added benefit of being free). Seeing the rules in action, how they flow, gives the players some frame of reference when building their own characters. Remember, “start small” — the sheer number of skills/advantages/disadvantages can be daunting, but any given game is going to be limited to a small subset anyway. Rather than asking the players to sift through all the lists, consider only presenting those traits and abilities that they can choose for this game. (The GURPS Fourth Edition Traits Sorter is invaluable for this!)

You, as the GM, already love GURPS, or want to give it a try. So your goal is just to present it to the players in small, easy-to-learn bites. Get some interesting characters made — whether from the Quick Start method linked above, the full-fledged system with all the bells and whistles, or anything in between — and have some wild adventures. When things come up as you play, introduce the relevant rules if you think they would add more fun, and keep going.

That’s the best advice I have for bringing GURPS to your group, but I’m always eager to hear what other GMs are doing, too!

By the way, most of the above assumes a GM who is already comfortable with the GURPS system. If that isn’t the case, I humbly note that the book How to Be a GURPS GM was written for exactly this purpose.

Finally, some additional resources here at TheMook.Net that groups new to GURPS might find helpful:


  1. A few decades of GMing and I lost the fire. It’s been a few years now. I’m hoping GURPS can be the spark. I recently found GURPS Lite. Reddit sent me here. Thank you for this wonderful writeup.

  2. Ha! I noticed your Reddit post last night at work, Phil. Just got home and was gonna reply when I noticed you had already found your way here. 🙂

    Welcome to GURPS, and Game Geekery! Guiding newcomers is one of my favorite topics — You should hopefully find a lot of helpful stuff poking around here.

    I think GURPS can absolutely help rekindle that spark, though maybe not directly… meaning, I’m not sure the rules themselves will necessarily be the spark.

    On the other hand, some story, some genre of game, *will* be that spark, and once you find what it is you want to run — Fantasy, Imperial Japan, African Explorers, Espionage, Superheroes, Star Wars, Harry Potter, whatever — GURPS will help you get that idea to the table.

    And then, in a few months or a few years when that campaign wraps up… it’ll do the same for your next one! And your next one…

    Looking forward to seeing you around the GURPS communities!

  3. Just a thought: it might be worth editing this post to include a link to the drivethrurpg entry for your book (now that GURPS is up there, and that might be where new players come across the system).

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