Streamlining GURPS, Part 2

Happy Thurpsday, and welcome to another weekly dose of GURPS-y goodness!

Today I’d like to share a few more thoughts on streamlining your games to go along with last week’s post and some of the others I’ve posted previously.

First, let’s talk about NPCs, particularly those of the “Kill the PCs!” type.

Player Characters in GURPS are, generally, made of pretty stern stuff. They have HT rolls to avoid unconsciousness and death, a full menu of maneuvers available to them, and even “Extra Effort” options they can use by spending FP (pp. 357).

It’s important to remember that not all NPCs are created equal. I tend to break enemy combatant NPCs into four broad categories: Fodder, Seasoned, Lieutenant, and Boss.

A common way to tweak these categories of bad guys is by varying their gear — so, Fodder get leather scraps for armor and pointy sticks, Seasoned get sturdy armor and weapons, Lieutenants get good armor and weapons (often at the PCs’ level), and Bosses get enchanted plate and man-portable mini-guns (sometimes in the same game). You can also adjust their attributes and skills to reflect their threat, power, and experience.

Let’s not overlook, though, the fact that not all rules have to apply to all characters. The PCs themselves will all, presumably, be utilizing the same rules, the baseline of the campaign (though, some characters may use rules that others don’t, like a lone wizard in a group of warriors). But for NPCs, that doesn’t have to be the case. There is no reason the Fodder Kobolds on Level 1 of the dungeon need to be making HT checks all the way down to -5xHT; it’s just more work for the GM for no real return in improving the game.

I’d recommend something like:

  • Fodder: Go down automatically at 0 HP. Almost always use “All-Out Attacks,” leaving them with no active defenses. Attack the torso only. No Deceptive Attacks or Rapid Strikes, and no Extra Effort.
  • Seasoned: Can make HT checks to avoid unconsciousness down to -HP, but then go down automatically.  Can use any maneuver except Committed Attack, Defensive Attack, Evaluate, and Feint. Occasionally target non-torso locations, usually the arm or leg. Can make Deceptive Attacks or Rapid Strikes, but no Extra Effort.
  • Lieutenant: Use the same rules as the PCs, except for Extra Effort.
  • Boss: Can do anything a PC can do, including use Extra Effort.

Thus, when fighting nameless hordes of Fodder Orcs, they go down quick and fight with only basic moves; but when you reach the Boss’s Lieutenants, they’re a lot harder to put down, and they have a lot of tricks up their own sleeves.

Second, and related to this, is the fact that any given GURPS game does not have a single “rules spectrum” (as mentioned last week by commenter Mailanka). We know that GURPS can be simply adjusted from “fluffy and quick” (Wildcard skills) to “crunchy and slower” (skills with specializations and non-Basic Set supplements), but those decisions don’t have to affect the whole game, just certain parts.

In other words, just because your game is about a Special Forces squad and you’re using a ton of optional combat rules doesn’t necessarily mean you will be using an equal number of optional rules for things like interpersonal dealings with NPCs and social engineering.

Below are a few areas on which a GM might increase or decrease focus, depending on the sorts of things the group finds fun. The Basic Set often gives options for tweaking these areas, but I’ve also included some books outside the Basic Set for when you want even more focus on a particular area. The list is not exhaustive (in particular, I didn’t mention any of the fantastic issues of Pyramid that have been published), but should some give some ideas and inspiration.

So, a game focused on…

…a modern SWAT team might include rules from Tactical Shooting and Social Engineering: Pulling Rank.

…a fantasy mercenary army might include rules from Mass Combat and Low-Tech.

…a group of minor nobles at the Court of Versailles might include rules from Boardroom and Curia and Social Engineering.

…and so forth.

GURPS can be endlessly tweaked and customized to make it exactly the system you need for the game you want. I hope this has given you some good ideas for streamlining your own games — let me know!

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  1. I like to think of the GURPS rules as sandpaper: when building your world/campaign/adventure, you use the “coarse grit” to create the basic shape, and “finer grit” in the areas where you want the most delicate detail.

    Also, I’d like to add that you shouldn’t be shy about mentioning that your own book, How to Be a GURPS GM has an excellent if general breakdown of combat rules by desired level of detail.

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