Your First Recovery

Thursday is GURPS Day, and once again we will be heaping abuse upon our basic example character, Rex, in pursuit of creamy good GURPS knowledge.

Now that we’ve touched on how combat works a bit, today we’ll see how a character can recover from those injuries sustained when Bad Things™ happen. GURPS Lite (pp. 30-31) has all the rules we need for recovery from…

Fatigue (FP) Loss

This is usually the least serious condition from which to recover. All kinds of things can cause you to lose energy and get tired — being in a fight, running for your life, carrying your hefty buddy’s torso to the shaman’s hut outside of town — and usually replenishing your Fatigue Points is a simple matter of resting quietly, at the rate of 1 FP every 10 minutes (p. 31).

For example, after hiking for three hours under a hot sun to return home from a distant settlement, Rex is weary — his FP of 10 are down to 7. He plops down in a comfy rocking chair on his porch and, after a half hour of relaxing, is as good as new (30 minutes of rest restores 3 FP; if he ate while taking it easy, Rex could have got an extra FP back, and would only have had to rest for 20 minutes).


Being stunned is usually the result of failing either a Knockdown and Stunning roll (physical stun) or a Fright Check (mental stun). While stunned, a character is forced to choose the Do Nothing maneuver each turn until recovered (you can still defend yourself, but at -4 to all active defenses).

For example, Rex fails his HT roll for knockdown and stunning after being shot in the gut by a bandit’s .45. He falls prone, and must choose the Do Nothing maneuver (and defend himself at -4) on his next turn, but then rolls against his HT of 10 to recover. He rolls a 14 — still stunned! At the end of that turn (again, choosing to Do Nothing), he gets another HT check, and this time succeeds with a roll of 10. He can act normally when his next turn starts.


There are a great many things that can leave an adventurer unconscious, and the difficulty of recovery depends on how many Hit Points (HP) were lost. For example…

  • After taking a major wound from an arrow to the chest, Rex critically fails his “knockdown and stunning” HT roll and falls unconscious with 4 HP remaining. Assuming no enemies choose to finish him off, he will automatically wake up after 15 minutes (and can regain lost HP normally, as below).
  • After a major skirmish against an Apache war band, Rex is left for dead with -3 HP. After an hour (of game time — not real time, thankfully!), he gets a roll against his HT of 10 to wake up, but fails with a 12. Two more hours pass, and he fails twice more, but finally he succeeds on his fourth check with a roll of 8. After those four hours, he awakens (though, at -3 HP, he’s in pretty rough shape).
  • After a gunfight against an outlaw gang, Rex is again left for dead, this time with -11 HP (ouch!). After 12 hours, he makes a roll against his HT of 10 to see if he will come to on his own, but fails with a roll of 13. Rex will not wake up on his own. The best he can do now is keep rolling every 12 hours until someone finds him and provides medical attention — but if at any point he fails a roll, he will quietly shuffle off this mortal coil (you know, buy the farm, take the dirt nap, go toes up).

First Aid and Healing


Hit Point (HP) Loss

Finally, there is recovering from actual injuries, i.e., regaining lost HP, as outlined on p. 30.

For example, Rex and some other ranch hands defend their cattle from a group of rustlers. They manage to drive them off, but Rex suffers a 5-point gunshot to the shoulder, reducing his HP from 11 to 6.

Once out of combat, one of the other cowboys, Gus, spends a minute bandaging Rex’s shoulder. This requires no skill roll and gives Rex 1 HP back, bringing him up to 7. Gus then spends another 20 minutes (per table on p. 31, at TL 5) using his First Aid skill of 12.

He succeeds with a roll of 10, then rolls a 5 on a single die. The “HP Restored” at TL 5 is “1d-2,” so that restores 3 HP to Rex. Notice, though, that those 3 points include the 1 point already given for bandaging, so Rex gets the difference (2 more points), bringing his HP from 7 to 9. (A lot of folks don’t remember this — impress your GURPS friends at parties by pointing it out!)

Assuming Rex takes it easy for a few days, he can make a HT check at the end of each day of rest to restore 1 more HP until he is back to full.


And that’s it! These are the ways you can get your character back into fighting shape after GURPS leaves you broken and in a heap. In settings where things like magic, potions, and active gods exist, a character can bounce back from even severe trauma almost instantly. But barring that, the default recovery rules model a much more mundane and realistic manner of healing.

This can be jarring for players not used to needing a week or two of bed rest to recover from the wounds of a particularly brutal battle, so the GM can, of course, tweak things to get results that better match the group (maybe First Aid skill checks only take one minute and restore 2d, and a day’s rest restores a full 1d, that sort of thing).

Next week’s post will be the last of the basic examples, a wrap-up summary of everything covered so far before we move on to the intermediate posts and the GURPS Basic Set instead of GURPS Lite. See you then! Please leave a comment below, or let me know how you think things are going.


  1. This explanation of the recovery rules was helpful, but I think it also shows a weak point in GURPS. The level of detail the rules provide just doesn’t seem useful for a game situation. Some specific criticisms:
    * How much do the various HT rolls for low HP add to gameplay? Below 0, you are rolling with penalties for additional lost multiples of HP to remain awake; below -1xHP, you are also rolling to stay alive. What kind of gameplay would be lost by combining these?
    * Is it important to remember that the bandaging HP is included in the treating shock First Aid table? Is that detail worth the extra weight of that rule?

    Overall, I love GURPS, but I think these rules suffer from too much complexity for not enough practical value. I’m hard pressed to think of a campaign when I want to spend a lot of time roleplaying in the space between barely conscious, unconscious but alive, and dead. Likewise, I don’t see the value of having a First Aid table that sets a minimum of one point recovery, but that forces you to remember that the point may already have been used! Just set the minimum recovery to 0, adjust the values in the table down by 1, or consolidate the bandaging and first aid treatments into a single first aid attempt. HP and first aid recovery is already an abstraction, and I struggle to imagine a scenario in which a simpler rule would be broken.

    It’s these kinds of details that make GURPS seem impenetrable, and it’s frustrating for someone who loves the power and potential for elegance in the system. /rant

  2. Hiya, Colin!

    GURPS does tend to default to a kind of ‘gritty realism’ without GM tweaking, and the rules certainly bare that out.

    In your first example, I’m sure the HT checks vs. Death or Unconsciousness were split out to simulate that it’s possible for someone that badly wounded to not die (success) but still fall unconscious (failure), which you can’t do if the rolls are combined. But not all GMs care about that, and there’s no harm in just rolling once (for either Death or Unconsciousness, depending on which way the GM leans). I personally like the way these rules play out, because you can get a PC who “should be” dead or unconscious, but is still managing to hang on for one more second or two through sheer force of will.

    With the bandaging example, again, not all GMs are going to care, but I imagine the rolls for bandaging and full first aid were kept separate because bandaging a wound only takes 1 minute (for a quick 1 HP recoup), but full first aid takes 10-30 minutes, and that time difference can be important for ‘gritty, realistic’ games. But for cinematic games? I ran a much more cinematic game at a con this past weekend, and the healing rules were basically “First Aid takes effectively no time, and restores 1d HP or 2d HP on a critical success.”

    For GMs/players who enjoy a certain play style, the healing rules (as an example of others) may seem a bit fiddly — but they’re not so integral they can’t be massaged into something a lot more ‘fuzzy’ (which is exactly what the much more focused lines like “Dungeon Fantasy” do… in fact, the “Action” series (p. 40 of “Exploits”) suggests a First Aid system sort of halfway between default GURPS and what I used this weekend).

    • I agree all of this is fixable; my complaint is that the basic version of the game (and especially the lite rules) shouldn’t make players do that.

      I do want to follow up on your comment about the HT rolls. I understand the value of being able to cling on for an extra second despite all odds, but it seems like items not an interesting question mechanically whether the charger hangs on versus unconsciousness or hangs on against death. In either case, the character can’t do anything and whether the character ever recovers depends on the narrative, the rules of the setting regarding healing or resurrection, etc. In other words, I don’t see why two rules are better than one rule to remain conscious, with a failure resulting in a narrative choice by the GM of just unconsciousness or death.

      • Thanks for the correction, I was having a tough time parsing that. 🙂

        I know it only begs the question one ‘step’ back, but I will note that there are actual mechanical differences between a HT roll vs. Death or Unconsciousness, namely the Hard to Kill and Hard to Subdue advantages, so a PC with one but not the other would be rolling against different target numbers. Barring that, there’s no reason you couldn’t make a single “Collapse” roll in combat to determine if a character is out of a fight, and then later, out of combat, make the determination of whether it was due to unconsciousness or death (kind of like checking for whether crippling injuries are permanent or temporary).

        But I think the specific example here may be clouding your underlying point, which is that GURPS defaults to assumptions that are “crunchier” than you prefer, which I’m not sure is a problem with one answer.

        It seems to me if you’re writing a game with universal mechanics for the spectrum of play styles, you have three choices: 1) Default to the super-crunchy, complex end, with advice and suggestions on ways to make things more and more narrative, 2) Default to the super-narrative, streamlined end, with options to make things more and more crunchy, or 3) Choose the route GURPS went with and default to the middle of the spectrum, with options to swing it to either of the ends.

        I’m not sure any of those is objectively better or worse than the others, but whichever one you pick, there is a sizable segment for whom you’ll be missing the mark. All you can do, I think, is pick one and make any tweaks that need to be made as simple as possible.

        Personally, I find the “pick the middle” approach the most elegant, since it seems easier to default to a “5” with advice for getting to “0” or “10” than either of the other two options, but opinions will certainly differ (as we can clearly see).

        • I actually don’t want to make a more general complaint about GURPS, because I think the system offers a good default most of the time. I just want to say that, for this particular issue, especially in the context of a Lite system introduction, the editors missed the mark and ended way too far on the crunchy side.

          I am really looking forward to the rest of this series!

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