Your First Scene

Welcome, GURPSers, to the final basic post of the “New to GURPS” series! The series will continue in the weeks ahead, but we’ll be expanding past GURPS Lite and out into the actual GURPS Basic Set, Characters and Campaigns.

Today, Rex‘s swan song, is an overall review of the previous basic posts, tying them together into a single long example of play.

We join now the heroic and long-suffering Rex as he rides the open plains in pursuit of an escaped scoundrel named Pistol Pete, attempting to capture him for the reward money ($250 dead, $500 alive). In the weeks that we’ve been torturing putting Rex through his paces, he has chosen to learn a new skill: Tracking, known at level 12.


Skill Check

Rex has been on Pete’s trail for a couple of days now, and awakes before sunrise to resume his chase.

Rex (technically, Rex’s player): “After breaking camp and readying my horse, I set off to once again pick up the trail of Pistol Pete.”

GM: “Okay, please roll against your Tracking skill.”

Rex’s Tracking skill is 12, and he succeeds with a roll of 9 on 3d6.

GM: “After a few minutes of searching, you pick up the trail once more, heading east.”

Rex: “Cool. I mount my horse and continue the chase.”

Skill Contest

Rex follows Pete’s trail throughout the day, from the open plain into a large canyon of high rocky cliff faces. At one point, where the canyons branch off into three different directions, Pistol Pete had earlier used his own Tracking skill of 11 to try and cover his trail. If he wins this contest, it could cost Rex enough time that he loses Pete altogether.

GM: “As Rex approaches a three-way junction just inside the canyons, the trail abruptly turns cold. It seems Pistol Pete is trying to confuse any pursuers by covering his tracks. Please make a Tracking roll.”

The GM rolls a 10 for Pete, succeeding by 1.

Rex (rolls 3d6, gets a total of 9): “Ooh! Made it by 3.”

GM: “After checking each of the three winding canyons, it seems clear that Pete went down the one on the right.”

Rex: “I’m comin’ for you, Pete! I continue on into the right canyon.”

At this point, Rex (and his player) don’t actually know if they’ve succeeded, since they can’t know what Pete’s margin of success was. But from Rex’s point of view, he went that-a-way.

Reaction Roll

Rex continues riding down this narrow canyon, even though he is unable to again pick up Pete’s tracks (the ground has become harder and harder, and he fails a Tracking roll at -4). After an hour or so, the canyon widens and branches again into two directions.

GM: “While pondering which direction to go, you notice a slow-moving wagon headed your way from the left canyon. A single mule pulls it, and there is an old prospector-type at the reins.”

Rex: “When he is close enough for conversation, I greet the old man warmly. ‘Hello, stranger. Care for a swig?’ I offer him a bit of whiskey.”

GM: “The man eyes you warily, but seems to soften a bit when you mention whiskey. He says, ‘Much obliged, young ‘un,’ and takes a long drink.”

Rex: “As we chat, I ask him if he has passed anyone in the canyons today.”

The GM decides that Rex’s friendly demeanor is worth +1 on a Reaction Roll, the offer of whiskey another +1, for a total bonus of +2. He rolls 12 on 3d6, becoming 14 with the +2 bonus — a Good reaction.

GM: “The old man tells a few off-color jokes, and then when you ask about other travelers, he says that he hasn’t seen another soul all day.”

Rex: “Great. I let him keep the bottle, wish him well, and ride into the right canyon.”

Melee Combat

The canyons eventually give way to more open plain, and by nightfall Rex finds himself in the tiny town of Donkey Flats.

GM: “The entire main street is less than a dozen buildings — a saloon, a hotel, some private homes — and the few townspeople you see eye you without apparent interest.”

Rex: “I tie up my horse in front of the saloon and go inside. If I don’t see Pistol Pete, I’ll order a whiskey, but I’m not letting my guard down in a place like this.”

GM: “Pete is nowhere to be seen, but as you’re enjoying your drink the stranger next to you, presumably a henchman of his, throws a punch! Please roll to Parry or Dodge.”

Since Rex said he was staying alert, the GM decides he can attempt a defense against this surprise attack. Alternately, he could have asked for a Perception roll to see it coming.

Rex (rolls 3d6, gets a 13): “I try to parry, but fail by 3.”

GM (rolls 1d6, gets a 2): “The man lands a glancing blow to your jaw for 1 point.” (The man’s punch damage is 1d-1; Rex’s player lowers his HP from 11 to 10). “How do you respond?”

Rex: “I want to kick him as hard as I can, so… how about an All-Out Attack (Strong).”

Rex rolls against his Kick of 9 (which is usually 10, but he has a one-turn Shock penalty of -1), and succeeds with a 9; the man defends, but fails his Dodge of 9 with a 12. Rex rolls damage of 5, and adds the +2 damage bonus from All-Out Attack (Strong) for a total injury of 7 points. As this is more than half the man’s Hit Points of 12, the GM rolls against his HT of 12 and fails with a 14 (“Knockdown and Stunning,” p. 30).

GM: “Your kick slams right into the man’s chest and knocks the wind out of him. He crumples to the floor, trying to catch his breath, but before you do anything else, please make a Perception check.”

Rex (rolls 3d6, gets a 10): “I succeed, right on.”

GM: “You notice out of the corner of your eye that Pistol Pete is standing at the top of the stairs, drawing a pistol from his belt.” (His maneuver was to Ready the gun.)

Ranged Combat

Rex: “I Ready my own pistol to return fire and yell to everyone, ‘Get down!'”

GM: “As the crowd dives for cover, Pistol Pete fires three shots at you.”

The GM rolls 3d6 three times against Pete’s Guns (Pistol) skill of 14, lowered to 10 due to a range penalty of -4 for being 8 yards apart, and fails once with a 14, but succeeds twice with a 10 and a 9.

GM: “Two shots might hit. Roll twice to Dodge!”

Rex (rolls 3d6 twice, gets a 9 and a 14): “I failed one, succeeded at the other.”

Pete’s pistol damage is 2d+2. The GM rolls 2d6 with a result of 6, for a total injury of 8 points.

GM: “Though two of Pete’s shots go wide, one rips through your hip for 8 points, ouch. Please make a HT roll to avoid Knockdown and Stunning.”

Rex (lowers his HP again from 10 to 2, then rolls 3d6 and gets a 10): “I made it!”

GM: “You somehow mange to stay on your feet in spite of the severe wounds, but you’re in really bad shape and at half Dodge and Move. Though you notice Pete’s henchman scrambling for the door now that this is a firefight, Pete himself is cocking back the hammer to finish the job. It’s your turn, what do you do?”

Rex: “If I get hit again, I’m a dead man. I’d rather go out in a blaze of glory and at least try to take Pete with me. I return fire three times.”

Rex rolls 3d6 three times against his Guns (Pistol) skill of 13, lowered to 9 due to a range penalty of -4 for being 8 yards apart, then lowered again to 5 for a Shock penalty of -4. Not surprisingly, he fails twice with a 12 and an 11… but his last roll is a 3! (Hey, after everything we’ve put poor Rex through, he deserves this. The life of an example character is nasty, brutish, and short.)

We haven’t actually discussed critical hits and misses yet, so that’s a little bonus for us, too. They’re explained on pp. 2 and 27, but the most important effects right now for Rex are that Pete has no chance to Dodge this attack, and it does maximum damage. For 2d+2, that’s a massive 14 points.

GM: “Nice! Your final shot slams into Pete’s chest, center mass.” (The GM rolls 3d6 against Pete’s HT of 12 and fails with a 13.) “He collapses to the floor, bleeding out and cursing you with his dying breath.”


Rex: “I limp awkwardly to the nearest empty chair and collapse into it… though, gun still in hand.”

GM: “The townspeople are stunned for a moment, then begin emerging from their hiding places. A young boy is sent to fetch the Doc, who arrives after a few minutes of the denizens of Donkey Flats congratulating you, pouring you drinks, and trying to keep you comfortable.”

The GM rolls 3d6 against the Doc’s First Aid of 15 and succeeds with a 12, then rolls 1d6 for HP restored and rolls a 5, lowered to 3 (see the First Aid Table, p. 31).

GM: “The Doc tends to you for about 20 minutes. His bandaging and care restore 3 Hit Points to you, bringing you back up to 5 total. You are weak and in pain, and it will probably be a couple weeks of rest here before you are fully recovered… but, you got your man, and lived to tell the tale!”


Which applies to you as well, GURPS pilgrims — you have made it through the basic posts and lived to tell the tale. Hopefully, all of the above scenes made sense to you as you followed along. If not, feel free to post questions below or ask me some other way.

I want to thank you for reading all these weeks, and hope you’ll come back for more. If you take nothing else away from these posts, may it be this…

GURPS is fun, and GURPS is easy.

If you enjoyed this “New to GURPS – Welcome!” series, you might also want to check out the sequel/companion series, “New to GURPS – Intermediate.

Might you also consider the Game Geekery Patreon?


  1. Great scene, and well done on working all the game elements into a natural story!

    The gun combat scene is one that makes me nervous as a GM because it would have been really easy for Pistol Pete to obliterate Rex. If Rex fails his perception check, or fails an extra dodge, or takes more damage from the shot that did hit, or fails his stunning roll, he is out before he even gets an action. And, even if he makes it through, he’s more likely than not to miss on his next attack. Or Pete could dodge, or take less damage, etc.

    The point is that there’s a lot of ways that scene could go very badly for the character, before the player even gets to do much. So, as a GM, what could you do either to make the scene less likely to overwhelm the PC or to recover if the dice turn against the player?

  2. Heya, Colin. One of the best pieces of GURPS advice I ever read is to make sure that any “action hero”-type PCs automatically have at least one level of the Luck advantage (thanks, Kromm!) I think only one of my games from the past five years or so *didn’t* do this, and that’s because it was a nitty gritty special forces military game (where getting taken out by a single shot you just didn’t see coming is a very real possibility).

    Luck gives a hero that “cushion” against bad situations like the above. (I also really, REALLY love the PDF “Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys” that talks about all kind of different ways to let players use Character Points as in-game currency for affecting the world around them — one of my favorite books!)

    So, in the above, if Rex failed his Perception roll, he could use Luck to reroll it; same for a failed Dodge roll. There’s also the cinematic rule “Flesh Wounds” on p. B417, allowing a player to spend one unspent Character Point to turn the damage from a single attack to a single point… so if the hero gets shot for massive damage like 12 or something, they can reduce it to 1 (for the cost of 1 CP).

  3. This comment is a bit late, but…you don’t even need to pick up the “Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys” PDF supplement to enable mechanically-backed plot protection for the Player Characters if you want it.

    There are core optional rules for ensuring successful dice rolls on Page 347 of the “GURPS Campaigns” book. Since I dislike players having to burn through precious Character Points, I allot every player a pool of Drama Points that can be used solely for “Buying Success”. Coupled with the Luck Advantage and/or the aforementioned “Flesh Wounds” core optional rule, you can easily attain a subtly larger-than-life feel in regards to Player Character survivability.

  4. Very true, Ezram, thanks for mentioning that. I recommend PU5 all the time because it really is one of my faves, but you’re right — the basic framework for most of it is already in Basic.

  5. I simply wanted to help show how strong/versatile the core rules are on their own.

    Once a player is comfortable enough with the basics, they certainly should at least take a look at other supplementary material that is available 8-^).

    (Additionally, this section deals with the GURPS Lite rules, so I felt it doubly appropriate to try to stick to core as much as possible here.)

  6. Just wanted to say that I throughly enjoyed reading these posts. I will continue them, but I needed to say this: Thank you! It’s so hard to find good examples of playing GURPS, but this, this is PERFECTION! Thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Henry! You’ve no idea how far such a kind word goes, I’m really glad you’ve found this series helpful. GURPS4Life! 🙂

  7. I had heard about GURPS years ago but never gave it a look, I’ve recently got back in to roleplaying (5e and OSR mainly) then came across GURPS again, then after some googling, your site.

    Your articles have been so incredibly valuable to me for helping me understand the system. The character creation portion of the Basic set sent me running for the hills initially. So I genuinely do appreciate how your articles have demystified it all!

    I’m currently working up the nerve to write a little adventure and to run a game, picked up your book for that extra aid!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.