How to Play GURPS

Most Generic Universal Role Playing Games (GURPS) can be played almost as a board game. You have a map that diagrams the areas that you are exploring, and you make dice rolls to determine the outcome of each of your actions. But for players, GURPS is more about shared storytelling, an experience in which each player has a role in creating a fictional story line.

The game starts with the GM describing the game world so that you can begin your character creation. That description includes not only a general idea of the type of society and the physical characteristics of the world but also includes rules about how your character can be created. The most notable of these is the point value of the campaign — the total number of points that you can spend to create your character. The limitation of the point value is what makes character creation interesting. You can't have every advantage and every skill available; instead, you have to fit together those that let you create the character you want. The GM may also provide other guidelines. For example, some advantages or disadvantages may not be available or may be required for your particular campaign.

After everyone has their characters defined, the GM begins by describing the initial scene. Many times, this involves a situation that allows the various characters to meet for the first time. Some sort of problem is presented to the characters. It may be an attack, a job offer, or tantalizing clues of a mystery. Whatever the mechanism, the GM begins to lead the characters into the story line.

Of course, how the characters respond is up to the players. And that's where things start to get interesting. The GM can only provide a framework and attempt to lure the characters into it. The players determine which clues they'll follow or what approach they'll take to any given problem. For example, the GM may decide to attack the party, but the players decide whether to run away, defend themselves, or take yet another route.

Interactions with other PCs are done by talking among the players. In general, most conversation is done in the first person, so rather than saying, "My mage asks your soldier to hand him the map," you're likely to say, in the role of your mage, "Hey, soldier boy, hand me the map."

Interactions with NPCs are done by talking with the GM. The GM may respond by providing you a description of what happens or just the facts and information, or the interaction may also be in the first person. This depends in part on the GM's style and in part on how important the NPC is to the plotline.

The success of actions in which the outcome involves a large degree of chance, such as whether a character is able to dodge an attack or open a lock, is determined by dice roll. Each character has a different set of skills, and so in each situation, different players may be required to respond. Your character sheet records your base skills in those things you know; the GM may adjust that skill based on circumstances (for instance, picking a lock in a noisy, darkened bar). A successful roll is one in which the total of the three dice is less than or equal to the character's adjusted skill. That means that you successfully performed the task. A failed roll means that you failed at the task.

Unlike many other role playing games, a successful GURPS dice roll is lower than a target number. Many other games require high rolls. Other games also frequently require specialized dice, but GURPS is played with ordinary six-sided dice — the ones used for many board games.

As your characters experience the adventure, you as the player gain knowledge and insight about the fictional world. You then direct your character toward the goals that the GM has set before you. As the adventure progresses, you'll likely find yourself deepening your understanding of your character and getting a clearer picture of the GM's world, much as an actor begins to live his role as he rehearses it over time. This opportunity to grow as a character (and as a player) is what sets GURPS apart from other role playing games and is what makes GURPS such fun to play.

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