The Generic Universal RolePlaying System, commonly known as GURPS, is a role-playing game system designed to adapt to any imaginary gaming environment. It was created by Steve Jackson Games in 1986. GURPS won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Rules of 1988,[1] and in 2000 it was inducted into the Origins Hall of Fame.[2] Many of its expansions have also won awards.


Prior RPG historyEdit

Prior to GURPS, role-playing games (RPGs) of the 1970s and early 1980s were developed especially for certain gaming environments, and they were largely incompatible with one another. For example, TSR published its Dungeons & Dragons game specifically for a fantasy environment. Another game from the same company, Star Frontiers, was developed for science fiction-based role-playing. TSR produced other games for other environments, such as Gamma World (post-apocalyptic adventures), Top Secret (spies and secret agents), Gangbusters (Roaring Twenties adventures), and Boot Hill (American Old West). Each of these games was set with its own self-contained rules system, and the rules for playing each game differed greatly from one game to the next. Attempts were made in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons to allow cross-genre games using Gamma World and Boot Hill rules, but the obscure rules went largely unused. Though it was preceded by the lesser-known Supergame (DAG Productions, 1980), GURPS was the first commercially successful attempt to create an all-encompassing, "universal" role-playing system that allows players to role-play in any environment they please while still using the same set of "core" rules.

The GURPS conceptEdit

Role-playing games of the 1970s and 1980s, such as Dungeons & Dragons, used random numbers generated by dice rolls to assign statistics to player characters. GURPS, in contrast, was similar to Superhero 2044 in that it assigned players a specified number of points with which to build their characters. Together with the HERO System, GURPS was one of the first role-playing games in which characters were created by spending points to get attributes, skills, and advantages (such as the ability to cast magic spells)[3]. Additional points can be obtained by accepting lower-than-average attributes, disadvantages, and other limitations. This approach remains popular in role-playing games, in part due to the success of GURPS.

GURPS' emphasis on its "generic" aspect has proven to be a successful marketing tactic, as many game series have source engines which can be retrofitted to many styles.[4] GURPS' approach to versatility includes using real world measurements wherever possible ("reality-checking" is an important part of any GURPS book). This allows players to fairly trivially convert things from the real world, other games or their imagination to GURPS statistics.

GURPS also benefits from the many dozens of worldbooks describing settings or additional rules in all genres including science fiction, fantasy, and historical. Many popular game designers began their professional careers as GURPS writers, including C.J. Carella[5], Robin Laws[6], S. John Ross[7], and Fudge creator Steffan O'Sullivan[8]. It is sometimes stated that a large contingent of people who do not play GURPS purchase GURPS supplements because of the talented and creative writers. GURPS worldbooks set in historical periods can often be used as reference books as they usually include a bibliography suggesting additional sources.

GURPS historyEdit

The immediate mechanical antecedent of GURPS was The Fantasy Trip (TFT), an early role-playing game written by Steve Jackson for the company Metagaming Concepts. Several of the core concepts of GURPS first appeared in TFT, including the inclusion of Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence as the core abilities scores of each character.

In 1990 GURPS intersected part of the hacker subculture[9] when the company's Austin, Texas, offices were raided by the Secret Service. The target was the author of GURPS Cyberpunk in relation to E911 Emergency Response system documents stolen from Bell South.[10] The incident was a direct contributor to the founding of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. A common misconception holds that this raid was part of Operation Sundevil and carried out by the FBI. Operation: Sundevil was in action at the same time, but it was completely separate.[11]

Main article: Steve Jackson Games, Inc. v. United States Secret Service.

A free PDF version of the GURPS rules was released as GURPS Lite. This limited ruleset was also included with various books such as GURPS Discworld and Transhuman Space.

Steve Jackson Games released GURPS Fourth Edition at the first day of Gen Con on August 19, 2004. It promised to simplify and streamline most areas of play and character creation. The changes include an edited and rationalized skill list, clarification of the difference between ability from experience and from inborn talent, more detailed language rules, and revised technology levels. Designed by Sean Punch, the Fourth Edition was sold as two full-color hardcover books.[12]

GURPS in other mediaEdit

The computer game publisher Interplay licensed GURPS as the basis for a post-nuclear war computer role-playing game in 1995. Late in development and after disagreements between the two companies, the GURPS character-building system was replaced with the SPECIAL System, the GURPS name was dropped, and the game was released under the name Fallout.

GURPS For Dummies (ISBN 0-471-78329-3), a guidebook by Stuart J. Stuple, Bjoern-Erik Hartsfvang, and Adam Griffith, was published in 2006.

GURPS references are a running joke in the webcomic Something Positive. Characters often wear GURPS shirts, soda machines dispense "GURPS cola" and the local gaming store carries fictitious games such as "GURPS Sixteenth Century French Drama".

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. Origins Award Winners (1988) Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design
  2. Origins Award Winners (1999) Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design
  3. Rowland, Marcus L. Open Box - GURPS: Generic Universal Roleplaying System Basic Set White Dwarf. Issue 83 Games Workshop Nov 1986
  4. Hite, Ken Nightmares of Mine 1st ed. (ISBN 1-558-06367-6) Iron Crown Enterprises 1999
  5. Pen & Paper RPG Database: C.J. Carella
  6. Pen & Paper RPG Database: Robin D. Laws
  7. Pen & Paper RPG Database: S. John Ross
  8. Pen & Paper RPG Database: Steffan O'Sullivan
  9. Sterling, Bruce The Hacker Crackdown, Bantam Books (November 1, 1993)
  10. SJ Games vs. the Secret Service
  11. The top ten media errors about the SJ Games raid (#6)
  12. Muadib, Rob GURPS Fourth Edition Characters & Campaigns Review 2004-11-22
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