The interpretive framework of assumptions and meta-rules used for interpreting the rules of RPGs seems to vary quite a bit from game to game. The formal name for such frameworks is "hermeneutics."

What are the hermeneutics of GURPS, specifically fourth edition?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Would the rpg theory tag be appropriate here? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tommi
    Apr 13, 2018 at 6:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Thanuir: Not as I read the tag description. This is a question about how things are done, rather than how they should be done. Is there a tag for that? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 13, 2018 at 12:32

1 Answer 1


I started a thread on the official SJ Games GURPS forum about this question, and present here my collation of the responses:

Rule Zero

The game assumes that there is a GM, and that their rulings will be sensible, at least for their desired game. A GM does have to establish what kind of game they want to run, and it is assumed that the overall game objective is fun for the players and GM. Enabling adversarial play is not a priority, nor is ensuring that play will comply with a specific authorial vision.

GURPS is a toolkit, not a game-ready-to-play.

It is not expected that everything from all published GURPS 4e supplements, or even everything in the core rules, will be available to characters in any given single campaign. Some rules are mutually exclusive, on the grounds of different assumptions about genre and play style. For example, the gritty-realism martial arts or shooting rules likely have no place in an anime campaign set in a Japanese high-school.

"Use the rules you need for your game, but no more."

It is quite normal for campaigns to have some house rules, or conventions about which optional rules will be used. Changing these during a campaign is best done with player agreement, if at all. Do not expect different GM's campaigns, or even two campaigns run by the same GM, to be completely compatible.

GURPS is a point-buy system

If you want something, you should buy it, rather than trying to contort rules into giving it to you for free. Disadvantages are only worth points if they will cause you problems, likewise limitations on advantages and other traits. Buy the effect, not the description: the description and special effects can be defined later.

The "ABC" principle

Abilities should be

  • Accurate, to your vision
  • Basic, in that it uses the least convoluted of the possible ways of buying it
  • Cheap in that if there are several viable ways of doing something, use the one that costs the fewest points is a good guideline but not an iron-clad rule.

Character design involves social mechanics and personality-defining traits, as well as combat abilities. The game mechanics don't ensure that every character has something to contribute to every problem, that's a matter for character design.

Play style concepts

The default play style assumed in the rules writing is "realistic cinematic." Characters need to make plans, assemble resources, and use good tactics. Things that are difficult in reality are difficult in the game, and it is assumed that players, guided by the GM, will make reasonable efforts to find bonuses for equipment, taking time, and so on to improve their odds of success. Characters should not assume that everything they might want to do will be possible for them; finding the easier way to cope with a problem is sensible.

The source material for the game is quite varied. Because the game is intended to be generic and universal, it concentrates on the basic foundations of storytelling, rather than current fashions. You're as likely to see The Scarlet Pimpernel referenced as Firefly or Mass Effect.

Rules concepts

  1. The rules are written in informal language, and are not intended to support legalistic interpretation, especially across multiple books. They say what they mean to say, and if they do not say something, that should be viewed as intentional. They are not written to be proof against exploits and rules holes: dealing with those is part of the GM's job.

  2. Because there are many optional rules, there may be several RAW answers to a question. Deciding how things work is the GM's job, although suggestions from players should be considered. More recently published rules are intended to take priority over older ones. Specific rules override general ones. Generalising specific rules should be done with caution, if at all.

  3. An appeal to reality, or at least Occam's Razor for things that are not real, is generally worth considering. Using rules interpretations that make sense and are fun is more important than sticking to the letter of the rules.

  • \$\begingroup\$ John, I have tried to add format and organization to your detailed answer, with the intent of making it easier to see the topic break points. Please review, and please do edit this again if I made a hash of it. (A link to that thread you started may or may not be helpful...unsure) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9, 2018 at 21:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Having grown up with GURPS, a lot of these are like "Well, yeah..." I'd love to see a parallel question and answer for DND5e (which is what I mostly play now) for contrast. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9, 2018 at 21:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SirTechSpec: So would I, which was what started me on this line of thinking. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9, 2018 at 21:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SirTechSpec A lot of that is covered in the page one/page two discussion by Crawford on the Sage Advice Compendium posted at WoTC. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9, 2018 at 21:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ The first four points are pretty much identical to the Hero System (Champions), from which GURPS was inspired. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9, 2018 at 23:15

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