I am a huge fan of GURPS due to the customization options as it has a lot of customization options but the mechanics boil down to 'Roll 3d6. If it is below your modifier then you pass. 17 and 18 are critical failures. ' but whenever I bring it up my friends say it is way too complicated. So my question is how can I make GURPS appear less intimidating to players who have never tried it?

So far my friends have tried and liked

  • World Of Darkness
  • Burning Wheel

They tried but did not like these:

  • D&D 5e
  • Pathfinder

What they found intimidating were:

  • Sheer amount of options
  • Inability to tell what is useful and what is not.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do the (potential) players find intimidating the degree of character customization available or the actual-play mechanics? \$\endgroup\$ May 10, 2020 at 15:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to clarify, are you offering to GM the game to your friends? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim Grant
    May 11, 2020 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes I am but they refuse each time preferring other games. \$\endgroup\$ May 11, 2020 at 16:57

3 Answers 3


There's GURPS, and then there's GURPS

I've played GURPS since it's first (medieval combat only) version came out in 1985. I've memorized most of GURPS 3e and have had lots of success running GURPS for new players. But even I find the 4e Basic Set a bit overwhelming.

Even though most of the core rules are very similar to the core rules of the 1986 1e Basic Set, because the 4e Basic Set really embraced the U for Universal in GURPS, and worked in most of the rules for supernatural and inhuman traits from the countless GURPS worldbooks that had come before, and also went further with the G for Generic in GURPS and added systems for modifying traits and working out what the point costs ought to be. The 4e Basic Set is over twice the length (~576 pages) of the 3e Basic Set (256 pages, 30 pages of which are basic Magic and Psionics systems rather than core rules), and most of the added content I never use, because I run games in low-tech worlds with pretty standard humans and fantasy races.

The 4e Basic Set is a great toolkit for designing almost anything, but it's got an awful lot of noise in it if you're a new player just looking to learn the rules so you can play a character in a game. Especially if it's just going to be a normal human character.

That said, I do have several suggestions for how to make even GURPS 4e accessible to new players, if you (the GM) have learned GURPS 4e already. Pick and choose any or all of these.

First, choose a game setting and type to run.

This will limit what the game will include to what is relevant to creating characters for that setting, and what will be used in the first sessions.

You might want to choose a relatively simple context to start with.

Something that greatly limits what there is to think about, but is still fun.

Warn players about the seriousness of combat and the importance of what characters do during combat.

Explain to them what combat gameplay and tactics are like, so they don't put a lot of time into creating a character and then do something foolish in combat that is likely to get the character killed or maimed right away. And let them know that it's possible serious injury or death may happen anyway.

To that end:

Run a fun short learning game...

... that may not even be part of a campaign you want to run, with characters made just for that game, that aren't expected to necessarily be used later, where serious injuries and deaths are expected to be likely during the learning session. A brawl where most characters involved have few or no unarmed fighting skills is a great simple starting point that can nonetheless be very fun, and is also a baseline thing to have experience with. A low-tech arena combat is also a great choice. If you're going to be doing gun-type combat in your campaign, you might start with a simple gunfight situation.

Have a bunch of characters pre-generated that players can use instead of building a character-

or that players can use as examples or starting points to modify to make their characters.

Prepare an introduction packet for the game you want to run.

It can be half a page, up to several pages. Explain the campaign setting briefly. Explain the intended style of play briefly. Then list what the choices are for new characters in the campaign. This will be a much much shorter list than what's in the Basic Set. You may also list various appropriate backgrounds (Templates) and what characters with that background have. Then character generation is mostly about picking things from your intro packet, not swimming through the 4e Basic Set or other books choosing from a universe of choices most of which won't fit your game anyway. Probably they can create a character with just the free GURPS Lite and your intro packet.

Be available to create characters with the players before play starts

Mentoring: a little goes a long way.

During play, I have found anyone can play GURPS ...

if you explain situations and options to new players in terms of the gameworld situation, in natural language, not game terms.

Then let them tell you what they want to do in game terms, and if they're interested and ready to learn game mechanics, you can tell them how you're converting what their intention is to game mechanics, in as much detail as they are ready for. This works well because one of the great things about GURPS is that the mechanics are based on trying to represent the game situation directly in ways that make sense. Every game mechanic represents something relatable and logical. So you can start by describing the situation, and work a new player up to understanding how the game mechanics model the details.


The free GURPS Lite rules contain the basic core rules of GURPS.

Some people even play entire GURPS campaigns using just the GURPS Lite rules. (As someone who loves the detail and especially the hex-based Advanced combat system, I'd never do that myself, but many have done that, and it's not a bad starting place, especially just as a first thing to read to understand what the core came is.) The 3e version of GURPS Lite is somewhat different and is also recommended for learners despite being out of date for 4e.

Check out some of the articles on Mook's Game Geekery blog

This features posts for new players, and more advice and resources on introducing GURPS to new players.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Technically speaking, since the psi and magic systems are now in the core books, those rules are now considered core rules.... \$\endgroup\$
    – nijineko
    May 10, 2020 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for 7th bullet. Fittingly, it is generic advice for introducing players to a too-complex system. See what I did, there...? \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    May 11, 2020 at 1:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ This very nice answer needed a lot of formatting help. So I did. Please review and revise as needed. This is the kind of expertise-based answer we hope for more of. \$\endgroup\$ May 11, 2020 at 1:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nijineko Technically maybe, but that's not what I was trying to say. I was trying to compare the pages that are are relevant to most players in almost all settings, and the number of pages in the 4e Basic Set, which not only has those sections but also alphabetically mixes in all sorts of traits that games about normal humans would likely never use. If you compare the 4e Basic Set page count to earlier editions' Basic Sets, it's about two to three times as many pages, without expanding the rules for normal human games very much (if at all). \$\endgroup\$
    – Dronz
    May 11, 2020 at 5:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ My favorite GURPS is 3e Revised. I just never developed the love for 4e that I had for 3, despite the clarifications and other improvements. Great answer. I wish I had more than one upvote for you. \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    May 11, 2020 at 22:23

In addition to Dronz's great answer, I have some tips.

Cut a lot of the rules out at first.

GURPS isn't like other RPGs, GURPS is a toolkit, not a game. Basically every rule is optional. The only things I think are 100% necessary are your base attributes and skill checks. Even skills are optional in my mind. With this in mind, I would decide on a simple set of rules to use, with the goal of only including things you can learn by heart. It's fine if you need to refer to charts to remember specifics, but you should try to not need to look up the entirety of any rule, at least for your intro session(s). I think if you need to look up any rule in your Session 0, something is wrong; either you didn't study enough or that rule is too complicated for your current GM'ing ability. The point here being that Session 0 is a kind of canary-in-a-coal mine, if something goes wrong here, it'll go very wrong in a real session.

Once you have a narrow set of rules to use...

hold a Session 0 in which your players can try things out, especially combat.

In my first Session 0, we fought a few guys in an arena, using only attacks, all-out-attacks, active defenses, and movement on a hex grid. I didn't do damage types, major wounds, encumbrance, bleeding, fatigue or any more advanced techniques like feints. This does two things. It teaches your players the fundamentals, and it gives them the chance to change their character if they don't like how it plays out in a safe environment.

Once you're a few sessions in...

...slowly introduce more rules as they feel necessary. It's a lot easier for players to learn 10 new rules one at a time over the course of 15 sessions than it is to learn them all at once.

Edit: One little tip I forgot to mention. Keep a list of the rules you find most difficult and their locations in the book. I personally think the Basic Set is very poorly organized and it can be a pain to search mid-session.

  • \$\begingroup\$ crawl. walk. jog. run. Nice progression. Works IRL in a lot of different fields. \$\endgroup\$ May 11, 2020 at 2:01

I want to offer a very specific piece of advice for one small portion of this question - because the other answers here are are already covering the vast majority of the answers very well.

Specifically to address this point:

  • Inability to tell what is useful and what is not.

I suggest that in addition to going over what will be included / excluded in your game, simply tell your players that you will be allowing them to rearrange (or re-spec) their characters at various checkpoints. This does not mean that they get to completely rebuild their PCs for each challenge they think they'll meet, but that at predetermined times (say after the second session and at the end of the first real arc), you will allow them to readjust some of their point spends based on their experience with the game.

That way, if they sank points into Performance(Violin) at DX+4 because they thought it would be important but it never comes up, they can rejigger it later. Similarly if they thought a high-frequency Dependant would be fun but it turns out to be a drag, etc.

Simply advertising these checkpoints will, in my experience, take some of the pressure off of players at the outset, allowing them to be more freewheeling with their decisions - even if they are only infrequently taken advantage of.

For your own sanity, if you are handling characters for them, I recommend you use a software aid like GCS in any case, but especially if you are going to follow this path.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Campaign-specific, GM-created templates—even if the players opt not to use them—are extremely useful tools to show the players what the GM expects PCs to look like. Also, while this is good advice—and my personal preferred method—, some GMs prefer the inverse: tailoring adventures to the player's choices. Is it weird that the PC's violin virtuosity came in handy again? Sure, but she's a PC, so that's supposed to happen. \$\endgroup\$ May 12, 2020 at 0:56

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