As the title says, would the GURPS system be a good choice for a non-magic campaign that has a tech level roughly equivalent to earth Europe's 19th century and a focus on roleplaying rather than fighting?

I am looking for something with well defined rulesets about guns and other firearms, how armors work against these, as well as how wounds inflicted by them would behave. I am looking for a non-level-based system as I don't plan on basing the campaign around encounters (as I would with a classic D&D campaign).


The aim of the campaign is (at least in the beginning) to give a few friends that have never in their life played a pen & paper roleplaying game some introduction to it with a focus on the roleplaying aspect.

For the first few sessions the campaign will have a military setting. The players will work their way through 'military academy'/'boot camp', being led through exercises such as hand-to-hand combat, firearm usage, as well as different skilltests (such as repairing a weapon or machine, playing cards against NPCs, etc..) - in order to give them a feeling for the different aspects of roleplaying games and how they play.


The world in which it plays is an imagined world, based on the physical rules of earth and having a technological development closely aligned to earth's. The campaign and portion of the world which it will play in will be most similar to 19th century Europe and the rest of the Western World.

The 'military academy' setting is chosen as such in order to provide a narrative/storyline similar to what they know from computer gaming.

The 'academy'/'bootcamp' theme is meant as a means to introduction (as its purpose is in real life) - if they happen to like what they find I plan to throw them into a theatre of war rather quick


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GURPS is a pretty good ruleset for the kind of game you describe. It's got good rules for pretty much everything, and the pointscale that the system is built on works pretty well for a game where it's assumed that people will have guns.

I'll go through each of the requirements you list, and how well GURPS deals with it.

"roughly equivalent to earth Europe's 19th century"

GURPS has a Tech Level system. One of the levels is TL5: The Industrial Revolution. This tech level deals with stuff from the early 1700s to the late 1800s, so most of the stuff you're looking for will be TL5. This includes breech-loading guns, ironclad warships, hot-air balloons, steam engines, and the like.

"a focus on roleplaying rather than fighting"

GURPS is pretty flexible when it comes to the roleplaying/rollplaying continuum. There are many, many skills that deal with the various ways you can interact with people, and there is quite a bit of detail given to interpersonal interactions. It's not as mechanically rich as the combat, but the rules are there.

"well defined rulesets about guns and other firearms, how armors work against these"

Here's where GURPS really shines when it comes to what you're asking about. For any given topic, there is almost certainly a GURPS book about it. What you want here is GURPS High-Tech. There are pages and pages of descriptions of various real-world armors and weapons, including notes on how it was actually used in combat. There are rules for different armors for each hit location, and pretty much any kind of gun you can name. The rules for how guns and armor interact are pretty simple: armor reduces the damage done by a weapon directly, whether or not it's a firearm.

"how wounds inflicted by them would behave"

It's not terribly clear to me what you want here, specifically, but GURPS generally has a pretty simple wound system, with extra complexity that you can add. Typically, you just take damage off of your hit points, and that damage heals with time. If you take too much damage, you suffer some penalties. If you take damage that is specifically to an area other than your torso, you might take some special debuffs, like getting stunned from a head blow, or a crippled hand. There are also rules for how wounds can get infected, and how aftercare works.

That said, GURPS is pretty realistic in one way that makes it extremely unfriendly to new players: GURPS combat, especially with guns, is incredibly deadly. For example: TL5 rifles deal between 3d and 5d damage, usually of the pi+ type. That means that a hit does about 14 damage, and any of that damage that penetrates armor does 1.5X the damage roll. Typical infantry armor in TL5 gives DR of 5, which means that a typical rifle shot will deal 9 pi+ damage, which works out to a total of 13 injury. Since the average GURPS character isn't likely to have more than 15 HP, this means that a slightly lucky shot will leave a character down for the count in one hit. This realistically reflects how deadly combat is in real life, but may not be conducive to a fun first game for new players.

"give a few friends... some introduction to it with a focus on the roleplaying aspect."

This is one place that I don't think GURPS does very well. GURPS is not a great system for new roleplayers. One of the problems with GURPS that makes it an unpopular system is that it's exactly as deep as you want to go. If you want specific hand-to-hand fighting rules that feel just like an actual martial arts fight works, then GURPS can do that. IF you want to just roll some dice and do some damage, GURPS can do that too. The problem is, since the books don't make it obvious what parts are important and what parts can be tossed, it's intimidating for newer players who are trying to get to that second level of system mastery, where they can learn and know rules without asking their GM.

If you don't expect you players to have to know any of the rules beyond a surface level, then GURPS is just fine for new players. If you want them to make that next step up, and start being able to make their own characters and generally know how the rules work, GURPS may be a little intimidating and difficult to use. The best and worst thing about GURPS is how complex it is. When it comes to teaching new players how to become intermediate players, GURPS's complexity works against it.

Everything Else

Your boot camp idea seems solid, and is an interesting way to introduce them to how the rules work. I've run military games in GURPS before, and the system works pretty well at that kind of thing. As long as you're okay with how deadly GURPS combat can be, and are willing to help you players a lot once they are interested in more than basic system mastery, GURPS is likely a good system for you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for explaining the areas in which GURPS is bad for this. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Feb 12 '15 at 0:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ You made a beautiful job of exactly addressing my concerns. I thank you \$\endgroup\$ – dot_Sp0T Feb 12 '15 at 8:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's a new book by Hans-Christian Vortisch you might like - GURPS Adventure Guns - that focuses on firearms from the era of interest to the OP, I think. High-Tech will obviously be a help. If you're interested in mechanical aids to social roleplaying, GURPS Social Engineering is reputed to be quite helpful. I'll echo the feeling that this particular setting plays to GURPS' strengths. One thing I strongly recommend for new players is to make heavy use of pre-gens, templates, and GM-built packages to aid in character creation. Don't provide option overload! \$\endgroup\$ – Douglas Cole Feb 15 '15 at 16:25

Yes, GURPS is definitely the game you want, of course if you give us more details we can help you more but GURPS has made it it's mission to be as Universal as possible and it has some very high quality books about specific genres which would help with a 19th century setting for example:

Given that the academy would be modelled on a Swiss one that is the fictional country of the PC's would be equivalent to fictional Switzerland which would be in the moutains of a fictional Europe.

I would recommend looking into Age of Napoleon the Napoleonic Wars are some of the greatest conflicts in the 19th century fought in Europe and the armies described there in could be used to get an idea on the Swiss army from the 19th century although they were not directly involved in the Napoleonic war.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As you wish :) Expanded the question based on the information in the comments above. \$\endgroup\$ – dot_Sp0T Feb 11 '15 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dot_Sp0T Thanks for adding the extra details but could you say where the campaign starts, using my already posted examples a British imperial military academy will be different from an American one. \$\endgroup\$ – George Bora Feb 11 '15 at 14:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ The campaign will play in an imaginary world based on earth's physics and closely aligned to earth's technical development. As for the academy itself I don't have a real world equiv. as I don't know too much about different real world military academies besides from the Swiss one, which probably isn't that helpful :/ \$\endgroup\$ – dot_Sp0T Feb 11 '15 at 14:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dot_Sp0T It might just be useful, GURPS has tons of sourcebooks if one deals with European armies it should be relevant. \$\endgroup\$ – George Bora Feb 11 '15 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dot_Sp0T added one more recommendation based on the 19th century and Swiss military academy tags. \$\endgroup\$ – George Bora Feb 11 '15 at 15:47

A strong point of GURPS as an introductory system is that it is both very concrete and very broad scoped. GURPS game mechanics tend to map fairly clearly onto real world concepts, and they cover just about everything. It's also very permissive about action so anyone can try just about anything and the traits of their character just tell you how likely they are to succeed rather than needing specific traits to unlock certain actions. Courses of action that make sense in real life also tend to make sense in GURPS.

All of this makes it easy to operate in a "fiction first" way. Your players can describe what they want to do without having to think in terms of the rules, and GURPS will generally provide you with the necessary mechanics to make it all work. So only you as the GM need a solid grasp of the system.

You might have to tell players "That's too much to do in a 1 second combat turn, at least without taking severe penalties. Maybe you could just do X for now and Y next turn?" or "You don't have the right skills so that's really unlikely to work, unless you can figure out a way to make it easier. Do you want to try anyway?" But you won't generally have to explain that the action they described is impossible (unless they declare that they fly away, without having the Flight advantage or something similar) or that there aren't rules for that so they can't do it, or go into an explanation of some arcane bit of abstraction that makes no sense in terms of reality (D&D's Attack of Opportunity for instance)

GURPS also has a very robust set of core mechanics that are very easily adapted to new situations. Even if you don't know the specific rules of a situation, it's generally fairly easy to wing it to keep the action moving, and then go to the books to look up the official rules if it feels like something that will recur and which would benefit from more detail. Again, this lets you take in whatever the players throw at you, and give them back reasonable results without them having to know the rules.

Another big advantage is that GURPS has a really good grappling system that builds on the core combat mechanics in a sane and intuitive way. So when your non-RPG familiar players inevitably say "I want to grab X." you won't have the game grind to a crawl as you dust off the dreaded grappling chapter.

Some supplements that might work well:

GURPS High-Tech is the equipment catalog for the industrial revolution through now, although the basic set's equipment catalog is probably good enough for starting out. GURPS Mysteries is a mostly systemless guide to running mystery games, which you may find useful for making the game less combat oriented. GURPS Social Engineering likewise helps to give the game non-combat focus. It mostly gives guidance on how to use the core social mechanics in interesting ways, while also adding a few new mechanics. Complementary Skills in particular are awesome for adding depth to non-combat tasks and solving them as a group. GURPS Action 2 is about running games that mimic "Action Movies" and has some good rules for portraying games in the military in a "cinematic" way while making traits like military rank useful without needing a strict command structure. It also has a very good chase system.

GURPS also has a reputation for being deadly. This isn't entirely accurate. It's vet easy to get incapacitated, but it's fairly hard to just 'die' outright in an instant. There's a steep downward spiral from injury, but you can go into negative HP without risking death, just unconsciousness (you have to make a health check each second to remain conscious). You don't risk death until you reach a full negative of your maximum HP, and even then you have to fail a health check. Then for each further negative multiple of max HP, you roll again until −5×HP at which point you finally die without a chance to roll.

So as long as someone patches you up after the fight, you probably wont die. (First Aid is an "everybody in the party should have it" skill for "adventurers") Rules for bleeding, infection, and crippling injuries can make things considerably more deadly and otherwise grim, and a trip down into negative HP is going to leave you down at the bottom of that death spiral for a long time as you recover even without those gritty optional rules.


Gday. Real old thread here, hope your game worked out. I've been running a 1700s European gurps campaign for many years now. It's a fantastic system for what I want though I do use 3rd ed rules. Started 1699 withthe 4 pcs as 100pt 15 year old Status 1 kids in Paris and they're currently 17 in Venice (with a Patron) on the verge of the war of Spanish Succession, 1701. They will be involved in the preliminary battles of that war (Carpi, Chiari, Cremona) as they move into manhood and cement their reputations in society. Gurps has covered all aspects of the game well through the low point spectrum. From 100 to 135/140 points where they are now it is excellent. Above 150 points, it can get trickier to balance as a gm. I limit that by ensuring players must spend some points on Status, Rank, Reputation, Patron and similar social structures as they age in addition to skill improvement. Politics and social standing are vital in their milieu as young gentlemen on the rise.

Combat in gurps is dangerous without magical healing and players often quake at the thought of it. 4d from a musket can be game over or a month of recovery so they actively seek to avoid them. 2d-1 from a pistol shot is survivable with armour and sword fights in my game are common to first wound - where the loser will collapse/cry/retire/run away or give up rather than fight and die. It is also considered murder and the pcs should learn to fear both lawyers and the authorities. However, war removes such restrictions and can enable the characters to legally acquire money, renown and serious reputations as men not-to-be-fucked-with to replace their current social disadvantage of Youth.

I'm currently writing the the next game where their Patron is about to purchase military commissions for the boys in the Austrian army (Lt cavalry) as part of their 'education' and her contiguous political agenda.


GURPS is perfect for any setting. The principle difference between GURPS and most other rules systems is that GURPS is not level-based where-as other systems usually are. It is therefore more difficult to determine how epic someone is when it's still just base 10ish hit points before anyone dies, whether you are a 25 point character or a 200 point character unless of course you sink points into Defensive, Damage Resistance and HP buffing Attributes, advantages and skills.

It's going to depend on you and your players whether it will succeed or not, because ultimately it's all about whether you enjoy it or not. I find GURPS to be a superior ruleset, but it quite obviously isn't the most popular. A fact which I find rather unfortunate for both Steve Jackson as well as me and other players that Could enjoy it if it were more widely spread.

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1: GURPS may be intended to be great for any setting, but there are many settings where it falls short. Saying that GURPS is perfect for any setting is giving the system too much credit. Also, I don't think it's really correct to say that non-GURPS systems are 'usually' level based. Most systems that I've seen other than D&D use some for of point buy system, rather than levels. In general, this post feels more like you're just saying that GURPS is really good, without saying why it would work for this game specifically. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Feb 12 '15 at 5:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DuckTapeAl I'd say GURPS is excellent for any setting, but not every play style. If you like the way GURPS plays, and would like a game to play that way despite the setting it will tend to deliver that. What it won't do without a lot of inventing, is play like a game that plays differently. And, some settings don't make a lot of sense if the setting depends on a type of cause & effect, although even the weird ones can often be supported by using surreal genre optional rules, such as Bulletproof Nudity or whatever surreal genre conventions the genre calls for, \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Sep 1 '16 at 17:06

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