So, I have a group of players who have played a variety of other systems - D&D 3.5, D&D 4th, Shadowrun, White Wolf, etc. Some have played GURPS in the past and had some less than ideal experiences (some of which were, regrettably, my fault).

What I would like to do is to try and run a quick one-off for GURPS to try and make it more approachable, focusing more on the skill-based aspects of the game and the social encounters of the system. I love the system, and others in the group have mentioned a desire to try it out.

My question is really centered around trying to make it a good experience, while helping to ease them into the crunchiness of the rule set. I have seen cards that define all of the options available in combat - I have thought about having these available to the players to help show them what they can do. I have also thought about having pre-generated characters to help reduce the overwhelming nature of generating characters. Are there any other suggestions or ideas to help make the transition easier? Any good blog posts or sites that talk about this issue?


9 Answers 9


I think that the scariest thing about GURPS is the options in character creation. It can be very intimidating.

  1. Pregenerate characters. I would de-emphasize points and don't even list the points on the character sheets, if you don't want. Showcase the system: Ask people to give you a simple description (simple single sentence) of what they want to be. In GURPS, you can be anything!
  2. Limit options. Give people ~5 skills at a high level (13+). Give them one cool advantage and one interesting (but small) disadvantage. You want people to succeed at the things they can do. Scale back in-combat actions (see list at bottom). Start out with only the Move action and the Attack action.
  3. Ease them in. Stress that it is a learning session, and start out with "just roll under your skill." Eventually add in Move+Attack, All-out Attack, and All-out Defense. Until they have these things, don't let NPCs use them either.

Combat Actions we use:

  • Move
  • Attack
  • Move and Attack (-4 to skill, cap at 9)
  • All-Out Attack (+4 to skill or +2 to damage)
  • All-Out Defense (+2 to def)

We also eventually added Extra Effort (in combat) and Hit locations.

Great to see another GURPS player here!

Update to add our group's extra effort options :) :

Optional Rule: Extra Effort in Combat

At any time, you can spend 1 FP for one of these actions.

  1. Extra effort to hit: You can increase your attack skill (+4 if melee, +2 if ranged).
  2. Extra effort to damage: You can increase your attack damage (+2 if melee, +1 if ranged).
  3. Extra effort to (defense): If attacked, you can declare an extra effort defense and get +2 to an active defense roll. We have this affect only one dodge/parry/block.


  • These directly mimic the "All-out _" bonuses.
  • We let these stack with all-out defense or all-out attack bonuses, though I think the book doesn't. I think it's still reasonably balanced since you can't use multiple extra efforts on a single attack.

Also, extra effort doesn't with itself. This means that you can use extra effort:

  • Only once on an attack per turn, and
  • Only once on defense per round (no stacking with itself).
  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ Alternatively to scaling back combat actions, just don't tell them any of them. Instead, have them say what they want to do next in a fight, and then say "Well, that's an All-out Defense then. Great! Here's what that does for you, but don't worry about the details right now." It's easy to map the described intentions of players to a set of combat actions like those in GURPS. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 22, 2011 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aperkins I find that approach to combat actions works really well with new roleplayers. Since new roleplayers are used to telling stories but not picking actions off a list, the result I've observed is they tend to be very creative in combat. Experienced roleplayers tend to be slightly less creative as they often pick actions off an imaginary list in their heads anyway, but it still makes a new system easier to start learning. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 22, 2011 at 18:59
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie - I run most of my games with veteran roleplayers - and nobody ever tells me what game action they want to take. They describe their characters' actions as you say, and I handle the map-to-system transparently. It works well if you trust your GM. And I get to switch systems more easily because the players have less to learn. \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Commented Apr 22, 2011 at 20:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gomad That's the playstyle tradition I much prefer! But there are … other games, that don't have easy fiction-to-rules mappings that discourage that way of thinking in players weaned on them. So it depends on the players' prior experiences. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 22, 2011 at 21:22

If your group is up for it, why not try one of the simplified "lenses" for GURPS, like "Dungeon Fantasy" and "Action!" that strip some of the complexities of GURPS away and make GURPS more genre-focused?

As far as I know, they're all about making GURPS work for a given genre, but don't change the rules any.

EDIT: A comment below reveals that the question poster is trying to avoid spending more money. This edit addresses that aspect.

If you're trying to do this on the cheap, I should mention that the "lenses" above are PDFs, not books, and relatively inexpensive.

Furthermore, you might start with the free GURPS Lite - which in itself is the core of the system without some of the complexity you're worried about, and is in fact designed to bring new players into the system. Plus, you know...free.


Probably the single biggest hint for new GURPS games is Don't Use Too Many Sourcebooks!

GURPS can do anything, and in any combination. This is awesome once the group is settled in, but it can be overwhelming for new players if people are pulling out Psionics, Magic, Steampunk, and Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, and SIU all at once. (As a D&D Comparison, it would be like dropping the complete 3.5 splatbook collection on a new player: they don't have enough experience to know what parts they care about and which they don't care about yet).

Starting small is definitely preferred. You can always add more later.

The GURPS Dungeon Fantasy series is a decent jumping off point for players who are more familiar with "standard" D&D, for instance. It uses the templating system to make D&D style classes and it themed to be a simpler "dungeon crawl" style game.


IMO GURPS is a framework for creating an RPG. If you use all the rules it provides, you'll overwhelm and frustrate your players. Choose a subset of rules that best represent the game you're trying to run. Definitely create a cheat sheet with options they may have trouble remembering.

I would avoid trying to recreate a setting they're already familiar with. GURPS strength is that it isn't limited to a single scope the way other games are. Show off that scope. If you're playing medieval fantasy, someone at your table will compare the whole thing to D&D. Play something less easily compared so the players give GURPS a fair chance.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with "all the rules it provides" - definitely can overwhelm. And I was planning on picking something that we had not done much of - rather than trying to wedge their fantasy expectations into the system :) Thanks for the advice - right along the lines of what I was planning on doing. \$\endgroup\$
    – aperkins
    Commented Apr 22, 2011 at 17:25

I played my first game of GURPS with my current group. I was surprised - though GURPS has a reputation for complexity, that rep was largely built back in the day when other games were less complex. D&D 3.5 and 4e are more complicated than GURPS 3e/4e for my money. Heck, the combat system in and of itself isn't much more complicated that Savage Worlds'. And I played my first Champions game with this group, and that was way more complicated.

The most complicated part for an introduction is the character generation. Definitely do pregens. Make custom sheets where you put the skill and advantage etc. descriptions on the sheet itself, that's an old trick I use for con game pregens and stuff. They shouldn't have to crack the Characters book at all.

If you pregen characters, then what's left is not a dizzying array of options if you're talking about D&D 3e/4e/White Wolf players - sure, it is for RPG noobs or indie gamers, but the games you mention have a number of combat actions that easily rival GURPS.

Don't set the players to reading all the options, just run a combat, and as it occurs to them to do something extra squirrely, like close combat, bring up the relevant rules then. If they are slow to onboard new things, have a NPC or bad guy do it to them and then they get to learn it that way. Maybe one new maneuver per session. Naturally none of the optionals from sidebars or "Special" rules.

And make sure and knock someone down, because saying "I rise to kneeling!" has given my group much joy over the years.


I am currently working this transition myself. I have found that the hardest thing is to break the Players (GM included) from the strict class/race paradigm. We are all so used to having all this work done for us that we miss the wonderful opportunities that GURPS allows.

To help with the transition. I have been giving minimal templates for each of the traditional races that I have used in my past campaigns. As questions arise as to why I decided to give gnomes the feature of being green, I explain the rational in game terms and explain the mechanics. If the player then says "I want my gnome to be brown", I give my blessing and the character sheet is annotated as such. It is in this manner that I introduce the flexibility of the system. I deliberately provoke questions and then draft the answer with the game mechanics and let the player learn the wonder of GURPS.

Bottom line: I template enough to be familiar, but not quite enough to do all the work for the player and not enough to leech all the potential creative power from the player.

With newer players it can be even easier. As suggested in other answers, simply have the player describe what is wanted. My 8 y/o son wanted a sneaky hunter that uses a long sword and is good with the bow. For a low-level(100pt) character this was a snap to draft up off of that description. A few questions regarding the character's strength and character and we had the first character for the campaign drafted in about 30 minutes. My veteran players are still in a muddle of what they want. Yeesh! I should get my son's character posted on the wiki and provide a link. I will edit if this comes to be in short order.

EDIT: The aforementioned character can be found at this link.


All of the above is good advice. I'd just like to add one thing that confuses and annoys people used to d20 rather than 3d6 systems. The odds can be very different in the interesting range of numbers.

For example, if you have skill 12, using a combat option that gives you a -6 penalty for significant advantage can look like a reasonable bet to a d20 player. After all, it's still a 30% chance, right? No, it's 9.3%. The need to roll against a 6 or less to succeed for something that matters in GURPS indicates that you're in very serious trouble: if you did it deliberately, you're probably making a mistake.

In the same way, d20 players under-estimate the value of a skill of 13 or 14 over a skill of 12. "They're only 5% improvements, aren't they?" Think of 12 as a 26% chance of failing, 13 as a 16% chance, and 14 as a 9% chance.

The bell-curve of 3d6 rewards a more careful play style than d20. You can be extremely powerful and awesome in GURPS, but you need a lot of character points to do it reliably.


[ this is an expansion on "Use pre-generated characters" as given by other answers]

Either offer to build their characters for them or sit down with a GURPS character editing program with them. I have had good luck with GCS (GURPS Character Sheet) (Java, multi-platform, may require some assembly before use) or GURPS Character Assistant (GCA), the more official GURPS character sheet application (comes pre-assembled, for Windows only).

This makes it much easier to keep track of things as you modify the character, both in the initial creation stage and as the campaign continues.


If the players are used to the D&D 4e combat cards, I would definitely use the GURPS combat cards at e23. You can customize them to include character skills and advantages.


Having said that, my GURPS campaigns tend to be less focused on combat, so I've shied away from the cards.

In a modern setting especially, combat can be very lethal, so I'd give the players warning.

In my opinion, one thing that GURPS does not do well is reward playing disadvantages. I'd remind players of their disadvantages, especially if they haven't played games where disads play prominently. Encourage them to role-play them. You could do some type of informal reward system if you want. Of course, if a player isn't enjoying the disads, then consider retrofitting the character to lose the disadvantage.


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