Minimalist GURPS

When I start to think about running a science fiction game, I tend to think fairly small. I want the Basic Set, and I’m likely to grab Ultra-Tech if only for a more robust equipment list to select from. If starships are likely to be more than plot points, I’ll likely bring in at least the first few Spaceships PDFs. If I’m not using an established setting, I’ll break out Space for the star system design tools. It’s not a huge list by any means, and honestly everything aside from the Basic Set is gravy.

BS1 Fantasy on the other hand brings out the detail fetishist in me in a big way, and I quickly escalate to at least a dozen books. Low-Tech leads to Instant Armor and Loadouts; Magic begets Thaumatology which leads inevitably to Magical Styles and/or Ritual Path Magic. I rarely even bother to include Fantasy in my list, but Powers, Martial Arts, Technical Grappling and Divine Favor are often added to the pot. And yet, again, everything outside of the Basic Set (except maybe Magic – the default magic system is a little light as presented without it) is gravy.

BS2Whenever I find myself thinking that the GURPS ecosystem is getting too large (look at Technical Grappling if you want to see an example of exponential complexity – so many what-if rules based on a dozen or a hundred prior supplements), it is nice to reflect on just how little of the system you really need – the Basic Set alone – to play the game effectively.

The Grand Duchy, Session 43

As luck would have it, our biweekly GURPS Fantasy game was scheduled for 1/1/15, and while not everyone could be there when we started play, by the time we really got rolling everyone had arrived.

Draven Rickart
Like this, but wounded, winded and covered in blood

It was a time of trials for Draven Rickart, my young cleric. The last session ended with him having overextended himself, having abused the divine gifts he was given, and entering a time of penance and reflection. That this happened half-way up a goblin-infested tower was… less than optimal.

I’m not sure Threshold Limited Magic (Thaumatology p.76) is a great model for Divine casters. It feels like a better system for a wizard or sorcerer who might abuse a nameless or faceless, naturally occurring power. The gods should be free to revoke powers when they’re misused, but I suspect more nuance is required there than simple numbers.

After some meditation, he decided that the best way to atone was to not only succeed in the Company’s mission to rescue Stephan, but to be brave, bold and decisive, and use his own inherent gifts instead of the divine powers.

So, when we found ourselves faced with a room that seemed protected by an invisibility spell, and a bellowing monster was bearing down on us, he did what any brave warrior of the faith would do – he tackled an invisible minotaur around the waist.

My first exposure to something akin to, if not entirely faithful to, Technical Grappling. I do like the system – more now than I did just upon reading it. The book can be daunting to a new GM, but honestly very little of it is needed to get started, with a lot of cross referencing and what-ifs tacked on for unusual situations you might never find yourself in.

Draven managed to hold onto the Minotaur for a good long while, and while others might mention that Marcel and his spear sweep lunge were more responsible for Draven managing to take the beast down, everyone in the room was invisible, so he’s pretty sure it was just him! Single-handedly taking a minotaur down, that was pretty impressive. It took help to get the creature out of the room into the stairwell where the magic wouldn’t reach, and everyone could see the beast. Once there, Draven took it upon himself to dispatch the creature, and set to beating the minotaur about the bony, horned head with his mace, with which he struck again and again until the foul monster stopped moving, leaving his head a mess of brain and shards of bone.

Draven picked up a bit of the Bloodlust (Basic Set, p.125) disadvantage when he lost his right hand in a much-earlier battle. I’m pretty sure as a player I’m allowed a resistance roll to keep from giving in to my disadvantages, but I’ve never written it down on the sheet and I’ve never once rolled against it – it’s just much more fun to give in to these things.

If there is a flaw to the quartet of Stat, Skill, Gift and Flaw, it is that the notion of forcing flaws onto a character is meant to counterbalance power given from the other three aspects. It presupposes that players will be averse to playing flawed characters and attempts to bribe them into it by mechanical means. If your players are sufficiently mature, they’ll be much more inclined to come to you with more hooks and drawbacks than you can ever make use of as a GM. Lord knows I’ve started playing Draven that way and I think my GM appreciates it, even if the other players might not.

And so we proceed, heading up the tower after the wizard that was interrogating our friend Stephan – one of our warriors with a stab wound to the midsection, me with a cracked rib or two from when the Minotaur put up a fight – not really ready but willing and able to proceed.