Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Old School Beyond D&D: The Case for GURPS

Badelaire makes the case for GURPS as an Old School RPG, and I think it's spot on. Here's the part that really does it for me:

* GURPS encourages you to manage your rules as you see fit. You can either run GURPS using the Lite rules (and even play with those to make things even easier), or you can go full-throttle rules madness and buy every supplement you want and incorporate every variable/skill/advantage/power you feel like. The players can either be all over the variables and get as crunch-geeky as they want, or the GM can keep it all "under the hood" and just ask for rolls and do the tweaky bits themselves. This way the game can be played as rules-intense or as rules-casual as you like.

GURPS is one of those systems that just begs for houserules, and lots of 'em! Even if you're using an official setting, you'll want to tailor it to your play style and interests. Be sure to check out the comments for transforming GURPS for more "traditional" fantasy play.

I enjoy the system much more than I get to play it, and it's usually my go-to system for sci-fi play. And being an Austinite, I gotta support the local RPG pros. ;)

13 comments:

James Maliszewski said...

There are certainly plenty of old school games beyond D&D, but I'm not sure GURPS is one of them. It's got a point-buy system and a universal mechanic, both of which are generally considered to be anathema to the old school. A better case might be made for The Fantasy Trip, which is like GURPS's "great uncle," but even that's questionable.

trollsmyth said...

Interesting. So then you're saying that a narrow(er?) focus and random character generation are defining components of an old school game?

- Brian

James Maliszewski said...

By "universal mechanic," I meant a single, consistent resolution system for character action, which in GURPS' case is the 3D6 roll. Old school games completely lack such systems, instead relying on a combination of many sub-systems and ad hoc rulings by the referee. D&D prior to late 1e was unambiguously a game of this sort, as was Traveller.

This is one of the key features that distinguishes old school games and more modern ones. Random character creation is another one. Between these two and the role of the referee, you have a very good set of criteria for separating new games from older ones philosophically.

trollsmyth said...

Ah, I get you. Yeah, I can definitely see that.

Did the earlier versions of GURPS have the universal 3d6 mechanic? I never played the first two editions.

- Brian

James Maliszewski said...

The 3D6 mechanic has been around since The Fantasy Trip, so it's been a feature of GURPS and its antecedents since 1980. It's also why there's a general consensus that TFT isn't old school, but rather one of the earliest new school games (Runequest is earlier, of course).

Badelaire said...

Huh.

I'm in a classic Traveller game right now, and the only rolls I ever have to make are 2d6 + Skill Rank. Looks like a universal mechanic to me. BRP came about in 198..1? Uses a D% mechanic for almost all task resolution, or at least has for a long time (did it not back then?).

It's got a point-buy system and a universal mechanic, both of which are generally considered to be anathema to the old school.

Gawd, I love this. Old school games are characterized by getting characters you don't want to play and baroque rules designs that lack internal consistency. That's like talking about how "awesome" it is to go down to the creek and wash my dirty laundry by beating it on the rocks soaking wet, rather than just going to the laundromat next door.

This is one of the key features that distinguishes old school games and more modern ones.

I guess, if by "more modern" you mean games that are over twenty years old. But since we have threads like this one floating around, it's no surprise.

James Maliszewski said...

I'm in a classic Traveller game right now, and the only rolls I ever have to make are 2d6 + Skill Rank.

2D6 + skill level against what, though? CT has no standard target numbers or standard DMs. These are left entirely to the discretion of the referee. That's the crux of it. The combination of standardized mechanics, standardized target numbers, and standardized modifiers spells the end of old school.

Gawd, I love this.

OK then: what's old school? Would you mind defining it for me? Where are the lines? Because if there aren't lines, then the term is meaningless.

Badelaire said...

Quote:OK then: what's old school? Would you mind defining it for me? Where are the lines? Because if there aren't lines, then the term is meaningless.

Ka-Ching!

The point of my column was that some people have made the case that "Old School" is a state of mind, and that you can play "new" (i.e., 25+ years old) games in an "Old School" way by viewing them through a certain lens. Thus, a game like GURPS could be considered "Old School" because of the reasons I listed.

There was a comment buried somewhere in that K&KA thread/quagmire that I can't find, but it made a great point - "Old School" is like "Erotica". Everyone thinks they know what it is and says "Even if I can't define it I know it when I see it", but then you've got a different definition of what "Erotica" is being touted by each individual, resulting in endless endless debate over this ephemeral Utopian ideal that is Old School Gaming.

So...whatever. I'm not an Old School Gamer / Grognard and make no claim to be one. I started gaming in 1993 with the Big Black Box and moved to 2E shortly thereafter. I'll never get the obsession because I don't have a frame of mind that works that way, and I'm fine with that. I just need to avoid such references in my columns in the future to save myself continued grief.

Philotomy said...

Quote:..."Old School" is a state of mind, and...you can play "new" (i.e., 25+ years old) games in an "Old School" way by viewing them through a certain lens.

That's true, as far as it goes. Nevertheless, I think there's more to it than merely "old school" attitude or style. While I agree that you can play *any* system with in an "old school way," regardless of the mechanics and design philosophy, I think that mechanics and design philosophy also affect the way the game plays and feels. It's not just attitude, and it's not just system/rules, but a more nebulous and fuzzy farrago of these elements.

(Tangentially, I think "old school D&D" is a more concrete concept that "old school," in general.)

trollsmyth said...

I'd say you can talk about old school games and old school play and be talking about different things. An old school game will certainly encourage old school play, but doesn't guarantee anything. I can, after all, play the Dragonlance modules with the oD&D books, and while outbursts of old school might happen, if I stick to the path of the modules, it won't be old school. And you could play Keep on the Bordlerlands in the spirit it was written with 4e, though you'll likely end up struggling against the rules.

So I don't see any dissonance in speaking about old school games and old school gaming as two separate but mutually reinforcing things.

- Brian

trollsmyth said...

Er...

What Philotomy said, mostly. ;D

- Brian

Badelaire said...

Quote:It's not just attitude, and it's not just system/rules, but a more nebulous and fuzzy farrago of these elements.

Yeah...that's where the problem lies. All the arguments and drama boiling around something that not only hasn't been solidly identified, but probably never WILL be pinned down in any universally agreeable fashion.

Anyhoo, I'm moving on...

mikemonaco said...

1st edition GURPS did have random character generation rules,although we never used them. :P

We certainly played GURPS like an old-school game (describe exactly what your character does, slightly adversarial DM v players, frequent character death, no balance fetishization, etc.)

For me the old school/new school dividing line is much more about the role of the GM and concerns about "balanced" games (old school is not worried about balance and does not try to veto the GM with rules; new school tries to keep players balanced against each other in terms of powers/roles and tries to give players a way to veto GM fiat).

GURPS has the mechanics to be new school (point buys & universal mechanic) but nothing in the rules and source books really encourage that.

Or maybe old school/new school applies more to D&D (and its marketing) than other games.

GURPS (at least up to 3rd ed., haven't seen 4th ed GURPS!) is old school to me.