Tag Archives: GURPS

Design of Dubious Use Presents

Item Classifications

For some time now RPGs include various classifications for items and then link them to certain mechanical benefits or detriments in the rules. For example, the GURPS system not only had types of weapons and damage but also Tech Levels, describing the point in history where the game was taking place and what sort of items could be found there. Obstinately, this was to keep laser guns out of the medieval fantasy, but in my experience, it served only to confuse the players and cause trouble. You can see where Tech Levels get silly quickly with the addition of half levels and the +/- which modifies the meaning of a given TL in an attempt to make it more customized.

Another good example can be found in D&D. Here you find weapons classified as either Exotic or Common, slashing/bashing/piercing, and by their damage die. In purpose, these are all present to give players a strategy to work by. Certain types of weapons do better or worse against certain types of foes. In practice, this causes parties to be concerned not with the story and its elements but often with the contents. How many times have you sat down to start a game session and are hit by a barrage of questions? “Are we going to be engaging undead?” “What sort?” “Skeletons or zombies?”

From such, or because of such classification, RPGs have rules which limit what characters can do based solely on them. Proficiencies, Skills, and Talents are layered with caveats giving players access to one or two of the categories but not all. But do these classifications do anything for the roleplaying experience? Do these rules enhance the drama and the player experience or end up restricting Players and their imaginations?

Here are two situations of high drama which Characters can find themselves in.

Situation 1: Your character has been kidnapped and put in a locked room. You’ve been able to escape your bonds. There’s nothing in the room but a chair, the rope the character was tied up with, and a table. Your character hears the kidnappers coming down the hallway talking about how the ransom hasn’t been paid and they’re going to murder them.

Situation 2: Your character is in the middle of a large battle, both sides have people dying all around you. Your weapon is broken and you’re suddenly faced with an opposing champion. Your only choice is to grab a spear-like instrument currently impaling a fallen comrade.

Both of these situations can apply to a whole party, not an individual. Both have the same problem when having rules reinforcing classification systems. Can the Character take up that spear or grab that chair and make good with their life? In both situations they should be able to because it makes sense dramatically. The system should be focusing on the drama of the situation and not the objects lying about the characters. These are not the plot macguffins you put in there. This is a Character in life and death. The drama of these situations does not lie in the materials but in how they are used.

When creating a system of classification for item you create a certain intent. If that intent is to limit or restrict then you have limited and restricted how your players imagine and react to the situations presented. Does that make for good roleplaying or not?

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A question of value

To supply my Warhammer group with the materials needed to play the next version, over $150 is going to have to be spent. I have five people at minimum, but most of the time I have seven. According to FFG’s official reckoning I’m going to  need the core box set, the adventure’s set, and at least one extra set of dice. While they have said that you can play with as many people as you like with the core box set, this appears to be incredibly awkward to do, so I consider it necessary to get the expansion. This is a tremendous amount of money just to get basic functionality. Because of this, I have been thinking of the value of the new system when compared to the old and other RPGs.

First, the previous version of WFRP was $40 plus tax. It gave all of the careers, all of the races, a starting adventure to play through and a thin GM section. With it I could create everything needed for a campaign, no extras needed. All anyone coming to play need is some dice. This has been the traditional setup for RPGs and it delivers quite a bit of value for the money.

D&D 4th edition is the next natural choice to compare. The core set of books can run you as much as $105 + tax without any discounts. However, looking on Amazon, I can get each one for $23 for a total of about $70 before taxes. And I can check it out ahead of time by going to WotC’s website and getting a free pdf which introduces much of the core concepts and a free adventure to try it out with. In practical terms, a group of five to seven can easily play with just the initial outlay although an additional PHB may be needed. Overall, not bad bang for one’s buck if one is able to get the discounted versions online or even secondhand.

Pathfinder offers a nearly all-in-one tome for $50 that has everything but a monster manual. Much like WotC’s D&D not much more is needed to keep a group of players going after the initial purchase. Currently there’s no free taste but considering it’s built off of the freely available 3.5 SRD one doesn’t really need an official version to try out. Despite this, the amount of flavor put in there by Paizo makes the price well worth it.

GURPS has a two book set, Characters & Campaigns, comprising its core system. Both are listed at Amazon for a total of about $50 before taxes. Together the two have a page count of nearly 600 pages of yummy RPG goodness. Designed for the DIY crowd, the Campaign book goes to great lengths to help the GM get going. Players with a lot of imagination (and more than a little time on their hands) have a dizzying array of options to go with. There is absolutely nothing more needed to play. This is another system that offers a free pdf to give a taste before buying.

In looking at how much is packed into these two books, it is hard not to say that GURPS may represent the most bang for one’s buck. The only drawback is the the amount of time needed for world-building.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. The HERO 6th edition core set is $70 if both books are purchased together. Rifts is currently going for $30. This doesn’t even touch free systems such as FUDGE or FATE. Nor does it address the hundreds of small/independent RPGs, many of which are $30 or less.

So I am skeptical, very skeptical, that the next version of WFRP is going to have a comparable value for my money.