It's back . . . and the fear has grown!
GURPS Horror, Fourth Edition, is the latest incarnation of one of the most popular GURPS supplements ever . . . and now it's been given a new lease on unnatural life by horror master Kenneth Hite. Its time-tested advice on running scary campaigns has been expanded to include current trends and tropes, showing you how to run everything from old-fashioned Gothic and supernatural horror to the latest J-horror, survival horror, and torture horror. The famous bibliography of unspeakable tomes and frightening films has grown to match. And the monsters return with unpleasant friends, as monsters inevitably do – all with GURPS Fourth Edition racial templates that let you use them as foes, as sinister Allies and cursed Alternate Forms, and even as PCs! Add the new and disturbing powers, the expanded rules for madness and corruption, and countless other updates, and you have everything you need to drag your horror campaign screaming into the 21st century.
A Generic RPG That's Great for Horror [ edit ]
GURPS, a generic RPG from Steve Jackson Games, first released way back in 1986, has always been designed to support a variety of concepts and settings. But despite that universal emphasis, the system has supported the horror genre explicitly almost since it was first released, with the first edition of GURPS Horror coming only a year later, in 1987.
With or without its horror supplement GURPS is the perfect RPG to use if you want to adapt an established horror movie or book, or if you want to create a more unique setting for your horror campaign. The games rules start by providing a very detailed set of rules for modeling ordinary human characters, and then layers on optional additional rules for things like magic and monsters.
This allows players to create "ordinary" characters who are still very unique and different from one another (just like the characters in a good horror story). At the same time the realism of the rules means that those characters can die very easily, and their flexibility allows the GM to throw whatever horrors they can dream up at the party.
GURPS, 4th Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse
Character Creation [ edit ]
Character creation in GURPS is detailed, but slow. There are no levels or classes, just points, which can be used to buy attributes, advantages, disadvantages, or skills. Different campaigns start with different amounts of points, so that (for instance) a superhero can start out as a more powerful character.
GURPS has four attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence and Health. Strenght and Healthy just define the character physically, while Intelligence and Dexterity are combined with skills to make skill checks.
Skills are how characters accomplish things in GURPS; for instance to shoot someone you would use the "Guns" skill. Skills are based on attributes, so for instance you might buy the Guns skill at a "Dex + 1" level. If you later improved your Dexterity, you'd similar improve your ability to shoot ... or do anything else physical.
Advantages cover any non-skill benefit a character might have, such as a high pain threshold, wizard training, or the ability to move objects with their mind. Advantages can also be further be customized with enhancements or limitations, allowing you to gain more or less powerful versions, that cost more or less points as a result. This can allow for a nearly any power you can imagine to be described as a GURPS advantage.
Similarly players can also take disadvantages for their character, such as Code of Honor or Blind, to gain extra points. All together this system allows for incredibly individualized character, including almost any you'd want to re-create from fiction or real-life (in fact, there are multiple GURPS books with stats for historical NPCs such as Ghengis Khan) ... but it can be a bit overwhelming to newcomers.
Core Mechanics [ edit ]
To succeed at an action in GURPS, players roll 3d6 and attempt to rull under a target number, which varies depending on the action. Most of the time the actio will be a "skill check", meaning the player will have to rul equal to or less than the character's relevant skill.
Critical Successes and Failures
If you fail a roll by more than 10 you critically fail the roll, and the GM decides what terrible fate results. Similarly if you beat the roll by more than 10 you instead get a critical success, dealing extra damage or otherwise succeeding with flair.
A Note About 3d6 (vs. d20 or Other Dice)
3d6 results in a far more predictable distribution of rolls than a single die roll (typical in other systems). Think about when you roll stats for a Dungeons and Dragons character: you usually get a lot of more 10's and 11s than 3's and 18's. In contrast, every d20 roll has an equal (5%) chance of rolling a 1 or 20 as it does a 10 or 11.
This allows GURPS to have critical successes and failures, but have them be rarer and more dramatic, while leaving most rolls with fairly predictable/average outcomes.
Combat [ edit ]
GURPS uses a hexagonal grid for combat. Hexes offers a benefit vs. square grids, when it comes to diagonal movemen: in square grid games (eg. D&D) characters moving diagonally move more quickly ... but since hexes don't have corners, they don't have this problem.
Unlike most games, GURPS does not have a random element to initiative. Instead, characters always move in order based on their basic speed (a stat derived from their Dexterity and Health scores).
If one group surprises the other they can potentially get several seconds of actions before their opponent can react ... and since a single round of combat in GURPS lasts a second, that can be significant.
On their (one second) turn a a character can take a single maneuver, plus any number of free actions (eg. talk or drop an item). A maneuver could be to move, attack, or move and attack (at a penalty), as well as other options such as aiming or feinting. A character who moves can move a number of yards equal to their basic move (ie. basic speed with fractions rounded off).
To attack a character makes a skill check with the appropriate weapon skill, applying a variety of modifiers for things like the target's size, range, and speed, or the weapon's accuracy bonus (if they took the time to aim), the lighting conditions, any cover the target has, etc.
If the check succeeds the target can then opt to make an "active defense". There are three options: Dodge, Block (eg. with a shield) and Parry (with a weapon), and ranged attacks can only be dodged. Active defenses are also a skill check, for Block and Parry; to Dodge you simply roll your Basic Move + 3.
If the active defense roll succeeds, the attack misses.
If an attack roll succeeds the attacker gets to make a damage roll, which will vary based on the weapon they use and other factors (eg. ranged weapons do half their damage when far enough away from a target). If the defender is wearing any armor they can subtract it's "DR" (damage resistance) from the damage, and the rest goes through.
Depending on the type of damage dealt, it might be multiplied now (eg. cutting weapons deal 1.5x ).
The Most Flexible Option For Horror [ edit ]
GURPS Horror offers a tons of genre material, extra rules for powers and corruption, and more, but it's not GURPS' only horror book. There's also a separate book dedicated to zombies, a book of alternate (and horrific) worlds, a book about the atomic horror stories of the 1950's, a horror adventure that can be set on a plane or in space, and more. Plus, GURPS has supplements for all sorts of other settings that could cross-over with horror, so if you want to create a space horror or cyberpunk horror campaign, GURPS has you covered.
Obviously the system wouldn't have lasted for so long if it wasn't popular, but that's not the only sign that GURPS is a great RPG. The game won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Rules in 1988, and was even inducted into the Origins Hall of Fame in 2000. Furthermore it has over 200 reviews on RPG Geek, with an average score of 7.26/10, placing it among the top 100 of all games.
However, GURPS won't be perfect for every fan, largely because it's strength (it's flexible rules) can also be a weakness to some. The system is very "crunchy", and fans looking for less detail in their rules and more of a focus on story-telling may want to pass on GURPS. For everyone else though the game offers a powerful and flexible system that allows for almost any horror campaign a GM can imagine.