Combat rules compared across roleplaying games! [Part 2: GURPS]

GURPS combat rules (lite)

In this article we will continue our journey from the last “Combat rules” installment where we had a look at D&D 5th Edition. Here, we will dive into the extreme opposite end of the spectrum and have a look at the Generic Universal Roleplaying System aka GURPS.

The GURPS fourth edition "Characters" rulebook showing a selection of characters on the cover.

GURPS has been around for many years and is a rare breed. Designed by Steve Jackson, the system puts emphasis on being truly universal. You can play Scifi adventures, Fantasy, Modern Day, Military, Zombie Apocalypse.. you name it. Not only can you play a wide range of genres, the rules also allow you to build any character you want. Just let that one sink in for a second. You can literally play ANYTHING you can imagine.. want to play an Elven Ranger with three arms? No problem. Maybe a Xenomorph Alien Paladin? Yep, doable… you can even play a sentient floating teapot if you are into that.

This flexibility is due to the point-buy system GURPS uses. Everything your character can or can’t do is purchased with points. At the beginning of character creation the Dungeon Master (actually called Game Master in pretty much any game except D&D.. but potatoes — tomatoes) assigns you a point total (say 150 points) and you can then go haywire and build whichever character you desire.

Next to things such as extra limbs and psychic powers which cost points, you can also take disadvantages like having a bad temper or missing an eye to gain points.

In terms of game mechanics, everything in GURPS is quite detailed and intended to be realistic. GURPS can handle cinematic to some degree but it’s not it’s strength (in my view).

So if you are into a truly universal and highly realistic ruleset (and you are not turned off by some math) then GURPS may be worth a closer look.

Conversion approach

We will use this resource to translate our D&D stats to a rough GURPS equivalent. Please note that going as closely as possible to the D&D isn’t really the main point here – I will try to do my best but it may not be 100% perfect. We are trying to showcase the difference in combat rules across different systems after all, so let’s see how GURPS does it.

The basics of GURPS combat:

(safe to skip if you already know GURPS)

It’s fair to say that GURPS takes a very different approach to combat than D&D does. While in D&D combat options are added gradually and the learning curve is therefore not very steep, in GURPS you have almost all the options right away.. and there are a TON of options.

In a real fight there is a lot of back and forth movement, faints, ruses and defensive moves going on. While D&D takes a more cinematic approach to how a fight plays out (one combat round is equivalent to 6 seconds of fighting action), GURPS turns represent each and every of these actions and moves a fighter might take (one GURPS round is 1 second). This means there is a lot more control over how exactly your fighter acts.

In addition, other than D&D, GURPS also has defense rolls. The defender can try to parry, block (if they have a shield) or dodge (move out of the way) an attack before it hits.

Once the attack hit you roll damage. If the defender has armor, you subtract a certain amount from that damage depending on the type of armor. Finally, you figure out how much injury your attack causes. How damage translates to injury depends on the type of attack. A club makes crushing damage, and that translates damage to injury directly (1 crushing damage = 1 injury). A spear or an arrow cause impaling damage, they penetrate much deeper and therefore are more deadly – 1 impaling damage = 2 injury. And, finally, our sword makes cutting damage – 1 cutting damage = 1.5 injury (rounded down).

In terms of dice GURPS uses 3 six sided dice added together instead of 1d20. The reason for this is that 3d6 gives you a non-linear probability distibution.. the lowest and highest results are MUCH less likely than a 1 or a 20 on a d20 roll. More importantly though, attack and defense rolls succeed if they are at or under the respective skill (not above as in D&D).

It will hopefully become a lot clearer once we run through a little example combat.

Our contestant

So here is our “1st level human fighter” as a GURPS character:

GURPS character built on 100 points

Let’s look through that complicated block here for a second.

We have the attributes up top. Strength (ST), Dexterity (DX) are similar to their D&D counterparts. IQ represents Intelligence and Wisdom in one and then, last, there is Health (HT) which is similar to Constitution in D&D. GURPS, other than D&D, has a point-based character creation system – so instead of levels you assign a number of points to your players and then they buy pretty much everything (skills, feats, attributes, hitpoints..) with those. Whenever you see brackets up there, the number indicates how many points were spent on it.

To make it short and snappy, for your fighter we spent some points in Strength (ST) which will give him decent damage and hitpoints (in GURPS, ST also represents the muscle mass of a character and therefore HP). In addition, we have a few feats which are called “Advantages” in GURPS. Combat Reflexes gives us some defense bonus, High Pain Threshold makes sure we don’t fall unconscious or suffer from shock after a wound (+3 to knockdown and stun) once we get hit. Weapon Bond gives us a +1 to attack with Gurpster McGurpington’s sword. So in terms of skills we have a few points in Broadsword (the equivalent of Longsword in D&D) and a Shield. A skill level of 12 is what is considered “professional level” so our fighter is competent but not absolute elite.. similar to our 1st level fighter from the D&D blog post.

Alright, time to fight. Just a last note in case you are already familiar with GURPS: we will be using GURPS combat lite from the Characters handbook. GURPS has almost limitless level of detail that would easily become overwhelming otherwise.

Time to fight (GURPS Combat Lite)!

We have Gurpster McGurpington face off against his carbon copy, Carbonius. Typically we would roll for initiative but will determine that Gurpster starts:

Round 1:

Gurpster: 13HP Carbonius: 13HP

Gurpster hurls an insult at Carbonius and swings his blade. He rolls an 8 vs his broadswoard skill of 12. 8 is lower than 12 so: the attack hits (remember: with GURPS you roll below or equal to your skills to succeed).

Now Carbonius has to decide how to defend against the attack. He can block it with his shield (skill 11), parry it with his sword (skill 13) or, move out of the way (dodge 12). His best defense is his parry to he tries to do that to defend himself. He rolls a 13 vs his parry of 13. Phew, that was close, blow parried!

Time for some revenge! Carbonius raises his blade and strikes at Gurpster: he rolls a 12 vs. a broadsword skill of 12. That barely hits – it seems Carbonius is quite lucky.

Gupster tries to defend and, similar to Carbonius, his parry is his best defense – so he is going to use that one. 7 vs. parry of 13. The blow was parried!

Some blows were exchanged but so far nobody got hurt.

Round 2:

Gurpster again attacks, 10 vs. Broadsword skill 12. Another hit! And Carbonius parries again with a 7 vs. parry 13. The fighters seem quite well matched.

Carbonius swings his blade and hits as well (rolled a 9 vs. 12). Gurpster tries to defend but seems to have misread Carbonius‘ move – he rolls a 16 which is way over his parry of 13!

Now Carbonius rolls for damage (2d6 cutting): 8 points of cutting damage! This will hurt. Remember that cutting damage translates to injury with a factor of 1.5 so 8 x 1.5 = 12 points of injury!

Gurpster: 1HP Carbonius: 13HP

Now two things happen:

One: Gurpster lost more than half his HP in a single strike. In GURPS this is called a major wound and means that there is a chance the strike might have shocked or knocked down the poor fella.

Gurpster needs to make a roll against his HT (this is like a saving throw in D&D). If he succeeds he remains on his feet – if he fails he is stunned.. and if he fails by 5 or more he falls unconscious from the shock. Luckily his High Pain Threshold advantage helps here and gives him a +3 to his HT. His roll is a 4 against his effective HT of 10+3 = 13. He succeeds and remains in the fight.

Two: Gurpster is below 1/3 of his total HP. This means he is heavily wounded and has a difficulty moving due to his injuries. His movement and dodge are halved.

Round 3:

At this point our good Gurpster is probably panicking – he is barely hanging on. He knows he needs to land a strike to stay in the fight. He swings and rolls a hit (11). Carbonius confidently tries to parry the blow (7), successful parry.

Now Carbonius strikes again but barely misses (13 vs. Broadsword skill 12).

Round 4:

Gurpster strikes again but also misses this time (14). Carbonius retaliates and rolls a 3 as he strikes. A 3 is a critical hit! Critical hits always hit and cannot be defended against. In addition, and to make things worse for poor Gurpster, a critical hit of 3 always also causes maxium damage!

This means with his mightly blow Carbonius causes 12 points of damage or a whooping 12 x 1.5 = 18 points of injury.

Gurpster: -17HP Carbonius: 13HP

This triggers quite a number of consequences.

First it is again a major wound so Gurpster must make a HT(+3 from High Pain Threshold) roll. He rolls a 13 and passes that check (13 vs. HT 10 + 3 = 13).

Second, he dropped below 0 HP – this means he needs to make another HT roll to stay conscious (and has to repeat this every turn he is at 0 or below HP). He rolls an 8 –¬†he stays on his feet.

Third, he is lower than his hit points in the negative (more than -13 because he has 13 HP), and that means he might die. Gurpster must make a HT to avoid death. Here, unfortunately, his High Pain Threshold won’t count because he is not rolling against stunning or knockdown.

*drumroll* He rolls the dice…

12. drat. too high.

Gurpster is cut gruesomely by Carbonius‘ blade and sinks to his knees, his last breath on his lips.

Carbonius won the fight.

A few thoughts

As you can see GURPS combat works a bit differently from D&D. It’s more gritty and allows for more realism when it comes to damage that such weapons as a sword would actually inflict once you are hit with them.

It’s also worth saying that, in this example, we used the simplest possible version of GURPS Combat Lite.

The non-lite version adds combat moves that combatants can use such as:

  • All-out attack (determined): The attacker gets a +4 to hit in exchange for not being able to defend this turn
  • All-out attack (double): The attacker attacks twice in exchange for not being able to defend this turn
  • All-out attack (strong): The attacker adds +2 to his damage roll if he hits in exchange for not being able to defend this turn
  • All-out defense(double defense): You can use two different defenses (like, say, parry and block) against a single attack in exchange for not being able to attack this turn.
  • All-out defense(increased defense): You get +2 to one of your defenses in exchange for not being able to attack this turn.
  • Feint: makes the opponent easier to hit next round
  • Targeting specific hit locations (arms, head, neck etc.)
  • Retreating (taking a step back if there is space – gives you a defense bonus)
  • Rapid strikes (multiple attacks without giving up your defense)
  • Grappling, Slamming, Takedowns, and many more.

GURPS can be, at times, quite overwhelming if you use ALL the possible rules – especially when considering additional ones such as added by GURPS: Martial Arts, GURPS: Low Tech and, since GURPS isn’t just a fantasy game but a ruleset where you can also play SciFi or modern games – GURPS: High Tech, Tactical Shooting, Bio-Tech, Ultra-Tech and so forth.

So if you are considering giving GURPS a try, start with the free GURPS Lite and slowly add what you like, skip what you don’t.

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