Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Review: Pyramid 3/44 Alternate GURPS II

It’s been just over a year since I reviewed the original Pyramid issue on this theme. Many game sessions and much GURPSness have flowed under the bridge in that time. I’ve discovered that I can fill a table for role playing sessions even at a small local con. I’ve run more role playing games for my kids. And the last story arc in my Prime Directive play-by-post game included no combat, and thus became even more rules-light than it normally is. Given all that, you’d think I’d be uninterested in more rules for GURPS when its Basic Set has far more material than I’m liable to ever need. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the previous one so much that I just had to get this issue. Will it merely open my eyes to the true meaning of GURPS, or will it actually impact what happens at the table? Let’s look inside to find out….

Douglas H. Cole’s The Last Gasp — Fatigue really hasn’t come up in the games that I have run. Most people “get” what hit points are and try to manage them with care. (I do like how people have to make health rolls in order to keep going as those hit points start going negative. It makes it possible to have big dudes with glass jaws and little dudes that can keep on going and going and going….) The author states that “Fatigue Points are a valuable aid to narrative.” He then systematically tweaks the rules to crank that principle up to eleven:

  • With gradual impairment to fatigue, serious penalties begin stacking up as Fatigue points get spent. This will server to make players extremely conscious of how these get spent!
  • On the other hand, recalculating encumbrance levels and weapon damages as fatigue oscillates sounds like a nightmare. (This violates one of the core principles of Steve Jackson’s original design.)
  • The new rules for requiring will rolls after each voluntary fatigue loss sound both dramatic and fun… and tying this in with relative skill levels and fright checks is just plain cool.
  • Chance of injury due to fatigue loss is now more granular with the chance of injury going up depending on how tired you are.
  • Recovery rates are no longer flat, but depend your starting fatigue and how much you’ve spent.
  • Action Points provide a new fatigue-like rating that limits the number of move and/or attack actions you can make during a combat– you’re forced to pause and catch your breath occasionally. The rules again provide perks for people with high relative-skill. (Very nice!)

These rules are really, really neat. It’s kind of mind blowing that a game that has been developed for as long as GURPS has can be improved like this. Wow! Groups that can handle the extra bookkeeping will be richly repaid. (The one adventure that I designed myself for convention play would have benefited greatly from these rules. I didn’t want to kill the player characters within the allotted time, but some sort of penalty for wasting time and energy could have greatly increased the dramatic tension of the session. The long-term fatigue rules here are exactly the sort of thing I was struggling to improvise for myself.)

Sean Punch’s From Skills to Advantages — This is a neat little article that demonstrates how to apply the Unusual Training perk to create new advantages out of existing skills. You get access to an entire world of cinematic and supernatural abilities this way… but they are limited somehow. I’m not sure this stuff is really cost effective, but if you are shopping around for things that could function as alternative abilities for stuff you’ve already bought, the cost is kind of irrelevant. At any rate, the example abilities presented here may be just the thing for your character concept… and the how-to aspect of this article is sufficiently strong that you should be able to come up with your own even if your GURPS-fu is weak.

Roger Burton West’s Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously — Languages! If anything gets hand waved in my game it’s this– whether by universal translators in space games, or else by ignoring those wacky alignment tongues in old school games. My reaction to this is similar to the chart in Prime Directive for how alien races affect defaults for medical skills. It looks like a ludicrous amount of detail at first, but… being able to quickly look something like that up saves a game master from having to make an arbitrary off-the-cuff ruling. This article provides a set of notes on how to model common language-related situations… and has a chart that lists languages with the family, script, and default for comprehension. The only thing I don’t like about this is that you technically have to alter a character’s starting points to use this. (And thirty-three is such an odd number, too!)

David Pulver’s Tactical Mass Combat — GURPS has come a long way from its roots as a set of three dollar microgames. There’s so many options, it can be a truly daunting matter to have to plan a challenging tactical combat situation. Now that I’ve run dozens of tactical combats, I have maybe a hunch and a knack for this sort of thing now. My GURPS Mass Combat supplement that I purchased an printed out years ago sits on the shelf gathering dust and is totally unplayed. While this article increases the chance of me getting around to trying that system out, I am far more likely to invest my time in new grappling rules or the fatigue rules presented elsewhere in this issue. When games like Napolean’s Triumph exist… completely playable, flavorful, and with eager opponents to boot, it’s almost impossible to take somebody else’s raw tool kit and develop a war game from scratch with no idea how it will sort out. (Note: If you play this system… please post your developed scenarios along with your session reports!)

Jason Brick’s Abstract Wealth — The more games I’ve run, the less I care about tracking the exact cash-on-hand levels of the various players. This results in a tendency on my part to minimize resource management in scenarios by rigging it such that cash levels end up being largely irrelevant. This article provides rules for a middle-ground approach that nails down what I’d normally hand wave. It’s a good idea, though it hasn’t quite sold me– for the moment, I’ll still tell the players that they can buy and spend as they please as long as they do the record keeping for me. I have to admit, though… this seems to accurately model how wealth actually functions in the real world.

Steven Marsh’s A Niche to Scratch — This is rules for a perk that preserves a character’s reputation for owning a particular shtick regardless of his actually ability levels. Once again, Steven Marsh demonstrates that he actually plays these games… and that he can come up with something useful for handling off-beat things that actually come up quite often. Even if you aren’t going to use this, the illustrative examples are a hoot.

David Pulver’s Survivable Guns — Retool guns in GURPS by decreasing damage and adding an armor divisor. (I’ve always considered unsurvivable guns to be a feature, not a bug… but to the extent that its an issue, I’ve adjusted by reducing or eliminating combat from my scenarios.) Full stats are included for Basic Set weapons if you want to try this out.


Conclusion: If you are at all a fan of the GURPS system, buy this issue. If you buy nothing else to go with your GURPS Basic Set, get the entire Power Ups line and every Alternate GURPS issue of Pyramid. This is the good stuff. In previous editions of GURPS, the system development was spread across dozens of world books. In forth edition, the real game design work being done is concentrated in these products. Together, they make the game far more generic, universal, and playable than it would be otherwise. Recommended!

9 responses to “Review: Pyramid 3/44 Alternate GURPS II

  1. RogerBW November 6, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Yeah, I really couldn’t see a way round the starting points thing – making languages into a IQ-based skill again means that point values have to change.

    I have to say, this isn’t something I’d use in every game – it was inspired by an Infinite Worlds campaign, and I’d expect to use it only in a game where languages are chosen as an important element. (Something where you’re travelling the world and finding clues in old documents, for example…)

  2. PeterD November 6, 2012 at 8:51 am

    I love these reviews.

    Also, I’m pretty sure Doug has been involved in a Dungeon Fantasy game using his FP/Action Point rules, and says it goes pretty smoothly. My games involve far more beer than his, so I haven’t tried it, but I believe the guy when he says it’s less complicated in play that it is to describe.

    • Douglas Cole November 6, 2012 at 11:59 am

      Peter: Nope, the action point rules were in development during the game’s course, and were not brought in, since they might have changed the character abilities in play. That being said, at DF point levels, with the “you can buy up AP” stuff, I suspect that with lots of FP and lots of AP, DF characters can be EVEN MORE AWESOME than their mookish foes.

      Still, those who have played the AP rules have, once they get used to the system, liked them very much. I would LOVE to use them, and think that the way our group plays DF (with MapTools) can combine actively using GCA as well as in-game macros to streamline any of the book-keeping directly.

  3. Douglas Cole November 9, 2012 at 10:45 am

    “These rules are really, really neat. It’s kind of mind blowing that a game that has been developed for as long as GURPS has can be improved like this. Wow!”

    First: Thanks!

    Second: Wait until you see Technical Grappling, where Sean and the SJG gang really let me go hog-wild with a concept for wrestling that is quite a departure from the current rules, and in an e23 supplement, no less. That, to me, was really impressive, since “let’s play with stuff” is usually the domain of Pyramid.

    • jeffro November 9, 2012 at 10:59 am

      I think combining the Fatigue rules with the Grappling rules can bring GURPS full circle… making it into an intriguing melee combat board game. That combo is on my want to play list now. I’ll call the campaign “Three Hundred Quatloos for the Newcomers.”

  4. Douglas Cole November 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Intriguing, and you anticipate some of the design choices I made in Technical Grappling. Almost all of the stuff that you’ll be able to do in TG is based on my general thought of “why is grappling so much different than melee?” Not in terms of outcome, but in terms of mechanics.

    We’ll see how people like it once the Big Damn Ogre gets out of the way. Hopefully, I’ll get to write a Designer’s Notes type article where I get to explain WHY I did what I did, while also combining it with The Last Gasp (which will be trivially easy to do; there’s a reason the phrase “counts as an attack” appears an even dozen times in the manuscript!

  5. Douglas Cole November 10, 2012 at 12:12 am

    Oh, one more thing: You’ll be seeing the Training Bonus Table again. :-)

  6. Pingback: Happy Birthday to Douglas Cole! | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

  7. Trixie March 9, 2017 at 5:22 am

    This was so helpful and easy! Do you have any arectlis on rehab?

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