Wednesday, 26 September 2012

GURPS Horror

Regular readers of my blog should know by now that I am a huge fan of GURPS. In fact, it is fair to say that GURPS is my favourite role-playing game of all time. I love it because it allows you to play in any setting and any genre - fantasy, sci-fi, historical, pulp fiction... anything! The rules can be as complex or as simple as you want and as cinematic or as realistic as you want. In August 2004, GURPS underwent a radical change when the 4th edition rules replaced the old and long-lived 3rd edition rules. To be honest, it needed an overhaul and I was glad to see it so comprehensively updated. For me, every change was a change for the better. The one major downside to this change was having to wait for the major supplements to be updated and published. Inevitably this could not happen over night. Slowly but surely the most important supplements were updated and over the past eight years I have bought them as soon as they went on sale. One supplement that I particularly wanted to see revised to 4th edition was GURPS Horror. Finally, in August of this year, my wait was over and GURPS Horror was published. So was it worth the wait? Read on and I'll give my verdict at the end.
The major GURPS Supplements and the two rulebooks are hard-backed books with a page count of 256 and are full colour throughout, although illustrations are always on the low side. GURPS Horror differs in that it has a much lower page count (only 176 pages) and only the front and back covers are full colour. This is not a criticism. GURPS Low Tech only ran to 160 pages and somehow, black and white artwork works well for a horror setting. The book is split into six sections and I'll briefly describe each section below.
Section 1 The Rag and Bone Shop covers character and party design, traits (which include the use of existing advantages and disadvantages in a horror campaign as well as new advantages and disadvantages), character templates (to help create your player character or to use to design NPCs) and the Monster Hunter's Toolbox, which lists new equipment and weapons (many of these are familiar household items).
Section 2 Things That Go Bump in the Night covers the rules and stats for a plethora of monsters that you'd expect to find in a horror setting. All of the creatures you'd expect to find are here - vampires, ghouls, werebeasts, ghosts, demons, zombies, serial killers, psycopaths, aliens, Cthulhu mythos monsters and many more. I was particularly interested to see an entry for Evil Clowns. They aren't human, which goes a long way to explain Sunny the leader of my Killer Klowns gang! He has come straight from the bowels of Hell!
Section 3 Dark Theatres concentrates on running a campaign and is split into six parts - Campaign Length, Narrative Structures, Antagonists, Design Parameters, Uncanny Powers and Horrifying Genres. This section is less rules orientated than the previous two and is mainly a collection of essays on how best to run your campaign. Even if you don't play GURPS you could learn a lot from reading this part of the book.
Section 4 Ominous Feeling, Gathering Shadows is more concerned with scenario design than campaign design but obviously, some rules apply to both. Style and theme are well covered. It ends with a very detailed look at Fright Checks or what Call of the Cthulhu players know as Sanity Loss. In most games of GURPS, Fright Checks will be rarely used but they are so much a part and parcel of a Horror game that they needed special attention.
Section 5 Tales to Terrify gives the bare bones of two campaign settings. First is a swash-buckling adventure yarn in the style of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies called Seas of Dread. The second, Blood in the Craters, is a Victorian sci-fi campaign set after the Martian invasion of Earth. The war ended in victory for humanity... or did it?
Section 6 Blasphemous Lore covers lists of books, films, TV series, comics and games relevant to the horror genre. This runs for 11 pages and really only scratches the surface. I always like to read these lists in the GURPS books but I'm usually lucky if I can manage to have read or watched 10% of the subjects listed. With these lists, however, I had a greater than 60% pass rate, which isn't surprising given my love of horror.
I must admit that I was very impressed with this supplement. It more than lived up to my expectations. As with all GURPS supplements, even if you don't play GURPS, you can still learn a lot from them. Any one who does play GURPS will want to add this to their collection. Horror is a gaming genre that can be applied to any setting; for example, the film Alien is sci-fi horror.
It still remains a dream of mine to run a zombie apocalypse role-playing campaign using the GURPS rules. This would be taking ATZ up a level from a simplified skirmish wargame to a fully detailed role-playing game. Sadly, as long as I remain a solo-gamer it looks like being an unfulfilled fantasy. Ah well!
Be aware that this is not a stand alone supplement. You do need the GURPS rulebooks (Characters and Campaigns) to run a horror scenario/campaign. If you want to buy the hardback version of GURPS Horror it costs $29.95 from Steve Jackson Games' e23 webstore. A PDF version is also available for the lesser price of $19.95. I'd like to point out that I always buy my GURPS books direct from SJG just to show my support for their products. Kenneth Hite who wrote this supplement won the 2012 ENnie Silver Award for Best Writing and the book also won the 2012 ENnie Silver Award for Best Supplement. I have no hesitation in awarding this supplement a 9 out of 10 rating. I just wish it had been longer but what is there is excellent!

15 comments:

  1. Good review. If I was still roleplaying I would probably get this source book/supplement. I have always liked GuRPS If I ever do get back to roleplaying I would take it right back to TFT though./Clint

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    1. Cheers, Clint. I appreciate your comment. For me though, 4th edition GURPS just can't be beaten.

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    2. Funny how things turn out. I shall be meeting up with some of my Old Rle-playing buddies next Friday for a beer. I shall ask if they want to do some role playing in a zombie setting. It is just really strange, coincidence. I shall let you know if it is a go!

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    3. Cool! Whatever you do decide to do, I wish you well. And if you do get back to role-playing with your buddies I shall view you with envy!

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  2. Nice review. Sadly it won't be on my to buy list as I only game solo at the moment and that is not as frequent as i'd like. Its sounds like great fun and covers alot bases

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    1. Thanks, Simon. I can understand your decision about solo gaming. After all, it is what I'm forced to do.

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  3. I'll be quite honest that I've heard of GURPS but knew next to nothing about it but it sounds fecking good!

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    1. I'm biased, Fran, but I'd say that GURPS is fecking brilliant!

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  4. A good and thoughtful review Bryan.
    I came across Gurps in its first incarnation and didn't like it much then, but it does sound like it has come a long way. Even if your don't use GURPS for rp games, there does sound like there is a useful amount of background material for a lot of tabletop games too.

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    1. GURPS has undergone so many changes since 1st edition, Joe. When I first introduced my gaming group to GURPS in the 1990's it was a hard sell. They were so used to games that used a d20 or percentile system. Getting them to switch to a d6 based game was not easy, but once they got past that hurdle, they really got into it. I must admit that I have learnt a lot from my GURPS products. There is so much knowledge and sound advice in their supplements. GURPS Horror is no exception.

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  5. No reason you should remain solo gamers. Look for RPG groups on G+, epicwords.com, Twitter & inferno. You can play online & make new friends using digital tools.
    Lastly, Ken Hite is awesome.

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    1. I do participate in a Play By Blog zombie game run by a friendly blogger from Australia, so I am aware of the digital option. However, it is not the same as a face to face meeting with a fellow gamer.
      Agreed, Ken Hite is an awesome dude!

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