Judging the Cover

Image copyright Steve Jackson Games.

Image copyright Steve Jackson Games.

Arguably, the cover of GURPS Basic Set, Third Edition Revised, published by Steve Jackson Games in the 1990s, is plain and undramatic, without a strong central element upon which for the eye to focus and then travel around the scene. (For an example of that, check out the cover of Mutants & Masterminds, Second Edition.)

I first ran into this piece of work during one of my many near-hits with roleplaying. Someone on a Doctor Who mailing list — probably the now-gone House on Allen Road, maybe Jade_Pagoda — posted a link to the basement of Steve Jackson Games’ Warehouse 23, where one can roam around, opening crates in the archetypal repository of the bizarre and impossible. Eventually, I went from the warehouse to the company’s GURPS pages. The concept of modular design, where you buy books with the rule and setting elements you need to facilitate a particular concept, really appealed to me, to the point I spent a lot of time mulling over which books I would like, even though at the time I had no way to utilize roleplaying game books or even a strong conception of what roleplaying entailed.

The things I like about this cover, enough that I remembered the image from that fleeting contact years later when I really got into RPGs in mid-2002, are the combination of diverse elements, the questions they ask and overall austerity of the design.

There’s a castle, what look like mysterious ruins in the foreground, a rider on the horizon and jets taking off, all while a neighboring moon or planet hangs large in the sky. That covers a wide swathe of genres in a way that, for me, provokes questions: why is the rider going to the castle? Are the jets attacking or on patrol? Is there supposed to be a galaxy naked to the visible eye, or is that what provoked the rider and the pilots to action?

Plus, it’s a nice landscape. I wouldn’t mind a print of that to hang somewhere.

4 thoughts on “Judging the Cover

    • Books like GURPS Fantasy and particularly Ken Hite’s GURPS Horror make it seem so effortless and easy to pull off games that emphasize genre emulation over what campaigns typically turn into. Makes me jealous.

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