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GURPS. The generic universal role-playing system. How it tasks me! The core of GURPS is simple: roll 3d6, compare the sum of the dice to a relevant ability score or skill rating. Low is good, high is bad. You may, if the mood strikes you, shout — before or after determining your success or failure.
And yet, with as simple a core as that, the complexity of GURPS boggles me. There are many, many optional modifiers, sub-systems, especially complex advantages, specific skills with rules of their own and more to consider when setting parameters for a campaign or figuring out how to create the character you envision. GURPS enthusiasts will remind you all that complexity is optional. You can pick and choose whether to bring in social engineering, or range modifiers.
And that is perfectly true. The challenge is determining what to include in your particular game, and knowing when to say “enough.” For instance, when I ran GURPS Ghostbusters, I went in with the initial intention of using only the barest of bones of the rules. Characters would have their attributes, some interesting advantages, and skills. But once I began building one character with a particularly interesting hook, it spiraled out of control. “Oh, clearly they would have this complementary ability, too!” So spending points became an ongoing struggle.
And then figuring out how proton packs worked mechanically drew in more complexity. As written, they’re beam weapons, but they have a kind of kick to firing, so there’s a base penalty just to shoot the thing, and there’s a malfunction roll, and firing to blast a ghost is different from restraining it, and then you must do X, Y and Z to get it in the trap.
And that’s just for a game where there’s one piece of wonder-technology. I cringe at the thought of managing a campaign where the players have ready access to the kind of stuff you find in GURPS Ultra-Tech, or even express interest in using deeper combat options. That’s never happened to me, but the thought would give me the heebie jeebies, if I thought I’d ever find myself running the game again.
A special shout-out to HERO, which easily would have taken this plaudit if I still owned the core rule book. Somehow, for some reason, I’ve hung on a dozen plus source and settings books for a game whose core rules I don’t own and whose world books are notoriously “one with everything, so there’s something for everyone!”