So, why not just play D&D?

by mshrm

A lot of my players play various flavors of D&D. I understand there’s a Pathfinder game going on amongst them. I’ve got some of the books on my shelf, plenty enough to run at least two different editions. I’m converting classic Gygaxian monsters and magic items. I’m consciously trying to emulate the 1st edition feel in a lot of things.* I’ve been asked: why not just play D&D?

So, I’m already thinking about this question, when I stumble across this: Why GURPS?  That being the flip side of the question, really.  Why this path, and not that?

What it amounts to is, there’s years and years of good, resonant setting details to plunder in the D&D ecosystem, but the system itself frustrates me to tears.

Oh, I exaggerate.  I can play it. I can even run it. I just prefer to set my level of abstraction differently. I like being able to figure out what happened in the game world from the play in the real world. GURPS is very much rooted in the real world, using measurements from reality wherever possible and aiming to translate the dice rolls into tangible effects within the game world.


For example:  For those who haven’t already become bored to tears with the whole question and don’t know, the D&D “hit point” is an abstraction. If your fighter dies after getting hit 10 times with a sword, taking 50 HP in damage, it doesn’t mean he was literally tagged by a sword 10 times before dying. It could mean that he had 9 narrow escapes, avoided by his high level of skill and luck, only to buy the farm with the final blow. This is all well and good, except… what if that sword had been poisoned? If the first damage-dealing hit actually delivers sword to flesh, poison should be delivered and saving throws made. If, on the other hand, only abstract hit points were lost and no real contact was made, then no poison could be delivered.

This is some really old news, here. It’s been chewed over by about three generations of gamers. That horse isn’t just dead, it’s beaten into bean dip. Just typing it makes me want a nap. ZZZzzz….

Huh? What? Where was I?

Anyway. The point is, I like the level of focus that’s available in GURPS. If you want to play it fast and loose, guesstimating modifiers on the fly, you can. If you want to get down to the most hyper-detailed, drilled-in view possible, that’s available, too. But, either way, it’s aimed at providing a playable simulation of the real world. Turns out, that’s an excellent foundation for building a fantasy upon.

* In particular, I feel there used to be a heavier pulp vibe, more of a Weird Tales feel, that got lost somewhere along the way. I’m an Erol Otus guy, more than an Elmore fan (even if we do both come from the same state).