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GURPS — How Deadly is the Combat System?

People hyperbolize — especially online. I read the following on the Internet:

GURPS tends to run “realistic” things well, in which combat is deadly no matter how skilled your character might be. 

https://www.enworld.org/threads/d20-vs-gurps.170178/post-2980366

But let’s put GURPS in perspective. In GURPS, a character, in effect, has twice as many HPs as his sheet lists before he risks death. That’s because from 0 to -1 x his maximum HPs, he only rolls to stay conscious. The first death roll occurs at -1 x HPs, and the player rolls once, whereas he continues to roll every round below 0 HPs to stay conscious. That means, the character will more likely fall unconscious than outright die.

Compare this with Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying system. Characters in Basic Roleplaying will have 10-12 HPs on average. However, when a character reaches 0 HPs, he has a fatal wound. That’s it. If he doesn’t receive healing in the next round, he’s dead.

Mongoose Traveller utilizes a system that applies damage to combat statistics. When all three physical statistics reach 0, the character dies. Each stat ranges from around 7 to 9 points, so an average character might suffer around 20 points of damage before death.

I ran this system years ago, and one of the players took a gunshot wound in the first battle that almost killed him. That was the last time the players in that campaign initiated any combat. Keep in mind, after that initial 20 points of damage that would have killed the player in Traveller, the GURPS character might (and likely if he has a high HT score) still only fall unconscious.

In GURPS, a character does not die outright until his HPs reach -5 x his maximum HPs. So, a character with average HPs (10) won’t die outright until he receives 60 points of damage. That’s a lot of damage. In fact, that number is not so different from “that other” roleplaying game (depending on level and other circumstances).

What’s more, if the player fails one of those death rolls by 1 or 2 points, he still doesn’t die, but suffers a mortal wound instead.

So Why the Reputation?

Let’s take that hypothetical 10-HP character. On his route from 10 HPs to -50, he has 4 chances to fail his HT roll and die. Still, if he has even slightly better than average HT, he has a good chance of making those rolls, as they do not usually suffer negative modifiers. Remember that a trait of 12 in GURPS will succeed 7 out of 10 times.

Ranged Combat

Let’s revisit the quote from the beginning of this post:

A melee battle will often resolve in a few rounds, but don’t expect your sci-fi battles with ranged weapons to do so. Ranged combat will entail players aiming, taking cover — doing other things. Depending on how many adversaries players face, a ranged battle can easily last an entire 2-3 hour session of gaming.

To Sum Up

If you’re avoiding GURPS because you’ve heard the system is deadly, and you don’t like PC death, give the system a chance. People exaggerate the lethality.

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