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Codex Interview RPG Codex Interview: Sean Punch, GURPS Line Editor, on P&P, Fallout, Digital Media, and RPG Design

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Grunker, May 17, 2012.

  1. Grunker RPG Codex Ghost Patron

    Grunker
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    Codex 2012 Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Torment: Tides of Numenera Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    Tags: Fallout; GURPS; PnP Interview; Sean Punch

    Over the course of the next year, the RPG Codex will be doing a line of retrospective interviews on pen & paper role-playing systems, including questions focusing on P&P's relationships with the digital media and computer RPGs. For the first of these interviews, we have reached out to Sean Punch - also known as Kromm - to talk about GURPS, arguably the most open-ended role-playing system ever made. Some call it the system to end all systems, some call it needlessly complicated. The system primarily aims for freedom of choice: it can be used for any setting, at any time, in any conceivable way. Fallout 1 was originally supposed to use GURPS as its underlying rule system, but for reasons that are not completely clear, that failed to happen. In this interview, we ask Sean about the Fallout incident, as well as about many other things - read on!

    Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your responsibilities at Steve Jackson Games? What project(s) are you currently involved with?

    SP: My responsibilities as GURPS Line Editor are diverse; SJ Games is a small publisher, so everybody wears many hats. I'm involved with every GURPS project on some level, although my role varies from item to item. I seek freelance writers for products we know we want to publish and also evaluate proposals submitted out of the blue, and I approve project outlines either way. I advise freelancers on house style and GURPS rules as they work, and then I review their writing, at any stage from first draft to final proof. I do sometimes serve as an old-fashioned i-dotting, t-crossing editor... and as a compiler, reviser, or developer, as necessary. I have the last word on rules canon and editorial style for writers, because my job's raison d'être is to ensure consistency across the product line. Finally, I write as often as I can -- in my heart, I'm an author first!​

    To you, what are the most significant design principles and core values behind GURPS?

    SP: I've answered that question dozens of ways in 17 years, but here are a few vital principles that always seem to make the cut:

    - Options. However many expansions it has and however long these run, GURPS is a simple game at heart; e.g., characters are built on one variety of points, and most tasks involve rolling three six-sided dice under a target number. Likewise, GURPS makes no assumptions about genre or power level, and few about realism level or play style (although I'll admit that it does slightly favor verisimilitude, and avoids competitive, PvP gaming). However, it offers all kinds of options to adjust complexity, genre, power level, realism level, and so on. That's the heart and hallmark of a GURPS product: it offers tons of options that enable the gamer to customize her gaming experience.

    - Austerity. GURPS is a sprawling product line, and I'd never lie and say that we don't expand it all the time, because we're famous for doing exactly that. However, a few basic systems underlie everything, and we try not to introduce new game mechanics or character abilities until we're sure that the existing stuff won't do the job. Most of the expansions you see demonstrate how to use the available tools to do new jobs. They don't add new concepts that break old ones; they just expand gamers' options.

    - Consistency. We make a serious effort to ensure that every product works with every other one, and that new rules respect old rules (although they might add special cases or extra detail). Likewise, we take editorial style and even text formatting seriously, so you know what sections to expect in a particular kind of GURPS book, where to find things, and how to read the stats.​

    Fallout 1 was initially supposed to utilize GURPS for its rule system, but in the end it did not. The only information we have been able to find on the subject is that SJ Games were concerned about the amount of blood and gore in the game. Can you tell us more about why a GURPS Fallout failed to happen?

    SP: Ultimately, the issue was that the license didn't word the approval process in a way that was good for either party, and it was simply easier to design a new RPG engine than to redo the licensing agreement and all of the approvals. That might sound extreme, but the RPG elements of a CRPG are minor next to the storyboards, level designs, visuals, audio, and all that other good stuff. Whether the specific concern that led to the discovery of the approval issue was somebody at SJ Games disliking blood and gore, I cannot say -- I did not then and do not now handle licensing, and I never saw so much as a screenshot at the time. I can say that geeky guys at my own pay grade on both sides regretted seeing the plug pulled, but apparently my bosses and their bosses viewed that as the right move for financial reasons. To this day, I remain skeptical of claims that a single cut scene, loading screen, dialog line, etc. caused the parting of ways.​

    For Sean's thoughts on CRPGs and their systems, the future of GURPS on the PC, and lots of RPG design talk, read the entire interview!

    Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Sean Punch, Line Editor of GURPS, on P&P, Digital Media, and RPG Design
     
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  2. Excidium P. banal

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    Nice interview!

    This is one system I never got into, mainly because what attracts me to a particular RPG is its "flavor", and GURPS seems p. much flavorless until you get it together. I do remember a friend really loved it back in school, mainly the Iluminati and cyberpunk stuffies. I just skimmed through the rules last year when the BR release of the 4th Ed. basic sets renewed my curiosity, but I can see why people like it so much.
     
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  3. CappenVarra phantasmist Patron

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    :salute: for the interview!

    Finally, Grunker gets to express his GURPS love in an officially sanctioned manner ;) Also, it's kind of fitting that the style of the interview comes off as a bit dry and down-to-earth, since I've always thought of GURPS in those terms :P

    Sadly, the cRPG-related parts don't exactly inspire optimism... I mean, I understand that SJ & co. have to think about the reputation of their system and their bottom line first, but one gets the impression they would only sanction a game with the official GURPS seal of approval if it fit quite high expectations of quality, respectfulness (yeah, I'm being intentionally ambiguous), and profitability... Which is highly unlikely to happen.

    I mean, sure, I'm just being curmudgeonly, but I really don't see why would Valve (or a similar company) get involved in something like that - huge profit justifying licensing costs and constant supervision could only be had by making a next-gen buzzword-driven game, which also seems to be hinted at by this sentence I couldn't make heads or tails of otherwise:
    . Wait, what?

    Don't get me wrong, GURPS is a lovely system, and has a well-deserved fan base. But it doesn't have the kind of wide market appeal that would justify an AAAAAA publisher getting involved, paying licensing fees, and giving SJG the final say on every detail of the game. He says:
    , but it would take a newcomer or a smaller studio (in other words, a big gamble) to actually want to tackle a quality GURPS-based game in the first place - big studios are all busy making declined games with no need for a solid underlying PnP-based RPG system. If it's all about profit and effective IP monetization, a GURPS cRPG will never happen (or will be a huge disappointment).

    Damn, I'm getting too negative, let me rephrase. I was just getting the impression of a girl who, upon being asked when will she get laid, says "well, if the right guy approaches me, signs a contact to marry me, and promises to pay my bills for the next 20 years, I would definitely think about it... bit he has to be handsome and respectable, of course". Yeah, sure. On the other hand, you have the fast and loose strumpet that is D&D... Hell, if you'll allow some simplification, badly-adapted D&D-inspired hacks basically started the cRPG industry.

    Of course, a D&D-based cRPG today would also have to satisfy similar tons of conditions from the corporate overlords at Hasbro - so in a way, that ship has sailed. Then again: Knights of the Chalice.

    And since
    , perhaps I'm not too unreasonable to expect them being more friendly towards the idea of a small studio trying to make a cRPG purely out of love for the system and rampant geekiness, encouraging KoTC-like homages etc., instead of prioritizing the bottom line?
     
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  4. Crooked Bee wide-wandering bee Patron

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    Codex 2013 Codex 2014 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015 Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire MCA Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    Too true, unfortunately.
     
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  5. catfood AGAIN

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    Nice. I haven't read the interview yet but I'm glad that this site is starting to get interested in PnP as well. Will get to reading it right now.

    Is there a chance that you guys could score an interview with Sandy Petersen at some point in the future?
     
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  6. Deuce Traveler Prestigious Gentleman 2012 Newfag Patron

    Deuce Traveler
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy Divinity: Original Sin Torment: Tides of Numenera Shadorwun: Hong Kong Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    GURPS was too complicated for me. The combat system functions very well, but is too time consuming and math intensive (an issue I have with DnD 3.5 and Pathfinder, also). However, I can see the appeal of a Sliders-type CRPG using GURPS rules. The computer can handle the computations much faster, and it would be fun picking up characters and leaving others behind from world to world, genre to genre. If they decided to go Indie and ditch graphics for a greater emphasis on gameplay and puzzles then I could see some appeal. Especially if they created a good enough toolset for fan mods.
     
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  7. winterraptor Savant

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    :salute:

    Long Live Kromm.

    Would be awesome to see a GURPS system in a CRPG but yeah...probably never happen. Maybe in 40 years when we have (cheap, ubiquitous) flying cars.
     
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  8. Deuce Traveler Prestigious Gentleman 2012 Newfag Patron

    Deuce Traveler
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy Divinity: Original Sin Torment: Tides of Numenera Shadorwun: Hong Kong Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    Long live Crom indeed. I loved the old solo play Conan GURPS modules.
     
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  9. Mozgoëbstvo Learned

    Mozgoëbstvo
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    GURPS. The GOD of pen and paper. Read manuals extensively, but never tried. It looks daunting, but reading and rereading I realize more and more that if I start simple, all of the optional rules will be learned easily in time.
    Just like D&D before, the first hurdle I had to overcome was actually PLAYING at the damn thing first instead of frolicking about it with friends.

    The most awesome thing about GURPS is that you can SEE the authors are all-encompassing nerds that dip their fingers in everything - such an expansive system, with as much complexity as you WANT to add, could have not been created otherwise. Long live Jackson and his crew!
     
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  10. Menckenstein Lunacy of Caen: Todd Reaver

    Menckenstein
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    Good fuckin' interview.

    :bro:
     
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  11. Grunker RPG Codex Ghost Patron

    Grunker
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    Codex 2012 Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Torment: Tides of Numenera Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    this is the key to understanding GURPS

    Seriously. Most GMs and/or players who want to play GURPS attack it like any other system; they read the basic set and try to tackle the whole thing at once.

    The key is to start with basic rules; stats, skills, advantages, disadvantages and simple rules for combat, and then slowly work your way into the complexity.

    GURPS certainly demands something from its players and the GM, but that's no different from the best video games.
     
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  12. Crispy I HAVE EVOLVED (again) Undisputed Queen of Faggotry

    Crispy
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    I have to admit I didn't realize GURPS or even Steve Jackson Games was still "in existence" any longer. I'm glad to have been wrong, and, especially after reading this interview which was very well-done and informative, I yearn for a CRPG some day that uses this ruleset. Its attention to detail and intelligent (re)design is right up my particular alley.

    So yes, good fuckin' interview!
     
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  13. winterraptor Savant

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    It's also obvious if you peruse and utilize the site forums, where the editors and writers from Kromm down are quite active in commenting on concepts and rules, even slinging out 'not-necessarily plainly in the rules-set' interpretations on the fly, when say there is a particularly unique situation to cover from a player or GM type.

    Basically, they're quite accessible and engaged in the continuing dynamic alongside the long-time fans.
     
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  14. Mozgoëbstvo Learned

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    I meant, it's just plain from reading the manuals. It's not always so, but every GURPS manual is just a darn good read because of it.
     
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  15. Humanity has risen! Arcane Patron Repressed Homosexual

    Humanity has risen!
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    With the hundreds of skills and complex rules depending on context, there is not a single chance of us getting anything more than a lite, cinematic version à la Fallout. Combat is also way too brutal even on cinematic. You're always facing entities impossibly more powerful than you ever could dream to be, especially since skill points are gained very slowly. It can be a good thing though, since it forces the GM to put more emphasis on creative/non-combat solutions.


    But then again, there is little to no actual content made by SJG. That's also part of why the series is so obscure. Lots of really good, thorough and well implemented ideas, but no identity. It would be a complex endeavor because of the extremely wide variety of genres possible (since it was made to allow any setting), but it would mean some truly fantastic campaigns.
     
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