Why I'm looking at Basic Roleplaying (BRP), (or Why GURPS is necrotic, and how to save what's left)

"GURPS is dying".

Type that into your favorite search engine and you'll see many posts talking about how GURPS (The Generic Universal RolePlaying System) is either dead, dying, or not-dead-yet-I-feel-fine-I-think-I'll-go-for-a-walk. If you look carefully you'll also notice that this has been a refrain of many folks for over five years. Many of the posts talk about Steve Jackson Games and the lack of substantial new material for GURPS. I'm not going to debate how well Steve Jackson Games is supporting the GURPS line (it's been debated at-length by more passionate folks on the Steve Jackson Games forums) but I am going to point to one factor that I has contributed to the necrotic state of GURPS.

"Powered by GURPS" was Steve Jackson Games' attempt to license the GURPS engine to other publishers. If you look at the list of games that are "Powered by GURPS" you'll notice something, specifically the lack of any other third-party publishers. There are two other third party publishers: Eden Games and Amarillo Design Bureau. That's it. Every other "Powered by GURPS" book is published by Steve Jackson Games.

The failure of "Powered by GURPS" to attract outside publishers is just one facet of a larger problem with GURPS. GURPS has become a monoculture. Sure there are many different authors who work on GURPS, but every bit of GURPS that's published passes through the same editorial process and has a similar voice. There's little variation to it. This is especially true of the 4th edition books which all have a similar tone and presentation to them.

Some might argue that continuity is a good thing. Indeed, GURPS continuity is a strength, but if you don't like that singular voice then you'll be unlikely to use GURPS at all, no matter how good or smooth the mechanics are.

When Mongoose had the RuneQuest license they did something remarkable: they released the rules under the Open Gaming License. RuneQuest is part of a family of games called "Basic Roleplaying", which uses a similar core for several games including "Call of Cthulu" and many others. Chaosium, the owners of the RuneQuest IP and publishers of their own Basic Roleplaying book, were not happy with this decision. They tried to stop Mongoose from continuing to release those rules under the OGL. But the OGL is non-reversible, and the rules that Mongoose released spread to other games. Soon games like OpenQuest showed up. Other variations followed. Mongoose lost the license to RuneQuest and republished their rules as "Legend". The Design Mechanism published "RuneQuest 6" for a while, but eventually also lost the license to RuneQuest. They republished their work as "Mythras" (though not under the OGL, but under a somewhat-permissive license). Alephtar games recently released their own stripped-down version of Basic Roleplaying called "Revolution D100". Chaosium is now considering a more permissive license for Basic Roleplaying, though the details have not yet been released.

Do all of these Basic Roleplaying games cause some confusion for new players? Possibly. But they're all different voices and different takes on the same system. They help the system flourish. Don't like how one system works? Try another one. Don't understand how one system is explaining a concept? Try another version and see if that works.

Steve Jackson Games needs to open up GURPS to other publishers with a more permissive license. They have been great stewards of GURPS for these many years, but it's past time to open up the system and let it flourish with new blood. Yes, I don't foresee this happening any time soon as Steve Jackson Games is extremely protective of GURPS and how it is used, but the alternative is the necrosis that will continue to rot the GURPS system. By allowing fans and other publishers to tinker with the system (without Steve Jackson Games' oversight) new approaches can allow the system to adapt in ways that are currently frustrated by the control exerted by Steve Jackson Games.

This will be a painful decision for them to make. It'll mean giving up the control they've enjoyed for over 30 years and watching as others stumble with and make alterations to the system that they won't like or approve of. They'll also find that folks could make new and interesting changes to the system; changes that can be brought back into the system. New adaptations could flourish. Other publishers could take risks that Steve Jackson Games are unable or unwilling to take.

GURPS is necrotic, and the only way to save it is to let others play in this space. An open license is the only way to save this system. Basic Roleplaying had this happen through the wisdom of one of their publishers and now they're poised to take over the generic roleplaying space that GURPS could have enjoyed.

I've given up on GURPS because it's an evolutionary dead-end. I sold off my books and archived my PDFs. I'm done waiting for GURPS and Steve Jackson Games to modernize. As far as I'm concerned the patient refuses treatment and I'm not about to fund their hospice care. It doesn't have to be this way, but far be it from me to force my will on them.

Goodbye, GURPS. I tried.