Welcome to a world on the edge. Launched by the novels of William Gibson, propelled by the visions of Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker, Neil Stephenson and others, Cyberpunk is the fusion of science fiction and "noir," a world in which the street finds its own uses for the gifts of science.
In this gritty high-tech, low-life future, technology is merely another tool of power, likelier to corrupt its users than ennoble them. But those without technology have no chance at all. Is it a victory if you survive but lose your freedom . . . or your humanity?
An RPG Book so Dangerous it Was Seized by the Government! [ edit ]
Like both Cyberpunk and Shadowrun, GURPs is a well-established RPG, having first been released from Steve Jackson Games in 1986. At the time, GURPS was one of the only "generic" RPGs in existence, which made it perfectly positioned to tackle the newly emerging genre of Cyberpunk.
Unlike Cyberpunk and Shadowrun however, GURPS has the unique distinction of having their book (GURPS Cyberpunk) seized by the secret service! In 1990 the US government raided the company's Austin, Texas headquarters, seizing computers and unpublished manuscripts ... all because no one in the secret service was able to distinguish a fictional game that discussed hacking from an actual, real-life hacking manual.
This event helped lead to the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and later on in (in multiple court cases) Steve Jackson Games would ultimately win back most of their manuscripts and floppy disks (although the government never returned some of the computers taken). On the plus side, the event gave GURPS Cyberpunk a sort of "street cred" that helped GURPS Cyberpunk (when it was finally released) sell even better.
Why Use a Generic System for Cyberpunk? [ edit ]
Of course, since there are games specifically designed for cyberpunk, one might wonder why they'd want to chose a "generic" game, that isn't particularly designed for Cyberpunk (or anything else).
In short, there are two reasons, but they both boil down to the setting. Fans buy games like Cyberpunk and Shadow Run in part because of their rules, but also in large part because of their setting ... which sort of gives them an excuse to not improve their rules as much as they could. But GURPS is a system that lives and dies by the quality of its rules, and it has iterated on them for over three decades: as a result, it offers a very clean, polished and balanced ruleset to play with.
Just as importantly, GURPS allows a GM to run a campaign in any world they want, not just the one that comes with their RPG. This gives them the freedom to run a campaign set in a movie or TV world (eg. the universe of Blade Runner or Altered Carbon), or in a unique world of their own design. It can also be used to run a campaign in another game's world, and in fact more than a few gaming groups have opted to play "Shadow Run in GURPS', rather than use the native rules, simply because they prefer GURPS system.
GURPS, 4th Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse
Character Creation [ edit ]
Character creation in GURPS is detailed, but slow. There are no levels or classes, just points, which can be used to buy attributes, advantages, disadvantages, or skills. Different campaigns start with different amounts of points, so that (for instance) a superhero can start out as a more powerful character.
GURPS has four attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence and Health. Strenght and Healthy just define the character physically, while Intelligence and Dexterity are combined with skills to make skill checks.
Skills are how characters accomplish things in GURPS; for instance to shoot someone you would use the "Guns" skill. Skills are based on attributes, so for instance you might buy the Guns skill at a "Dex + 1" level. If you later improved your Dexterity, you'd similar improve your ability to shoot ... or do anything else physical.
Advantages cover any non-skill benefit a character might have, such as a high pain threshold, wizard training, or the ability to move objects with their mind. Advantages can also be further be customized with enhancements or limitations, allowing you to gain more or less powerful versions, that cost more or less points as a result. This can allow for a nearly any power you can imagine to be described as a GURPS advantage.
Similarly players can also take disadvantages for their character, such as Code of Honor or Blind, to gain extra points. All together this system allows for incredibly individualized character, including almost any you'd want to re-create from fiction or real-life (in fact, there are multiple GURPS books with stats for historical NPCs such as Ghengis Khan) ... but it can be a bit overwhelming to newcomers.
Core Mechanics [ edit ]
To succeed at an action in GURPS, players roll 3d6 and attempt to rull under a target number, which varies depending on the action. Most of the time the actio will be a "skill check", meaning the player will have to rul equal to or less than the character's relevant skill.
Critical Successes and Failures
If you fail a roll by more than 10 you critically fail the roll, and the GM decides what terrible fate results. Similarly if you beat the roll by more than 10 you instead get a critical success, dealing extra damage or otherwise succeeding with flair.
A Note About 3d6 (vs. d20 or Other Dice)
3d6 results in a far more predictable distribution of rolls than a single die roll (typical in other systems). Think about when you roll stats for a Dungeons and Dragons character: you usually get a lot of more 10's and 11s than 3's and 18's. In contrast, every d20 roll has an equal (5%) chance of rolling a 1 or 20 as it does a 10 or 11.
This allows GURPS to have critical successes and failures, but have them be rarer and more dramatic, while leaving most rolls with fairly predictable/average outcomes.
Combat [ edit ]
GURPS uses a hexagonal grid for combat. Hexes offers a benefit vs. square grids, when it comes to diagonal movemen: in square grid games (eg. D&D) characters moving diagonally move more quickly ... but since hexes don't have corners, they don't have this problem.
Unlike most games, GURPS does not have a random element to initiative. Instead, characters always move in order based on their basic speed (a stat derived from their Dexterity and Health scores).
If one group surprises the other they can potentially get several seconds of actions before their opponent can react ... and since a single round of combat in GURPS lasts a second, that can be significant.
On their (one second) turn a a character can take a single maneuver, plus any number of free actions (eg. talk or drop an item). A maneuver could be to move, attack, or move and attack (at a penalty), as well as other options such as aiming or feinting. A character who moves can move a number of yards equal to their basic move (ie. basic speed with fractions rounded off).
To attack a character makes a skill check with the appropriate weapon skill, applying a variety of modifiers for things like the target's size, range, and speed, or the weapon's accuracy bonus (if they took the time to aim), the lighting conditions, any cover the target has, etc.
If the check succeeds the target can then opt to make an "active defense". There are three options: Dodge, Block (eg. with a shield) and Parry (with a weapon), and ranged attacks can only be dodged. Active defenses are also a skill check, for Block and Parry; to Dodge you simply roll your Basic Move + 3.
If the active defense roll succeeds, the attack misses.
If an attack roll succeeds the attacker gets to make a damage roll, which will vary based on the weapon they use and other factors (eg. ranged weapons do half their damage when far enough away from a target). If the defender is wearing any armor they can subtract it's "DR" (damage resistance) from the damage, and the rest goes through.
Depending on the type of damage dealt, it might be multiplied now (eg. cutting weapons deal 1.5x ).
There's Only One Problem: Editions [ edit ]
GURPS Fourth Edition offers a great and well-refined RPG rule set, which can be adapted for a cyberpunk campaign as easily as it can for any other genre, and in fact the core GURPS sourcebook is all anyone truly needs to run a cyberpunk game. (Virtually) every bionic implant you can imagine can be bought as an Advantage, and the core book even includes other relevant advantages like "Digital Mind" (for those who want to play as an artificial intelligence), disadvantages like Addiction (which can be tailored to any imaginary cyber-drug), and skills (eg. computer hacking).
However, most GMs will want more rules for handling futuristic technology, and for that there's GURPS Ultra Tech, a sourcebook which provides rules for not just near-future cyberpunk technologies, but also far-future sci-fi tech like ray guns and force shields. With this book in hand a GURPS GM would almost be ready to run a Cyberpunk campaign, but something would still be missing: an actual Cyberpunk sourcebook, with pre-made bionic implant advantages, rules for computer networks and hacking, and so on.
GURPS Cyberpunk: Great, but Outdated [ edit ]
In GURPS previous (3rd) edition, GURPS Cyberpunk was that book, and it also had two companion books: GURPS Cyberworld (a near-future cyberpunk setting) and GURPS Cyberpunk Adventures. But unfortunately interest in the Cyberpunk genre waned (at least until more recently, when games like Cyberpunk 2077 and movies like the latest Blade Runner renewed interest in it). As a result, SJG has yet to publish a 4th edition of any of the 3rd edition Cyberpunk books.
This leaves a GM with few options. Either they can run without a cyberpunk sourcebook, and simply use the simple/purely-skill-based hacking rules that come with the GURPS core book, or they can try and adapt the 3rd edition Cyberpunk book (which is still available digitally) for 4th ed.
That latter option isn't as hard as it may seem, since GURPS didn't change much fundamentally between the two editions ... but it is still more work than buying a system with all the necessary hacking and other cyberpunk rules included.
GURPS: Great With or Without a Sourcebook [ edit ]
Ultimately, with or without GURPS Cyberpunk (3rd edition), GURPS is an excellent RPG system for a cyberpunk campaign, and in truth all you need to run such a campaign is the core GURPS rulebooks themselves (although again GURPS Ultra-Tech will likely be very useful).
The system itself is very popular, ranking 93rd among all RPGs/editions on RPG Geek (with an average score of 7.27/10, from 230 reviews). Similarly on Drive-Thru RPG the core rulebook ranks 4.9/5, albeit with a lot fewer (6) ratings.
Of course, no system is perfect for everyone, and GURPS detractors will point out that the system is very detailed and "crunchy", perhaps too much so for those that prefer lighter rule sets. But if a "crunchy" game that's been improving itself for thirty-five years, and which has been used to run cyberpunk campaigns for nearly as long, sounds promising than you owe it to yourself to check GURPS out ... for both cyberpunk and countless other genres.
P.S. Steve Jackson Games offers a free "GURPS Lite" version of the rules, so if the rules summary above isn't enough you can get an even better sense of the rules by downloading it.