Resource: C+
From 96 reviews
Game: C
From 191 reviews


3rd Edition

A Zany University for Witches, Mad Scientists, and Others

Publisher Description

Admit it. College would have been more fun if you were allowed to blow up the instructors. And you really would have liked to major in Military Biology, Anti-Social Sciences, Double-Entendre Bookkeeping, or Computer Wizardry. Too bad you didn't know about IOU.

Illuminati University is THE best place to learn Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. With departments like Weird and Unusual Science and Engineering, Inapplicable Mathematics, Misanthropology, and Zen Surrealism . . . not to mention extracurricular activities like Democrats for Cthulhu, Moopsball, and food fights that set off nuclear alerts . . . this is college as it should have been. And gadgets? Everything from the Crockpot of the Gods to the Enigmatic Alien Device Button-Pushing Table.


Not Your Typical University [ edit ]

IOU is an acronym for "Illuminati University" ... but we can't tell you what the "O" stands for: that's classified.  If this titular joke isn't enough to give you IOU's tone, the brilliant Phil and Kaja Foglio art on the cover (and inside) certainly will: a giant monster faces off against (among others) a flying wizard, a samurai, and a fat guy with a giant gun, as a nearby professor begs them to save (what presumably is) his research project.  In short, GURPS IOU is not a very serious book.

GURPS IOU originally started as a whimsical campaign on the Steve Jackson bulletin board system, but eventually it proved popular enough to be published as its own book.  That book is comical throughout (both figuratively and literally), but it also is an actual role-playing setting, and one that is perfectly suited for a generic RPG like GURPS.

A Universe of Options [ edit ]

As a university serving the privileged and genius of the multiverse, IOU allows for a wide variety of student characters.  One player might be an ordinary law student ... who is studying demonic law (with his demonic sidekick) at the College of Obscure and Unhealthy Professions (COUP). Another might be a witch-in-training at the College of Metaphysics, and a third might be a caveman athlete who ostensibly studies history at the College of Temporal Happenstance, Ultimate Lies & Historical Undertakings (C.T.H.U.L.H.U.).

The motley crew of college students will face any number of challenges at IOU, ranging from creatively cheating on a final, to stopping the giant monster unleashed by the Department of Recreational Biochemistry, to trying to repair a key part of the damage said monster did before the most dangerous threat on the entire campus arrives: the Dean!  Again, GURPS' ability to provide rules which can cover almost anything you can imagine makes it perfect for this unique setting.

A Less Serious Multi-Dimensional Setting [ edit ]

GURPS IOU is certainly not the first multidimensional RPG setting, allowing players to create a wide variety of protagonists and face an even wider variety of challenges.  But unlike RPGs such as Rifts or TORG, which are serious (if not downright post-apocalyptic) in tone, GURPS IOU goes in the exact opposite direction.  It offers a book full of bad puns, acronyms, and jokes ... but also countless ideas for some really fun and funny adventures.

There is one downside to IOU though: it was published for the older 3rd Edition of GURPS, and Steve Jackson Games has yet to release an update of IOU for 4th Edition.  However that's actually not as big of a deal as it sounds, since GURPS didn't change that much between the two editions. Also the bulk of the book's content is just setting, not stats, so IOU can be used with GURPS 4th Ed almost as easily as 3rd ... as long as you're willing to update and/or adjust some NPCs stats.

GURPS, 3rd 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.

Skills are how characters accomplish things in GURPS; for instance to shoot someone you would want the "Guns" skill.  Skills are based on two of your attributes: if you improve your Dexterity, for instance, you similar improve your chance to ride a horse, shoot a gun, or do anything else physical.  The remaining two attributes set how strong and tough the character is.

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).

The main problem with GURPS's creation system is simply how detailed it is: it takes awhile even for experienced players to make a character, and first time players may find all of the options a bit overwhelming.

Core Mechanics [ edit ]

To succeed at an action in GURPS, players roll 3d6 and attempt to beat a target number, which varies depending on the action (typically equal to or under the character's relevant skill).  This results in a far more predictable distribution of rolls: just as when you roll stats for a D&D character and (usually) get mostly average results, rolls in GURPS will have a far more average spread of results than (say) a D20 roll in Dungeons and Dragons.

However, there are a lot of details in the GURPS rules.  Although it's not required, if you want you can play GURPS with miniatures and a hexagonal grid.  Again, a hex grid may seem strange to players of D&D and other square grid systems, but the choice eliminates an issue that square grids have, with diagonal movement being faster than horizontal/vertical.

GURPS also has a great number of situational rules.  For instance, to make a ranged attack you can't just roll under your shooting skill: you also have to consider your target's distance from you, and their speed, then consult a table to get the appropriate modifier.  Just like the rest of GURPS, this results in a more-realistic feeling system ... but it also makes GURPS a more "crunchy" system, which will take a bit longer to learn than other options.

Combat [ edit ]

Hexagonal Grid

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.

Active Defenses

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 may be multiplied (eg. cutting weapons deal 1.5x ), and then the defender loses that many hit points.  Hit point loss can then trigger other effects, such as shock, stun, and major wounds ... and at 0 or below HP you have to make Health checks every round just to stay concious.

The Perfect Game For Wacky College Adventure [ edit ]

Aggregated Review Scores

SourceAverage Score# of ReviewsAs Of
Amazon5 / 531/25/2022
RPG Geek7.22 / 10231/25/2022
Drive Thru RPG5 / 511/25/2022
Good Reads4.04 / 5691/25/2022

With a strong (but not overwhelming) 7.22/10 rating on RPG Geek, GURPS IOU may not be for everyone, but it definitely has its strong following.  Not only did SJG go on to publish two adventures for IOU (both available free online: It's Not Just a Game and The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Panic), but a fan of the setting even went so far as to write their own take on it, using the Jumpchain Compliant rules system instead of GURPS.

If the idea of playing unusual college students from across the multiverse, as they face challenges from academia, social life, and more ... then maybe it's time for your group to enroll at IOU.