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GURPS Old West (Second Edition)

4th Edition


Publisher Description

The American frontier was a legend, even while it was happening. Gunfighters, Indians, cowboys, miners, and mountain men, the Pony Express, the Texas Rangers and the outlaws they fought, the "rust-eaters" who pushed the rails west, the settlers battling fire, floods, stampedes, and sickness ... their adventures made the nation what it is today!



A Generic System With a Long Western History [ edit ]

As a generic system, GURPS can be used to run campaigns set in any number of exotic settings ... but in many ways the system really shines when it's used for "mundane" settings like the Wild West.  

GURPS' detailed character creation rules let players to create the sort of interesting, multi-dimensional characters that often seen in the Western genre, instead of simple "combat monsters". At the same time, the system offers a mix of realistic and cinematic combat rules that will strike the right balance for many Western campaigns.   In  GURPS most players can take at least a hit or two before dying, but a single bullet shot can kill someone, especially if it's aimed at their head.

Also, because the universal rules of GURPS can support unrealistic elements also, it's very easy to mix in supernatural elements.  For instance, if you want werewolves in your Wild West, or for your Native Americans to have actual magic powers, such additions are easy to make.

GURPS Old West [ edit ]

In fact, all you really need to run a Western RPG game is the GURPS basic rules, but if you're looking for more supporting material for the genre GURPS also has an "Old West" supplement.  The original version was published back in 1991, a second edition was later released in 2000.  Both versions however are for GURPS 3rd edition ... not its (latest) fourth edition.

Fortunately that's less of a problem as it may seem, as GURPS didn't really change that much between editions, so most of the rules material can be used as is.  The main exception is Native American magic: GMs wanting to use that specific system of magic will probably pick up the (4th Edition) Thaumaturgy book for assistance in updating the rules.

However, the vast majority of the book isn't rules related at all, it's simply setting-specific material which needs no updating.  There's a summary of the history of the era, including the relevant wars.  There's a detailed look at technologies of the era, such as stagecoaches and railroads.  There's an extended look at the Native American tribes of the time, where each was located, and so on.

In short, while there are GURPS stats for Jesse James and Buffalo Bill, the vast majority of GURPS Old West is simply information you could find at your local library ... if you want to spend countless hours researching (as evidenced by the books extensive bibliography!)

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 ]

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 might be multiplied now (eg. cutting weapons deal 1.5x ).

GURPS is Perfect for More Serious Western Games [ edit ]

GURPS (with or without Old West) won't be the perfect Western RPG for everyone.  While GURPS does have detailed combat rules it's still very much a RPG first and foremost: if you're just looking to re-enact the shoot out at the O.K. Corral, a game like Boot Hill might fit you better.  And on the other hand, if you're looking for a story-focused, rules-light game, GURPS will likely be too crunchy for you (and a game like Dust Devils might be more appropriate).

But if you're looking for the kind of game that let's you easily create complex and detailed characters, and then take them on adventures in the Wild West ... including adventures that involve realistic-feeling, but still somewhat cinematic combats ... GURPS will be perfect for your next Wild West campaign.

Western-Themed Pyramid Magazine Issue [ edit ]

While GURPS Fourth Edition may not have an official update to the Old West supplement, it does have an entire issue of Pyramid Magazine (the GURPS periodical) devoted to Western content.  There are articles on:

  • the Ashiwi Native people of New Mexico
  • a guide to porting the GURPS Action content to the West
  • GURPS 4th Ed vehicle stats for steamboats and locomotives
  • a dozen Western-themed zombie scenarios
  • a second-by-second dissection of six famous gunfights (as seen through the lens of GURPS Tactical Shooting)

While it's far from a complete Western sourcebook, it is Western content written specifically for GURPS Fourth Edition, and will likely be useful to any GM running a 4th Ed Western campaign.