Lately I’ve started to rekindle my interest in GURPS, the Generic Universal Roleplaying System from Steve Jackson Games. If you don’t know about GURPS, it’s basically a system for roleplaying adventures, very much like AD & D.
If you don’t know what that is, go read the Wikipedia entry on RPGs, ho-hum.
The beauty of GURPS lies in the fact that it wants to be universal, and as such tries to cover every aspect of the human condition that might find its way into an RPG adventure. So instead of getting a rule book that defines the experience of some medieval castle or dungeon, you’ll get books exploring Russia, Japan, Ancient Rome or Europe during World War II. Sure you can go and buy historical books on any of these topics, but none of these will dissect and organize the material in the way GURPS authors do.
You see, it’s written with the premise of providing the Game Master (the creator or organizer of a roleplaying campaign) with enough material to write his own interactive stories. So you’ve got character traits, folklore, architecture, economics, political and social background neatly explained and refined for your world building pleasure.
But I don’t see why Game Masters should have all the fun. Script writers, novelists, short fiction writers - anyone that needs to tell a story will profit highly from browsing through the GURPS library of books. It’s like a giant bag of LEGOs that’ll help you construct mystery, sci-fi, fantasy or historical storylines.
Myself, I’m currently reading the Characters and Campaigns books, which make up the basic set. It’s fun reading about “Common Sense”, “Cowardice” or “Compulsive Behaviour” in terms of character advantages and disadvantages, or realizing how political systems like anarchy or monarchy can influence your story. If you’re not too happy with the cost of some of these books, try scouring Ebay for second-hand-bundles of older editions. I’ve managed to buy Religion, Ultra-Tech, Imperial Rome, Fantasy and I.O.U. this way. On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t to this. Because, you know, you might be bidding against me, and you don’t want that, do you? (No, you don’t).