GURPS Authors' Guidelines
Last Updated: August 6, 2003
This is a supplement to the general Steve Jackson Games Authors' Guidelines. Everything in those guidelines applies to submissions for GURPS.
You should also look at our Author Solicitation Page (for general information) and our Wish List (for a list of what we want right now, slanted heavily toward GURPS).
Any GURPS writer should first become familiar with the GURPS system. This no longer means everything we have published for the system; with over 200 different GURPS releases out, that would be difficult. But it's still necessary that the writer be generally familiar with the system, and very familiar with everything we have published in the genre to which he wishes to contribute. This requirement is strict, and is intended to keep everything we publish consistent. Writers should always make sure their work is completely consistent with the latest GURPS Basic Set release (currently Third Edition, Revised) as well as Compendium I and II.
Writers working on important worldbooks may get access to unfinished drafts of other projects, so confidentiality is important!
Finally, take a look at the GURPS Character and Template Layout page. This is an extensive guide for writing properly formatted GURPS characters and templates.
Traditionally, adventure games have tried to strike a balance between "realism" and "playability." We don't want to compromise; we want GURPS to be both realistic and playable. However, when it comes down to a choice, we favor playability. If nobody plays the game, they won't care whether it's realistic or not. Therefore, complex rules additions are to be avoided.
Anything that can be checked against reality should pass that "reality check." If you're describing a real weapon, or animal, or place, or person, make its size, weight, habits, speed, etc., right. Research – don't guess. Don't say a donkey can carry 800 pounds unless you're sure a donkey can really carry that much. Don't say a club does more basic damage than a halberd unless you can produce documentation to back it up. Don't say anything unless you can prove it, either through printed records or your own reality checks. But experiment carefully; don't do anything dangerous just to get published.
The tone of GURPS is generally serious (though there is always room for sophisticated humor). GURPS players are older (late teens and up), more experienced, and more demanding than the average gamer. Don't write down to them. Make your style conversational rather than stilted.
GURPS releases come in two formats to date: 8 1/2"x11" perfect-bound books and 6 3/4"x10 1/4" saddle-stitched or perfect-bound books. Word count runs about 29,000 for a 48-page book, 40,000 for a 64-page book, 95,000 words for a 128-page book, or 107,000 words for a 144 page book. We do not accept manuscripts that come in largely under or over the above word counts. If you have questions, speak to your editor, Line Editor, or the Managing Editor.
In general, use the same style and format that you find in existing GURPS material. If you find a contradiction between existing products, ask!
Worldbooks contain three types of material: new rules, background material, and (rarely) adventures. But if you are going to write a successful GURPS worldbook, you have to remember that rules must be tied to the background, and background material must include references to the appropriate game mechanics!
Rules are harder to write, harder to organize, and harder to playtest than background material. Keep them at a minimum unless your project specifically requires them – and ask first. Where new rules are required, link them as closely as possible with the existing rules. If a rule just isn't working for you, let us know.
More likely, you will need to explain the specific applications of certain skills, advantages, or disadvantages in your game-world. This is really more like background than game mechanics! See pp. 46-49 of GURPS Space for an example of this.
This is the "meat" of a GURPS book. It is (we believe) what the customer is really buying. Worldbooks should be mostly background material. Adventures are better if they include a lot of background, too. Background material should be basically narrative, with "hooks" to the appropriate game mechanics. Some lists and tables will be necessary, including:
- Equipment List
- Job Table
- Social Status and Cost of Living
- Weapon Table (if the world has high-tech or unusual weapons)
All tables should be properly worked out, consistent both with the rest of the book and with earlier material! Everything, especially costs and weights, should pass both the common sense check and the reality check. All tables must follow the exact format used for the equivalent tables in GURPS Basic Set.
Use Transhuman Space, GURPS Castle Falkenstein, or GURPS Blue Planet as your example for new races, descriptions of countries and customs, etc.
Use GURPS Discworld, GURPS Alpha Centauri, or GURPS Traveller as your example for translation of a game, novel, or series of novels to GURPS format.
New or Changed Rules
Sometimes it will be necessary to change or add rules, either because the initial design was weak or because a new situation is being covered. But changes should be minimized. When the rules need work, several approaches are possible:
Sometimes it will simply be necessary to write a whole new set of rules, just as GURPS Space added systems for starship design and space combat. Anything this major will be part of the contract specifications.
New Minor Rules
New skills, advantages, and disadvantages are halfway between rules material and background material. They usually require much less playtesting than other rules material. But make sure that your additions don't already exist, under another name, in published material. In particular, most technical skills fall under Armoury, Electronics, Electronics Operation, Engineer, or Mechanic. Most newly suggested disadvantages are really Compulsive Behaviors, Delusions, Odious Personal Habits, Reputations, Social Stigmas, or Vows. If the Line Editor tells you to make a change, then make it! - it is his job to make sure new rules are truly necessary.
Repeating Previously Published Rules
Do not repeat rules that appear in GURPS Basic Set, Compendium I, or Compendium II; instead, include a page reference. Rules previously published in another worldbook may be repeated for clarity, but check with your editor before repeating sections of more than about half a page.
Magazines: If your work requires players to use rules that have previously appeared only in Roleplayer or Pyramid, the rules must be repeated in the product.
We strongly prefer to treat new situations as special cases of existing rules. Example: It would be possible to write a new set of rules for what happens to a spaceman when there is no oxygen. But it would be better to refer to the Drowning rules and treat it as a special case.
There will be situations when a rule has to be expanded; e.g., the Driving skill was expanded in GURPS Vehicles. If it's really necessary, do it. But the simpler the better.
This is a last resort. We'll change rules when necessary, but if you feel a rule has to be changed, check with your editor first.
Note that a special case is not a rules change. Example: Waiving the Physician prerequisite for Surgery in GURPS Special Ops to reflect field-expedient surgery. This is not considered a rules change – it is a special case for one worldbook. Use common sense; ask your editor if in doubt.
Calculating Manuscript Length
See Word & Page Counts.
Please watch your word count. So far, we have had much more trouble with writers writing too much than with writers writing too little. It's easy to say "you can always cut something." In fact (especially if the writing is good) cutting things can be very time-consuming and painful. It's better if the writer hits the desired length the first time.
We now use a two-column format with boxes for all new GURPS books. Lists of skills, spells, and so on should be alphabetized.
Handle the text any way you like while you are writing. When you send us the files, though, follow these rules: Using the WYSIWYG template (and you are using the WYSIWYG template), save your files in Word format (6.0/95 only; our layout software dislikes later versions). Name all files logically. Example: GURPS Atlantis, Chapter 1, first draft would be a single file named Atlantis 1 (First).DOC.
GURPS has a specific style for headings and subheadings. See the Coding Guide for detailed instructions regarding this and other document-formatting issues.
Each book is broken into numbered chapters. In the Table of Contents, the chapters are in the largest type. Chapter titles use the A-HEAD style in the WYSIWYG template. Chapter titles always begin a new manuscript page. Chapters usually begin with a page of splash art that contains little or no text; be sure to allocate an extra page per chapter for this art. (GURPS Traveller and some small-format books are exceptions to this rule - but ask first!)
Chapters are usually broken into sections. In the Table of Contents, sections are in small caps, not indented. In the printed text, they are in large boldface type. Indicate sections in your manuscript by using the B-HEAD style.
Sections are broken up by major subheads whenever there is a major change of subject (ideally every half to two-thirds computer page). They appear as regular, indented type in the Table of Contents. Use the C-HEAD style.
These are used, when necessary, to break material under a major subhead into its component topics. Use the D-HEAD style.
The main headline for a box should be a C-BOXHEAD, and any subheads are D-BOXHEADs. Large boxes may have a B-BOXHEAD instead, but boxes that large should be considered for inclusion in the main text. Very short or minor boxes may use a D-BOXHEAD as the main head. Both B-BOXHEADs and C-BOXHEADs are indicated in the Table of Contents with italicized, indented type; use the TOC-BOX style.
Appendix: GURPS Terminology
Writing material for games is akin to technical writing in that the correct use of suitable jargon is the best way to convey information to the intended readership. It is therefore imperative that you use the terms and notation introduced in GURPS Basic Set when you write for GURPS. You are required to own Basic Set, read it, and know its language (and how this differs from the terminology of other popular RPGs).
Here is a list of some of the more important and frequently misunderstood points of GURPS usage. It is intended as a quick reference guide, not as a substitute for reading Basic Set – which is why page references to Basic Set have been included. The glossary on pp. B250-251 is also useful here.
advantages (pp. B19-25): If in doubt, look up advantage names. "Frequent offenders" include Double-Jointed (not Double-Jointedness), Language Talent (not Language Aptitude), Literacy (not Literate), and Mathematical Ability (not Mathematical Aptitude). For "leveled" advantages, indicate the level after the advantage name; e.g., Eidetic Memory 1, Status 4. If the main purpose of the advantage is to give a bonus, a "+" should precede the level; e.g., Musical Ability +2, Strong Will +3. Exceptions: Magery gives a bonus, but never uses a "+" (e.g., Magery 2); Toughness always indicates DR (e.g., Toughness (DR 2)). Other qualifiers, like user-specified phrases or frequencies of appearance, should appear in parentheses after the advantage name and level, with the first word capitalized; e.g., Patron (Dark Lord, 6 or less), Reputation +3 (To street punks).
Appearance (p. B15) can be either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the level chosen. Either way, the word "Appearance" is redundant; just use the named level: Hideous, Ugly, Unattractive, Attractive, Handsome/Beautiful, or Very Handsome/Very Beautiful. Exception: Monstrous Appearance.
attributes (p. B13): Use the term "attributes," never "ability scores" or "statistics." Strength is abbreviated ST (not STR); Dexterity is abbreviated DX (not DEX); Intelligence is abbreviated IQ (not IN or INT); Health is abbreviated HT (and is not the same as hit points; see HT vs. hit points). When attributes are discussed or listed on a character sheet, they always appear in this order: ST, DX, IQ, HT.
capitalization: Character statistics like Block, Dexterity, Dodge, Health, Intelligence, Move, Parry, Speed, and Strength are capitalized (but be sure to differentiate between these scores and related actions; e.g., a character can block by rolling against Block, and can move any distance up to his Move). This includes things like Hearing, Vision, and Will in the context of die rolls (e.g., Vision roll, Will roll). The names of advantages, disadvantages, and skills are also capitalized. Most other game terms are not capitalized, including classes of character abilities ("advantage," "disadvantage," "quirk," and "skill"), game mechanics (e.g., "extra effort," "reaction roll"), success roll results (e.g., "critical success," "critical failure"), and the effects of injury (e.g., "stun," "knockback").
Contest of Skills (p. B87): "Contest" and "Skills" are capitalized. Note that there is an important difference between a Contest of Skills (which compares qualitative success results) and a Quick Contest of Skills (which compares numerical margins of success/failure).
critical failure (p. B86): The terms "botch" and "fumble" are not used. Only use "critical miss" for combat rolls.
critical success (p. B86): Only use "critical hit" for combat rolls.
dice (p. B9): Only standard six-sided dice are used. Rules involving die rolls may use any combination of six-sided dice plus adds, but must not use any other die types. Since only one kind of die is used, it is abbreviated "d" and not "d6." (Conversions from other game systems may use different types of dice, but when describing a GURPS roll, still only use "d" - it is more consistent and helps to distinguish the two games.)
disadvantages (pp. B26-40): If in doubt, look up disadvantage names. "Frequent offenders" include Absent-Mindedness (not Absent-Minded), Alcoholism (not Alcoholic), Berserk (not Berserker), Blindness (not Blind), Fanaticism (not Fanatic), Greed (not Greedy), Gullibility (not Gullible), Illiteracy (not Illiterate), Lecherousness (not Lechery), Overconfidence (not Overconfident), and Stubbornness (not Stubborn). When speaking of the point cost of a disadvantage, always remember the minus sign ("-"); e.g., Bloodlust is a -10-point disadvantage (not a 10-point disadvantage). See also advantages, as everything there applies here as well.
distance: Use Imperial units of distance: foot, yard, mile, etc. A hex on a tactical map is usually one yard across, but as it is properly a unit of area on a map and not a unit of distance, the use of "hex" for "yard" is deprecated.
frequency of appearance: Certain advantages and disadvantages have an associated frequency of appearance; e.g., on a roll of 9 or less on 3d. When writing character sheets, note this as "9 or less," not "9-" or "fairly often."
HT vs. hit points (p. B141): "HT" is the number against which a character rolls to avoid injury effects like knockdown, stunning, unconsciousness, crippling, and death; "hit points" is the number against which a character marks off damage, and which is used to calculate damage thresholds for stunning, crippling, etc. A character only loses HT to effects that actually lower HT rolls; injury does not have this effect, and should be spoken of in terms of "hits," "hit points," or "points of damage."
initiative (pp. B122-123): This has nothing to do with determining who acts first in normal sequenced combat (sidebar, p. B95). It refers to the roll made to determine which side gets a "first strike" before sequenced combat begins when two groups of combatants first encounter one another.
Job Table (p. B194): Not "Jobs Table." Follow the example for coding and format.
modifiers (p. B9): Modifiers to success rolls always affect the quantity being rolled against and not the die roll itself; e.g., +1 to skill means "increase skill by 1 before rolling against it." Modifiers to damage rolls (and reaction rolls) always affect the die roll itself; e.g., +1 damage means "increase the damage roll by 1." Thus, a positive modifier always benefits the character rolling the dice.
Move vs. Speed: "Speed" (p. B14) is the quantity (DX+HT)/4, which is used to compute Dodge and determine who acts first in combat; "Move" (p. B77) is the distance a character can run in one second, and usually equals Speed minus an encumbrance penalty (p. B76) plus a bonus for Running skill (p. B48).
Multimillionaire is a separate advantage from Filthy Rich (see Wealth, below) and should be listed separately. Give its levels just as with any other advantage; e.g., Multimillionaire 2.
point level, and not "points level."
Poverty (p. B16): If a character is poorer than average, indicate this with the appropriate wealth level: Struggling, Poor, or Dead Broke. The word "Poverty" (e.g., "Dead Broke Poverty" or "Poverty (Dead Broke)") is redundant. See also Wealth.
Power: Capitalized when used as an attribute for magic items or psionic abilities. Lowercase in other uses.
resistance rolls (p. B150): Offensive abilities that give a character a chance to avoid their effects offer a "resistance roll," not a "saving throw" or "save."
skills (pp. B42-70): If in doubt, look up skill names. There are too many "frequent offenders" to list them all here, but examples include Bard (not Oratory), Demolition (not Demolitions), Driving (not Driver), Electronics Operation (not Electronic Operation, Electronic Operations, or Electronics Operations), Engineer (not Engineering), Fast-Draw (not Quick Draw), Gunner (not Gunnery), Hypnotism (not Hypnosis), and Piloting (not Pilot). See specialties and tech level for more on how to write skills.
Snap Shot Number (p. B115), abbreviated SS, is a weapon statistic that tells you when the -4 snap-shot penalty applies; it is not the same thing as the snap-shot penalty. When some game effect makes it easier (lowers SS, reduces snap-shot penalty) or harder (raises SS, increases snap-shot penalty) to take a snap shot, be clear about which of these numbers is affected.
specialties (sidebar, p. B43): Skill specialties follow the skill name (and any tech level qualifier) in parentheses; e.g., Electronics Operation/TL10 (Medical), Guns/TL7 (Pistol). It is not acceptable to abbreviate skills to their specialty name; e.g., Guns/TL7 (Pistol) should not be shortened to Pistol/TL7. Be sure not to mistake familiarity for specialization; e.g., there is a Guns/TL7 (Pistol) skill, but no Guns/TL7 (Colt .45) or Guns/TL7 (S&W .38) skill.
success rolls (pp. B86-87): A roll against an attribute or a skill is called a "success roll," but this is almost always shortened to "roll." It is not called a "check," "task," or "test."
tech level (p. B185): This term is not normally capitalized when spelled out, and should usually be abbreviated to "TL" in any case. Specific tech levels are indicated by "TL" followed by a number, with no spaces or punctuation in between; e.g., TL4 (not TL 4, TL:4, or TL/4). TL qualifiers on skills are written "Skill/TLn," where "Skill" is the name of the skill and "n" is the TL; e.g., Guns/TL7 (not Guns/7, Guns TL/7, or Guns/TL 7). This precedes any parenthetical qualifiers, such as specialties; e.g., Guns/TL7 (Pistol) (not Guns (Pistol)/TL7). In worldbooks which describe a setting with a uniform TL, the /TL part of a skill name may be omitted in character sheets (unless a character hails from a different TL, of course).
time: Use real-world units of time: second, minute, hour, day, etc. A turn (p. B95) lasts one second, but as it is properly a unit of character action and not a unit of time, the use of "turn" for "second" is deprecated. Also note that "round" is neither a unit of time nor a synonym for "turn" in GURPS.
Wealth (p. B16): If a character is wealthier than average, indicate this with the appropriate wealth level: Comfortable, Wealthy, Very Wealthy, or Filthy Rich. The word "Wealth" (e.g., "Wealthy Wealth" or "Wealth (Wealthy)") is redundant. See also Multimillionaire, Poverty.
Weapon Table: Not "Weapons Table" or "Weapon(s) Tables." If you have several types of weapon described, you have several subtables of the single Weapon Table. Style on these has fluctuated over the years, but current style is to separate weapons into categories based on the skill used with the weapon, and alphabetize within categories. Each category begins with a bold, small-capped text head, followed by the default in that skill. For instance (bearing in mind that HTML does not do small caps, so you'll have to pretend a bit):
SPEAR (DX-5, Staff-2)
weapons: A hand weapon is wielded in armed, hand-to-hand combat; the term "melee weapon" is to be avoided. A missile weapon (pp. B101, B114) is a device which fires projectiles; e.g., bow, gun, sling. A thrown weapon (pp. B100, B114) is hurled at the foe. The rules governing these last two differ, making the distinction important.
Will (p. B93) is equal to IQ plus any levels of the Strong Will advantage or minus any levels of the Weak Will disadvantage. The term "Will" is not an acceptable substitute for "Strong Will" or "Weak Will." Will is not limited to 13; many Will rolls fail automatically on a roll of 14+, but not all – and even for those that do, Will above 13 is useful for absorbing penalties to the roll.