One of the first major supplemental releases for GURPS 4th Ed was GURPS Powers. The introduction for the book states that it is a ‘how to’ guide, and can be considered to be Basic Set: Powers. I disagree with this sentiment; it’s really GURPS Advanced Set.

I first came to this conclusion before getting the book. I noticed while cruising around the SJG forums that any ‘how do I do this’ question that didn’t have a fairly straightforward answer invariably ended up referring to Powers, if only in passing. In general, it is meant to be a pure tool kit replacement for Psionics and Supers from the 3rd Ed line, with wider applicability. Since that time, there have been some ‘worked example’ products based on the principles in Powers, most notably Psionic Powers.

GURPS 4th Ed can boil down to a very simple game, but is very much a system where the more effort you put in, the more you get out of it. This is the core of GURPS Powers. The central concept of the book is providing a logical framework to plug ‘powers’ into. In this case, ‘powers’ are abilities (which may be represented by several different advantages) that stem from some special power source (magic, chi, etc).

Instead of just letting a character take a number of different abilities, and tie them together with ‘special effects’ (if that), Powers proposes a structure that explicitly ties them together as a package. This then allows the introduction of concepts like shutting down the entire package with an ‘anti’ power, or defenses that only work against another type of power (like a fire power melting ice attacks), allowing complicated interactions between abilities to be defined ahead of time instead of ignored (because there’s nothing in the mechanics to support it), or done purely on ad hoc basis.

With some time spent working things out (or even revising powers later, and adjusting point totals when good ideas come up), it seems to me that GURPS can now do better genre-emulation of superheroes than Champions in character creation. (At least Champions 4th, I don’t know if the later editions have added anything to help guide the interplay of powers/special effects.) And this is even better for universes with a more limited set of wide-ranging powers (say, The Last Airbender universe).

There is, of course, a cost. To do this properly, the GM needs to spend the time and effort to define the ‘sources’ and ‘foci’ of the powers in the game, and quite likely, the overall structure of the abilities in the powers. This is extra time, effort, and math. But, after putting in the effort, you have much better support for all the interactions.

Some 60+ pages are spent on advanced discussion of existing advantages and modifiers in the context of powers, and a couple of new, potentially very abuseable advantages are introduced. (The existing ones also get some interesting extensions, such as the version of injury tolerance that replicates the type of zombie that keeps going after being dismembered, including outlining the abilities of the various separated body parts.)

Other parts of this book include a wide range of pre-worked-out examples. This ranges from the modifiers that many powers would use (and since these often make them less useful by defining situations where they won’t work, they are usually modest cost breaks), the types of abilities many popular power types should have associated with them, to detailed abilities built out of the base advantages and disadvantages of GURPS to better suit things often seen in fiction. And then there is the usual very well done discussion of how to handle things in a campaign (including a rundown of abilities that can interfere with, or short-circuit, an adventure, and how to prevent it becoming a major problem). And there is a chapter of optional rules for use with powers, such as the possibility of a power being crippled (say, by over-use). And a chapter discussing the nature of genres that typically have powers as a major focus (from mythic fantasy to superheroes).

Overall, this is a ‘crunch’ book, mostly useful for GURPS 4th Ed, and a very well done one at that. But… I can’t help thinking that the power structure ideas here could be taken and adapted to other general point-based systems. It would take even more work, but this may be nearly unique as a crunch book that could actually serve more than one system.