GURPS books from SJG have undergone a steady case of page inflation. This is largely because they can charge more for bigger books, while the cost of printing only goes up a moderate amount. (The cost of producing the material is more linear.)

The first GURPS books were saddle-stitched at 96 pages. Then came GURPS Space (First Edition) at 128 pages, perfect bound, and $15. And well worth it, being one of the best tool-kit/advice supplements ever. SJG tried keeping costs down with $8, 68-page perfect-bound supplements like GURPS Space Unnight, but the margins were too low to work without a greater sales volume than they were generating.

So the GURPS line settled on 128-page books, with the prices slowly rising with inflation. In 1994, the next jump in size occurred with the release of GURPS Religion at 196 pages.

Once again, SJG put its best foot forward with the new format. It never became the line-standard this time, but it did see further use (GURPS Compendium I, GURPS Compendium II, GURPS Traveller, and GURPS Space (Third Edition)).

Like GURPS Space, GURPS Religion is centered around advice more than any campaign-centric material. It is divided into eight chapters, which range from a general talk about the structure of religions, to general system-related discussions, to working examples.

Comparative Religions 101
The first four chapters are “Cosmology”, “Deities”, “Development”, and “Symbols” and together would make an excellent introductory unit for a comparative religions class. Given the 87-pages it’s crammed into, it is a very wide-ranging and well done study of the nature of existing religions. The general idea is to present the various recurring structural themes and give the reader some direction to setting up a religion for his game world.

It achieves this quite well, and while a well-read person will have seen most, if not all of it before (there’s likely to be at least a couple mythologies referenced that any particular reader hasn’t studied), it’s still very nice to see it all in one place and sorted out, topic by topic. The book is worth the price of entry right here.

Give me that old time religion…
The next two chapters move out of general world-building and into more system-related materials. However, the ‘crunch’ is still kept light, and it is still world-building oriented. “Clerics” presents general character types, and gives GURPS-specific advice for fine-tuning the Clerical Investment and Patron (Church) advantages, as well as new material for being Blessed or Cursed, and Power Investiture (the clerical version of Magical Aptitude), or even being Excommunicated.

All of this is specifically pointed at GURPS, but there’s still some food for thought for other systems. Especially pointed is the split between Clerical Investiture (which measures how far up the church hierarchy the character is), and Power Investiture (which affects the character’s ability to channel power from a god), and the fact that the GM will need to decide whether the two are directly linked or not.

“Divine Magic” is the most disappointing section of the book, as the main mechanics boil down to ‘use the existing skill-based Magic system, and substitute Power Investiture for Magical Aptitude’. A discussion of an enforced split between the abilities of the two types (like, say, locking Mages out of healing magics…) would have been good, but is barely mentioned. However, there is good system material in the subtleties, with discussion of holy places, how such are created/consecrated, etc. There is some good generic discussion of shamanistic magic, though the less generic/more detailed version in GURPS Old West (Second Edition) is a bit better.

Working examples
The last two chapters are dedicated to actual examples of religions. “Traditions” actually doesn’t give any detailed setting examples, but rather talks about actual Earth traditions, first going back into generalities with discussions of animism, nonhuman spirts, and so on, before moving on to a whirlwind tour the things that typify Earth religions in various parts of the globe. The last chapter gives actual sample religions for use in SF or fantasy campaigns. There’s one typical D&Dish medieval pantheon (which gets the most space), one animistic religion that obviously borrows several cues from Shinto (including a multi-island based setting), and four SF-setting religions. My guess is that the emphasis on the last is to help stir the imagination as to the possibilities of religion in a genre that has typically ignored the subject.

When it comes to such concrete examples, several GURPS products have left me flat. However, I actually like the examples given here. None of them are stellar, but they are good examples, and I’d at least think about using/adapting them if I was running a setting compatible with their backgrounds.

Overall, I consider GURPS Religion to be another of the greats of the GURPS 3rd Edition line. Short on system mechanics, long on general advice, and packed full of things to get you thinking about the subject; it really was GURPS Space all over again, and is highly recommended for anyone doing world-building, even if that’s for a writing project, as opposed to running an RPG.