In 1990, GURPS was four years old; Third Edition was two years old. There had already been a number of great supplements. I was a committed fan.

A fan without a lot of money. I was surprised, and very happy when one of our local gaming group expanded my modest GURPS collection by giving me a new book for my birthday.

GURPS Aliens was pretty much exactly what I had been itching for: a book on how to construct non-human racial packages in GURPS. The theory had been discussed before, in both Space and Basic Set, but the tools were severely lacking.

The book breaks up into three chapters, the first of which talks about the nature of aliens in a campaign—anywhere from first contact to a universe where “humanity can barely set foot on some barren, drifting space rock without meeting some new intelligent life form.” It manages to cover the topic pretty well for just being two pages long.

The second chapter contains all the ‘crunch’ of the book. 19 pages covering the essentials of creating an alien race for play. From discussions of what high-point-value races might mean in a universe, and why humans might be on top anyway, to pages of brand-new advantages and disadvantages covering all sorts of things that humans can’t do, but plenty of fictional races can, like Nictating Membranes, Slave Mentality or even Independently Focusable Eyes. And there was a section on Extra Limbs. All in all, excellent basics to get you on your way.

The third chapter took up by far the bulk of the 128-page book. 28 actual alien races written up with game stats, a general description, followed by psychology, ecology, culture, and politics; a great template to write up a race in around 2-4 pages. The races themselves were varied: somewhat anthropomorphic pig-men, 3000-point energy beings, living crystals, a pair of symbiotes, four-dimensional traders, and so on.

And it was all disappointing. There was very little that I cared to even consider for use in my fledgling GURPS Space campaign. Looking back, I was a little too hard on the book, there are several races that could be quite good, but my campaign already had a certain spin towards minimal aliens. Part of the problem of course, was a need to be generic. While GURPS Space had done very well, and propelled much of the early line, there was no real setting to plug everything into, so the roles of the aliens presented was often not anything special, being meant to be parts of an undefined interstellar society.

Races were generally either outside society completely, or someone you’d meet in the startown bar. There was an ‘antagonist’ race, with some interest, though one of their big things was slavery, which is a great villainous pastime, but there wasn’t a lot of interest past that. I’d have preferred something slightly more complex.

The book was not helped by the inclusion of the four races given in Space, with fuller write ups. I hadn’t liked them much then, and they remained among the weaker races here.

The ‘crunch’ parts suffered from ‘first out the door’ syndrome as well. Later the same year, GURPS Fantasy Folk was released, in much the same format, and with new updated point-costs for everything. Five years later, the second edition of Fantasy Folk came out, and changed the point costs again. Aliens languished with but a single printing, and lots of errata.

It is good that it came out, since it started GURPS down the road of figuring out how to handle non-humans, but it took no time for it to be surpassed. Today, even a 3E player does not need it for the crunch (GURPS Compendium I will do the job much better); it is only of use if you care to update and adapt the races presented in it. This is not recommended, as most of them nothing special, and four pages (at best) each does not present enough to be worth going after to steal ideas from.