The Superversive in Tabletop RPGs: GURPS Lensman

There was a time when Steve Jackson Games made a lot of supplements for the GURPS line that served to adapt influential or popular SF/F books into something viable for use as a tabletop RPG setting. While the choices were necessarily constrained by both internal budgets and licensor friendliness, we got a few gems here and there- and none coruscate more brilliantly than Gurps Lensman.

For people who were not around when the Lensman series was in its heyday, or missed the reprints, you would not believe how far into the Memory Hole this series went until recently. When this book got published in 1994, there was at least one whole generation (if not two) that never heard of these books or knew of what great influence they had on SF in books, comics, film, and television world-wide. I was one of that many, and I could not find a copy of any of them in any local store for love or money. This was a close as I got.

And with this supplement, I had everything I need to fully engage with a Lensman’s perspective- to see it all the way someone granted the power of the Lens (and the duties that come with it) does, to do all that they do, and to risk all that they risk in defense of something figurative and literally bigger than themselves. This isn’t just partaking in the things that build, sustain, and invigorate a culture into a civilization; this is being one of the very pillars of Civilization, a load-bearing pillar upon which the fates of billions–even trillions–rests. Far beyond being a Knight in King Arthur’s court, this is what being a Jedi should be (but isn’t).

Despite the issues that every GURPS edition has with high-powered milieu, this supplement does do the setting justice. Sure, you can play something other than a Lensman, but that’s not why you have this supplement: you’re there for being Civilization’s greatest agent, advocate, and champion. It’s no different than not playing a Knight in Pendragon. Even if you don’t care for GURPS, what’s here will be transferable to the ruleset of your choice; the technology notes are often in real-world (Imperial) units or otherwise giving real-world referents so you can easily make this work for you at your table.

If the Amazon link above doesn’t have what you’re willing to pay, go try directly from Steve Jackson Games; they may have it in PDF at a price you’re willing to accept. Either way, if you’re into tabletop RPGs and seek out ways to play Superversive games, you’re a zwilnik to not have GURPS Lensman in your library.

  • Terry Sanders

    Seconded!

  • Lorenzo Fossi

    “Despite the issues that every GURPS edition has with high-powered milieu,”
    I’m afraid It’s the nature of the point-built character beast.
    WW games of Old were particulary hilarious by this yardstick, and the dicepool mechanic that caused MORE crítical failures the more dice you threw was the strawberry on top of the manure cake.
    Back on topic: It’s still relatively easy to houserule GURPS to accomodate powerfull characters.

    • Terry Sanders

      Yeah. The HERO system works well for high-power characters, but their more “mundane” games have always been limited by the system’s creakiness on the low end.

      I still remember an article where someone was putting together a Strange Worlds kind of monster that was supposed to fill the dramatic role of a Velociraptor (before the movies). He ended up making it the size of a small car, so a Doc Savage type hero couldn’t just push his Strength, pick it up, and walk off with it…

      • Lorenzo Fossi

        Hero system is It’s own bucket of laughs.

        • Terry Sanders

          I always liked it, myself. But I don’t pretend it’s flawless–far from it. And a lot of the flaws can be traced directly back to its origins as a superhero game. Like you said, it’s hard to cover both ends. Running Clark Kent with rules that allow for Superman…

          • Lorenzo Fossi

            Oh, I like it too, don’t get me wrong. I was just referencing the fact that sometimes the rules give hilarious results, like in many other games for different reasons.
            Personally I’m either a fan of gaming systems completely married to their fluff (and implied powerlevel) or so modular you can brute force them into being so (like GURPS).
            Since I tend towards writing completely bizarre adventurers and campaigns, I tend towards using the former more than the latter, If only Because It’s hard to find a specific system for, say, a “voyage to arcturus but everyone is an hardened veteran of the psychic wars, and the antagonists are the Cobra Unit from MGS” campaign.
            In the HERO system’s case, I like it but I rarely used it because I seldom had an idea that could be more proptly be realized by using it rather than GURPS.
            That said, yes, in general point buy systems tend to represent the kind of character and the range of power the author had in mind pretty well, and fare worse the more you get away from it. I suspect it has to do with the act of directly pricing character traits, and thus indirectly creating expectations on the nature of the resulting characters.
            That’s how you hack GURPS, by the way, You change the price of everything.