...and why I seem to only want to play with those.
GURPS (the Generic Universal Role-Playing System) has had a ton of sourcebooks over the years - perhaps in order to prove that it truly was universal. GURPS picked up some surprising licensed properties (Riverworld, The Prisoner, War Against the Chtorr), done intriguing original settings (Technomancher, Transhuman Space), explored some of the less traveled eras of human history (Ice Age, Aztecs), and covered genres we don't usually see (Atomic Horror, Cops). But none of these are quite as books on the following list...
10. WWII - Iron Cross
Nazi Germany and its Forces
Given that GURPS had a WWII line, it's quite normal for it to have a sourcebook on WWII's principal adversaries (while Italy got a thin book, Japan never got its due). But the way Iron Cross does it is pretty controversial. See, it's not just a book detailing NPC villains, it's built like any other stand-alone GURPS sourcebook. That means it has a section on player character creation and campaigning AS a Nazi. Well, to be fair, I should say: As a GERMAN. And while films like Cross of Iron and Stalag 17 do show that there's the potential for honorable characters in the premise, especially if the idea of a campaign fated to end of disaster appeals to you, there's also a way to play "proper", anti-Semitic Nazis. Gestapo and Hitler Youth are among the character templates, and "Aryan Elite" is a proposed campaign. Of COURSE, the book doesn't promote Nazi ideology, but it's still off-putting. For a group interested in a heavy and dark role-playing experience, this could be very interesting though.
9. Robin Hood
Adventures in Sherwood Forest... and Beyond
Sounds a little narrow, but nothing wrong with Robin Hood role-play, is there? Certainly not, and just as GURPS Scarlet Pimpernel covered all of Revolutionary France, this book gives us a fair Lion-Hearted setting. Then, on page 47, it throws the setting out in favor of "The Ghost of the Moors", an 18th-century Scottish Robin Hood. And then four more "Robin Hoods" in other eras and genres. There are Old West, Supers, Cyberpunk and Space versions of Robin included. Yes, this is the book you need to play Rocket Robin Hood. I wouldn't kid you about something like that.
8. All-Star Jam 2004
Ten Authors. One Book.
Just an odd idea for a product. All-Star Jam is a Best of Pyramid with unpublished articles, basically. Some of the articles are on general topics - airships, precursor races, ghost breaking, underground adventures - but there are also some odd little campaign settings you could reasonably flesh out with other GURPS books. The Chariot Age of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, et al.; Alchemical Baroque, a fairy tale world approaching our 18th century; Meridian, a space opera in which planets are linked by railroad tracks(!); and a historical campaign in which the last band of Spartans roams a decaying Europe. There's also a chapter on babysitting Cthulhu spawn, so...
From Chariots to Cybertanks... and Beyond!
A crunch book, one of GURPS' strangest? Definitely. A useful version of Vehicles would include stats for every possible vehicle in every possible setting. Instead, David Pulver has written an engineering manual that is so crunchy, it will break your jaw. Vehicles are built from the ground up. You need to take into account every component, calculating volume, weight and performance so that it all makes "sense". As an example, the formula for Aerodynamic Drag is [(Sa-R)/Sl] + D, so [(total surface area of vehicle - surface of anything retractable) / streamlining)] + the sum of various modifiers that include seating and loaded hard points. That Batmobile better be worth it!! Kudos to McCubbin and Sheeley who created the Sprockets campaign setting (Best of Pyramid vol.1) in which pokemon balls with crazy vehicles in them fall from the sky just so you could muster the courage to use this book.
Welcome to Illuminati University!
Get yourself a blender. Throw in GURPS Illuminati, Call of Cthulhu's Miskatonic University and Teenagers from Outer Space. Blend and have the results illustrated by Phil Foglio. Now, you're getting it! Or it's Veronica Mars meets Lovecraft meets Weird Science. If you're in college - and if you're an active role-player, there's a good chance you are - here's your chance to recreate your undergraduate experience with temporal physics lab experiments gone wrong, and the University President as an Elder God. The more I think about it, the only really strange part of this book is the section on playing it straight.
5. Callahan's Crosstime Saloon
Welcome to the Most Amazing Bar in the Universe!
Sometimes you wonder why someone thought a property would make a good role-playing game. I have nothing but respect for Spider Robinson's amusing short stories, but Callahan's? Really? Sure, the setting can be used as a meeting place for characters of, well, ANY campaign, and could provide characters access to any GURPS-supported setting. However, and the sourcebook bears this out, Callahan stories are mostly about talking. Telling tale tales, finishing jokes with terrible puns, and participating in riddle contests. Given that Neil Gaiman's Sandman and the recent House of Mystery comic have both featured a similar "Saloon", maybe the world is finally ready for Callahan's. Oh, yeah, and read the section on how more and more people are playing by "modem" and how CCS is perfect for it!
4. Casey and Andy
An e23 Sourcebook for GURPS from Steve Jackson Games
Outdoing Callahan's in the "they got the license for WHAT?" category, this pdf-only 34-page sourcebook is based on a now dead web comic. The hook is that it's about two mad scientist roommates who tend to blow themselves up a lot. As a guide for fans of the strip, it's pretty sweet, but to everyone else, it'll read like a spoof of a setting (I do like the silly time travel paradox flow chart) with not much incentive to create your own characters. A resource strictly for those difficult years after your characters have left Illuminati University.
Be Warned, Gentle Reader...
I love low-powered gaming, but I realize I'm in the minority. GURPS characters are already on the low end of the scale at 100 points (most of my campaigns have at gone for the more heroic 125-point model, oooh), but Goblins are 15-point characters with as many as -150 points in disadvantage on top of that. Ouch. The ugly, often diseased, deformed Goblins are a metaphor for the underclass in what is essentially Georgian London. Their lot in life is to be used and abused, and of course, to get into trouble. Designers Malcolm Dale and Klaude Thomas have written the book in its own peculiar style (marking both era and the point of view of base outsiders) and have truly adapted the system to match the atmosphere they want to create. Initiative here goes to anyone who declares he's "whacking" first; Guns roll against Theology, which explains why mafiosos are all Catholic and the Pope and King can't be killed; there's a luck mechanic; and a selection of mistreatments provide the characters with a pile of both mental and physical disadvantages. For a marginal idea like this to get a full-color treatment at Steve Jackson Games (home of the black and white stock art) is nothing short of bizarre. Friggin' gorgeous in every way though.
2. Bunnies & Burrows
Roleplaying in a World of Intelligent Animals
Starting out as an early RPG based on Watership Down in 1976, B&B found its way into publication again in '79 and then '82, but GURPS finally snagged it in 1992. Why Steve Jackson went so aggressively after it is probably mired in nostalgia. In B&B, you get to play rabbits. They're smart enough to talk to each other and collaborate, but they still don't have opposable thumbs (that is why humans are the only true monsters). Combat usually means running away. It's even more low tech than GURPS Ice Age (though you gotta smile at the little straw backpacks they're sporting on the book cover). And not a ninja in sight. (Actually, the book does include some tools to power game your bunnies, like psionics, herbalism and yes, Bun Fu.)
1. Fantasy II
Adventures in the Mad Lands
They've called it experimental. They've said it was nigh unplayable. It's the Mad Lands, where technology doesn't really exist, and magic isn't easily accessible to players (in fact, they should fear it). Here are some of the elements: A pantheon of gods based on Winnie the Poo which are to feared, not worshiped. All monsters are distorted, corrupted human beings (feet with faces and headless men, for example). Gem injection sorcery, which may become addictive. The Soulless, bored immortal beings who toy with humanity. And to cope, a rather resilient people with a sense of humor and a pre-technological tribal culture that reminds me of Canadian Natives (including the Inuit). It's like playing GURPS Ice Age with Grant Morrison as your GameMaster.
But perhaps I underevaluated the strangeness of YOUR favorite GURPS book? Let me know!