Growing up there was a hobby shop on Main Street. Its name was Bobby’s Hobby Lobby. It had probably been there for decades and it showed by the eclectic collection of items it had for sale. It had whatever you needed for whatever you were in to. There were baking pans in the shape of licensed characters, books to house your collections of stamps or coins, coins and stamps to place in your books, model kits, model trains, train garden needs, sewing supplies, and role playing games.
Up until the mid-’80s I would accompany my mother into the shop when she would need things for sewing or baking. I would spend the time there playing with the very large encased train garden. It had an old fashioned door bell placed on its base that when pressed would send the multiple trains zipping along their tracks for a few minutes. The other highlight of the trip would be when we left through the back door. In the rear of the store they had an old Coke machine that once you put your coins in, you could open a door and get a glass bottle of soda out of. I always got a kick out of using the built in bottle opener on the machine.
It wasn’t until my fabled year of 1985 that I found another reason to visit the shop.
In ’85 I discovered what a dork I was to become and in that discovered role playing games (among other things). Let me begin by saying that things were so much different in the ’80s than they are now, especially in “small town America”. At the age of 9 I was allowed to bike all around town, and Main Street had almost everything a kid could need. So it maybe shocking by today’s standards, it wasn’t back then to ride my bike to Bobby’s Hobby Lobby by myself. It was on these trips that I would spend my saved allowance on AD&D books, dice, miniatures, and the occasional boomerang.
On one trip down town in 1987 I stumbled onto a book that I’d never seen before, GURPS Horror. The cover art drew me in instantly and once I cracked open the 96-page tome, I was enthralled. I first noticed that some pages of this book used a 2-color print and used a bright red to highlight some of the pictures (remember kids, this was before the days of fancy glossy pages).I had to have it, and I plopped down my money. I pedaled home so fast that day, I was excited to dive into this new RPG world.
Generic Universal RolePlaying System or GURPS were a series of supplements that were built on one core rule book. As the name implies, the system was only a generic base that any genre, style, or world could be built off of. My first exposer was their supplement book TOON which gave you the rules to run a Warner Bros. or Disney like cartoon game.
Anyways, sorry for all the back story but I’m having fun remembering. On to the book…
GURPS Horror is a fantastic reference book for any contemporary horror game and a wonderful slice of the world of horror from the ’80s. It draws a lot of inspiration from the horror movies from the Universal movie monster era all the way up to films like John Carpenters The Thing and Alien. It also gives great info into real life and paranormal happenings and people throughout Victorian England, all the way up to the Roaring Twenties of American History. It has a ton of info that horror and sci-fi fans would love even if they don’t play RPGs.
A couple of the highlights that I still love today include a pretty large list of horror movies with short descriptions that range from classic to camp. It’s a good list just to learn of a new movie to watch on a Friday night as well as a good movie to draw inspiration from if you’re running a horror campaign.
Another thing I like about it is that it doesn’t take itself too serious. A ton of horror games thrive on taking the genre too seriously and have created a whole group of blasé emo dorks (see: White Wolf Games). Not GURPS Horror, It has a small section on adding humor to your horror games that is insightful when thinking about movies like Evil Dead or Dead Alive. You also can see how the book doesn’t take itself so seriously when you get to a chart that lays out good “Psycho Killer” weapons with their damages and rules. Some items on the list include Post Hole Digger, Fondue Fork, and Garden Weasel (anyone else remember the commercials for these things from the ’80s)
I also like that when it does take a more serious tone it really paints a grim and gritty world of horror and fear. It gives charts on psychosis and mental illness and even takes it a step further and has a chart to create your own elder god type creature (like Cuthulu) to prey upon those illnesses. Speaking of monsters, the bestiary is basic but it covers all the bases from Alien Invaders to Zombies. Everything is there for you to have a ’50s B-Movie romp or an ’80s teen slasher nightmare.
All and All, GURPS Horror is a great book if you like vintage horror and vintage games, would like a little dose of nostalgia from the ’80s, or like to see horror icons broken down to their generic cores to see how they tick. It’s a super fun book that has been a constant companion book for my horror games since 1987. There are newer versions out there but I only speak for the OG version, but I’m sure they are fantastic as well.
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