Step-by-Step: DSA GURPS Conversion II – Races & Cultures

Be advised that this and all of the following conversion articles use my house-rules for variant attribute costs, fine-tuned languages and revised technique pricing – most of which make use of the half-point. Also the price of age-related traits is reduced. This isn’t GURPS rules-as-written and I’d argue, that it’s extremely hard to make GURPS DSA work without advised attribute costs, at least (or at the very minimum RPK’s splitting of IQ, WILL and PER).

Last time in step-by-step conversion I stressed how important it is to go for the immediately useful, while still having a general idea of how the big picture should look like. That’s why races and cultures are usually the first thing you decide on in a fantasy campaign (that or the magic system, but more of that next instalment).

So, what to do with the races? The fourth edition of DSA made the controversial choice of introducing traits for human races to the traditional mix of elves, dwarves and half-elves. Not only does that raise some uncomfortable parallels to some other Germans who used to books about “menschliche Rassen”, but it exaggerates differences that most RPGs thankfully sweep under the carpet. Worse, it made min-maxing savage fringe races that got attribute bonuses, cultures and professions quite desirable for munchkins. Human races are best completely disregarded (barring appearance) and the same goes . There are more than enough races to make playing DSA interesting without adding complications.

In this first post I will confine myself to the races Dwarves, Elves, Half-Elves and Humans. If there’s enough interest, I might write up some of the other “playable” races and maybe some of the ones designated “non-playable”. There are also a couple of example cultures, but I’m not aiming for completeness yet. I’ll just showcase what I’ve needed so far. The focus is on Northern Aventuria. I might expand this section later.


Dwarves [+62 pts.]

Attributes and Secondary Characteristics [+21]: ST +1 [10], HT +1 [15]; Basic Move: Land −1 [−5], Basic Speed −0,25 [−5], FP +2 [6]; SM −1 [0]

Advantages [+51]:
Detect: Secret compartments, doors and other clandestine sone constructions (Takes Extra Time +3 (8 s), −30%) [4]
High Manual Dexterity +1 [5]
Extended Lifespan +2 (Aging Thresholds: 200/280/360 years) [2]
Legal Immunity: Lex Zwergia (Accessibility: Only in Middle Empire, −20%, Fickle (11), −20%) [3]
Lifting ST +1 [3]
Magic Resistance +2 [4]
Night Vision +5 [5]
Perk: Alcohol Tolerance [1]
Perk: Dwarven Gear [1]
Resistant: anorganic poisons (HT +8) [4]
Resistant: disease (HT +8) [4]
Feature: Immunities and Susceptibilities [0]
Feature: Swimming counts as a hard skill (Default: HT −6).

Legal Immunity: Lex Zwergia: For anything more than a misdemeanor dwarves are supposed to be brought before their mountain king for judgement. This applies only in the Middle Empire and not all that consistently at that.
Immunities and Susceptibilities: Dwarves are especially susceptible to seasickness (no bonus from Resistant: Disease). Dumbskull gets the better of the nicest dwarves − during the illness dwarves have Bad Temper (12). If they already have Bad Temper their self-control roll is lower by two levels. Dwarves are immune to lycanthropy and also to the poison Tulmadron.

Dwarves have a long list of modified attributes and smallish advantages. They are a bit toned down compared to most RPG treatments, but that’s just fine for the feeling of the setting. The Legal Immunity is a bit on the weird side and I haven’t seen many groups playing with that, but it is background canon in DSA and so I chose to include it.
Note that dwarves have no disadvantages tied to race. Racial Greed is in the official DSA treatment, but I see this more as socially-conditioned. They might warrant a quirk-level Social Stigma, but I didn’t want to complicate things with too many non-canon traits. They are generally seen as about as trustworthy as the average human.
Feature: Immunities and Susceptibilities is a catch-all term for background stuff that will rarely crop up and mostly evens out. I’m using that for the Elves too.

Elves [+91 pts.]

Attributes and Secondary Characteristics [+33]: ST −1 [−10], DX +1 [25], HP −1 [−2]; Basic Speed +0,5 [10], PER +2 [10]

Advantages [+66]:

Acute Senses: Vision OR Hearing ODER Taste and Smell +3 [6]
Appearance: Attractive (Androgynous, +0%; Racial, +0%) [4]
Less Sleep +2 [4]
Magery +2 [25]
Night Vision +5 [5]
Perk: Distributed Sleep [1]
Perk: Two-voiced Singing [1]
Resistant: Disease (HT +8) [4]
Unaging [6]
Voice [10]
Feature: Immunities and Susceptibilities [0]

Distributed Sleep: While Elves only need 6 hours of sleep a day, they can also re-arrange their sleeping patterns to need only 2 hours a day for 3 days in a row. If they do so, they must catch up missed sleep by sleeping double the missed hours at the end of the three-day period. This is not quite what DSA canon says, but it’s close enough for my taste.
Two-Voiced Singing: Elves can sing with two voices at the same time, which is a requirement for elfsong magic.
Immunities and Susceptibilities: Elves are immune to lycanthropy and rabies. They are especially susceptible to Battleground Fever and Sleeping Disease (no bonus from Resistant: Disease and especially serious). Plants from the garlic family and Stinking Mirble trigger Quirk: Sensitive Sense of Smell (the latter with a −3 penalty). Elves are immune against the poison of Silky Bast, but take extra damage from narcissus poison.

Disadvantages [−8]:
Quirk: Alcohol Intolerance [−1]
Quirk: Horrible Hangovers [−1]
Quirk: Sensitive Sense of Smell [−1]
Social Stigma: Second-class Citizen [−5]

Sensitive Sense of Smell: Elves are extremely susceptible to stench. They resist all attacks based on malodorous smells with a −2 penalty and keep away from bad smells generally. This is mostly negated by putting a clothes-pin on one’s nose.

Elves as a race weren’t very difficult to stat. The attributes and secondary characteristics aren’t terribly different from D&D elves. Because GURPS IQ does include considerably more than just book learning I dropped the penalty from DSA. Magery is on par with a standard DSA mage, but how that works out in the end is extremely dependent on whether the elf grows up in an elven culture or not.
Distributed Sleep is a custom perk and Two-voiced Singing likewise. No need to make things more complicated than that. Alcohol Intolerance and Horrible Hangovers are canon quirks while Sensitive Sense of Smell is a custom one. I was always mystified why DSA 4.1 made this a full-fledged disadvantage. You can pretty much negate it with a clothes-pin.
Social Stigma is tied to the race and not the culture, because the average elf won’t immediately be treated as equal, because he or she grew up among humans. Feel free to delete this if you play a mage or priest who constantly walks around in the readily recognizable dress of his profession.
Everything else is pretty much standard. Note that the template offers a choice which sense to pick for Acute Senses. That’s not a standard GURPS feature for racial templates, but the DSA treatment made sense here.

Half-Elves [+33 pts.]

Attributes and Secondary Characteristics [+23]: ST −1 [−10], DX +1 [25]; HP −1 [−2], Basic Speed +0,25 [5], PER +1 [5]

Advantages [+10]:
Apearance: Attractive (Racial, +0%) [4]
Longevity [1]
Magery +0 [5]

Half-Elves are basically Elves Light. They don’t share most of latter’s bigger advantages and none of their disdavantages, but they are close attribute-wise and also possess Magery. A Social Stigma would have been possible, but it’s already kind of dubious for the Elves as such, so I left it out.

Humans [+0 pts.]

No Modifiers by race.

Humans are nothing special. They are the default and have no traits that differentiate them rules-wise.


These were considerably more complicated to stat up than the races. The basic problem anyone doing cultural templates faces is whether to write them up as mandatory or just giving hints to the players. I decided on a middle-of-the-way approach and gave a detailed write-up, but not a mandatory one. Instead there are lists of emblematic traits and skills – things that could reasonably show up on the character sheet of any member of the culture, but wouldn’t be universal. All cultures also list expected language proficiency levels, tech level, status range and a couple of automatic traits. The latter appear mostly for the smaller and more exotic cultures (elves, dwarves, uncivilized peoples).
In each case there are two point costs. One for just the Automatic Languages and Automatic traits and a higher one that also includes all automatic skills – a good basis to start building on.


Anvil Dwarfs [+3/+15 pts.]:

Cultural Familiarity: Dwarves
Automatic Languages [+2]: Rogolan (Native/Fluent) [−1], Garethi (Fluent/Broken) [3]
Common Languages: rarely Angram
Status: −1 to +5
Tech Level: 4
Automatic Traits [+1]: ST +1 [10]; Talent: Pickaxe Penchant +1 [6]; Odious Racial Habit −1: Use of coal dust ointment [−5], Greed (12) (Dwarven, +0%) [−15]
Emblematic Advantages: 3D Spatial Sense, Fit, Talent: Born Soldier/Dwarven Craftmanship/Mr. Smash/Pickaxe Penchant
Emblematic Disadvantages: Bad Temper, Hidebound, Intolerance: Reptile-Folk, Miserliness, Motion Sickness, Phobia: Open Spaces/Oceans, Stubbornness, Sense of Duty: Clan
Inappropriate Traits: Anti-Talent: Couch Potato/Non-combatant, Faerie Empathy, Fashion Sense, Plant Empathy, Phobia: Enclosed Spaces, Unfit, Xenophilia
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: clan’s tunnels (IQ/E) [2], Axe/Mace (DX/A) [2], Forced Entry (DX/E) [2], Prospecting (IQ/A) [2], Smith: Iron (IQ/A) [2], Wrestling (DX/A) [2]

Pickaxe Penchant can be found in Dungeon Fantasy 3 and Power-Ups 3.
Greed with the Dwarven modifier treats any offer of interesting precious metals or stones (and objects made with them) as giving a -2 penalty on the self-control roll. Any offer that doesn’t involve these gets a +2 bonus on the self-control. Payment in regular coin is at no penalty or bonus.

Anvil Dwarves are one of the few cultures that get a straight-up attribute modifier. All of them are trained for war from childhood and they value strength highly.


Lea Elf Clan [−11/+4 pts.]

Cultural Familiarity: Elves
Automatic Languages [−1]: Isdira (Native/None) [−2], Garethi (Fluent/None) [2]
Common Languages: Nivesian, Norbardic, rarely: Rogolan, Thorwalian, Tulamidya
Status: −1 to +2
Tech Level: 3
Automatic Traits [−10]: Arcane Knowledge: Salasandra [1], Code of Honor: Elves [−10], Quirk: Areligious [−1]
Emblematic Advantages: Acute Senses, Animal Empathy, Breath-Holding, Plant Empathy, Perfect Balance, Talent: Animal Friend/Born Sailor/Forest Guardian/Green Thumb/Outdoorsman
Emblematic Disadvantages: Curious, Sense of Duty: Clan, Phobia: Crowds
Inappropriate Traits: Alcoholism, Anti-Talent: Couch Potato, Bad Smell, Berserker, Night Blindness, Social Chameleon, Unfit
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: clan’s hunting grounds (IQ/E) [2], Bow (DX/A) [2], Camouflage (IQ/E) [1], Fishing (PER/E) [2], Musical Instrument: {iama} (IQ/H) [2], Naturalist (IQ/H) [1], Stealth (DX/A) [2], Survival: Plains OR Swampland (PER/A) [2], Swimming (HT/E) [2]

Arcane Knowledge: Salasandra allows members of one clan to open their souls to one another. Treat this as Empathy (Only one Person). Together with Two-voiced Singing it also enables the use of elfsong in the community of the clan.
Code of Honor: Elf is the basis of what it means to be an elf. Elves wouldn’t see it as a code, but just the way they are. Game-wise it’s sufficiently described with: Do not exploit nature, but return something of your own for every gift your receive. Revere your soul animal and do not hunt it. Keep a balance between creation and destruction in your own actions. Heed your dreams. Do not pursue wealth or dominance over others. Truly important things can only be learned in your clan’s salasandra.

Lea Elves are DSA’s “beginner’s elves”. They are easier to roleplay than the more remote Wood or Firn Elves and the fact that they can learn more languages reflects off-the-bat reflects this. Their code of honor can still be a challenge for veteran players, though.

Firn Elf Clan [-10/+9 pts.]

Cultural Familiarity: Elves
Automatic Languages [−2]: Isdira (Native/None) [−3], Garethi (Broken/None) [1]
Common Languages: Nujuka; rarely: Yeti
Status: −1 to +2
Tech Level: 2
Automatic Traits [−10]: Arcane Knowledge: Salasandra [1], Temperature Tolerance +2 (−15 to +25° C); Code of Honor: Elves [−10], Quirk: Areligious [−1]
Emblematic Advantages: Absolute Direction, Acute Senses, Animal Empathy, Danger Sense, Fearlessness, Perfect Balance, Talent: Animal Friend/Born Athlete/Born Sailor/Forest Guardian/Outdoorsman/Stalker/Survivor
Emblematic Disadvantages: Curious, Sense of Duty: Clan, Phobia: Crowds, Shyness
Inappropriate Traits: Alcoholism, Anti-Talent: Couch Potato, Bad Smell, Berserker, Fat, Laziness, Night Blindness, Overweight, Social Chameleon, Unfit
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: clan’s hunting grounds (IQ/E) [2], Boating (DX/A) [2], Bow (DX/A) [2] OR Thrown Weapon: Spear (DX/E) [2], Fishing (PER/E) [2], Musical Instrument: {iama} (IQ/H) [2], Naturalist (IQ/H) [2], Stealth (DX/A) [2], Survival: Arctic (PER/A) [4], Swimming (HT/E) [1]

Not the nicest and most accessible guys in the book, Firn Elves are mainly tough as nails.


Garetian (Middlelandic townsfolk) [−2/+1 pts.]

Cultural Familiarity: Middlelander
Automatic Languages [−2]: Garethi: {possibly a variant dialect} (Native/Broken) [−2]
Common Languages: Tulamidya, Rogolan, Thorwalian
Status: −2 to +7
Tech Level: 4
Automatic Traits: none
Emblematic Advantages: Contact, Social Chameleon, Talent: Craftiness/Street Smarts/Smooth Operator
Emblematic Disadvantages: Anti-Talent: Couch Potato, Curious, Selfish
Inappropriate Traits: Faerie Empathy, Spirit Empathy; Phobia: Crowds
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: home town (IQ/E) [1]

Basic townsfolk in the Middle Empire and elsewhere. They are a pretty varied lot and have few emblematic skills as such.

Middle Empire (Middlelandic country folks) [−3/−1 pts.]

Cultural Familiarity: Middlelander
Automatic Languages [−3]: Garethi: {possibly a variant dialect} (Native/None) [−3]
Common Languages: Tulamidya, Rogolan, Thorwalian
Status: −2 to +7
Tech Level: 3-4
Automatic Traits: none
Emblematic Advantages: Common Sense, Danger Sense, Fit, Talent: Survivor
Emblematic Disadvantages: Delusion: Superstition, Loner, Intolerance: esp. strangers, city-folk, Social Stigma: Serf (Second-class citizen)
Inappropriate Traits: Social Chameleon; Phobia: open spaces
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: home village (IQ/E) [1], Farming (IQ/A) [1] OR Animal Handling: {Farm Animal} (IQ/A) OR Fishing (PER/E) [1]

Country folks need at least one skill to make a living – yes, even if they are merely herding the serfs who do the actual work.

Fountland (Foundlandic countryside and small towns) [−3/−1 pts.]:

Cultural Familiarity: Middlelander
Automatic Languages [−3]: Garethi: Fountlandian (Native/None) [−3]
Common Languages: Alaani, Nujuka
Status: −2 to +6
Tech Level: 3-4
Automatic Traits: none
Emblematic Advantages: Absolute Direction, Common Sense, Fit, Talent: Business Acumen/Outdoorsman/Survivor, Temperature Tolerance (only towards cold)
Emblematic Disadvantages: Inappropriate Traits: Delusions: Superstition, Chummy, Social Chameleon; Phobia: open spaces, Social Stigma: Serf (Second-class citizen)
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: home village (IQ/E) [1], Farming (IQ/A) [1] OR Animal Handling: {Farm Animal} (IQ/A) OR Fishing (PER/E) [1]

Pretty similar to the previous culture Fountlandians also represent the archetype of the clever merchant. That doesn’t mean every second serf has the skill.

Amazon Stronghold (Prerequisite: human woman) [−7/+4 pts.]:

Cultural Familiarity: Amazonian
Automatic Languages [−2]: Garethi: Amazonian OR Tuladmidya: Amazonian (Native/Broken) [−2]
Common Languages: Garethi, Tulamidya
Status: +0 to +4
Tech Level: 3
Automatic Traits [−5]: Fit [5], Social Regard: Respected +1 [5]; Code of Honor: Amazon [−15]
Emblematic Advantages: Combat Reflexes, Danger Sense, Fearlessness, Fit, High Pain Threshold, Rapid Healing, Single-Minded, Talent: Born Athlete/Born War Leader/Devotion
Emblematic Disadvantages: Anti-Talent: Unsubtle, Intolerance: Men, No Sense of Humor, Selfish
Inappropriate Traits: Anti-Talent: Animal Foe/Couch Potato/Non-Combattant, Cowardice, Cultural Adaptability, Faerie Empathy, Fat, Greed, Kobold Empathy, Magery, Pacifism for more than 10 pts., Social Chameleon, Spirit Empathy, Unfit
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: Stronghold and environs (IQ/E) [1], Bow (DX/A) OR Thrown Weapon: Spear (DX/E) [2], Broadsword (DX/A) [2], Climbing (DX/A) [1], Riding (DX/A) [2], Running (HT/A) [1], Soldier (IQ/A) [1], Theology: Rondra (IQ/H) [1]

Code of Honor: Amazon resembles a Knight’s or Rondra Priest’s Code, but with a different focus. Ruleswise it’s the follwing: “Punish each insult to Rondra. Meet each challenge appropriately. Fight honorably, meaning no assassin’s tactics and poison use, ranged weapons and ambushes are permitted. Rebuke weak women and haughty men. Do not evade combat, except when honor demands it. Refrain from relationships with men. Temper your spirit and body and be hard towards yourself and others. Give a monthly blood tithe to Rondra – through combat, your own blood or animal sacrifice. Obey the orders of higher-ranking Amazons.”
“Active” Amazons who are still part of the command structure supplement this with a Duty, but few such PCs will be able to stay with any group of adventurers for long. Playing outcast or lost Amazons will be the norm.

Amazons didn’t have it easy in recent years in canon. They are also notoriously hard to integrate into a group of adventurers, but they do present a nice roleplaying challenge.

Parting Shots

In general, it is not necessary to stat every culture in the book. It is enough for the GM to know which cultural familiarity and languages exist in an area, what kind of status levels are available, what other social traits and skills are very important and what’s the general attitude of the populace. If you know Aventuria well and are familiar with GURPS you can do that on the fly during character creation. That raises an important point: The GM should always be present for the main part of character creation. Even if your players are veterans of both GURPS and DSA, don’t leave them to fend on their own. It’s generally okay for players to submit a draft, but then you should talk it through together. That goes doubly for setting conversions. A new ability or combination of traits that looked perfectly fine toa player can turn out extremely unbalancing when somebody else gives it a once-over. GURPS character creation is not Solitaire.

The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.

GURPS is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games, and the art here is copyrighted by Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy

Step-by-Step: DSA GURPS Conversion I – The Basics

Even the most dedicated GURPS fan has to admit that their favourite system is kind of lacking in rich, detailed settings that you can just lose yourself in. However, it offers all the tools needed to make every setting a GURPS setting. This guide shows you one way of doing such a conversion. It uses the German RPG Das Schwarze Auge (DSA) as an example.

1) Take a deep breath and think on why you want to convert this specific setting.

Whether the setting is another RPG system, a novel, a film, a computer game or a TV series you first need to be sure what you’re going for. A novel might be very good on its own, but not lend itself to an RPG experience. A film might not be so much fun if your players can’t think of cool one-liners and you have to imagine all the special effects. The intrigues and relationships that make up a TV series might not be so much fun if your characters never get to see what motivates them, because that happens in NPC-only scenes.

RPG settings are easier in this regard – they already work well for groups of PCs – but they pose an additional question: Why aren’t you just playing the setting using its original rules? Valid answers are lack of realism (D&D, DSA), plain shoddy rules (everything from Palladium), new editions every couple of years (D&D, Shadowrun, DSA), overly complicated rules (DSA), rules that don’t allow certain character concepts (D&D) or unwillingness of your players to try new things. The last point needs to be emphasised. If your players are happy to try the other rule system, at least give it a try. There’s no point in converting a whole setting if you are only doing it for yourself, even if you love converting settings.

I’ve already outlined the reasons why I think converting DSA to GURPS is a good idea here.

2) Start with what you need.

Converting a setting means you’re going to be in for the long haul, but that doesn’t mean you should disregard short-term needs. It’s best to start off with asking your players what they would want to play. Making those starting characters possible should be one of your first goals. But you also need to know what should happen with the rest of the setting.

In the case of our DSA campaign, we actually converted an existing group of characters:

1) Borlox, the dwarven mercenary. Racial stats for dwarves were an obvious start, but also rules for appropriate gear and such.
2) Kalman, the half-elven hunter. Besides racial stats for half-elves, I also needed to decide how to handle ranged weapons. I decided as a more realistic style than in my Forgotten Realms campaign and didn’t hand out Heroic Archer to a starting character. That meant none of the others got Weapon Master either.
3) Stiblet, the human priest of Hesinde. The main thing here was to figure out how to handle divine miracles and fortunately Powers – Divine Favor is a good fit. Apart from a number of custom-made learned miracles and a couple of tiny tweaks to dice rolls the system works fine.
4) Vitus, the human transformation mage. Apart from the two or three new spells there was also the issue of how to arrange the magic system. Nothing Thaumatology and Magical Styles couldn’t solve.
5) Woltan, the warrior. Nothing more than a fighting style for his academy and a decision on how to trade points of equipment was needed.

With the starting characters I knew I needed to flesh out two races, divine influences and standard magic as taught at mages’ academy.

Now all the characters also had an ethnic origin that was somewhat reflected in their disadvantages, language selection and even skills. Should this be converted into hard and fast rules? I am kind of averse to giving different cultures different stats and in the end I decided to use emblematic traits to give some flavour without mandating that every Thorwalian knows how to row a boat.

Some characters also had Special Abilities – DSA’s answer to D&D feats. These are almost exclusively used for combat, magic and supernatural tricks. They can be learned and most of the combat ones make more sense as techniques, manoeuvres and perks. I mean it’s hard to imagine why you have to buy a special ability just to learn how to feint. It’s not hard to just make ad hoc judgements about whether a given combat ability falls into the purview of a perk, technique or manoeuvre.

Magical abilities are harder to pin down and more likely to cause problems. There aren’t very many that are ubiquitous, but every mage starts out with a couple of those, including staff enchantment rituals and arcane meditation, which is a way to gain more magical energy. These were likely to be complicated so I decided to just use DSA rules without setting a cost for the first few sessions. This brings us to step three.

3) Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Not worrying about some aspects of the setting is absolutely fine. Things can work by fiat until you work out more detailed rules. Just don’t skimp on the points necessary to buy the rules-compliant abilities later.

That’s especially the case for minor things that are there mainly for flavour: minor social traits, the exact way some ritual or piece of equipment works, exact spell costs and the final contents of the magical colleges. If it’s not of vital importance for your starting characters, ignore it!

4) Paint with broad strokes.

Related to the previous step, but even more important: While it’s fine to ignore details, you should know where you want to go with the setting as a whole. Even if you don’t plan on using some aspects of the setting any time soon, you should know the general rules you want to work. This is always important for supernatural and exotic powers and abilities, but cinematic conventions and the influence of ultra-tech or superscience bear thinking about.

For a fantasy setting like DSA supernatural stuff far outnumbers all other considerations. The setting’s main kind of magic consists of skill-like spells. Mages, elves, druids, witches, geodes they all use some variant of this. Other ways to work magic exist, but they are far less prominent in the setting. Making this spell magic work well is the bulk of the conversion work. It’s also important to differentiate the different magical traditions from each other without making them completely incompatible. For this reason they will all use a core of GURPS Magic with switches and variants taken from GURPS Thaumatology. They depend on mana level, but those aren’t extremely varied with most of the world being normal mana. Of course, in DSA it is possible to construct low and no mana zones by using certain stones as building material, so this evens out.

Other magical traditions and the less common rituals of the traditions mentioned above will use other magic systems taken from other sources. One thing that is clear though is that the “Magic as Powers” approach will be used only sparingly. All magic uses up energy sources and powers don’t mix very well with a “spells as skills” approach in this case.

Divine powers on the other hand will be common, but fickle. Those don’t use energy pools and depend on sanctity instead of mana. Basically the system presented in GURPS Powers: Divine Favor is used.

There are some kinds of powers that seem to stand in between those two groups like shamans, the Gjalskerlander Beast-Warrior or the Ferkina Possessed. These special cases are set aside for a consideration at a later time. There might be a space for spirit-based or chi-based powers in DSA, even if the setting calls everything magic or divine agency.

Apart from the supernatural, there isn’t all that much out of the ordinary. Combat-oriented characters can be distinguished by skills, weapons, armour and martial styles. Social structures can be easily described with GURPS terminology, especially if you’re using GURPS Social Engineering. Races are rather straightforward to convert, even though their special legal statuses are often hidden in other publications (DSA doesn’t care for assigning points even to pretty hefty cases of Legal Immunity). Technology is an eclectic mix of TL 0-4 as is typical for fantasy settings, but nothing a base TL can’t handle.

The next part of this series will deal with how to handle the conversion of a setting’s races and give examples for the most important ones in DSA.

The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.

GURPS is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games, and the art here is copyrighted by Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy

GURPS DSA – Wirklich eine gute Idee?

This is a German variant of the English article. There isn’t much here that isn’t in the English version.

In der irrigen Annahme, dass jemand aus Deutschland daran interessiert sein könnte, hier noch eine Version des letzten Artikels in der Originalsprache des Schwarzen Auges.

Als langjähriger Freund und Playtester von GURPS habe ich schon manche Konversion unternommen, aber von DSA hatte ich mich immer ferngehalten bis alter Freund mal wieder spielen wollte und wir nach zwei Abenteuern feststellen mussten, dass niemand die Regeln mochte.

Für den geneigten deutschen Leser – d.h. jemanden, dem Pen & Paper Rollenspiele bekannt sind – brauche ich nicht viele Worte um DSA zu machen, aber ein paar Stichpunkte zu den Eigenschaften des Settings sind natürlich nützlich.


1) DSA ist ein dichtes Setting. Nicht jeder Spielleiter – auch nicht jeder GURPS-SL – ist gut im Worlbuilding und DSA hat genug Material, dass so ein Makel nie auffallen wird. Die Welt ist – für eine Fantasywelt – auch nicht zu unlogisch (jaja, die Klimazonen, ich weiß).

2) Der Support mit neuem Material ist sichergestellt. Alte Abenteuer sind auch gut als PDF zu erhalten. Insgesamt ist der Support vergleichbar mit GURPS, wenn auch mit anderer Stoßrichtung (Setting, Abenteuer) und etwas schwankender Qualität.

3) Durch die Abenteuer und das sehr ausgestaltete Setting nimmt DSA dem Spielleiter viel ab. Wer keine vorgefertigten Abenteuer mag, ist natürlich falsch beraten DSA oder eine GURPS-Variante zu seinem System zu erküren.

4) Es gibt jede Menge originelle Charakterkonzepte. Nicht nur vermeidet man den Standard-Krieger und -Magier, Charaktere wie Schelm, Zibilja, Kristallomant oder Geweihter laden zum etwas anderen Rollenspiel ein. Abstimmung mit Gruppe und SL ist dabei natürlich immer wichtig.

5) Die große Fangemeinde macht das Finden von Spielern recht einfach. Ob das auch für die GURPS-Variante zutrifft kann ich nicht sagen, aber eine bestehende DSA-Gruppe zu überzeugen, die GURPS-Regeln auszuprobieren war bei mir machbar.


1) Das Setting kann überwältigend sein. Der prospektive SL sollte sich klar machen, wie nahe er am “offiziellen” Aventurien bleiben will und wie fanatisch seine Spieler auf dem Kanon beharren. Abenteuer sind besonders schlimm in dieser Hinsicht mit ihren Orts- und Zeitbeschränkungen. Jedoch ist es häufig möglich letztere zu umgehen, wenn man den Kleinkram überliest. Ortsbeschränkungen sind dagegen oft nicht zu ändern, auch wenn die Abenteuer es manchmal übertreiben. Hier könnte eine gute Liste Abhilfe schaffen, aber bislang konnte ich noch nichts finden.

2) Über die Regeln kann man einiges sagen, aber viel Gutes ist nicht dabei. Ohne Automatisierung ist die Charaktererstellung ein einziger Horror, die Talent-Probe ist ein schlechter Witz, der aber für 50% des Spiels verantwortlich ist, Sonderfertigkeiten machen aus realistischer Perspektive selten Sinn und Beschränkungen wie Elfische Weltsicht sind einfach blöd. Vieles was an der vierten Edition gut ist (echte Vor- und Nachteile, mehr Kampfoptionen, Variation von Zaubern) wurde von anderen Systeme (v.a. GURPS) mehr schlecht als recht übernommen. Schwer wiegt auch die Tatsache, dass vieles einfach nicht so zum Hintergrund passt wie man ihn aus Romanen und Zitaten kennt.

3) DSA-Fans sind oft recht fanatisch. Einerseits ist das gut, da die Spieler dann nicht schnell die Lust verlieren, andererseits muss man sich als SL oft mal auf die Finger klopfen lassen. Und es ist auch nicht witzig sich von realweltlichen Praioten runterputzen zu lassen, nur weil man eine Hexe in der Gruppe hat.

4) Die Kosten für die Materialien sind hoch. Auch wenn man sich als GURPS-SL auf die Basics beschränken kann wird man doch an Schwerter & Helden, Zauberei & Hexenwerk, Götter & Dämonen und einigen Hintergrundwerken nicht vorbei kommen. Selbst als PDF laufen diese drei veralteten “Grund”regelwerke auf 60€ heraus. Das (gerade noch) aktuelle Wege-Paket schlägt sohar mit 90€ zu Buche. Und damit sind noch nicht die Hintergrüne und Abenteuer abgedeckt. Okay, GURPS ist auch nicht gerade billig, aber die Vielzahl von DSA-Regionalbänden kann den Erwerb recht teuer machen (zumal nicht alle als PDF vorhanden sind).

5) Der Sprach-Mix macht’s schwer. Die vierte Edition von GURPS gibt es nur auf Englisch und DSA gibt es praktisch nur auf Deutsch. Ich muss tatsächlich mal nachfragen, ob es legal ist Übersetzungen zu posten. DSA mit englischen Skills und Disadvantages zu spielen macht jedenfalls nicht soviel Spaß.


Warum sollte man sich überhaupt an einer Konversion versuchen? Da gibt es durchaus Gründe dafür:

1) Etwas, das GURPS immer wieder Probleme bereitet, ist das Fehlen detaillierter Settings. Ja, es gibt die Infinite Worlds, in die man jedes Setting einbetten kann. Sowohl für Infinite Worlds als auch für Banestorm gibt es sogar eine kleine Quellenbücher, aber das war’s dann auch schon, wenn man sich nicht auf Transhuman Space und dessen Übergang von 3. auf 4. Edition einlassen will. GURPS ist nichts für SLs, die ein komplettes Setting mit allen wichtigen NSCs, detaillierten Stadtbeschreibungen und einer fortlaufenden Timeline erwarten. Das heisst aber nicht, dass jeder GURPS-SL ständig nur eigene Sachen erfinden will. Manchmal ist es auch einfach schön sich einfach auf eine existierende Welt einzulassen.

2) DSA ist, im Gegensatz zu Spaßvögeln wie D&D und Rifts, einfach zu konvertieren. Ja, es gibt viel Material, aber vieles davon braucht keine Spielwerte. Es gibt nicht in jedem dritten Buch zwanzig neue Rassen und Monster. Das Regelsystem versucht realistisch zu sein (Attacken und Paraden, Rüstungen, die tatsächlich Schaden aufhalten, keine arbiträren “3 x pro Tag”-Kräfte, energiebasierte Zauber und so weiter und so fort. Wenn man sich von der inneraventurischen Wirklichkeit leiten lässt, so muss man nicht alle Heldentypen konvertieren, sondern kann sich auf den gesunden Menschenverstand der Spieler verlassen. Natürlich sind Magie und Götterwirken eine Ausnahme. Natürlich müssen Rassen und Kreaturen Stats haben, aber das ist kein unüberwindliches Problem.

3) GURPS macht DSA tatsächlich besser. Techlevel, Vertrautheiten, Martial-Arts-Stile, Göttliche Gnade, detaillierte Rüstungen, Regeln für Höhlenforschung, ausgewogene Vor- und Nachteile, realistische Fertigkeiten, Start mit erfahrenen Charakteren und vieles mehr.

Nicht so schönes

Einige Sachen komplizieren die Konversion:

1) GURPS Magic braucht nach all den Jahren immer noch ein Patch. Eines der wenigen Büchern, bei denen die Qualität auf der Strecke blieb.

2) Es gibt immer noch kein aktuelles GURPS Bestiarium. Man kann aber auf andere Publikationen und die alte Version zurückgreifen.

3) Gibt es überhaupt ein Interesse daran. Klar mache ich das sowieso für meine Gruppe, aber es wäre schon schön zu wissen, dass andere auch daran Interesse hätten. Warum sollte man’s sonst posten? Kommentare sind also sehr willkommen.

Für’s Erste wird das der letzte GURPS DSA Artikel in deutscher Sprache sein. Vielleicht schreibe ich ja noch Übersetzungen für die folgenden Artikel, wenn ich ein paar Hits aus Deutschland kriege. Bei Kommentaren schreib ich definitiv was.

The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.

GURPS is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games, and the art here is copyrighted by Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy

GURPS DSA – A Good Idea?

You can find a German variant of this article here.

Das Schwarze Auge / The Dark Eye, commonly known as DSA among fans and detractors alike, ranks among the top three RPGs in Germany, but has never quite managed to gain a foothold anywhere else. Americans are most likely to recognize it as the engine that ran the three PC games released under the name “Realms of Arkania” in the nineties.

Now, there’s a couple of reasons why DSA has a very loyal following in Germany and also why it never made much headway anywhere else. And some of these make you really wish for a comprehensive GURPS conversion of the setting.

The Good

1) The setting is extremely dense. There are hidden secrets in every other town. History stretches back to reptilian precursor races. Named NPCs interact in a complex political web. Current events are very detailed and reported from multiple points of view. There’s a host of academies, holy orders, army units and fighting instructors for your characters to learn from and interact with. There are complete libraries of books to look for, ancient evils to defeat and countless causes to fight for.
If your players want to get involved in their campaign world, they’ll find hooks aplenty. Even if they don’t want to do a lot of work themselves, you can easily provide them with connections that have the right flavour.

2) The system is extremely well-supported. You want to game in a certain part of the world? There’s a regional module for you. You want to know more about secret societies or mage academies? Three modules each. Need to know more about elves or dwarves? Of course, there’s a supplement! Want to play in another time period? There’s limited support even for that. Need more info on magical artefacts? Of course, there’s a book on that. Want to read in-universe tracts about your chosen deity? The last ones will be out within the year. Maps? There are detailed posters of every spot on the continent; major cities are also mapped. Adventure modules? 250 and counting. You need an official in-universe newspaper? That was revamped a bit and now includes more scenarios than news, but there’s 150 back issues you can peruse if you prefer the straight dope.
Imagine the Forgotten Realms and cram all that detail into its western coast from Icewind Dale to Calimshan. Then multiply the number of relevant supplements by five and the number of adventure modules by fifteen. Then you come close the level of support DSA offers to the GM with deeper pockets. Note that there are PDF versions and second-hand copies that offer much cheaper alternatives.

3) The system takes a lot of work off the GM’s shoulders. I know not everybody likes adventure modules, but for the GM with a full-time job they often spell the difference between running a game or not. For everyone else they are at least a nice diversion or useful for mining for ideas. In contrast to the usual D20 dungeon the last two and a half decades of DSA has seen a varied mix ranging from intrigue and detective stories, to war, exploration and mystic themes, to more traditional dungeons, but ones that actually make sense. The same goes for much of the support supplements. DSA is pretty much the anti-GURPS in this regard. There’s very little world-building and system-tuning required by the GM.

4) The system helps players who have trouble coming up with original character concepts. The use of archetypes and the extremely dense background material are helpful for  players and GMs alike. You won’t end playing a level one fighter that is only distinguished through his random attributes, race selection and starting feat. You will have disadvantages that define you, a place ore unit where you learned your trade, ready-made connections and antipathies and even a reason to go adventuring.

5) There’s a huge fan following in Germany, which makes it very easy to get new players. Everybody plays in the same world and there aren’t all that many ways to tweak the system and world, so you can even introduce characters from other GMs’ campaigns. Of course, that also means there’s quite a lot of unofficial material readily available. A lot of it is quite good and actually on par with D20 titles.

The Bad

1) The setting can be overwhelming. There’s a myriad of details to take into account. For example, you need a very clear idea of when and where to start your campaign, because there are metaplots that will radically change your world. If you decide to leave them out, a large amount of the support elements will become unusable or take a considerable amount of work to adapt. Worst of all are the adventure modules – a significant number of which thrust the characters into the limelight of politics and unfolding supernatural events. Many players are aware of those and will want to take part in them. They might object if you change the world too much.
In the end player and GM freedom are often restricted by the burgeoning realms of the writers’ imagination. Take into account that the early generation of writers were German literature and anthropology students and you get deliberate restrictions that railroad you into a direction the writers thought proper for your game.

2) The rules show a a truly Teutonic obsession with details: For example every skill roll sees three twenty-sided dice rolled to beat three different attributes with skill points used to make up the difference. Where GURPS has four skill difficulties with everyday names (cost progression 1-2-4-8-12…), DSA sports nine difficulties from A* to H (cost progression a convenient 1-1-2-3-4-6-7-8-10-11-13-14-16-17-19-21-22-24-26-27-29 – for type A that is). The system did not use to be so complicated, but in the current edition it is virtually impossible to make a character without using a spreadsheet. Granted, spreadsheets are a good idea for every point-build system, but DSA takes complications to unhealthy heights. It used to be a half-way beginner-friendly system, but it shed that with its 4th Edition.
At the same time the system makes it very hard for beginning characters to succeed at anything. An average character who has spent years training in a skill has less than half a chance to beat an unmodified skill roll – and few skill rolls in adventures and examples are unmodified, most carry a penalty. A trained warrior who has spent six years or more doing weapons training has less than half a chance to hit an opponent before they get a chance to defend. Combat takes forever, especially since characters can often take three or four sword hits without much of an effect.Part of these problems stem from marrying what was originally a D&D-esque random roll system with a point-based system (that incidentally steals a lot of small details from GURPS). The effect isn’t very pretty in play and encourages players to invest heavily in attributes and take the maximum disadvantages before start of play. Attributes are even more important than in GURPS, but at the same time there are so many and all are important for spells that the average player is easily lured into munchkinny builds.

3) The fan base has a large number of fanatics. Even in the good old times before the internet you could post a notice in the game shop and have people ring you up only to tell you about how the Praiotian inquisition was the best thing ever and that you were a disgusting heretic for having a witch in your group. The internet hasn’t made things easier. It’s probably a good idea to never invite more than one unknown player into your group. DSA players are often defensive, because their system is often to maligned by others. DSA has a bit of a reputation as simplistic, illogical, goody-two-shoes system and if you like it very much that can hurt.

4) The system is huge and can be costly. It also tends to reinvent itself every eight years on average. Thankfully these reinventions don’t really introduce huge world-sweeping changes on their own (like in the Forgotten Realms), but you still need to shell out for new basic rules and all the extras you need to make your characters work. This is all the more infuriating, because the changes are often very subtle (4th Edition to 4.1 to 5 for example didn’t change the basic mechanics at all). On the whole this a system to sink a lot money in if you want to cover all eventualities.

5) All the nice things can only be had in German. Sure, there’s an English version consisting of like three books and there used to be versions in French and Dutch, but basically you need to either be a German native speaker or somebody with a degree in German and a huge interest in translating this stuff.

The Beautiful

Now, most of what I said serves only to whet the appetite of the average GURPS GM. Why?

1) The one huge drawback of GURPS is the lack of detailed settings. The only exception is Transhuman Space and that has to deal with an awkward 3rd/4th Edition split. Sure, GURPS attracts GMs who want to stat their own settings or run real-world campaigns, but when you’re short on players you tend to run back to vaguely Tolkieneque fantasy. DSA nicely fills that gap in GURPS.

2) There’s nothing in the setting that makes it very hard to convert. DSA tries to be realistic even if falls far short of this goal. The system is already skill-based, combat is more or less realistic with parries, dodging and armour that stops damage. Most non-supernatural stuff works on a somewhat logical basis and spell magic is skill-based, differentiated by spell traits and uses energy points.
There are a limited number of creatures, cultures, races and magics and most of the latter can be given more flavour by representing them as different GURPS variants. The same goes for DSA adventures. Instead of a different monster with three dozen modifiers per room, you’ll mainly face humanoids, animals and maybe a monster or two with at most a couple of special abilities each.
Compared to other RPG settings like D&D, Rifts or Star Trek (any incarnation) converting the DSA setting isn’t much of a chore.

3) GURPS actually makes DSA better. Tech levels, familiarities, martial arts and magical styles, divine favour, detailed armour, spelunking rules, supernatural abilities, a balanced disadvantage system, the possibility to start with experienced characters…
The possibilities are staggering.

The Not So Beautiful

There are still some things that complicate a GURPS DSA conversion:

1) The GURPS Magic spell system is still in bad need of a fix.
2) There’s no bestiary yet and that slows down creature conversion.
3) Is there even any interest in this? American GURPS players might be interested in the setting, but can’t take advantage of the German material, while German DSA players might be interested in better rules, but don’t want to buy a minimum of six English rulebooks (Characters, Campaigns, Powers, Low-Tech, Magic, Thaumatology and Martial Arts). I mean obviously I’m doing this for my own group anyway, but is there any interest online? Feedback is very welcome, especially on whether this should be German-only or English-only content or something both could appreciate.

The first part of my step-by-step conversion guide for DSA is available here.

The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.

GURPS is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games, and the art here is copyrighted by Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy