Reviewed by Jamie 'Trotsky' Revell ©2002
Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion
The police will, in one way or another, play a significant part in most roleplaying campaigns with modern or near-modern settings. They may be antagonists, heroes, ignorant fools who can't see a supernatural slaying when it's in front of their noses, or just cleaning up the mess that the player characters have left behind them. But they're almost always there somewhere. GURPS Cops provides the background for dealing with them.
The focus, of course, is on the concept of a police campaign, and two main styles for such a game are described. In a cinematic game, the action resembles the Lethal Weapon films, where the heroes can accidentally blow up a building and receive no more than a reprimand and a demotion to traffic duty. Car chases, shoot-outs and cunning, larger-than-life villains will be the order of the day. Alternatively, a game could be closer to NYPD Blue or Homicide (or, if you're British, The Bill) with gritty realism and more plausible limitations to character actions. GURPS Cops deals with both styles, but it's the nature of GURPS that it tends to be more useful for the latter.
The book starts with a general history of policing from the creation of the first uniformed forces in 1829 (although there's a brief timeline going further back) to the present day. Some capsule biographies of real-life police officers help to flesh out particular historical periods, but you'll almost certainly find you want to do more research if you intend to run a police-heavy campaign set prior to the modern era. The second chapter describes police organisations from around the world, with the focus on the US, the UK, France and Japan. Although the focus in the rest of the book tends to be on America, there is enough information here to the use the other countries. Perhaps more importantly, enough variation in style between the four systems to provide some good ideas for designing fictional forces (e.g. for SF games) without having everything look like a carbon copy of the LAPD.
The main rules chapter provides character generation templates for a range of police officers – although if you want to generate a typical British policeman you'll have to ignore that everyone has Pistol skill! As in all other GURPS books to date, the templates are intended for designing player characters, who tend to be above the norm for their game worlds, so if you only need cops as minor adversaries or background NPCs, they will have to be toned down a little. Templates for lawyers, forensic technicians and others involved in criminal justice are also provided, and could be useful in a wide range of campaigns.
Of even wider use are the new weapons and items of equipment described. The focus on 'non-lethal' weaponry such as rubber bullets, CS spray, tasers and the like is something that hasn't really been done in GURPS before, and is especially welcome. The equipment lists for SWAT teams, stats for typical police cruisers and rules for getting out of handcuffs could all prove handy in other games, too. Dotted elsewhere throughout the book are boxed rules sections for such things dealing with informants, cinematic car chases and polygraphs.
The remainder of the book deals with criminal justice from the commission of the crime through to prison and probation. Assuming your campaign is intended to be realistic, this is perhaps the most widely useful section. It's more background information than rules, but it's the sort of useful information that really deserves to be collected together like this. You'll find out what sort of things can be considered crimes, what forensic examination of a crime scene can tell the authorities, and how interrogations work. The section on trials and sentencing is especially focused on the US system, but that's perhaps unavoidable, and the extensive bibliography provides books that will tell you more about other countries.
In summary, if you intend to run almost any modern or near-modern campaign that isn't highly cinematic in style, this book is likely to prove useful somewhere down the line. Certainly, its most helpful for gritty games with US cops as player characters, but if the PCs ever run the risk of being arrested or have to investigate a 'crime scene' which is actually the responsibility of a Cthuloid monstrosity, you will find something in here you can use. About my only criticism is that some of the boxed text is a little difficult to read, as it appears on a mottled brick-effect background. Overall, this is a good, solid piece of work, and the only surprise is that it hasn't been done earlier.
Editor's Note: GURPS Cops is published by Steve Jackson Games who can be reached at http://www.sjgames.com/