Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What's 100 points between friends?

Someone (Unachimba) asked about how I have wildly different point total PCs adventuring at the same time.

How does that work out?

Some of it is my game, some it is GURPS.

It depends what you buy.

In my current game, at this moment, we've got a 346 point knight on something like his 23rd or 24th delve next to a martial artist worth 251 on his 3rd or 4th. That's a 95 point difference. All Chuck Morris has purchased so far is Reach Mastery (Light Horse Cutter) for his polearm. Vryce has purchased Hard to Subdue, Hard to Kill, Luck, weapon skill, Armor Mastery, Armoury skill, Swimming, Sacrificial Parry, more HP, and who knows what else at this point.

Yet they stood shoulder to shoulder in combat all last session and Chuck Morris put down at least as many opponents as Vryce. Nothing one did overshadowed the other.


Vryce has mostly purchased things that will keep him alive, or helps his friends survive. He hasn't made himself, or really concentrated on making himself, so offensively powerful that the only way to challenge him is with dangers that would annihilate all the other PCs.

Had it been another PC, would it matter? Probably not. With a wizard and a second wizard, it only takes a couple spells the vet doesn't have to make you useful in ways the vet isn't. We've got two scouts and someone coming in soon with a third. I never hear one complaining the other is stealing his thunder, or is too powerful to adventure with. The fact that one is better than the other doesn't seem to make the weaker one less useful, just less powerful. Neither is outclassed clean out of utility on the adventure.

It depends on what you sell. By which I mean, as a GM, what do you make available for the points?

My game is pretty far from a freak show game, and I err on the side of caution allowing purchases of potentially game-altering powers and spells.

If it was "anything goes!" I'd have more of a problem. 100 points of "whatever you want" can get odd, fast, and put PCs who don't yet have the access to these powers or the points to buy them in a bit of a hole.

To put it another way, my game gets more cinematic by ramping up the level and breadth of fairly mundane powers. The skilled get more skilled, the strong stronger, the magically powerful more magically powerful. They don't get access to game-changing abilities.

To a lesser extent, what do you make available for sale? In my game, magic items are not all automatically available for purchase. You have to roll to see what's there, or more accurately, if the thing you want is there. So the experienced sorts don't have shatteringly powerful items that set a "must be this high to ride this ride" barrier to entry for new characters.

It's how fast you get your points. If I gave out 100 points in 20 groups of 5 over 20 sessions vs. 4 batches of 25 over 4 sessions, do you think it would affect what people buy? I think so. The urge to spend now on things that'll keep you alive until next session is powerful. So the guy 95 points more valuable doesn't have, say, Extraordinary Luck and Extra Attack 2 and 3 more levels of sword skill. He's got a breadth of abilities improved a bit and filled in gaps exposed by repeated exposures to a variety of dangers. So new guys can still pull their weight on adventures that challenge him because he's not as far ahead as raw point total might make it seem.

"A kid with a pointed stick can kill you in GURPS." That's as direct a quote as I can remember of what a friend of mine says pretty often. I'm still not sure if my friend was being derisive or not. Not, I think, since he's played GURPS for a long time and GMed it for years now as well. But he's not wrong. Given a sufficiently lucky/unlucky set of rolls, barring built-in immunity or built-in ability to recover from a given attack form, a kid with a pointed stick can kill you. A few 3s here, a few 17s or 18s on your part, and bam! it's new PC time.

This helps smooth out some of the differences between power levels. A critical head blow to your brand new DF PC is probably about as bad as a critical head blow to an experienced DF delver.

Some people might call this "swingy" as if that's a bad thing. It's not - it's exciting. A lot like MMA, where someone can dominate a fight but then make a single mistake and get knocked out, caught in a triangle choke, or power-bombed into defeat. It adds an element of risk and a thrill of uncertainty to any fight.

GURPS builds that in. A critical hit bypassing any defense roll, and may do other exciting things, too. A critical miss is always possible no matter how high your skill is. Using a skill in a combat situation always opens you up to failure, and using your head in order to minimize the number of times you need to take that risk puts a high value on clever play.

And that's why I think the nearly 100 point difference between the top point value and bottom polint value PCs in my game doesn't matter that much.


  1. The most important part of this is organic growth vs. a sudden point dump. Sure, if the GM allows it, you *can* save up for 5 sessions and purchase a 25 point advantage. But you're more likely to die in the mean time than if you spend 5 points per session on extra HP, Hard to Kill, etc. It's a gamble, and most players like to see it pay off quickly.

    1. Maybe so. Chuck Morris has a lot of point saved, and that player's previous character (Inquisitor Marco) saved up something like 30+ points before he spent any. He just had the bad luck of getting killed before he could use the blitz-spent points he used all at once before the PC died. Chuck is 251 + 15 saved, Inquisitor Marco was 272+11, and spent 22 of those 33 he'd saved almost all at once. I think it helps a lot that I hand them out little by little, but it's not the most critical factor.

      I'd say more than anything it's the synergy effect - 250+100 points in GURPS when you're restricted from buying supernatural durability-type advantages or making huge changes to your power level = you're better but still aren't dramatically more capable of surviving and dealing out death than a 250 point guy is.

    2. Yeah, this reminds me of a friend's GURPS Werewolf game - he liked people to generate base-level characters, "who you would be without lycanthrope powers", and only then add on the supernatural stuff (even though in that world it's something you learn about as a kid).

      Another friend flips this over: you have X+Y points, and the Y can only be spent on weird stuff (whatever that might be for the game world). That's to encourage people not simply to max out stats and such.

  2. My experiences are strangely in the opposite direction:

    mundane traits and survival abilities are some of the best deals in DF.

    Why mundane traits? Because they tend to always work, while special abilities often are quite binary in the useless-awesome scale. They also are special unique snowflakes while ST,skill and weapon master have awesome synergy. Swashbucklers are considered to be one of the strongest templates for this.

    Why survival abilities? Because if there is a foe that can damage the best protected delvers, it will splat the ones that have much worse defenses. Doing massive damage doesn't matter if you are dead!

    1. So do you think if I was allowing a lot of strange powers or freaky stuff for purchase, the 100 point difference would be even less important?

    2. It would be more important but for the opposite reasons that you postulate: those who invested in freakshow abilities would face bigger capability differences when compared to those who invest in mundane traits. By restricting the available traits you force them to invest wisely.

    3. Perhaps. One big thing, I think, that supports this is that the really big power-ups - the game changers - are already on the templates. Scouts all start with Heroic Archer, the front-line guys all have Weapon Master (one has WM and Trained By A Master) except for the barbarian (who's the self-appointed Slam Master anyway).

      So there isn't a big gap of have/have nots. They're all haves, in the various degrees of ability.


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