Thursday, August 25, 2016

More Game Questions: Arm ST, Gift of Tongues, and self-learning

More GURPS stuff from my DF gaming:

Arm ST

One of my players - the barbarian - wants to get Arm ST. It's on the template as a power-up.

I eventually said, no, please don't.

Thanks to using Technical Grappling, and a simplified version of it at that, we often use full-body ST for grappling. We also have people try to force doors while armed (kick it down), and unarmed (with a crowbar, and arms). We have leg-based and arm-based attacks. We have carrying capacity. We have ST-based rolls that aren't clearly arm or not arm centric. Etc.

In other words, Arm ST would be something that I'd have to pause and answer about on a regular basis. "Do I get Arm ST for this?" "Does my Arm St count?" "Why doesn't his Arm ST count on a break free, can't he work an arm in and get the bonus?" Etc.

Plus, it's 9 points for a +2 to ST, which means +2 swing, +1 thrust. 9 points would equally buy +1 ST, which would be +1 swing or +1 swing and thrust (depend on +1 to what), and +1 HP and a +1.5 to the HP limit. I'd rather have people just do that. It's not like the barbarian is close to his racial max of ST 25, and ST 25 plus 2 Striking ST is fine. All Arm ST 2 on top of that would give is a +1 to both damages . . . I feel like it's a lot of headache just to do that.

It's part of my campaign to minimize special cases.

Also, it makes my inner personal trainer happy. Power comes from the ground up.

Does Gift of Tongues get cheaper if you already know the language?

Sadly, no. Have Broken and want Accented? Still the same cost as if you knew nothing.

This is how magic works, much of the time. It either a) boosts what you have, or b) replaces what you have with a new level or ability. Flight isn't cheaper if you can already fly, Missile Shield isn't cheaper for people with good missile defenses, Resist Fire isn't cheaper for people who already resist heat or fire pretty well. The boosts just give a flat add.

The "Gift" spells just give you a new ability, overlaying your own if it's less than the spell's gift. They aren't making you better at languages, they are just giving them to you.

Good questions, but it's the wrong style of spell. You could potentially convert spells like that into boost spells, but mostly that will make them cheaper at a cost of, well, nothing. There are a lot of reasons for avoiding that - most of the boost spells are only useful if they can take you to a useful level thanks to a solid base, but for languages that's a non-issue. Might +6 from your Magery 6 buddy still sucks when your ST 4 goes to ST 10, even if it's awesome when it takes your ST 18 to ST 24 and dramatically increases your damage. Languages don't have that, just energy cost issues for the spells, so changing them is just making them easier and more critical and more useful than people who actually learn languages. That's not what I want.

Self-learning languages and skills.

In my DF, we use training costs. How you explain the costs are up to you - hired a teacher, spent the money on booze to learn Carousing at the bar, fired off ammunition, paid for lunch from people you consulted with, donated to the church and prayed really hard, bought a book, etc.

But what if you essentially have the materials and a way to make them perfectly accessible? One of my players mentioned this yesterday - Gift of Letters plus a book means you can make your own Rosetta Stone. This is true. But it still comes with costs. Maybe I'd give a discount on the fees, but I'd have it take longer. This is a for a few reasons, in game and out of game.

Out of Game

- Balance. It's fairer and easier if everyone pays the same fees and uses the same rules to learn, and then applies color text after.

- Time. It doesn't require us to budget more sessions between game to account for slower learning.

- More Balance. Some skills require you to find a teacher so the GM can place controls on what skills are available at all, and what ones are available only later or occasionally.

In Game

- Teachers are better. The costs assume you're getting taught or somehow self-learning at a rate equal to that of being taught. Teachers dramatically speed up learning - they can put the next bit of information you're ready for in front of you, and can answer questions, and can sort materials for you.

- Some skills just can't be self-taught without exceptional circumstances.

- Even with access to perfect materials and perfect understanding, using high-cost magic to get that understanding is costly. It multiplies your time. It's cast, read, quickly write (while you can still read - trust me, "I'll remember it" isn't making you faster), and then rest and recover from the costly spell. Eventually you'll have lots and lots of fragmented language bits and know how they form specific sentences but need a lot of reinforcement to get them to work together.* If the materials aren't perfect or are oddly specific or idiosyncratic, you're in even more trouble.

So, basically, if Dryst wants to learn Elder Tongue by finding a book and using Gift of Letters, he can. it'll be cheaper, but much slower, and impede other activities. Or if it doesn't impede other activities, it'll be even slower than that. The cost of speed and certainty is money and some time. The cost of saving money is a cost in time and certainty.

Plus he doesn't have a book, so there is that.

Does casting Flame Jet but not attacking with it disrupt Invisibility?

Yes. It is clearly a combat spell. Casting a combat spell - even if you don't attack with it - turns you visible. I do allow people to cast Missile spells and Melee spells and just hold them while invisible, but a strict reading of the modified spell (DF1, Wizardry Refined) doesn't allow that. I'd be more inclined to enforce that than let people walk around invisibly with Flame Jet on "just not attacking with it."

* This is from person experience. Even with a read-along and an electronic dictionary and pronunciation tags on Japanese, it's slow to pick up new words even if you speak the language at a low level. Starting from nothing, well, be very, very patient, and don't be surprised if you can't apply the bits you learn more broadly for a long time. It doesn't work well for students, either. All of those "I learned English from watching TV!" or "from reading comics!" people had other sources of better English input, too.


  1. With regard to your "self-taught" question I think our general rubric for the creation of art / whatever is pretty relevant:

  2. On learning languages with Gift of Tongues, I've always treated it like you're watching a badly dubbed Kung-fu flick, so the speaker's mouth moves and no sound comes out, and Gift of Letters overlays your script over what appears on the page. Those spells are useful enough without helping training.


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