Thursday, December 12, 2013

GURPS 101: Strength and Hit Points

This is the start of a multi-blog series on the basic and secondary attributes in GURPS. If you're new to the system, what are some things you'll want to think about? GURPS is point buy, so it's not the dice but you that decides what level your stats are. Here are some things you'll want to know about Strength and Hit Points.

Also see posts on Gaming Ballistic, Ravens 'n' Pennies, and RPG Snob on this same subject, and the GURPS 101 page.

How Much Strength Do I Need?

As much as you can afford. No one ever complained they were too strong. But you rarely have unlimited points, so you need to make some decisions.

If your character depends on muscle for damage (melee weapons, thrown weapons), there are breakpoints you need to know.

Thrust Damage: ST adds one point of thrust damage for every two points of ST, on the odd numbers. (So ST 11 and 12 do 1d-1 thrust, but 13 and 14 do 1d). Since adding more dice to your rolls helps in a lot of ways (see below), three breakpoints to keep in mind are:

ST 13 (1d thrust) - not the first time you do 1 die, but the first time you do 1d without penalties.
ST 19 (2d-1 thrust) - the first time you do 2 dice.
ST 27 (3d-1 thrust) - the first time you do 3 dice.

Thrust damage doesn't go up very quickly, so people who depend on thrust (people with stabby weapons, unarmed strikers, and biters) tend to want to look at maximizing their bonuses, not their raw ST score.

Swing Damage: ST adds one point of swing damage for every point of ST, so any ST score makes you do more damage with swinging attacks. Still, the "more dice" points are worth knowing.

ST 13 (2d-1 swing) - the first time doing 2 dice. This makes ST 13 a really sweet spot for ST for a cut-and-thrust low tech warrior.
ST 17 (3d-1 swing) - the first time you do 3 dice.
ST 21 (4d-1 swing) - the first time you do 4 dice.

These breakpoints for more dice are important because there are advantages (like Weapon Master), skills (like Karate or Brawling), maneuvers (All-Out Attack Strong), and techniques (Jump Kick) that add damage per die. So +1 per die adds +1 to a ST 13 thrusting attack, but adds +2 to a ST 19 thrusting attack.

An example of this big shift came up in my DF game recently - a character with net ST 16 (2d+2 swing), a swing+4 weapon, and Weapon Master (+2 per die) went up to ST 17 (3d-1). That is a 1 point shift in average damage, but the dice shift meant that he went from 2d+10 to 3d+9 (+4 for the weapon, +6 for Weapon Master). That's 12-22 (av. 17) to 12-27 (av. 20.5). Now, there are optional rules for converting bonuses to additional dice (p. B269) that would take this character's damage from 2d+10 to 4d+3, and 3d+9 to 5d+2, but either way, the jump in +1 ST made for +3 in additional Weapon Master bonuses which is really where it matters. Plus, All Out Attack (Strong) would do +3 damage (+1 per die) not +2 (the flat bonus for AOA Strong).

Weapons ST - Weapons have a ST stat, usually (but unofficially) called Min ST. Basically, you need that much ST to use the weapon without penalties. Weapons are also limited in damage to 3x their ST stat, which is why stronger folks need sturdier weapons.

For high-tech weapons, ST is rarely a determining factor . . . but the more ST you have the more powerful firearms you can use, and the further you can chuck a grenade. At a high enough ST you can start using heavy weaponry like light weapons (MGs fired off the tripod or bipod, one-handing assault rifles like Arnie in The Terminator), etc. And there is always a need to carry more ammo . . .

Basic Lift - This is a figured characteristic of ST. The next thing you want to be aware of for ST is the often-overlooked BL. This is another spot where every point of ST really matters. Each bit of ST you add makes you able to lift more, which means more weight carried at less encumbrance.

In my DF game, even a heavy fighter like Vryce is at Light encumbrance (max 2xBL) because of his high BL. He's got a bit more than 100 pounds of weapons and armor and can still move freely around the battlefield and not get too fatigued after a fight.

BL also makes a difference in some strong guy moves like Piledrivers, and makes a difference in how far you can throw things, too. A high BL character is a great asset to have around. Check the chart on p. 17 and you can see how a little more ST can make a loadout that much easier to deal with. And for rapid-fire modern weaponry, you need to expend a lot of weight on ammo.

What about Striking ST and Lifting ST? You can buy up Striking ST if you really just want to improve damage (it's 5/level), and Lifting ST (3/level) if you only care about picking stuff up (or grappling, with Technical Grappling). If one part of ST is of critical important to you, those are worth considering. These tend to be limited as well, but they give you yet another option for narrowing in on the characteristics you want for your character.

How Many HP Do You Need?

First, just note that HP = ST initially.

Crippling Injuries: Crippling in GURPS for limbs is more than HP/2, and more than HP/3 for extremities. That means HP 12 takes 7 damage to cripple a limb and 5 damage for a hand, HP 15 takes 8 and 6, and so on. Eyes are more than HP/10, which means 2 points up to HP 19 and 3 at HP 20.

Maxima: - The limit on extra HP for non-supers/non-nonhumans is +30% over your ST, although some perks in later books let you bring it up to +50% over ST (such as Special Exercises), or even +100% (Mountain of Meat, which is totally unrealistic but fun). One thing about GURPS is that you can suffer a large amount of damage in a single blow. High hit points can mitigate the effects a bit but even a nearly-supernatural level of HP won't matter in the face of a rifle bullet to the vitals. So HP aren't a panacea.

But they make it hard to die, and give you a wider margin of failure when you do blow a defense. You die at -5 x HP no matter what, so even a single extra HP gives you 6 more damage you can suffer before automatic death.

Healing: - If you have a lot of HP, you heal faster (to scale to healing effect to you.) At 20-29, you heal twice as much. From 30-30, triple, and so on. See High HP and Healing, p. B424 for more.

Slams: - HP are a proxy for mass in GURPS for rules where mass matters. Slams are collisions, so your HP (multiplied by your current speed) are the factor that determines how much damage you do on a slam or a charge. You can also easily get damaged slamming folks, so you really need to increase your HP if your mode of attack is putting people down. The more HP you have the better for you, offensively and defensively. This is why sumo wrestlers qualify for extra HP in GURPS Martial Arts!

The more HP you can get, the merrier. And in a combat-heavy low-tech game, they are critically important. You can probably get away with just staying with what you get from ST, but if you're going to fight a lot give getting some extra a look.

So, does this mean I should only buy odd-numbered ST scores, hunt for breakpoints, and otherwise min-max my ST and HP score? If that makes you happy, do it. But it's not necessary (or, in my experience, especially common). It's a good set of things to know when you're making a decision where to drop some points, or when you're thinking about the edge cases. ST and its related characteristics are too useful to shave down just to save points and stay at the breakpoints. I look at those breakpoints as things to strive towards ("Get at least ST 13 if you can!") not the only scores worth buying ("ST 14 is useless, stay at ST 13.")


  1. Excellent post. This is where I struggled the most, coming from a mostly D&Dish background.

    1. DF seems like a decent stepping stone from straight dnd to GURPS since they have the templates to follow. Harder to screw up your character with that, it seems. I could be wrong though since I've not actually made a DF character before.

    2. You're not wrong. As a "content creator" (read that: author), I love using templates and despise creating them. That's a microcosm of front-loaded chargen in a nutshell, and crap, that's a good blog post that I just ruined for myself.

      Still, I think you got it right.

    3. I'm glad this helps, Ken.

      And DF really would work well as an entry point from D&D, assuming you aren't wedded to weak low-level characters. Starting DF guys are tough.

  2. GURPS newb question here. I'm struggling with the Assassin Template (base 125) and what I see posted for characters with considerations to starting points. Assume my GM gives us a base of 125, -45 disads, - 5 quirks, that's = 175 (per Campaigns @B487, this should be the upper end of Heroic). But when I read this post and see mention of ST 16 (the template recommends ST=10), I'm thinking my assassin is feeble at best. To boost ST to even 13, I'd have to really cut back on some of the few skills I have opted.

    Does the higher DX come into factor at all? I know from my d20 experience this helps with accuracy and ranged weapons, but don't yet know the rules well enough to look this up on my own ("use only GURPS Lite as a newb" I read).

    Please keep in mind I have yet to play my first session with GURPS experienced folks (Thanksgiving and Cleon have hampered game days) and haven't yet received feedback from the GM on my PC (again, the first meeting was to roll characters of which I couldn't attend).

    thanks in advance

    1. we'll be hitting DX next week. :-)

    2. If I'm not mistaken, you're looking at the Assassin template on p.115 of GURPS Fantasy, which pre-dates the Dungeon Fantasy line.

      The DF series specifically aims for a high-powered, hack'n'slash game with an old-school feel. To that aim, DF assumes a 250 base as default and that is yardstick that Peter is using in his posts.

      GURPS Fantasy however doesn't have that assumption. It is much wider in scope, and aims to assist the GM in creating ANY type of fantasy-flavoured campaign, rather only OTT hack and slash. Many of the templates in Fantasy will have the basic GURPS 4e "default" of 150 points in mind.

      Presumably your GM's campaign will be more gritty than Dungeon Fantasy, and may involve more nuance than merely hitting monsters in dungeons. I think best you clarify with your GM what his/her expectations are on the challanges the PC will face :-)

      To answer your specific question. DX is the base stats for all weapon skills and governs most other physical skills as well (such as Climbing or Stealth) - important for a typical fantasy assassin. ST determines base damage and encumbrance, as well as being the base for a few "brute force" skills, e.g. Forced Entry.

    3. How much ST you need depends on both the character and the budget. What kind of assassin do you want to be? Sneak up and kill, kill by poison, kill at range? ST 10 is a fine starting point for any of those. If you want to be up-close-and-personal and expect resisted fights, trying to get your ST to at least 11 (1d-1 thrust / 1d+1 swing), 13 if you can, will be important.

      DX is critical, since many of the skills on that template are DX-based, so you'll want to prioritize that. We'll cover it next week, like Doug said, but generally, the higher the better. The template you're looking at has DX 14, though, and if the budget is 150 points, you're probably okay leaving it there or, at most, going for DX 15. It's very important but DX 14 is very solid - most of the characters in my 250+ point game have DX around 14.

      Does that help any?

  3. It all helps as knowledge is gained :) [a feel there is a Confucius-ism there somewhere].

    I posted my 'backstory on the Google GURPS community, but in essence:

    Campaign is I believe a F setting (minus the D as there seems to be more political intrigue and little delving.)

    Haslo is a member of a clandestine military organization that is being sent to our campaign's starting city to gather intelligence on a recently discovered 'silk producing' industry and evaluate their military capabilities. He travels in disguise as a naturalist/herbalist. He will deliver his report to 'agent X' and probably be given a snuff assignment of some sort. He does have herbalist skills and will probably acquire the components to make a poison. Note all of the details as to the who and where is generic at this point as I hope the GM will populate that info to best fit the campaign.

    1. The big question from a stats perspective is, what do you actually need to be able to do? If you're facing mostly low-DR threats, a lot of ST isn't going to be important to you. Get a little more but not a lot. If you're going to need to hack through armor to kill things, get more ST (13+ if possible) and a swing/cutting weapon.

      It's a campaign thing - level of threat, level of need.

  4. There's something ST related that's been bothering me recently. If HP is mass related, should PCs with Overweight or Fat get extra HP? The extra mass is addressed, but in RAW there's no mention of HP, just limits on HT.

    1. Game-rules wise - no, not automatically. It's a good excuse for them but it's not something they should just get.

      It's part of the reason sumo wrestlers qualify, via a perk, for extra HP above the usual limit. They are fat, but also extremely muscular (it's a power sport more than a mass sport), so they make sense as folks with extra HP.

    2. And it doesn't really buy you that many on a strict weight-for-HP basis. I ran the math in this post ( and a 400-lb. athlete would only be 15 HP based on the usual formula.

    3. Wow, in depth as usual! So the standard one-to-one ST-HP relationship is exaggerated? I can live with that, though it would be nice to see a nod to this beyond MA (I really should pick that up). Thanks, I'll sleep soundly tonight ;)


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