Wednesday, December 23, 2020

GURPS Caps & Limits Roundup Post (and skill caps)

There is a whole, long discussion going between myself and some commenters, especially Vic (aka Ulf the cleric) on my last post. I've mentioned a few "limits" I've proposed.

I decided to make a post to link them all just so I can have everything in one place.


Fixed-Effect Feints

Deceptive Attack:

Two-Tiered Fixed Deceptive Attack

Defense Bonus:

Possible Solutions to the "extreme DB" problem

Skill Caps:

None yet - but capping skills at DX+10 is an old idea from the 3e days . . . it's ridiculously easy to hit DX+10 in DF, and we have characters with skills above that in DF Felltower. But it's possible that if you instituted the above - DB limits, caps on Deceptive Attack (-4/-2 and -8/-4), limited Feints to a net -4 or -8 - you wouldn't actually benefit from very high skill.

It's also possible to provide some other limits and caps on effects, such as:

Fixed-Effect Elixirs

The swinginess of random rolls means you can get people ending up with anywhere from +1 to +6 DX from a dexterity elixir. A fixed effect of +3 would be worth the cost of use, but also limit the effects of a sudden very high jump in DX. Going from 14 to 17 is excellent; going from 14 to 20 is often fight-changing.

Effective Skill Cap

Attacks are limited to a specific skill - 20, perhaps, or 25 - and anything past that is discarded before applying modifiers. Skill beyond that level is useful for Contests of Skill, or when floated to another attribute, or for dealing with reduced DX from supernatural attacks . . . but is otherwise ignored.

Soft Cap

Like a hard cap of DX+10, but instead, after a certain level, you must pay extra for skills. Levels past the cap cost 4 points, as usual, but also require 4 points per level in a special Advantage, "Extreme Skill Training." DX+11 would cost an additional 4 + 4, DX+12 8 + 8, etc. This is a fixed price increase, but it need not be. "Extreme Skill Training" could be 4, then 8, then 12, then 16, etc. per level, ascending with each one.

If your goal is well-rounded fighters, instead require that you have certain points in other combat skills to improve past a cap. For every level past the cap, you need to have at least X points in other combat skills. So to take yourself from DX+10 to DX+11, you need 4 points, plus at least 4 points in another weapon skill. Optionally couple that with a lower soft cap (say, DX+5 ot DX+6.)

Required Diversity

Once you reach the soft cap, you cannot improve that skill until you have an equal number of points in other combat skills. So if you have 40 points in Broadsword @ DX+10, you must also have at least 40 points in other combat skills; to get to DX+11 (44 points) you need 4 points in other skills. These can be Combat/Weapon Skills, Shield, Tactics, or potentially other "combat" related skills like Physiology (monster type) or Armoury, depending on the specific game.

(This has weird effects at the very lowest levels and non-combatants who are first learning a combat skill - optionally couple it with a cap, so it only applies if you have at least one skill at DX+5 or higher.)

Most of these are untested, but they could potentially form a matrix from which you can create a framework that mitigates against very high skill being a requirement for fights.


  1. Several intriguing options. I kind of like--with very little deep thoughts about it so far--Soft Cap Paragraph 2.

    Effective Skill Cap also has appeal but requires some poking and prodding. Lots of 250 pt guys start off with 20 skill in a weapon. Kinda weird to have them effectively capped where they start. But all food for thought.

    I like the idea that after a certain point (perhaps DX+8, DX+10, not quite sure of the breakpoint) you've got to do something more than just invest points to improve in that skill. Find a superior teacher, fight against a more skilled foe, etc. That would probably work better in a game less focused on one location. For example, "I need to search for a longsword master in the Shattershard mountains to improve my skill," and everyone else is, "Ugh, OK, but what are we going to do?" and such.

    1. You're right - in a more wide-open area it would make sense to have people travel around, find a teacher, do a quest, etc. I could do that in Felltower and just require time off to do it. I suspect what would happen is people would hit the cap ASAP, then up DX, to avoid being out of rotation.

      The second paragraph under Soft Cap is my best idea of the bunch, I think. I'd have to do some math on the templates to see how much sense it makes, but it feels right. And people min-max to one skill because it makes the most sense, and the open-ended nature of the benefits rewards that. Every 8 points is +2 to hit, +1 to defend, and a 2-point margin on Feints, with no limit. But if the rules don't keep rewarding you (the limits, above) and you're required to branch out, people will branch out.

      Fighting a more skilled foe does, too, but it would mean getting the "Was THIS guy skilled enough?" question basically every fight, from every fighter.

  2. Of course, if you're really tired of your players trying to fast-talk at default, you could require an equal number of points in *non*combat skills.

    1. I can't come up with in-game logic that makes that make sense to me.

      Saying you can't increase Broadsword past a certain point unless you also branch out into other weapons makes a lot of sense. It echoes what real-world instructors say and the experience of a lot of people learning physical skills ("cross training" and multi-sport athletics when you're developing makes better single-sport athletes later, for example). So that's easy enough to require because people will absolutely nod and say, "That makes sense."

    2. It would 'make sense' if the background 'lore' of the world were shifted slightly (and work done on the GM or PC's part). Right now no PC is being 'trained' anywhere in particular, they pays their moneys, they spends their points, they ups their Stats, Skills, Abilities. No rhyme, reason, or requirement aside from "spend money, spend points" (and "is it in or off Template, do you have special dispensation from the GM?").

      Take L5R 5th edition for a moment (Legend of the Five Rings - any edition but the D&D one actually, though exp expenditure varies by edition). In it's leveling system, in order to progress from School Rank 1 to School Rank 2, you must spend 20 points in Stats, Skill, Techniques, etc. If you spend those points in School Approved skills, stats, techniques (there are lists for each school) your exp counts 1:1. If you spend it out of school list your exp counts 2:1 (2 spent counts as 1 for prereq purposes). In these lists are also "Must Buys", as in "you must buy this skill, technique, etc or you don't advance to rank 2".

      Now you can absolutely keep spending exp, anywhere. But if you failed to get that Rank 2 required Tea Ceremony Social Technique (for example), your Masters will absolutely refuse to teach you the Rank 2 school special attack/spell/diplomance/etc.

      Translating this idea to GURPS, would be similar to Martial Arts schools, but with continuing education prereqs.

      So to make an example, I'll use Vryce. Say Vryce had his Two-Handed Sword skill up to DX+9, but his Knighting school Doppelzahlung Doppelsöldner requires he learn High Germanic to Broken to read the manuals and have Meditation Will-2 and Carousing+2 before they will train him to DX+10 in Two-Handed Sword. Or at the very least that have 15 points spent in non-combat skills to show he's taking an interest in his community...

      Basically I'm saying, if you shift the inherent attitude (or rationale) behind "skill ups" (as in they come from somewhere with some requirement beyond "pay $ pay exp") you can easily justify non-combat skill points as prereqs. You could even make discrete requirements, like Social Skills, Lore Skills, Craft Skills, Outdoorsy Skills, Internal Skills (Meditation, Breath Control, Dreaming, etc), Esoteric Skills, etc based on different Templates. Do Knights have in template prereq purchases they must have before they can take their Primary Weapon past DX+10? They certainly have in template prereqs to get before they can be considered Knights...

      Maybe all Templates need some sort of "soft prereq" of getting all taken Template skills to Template Start +2 before they can exceed Template Start +5 (or +10)? So a Knight would need to buy up all his skills along the way before they could pick up Primary Weapon to DX +12 (or +17. Frex Two-Handed Sword starts at DX+6 for Knights if they take it).

    3. I get the concept - it's in GURPS Martial Arts in the concept of styles and Primary skills. But it's always going to be a social rationale, and thus people will have a legitimate argument against the need to do so. In a game with magic, magic will help get around some of the need for languages, time, access, and so on. You can say that socially, you're not a "knight" until you have X and Y and Z, but will someone playing an ex-merc care in a DF game? Likely not.

      But a physical rationale - you dead-end in your physical skill unless you learn related physical skills - is hard to get around. For every example of "all he did was play golf/hockey/football (or fence, or wrestle) since he was a kid" there are dozens and dozens of examples of those who succeeded at the highest levels because of broader athletic development. So one requires building a social construct and a rules construct, and the latter just requires building a rules construct. The upside of the latter is that you could incorporate the former as needed. That's why for all I put skills like Savoire-Faire (Dojo) as required in many martial arts styles, it's still more common for just combat skills. It's always possible to learn the physical skill without the social trappings, but realistically it's hard to learn the physical skill without the related physical skills to some degree.

    4. I was just joking, actually, but I'm glad to have started an interesting discussion.

    5. "You can say that socially, you're not a "knight" until you have X and Y and Z, but will someone playing an ex-merc care in a DF game? Likely not."

      That's totes up to you, but again I point to the "pays $" in the "pays the money, pays the exps, ups the stats/skill/abilities". If you're enforcing the "pays $", you're already quietly enforcing the social side, even if it's an unspoken "you're getting trained by someone/institute/thing". You (and your Players) just aren't naming it, paying it any background service, or placing any //further// restrictions on it, which is fine.

      But it is there.

    6. I only require payment to learn a new skill or acquire a new advantage, so I don't think the structure is there as thoroughly as you're arguing it is. Once you have a skill, or an advantage, you can buy it up.

      Also, we don't canonically require a teacher to learn a new skill - just payment. This can be a teacher, expended resources (shot off missiles for your missile skill, hunting permits to practice Survival, raw materials to try Armoury to make stuff, whatever), learning materials, paying for extra upkeep for extra food to support the physical training routine . . . whatever we find amusing enough. So the social structure isn't as present as it may seem from the outside.

  3. I'm thinking about stealing both your Effective Cap (I have something similar for non-DF games) and the Diversity requirements.

    But that aside, I think you have at heart, another problem. Now I also don't think you can solve this problem and keep running Felltower as it is, you could certainly institute the Required Diversity method and keep running Felltower just fine though I'd look at whether that will gave a reduction in 'combat effectiveness"... see below.

    I know this is a drum you've beaten, but the penalty for not having those non-combat skills has been either low ("We'll Barbarian our way through locks and traps") or non-existent ("Can't talk the Orcs into doing what we want? Okay, time to go exterminate all the Orcs"). Now, a large part of this is the inherent problem of a mega-dungeon, it's not a 'Generic Fantasy', so if you can't stay alive (and combat is a big killer) you //cannot// compete. This disincentivizes non-combat skill/ability purchases. The second part of the problem is the Game Assumptions you have baked into your game, it being OSR. You'd need a completely (or at least moderately) different set of Game Assumptions for any of your Players to feel safe in making a paper man who goes off the well beaten track of 'combat monster'.

    Fail to make a combat monster* and the PC will die.

    * Yes, you have some 'non-combat monsters' in the party, all Wizards and most Clerics, before they get up in points. However, both of those professions bring something well-needed to the party, so even if it's a "survived by the skin of my teeth" or "died, but got resurrected and have no cash", the Player can at least feel they were doing something necessary and useful. Theifs and Scholars have a very low, almost nil, impact on your game and these are meant to be the "we do everything else that isn't combat" professions. I'm not going to talk Bards because I don't think you've had one yet.

    Galen, by nature of the Scout Template might be the odd-man out. Everything you list him being good at ("Tracking, searching, shooting, scouting, finding traps, fighting in melee, survival skills, climbing, animal knowledge, etc. etc.") are things Scouts inherently start good, or at least adequate, at. It takes minimal investment (if any) past template buy-in to "git gud" at those things for Scouts. But how does Galen fair in Social encounters? IIRC, poorly.

    Calling out Galen as an example of well rounded is like calling out a Thief as being "really good at lockpicking, trapspringing, pickpocketing, stealth, etc, etc, but kinda cruddy at DPS". It's the inherent nature of the beast.

    And that brings us circularly back around to "Sir, you are running an OSR DFRPG Megadungeon." I really think if you want to 'quash this bug' either brute force it with Required Diversity, or soft force it with some setting adjustments. One is easier to implement, harder to swallow†... the second may not work at all for your game.

    † Or maybe your Players will be all in on coming up with 'school' prereqs for themselves that you can agree with. Or like and accept prereqs you come up with. I find when I've had to do something like this, setting down guidelines and then letting the Players design the prereqs themselves (with guidance and approval) works best if you think you'll have buy-in problems.

    1. (Had to split this up.)
      "I know this is a drum you've beaten, but the penalty for not having those non-combat skills has been either low ("We'll Barbarian our way through locks and traps") or non-existent ("Can't talk the Orcs into doing what we want? Okay, time to go exterminate all the Orcs").

      I'd say this is actually not true. There has been a lot of cost to resorting to combat. We've been playing for 9 years and a good chunk of it has been dead-ending against obstacles combat can't solve, fighting battles that could have been avoided with costs that exceed the value of the fights, expending large amounts of resources because of inefficiently fought combats due to lack of non-combat skills to make the combats easier, and stumbling over traps and puzzles that could have been smoothly dealt with non-combat skills. That some problems get solved anyway doesn't mean there is a minimal cost to doing so.

      "The second part of the problem is the Game Assumptions you have baked into your game, it being OSR."

      Actually, while I follow a lot of "OSR" blogs, I don't think I've ever applied that tag to myself. I don't really identify with it. I think of that as applying more to people who are playing very old game systems or deliberate knockoffs of that. I'm certainly reaching back for an old school style of play, but not really trying to revive anything . . . my game is explicitly described as, and aimed at being, a mix of old-school ideals and rules and new school ideals and rules. The worst of both worlds, in a way. I could be wrong, but I think putting me in the OSR isn't really accurate.

    2. "Fail to make a combat monster* and the PC will die."

      This may be true, although we've had non-combat monster types who've done pretty well. Quenton got killed, but if he was a combat monster he'd likely have still died in those circumstances. And he's back, and still can't fight his way out of a wet paper bag. Generally, combat types are more survivable. But some of that is the players. If you always resort to combat, always solve problems with combat, and make combat front-and-center in how you interact with the world, people who bring characters to the session that aren't combat monsters will struggle to be relevant during fights. That doesn't mean that combat monsters are the only ones who will survive, or can survive, it's just a self-fulfilling prophecy. "We tossed the non-combat monster into combat and look what happened!" Yeah, duh.

      Galen probably looks more "standard" as a scout, but he's well rounded. He literally does everything well, because he didn't stint on things he learned. He doesn't often fall back on a skill with 1 point in it and a low stat behind it. He does his main jobs well, and anything else he should be able to do he does well. He fails in social situations but that's his character design - his player deliberately made Galen an unpleasant human being (but exceedingly loyal to his friends.) Had he chosen differently, he could be better negotiator. Many of the other guys . . . just keep doubling down on combat. They stumble outside of it as a party, and then are forced to resort to combat or giving up. The Ape Gate is a good example. They have made a little bit of an inroad, but all they have to offer is combat skill - to a group that clearly has some powerful combatants already. Sure, the PCs might be able to mop the floor with them, but does that make them useful? Their lack of social skills means they can only convince by blind luck or GM fiat.

      I will note something here, though, that I've noted before - the blog is the home of DF Felltower, but DF Felltower isn't the whole of the blog. The discussion above is larger than just Felltower. It's brought on by my experience in DF Felltower but it'll inform my decisions about other games, too. It's a "GURPS" post more than a "DF" post. It's just that DF, and DF Felltower, is what I'm running that informs the experience that led to the discussion.

      And I'd be willing to make changes that do great violence to the game of DF Felltower if my players agreed those were good changes to make. We've done it before - remember all of those $1/point magic items people bought? Ordering all sorts of special magic items in town? When we swapped over how True Faith w/Turning works? I do. Any change could be made, if we all think it's a good idea, no matter what's come before.

    3. Finally, I'd say that yes, running a megadungeon does serve to bring combat to the forefront more. It does channel PCs into needing combat abilities to thrive. And it does skew the needs of templates . . . although DF templates are designed for this kind of game, make no mistake about that.

      Still, GURPS 4e, by its linear value of skill levels and linear costs, rewards micro-specialization far more than it rewards broad generalization even in an environment where, realistically, you'd want to be deep but also have breadth of skill. Addressing that will take systemic changes and rules-based approaches not because this is a megadungeon, but because it's GURPS.

  4. People upping DX does end up making them more versatile to an extent. Forced diversity might result in more multiweapon weapon masters and people piling enough into unarmed skills to actually get bonuses

    1. High DX, especially if it's to get around a skill limit, is a different problem instead of a solution, I think.

      You're probably right about the second part - and I think that's all upside! I have 1-2 people who'd really like to be multi-weapon masters, but how do you hang when your skill 18-20 in a lot of weapons is alongside someone with 26-30 in one? Not well. Even if you just perceive it to be a bad strategy, regardless of the actual game need for 26-30, you'll regret your choices. Know what I mean?

  5. I have no stake in this, so you all should feel free to ignore me, but looking this over, my first thought is that this is not a problem with the 100-point characters for which GURPS was designed in the first place. Why not tone down the power levels? Then a skill of 20 or higher becomes the rarity it was meant to be.

    Not that this can help your current campaign...

    1. Well, 1e-3e were designed for 100 points. 4e is designed around 150 points - the re-costed attributes and lack of 1/2 point levels really do make a change in the value of a "point" in GURPS.

      But sure, reducing the power level can address the issue a bit. Ultimately, though, if they issues are waiting a bit further down the line, they'll either come up eventually or I'll need to ensure the PCs can't ever get to the "problem" level.

      I prefer to think that a combination of levels can ensure you can get high power levels and ensure there isn't a build-in reason to overly specialize.


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