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Saturday, July 1, 2017

GURPS House Rules: Attributes Without Skills



What?

Rules for how to price and purchase the attributes once they’ve been divorced from any relation to skills.

Why?

Because we like you. Wait, no. Because I removed the skills from the attributes and now need new prices for what’s left of the attributes.

The Rules

ST: Unchanged (If only they could all be this easy.)

HT: Unchanged (Covers a few skills that don’t matter—I suspect this is already underpriced as it is, even without the skills.)

Per: Its own thing. Costs 5/level as normal.

Will: Its own thing. Costs 5/level as normal.

IQ

Okay, so the obvious question here is: without skills, Per, or Will, what’s even left of IQ?

Here’s what I could find.

Rolls to remember things. This is the part of IQ that’s modified by Perfect Memory.

Rolls against surprise and mental stun. This is the part that’s modified by Combat Reflexes.

And general rolls for what I think of as reason. I don’t know how other GMs run things, but in my games, a player will often ask a question like, “Can I make a roll to help figure out what the original pattern in these scattered floor tiles was?” The response I give is, “Make an IQ roll.”

It’s obvious at this point that IQ is really nothing more than a Super Talent. It’s basically skills, Per, Will, and very little else. My inclination is to split what we have left into individual subattributes called Memory (used for remembering things; starts at 10 and costs 1/level) and Wittedness (what you roll against surprise and mental stun with ; starts at 10 and costs 1/level). Maybe have a third trait called Reason that is also 1/level and functions similarly to the Common Sense advantage, but that everyone would have. You could also use a separate trait for learning, since that’s something else you can rolI for, but most games don’t even use learning rolls. If you don’t want to separate IQ into those component parts, I recommend keeping it as a package that handles those few separate things and costs 2/level or 3/level. It’s really kind of useless, though, and not something anyone is going out of their way to buy.

DX

Like IQ, this is basically a Super Attribute mixed in with some sub attributes.

Very similar to IQ. We have the bonus to Basic Speed (which really should be its own separate trait in the first place in the way that Per and Will should be) and… not much else. There are rolls to balance. And there are rolls to fetch items from your bags or whatever when you have a chance of failure at what you’re doing, but you aren’t using a skill. You might be on the fifth floor of a burning building that’s collapsing around you while you’re fighting a werewolf. When you go to pull that speedloader with your silver bullets from your bag, you’ll need to make some roll to get it out of your shaking bag. That’s one of the few things that DX does that isn’t a skill.

Like with IQ, I suggest splitting these things up into their own attributes. One attribute for Balance and one for these other odds and ends. I would call this attributes Motor Control.

So this could be as simple as removing all the skills and dropping DX to 7 points per level (which would be 5 points worth of Basic Speed, and then 1 point for Balance and 1 point for the odds and ends).

Once we’ve reached this point, maybe we should go another step and remove the Basic Speed portion of DX and make that its own separate thing.

The easiest way to do this

That would give you the following attributes:

ST – 10/level
DX – 2/level
IQ – 2/level
HT – 10/level
Per – 5/level
Will – 5/level
Basic Speed – 20/level


And then you just go on as usual. This is fairly noninvasive. You aren’t changing around a ton of rules.

In my full house rules, I go even further, breaking down all of the attributes into their component parts. I’ll save that for another post.

Friday, June 30, 2017

GURPS House Rule: Skill Pricing


What?

I’ve separated the skills from the attributes. Skills are now completely separate from attributes. Each skill is now purchased individually as its own trait in the same way you would purchase, say, Less Sleep or Damage Resistance as their own standalone traits.


Why?

Six reasons.

1)   The perverse incentives created by tying the skills to the attributes.

GURPS makes it much more efficient to purchase skills by jacking up one attribute (either DX or IQ) and then receiving the concomitant skills at a low relative price.

The creates the incentive to focus entirely on one attribute and the skills it governs, greatly punishing characters whose concept would lead them to need multiple skills of different attributes.

Look at, for instance, the Dungeon Fantasy thief template. It has to spread its points across DX and IQ. This is inefficient. It is much better to have a character in the party with a high DX and another character in the group with a high IQ. These characters can easily dip into the thief’s skills. For a few points each, the DX- and IQ-based characters can easily surpass the thief in the skills controlled by their attribute. For instance, a swashbuckler who focuses entirely on raising their DX can far exceed the thief in DX-based skill levels, while the same is true of a scholar who focuses on their IQ and the thief’s IQ-based skills.

Under my proposed rules, this isn’t the case. A skill is a skill is a skill. If you want the Stealth skill, you have to pay the points specifically for the Stealth skill. These perverse incentives (which favor certain character concepts—those concepts which focus entirely on skills governed by a single attribute which they have raised to the heavens) are on more. You can purchase the mix of skills that make the most sense for your character without having to worry about attributes. This brings the characters which would have formerly required a mix of attributes or a hodge-podge of makeshift Talents

Further, it removes the incentive for players to make characters that are focused entirely on the skills governed by a singular attribute. No longer will characters be their choice of IQ or DX. They will instead be characters, each with their own unique combination of skills.

It just doesn’t make sense to purchase IQ or DX scores of 11 o 12. Middling scores are nearly useless. Those levels of attributes don’t even raise the skill level you receive when you spend a single point to a desirable level. With IQ 12, my scientist still has to spend four points to get a professional level in their main skill. The effect is that players pour all the points they can into a single attribute to the detriment of everything else—or they are punished when they have to work in a group where the other characters have done so and then have higher defaults in skills that are intended to be the primary focus of the other characters. My physician might end up well-rounded, with all of their attributes at a slightly above average level, and then skills at the low end of what is professional. Meanwhile, the character in the party who purchased as high an IQ as possible is better at my character’s niche than my character is. This creates a sort of arms race between the characters where each character is little more than a mess of points thrown into a single attribute. Only the rare character spends a large number of points in a single skill, and when they do, it is invariably a combat skill, which are the few skills in the game that are actually worth the four points per level that GURPS charges for all skills. Which leads us into…


2)   To allow for pricing individual skills differently.

Guns. In most games where characters have access to modern firearms, this is the most powerful skill in the game. Hobby Skill (Cup Stacking). In most games where characters have access to modern firearms, this is the worst skill in the game.

But you know what these two skills have in common? They both have the exact same character point cost. To get either of these two skills at the same level costs the same amount of character points.

This is bizarre. It makes no sense. Nowhere else in the game do traits of such vastly different usefulness have the same cost. Imagine if all leveled advantaged had the same character point cost! Temperature Tolerance and Altered Time Rate, for instance. Clearly this would be absurd. It is my belief that what we have with the skill prices is exactly this absurdity.

Under my rules, the difference between the worst skills and the best skills is that they cost a different price per level, exactly as with Temperature Tolerance and Altered Time Rate. The difference is not so great as between those two, of course, but the skills are priced according to the same design philosophy.

3)   So that we can vary the price of skills by game.

Guns. In most games where characters have access to modern firearms, this is the most powerful skill in the game. But not always. There are plenty of game types where proficiency in the use of firearms is almost entirely useless. Where a hundred sessions might go by without a single opportunity for a character to touch a gun, let alone fire one. Romance games, games about high school students, or even most games set in modern countries where the characters just won’t have access to firearms.

In different types of games, different skills are useful. In some genres, a certain skill is the best skill in the game, while in other genres, it’s completely useless. Perhaps my starship captain is an expert swordsman. That’s little more than a bit of color buried in his background. Yet GURPS charges the same price for this skill in a game about starships as it does in a murder mystery and a game about samurai duelists. This is problematic. With my rules, the GM can easily change the price of a given skill to reflect its usefulness in their game. If they want to run a game entirely about surfing competitions, they can charge a

4)   So you can make the character you want to make.

This might just be me and the way I build characters, but whenever I build a character, I have an idea of what they look like in my head before I sit down to work up their character sheet. I know what their life has been like. I know what skills they've learned and what skills they haven't. And so when I sit down and begin work on my character sheet, one of the first things I do is write out what skills I want and at what levels. GURPS makes it very unpleasant to get those skills at those levels. I have to go through all the rigamarole of working out attributes, Talents, often multiple different skills defaulting to one another. It's such a drag. This process is at least ninety percent of the time it takes to build a character. And then, when I'm done, I often find that rather than ending up with the character I wanted, the incentives of the trait prices (namely DX and IQ) have pushed me away from a character who knows the skills I had in mind at the levels I wanted... to being a generalist with a high DX or a high IQ. And once you have a high attribute, you either have a high default in skills you didn't want to be good at, or (and I think this incentive is even worse) you end up facing the very small opportunity costs of expanding into skills you never wanted, but where the benefit you gain from changing your character concept (perhaps radically altering their backstory--in effect turning them into a different person) is so enormous that you end up doing it anyway. Once you reach the point where you can gain the most powerful skills at high levels for only a single character point each, then you're put into an impossible position. Either you buy them and destroy your character concept, or you don't buy them and feel like you're just wasting your character points. "Yeah, I guess I could have a high Guns skill essentially for free, but I won't." That's such a terrible position to be put in. It feels so bad. I think it's bad game design. I want to be able to build the character I want the way that I want and not get punished for it. In my house rules, I can do that.

5)   Because that’s how real people learn skills.

Real people do not have attributes that govern their skills. Humans have no intelligence score that makes them better at mathematics, chess, piano, and diplomacy. You can’t get better at playing the piano by working to become more intelligent. You can only become better at playing the piano by practicing the piano.

And the same is true of the other attributes as well. People who are more perceptive aren’t better at fishing or reading lips. People who are good at fishing or reading lips are good at those things because they have practiced those particular skills.

I think GURPS has this backwards. Someone isn’t good at playing piano and giving speeches because they are intelligent. They are intelligent because they have practiced many different skills, if we want to think of intelligence as a meaningful concept at all.

Real people have skills that are at the level they have practiced the skill up to.

As such, if you want to build a character that resembles a real person, that’s very difficult in GURPS. It isn’t cost effective to build a character who has a few skills at an increased level. The rules incentivize you to buy up an attribute instead.

For example, if I had a character who was very good at Fishing and Lip Reading, let’s say skill level 16 in each, then it is much more cost effective for me to buy up their Perception than to purchase both skills individual—even if that high Perception score doesn’t match my character concept. The concept might be for a deaf fisherman who can read lips but who is not otherwise super perceptive. GURPS penalizes this character concept by making you pay more character points for less (you only receive the two skills if you buy them alone, which should cost much less than buying up Perception, which includes many other abilities, and also includes the two fairly useless skills that you’re after here).

This becomes rather extreme in the case of IQ and DX, where GURPS very strongly incentivizes the building of hypercompetent characters.

6)   Streamlined Rules

Purchasing skills in GURPS is extremely complicated. You must first decide what skill levels you desire and then reverse-engineer the most cost-effective means of purchasing those skill levels. This likely results in a morass of attributes, Talents, and skill purchases. This is by far the most complex and time consuming part of creating a character. The complexity of the way purchasing skills works is by far the biggest hurdle for new players entering the game. They must learn how skills relate to attributes and Talents and then internalize the incentives created by these arcane price schemes.

The Rules

Skills are now separate from attributes. Attributes have nothing to do with your skill level. Each skill is instead assigned its own price per level. You get all skills at a skill level of 8 and you buy them up from there. The GM decides what the cost of each skill is per level based on what they think it should cost for their game.

That’s it.

What? You’re still here? Fine. I guess I’ll go into a little more detail.

First, these rules are meant to work with my house rules where I greatly simplified the skill list. This isn’t going to work well (at all maybe) with the default GURPS skill list. There are just too many skills that relate to each other through defaults and there would be far too many skills you would need to go through and determine your skill level in. It would turn into a huge mess.

So, why a skill level of 8? The logical place to start is, well, zero. I considered that. I think that would make the most sense. There are a few problems there, though. First, there isn’t much mechanical difference between a skill level of 1 and 6. Someone with that level of a skill isn’t going to be able to effectively use it. The two are functionally the same. As such, it would require a complex pricing scheme that would require a look up table. It shouldn’t cost the same number of character points to go from skill 1 to skill 2 as it does to go from skill 11 to skill 12. I wanted to avoid that. Another reason is that, at least for humans, it’s really trivially easy to practice a skill up to a skill level of 8. If you look at my house rules, which are based on the best empirical evidence I was able to gather, you’ll see that it only takes five hours of practice to get to a skill level of 8. There is a real difference there between a skill level of 7 and 8. My view is that pretty much everyone who grew up in a society where the skill is regularly practiced will have absorbed a skill level of 7 through osmoses. Someone who has never touched a gun will have a skill of 7 just off what they’ve picked up through watching movies and televisions. Someone who’s never argued a case in front of a jury will have a skill of 7 from what they’ve picked up from… watching television and movies. And so on. It’s just so easy to get to a skill of 7, that I think we can treat everyone as having a skill level of 7 in every skill. Note that this is much more generous than the rules as written, which give 0-point characters skill defaults ranging from 4 to 6 (with the strange case of Brawling at skill 10). So I can see the argument for starting characters with skill levels of 7 instead. It’s just so easy to go from 7 to 8, and of so little consequence in most cases, and not worth even a character point, that I’ve decided to forego all the hassle and just start the characters with skill levels of 8 in all the skills. If the GM thinks you shouldn’t even have that high a level of a skill, they can toss a familiarity penalty at you. I think that’s the best way to handle that. If the GM looks at your backstory and determines that your character has literally never touched a gun in their life, they can give you a familiarity penalty to bring your skill level down to a 6 or 7 if they think that’s warranted.

Next up: the attributes. What happens with those? This is a doozy. I’m saving that topic for another post. Suffice it to say that there isn’t much left of IQ and DX once you start trying to price them without their bonuses to skills. All in good time.

What else? How about an example. We’ll go with… hmm… what’s a common genre? Medical mystery? Situation comedy? How about… medieval fantasy? That work?

As I said earlier, I designed these rules with my skill list house rules in mind, so that’s how I’m presenting them here.

These prices are only meant to function as an example of what can be done with this skill pricing system, though I think there are certain guidelines we can follow toward good skill prices. I think the best skills should generally cost three or four points per level. Four points per level is what GURPS charges for all the skills already, and it’s often a good idea to spend a good many points raising one of the better skills. For instance, you don’t feel as though you’re being ripped off when you spend forty points on your swordsman’s sword skill. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the worst skills. These are the skills that have no adventuring value whatsoever. These are the skills that are of little use to characters who seek out and find uses for them. Games is a good example of a skill such as this. Regardless of how good your character is at playing chess, it’s not going to help that character accomplish goals in most games. It would take a game specifically tailored around playing chess to make the skill any good at all. Even in that sort of game, chess might be worth three or even four points per level, but other games, like go and backgammon are still worthless.

So that gives us a pretty good guideline to work with, I think: the best skills are three or four points per level. The middle-of-the-road skills are two points per level. And the very worst skills are one point per level. That’s what I’ve gone with here:

 When looking at these prices, don’t forget that characters start off with a skill of 8. So the first level they purchase will raise their skill to 9, then 10, and so on.


Skill Name
Cost
Animals

Animal Handling†
   2
Fishing
   1


Art

Artist†
   1
Dancing
   1
Disguise†
   2
Erotic Art
   1
Musical Composition
   1
Musical Instrument†
   1
Performance
   1
Singing
   1
Writing
   1


Business

Accounting
   2
Administration
   2
Business †
   2


Combat

Melee Weapons †
   4
Shield
   4
Cloak
   2
Unarmed Striking
   3
Grappling
   3
Bow
   3
Sling
   2
Throwing
   2


Craft

Armoury†
   2
Butchering
   2
Carpentry
   2
Cartography
   2
Cooking
   2
Counterfeiting
   2
Engineering
   2
Farming
   2
Jeweler
   2
Leatherworking
   2
Machinist
   2
Masonry
   2
Mechanic†
   2
Prospecting
   2
Sewing
   2
Smith
   2


Gaming

Games†
   1
Hobby Skill†
   1
Sport†
   1


Influence

Deception
   3
Diplomacy
   3
Intimidation
   3
Oratory
   3
Savoir-Faire†
   3
Sex Appeal
   3


Intellectual

Architecture
   2
Astronomy
   2
Biology
   2
Chemistry
   2
Connoisseur
   2
Cryptography
   2
Expert Skill†
   2
Geography†
   2
Geology†
   2
Heraldry†
   2
History†
   2
Law
   2
Mathematics
   2
Meteorology†
   2
Pharmacy†
   2
Philosophy
   2
Physics†
   2
Physiology†
   2
Religious Ritual
   2
Research
   2
Theology†
   2


Medical

Diagnosis†
   2
Physician†
   2
Surgery†
   2


Military

Intelligence Analysis
   2
Battle Command
   2
War Planning†
   2


Movement

Acrobatics
   2
Climbing
   2
Escape
   2
Jumping
   2
Swimming
   2


Survival

Foraging
   1
Fire-Starting
   1
Knot-Tying
   1
Nativation†
   1
Tracking
   2


Vehicles

Crewman
   2
Marine Vessel
   2
Riding†
   2


Miscellaneous

Area Knowledge†
   2
Body Language
   2
Fast-Draw
   2
Holdout
   2
Lip Reading
   1
Lockpicking
   2
Teaching
   1
Theft
   2
Loading
   1



Now that we have the rules, let’s try a sample character. A quick fantasy background…

Our character is Gerald, a farmer-turned-mercenary who was drawn into a life of crime by one of his mercenary companions after the war. He now lives as a petty thief, pickpocket, and conman in the big city of Fantasiport.

So what I’ll do is look through the list of skills and jot down the ones I think I want to purchase for him. This would be much easier with a paper printout of the skill list with their detailed prices. I would need only make a mark next to each skill to indicate my desire to purchase that skill. Then I could later decide my skill level and write it down on the list. This way, I would be able to easily my level in every skill with a mere glance at my sheet.

From his youth as a farmer I give him:
Animal Handling (Pigs)
Butchering
Farming
Area Knowledge (Homeland)


From his days as a mercenary, I give him:
Melee Weapon (Edged Weapons) - 4/level
Shield - 4/level

And from his recent time as a ne’er-do-well in the city he has:
Games (Dice)
Deception
Stealth
Area Knowledge (Fantasiport)
Theft

Now I need to decide on the skill level he has in these skills and how many points those are going to cost.

I decide on:


Animal Handling (Pigs)-9 [2]
Butchering-9 [2]
Farming-10 [2]
Area Knowledge (Homeland)-9 [2]

Melee Weapon (Edged Weapons)-11 [12]
Shield-10 [8]

Games (Dice)-9 [1]
Deception-11 [9]
Stealth-10 [6]
Area Knowledge (Fantasiport)-9 [2]
Theft-11 [6]

Bringing the total cost of his skills to 52.