Friday, October 23, 2015

Getting Your Points' Worth

I'm a Loony. I don't think GURPS has enough disadvantages.

Disadvantages were one of the things that drew me to GURPS 25 years ago. Teenage I liked the idea of PCs being greedy or horny and playing this, and here was a system that had mechanics to encourage this. Adult I still likes this.

Now, over the years, I can see some of the downsides. Disadvantages can get forgotten by both players and GMs, leading to free points for folks who take vague disadvantages. Also, I'm running Dungeon Fantasy, and frankly the advantages are of more use in a game that always involves NPCs in genuine social situations. Mind you, I tend to run my game with Dungeon Fantasy as a base and pile world detail onto it, but the issues are still there.

And so, for my benefit as much as anyone else's, I'm writing this post. I should note that I combed through the GURPS Basic Set and GURPS Social Engineering to write this, and took a look at HackMaster Basic as well. I'm taking the common law attitude that other rules systems may give guidance. If you know more such systems than I and want to share it, please, let me know. I'd like to look at the full version of HackMaster, or Hero to get more ideas.

Absent-Mindedness: This is a 15-point disadvantage. To give everyone a good idea of what that means, Unluckiness says the GM can fuck over a PC once a session.

That’s Unluckiness, a 10-point disadvantage. So a 15-point disadvantage needs to be tougher than that.

Now, back to Absent-Mindedness. First of all, note that the GURPS Basic Set points out that the penalties apply to guard duty. Second, if you want a little more bite, since the absent-minded wizard might shirk guard duty anyways, think of the HackMaster approach: take away a small item. Doing this the GURPS way, make an IQ-2 roll in secret to see if the character didn’t bring along a small item. If he fails, roll randomly to see which item he didn’t bring. Don’t tell him until he tries to use the item. This is like the way in the Basic Set, but moves the roll to the beginning of the session, which is easier to remember.

Bad Temper: There are two issues here. First is that Basic doesn’t define what lashing out does. Selfish (p. B153) comes to the rescue: the target gets -3 to reactions towards you. Anyways, the next issue is a stressful situation. I’d say this is an IQ-based skill roll, or a DX-based skill roll for skills modified by High Manual Dexterity, done at an overall penalty. Down in the dungeon, you’re likely not near too many NPCs while picking that lock, so failing a self-control roll means the character stops using the skill, bitches at whoever set him off or is nearest to him, then must make the skill roll at -2. I suppose you could make a skill roll to let you make a skill roll instead of one roll at -2, but that’s irritating.

Also, GURPS Social Engineering (p. 70) notes that someone with Bad Temper must make a self-control roll when taunted, with a penalty equal to his margin of defeat. 

Berserk: As well as the normal issues in Basic, GURPS Social Engineering notes that someone with Berserk has the same problems with taunting as someone with Bad Temper does. Hmmm … this sounds like kender versus barbarians might be an interesting fight idea.

Bloodlust: Failing a self-control roll means the character will strike at a downed foe, even when that foe isn’t a threat. If you’re playing with most foes going down when they go below 0 HP, let the player dispatch a downed foe on a Melee Weapon roll; don’t bother with damage. This kills the foe right this second, meaning that’s the only wasted second.

As well as losing time in combat, this disadvantage will make it hard to take prisoners. For starters, many of them will be dead, and nobody is going to surrender if he sees that some blood-crazed murder hobo will kill him anyways.

Bully: When can he get away with it? That’s a good question. Most prisoners, I’d say, and many NPCs. Regardless, however, the reaction penalty handles most of this disadvantage, which is mostly an Odious Personal Habit with an action associated with it.

Charitable: You know you won’t be killing any downed foes, right? You need to make a self-control roll to not help any downed foe who isn’t still obviously dangerous. You can make some rational assessments: this mostly applies to Faerie or Mundane foes, and nothing known to be Truly Evil. Add the foe’s SM to the self-control roll to keep Charitable PCs from helping downed dragons. If you’re not a skilled healer, you’ll just make a First Aid roll (even at a default) to bandage, which will mean that your foes will be alive the next time you would trigger this encounter.

Colorblindness: Among other issues, this will make assessing gem worth hard. Make this an automatic failure on any Merchant roll to do this.

Compulsive Carousing: Most of the partying will be done in town. Increase cost of living as Compulsive Generosity.

Compulsive Gambling: Most of the gambling will be done in town. Increase cost of living as Compulsive Generosity.

Compulsive Inventing: The disadvantage of the artificer. Basically, roll self-control any time an artificer can solve a problem without inventing something. Failure means he goes for the invention anyways. Think of Twist in the Fresh Beat Band, for those of you with young kids. I think of the original Marina in that show myself, albeit for other reasons.

Compulsive Vowing: This little disadvantage brought this all along. I have a character in my game with it, and frankly, it’s a bothersome little disadvantage. If you don’t want to ban this silly disadvantage, the character will vow to see through whatever mission he is undertaking. If for some reason the character has to do something else before the mission’s end, he is -1 to reaction rolls for each self-control roll level (use the table on p. B142 for Loner) as he’s a pissy Anakin Skywalker-wannabe. No, not Darth Vader; that would make him cool.

Cowardice: Well, you do realize what happens in Dungeon Fantasy, right? Just letting you know before you take or allow a PC to take this.

Moving on, a character with Cowardice needs to make a self-control roll to go into combat with someone of a bigger SM, or if outnumbered more than 3:2, or when facing someone obviously better skilled or having tougher weapons. Also make a self-control roll to keep from running when you take lose more than half your max HP.

Curious: I don’t have a good definition of a mystery, but a character with Curious will drink from that magic fountain, or listen at that ratty door or peep through that hole unless he makes a self-control roll. He won’t try to trigger traps for no good reason, however.

Disciplines of Faith (Ritualism): The character needs another hour each day for these rituals, whatever they are. Effectively, they’re like Chi Rituals, just not as often or as silly.

Dwarfism: Having run a PC with this, I say to remember Reach penalties, and the penalties in Pyramid #3/77: Combat. Otherwise, this becomes a free +1 to hit, which isn’t much of a penalty.

Fanaticism: This is going to be a problem disadvantage, so think about it for a second. Unless your Fanaticism is for finding monsters in dungeons, killing them, and taking their stuff, you’re going to be sulking about every mission, and logically finding a way not to go on it. (And if it is, then this is free points.) If this doesn’t bother you, consider any fanatic unable to dedicate himself to his mission is grouchy.

Grouchy: You’re not getting your way, and you’re gonna let everyone know. Until you get back on track, you are -1 to all IQ-based skill rolls, self-control rolls, and reaction rolls.

Keep in mind that if your Fanaticism doesn’t come up, you just gave yourself -1 all the time. I don’t think that’s too fun, but suum cuique.

Gluttony: You need extra meals each day. How many? See the reaction penalty for Loner NPCs (p. B142), and read that as “extra meals” instead of a reaction penalty. You will have extra meals with you, and if you don’t, you will stop and hunt or forage. If you cannot, make a self-control roll each day. If you fail, you will be grouchy (see Fanaticism).

Greed: Another 15-point disadvantage, so it’s supposed to be a bother. If you find that you’re not going to earn enough loot to pay off your sponsor, rest for a week, and top off your power items (DF 3, p. 42), you will steal from your teammates on a failed self-control roll. You should steal from them in advance to keep from having to pick their pockets, which they might find out. Text or pass notes to handle this.

And if the guy who wants to take this disadvantage is that guy, kick his ass to the curb. The player’s ass, that is. Unless everyone is cool with the inevitable player vs. player conflict this will bring, ban it.

Honesty: Among other things, someone with Honesty will heed the laws in town and not behave like a murder hobo, including the weapon laws, and not murder prisoners. It's a pretty restrictive Code of Honor linked to a reaction bonus for playing it.

Impulsiveness: Whenever you're not outnumbered, not facing obviously better foes, or facing foes of a SM bigger than you, you need to make a self-control roll to keep from rushing into combat. Obviously, they have to be unfriendly, otherwise there would be loads of dead serfs.

Intolerance: This is a GURPS disadvantage that isn't too disadvantageous to PCs as written. You don't like orcs? Well, you're going to kill them anyways. To make this make sense, any time you have to work with a target of your Intolerance, you are at -1 to IQ-based skill rolls, and any DX-based skill rolls affected by High Manual Dexterity. (Whenever I talk about these DX-based skill rolls, I'm talking about the skills involved, whether or not you actually have High Manual Dexterity.) Touchy folks who see your bigotry will react at -1. 

This will affect the marching order. After all, if you hate halflings, and you have one in your party, are you gonna let him get behind you? They have dirty little fingers and dirty little minds. They're gonna get you every time. (This actually happened in my game. Likháfrikh, the dwarf engineer, hated the goblinoids whom he oversaw. So if both he and Kúflaug, the PCs' orc slave, went into the dungeon, I made sure he didn't march before Kúflaug.)

Jealousy: This is truly not disadvantageous as written. Its game effect is a reaction penalty for NPCs who have the disadvantage. So, treat this as Intolerance (Anyone better off than you). The targets of your Jealousy will always react to you at -1, rather than touchy folks reacting badly, as your body Common will be apparent.

Kleptomania: Another -15 point disadvantage that isn't too disadvantageous in DF. To fix this, for starters, you will  Shoplift or Work the Crowd (DF 2, p. 4) every time you are in town. Also, like Greed, you will steal from your teammates in dire straits. Indeed, you're not going to try to get more money in advance, but you'll pick their pockets regardless. Come to think of it, you'll do this when you're not in dire straits too.

Don't let That Guy take this one.

Laziness: You are at -4 to Scoring Extra Cash (DF 2, p. 4), and any extra cash you do get is halved. You are -2 to Finding a Quest (DF 2, p. 4). It seems like there should be more, a penalty to guard duty or something.

EDIT: And Peter Dell'Orto has something more. The short version: you're useless in town. My comments below might be adding too many Odious Personal Habits to it, however.

Lecherousness: The more I read, the more I don't think this should be a -15-point disadvantage. Heck, in Dungeon Fantasy, this could be -5. What are the effects in play? Well, you're more susceptible to seduction (GURPS Social Engineering, p. 29), but so what? It's not like there will be a succubus on every damn dungeon level. You get to act like a horn dog at the table even more than usual.

There has to be some penalty for taking the saloon whore John Norman-style. So, if you have any level of Lecherousness, you need to make a HT roll at the start of every session when you started in town (or after any downtime in town). Ignore any result other than a critical failure. On a critical failure, you have Chronic Pain (Severe, 1 hour, 12 or less), Social Disease, and are down 1d HP. The Chronic Pain and the Social Disease last until someone cures you, usually by casting Cure Disease; the lost HP heals normally.

Mind you, we're talking about a -15 point disadvantage, so the occasional rendition of "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?" isn't enough. This is Warren Beatty-level fucking. So, if you don't get no satisfaction for a day, make a self-control roll lest you be grouchy (see Fanaticism above).

Consider hiring a boytoy/kept woman as a hireling to offset this. Hmmm … I now get why Dave Arneson kept pleasure slaves on his equipment lists.

Loner: This isn't a big disadvantage, only -5 points, but it seems kind of out-of-place in a DF game, with its emphasis on teamwork and niche protection. So, read the reaction penalty as space in hexes you need while working on an IQ-based or DX-based-with-High Manual Dexterity skill roll. If you don't have it, you are at a penalty to work equal to that reaction penalty. Feel free to lower that if the conditions are partially met (say, nobody can give you more than 2 hexes of space and your self-control roll is (6), so your penalty is only -2).

Miserliness: You won't buy weapons unless they're Cheap, so you will have broken swords littering dungeon floors everywhere. If there's Cheap armor in the campaign (make it cost 40% less but weigh 50% more), you'll only buy that too. You need to make a self-control roll to spend money on someone else or pitch in money for a group purchase, and you'll do this only if it's needed. You'll need to make a self-control roll to buy something that costs more than 20% of your starting wealth on yourself.

None of this applies to gear you find in the dungeon, which is one more reason to become a murder hobo.

Obsession: There are two levels here. The -5 point level isn't much of a problem. Kill all dragons? You strike them first in combat and when you hear that one is in a dungeon or a lair, you go there.

Many of the -10 point ones are more of an issue, since they involve career choices and how you'll spend your points. So, self-control rolls will need to happen when you try to spend them on traits unrelated to your obsession. The GM should give you some leeway here. If you want to be the best swordsman, buying more ST or Enhanced Parry are definitely related to that, as well as your sword skill. IQ and Magery are handy for anyone wanting to become a lich.

On the Edge: You need a self-control roll to flee combat, or not engage whenever anyone threatens you. Unlike Impulsiveness, the idea that you could lose doesn't bother you, so you aren't any more likely to flee dragons than rabid puppies.

Overconfidence: If you have points in a trait that could solve a problem, you need to make a self-control roll not to try to use it. Use the overall task penalty as a bonus to the roll, so if it involves climbing a slimy, moss-covered wall and you have Overconfidence (12), you'd roll at 14 instead. This cuts the other way too. If you have to climb a wall with ample hand and foot rests (+4) to get past a big fan with razor-sharp edges that will slash anyone who fails his Climbing roll, your self-control roll would be 8 ("Aw, that primitive trap? Of what are you scared?")

Paranoia: Like Bully and Stubbornness, this is more-or-less a glorified Odious Personal Habit with some role-playing advice.

Phobia (Crowds): Big masses in combat will set this off.

Phobia (Open Spaces): This will slow wilderness travel to a crawl. Rather than rolling all the time, treat the Fright Check penalty as a penalty to wilderness travel speed equal to 20% times the Fright Check penalty, unless you're in a carriage or boat. If combat or anything else interrupts this, you'll be at a penalty equal to your Fright Check penalty. Foraging and hunting are impossible for you.

Phobia (Sun): This is on the suggested list of disadvantages for Clerics of the Night, and all I can say is WTF? Travel during the day will be like Phobia (Open Spaces), and you'll need to make self-control rolls to leave the dungeon unless it's night or overcast. Like On the Edge, this one might be under-priced. Not even That Guy would take it.

Pyromania: I'm not sure there needs to be much guidance here. Like Compulsive Inventing, you need to make a self-control roll not to use fire as a tool to solve a problem if it is a viable solution. I suppose there needs to be a chance not to set a forest fire during travel, say self-control+3 each day.

Selfish: This one's listed effects (self-control roll or lash out after a perceived slight) won't happen too often in Dungeon Fantasy. You'll likely share badly, and insist on getting first dibs on game and healing. It's kind of a reason to be an asshole. If That Guy isn't the one taking it, explain to the player that the other characters might well lower his cut of the take as a way of getting even for his being an asshole.

Selfless: By contrast, this one will cause problems for the character. Make a self-control roll to move to the front of the line in healing if you need to (say, you've lost an arm, while the other guy took a 2 HP blow to his chest), or not be the one to go hungry when group rations are short.

Squeamishness: Treat as a Phobia around Slimes and corporeal Undead.

Vow: Like Obsessions and Fanaticism, it's boring to say that a character just won't go along because it conflicts with his Vow. If this would be the case, which hardly applies to every vow (things like fighting only with one sword or not speaking ever wouldn't take apply, for example), treat the character as grouchy (see Fanaticism) until he can steer everyone back to taking care of his vow.

Weirdness Magnet: I think it's safe to say that more pixels have been spent trying to handle this disadvantage than any other. Let's break what it does down:

  • It has a -2 reaction penalty to everyone who knows you're a weirdness magnet and who knows what that is. That is hardly everyone; I'd call this worth -5 points, and the penalty applies to generally learned folks, not most bartenders or peasants.
  • Then we have "weird shit happens to you, but won't kill you outright." That's like Unluckiness (Limited, Weird shit only). Elder Things will target you first, monsters will be weirder (see below). Since Unluckiness is a -10 penalty, this has to be worth less than that. It isn't quite Unluckiness since the weird shit isn't necessarily bad, but that's our base.
  • The paranormal seeks you out. This is related to the kind of, sort of Unluckiness (Limited, Weird shit only) and is part of the explanation thereof, but isn't quite. Kromm has a good explanation here of the game effects of this.

For the monsters, I'd recommend giving a chance any random monsters are modified by a prefix (see GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 for many of them). For my campaign, I came up with rolling 2d. On a 2 or 3 (or 1 in 12), a random monster will have a prefix if nobody with Weirdness Magnet is around. On a 2, 3, or 4 (or 1 in 6, or twice as likely), a random monster has a prefix if someone with Weirdness Magnet is around. I give the same chances for whether or not a monster is Giant or Dire (see Mailanka's Homebrew Monsters thread), with 1 in 6 any Giant-or-Dire monsters being Giant. (Heck, I even give the same chance that a monster will have one of the templates in thread, which just make monsters tougher.)

Xenophilia: You need a self-control roll to not try to offer friendship to any Elder Thing or other unworldly thing not directly threatening you.

EDIT: There's a sequel.


  1. Good ideas all around, and I really like the Lecherousness modification...very smart application.

    1. Thanks. I tried to look at all the -15 and -10 point disadvantages on the list in DF 1, and see how they would affect play. (I thought a -5 point one not coming up too often wasn't a big deal.) When I got to Lecherousness, I realized that it is hopelessly overpriced, so I pulled in the idea of VD from a Pyramid article I haven't yet submitted (it's mostly the clap in the article, but much simplified for this) and came up with Grouchy. (It wound up under Fanaticism due to alphabetical order.)

      I'm still skeptical of any disadvantage where I'd have to be Grouchy to get it to fit the campaign. (I figured it as -1 IQ and -1 Odious Personal Habit, for -25 points, and a daily Mitigator, -60%.) As an occasional thing, it's fine, but I'd rather actually have the personality trait.

  2. Thanks.

    I'm really ignorant of the details of GURPS.

    I read in a genre that heavily uses a stock type of martial artist. This stock character is an arrogant bully, who serves the purpose of escalating a social situation to lethal violence. Sometimes they agree to wait for a lethal duel at a specified time, perhaps setting absurd stakes if they should lose. This last is what made me think of Compulsive Vowing. What disadvantages should a GURPS DF Martial Artist take to fit such behavior?

    1. That's a good use of it, maybe with a small reduction so that the vows are only duels, not helping little old hobbits throw rings into mountains of fire. Try Compulsive Vowing (12) (Accessibility, Only to make duels, -20%) [4]. He'd also have Bully, which would take care of his general obnoxiousness since it has a reaction penalty, and maybe a -5 point Obsession to handle his desire to always get into fights.

    2. As a side note, this isn't too far in RAW game effects from Trickster, which is worth a base -15 points. I wrote a bit about Trickster in my post today, but basically, as written, Trickster means you have to make a self-control roll each day or try to trick a dangerous foe. So Bully (12) [-10], Compulsive Vowing (12) (Accessibility, Only to make duels, -20%) [-4], and Obsession (12) (Escalate tense social situations to blows) [-5] is -19 points total, which is in line with Trickster (12). Or it could just be Bad Temper (9) [-15]. GURPS allows some leeway on how you'd like to do this. The basic idea is that you want to get this guy into fights because he's an asshole, and the disadvantage to play a trick on someone once a day is worth -15 points which is going to have similar game effects—needless fights—to what you want, so you're going to want disadvantages doing everything that are worth about -15 points. Maybe -11 points, maybe -19 points, depending on effects (like how severe a reaction penalty he'll have).