Thursday, January 16, 2014

Gamemaster's Guidepost: How Tough Is It?

Because GURPS is a point-buy system, figuring out what constitutes as a “tough” opponent can be difficult. Not only difficult, it can be downright arcane. There are situations where a 500-point character can have barely any impact on a combat (lots of social and mental advantages), and a 100-pointer absolutely dominates it (purely combat-oriented advantages). There are no rules for doing this at the moment, just hard-won knowledge. That said, I do have a few guidelines I use:

  • Figure out the minimum, the average, maximum amount of damage each character can do. For example, if a character has a ST 14 and their typical weapon is a Broadsword, their minimum is 3, average is 8, and maximum is 13.
  • Take note of their best attack skill and Active Defense.
  • Take note of their Hit Points, Damage Resistance, and any other defensive or combat trait (High Pain Threshold, Regeneration, etc.) that can affect a typical combat; which in my experience is between 3 to 15 rounds (3 to 15 seconds). Remember any equipment as well.
  • Figure out what combat effects any exotic or supernatural powers might have on the combat. If a character can use Mind Control to make your opponents fight among themselves, this will have a significant impact on the combat!
Once you have all this information, do the same for any NPCs you’re going to use in the combat. Then go through the process above, but total all the PCs and NPCs on their side to figure out the approximate value of their collective damage-dealing, damage-taking, and chances of hitting their targets. Do the same for the NPCs. Once you compare the numbers you’ll be able to guesstimate how hard a given battle might be. For instance, if the PCs collective damage-dealing capability is 9 points (or about 2d+2) and the NPCs damage-taking capability is 7, it’s going to be a relatively easy battle.

Remember, these are only guidelines and the best determiner of how tough a combat is going to be is your experience with your players as their GM.


  1. Ive thought before that both the DF and MH monsters require like a threat rating number from 1 through 10.

    1. That's been bandied about before, but it's really hard to peg a GURPS character's combat versatility. The same reason thing that makes GURPS so generic and universal also makes it hard to put this sort of thing into action. I suppose a effort could be made to figure out what traits do what and assemble some sort of scale...but it would need a Kronk ton of testing to make right...hmmmmm.

    2. There is a tiny bit in MH4.

      I remember the first session of my last campaign. One tough opponent versus four PCs. I thought they would butcher him, but.... its GURPS, two unlucky rolls later the 2 combat pcs both disabled.

    3. That is yet another reason why it can be hard to guess what's going on. Good die rolls on either side of the fence can make things really difficult. Better men than me have tried...and failed. Still, it's a bit of a holy grail and would be a lovely thing to add to the GURPS line.

  2. I've got a rather arcane spreadsheet based on some work by Nymdock that spits out relatively spiffy numbers. Essentially, if you enter your party's stats, it'll spit out average stats for a monster party of a given difficulty. It's not bad, but a few bad rolls can still maim a party. I don't think that's particularly avoidable.

  3. I do seem to remember Walter saying something about that at one point. I'll have to ask when he is on next.