Friday, July 4, 2014

Assembly Required: Development Step Three - Power Level

So you've got your foundation, and you've chosen your campaign parameters, now what? Time to choose the capability of your player characters, that is, their power level. In GURPS this translates to how many starting points you are going to assign to your players. I'm not a huge fan of the listed point values in the Basic Set (p. B487), in fact, I really think that they are somewhat of a trap. Points do not equate directly into "how powerful am I" (which is something I love about GURPS), though the categories are misleading (you cannot build a believable John McClane on 200 points or even 250 points). Later supplements have more of less proved this for me, and I've come to view starting point totals as what they really are: a starting point. Do they have a hand in what sort of game you're trying to run? Absolutely, but not as much as you'd think. I've discussed this in more detail here so I won't reiterate in this post as well. Suffice it to say that most of the time you're going to want at least 150 points, and probably 200 so you have player characters who are competent in their chosen profession/job/skill set. Some of you are out there right now "Oh, no! You can't have a fun game on 200 points! The players will just take over." You, sir, are wrong. Go read that link. Points aren't a measure of power. They are a budget. You could build a straight combat character on 150 points that could kill a 300 point character who isn't so combat-focused. That's why it's critical to decide on what your players are going to be doing and go from there. If it's going to be a pure hack n' slash campaign (and I doubt my methods would be much used to you there), then you could probably get by on 150 to 200 points. However, if all of your players are expected to be able to handle themselves in combat, be competent at whatever "civilian" job they have, and be an "adventurer" - you're going to need more. How much more? Probably upwards to 50% to 100% more. Alternatively, start your players out with a specific package of traits that you feel every player should. For example, in a modern action-oriented campaign, everyone probably has Luck and a set of "everyman skills." Optionally, those with Pyramid #3/65: Alternate GURPS III might consider using Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch's Bucket of Points. An adventurous GM (or one with a well-seasoned, mature gaming group) might decide to play in multiple brackets of points, that is, the starting point total of each character is random. You might also want to check out this post as well on split point totals (if your players are into that sort of thing). Finally, I'm going to post the GURPS starting point list below with an example of what I feel emulates that point total best:
  • Feeble (24 points or less): Lizzie Samuels from the Walking Dead.
  • Average (25 to 50 points): Eva Toole from Hell on Wheels.
  • Competent (50 to 75 points): Joan Holloway from Mad Men.
  • Exceptional (75 to 100 points): Sergeant Drew Wu from Grimm.
  • Heroic (100 to 200 points): Sam from Ronin.
  • Larger-than-Life (200 to 300 points): Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural (up to about season five).
  • Legendary (300 to 500 points): John McClane from the Die Hard series.
  • Superhuman (500 to 1,000 points): Oliver Queen from The Arrow.
  • Godlike (1,000 points or higher): Tony Stark from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Worked Example: Inspirational Sources List for Something, Something Kill Monsters Urban Fantasy Secret Magic
I decided before the Foundation session that I wanted to run a campaign with varying point totals. My players and I both liked the last time we did it and there didn't seem to be any trouble. As a group, we also decided that we didn't want to have player characters worth less than 200 points. Since the style of the campaign we were going for was similar to Monster Hunters (but more serious) I decided that a range of 200 to 400 points were probably ideal, with 300 points being a nice average. Going from there I created a quick chart (see below). I also decided that all players would start out with Illuminated to represent their knowledge of the other world as well as points in a new Impulse Point-like mechanic I would define later.

1d, 1d            Starting Point Total
1, 1-6            400
2, 1-3            375
2, 4-6            350
3, 4-6            325
3, 1-3            300
3, 4-6            300
4, 1-3            300
4, 4-6            275
5, 1-3            250
5, 4-6            225
6, 1-6            200


  1. Do you think that you could do a lot of those more powerful characters with less points by making optional cinematic rules (like flesh wounds) automatic just for the PCs.

    I wonder about actually giving those rules an effective point cost so that you can run 150 point PCs in what would otherwise be 300+ point games.

  2. ABSOLUTELY. Yes. You can definitely lower the point value by adding Features or turning on cinematic rules. Hell, you can save 15 to 60 points by simply declaring that all PCs receive the benefits of Luck or Serendipity. There is also a...mode, a mindset the GM needs to be able to think in for the campaign to work. If he can do that then all sorts of avenues open up. All that said, I'd be VERY cautious about running a cinematic game below 200 points. That's basically the cut off in my experience.