Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Back to the Drawing Board

My recent post on creating an advantage that gave a bonus to all rolls was pretty controversial. On one hand some folks liked my methodology, on the other hand I was to be branded a traitor of the Holy Word of Rules as Written. I still stick by my blogpost. But that whole thing raised another issue I’d not really been aware of: people seemed to have radical views on how you could create a new advantage. Even the section on making new advantages in the Basic Set pretty much says “price new advantages as you think appropriately.” So here area few tips I use when designing new traits for GURPS.

Renaming & Redefining Traits
These are easy – change the name, change the flavor, but keep the game mechanical effects the same. The only problem most GMs might have is coming up with a cool-sounding name. I personally like to come up with the setting bare bones first and then change names of traits if needed. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Combining Traits
This tends to be the method that most folks go for. It’s simple, easy, and familiar: you’re basically going through the same process that you’d go to for creating a new meta-trait or superpower. This one is also fairly straightforward and uses the normal methods for creating abilities in GURPS.

A Case for Alternative Abilities for Alternative Pricing.
One thing that I noticed while designing “Blessed (Charmed Existence)” was that Alternative Attacks (p. B61) requires no Ready maneuver like Alternative Abilities (GURPS Powers, p. 11). That says to me that when using those rules as long as the powers are all the same thing (or thematically the same thing) then there maybe there is no Ready maneuver needed, but you can’t use them at the same time.

So sure, you can get a discount for multiple types of DR, but only one of those types of DR could apply in a single instance. Another way to play around with this might be with a perk – Dual Ready allows you to ready two different things at once with a single maneuver so why not two powers? It may also make sense to add Game Time for some powers so that while you can’t use those powers for everything, you could use them on a “per roll” or “per action” basis.

Modifying and Fine-Tuning Traits
Again, the rules here should be pretty familiar: it’s just like designing a power or meta-trait. You’re tweaking the final cost or trait to be more customized to your particular campaign. For example, if everyone in your campaign who possesses a Talent (p. B91) also have tattoos/birthmarks that glow when you use a covered skill you could bundle that as “Innate Skill (Healer) [9/level]” for a character sheet and long-hand it as “Healer (Visible, -10%) [9/level].”

Creating Entirely New Traits
Probably the most “Rule Zero” (or as I like to call it sometimes “Rulez” – I don’t really, but it sounds cool) of the guidelines. This section relies on both GM oversight and a balancing act against previously established traits. It also requires a lot of playtesting to make sure it works. It’s also a bit shaky on how it works using fractions without any seeming caps vs. percentages that do have caps. In short, the “ugly” side of GURPS is showing. The side that most folks who play the game look at and go screaming in mindless terror. “Numbers are not objective here! It’s all subjective! Hallllpppppp!”

What bothers me (and what +GodBeastX noted as well) is that GURPS uses made-up numbers to begin with. No one knows how balanced DX is against HT except by rigorous playtesting. They are gaming abstractions that allow us to have balanced play without the metaphorical Cowboys and Indians argument: “I shot you! You died!” “No you didn’t! I shot you!” The numbers aren’t based on anything but the game designer’s gut feelings and playtesting. To suppose that they were mathematically derived somehow boggles the mind.

This is something I feel GURPS players and designers lacks sometimes. We all become so obsessed with the numbers we forget that they aren’t based on anything but playtesting and a number some game writer thought appropriate. This can make some of us outright deny such things, but deny it or not it’s the truth. That’s why I think that when you are designing something new it’s very important to remember this unvarnished truth.

Picking Over the Bones
As I’ve said (probably ad nauseam) creating new traits is so in the GM’s wheelhouse that he probably shouldn’t let his players do it at all. Being able to weigh and judge the value of a game mechanic is something that comes with time, patience, and lots of play. You can’t really say if something is going to work or not unless you actually play in a game using it. You can’t armchair quarterback actual honest to goodness playtesting or experience at game design. There’s a sort of feeling you get when something is right (or near right). The closer you get to something balanced and playable, the louder the sound.

With all of this, I got to thinking…how could I create a Divine Curse that gives you a -1 penalty across the board? But that’s probably a post for another day.

Posted in Gamemaster's Guidepost and tagged , , .


  1. I was one of the people who posted against that post and now that you've posted this, I feel like I should give a bit more explanation as to why, because I don't disagree with any of this.

    In general, I'm pretty wary about Alternative Abilities. "Accessibility: When not using my other power" shouldn't be a -80% limitation and x1/5 is even better than -80%. Alternate Abilities seem pretty reasonable when there is some thematic and utility overlap between abilities: when you have two modes on your special attack ray, say, or have basic move and enhanced move as AAs of each other, but when the abilities do two completely different things, prices using AA seem to be too cheap compared to the rest of the system.

    I've used Sorcery in a couple games and plan on using it again, but it does seem like characters with access to it wind up more powerful and versatile for the same point cost than characters buying similar powers separately or than characters who just don't take powers at all. I can accept these issues, in part because that's true of basically every magic system in basically every game, in part because the GM can keep an eye on things to keep characters under control and in part because the system is pretty good in spite of that issue.

    However, when I see alternate abilities being used with things that are as ulitity-disconnected as different attributes, especially within the context of Sorcery, where alternate abilities are essentially double-dipping, alarm bells start going off.

    That said, I do actually agree with your numbers on a rough-feel sort of basis. This is clearly not at the level of [100] advantages like Warp, Super Luck or ATR. While GURPS is officially opposed to giving package discounts, it in fact, does it all the time (Talents and Attributes are both this) and the larger the advantage, the more package discounts make sense, since it becomes less likely that every component of the package will be useful to the character with the ability, and this is pretty much as large a package as you can get, so it should be priced at a discount relative to the sum of all components.

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