Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Master of None

Jack of All Trades is one of my favorite GURPS Talents and is among my favorite character archetypes. The everyman, with every skill is, after all, an awesome motif. Partly inspired by this post, I got to thinking how I’ve used Jack of All Trades in my own campaigns and what characters (PC or NPC) I’ve seen that embody the type so well. I’ve written up a couple of traits over the years for my own games or modified the rules slightly, and I thought I’d share.

The Renaissance Man
You’ve seen the type before, a seemingly brilliant genius with access to a wide field of knowledge for every occasion. Though a high IQ could be used here (something in the neighborhood of 17 or 18 would do the trick), that may not be something the GM or the player wants. In such cases, Jack of All Trades is a perfect trait. I’d probably peg the needed IQ at 17 – (levels of Jack of All Trades) to pull of most feats seen in fiction. This puts Very Hard skills at a base of 10, Hard at 11, Average at 12, and Easy at 13. But what about learning skills quickly? A new perk may be in order:

Prerequisite: IQ 10+ and Jack of All Trades 1+.
You pick things up much more quickly than normal. This results in a decrease in the times to learn new defaultable skills or learnable traits by 10%. This does not apply to traits that have no Default to begin with. At the GM’s option, you may purchase multiple levels of this trait, though it may never exceed your level of Jack of All Trades.

Alternatively, perhaps a new option for the Dabbler perk: If the GM allows, you may trade in two of your “slots” to be able to default a skill that normally has no default. Such a skill now defaults to the controlling attribute at -6 (or -7 if a Very Hard skill). The character must have any prerequisites required by the skill itself of course. GMs might also raise the cap on Jack of All Trades from three, to whatever level he has other Talents in the campaign at or whatever level, he feels comfortable with. Do note this might have unintended side effects though, as one poster said in the forum link, having Jack of All Trades at a high level effectively gives you “all skills for free” – this is a problem. A suggested fix is to (obviously) state that you cannot posses a defaulted skill level higher than what you would get if you put points into it. Ignoring Talents and other bonus granting traits that gives us the following:

  • Attribute-4 for Very Hard skills
  • Attribute-3 for Hard skills
  • Attribute-2 for Average skills
  • Attribute-1 for Easy skills

Another thing to consider would be a perk that allows you to “opt out” of the rule against double-defaulting (p. B173), it’s effectively a Rules Exemption perk (GURPS Power-Ups 2: Perks, p. 20), but you’d need to specialize by skill category (all Occult skills, all Melee Weapon skills, all Military skills, etc.). Like Skill Adaptation the GM can decide to narrow this down even more, using the same model as Dabbler with its skill slots, but with half the slots available. For example, Rules Exemption (Double Defaults for Melee Weapon skills) might work in one campaign whereas Rules Exemption (Double Defaults for Diagnosis, First Aid, Physician, or Surgery) is appropriate for another.

Picking Over The Bones
So, no matter what, your Jack of All Trades level is you can never get higher than if you spent at least one point in the skill. Keeping this in mind, the highest Jack of All Trades skill level that would be tenable in a campaign is probably level 3, unless skills have a default of -8 or higher. Still, GMs might want characters to be able to pull off such stunts (i.e., having “free” skill levels). Do remember that Dabbler counts as having points in a skill so Jack of All Trades does not add it’s bonus.

Edit: As Kalzazz pointed out over on the forums I didn’t mention DX – this was sort of intentional, there are more IQ skills than their are Will, Perception, Health, and Dexterity skill put together! (IQ has 146, DX 93, HT 13, Will 12, and Per 12 – this doesn’t include specialties, of course). There are also more precedents in fiction for the “renaissance man” than their are for the “uber athlete.”

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  1. Does Dabbler count as having points in a skill? The skills in it still count as defaults, and it does not give access to rules that only apply to people who "know" a skill.

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