Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Playing With High Point Totals

Sigh. Ok. The following blog post is going to sound equal parts preachy, derisive, and ranty (the last is my favorite dwarf from Snow White – he looks like Lewis Black and is just as pissy). For that, I’m sorry. I’m pretty sure I’m going to manage to offend someone out there who believes that the One True Way Of Gaming means anything over 150 points is overpowered and thus unplayable. I’ve seen people balk at 250 points and declare that the 400 point Monster Hunter templates are physically unassailable and thus hunting monsters is moot. To those people I say this: You are wrong. You are wrong and a decade of gaming in GURPS 4th edition with 200 or more points proves it (for me at least). Basically I call shenanigans. So here are a few pointers, but before that let me introduce you to the Rule of Awesome:

The Rule of Awesome: When dealing with characters who have high point totals (250 points or above) or in a cinematic game let the players be awesome. This does not mean that you should let them constantly win – you can be awesome without always winning. You can be awesome and still lose. Let them put a spin on the knife they just threw. Let them kick the door down in in one go. Let them do a run jump kick off the wall into someone’s head leaving a boot imprint. Let the players be awesome. The point here is that if you are constantly hosing your players because they have a point total you find “too high” then start another game at a level you are comfortable with. Inversely, high point totals does not mean powerful – you could have a 400 point character who is almost completely social traits (e.g., Rank, Status, Wealth, etc.) who is abysmal at physical conflict. Regardless, let the players be awesome.

“My Player Characters Are Too Skilled!”
It doesn’t matter how many points your player characters have in a skill because you’re the GM and you can increase the difficulty of their skill rolls. And I’m not just saying “You suck! Have a -5 penalty to your skills.” You can use the the modifiers from GURPS that most people forget about and just GO with it. For example, let’s say you have a party of people who’s lowest combat skill is 18 – they’re a bunch of world-class warriors. So how do you handicap such a motley crew? Penalize them. Penalize them until their eyes bleed (but not too much, remember – let them be awesome). “Okay, you have a -2 in vision penalties from darkness, another -2 because it’s raining, and a further -2 because the road is a slippery mess.” DESCRIBE the penalties they are getting so they understand why. Why is as important as how. This way when they do succeed it has a higher impact: “Dude, my swordsman is so badass he stabbed someone in the Vitals just after sundown while it was raining cats and dogs.” They will come to accept the penalties as part of being awesome and that is as it should be.

“My Player Characters Are Too Hypercompetent!”
“Okay, anyone have Expert Skill (Hydrology)?” “Yes.” “What about Geography (Physical)?” “Me again.” *sigh* “Any skill you don’t have?” “Not many…” Hypercompetency is not really an issue if you follow the guidelines above. Having too many skills is never the real problem. The real problem is that your skill overlap between players is too high. This is only natural when you have one player who takes boatloads of skills at 1 point and high attributes. How do you fix this problem? Don’t let the players take the skills or use the rules for “My Player Characters Are Too Skilled!”

“My Player Character’s Attributes Are Too High!”
“What’s your DX?” “14.” “Your ST?” “Also 14…” Overall, high attributes are not really an issue in most campaigns that feature point totals that let you buy those attributes. If this is a problem simply specify a maximum attribute (I like to use 16 for starting characters with the option of buying Special Exercises) or a maximum amount of character points that can be spent in attributes (e.g., 200 points or less). GMs should be careful with high attributes because they can bash a realistic campaign into cinematic status (and yes, realistic campaigns can have high point totals).

Picking Over the Bones
If you want to ignore everything I just said (and you can), simply set up character creation to use Buckets of Points. Even with my fairly substantial experience GMing I used Buckets of Points for my current campaign (Aeon) and I have not regretted it. In my case I  split it into “Attributes,” “Advantages,” “Skills,” and “Metahuman Powers.” It worked so well that I plann to do it across all my campaigns.

Posted in Gamemaster's Guidepost and tagged , , .


  1. Essentially, instead of saying "You have 200 points to make your character" it's more like "You have 60 points for attributes, 40 for skills, and 100 for advantages." Points from Disadvantages and Quirks may be spent wherever you wish. There is more to it than that, but it's a brilliant approach I'll be using from no on in all my games.

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