Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Plot Points, Expanded

One of the often overlooked things in GURPS Powers (and there are many) is a small box on p. 192 at the top right of the page titled “GM Bribery.” In it, it describes a new way to reward players called a “plot point,” which are basically like character points but can be used to do stuff like buy powers (along with unspent character points) in the middle of a session or gain access to otherwise off-limit cinematic rules. They are, without a doubt, one of the cooler things in that book and I use them all the time.

Play Styles and Plot Points
Despite the fact that I run “cinematic style” games most of the time, I don’t actually use a lot of cinematic rules! I call this “Bourne-level Cinematic” because most games have a Bourne-level of “cinematic action.” The characters are just a tad under “Over-the-Top” and the action is constant – I rarely give my players time to stop more than a few hours in game time and I run a given story arc (what I call adventures) in a limited time frame. Adding all this together makes plot points beyond useful. But some game styles will mean that plot points have more or less usability. For example, in a high-octane cinematic two-fisted pulp campaign many (if not most) cinematic rules are going to be “turned on.” This means among other things that plot points are going to be about as useful as character points in such a campaign. To even things out the GM should increase the “potency” of plot points by making them count as more than one character point. Depending on the style this can range from plot points costing 1/5 a character point per plot point to “Plot Points give you the maximum benefit of a particular rule” (e.g., when spending points for success, a single plot point might give you a critical success, even if you rolled a critical failure!). Regardless of the amount, the GM should set it and let players know before the campaign begins. GMs may even wish to vary the amount from session to session. When the PCs are about to face the “Big Bad” and they are supposed to be awesome you can say each plot point is worth double it’s usual amount (or whatever multiple you are comfortable with) or if it’s supposed to be hard give their foes plot points, reduce the amount their plot points give, and/or make it so only plot points can be spent (no unspent character points!). This can produce a meta-economy where players want to work with the GM so they can get plot points and in turn save them so they can do crazy awesome things later.

Doing the Impossible
Plot points and GURPS Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys go together like peanut butter and jelly. They just…work perfectly. In non-cinematic or gritty campaigns most of these options are going to be turned off. When combined with plot points this means the only way you could, for example, use Second Wind to survive a nasty gut shot is to spend plot points. This might lead to “doing the impossible” in a otherwise realistic campaign. Really, that is as it should be – there are examples where men and women do things that they simply should not be able to (even with Extra Effort). In effect, they got lucky which does happen. One optional rule for cinematic games might be to use Abilities at Default (GURPS Powers, p. 173) and plot points (or character points) to temporarily gain a single use of a ability that your character could logically have. You use the normal rules for Abilities at Default (you always have the -2 penalty for different “types”) with the character point value of your “base trait” equal to the number of points spent x 5. Such abilities still have their normal prerequisites (e.g., chi abilities need Trained by a Master or magical powers need Magery) and works quite well with potential advantages (p. B33). Example: Benny is trapped in a pit, though he’s a master of fire magic – earth magic isn’t his thing. He asks the GM if he spends some of his hoarded plot points if he can control the earth enough to lift him out of the pit. The GM agrees and Benny decides that “Walk on Air (Magic, -10%; Specific, Dust, -40%) [10]” is his best chance. First, he kicks up all the dust he’s going to need to use the magic and then with a light fire magic causes it to raise. Next he spends 2 plot points, makes a Will-10 roll (spending 5 FP to offset the penalty), and succeeds (which costs another 3 FP). Shaking with exertion he walks on the dust cloud until he’s out of the pit.

Picking Over the Bones
Sometimes, you just need to let the player characters be awesome. People play RPGs so they can a) be someone they are not; b) experience something (as well as can be in a game simulation) they normally don’t; c) tell a story; or d) have fun. Some folks are multiple items smushed together (one of my players is A+B) and some are just one (my brother used to be a C guy, but now he’s a D guy). Whatever your players might be they all still want to be awesome at it, Impulse Buys and Plot Points let them do exactly that.

Posted in Gamemaster's Guidepost and tagged , .

Leave a Reply