GURPS101: Call of the Wild

Wildcard skills are awesome. They just are. They’re a great way to represent cinematic skill mastery or even realistic legit “skill broadness” if you restrict the level to attribute or less. So how could they be better? Well, most of that’s been answered by Sean Punch in GURPS Power-Ups 7: Wildcard Skills – if you don’t have that book and use wildcard skills even marginally…just go get it. Just…just do it. I reviewed it here. But I still got a few ideas (like I always do).

No Skill Broad Enough
Power-Ups 7: Wildcard Skills says “The rough target range for wildcard breadth is 12 to 14 standard skills.” That tells me two things. First, that is the average a given skill should have, but more or less skills are okay. Second, it suggests that a smaller subset of skills might in fact be cheaper. So theoretically, you might be able to do something like…

Type                 Skill Range                 Difficulty/Cost
Limited            2 to 4 skills                  Very Hard (normal cost)
Narrow            5 to 11 skills                 Very Hard (double cost)
Average           12 to 14 skills              Very Hard (triple cost)
Broad               15 to 19 skills              Very Hard (quadruple cost)
Very Broad      20 or more skills          Very Hard (quintuple cost)

Wildcard Perks
Though it doesn’t come right out and say you can’t, perks are basically advantages and advantages can be Wildcard Powers for x4 cost. This needs to be a bit more for perks I think, so x5 cost (or about 5 level) sounds right. This allows it to function as the perk in question for all specialties of that perk and functions as a similiar perk if the situation calls for it. For example Iron Hands! 1 gives the character DR 1 for his hands, but also might allow him to have Iron Arm for one instance if the GM allows (it caught his wrist). Do keep in mind for some perks this can get out of hand (Sure-Footed comes to mind) and the GM will need to use discretion and add some minor drawbacks. It certainly makes it cheaper to do some things (Better Gear! becomes the ultimate “I know a guy” perk) and allows things like Flourish! for flashy fighters who like to show off. Plus it’s about the same cost as Cosmic Modular Abilities 1 (Limited, One perk or related perks) or Higher Purpose. A example of a perk that needs GM discretion is Weapon Bond:

Gear Bond!

5 points
This Wildcard perk functions exactly like Equipment Bond, Vehicle Bond, Weapon Bond and other similiar perk “gear enhancers,” that is it gives a +1 bonus to skill while using a piece of gear it applies to. The GM should let this bonus apply to any gear, weapon, vehicle, etc. that character has had for at least six months (starting equipment always counts) in which case they get a +1 to skill rolls when using it. This does come with a downside however, characters who’ve claimed a bonus for a particular weapon, tool kit, and so on must use that piece of equipment when the situation calls for it. A Will roll is required to do otherwise and even if they succeed they suffer a -1 to all rolls. This bonus only ever applies to one item at a time (buy more Gear Bond! perks if you want to get a bonus for dual-wielded weapons or the like). For example, if a gunfighter has two Colt Peacemakers, a favorite saddle and gear, and a tent from his days in the War he’d have to make a Will roll to use any handgun other than his or ride his horse with different tack. If he has no choice he can do so…but he’s at -1.

Wildcard Higher Purpose
I want to call this one out as something special because I’ve used it before in my games (well, twice before) to great effect. Use the standard rules for Wildcard Powers (i.e., x4 cost), but allow the character to temporarily use any other advantage at double the value of his Higher Purpose. Here’s the caveat – it can only be used in this way when specifically dealing with the Higher Purpose specialty. You can’t just use it willynilly. It has to be related. For example, Higher Purpose (Slay undead) could be used to temporarily gain Striking ST+2 vs. undead foes, HT+1 to resist a supernatural ability, etc. – but it doesn’t work at all unless you’re dealing with the undead somehow.

Picking Over the Bones
Yeah, you can pretty much make anything wild with a little imagination (DX! +1 could give you any enhanced defense, +1 to Basic Speed, +4 to Basic Move, and so on) – all with the GM’s permission of course. The thing about Wildcard traits is they are very much a Rule Zero mechanic. It does what you can convince the GM it should do and while you are free to suggest, cajole, and elicit…the GM is well within his rights to simply say “No” if he doesn’t think it works the way you say (“You keep using that wildcard, I don’t think it does what you think it does”). This is pretty much why the GM needs to design the skill and not the player; he sets the scope and it then does whatever he says it does. Period. Published examples not withstanding. Even then the GM can say “No, Battlesuit! does not work like that in my game. Sorry.”

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  1. I like the idea of narrower wildcard skills that cost double instead of triple. For some high concepts this makes a lot more sense. Archer! comes to mind if you don’t want to include throwing skills.

  2. One nitpick: a Wildcard should always cost more than a non-Wildcard. So even if your Wildcard Skill only covers 2–4 skills, its cost should be something like ×1.5, not ×1.

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