GURPS101: Deconstructing Pact

One of the more interesting things about GURPS is that oaths, pacts, etc. can have a mechanical impact on the character. The easiest one to suss out is such agreements as a disadvantage, but the more salient is using the Pact limitation (p. B00) to reduce the cost of advantages (typically powers or some kind) bought by a character. Today’s post is going to look into the Pact limitation a little more deeply along with a few variations of it.

Pact as Pieces Parts

  • A higher power such as a god, spirit, etc. has granted you an ability.
  • You must abide by a specific code, creed, or ethos as determined by the higher power. This is almost always a required disadvantage you take such as Code of Honor, Fanaticism, Honesty, Intolerance, Sense of Duty, Trademark, Vow, or similar.
  • The cost of the Pact is equal to the cost of the required disadvantage expressed as a percentage.
  • Abilities that gain a cost break from Pact cease to function if you violate the required disadvantage.
  • Pacts can also be metagame constructs where you agree to abide by genre restrictions or have a literal pact with the GM.
  • A variation of Pact from GURPS Powers (p. 104) is “Required Disadvantage” which works like, but instead of a code of behavior you have to follow it requires disadvantages like Increased Consumption, Sleepy, Restricted Diet, etc.

Required Disadvantages as a Power Modifier

Pact was generalized for Power Modifiers in GURPS Powers on p. 21. It’s essentially the same as above, but adds a section on what you have to do to get your powers back should you violate your oath. It treats the required disadvantage, the speed which your trait vanishes, and the act necessary to restore it as a single composite trait.

Example Pacts and Accompanying Disadvantages

  • “I will not rest until my enemy is slain” is a Vow worth -10 points. I might increase the cost based on the enemy itself and use half of that value as a guide. So a -30 point enemy might be a -15 point Vow, while a 40 pointer would be worth -20 points!
  • “I will abide by the rules of this campaign’s [genre] conventions” really depends on the genre and how restricting it is. For a typical action movie like the Bourne Identity this would be worth -5 points. For something over the top like the Last Action Hero it would be worth -10 points. For a four-color superhero comic it would be worth -15 points. The GM can also rule that cinematic conventions might apply to characters who take this sort of trait. For example, Stormtrooper Marksmanship (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 00) might only be available to those who take a -10 point Pact to be heroic. Such access to rules is effectively a feature.
  • “I will uphold the law” is Honesty – probably at a self-control number of 12 or less. It might also be something like Fanaticism (the Law) representing a more brutal and dogmatic look at following a legal code. The latter would be like something akin to Judge Dredd’s judges.
  • “I will further the aims of [being/cause/group]” is a Vow for most instances, but Obsession could work for mentally unhinged characters as would Fanaticism.
  • “I will use these powers at the cost of my life/existence” is an interesting idea. Kind of like Spawn and necroplasm. The more he uses the closer he gets to going back to hell. This would be represented with Terminally Ill at an appropriate level.

Picking Over The Bones

Pact is one of those oft-looked limitations that can be really fun and flavorful, but do to the fact that it puts such a limit on the character it’s for not often taken. As a limitation it’s rarely worth more than -20% and depending on what it is it might completely influence how a character is played. Another option might be to double the price of the Pact limitation, but then not take the disadvantage. That allows you to act on it, while not requiring you to have a disadvantage to reflect it. Regardless, Pact is a fun way to do things. I should really bring out my pact-magic from one of my failed campaigns. The setting was pretty ok, but the magic system I made for it was awesome.

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One Comment

  1. I always enjoy your analyses.

    I wonder how essential the “higher power” aspect is. Some version of this could perhaps be used for privileges of office. Handing in your badge and gun for maverick behaviour is a classic.

    For netrunning etc., Pact could represent abilities granted to a Mod or other specialist, or just a member of a particular group. Going against the code of conduct is detected by the system, and your privileges get revoked.

    As far as genre conventions are concerned, we could treat Pacts of this kind as an Unusual Background justifying the appropriate Rules Exemption/Extra Option perks. Only a minor difference, but it solidifies players deciding whether they want those benefits or not.

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