GURPS101: I’m How Smart? – What IQ, Will, and Perception Mean To My Players

Like the previous two installments, this post is all about me (like it always is!), while Peterand Doug talk about GURPS statistics in general, I prefer to dish out my practical experience on the subject. What players in my games tend to take, why they take it, and how often they do. First up, Intelligence.
            As I’ve mentioned before, I’m real funny when it comes to people take attributes higher than 16. Maybe this makes me a member of the Cult of Stat Normalization, but I don’t think so. I like in-game justifications as much I like meta one’s. If your character is supposed to be some sort of crazy smart engineer, I’d rather see you take the Mathematical Ability Talent versus a uber-high IQ. If you’re character is supposed to be a classic ivory tower genius, buy the IQ high as you like. Okay. Breath. I’m about to open a can of worms. In my games, my players expect IQ to have some sort of correlation (even a vague one) to real world raw intelligence quotient. They understand that GURPS IQ is a combination intelligence, experience, creativity, intuition, memory, etc. (see p. B15), but they still like a measuring stick for “How smart am I?” and I don’t mind giving them one.
GURPS IQ     Approx. Real World IQ
5                      19 or less
6                      20 to 39
7                      40 to 59
8                      60 to 79
9                      80 to 99
10                    100 to 119
11                    120 to 139
12                    140 to 159
13                    160 to 179
14                    180 to 199
15                    200 to 219
16                    220 to 239
17                    240 to 259
18                    260 to 279
19                    280 to 299
20+                  300 or higher
So that’s what I’ve used for a long time. Where did it come from, you ask? Did I base my conclusion on something scientific? Where is my proof you demand? Relax, I don’t have any proof, I just sort of came up with it after viewing the SRD and then thinking “How would I convert a Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 character over to GURPS?” While I was running 3.5, I decided that a character’s “real IQ” was equal to their INT score times 10, which seemed to work well. And then it hit me: add the stat bonus from the DnDability score to a base of 10. BAM! That’s where the chart came from. It’s worked well for me for the last 8 odd years, maybe you, dear reader, might gain some use of it. Now, back to IQ. Almost universally, my players take an IQ of 11 or 12, unless they are playing a character who is supposed to be a dullard. Intelligence, like Dexterity is a must-have stat. But unlike DX, it’s not at the top of its triune in my campaigns or even near the top – Will is first, followed by Perception, then IQ. Most of my players end up taking “IQ enhancements” – essentially, the various mental advantages they feel mimic real-world high IQ folks (Eidetic Memory, Lightning Calculator, Intuition, etc.), rather than buying high IQ scores. Rarely do my games feature characters over IQ 16, and even rarer is the “smart person” who doesn’t also have an accompanying talent(s) which represent their intellect in some way.These are usually my player’s choices, not mine.
            Willpower in GURPS, measures your grit, your resistance to psychological shock and stress, and supernatural attacks. Maybe it’s because most of my campaigns have some sort of supernatural ability, maybe it’s because I’ve renditioned a PC more than a few times by a really bad guy, or maybe it’s just because all my players like being stubborn and willfull. Whatever the cause, they dump stat it. Everyone buys at least two levels worth, some players (nudge, nudge L.A.) buy more. I also use Social Engineering in damn near every game I run, so being able to scare the snot out of crowd of people via Intimidation and resisting Influence skills is also a big plus for them. Recently, they’ve learned that having a high Will is also great for when I used the Stress/Derangement rules, though I’ve contemplated allowing them to buy those up individually instead of buying a higher Willpower. I’ve yet to decide on a fair price in my head, be any day now. Yup. Any day. They also tend to buy it because of, well, Fright Checks. I pretty harshly enforce those rules in my campaigns and after the first time your character fails a Fright Check right before combat you tend consider buying more Will or at least Fearlessness.
            Perception. How I could spend so much time talking about thee, O Per. Basic describes it as “general alertness” and that’s apt, but in my games it is also the attribute of outdoorsmen, cops, and mages (gotta love that Sense roll to find out magical “stuff” – though this has decreased sense ritual path magic has become our “go to” system). Also, thanks to the Attribute Substitution perk, wheelmen, librarians, and thieves are using it to be reallygood at Driving, Shadowing, Piloting, and Research on the cheap. They also tend to take Danger Sense, Acute Senses, Night Vision, or Absolute Direction as “Perception” enhancements.
Continuing with the analogy: IQ represents what you know about apples, what type of apple a given breed might be, how to farm apples or a large or small scale, how to make a apple pie, and so on. Willpower represents how many apple pies you could keep down while in a pie eating contest or how long you can survive on a apple-only diet before going mad and drawing a face on a apple and calling it “Wilson.” Perception tells you if an apple is safe to eat, where you might find a apple tree in a natural landscape, the differences in smell or taste between two apples, and so on.
Posted in GURPS 101.


  1. Your use of the phrase "dump stat" is different from the use I am familiar with. I thought the phrase came from games where you roll a bunch of attributes, then assign the best rolls to what is most important to you, while assigning the worst to your "dump stat." So your fighter's dump stat might be Wis, in that other game, while your Wizard's dump stat might be Str.
    The table of comparative IQ to IQ is cool, though! I remember when the SJG forum had a thread where people proposed similar scales, but I do not recall you suggesting this one, if you did.

  2. I actually didn't. I like to stay out of "conversion" threads if I can. In my opinion it's like getting involved in a ground war in Asia or dealing with a Sicilian when death is on the line – you just don't do it. That said, I've seen dump stat referred to in two ways. The first is the way you have noted (and that's opposite the way I've already heard it) and the second is the way I'm most familiar with. That is, the stat that the plays "dump points into." As for the table, I'm sure it's not scientifically accurate, BUT it's about as accurate as you are likely to get in a role-playing game.

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