Alternate attributes and skills in GURPS

When GURPS Power-Ups 9: Alternate Attributes came out, I was thrilled. Right now, sitting here and typing out this blog post, I’m still thrilled about its existence. It’s everything someone like me could want! By “someone like me”, I mean someone who tinkers with tabletop RPGs past the point of frustration out of unnecessary perfectionism and perhaps a bit of masochism. I’ve been a follower of the Divine Order of Splitting Per and Will from IQ for a long time.

If you’re feeling particularly devilish, you can even apply this to the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. I do, but I also tinker with every single thing I get my hands on.

Alternate attributes

On the forums, Kromm had also mentioned a whole set alternate attributes here and here in a discussion that came out of “The Fifth Attribute” from Pyramid #3/120: Alternate GURPS V, which was about adding an additional attribute to GURPS (called Quintessence) to cover supernatural stuff. Basically, the idea was to split Perception and Will from IQ to make them their own attributes. Then, split IQ into a social intelligence attribute as well as a general intelligence attribute, and split DX into a full-body coordination attribute as well as a manual dexterity attribute. So, you get four physical attributes and four mental attributes, and there’s room for supernatural attributes, but I later decided against them because I still feel that’s better covered by optional stuff like Talents and Energy Reserve. Of course, if one is going to boost Will to an attribute, it makes sense to give it an analogue to Fatigue, which is nicely covered in “Mad as Bones” from Pyramid #3/103: Setbacks. In the article, it’s called Stability, but I like calling it Anxiety. Furthermore, I also use “Conditional Injury” from Pyramid #3/120: Alternate GURPS V with “Knowing Your Own Strength” from from Pyramid #3/83: Alternate GURPS IV as I recently detailed in this post, so I use Vitality instead of HP.

Physical basic attributes:

  • Strength [ST]. ±10 points/level. Almost the same, but it’s logarithmic.
    • Vitality [VT]. ±2 points/level. Replaces HP for use with logarithmic ST.
    • Striking ST, Lifting ST, Arm ST, etc. are all in there, but I don’t really allow them to be bought up from where they are. If I did, Striking ST would probably be ±2 points/level with Lifting ST at ±6 points/level.
    • Basic Lift [BL] is covered too, obviously, but I usually just call it Lift.
  • Agility [AG]. ±10 points/level. Covers Agility and Flexibility from “Reassigning Skills” (GURPS Power-Ups 9: Alternate Attributes, p. 41).
  • Dexterity [DX]. ±10 points/level. Covers Fine Motor Ability and hand-focused Coordination from “Reassigning Skills” (GURPS Power-Ups 9: Alternate Attributes, p. 41).
  • Health [HT]. ±10 points/level. Almost the same. Covers Athleticism from “Reassigning Skills” (GURPS Power-Ups 9: Alternate Attributes, p. 41).
    • Fatigue Points [FP]. ±3 points/level. Unchanged.

Mental basic attributes:

  • Charisma [CH]: ±10 points/level. Covers Creativity, Social Intelligence, and softer Naturalistic Intelligence from “Reassigning Skills” (GURPS Power-Ups 9: Alternate Attributes, p. 41).
  • Intelligence [IQ]: ±10 points/level. Covers Knowledge, Logic, Practical Intelligence, Technical Ability, and harder Naturalistic Intelligence from “Reassigning Skills” (GURPS Power-Ups 9: Alternate Attributes, p. 41).
  • Perception [PR]: ±10 points/level. Replaces the secondary characteristic. Covers Awareness and eye-focused Coordination from “Reassigning Skills” (GURPS Power-Ups 9: Alternate Attributes, p. 41). I use PR-based aim rolls in a similar manner to “On Target” from Pyramid #3/77: Combat, and PR rolls work with “Dodge This” from Pyramid #3/57: Gunplay.
  • Will [WL]: ±10 points/level. Replaces the secondary characteristic. Covers Intrapersonal Intelligence from “Reassigning Skills” (GURPS Power-Ups 9: Alternate Attributes, p. 41).
    • Anxiety Points [AP]: ±3 points/level. Analogue to FP.

It’s not perfect, and there are better names for these attributes, surely, but I wanted to stick with what was already familiar. Charisma [CH] could be something like Character [CH] (but that’s tricky since characters are called… characters) or Personality [PR] (but that would require me to rename Perception). Intelligence [IQ] could easily be Knowledge [KN], but I wanted to keep it the same.

Secondary attributes:

  • Contacts: ±10 points/level. Works like Resources (below), but it covers social connections like the Contacts advantage. (I’m still ironing out how it works, but it should work similarly to the Contacts skill in the Fate Condensed system.)
  • Resources: ±10 points/level. Works like the Social Standing attribute (GURPS Power-Ups 9: Alternate Attributes, p. 26).
  • Reflex [REF]: ±30 points/level. Covers Dodge, Block, and Parry. It is not formulated on any of the basic attributes like Basic Speed was.
  • Movement [MOV]: ±5 points/level. Replaces Move. It is not formulated on any of the basic attributes.
  • Size [SIZ]: ±20 points/level. Replaces Size Modifier. Negative points for a higher Size because it comes with so many inherent disadvantages like making you easier to hit, making you need to consume more, and making you spend more money on scaled equipment.

In the GURPS Basic Set, you need 70 points for a +1 to attributes, secondary characteristics, Basic Speed, etc. In the system I have outlined above, you need about 100 points. So, my system is about 50% more expensive; of course, a typical character only seems to have about 50% of their points tucked into their attributes, so this will end up being a +25% increase to template costs.

Alternate skills

I didn’t with attributes. For how I play GURPS, it has way too many skills. I like the condensed skills from Savage Worlds and Fate Condensed. Similarly, GURPS has Talents and wildcard skills, and the Wildcard Skills found in “Pointless Slaying and Looting” from Pyramid #3/72: Alternate Dungeons and “Pointless Monster Hunting” from Pyramid #3/83: Alternate GURPS IV are pretty great treatments of how to cover an entire genre’s worth of skills with wildcard skills. However, wildcard skills are prohibitively expensive—no, skills in general are too expensive! Even if I slightly overstuffed some Talents, it would cost about 225 points for a +1 to all (standard) skills—using wildcard skills would put it at about 228 points for that same +1. With my system, you could instead go for +1 AG [10], +1 DX [10], +1 HT [10], -1 FP [-3], +1 CH [10], +1 IQ [10], +1 PR [10], +1 WL [10], and -1 AP [-3] for 64 points, and that still gives you the benefits of claiming the boost to those attributes themselves. That tells me that skill costs should be half or even a third of what they are to stay somewhat competitive. I went for the drastic third, which would make a wildcard skill equivalent to just a VH skill, and that would make a 15-point Talent a 5-point Talent. (It’s worth it to re-evaluate other advantages like Daredevil and Higher Purpose too).

For a while, I just used the skills from Fate Condensed, but that wasn’t enough after seeing what other people posted in this thread. Someone mentioned “Niches” from GURPS Template Toolkit 1: Characters (p. 35), which is a really solid framework for creating wildcard skills (or just VH skills in my case) to cover every skill. The only changes I made were merging Animals and Plants into Nature while splitting Combat into Melee and Ranged. Oh, and I renamed several of them to fit what I wanted a bit more. In Malainka’s review of GURPS Power-Ups 9: Alternate Attributes, they talk about whittling down the skill list to about 13 of what it is, which, of course, seemed to fit nicely with my own vision. That’s also really great stuff, and, if I wanted more granularity than the broad niches, I would absolutely pick up the work they did.

Going back to the niches, there are 30 of them, but the above talk about 228 points of wildcard skills for a +1 to everything only points to 19 wildcard skills. The niches have plenty of overlap, and I allow them to be used very flexibly and in a complementary way, so I’m fine with there being 30 of them. If you wanted, you could raise it to an H skill instead of a VH skill to compensate. I also heavily use Talents. If niches/skills are vertical lines, then Talents are horizontal lines, and they intersect at the true specialty of a character, which I really like. A cowboy might have decent Melee, Nature, Outdoors, and Ranged niches, but it’s the Cowboy Talent that helps them excel specifically with bowie knives, cows and horses, working on a farm, shooting revolvers, etc. Really, wildcard skills and Talents follow almost the same cost progression, so I usually treat a 5-point Talent as a +2 to an extra ‘niche’ with a little bit of a reaction bonus tied in there. (If a 5-point Talent covers up to 6 skills, a 2.5-point Talent might cover up to 3 skills, which is about the same breadth as one of these niches; so, 5 points is enough for a +2 to something with the breadth of a niche. So, Cowboy Talent [5] gives +2 to doing cowboy stuff, and it helps with cowboy-related reaction rolls.)

Let’s get to the implications. Skills are typically a pretty small portion of a template; so, even though their cost is being divided by a third, it’s only about a -12.5% decrease to template costs.

Using them together

Overall, that means this will net a +12.5% increase to template costs. I should further explain that the increase is for total positive points—e.g., a 250-point template with -50 points in disadvantages is really worth 300 points. Using these systems, 300 points would become ~337 points. Then, of course, factor the disadvantages back in for 287 points.

You’re not going to come out with super clean numbers in most cases, unfortunately, and some templates in a genre have different pools of disadvantages. I’d eyeball it like this:

  • Templates in GURPS After the End go from 150 points to 175 points, which is a decently pentaphilic number, but I’d even go up to 200 points if feeling generous.
  • Templates in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy go from 250 points to 287 points, but I would just round that up to 300 points (or back down to 250 if you want weaker starting characters).
  • Templates in GURPS Monster Hunters go from 400 points to 506 points, which makes it pretty easy just to call that 500 points.

I’m throwing that out there because I would get so stuck on saying that the relative costs are set in stone by the gods of GURPS themselves, but they’re not. They’re based off of good estimates and pentaphilia—I mean 250 points obviously looks better than 287 points. However, if you’re handing out points at the end of the first session, that perfect number is going to break right away.

What about everything else? At this point, I’m pretty comfortable making stuff up on the fly, so I’m not terribly worried about converting monsters and whatnot before I use them. They don’t really have points anyway, right? Though, for logarithmic ST and VT, I obviously have to convert some of that stuff, and I tend to just convert GURPS damage wholesale into my system.

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