RogerBW's Blog

High point value campaigns in GURPS 15 June 2017

Thomas Thornberry posted, and Douglas Cole forwarded, a plea for information about high point value campaigns in GURPS: how can they be made to work, when skills become so high that failure is highly unlikely?

While I too tend to favour low-point campaigns, I'm playing in one where the characters have 600+ points, and running another where they're around 450. So clearly this is possible without doing major violence to one's idea of a good game.

In a purely mechanical sense, there are several approaches to challenging high-point characters, which may be combined:

  • Give them things to do that they aren't particularly good at, but they're the only people available. So they're running off defaults, possibly quite good defaults, rather than skills they've put points into.

  • Give them things to do that they are particularly good at, but they're really hard things. Sure, you have Forensic Accounting-20. We need you to find the giveaway in these records when they're half in Russian, the lights aren't working reliably, the room is filling with water, and we're under fire. Go!

  • Give them lots of different things to do with the same small group. We need someone who can HALO-jump into Horriblestan and perform a delicate heart operation on the rebel leader. And then defuse a nuclear warhead.

All of these are ways to let characters look really impressive when they succeed, which is fair enough: they are after all very much more capable than normal people.

Most of these solutions mean getting away from pure combat situations, which reminds me of the problems some GMs faced in the late 1980s with long-running AD&D campaigns: the PCs can beat up any monster in the book, so how do you challenge them? The answer then, even in a much simpler system that didn't really have the idea of non-combat skills, was still to move away from the fight as the universal solution: maybe you can beat up the king, but that doesn't get you the letter of marque you want. You can slaughter everyone in a room, but that doesn't tell you which one was the murderer. I think the same is true now: not everything can be solved with a skill roll, though high skills will certainly help the process of solution.

There's also a big difference between starting at high points values and getting there through play. With the former, it's easy to buy big flashy powers (and one hopes the campaign will be designed to accommodate them). With the latter, the improvements have come in a bit at a time, since there's always a pressure to get the basics of a new skill rather than to save up for something bigger; often the PCs will get just barely good enough at an array of different areas of competence, rather than superbly good at a specific thing.

Tags: gurps rpgs

  1. Posted by John Dallman at 01:18pm on 15 June 2017

    I can only agree with all of this. Characters who've reached high point total through play tend to be recognisable as the same people as when they started, just much more competent. This takes a long campaign - 100+ sessions - and a group of players who are reliable over those timescales. But achieving that gives you the best kind of RPG experience that I know of.

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