RogerBW's Blog

Relative and absolute ally values in GURPS 15 May 2021

GURPS 4th edition changed the way the cost of Allies and Dependents is calculated. I think this may be considered an error, or at least that more sophistication is needed.

In 3rd edition the price was fixed relative to the value of the Ally or Dependent: an Ally based on 76-100 points cost 5 points, and a Dependent based on 26-50 points would be worth -6 as a Disadvantage. (There are further modifiers for how often they show up in the game, but I'll ignore those for now.) It was generally assumed in the early days that all player characters would be built on something like 100 points, and all was well.

But then point values changed. A GURPS Werewolf character could be rated at 450-750 points, a superhero could be even more, and allies of similar power levels to the PCs could get very expensive. So a GM of my acquaintance decided to make their costs scale: one of about the same point value as the PC would cost 5 points, no matter how many points you had. (Credit where it's due: Shaun Murrant thinks this idea originated with Kevin Patton, and that he and Kevin worked out the details together, but this was in the late 1990s and we're not completely sure any more.)

Other people independently invented similar ideas, and in GURPS 4th edition a version of this became the standard: a 100-point ally for a 100-point character costs the same 5 points as a 400-point ally for a 400-point character.

But I don't like it; I think it's not sufficiently Generic or Universal. Even in a mostly combat-based game where an ally basically means a warm body about as tough as you to stand beside you and swing a sword, the 100-pointer who spends a tenth of their points on allies gets two of them, making a force of three 100-pointers in total (which isn't the same as 300 points, but let's think of it as that and assume they spend all their points on fighting abilities); meanwhile the 400-pointer who spends a tenth of their points gets eight more 400-pointers, for 3600 points total. There's something like a quadratic effect, meaning the the four-times-as-powerful character ends up twelve times as powerful.

Perhaps more seriously, if the 400-pointer only spends the same 10 points as the 100-pointer spent, they get more for it - two 400-point characters rather than two 100-point ones. Nothing else in GURPS works like this: if you spend eight points on a skill, your character doesn't become better at it than the next guy who did the same thing, simply because their overall point value is higher. Nor does that happen for your stats. Nor for your social status. Nor for your contacts…

Enemies work the same way. A single opponent about as powerful as you, who's out to get you, is worth -10 points; the level of distraction this causes you will be about equal whatever your point value, but those ten points are much more valuable when you're starting with a mere 50 than when you're starting with 400.

I find myself distinctly tempted to rebase everything back to absolute values, using the new standard of 150 points for a "normal" character. (But I haven't yet worked through all the implications of this.)

Tags: gurps rpgs

  1. Posted by John Dallman at 10:45am on 15 May 2021

    How about "5% of your points gets you an Ally with the same point total"?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 10:46am on 15 May 2021

    Modulo rounding errors, that's functionally the same as N points getting you an N×M-point ally.

  3. Posted by Douglas at 02:37am on 29 May 2021

    Part of it is an artifact of putting Dependents & Allies on the same spectrum - i.e., the difference between a Dependent and an Ally is simply point value of the NPC. The problem is that it's pretty easy to create a 100 point character who might be a useful Ally to a 400 point character - a medic or hacker for a combat oriented street level superhero. An example would be Claire Temple on Marvel's Daredevil. What distinguished an Ally from a Dependent is less point total and more that the Dependent is likely to get into trouble and need saving while the Ally is a net positive asset.

    4e Hero System handled it better in my opinion. They had Followers (Allies) who had a flat cost based on their point value and Dependent NPCs who had a Disadvantage value relative to the NPC compared to the character. The distinction was that the Ally was helpful, the Dependent got into trouble.

    I would keep Dependent costs as is - maybe even allow for a Dependent at the PC's level. For Allies, maybe set a base cost of 1 point for every 25 points the Ally is built on.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 10:00am on 29 May 2021

    Interesting – my automatic assumption is that if a 100-point Ally is appearing "on stage" with a 400-point PC you're going to need to spend a lot of time looking after them as the opposition that's scaled for you decides to go after them as a way of damaging you. So they're still useful, but their low point total contributes to a somewhat Dependent-like aspect to them as well. But that may not necessarily be true in all games.

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