Sunday, December 22, 2013

Using the right tool for the job

Yesterday I was browsing my collection of game books. Some of them I don't read that often, and almost forgets about. I have a few...

My eyes fell on GURPS Black Ops, and it piqued my interest. Who doesn't like the idea of truly badass characters taking on monsters? I figured it would be fun to read some of it, and maybe import some ideas into a game some day. When I came to the section about building characters I paused for a second.

Characters in Black Ops are built on 700 points. For those of you who don't know much about GURPS, I checked the core rules about campaign scales, and there it said 500 pts is "Superhuman". Cinematic action is the name of the game.

This is where I got reminded of why it is a good idea to use the right tools for the job.

In the book there are five templates of 650 pts you can use as base for your character. They are the Combat Op, Intelligence Op, Science Op, Security Op, Technology Op. Sounds like it covers all the bases in the genre, right? What gave me cause for doubts was what was on those pages.

Those templates all took up one page each, with about an inch at the top with the stats, Disadvantages and Advantages. The rest was three columns of text listing skills, and taking the illustrations into account it was maybe two full columns on the average. I counted the skills on one template, and it was about a hundred. 100. Yes. 100!

If you have that many skills, how are you even going to find the ones you need?! Why list all those? I've never seem anything so unwieldy in a game before. It would have been easier to list what was missing instead. Sure, the idea is to play super competent characters being really awesome. But, will that list really help you do that? What you really want to express is how cool you are, and how many cool things that character can do. It just screams out to be simplified. Mayve into some kind of system of skill categories, or even in a more daring move, reduced to Aspects like they use in FATE.

Here I think we see one indication this kind of game is not best modelled in GURPS. 

The next thing I noticed was the ratings of those skills. In GURPS you roll 3d6 and try to roll below your skill rating. Personally I cry foul when I see characters which break the ceiling of the system. These templates ranged from 12 to 22. Yes, roll below 22 on 3d6. Foul. Something is broken there, even if the list had been a fifth the size is was.

Here I think wesee another indication this kind of game is not best modelled in GURPS.

I've seen that kind of stuff in other games, sadly more than once. One example was this system which used roll low and a d20, i.e. a percentile system divided by 5 and less granular. This NPC I think of had 40 in some skills and spells, i.e. 200%!

If you want to play cinematic action, the best tool is probably not a game system that focuses on realism and detailed simulationism. You probably want to use FATE, or Savage Worlds.

This I think is also why the idea of a generic system is a failure. The idea is beautiful, and the amount of "generic" systems in my collection tells the long story of that strong allure of having one system for all your games. But, the sad fact is that you have to tweak and adapt a system to the style and setting you are using. Some games can be changed more or less easily and after a while it will become clear that you would have saved time using a system tailored for the experience you want. if you see numbers like 200% in a percentile game, or 34 in a d20 based one, then it's time to look for a better tool for the job.


  1. High skills in GURPS Black Ops, well, they'll be facing serious problems. If they have Guns-22, they're facing penalties all the time, either from targeting hit locations (-2 for the leg, up to -9 for an eye) or darkness (up to -10 for total darkness) or range (always a factor for gun combat). So a battelfield that includes a -5 darkness penalty and the enemies are at 100 yards, is something like -9 to -11 in penalties.

    Non-combat skills will be tested severely, deciphering alien artifacts and languages and predicting alien tactics and psychology would certainly apply hefty penalties to rolls in the range of -5 to -10.

    Second of all, fortunately, GURPS marches on, and 4th edition introduced the concept of Wildcard skills, like Guns!, Drive!, Science!, or Stealth!, which can be used for any possible application of the given theme.

    Also, the 4th edition GURPS Action! series of books introduces templates and rules for running cinematic games like Black Ops is meant to be.

    So, no, I agree Black Ops is not the best implementation for GURPS, but there are better tools than that nowadays.

    1. Thanks for fleshing out the details about that. There are better tools these days.

      But, I'd probably still use Savage Worlds!


Copyright 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Andreas Davour. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Blogger.