Sunday, July 22, 2018

Super-Strength in GURPS - Part 1

Continuing my trend of weighing in on the GURPS topics that everyone has already discussed to death, we come to a favorite: Why doesn't GURPS handle super-powered characters with high Strength better?

OK, so what's the problem?
It can be summarized as "Bricks versus Blasters". To my mind, GURPS does a great job of describing characters with superpowers.  It's the point cost disparity between characters who seem like they should be roughly comparable that gets my goat (and I'm hardly alone). Supers point budgets can easily go into several hundred points. What does that get you if you're a "Blaster" (in other words an energy projector like Cyclops of the X-Men or DC's Firestorm)?  Well, 100 points of vanilla Innate Attack buys you a 20d ranged blast to annihilate your foes with. That averages 70 points of damage, enough to take an average person past -5xHP and into "you're just dead" territory instantly, no Death Checks need apply.

Now, our "Brick": 100 points of Strength buys you a mighty ST of ... 20.  Hmm, that's obviously going to be trouble -- let's buy just Striking ST instead for a purer comparison.

100 points of Striking ST gives an effective ST of 30 for fightin', with base thrust damage of 3d, and swing 5d+2 to base your hand-to-hand attacks off of.  There's no way to punch with Swing damage, so let's give our brick some help to maximize that Thrust damage: Blunt Claws for +1/die and a high Boxing skill for +2/die, netting us 3d+9, which is convertible to 5d+2.  Oh, and a punch is actually thr-1 damage, so that's really 5d+1, averaging 17.5 points of damage.  Compared to the Blaster's 70 points of damage (usable at range), 17.5 damage in Close Combat only doesn't seem like a good deal for those 100 points.

Maybe Innate Attack is too cheap.
Yeah, this is a reasonable critique of 4e GURPS.  My buddy Erik suggested just doubling the price of Innate Attack in Supers games as a first pass at reconciling the point disparity, which I whole-heartedly endorse.  By itself, it doesn't do enough though.

Didn't GURPS Supers solve this with Super-Effort?
Not well, to my mind.  I find the Super-Effort solution presented in GURPS Supers unsatisfactory, as it's unnecessarily complex and introduces some odd effects.  Effectively, it's a package of 1 normal ST and an exponential amount of Lifting ST or Striking ST resolved using the Speed/Range Table whenever you spend 1 FP for it, so 10 ST (Super-Effort +300%) [400] buys you +10 ST most of the time, or +100 ST when you spend 1 FP (because 100 is 10 steps up the Speed/Range Table).

This results in complex split-ST notation (ST 30/120), and since results are now exponential, the math curve means that, past a certain point, bricks will outperform all other damage-dealing methods.

So what would be a satisfactory solution?
There are a number of ways to try and tackle this problem.  I'll categorize them as
1) Solutions from Basic & Powers
2) New Advantages or Techniques
3) Repricing ST

These will be explored in future posts.  Didn't I warn you?  Discussed to death.


  1. Have you read the Knowing Your Own Strength article by Kromm in Pyramid?

    1. I have, and although it is definitely an improvement over both RAW and Super-Effort (Split ST), I have mixed feelings about it. It does a great job of addressing the problem (typically in fantasy/historical games) where swing damage for strong but normal humans quickly becomes absurd. I wish he had allowed his revised swing damage to be a multiplier (+1/die) instead of a flat +2 from thrust, and his revised cost for Striking ST at 1 pt seems too low. (That itself is based off of the inexpensive RAW cost of Innate Attack, so there is that again.)