Friday, December 18, 2015

Does System matter part VIII: GURPS

Previously I started a Thought Experiment in supers games, looking at what changes a character goes through when converted from one system to another. This is meant to test the validity of most supers games claims that you can use the system to build “any” character or run “any” kind of game. The character in question – Dr. Zachary Zevon, the Indestructible Man - started in Villains and Vigilantes, and now exists in Silver Age Sentinels, HERO, Marvel Super Heroes, DC Heroes, FUDGE and Truth & Justice. Finally, I’m trying to tackle
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A quick recap: Dr. Z is the Reed Richards analogue in a Fantastic Four style game. His natural abilities include a massive intellect and scientific skill, a powerful presence & sense-of-self, and an ability to analyze his opponents’ fighting style and the scientific basis for their powers. His superhuman ability is an invisible, highly versatile force field. He is renowned as the smartest man on Mars and is a millionaire with access to advanced technology and the Liberty Lair, his team’s base.

When I say trying to tackle, I mean it – the system beat me. I just cannot figure out how to do it. I’m not a GURPS player (3 sessions of GURPS Wild Cards game in college), and I don’t own a copy of GURPS Powers. I did act as a playtester on whswhs’s GURPS Supers, but that was for genre issues, not mechanics. And for the life of me I can’t see a way to make a force wall type force field. If I could I’d buy that as a Wildcard Power and have done with the whole problem of powers, since Wildcard Powers are high versatile. Of course, in play I’d have to internalize TONS of GURPS rules to take advantage of it, and I just can’t. I suppose it would be easier if I’d read GURPS at the same age I read HERO, when my younger brain had the time and space for that sort of massive rules crunching, but GURPS is also inherently less logical than HERO when looking at supers. This makes sense, since HERO started out as a super hero emulator while GURPS started out as a reality emulator: you can’t get much more different than that.

That’s not the only problem, of course. First GURPS shares the same issue as HERO in that the real world weapons are so specific and measured against powers. If I want Dr. Z’s force field to be able to reliably stop a sniper rifle bullet (which it should) it needs to have some 50 points of DR, or roughly the same amount at the giant freakin’ robot statted up in the back of the book, and costing an arm and a leg. Actually, it’s 250 points +20% for being a force field = 300 pts. Just for his personal force field. I doubt that this is the way to go, but I don’t see any other option.

Second, I don’t have a frame of reference. It’s not Mr. Stoddard’s fault, but there are no sample characters in the GURPS Supers book. There are templates, but no completed characters for me to measure against. As with HERO there are a whole lot of levers but no good baseline rating for things. We had discussions in the playtest about the need for some sample characters, but it wasn’t part of the outline and therefore wasn’t going in the book. But without them I just can’t get traction. What’s good enough? Is an 18 IQ smart enough to be the smartest man on Mars, or do I need a 20? Or a 22 with the Super Attribute advantage? 20 is human max (in theory), but there are notes from GURPS Gurus that 18 should really be as high as you go. But the Techno template in the book has an IQ 20. If I go with that, there’s another 200 points down, and he now has a set of defaults that make him great in just about any mental skill.

Except for some – Finance doesn’t default to IQ, just to Accounting or Economics, and you can’t double default. So by the book even with no points in it he has a 14- (roughly 90%) in Economic theory and an equally high mastery in Accounting and can audit himself, but can’t actually balance his holding company’s finances unless I spend points in Finance. And if I do, the minimum skill he can have is an 18- on 3d6.

This sort of bizarre hyper specificity runs throughout the text: I obviously need to pick up Innate Attack to cover using his force field as a weapon, but the skill listing insists that I specialize in Beam, Gaze, Breath or Projectile, with precise rules for each on how he has to be facing, how he has to have hands free and so on. However, Dr. Z’s power just doesn’t work that way. Neither do a lot of other characters (where would Adam Warlock’s Soul Gem’s attacks fall? It’s not a gaze, but he doesn’t need his hands free. Do green Lanterns energy blasts not work if his hands are restrained? Not according to the comics, but in GURPS they might well.) I don’t know how to overcome that. Do I just blow off the rules? That sort of defeats the purpose of the experiment.
I find it ironic that the game systems that promise you the most versatility – GURPS and HERO – are the ones that produce the largest fidelity problems. The more the rules are nailed down, the less forgiving they are if you try to deviate from them. I figure I likely could get something to work for Force Field, but it’s not a standard GURPS power and therefore any version would be a wild kludging of mechanics to more or less approximate the effect. 

I have one last entry in the series, at least using the systems I currently own (alas, I no longer have a copy of Enforcers, one of the worst little systems I’ve ever come across). This is GODLIKE, and I expect it to not go well, but for very different reasons.