Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Houserule: Piecemeal Attributes

The Billy is a metaphor. You don't just
have an IQ, Will, and Per all at once,
you make them piece by piece and stick
them together.
In yesterday's post, a question was asked, that made me realize that some of my assumptions and foundations for my writing lie in certain house-rules that have developed over playing for the little bit I have played today, and just to clarify assumptions, today, I'm gonna expound on this house rule that for lack of a pithier shorter name, I'll call "Piecemeal Attributes," the ability to buy very expensive attributes in smaller chunks.

Similar RAW Concepts

RAW, or rules as written, what is explicitly written in a GURPS book and is generally considered a fine assumption to make or option to take, has a few instances where a similar thing is possible. The first small example I can recall being in Martial Arts where it recommends potentially enabling a player to learn the Ambidexterity advantage by buying the Off-Hand Training perk enough times. The method detailed says a player will spend no more points doing it one way or the other. This is nice if you don't like a game where a player can suddenly go from being good to awesome in between two sessions by dumping a bunch of points for something expensive (admittedly though, Ambidexterity is kinda cheap)
Sometimes though, the idea of cost-benefit analysis and delayed gratification is an attractive strategic asset and some cheap "impulse buy" perks and cheap advantages have a kind of "band-aid" tax baked into the pricing; this thing is cheap, precisely because it lets you do one thing you absolutely need right now, and will never be as helpful again. For a slightly compromised approach that incorporates some trade-offs, Social Engineering: Back To School introduces a system where a player can increase some attributes if/only by increasing enough skills based on that attribute which normally costs more than the attribute by itself, and then sacrificing those levels to get an all around increase to a single attribute.

Similar House-Rule Concepts

This thread on the official GURPS forums alludes to the idea of splitting out some secondary characteristics from attributes. For example, IQ which costs 20 points also gives 1 level of Per and Will. 1 level of Per is 5 points, and 1 level of Will is also 5 points. If you subtract the free Will and Per levels, you can pay 10 points for 1 IQ, and this is denoted in shorthand as "IQ!"
A similar, but very different idea that runs the other way is the popular rule of splitting IQ apart because some people think 20 points for all of 1 IQ, Will, and Per, is generous. 

Piecemeal Attributes

Piecemeal attributes then is an extension of being able to buy parts of an attribute, in brief:
  • A player can buy a part of an attribute, whether this is normally presented as an advantage or secondary characteristic.
  • A player can trade all of the pieces of an attribute for a full attribute.
What are the benefits of this rule?
  • A character can make small improvements that they can sometimes afford from points earned in a single session.
  • Because secondary characteristics can be recombined into an entire attribute, players don't need to worry about accidentally exhausting a +/- 30% limit that some secondary attributes have. 
    • As an example, if you buy 3 FP and then later three HT, without the house rule, you can't buy another FP until you reach 14. But with the house rule, you can buy 3 FP for 9 points, later buy them up to full HT for 21 additional points, and then buy more FP. Technically, if either situation was encountered, the net cost would be the same, but the latter extends the benefits of being able to have the benefits of more HT quicker.
What are some disadvantages?
  • It removes some delayed gratification from the equation. Saving up 20 points to get all the benefits of 1 IQ, and have that hit all at once is pretty nice, and having reasons why spending points on small things is not the best is also nice.
  • It is a house rule, and some people like games being "pure."
  • It somewhat requires a pulling in of a few more house-rules because of other side effects. For example, not counting IQ! as 20 points of advantages and -10 points of disadvantages for the sake of disadvantage limits.
  • It can lower the value of some cheap advantages (What's the point of Hard to Kill when you can buy HT! and get way more for the same price?) Further, it might encourage munchkin like behavior where players focus all their points on particular aspects of an attribute, and becoming slightly unbalanced. The benefits of 2 point HT! are pretty outstanding point for point.
  • It can seem a bit "gamey" for a more serious campaign where powering up and getting stronger aren't keystones to the campaign. 
So, puzzle it out for yourself whether it sounds worth it.
For reference for myself, my players, and anyone interested in playing with the rule, these are my breakouts of the attributes:
  • ST - Strength, 10 points
    • Lifting ST 1 - 3 points
      • I also houserule a negative Lifting ST, for, intuitively, -3 points.
      • Nominally, this is considered an exotic trait, but really, some people that lift weights, versus some people that do a more strenuous, fast-paced punching bag routine are probably going to have different levels of Lifting ST and Striking ST.
    • HP - 2 points
    • Striking ST 1- 5 points
      • Similar notes as per Lifting ST 1.
  • DX - Dexterity, 20 points
    • Basic Speed +0.25 - 5 points
    • DX! - 15 points
  • IQ - Intelligence, 20 points
    • Per - 5 points
    • Will - 5 points
    • IQ! - 10 points
  • HT - Health, 10 points
    • Basic Speed +0.25 - 5 points
    • FP - 3 Points
    • HT! - 2 Points

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

Going further down the rabbit hole, players could deconstruct Basic Speed +1 as being  made up of Enhanced Dodge and Basic Move, which incidentally makes a negative version of Enhanced Dodge for -15 points as well... not that buying a level of basic speed to get more basic move without dodge is a little convoluted. Maybe it's useful for building up the cost of a buff or debuff ability?
This is, of course, a house rule. If you are a player looking for interesting ideas, you definitely need to ask your GM's permission instead of assuming anything in this post is just ok (should do that anyways, unless your GM filled out a really nice campaign planning form that answers the question for you.) GMs, you don't have to ask anyone for permission.
If munchkin behavior is a concern, you might limit what is immediately buyable to your players. For example, one reader comments not letting a player buy levels of HT! outright because that is too good, and perhaps you only allow the players to buy HT! when they already have a floating FP and Basic Speed +0.25 dangling around to finish out the HT. A small bit of checking and balancing is already baked into the system though, in that, in general, you can't have too big a gap between most secondary characteristics and attributes. For example, Max FP should be +/- 30% of HT, and, to simplify Basic Speed, it is recommended to stay +/- 40 points invested of both DX and HT.


  1. Don't you mean Basic Speed 0.25 under DX and HT?

    It's worth distinguishing buying just one level of a piecemeal attribute, with the need to buy the rest of the attribute before you can go any further, from buying multiple levels. The first way is just a purchase in instalments; the second comes closer to being an Exotic trait.

    1. For your first one, probably? I'm used to the (admittedly confusing) naming convention in GCS that has the advantage named "Increased Basic Speed 1" that gives 0.25 speed, I'll clarify that.
      Also, it's somewhat common to have both happening at once. For example, you can have +/- 30% HP from strength, so one could buy 3 HP and then pay for the rest of those strength levels at a later date, by paying the 8/16/24 point balance. However, without doing that, they are at the 30% saturation, so by a different already existing rule, having extraordinary gulfs in secondary characteristics is mitigated/prevented. At the most extreme, one trait could often be -30% while another could be +30%, but then you get the complicated issue that you need to buy the low one, so you can raise the medium one, so you can raise the high one.


  2. I would suggest that DX!, HT!, or IQ! can be bought to complete the purchase of a full attribute but never naked. DX! for [15] is merely a good talent but IQ! for [10] or HT! for [2] are incredible deals that I can see a munchkin pouring points into.

    1. Good thoughts, I went ahead and incorporated them. My players haven't tried abusing it yet, so I haven't had to make air-tight rules for it, but I could see it being a problem in the right hands.


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