Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Cross-Post/Editorial: "Fair Pricing"

This guy!
So, it's a bit of a thought that has appeared in a few places, being discussed by people that are probably much more qualified to speak to it than I, but I thought I'd like to speak to it as well, so you can get a complete dumb-dumb's take on the issue.

What Does a Point Buy?

Points aren't necessarily meant to go towards becoming stronger and more powerful from a character perspective. What they are supposed to buy is character and plot agency. So some points are truly more awesome than others. Case-in-point, an entire dice of damage bought in levels of Striking ST limited to your favorite attack costs way more than a dice of damage bought as an Innate Attack with a follow-up for your favorite attack. Huh? Wha? They are different? Yeah. You know what else? A point of Hobby Skill (Origami) is not as valuable as a point spent on many skills or perks in a lot of campaigns... unless the campaign is a slice of life about creating origami figures.
So what was I saying about plot agency? 15 points spent on Combat Reflexes helps you buy plot agency in the fact that you are saying, "from now on, my character is going to not get hurt as often and be in stories about being hurt as often." 5 points spent on Charisma says, "my character is going to be involved in stories where people slightly like her better, and on a magnitude of what 5 points would buy." In a supposedly perfect universe, the level of Charisma should be exactly 1/3 as useful (well, maybe it is logarithmic, exponential, whatever) for allowing a player to take the reigns of her character's destiny as Combat Reflexes.
This is probably never true, because balancing is a weird thing that can't happen, and no one should care, even if it is a holy grail we want really badly. So, what does 1 point buy you? Whatever you can spend it on.

Not Balanced?

I don't think balance is the be-all end-all some people purport it to be, but let's specifically speak to whether or not GURPS is balanced.
Does a system with 100s of advantages, disadvantages, skills, and attributes that you can spend on character points have all of these things balanced in perfect harmony? No.
That's easy. Wow, we did it. Need a mathematical proof? This post shows that sometimes hit points are better than health, and sometimes health is better than hit points. 10 Character Points spent on Health isn't even the same value as another 10 Character Points spent on Health, so now even something as core as attributes, even as core as the exact same attribute shows that 10 points spent on one thing is not as good as 10 points spent on another thing (or even sometimes, the same exact thing.)
Why does that matter? Because it's a step on the journey to enlightenment.

Enlightenment? This is a game!

Yeah, but it is a game with a lot of awesome moving parts and it's hard to understand immediately all at once how everything goes. I can't speak for everyone else, but I'd describe my maturity pattern for an unfamiliar idea to which I acclimate myself to be something like this:
  1. I find out there is a cool thing I want to figure out. (eg: "GURPS looks fun, I want to learn how to play it and run it.")
  2. I try to learn it. (eg: I read the Lite, Basic Set, and How to Be a GURPS GM books.)
  3. I adamantly stick to the rules because they are my training wheels. (eg: "Ritual Path Magic's energy is 3 Character Points each, and that is that.")
  4. I learn what rules are important to doing the thing I want (To have fun) and which are getting in the way of my goal (eg: "I like managing adventures with heroes and having the combat go fast, I think ranged weapons should have penalties for shooting long distances, but I don't want to pull out a table and a ruler every time, so I'll eyeball it. Sometimes it's accidentally slightly in favor, or a little bit too high, but I didn't spend 10 seconds measuring it out.") 
I think you call these rules that you follow, just because you think you have to follow them a "cargo cult," especially in programming. It's not really a bad thing, but it takes experience to know what you can shuck away, and what you need to keep. I think there are a few big secrets to GURPS:
  1. The first secret (And the obvious one): You don't have to, and you are expected not to use all the rules. You should only choose the rules you want or need to facilitate the game you want.
  2. The second secret (And a symptom of the first): New players and GMs don't know enough to know which ones they need and which ones they don't need.
As an analogy, if you wanted to build a robot, and you asked my advice, and I told you to "just use the integrated microprocessor that is best for your use case," and you don't know a lick about robotics, that question doesn't really do a lot to help you.
Similarly, if you tell a panicking, but interested new GURPS GM, "just use the right rules," and he doesn't know his elbows from his knees in the system, how in the h*ck is he going to know "I really need the simplest combat possible, but I need to check out the Boardrooms and Curia supplement to really create a game from my empire building dream campaign."

I Think I Got Lost In The Weeds

Well, really, trying to go back to square one, my main points are:
  1. Everything is relative, so it's impossible to know what is the objective best way to cost out an advantage.
  2. It takes a lot of experience to reach a point where you can just reach into the ether and pull numbers out of nowhere that are "just right," and you get experience by:
    1. Trying to do things the right way
    2. Then experimenting by doing things your way, and seeing if it is better than the right way, even though you will make mistakes, because no one gets it right the first time.
I think it is an important lesson for myself to remember that no one knows something the way I know something, whether that means they know it better or not, or even at the same level I do, no one knows it the way I do, or you do, or someone else does, and assuming that people can approach a problem with my expectations and experiences is ludicrous. If people want my help, I need to understand the angle they are coming from so that I can help them as much as I can. If I ask people for help, I need to understand where they are coming from, so I can get as much out of their assistance as I can.


  1. The way I look at this is that almost every RPG has some set of character concepts and game structures that fit it well, and which work smoothly. Because GURPS tries to be generic and universal, those aren't as sharply defined as they are in many games, but they still exist.

    I like the styles and characters that emerge naturally from the GURPS rules, which is why I play it; trying to make the tropes of other games arise naturally from GURPS is hard work, usually more so than playing the other game.

    1. Yeah, there are definitely a few assumptions that GURPS makes even if it proclaims itself to be totally "Generic," like, "the typical game will be some kind of adventure," "fighting and negotiations will probably be relevant," and "dying is probably a major inconvenience," those, for example, require some reverse engineering if you want a slice of life type game without lots of fights and debates, or a game where dying is meaningless, maybe with ghosts or anthropomorphized inanimate objects.
      GURPS is my favorite system, and I think it does a great majority of things very well, but I'm not the type of person that lives for squeezing square pegs into round holes... well, maybe, but only if it is posed as a bit more of an intellectual puzzle than that.


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