Friday, July 29, 2016

Powers: Developing Advantage Based Abilities

He didn't just wake up an expert.
So, some people like to cap the amount of points one can invest in new or developing abilities, and for skills, techniques, talents, perks, and cheap advantages, this is ok. However! This really precludes a lot of the kicking rad abilities that cost several tens or maybe even hundreds of points. Today, I'm going to discuss how we can use limitations to allow us to invest in bargain bin versions of advantages so that we can learn a new ability for a lesser amount of points today, and slowly buy off all the limitations to simulate the concept of getting better at controlling a new ability.
I wanted to say this is a fundamental type of thing, but it isn't a beginner level type of thing, so I don't feel right saying this is a "fundamental" type of post. I don't really know where you would fit this, it is a bit of a building block to GURPS, but it is also a bit more of an advanced feature. But the label "Aspiring Power Users:" seems a bit too verbose.


It takes everything you have just to use your ability. You are so tunnel visioned you can't protect yourself when using your ability. Take a look at p.110 of Powers.

Costs Fatigue

Costs Fatigue is a simple limitation that just leaves you winded after using an ability. Perhaps until your character has got her sea legs, her new special ability is especially exhausting. Making an ability that costs 5 (more) FP (usually!) is a -25% discount (but occasionally significantly more.) It feels a little cheap, but if you just need to get your foot in the door to having a new power, you can take the 5 FP version when you learn the ability, and over the next few sessions you can buy it down. More details on this limitation are on p. 111 of Basic Set - Characters.

Costs Hit Points

Similar to Costs Fatigue, this lets you spend HP to turn on an ability. It is better at reducing the cost of a new ability than Costs Fatigue but also significantly more dangerous. Keep in mind if associated with a combat ability, you might be liable to suffer shock penalties making this more dangerous than it even appears on the label. An ability that costs 3 HP to use gets a -30% discount. See p.110 of Powers for more details.

Limited Use

Maybe you don't quite understand how to draw upon the wells of your new ability reliably yet and so you can't just fire off willy nilly. While training up, you might only be able to use an ability a few times a day because you haven't exactly nailed it yet. Twice a day is a -30% discount and lets you use it rarely enough that it is a pain, but often enough that you can justify being able to train yourself up to using it more often. Different options can be found on p.112 of Basic Set - Characters.

Maximum Duration

Your character can't keep things up forever because she can't quite keep the effect stable for long yet. You can get some hefty discounts for this, but the misleading thing about this limitation is that the real drawback is the required downtime between usages. Check out Powers p.111.

Preparation Required

It's hard to exactly justify the use of this limitation, but it can explain things like blowing out your chakras or exhausting yourself in a spiritual or psychic way that FP or HP can't adequately represent. Between usages of your new ability you need to do something to set things right again so you can use your ability. Maybe meditate really hard or reflect on how you summoned up your powers so that you can use them even more effectively next time. An hour of preparation gives a huge discount of -50%, with smaller and bigger options available on p.114 of Basic Set - Characters.

Takes Extra Time

Whereas Preparation Required lets you prepare in advance and use at will, Takes Extra Time requires immediate work at the time of usage to pull off a special ability. Maybe your character needs to think really hard about how he channels a flame in a particular direction or she can create something from nothing, but she needs to wrap her head around the chemistry of producing water molecule by molecule. For a normally one second ability to take 4 seconds instead gives you a -20% discount. More details can be found on p.115 of Basic Set - Characters


This means your ability sometimes activates when you don't want it to, which might be dangerous or embarrassing or put your cards out on the table when you don't want them there. This is a great limitation for an ability that just suddenly appeared out of nowhere without conscious training that you need to work towards getting into line. The cost of this limitation depends on if it is dangerous or not, so take a look at p. 116 of Basic Set - Characters.


This means you sometimes just can't use your ability when you want to, and you aren't exactly sure why. Your character might be deducing the correct state of mind, stance, or muscles needed to produce the desired effect and is experimenting with nailing down the exact procedure so she can use the ability at will. Failing to activate an ability can be tiring though, so this can be especially worrisome if combined with Costs Fatigue. A modest activation number of 11 gives a -20% discount, and more options are shown on p.116 of Basic Set - Characters.

Ranged Attack Options

These are all good options specifically for ranged abilities that can make them weaker than normal, but as they are less generic, I grouped them here for your consideration:
  • Armor Divisor (Basic Set - Characters, p.110) You can't push your beams hard enough yet to penetrate well, an Armor Divisor of 0.5 gives a big discount of -30% and more options are at the given reference.
  • Extra Recoil (Basic Set - Characters p.112) The power of his new attack overwhelms him and he loses control. Note, this requires an ability to have a rate of fire of more than 1. Take a look at the listing to see how much it can help.
  • Reduced Range (Basic Set - Characters p.115) Your character needs to exercise her mental throwing arm before she can reach her full attack range. This is an especially appropriate option, but a bit cheap in terms of the discount size.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

The maximum discount allowed is -80%, but that is net. A lot of pre-packaged abilities you find in books like Powers, Divine Favor, or Sorcery actually have a bunch of enhancements and limitations associated with them, and are often either already slightly discounted or sometimes slightly enhanced. This means that, for example, -40% doesn't always mean "this will cost 40% less than before." -40% on an ability that has +100% worth of enhancements is actually, mathematically 20% cheaper. On the other hand, you are allowed to, if you are masochistic, stack up -180% in limitations on this ability, because 100% -180% nets -80%.
Another thought, for the most tremendously expensive advantages, the cap of -80% in limitations might mean you can never be allowed to get an advantage like Warp which can only be reduced to 20 points in the most limited case. I was thinking that either a 1 point perk, or maybe a 5 point advantage could allow someone the rule breaking power of lowering the floor by -5% to a limit of -85% in limitations. This could be potentially leveled with a maximum of three levels allowing one to reach a floor of -95%.
Also, it's really hard to reduce the cost of some positive afflictions because the advantage they can give to someone takes the form of an enhancement on the affliction and not as part of the core cost of an advantage. Using the rules for multiplicative modifiers in Powers might assuage that a bit, but those are a bit of a pain because 99.999% of existent abilities are statted without multiplicative modifiers.


  1. Before my Fantasy game ended we had been using Advantages for "magic" abilities.

    This is a great breakdown. I like required skills for some powers too.

    1. What was your style for allowing a player to learn a new expensive ability?


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