Roleplayer #17, November 1989

Making a Super

Designing Characters in GURPS Supers

by Mark Johnson

After designing characters for GURPS Supers, Wild Cards, Super Scum, and the upcoming Supertemps, I'm supposed to have picked up some insights into the process of creating a super, GURPS style.

All roleplaying games have particular strengths and weaknesses – those treating the supers genre are no exception. GURPS neatly divides character generation into several sections, so that's the best format for discussion.

Attributes: Although 500 character points might sound like a lot, high-level attributes will melt them away. Unless you want to do a lot of recalculation – a legitimate form of character design – select DX, IQ and HT as you would for most any genre. (If your campaign will be combat-intensive, DX and HT may need a slight boost.) Besides, you may actually save points by raising these attributes after you select skills (see below).

ST is often an exception. Many characters will have relatively normal levels of strength, but probably just as many supers will want more raw power. These latter need to buy Enhanced ST. How much? As much as you can afford. That's because of the unique nature of this ability in GURPS – it becomes more cost efficient at higher levels. (On the other hand, ST scores between the high teens and mid twenties are the least economic.)

Advantages: With so many points, it's possible to purchase a large number of advantages without sacrificing other aspects of the character. A super designed for combat using the Stun Damage option will often take enough damage to stun him, unless he has High Pain Threshold, a bargain at 10 points. Likewise, the +1 to Active Defenses granted by Combat Reflexes is often worth 15 points.

Disadvantages: The usual point value for a super's Disadvantages is -100. A lot of us have trouble coming up with only AO for regular PCs, but supers are easier.

Most will have Secret Identity – for villains this should be a substantial point value. Villains also typically have a bad Reputation, and an Enemy or two. Good guys, on the other hand, often have various forms of Code of Honor or Pacifism.

Some supers are such eccentric characters that they are burdened with a mishmash of unusual disadvantages (phobias, delusions, etc.).

Super Advantages: Now we're getting to what distinguishes this character from normals. Some supers have many Super advantages and few Powers, some are the other way around. In either case, compromises are usually made here because these abilities are expensive. Buy as many as you like, but keep that eraser handy!

Super Disadvantages: Uncontrolled Change and Dependency are fairly conception-specific, though Vulnerability is viable for most designs (especially if you're short on disadvantages!). Instead of visualizing this as a bodily weakness to a particular substance, imagine that the super's defenses are much less effective against this attack – like the reduced protection Kevlar offers from impaling attacks.

Powers and Super-Skills: GURPS Supers favors those designs that are focused through the Power Group structure. Some groups in particular (Telepathy comes to mind) are especially cost-efficient if most of the super-skills are purchased.

But many conceptions demand the judicious use of single-skill Powers. That's fine, too – the key word is "judicious."

One trick you may not be familiar with combines these two approaches. Flamin' Jane (p. SU65) is an example. She has four heat/Fire super-skills at Power 12; the Power cost is 120 points. If she wanted to keep these abilities, but have greater Power with the Fireball skill, she could raise it by buying single-skill Power levels specific to that skill. They cost 6 points each, so after a few adventures she can spend 12 character points, raising her Fireball Power to 14, gaining an addi-tional 1d + 1 of damage, along with greater range, etc. Her Power with the other super-skills remains at 12. This would be listed as:

Heat/Fire Power 12 (120 points)
Neutralize Fire-16 (16 points)
Fireball-16, 7d+7 damage (Rapid Fire x 2, 40 points)*
Flame Jet-16 (Fatigue Damage Only limitation, 8 points; this is a blast of hot air, hence it only does Fatigue)
Smoke-16 (Moveable Area enhancement, 28 points)

*Heat/Fire Power =2 (12 points)

If Flamin' Jane was being designed from scratch, we could give her a Heat/Fire Power of 6, and an additional 10 Power levels in Fireball:

Heat/Fire Power 6 (60 points)
Neutralize Fire-16 (16 points)
Fireball-16, 8d+8 damage (Rapid Fire x 2, 40 points)*
Flame Jet-16 (Fatigue Damage Only limitation, 8 points; this is a blast of hot air, hence it only does Fatigue)
Smoke-16 (Moveable Area enhancement, 28 points)

* Heat/Fire Power + 10 (60 points)

This costs the same amount as the design listed in Supers. Though her ability with Neutralize Fire, Flame Jet and Smoke is substantially reduced, she now throws Fireballs (three per turn) that do 8d+8!

Skills: Even though the skill system is provided in the Basic Set, this is where Supers really shines. Compared to all the other components of a super, skills are gloriously inexpensive. The result is that it is extremely easy to flesh out a super with lots of appropriate skills. Other game systems, indeed the comics themselves, often portray supers as flat characters, devoid of any interest when not in their tights.

But your super probably has respectable scores for DX and IQ. Spend 25 points on skills – only 1/20 of your total! – and the character will have depth. Even high levels in Hard skills are obtainable for a small fraction of your total points.

Once the skills are selected, it's wise to go back and check attributes again. Super-skills generally cost four points per level; between some of these and a bunch of normal skills, points can be saved by raising an attribute but not the associated skills (see Thar's Gold in Them Thar Skills, Roleplayer 10, p. 3).

With more points and more options to choose from, supers design requires more time and thought than other characters. But with a firm conception in mind, these tips should help you streamline the process. Now get out there and bash some villains!

(Back to Roleplayer #17 Table of Contents)

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