Roleplayer #10, May 1988

Thar's Gold in Them Thar Skills

by Walter Milliken

You've just designed a terrific GURPS character. He has a good set of attributes, advantages, disadvantages, quirks and skills, and a background which ties all these together. The point total is balanced, and you're ready to submit the character to the GM. Or are you?

Before you declare your creation finished, take a few minutes and look at your skills. It may be possible to turn up a few extra character points, and raise the character's IQ and DX.

The object of this tuning process is to improve the character's efficiency by moving points from skills to attributes while keeping the skill levels the same (or increasing them). To do this, you'll want to move all the points you can from skills to the attributes upon which they are based. Begin by finding out how many points you could save by lowering all Physical skills one level. If the skill is already at the minimum possible number of points, ignore it for now. Skip HT-based skills like Running, as well. Include skills based on defaults from other DX-based skills, though.

Compare this total with the cost of raising the PC's DX by one. If the total is greater than the DX cost increment, raise DX by one, and reduce all DX-based Physical skills not already at minimum by one level. You will now find you have some extra points, and none of your character's skills have decreased; in fact, those which already had the minimum possible points invested in them will actually rise by one.

If the total savings from lowering the DX-based skills one level is the same as the cost for the next level of DX, go ahead and make the trade. You won't lose anything, and you gain in the long run, since it is much less expensive to raise skills than attributes after the character has entered play. (You have to pay double the normal cost to raise an attribute after the character is created, remember?)

Even if the skill savings is two or three points less than the cost to raise DX, you should seriously consider raising the atrribute. This will require you to lower one or more skills to pay for the difference, but it is easier to raise the skills later than the attribute.

Now that you've honed your Physical skills, repeat the process with the mental ones. Again, ignore skills not based on IQ, such as Sex Appeal. There are two other factors you should take into account when computing the skill savings. First, if the character has either Guns or Gunner, raising his IQ may increase those skills, due to the IQ bonus those skills have. If you are improving IQ somewhere in the 10 to 12 range, these bonuses may allow you to cut the cost of Guns or Gunner without lowering the skill level.

Secondly, Acute Senses – Vision, Hearing, and Smell and Taste – and Alertness advantages are direct bonuses to IQ. If your character has one of these advantages and you are rasing IQ, you can lower the level of the advantage level by the same amount without changing the character's perception ability.

Some examples of this skill fine-tuning procedure may help. Let's examine some of the characters published in SJG products.

Of the four characters in the Charts & Tables booklet in the GURPS Basic Set, none will actually gain points from increasing attributes, but Corwin Bearclaw comes very close. He would pay 10 points to increase his DX from 12 to 13, and would save 8.5 points on his skills (4 points saved on Shortsword, 2 on Stealth, 1 on Crossbow, 0.5 each on Fast-Draw (Sword), Knife, and Shield). Thus, he would pay a net of 1.5 points for +1 DX!

Raising Corwin's IQ appears less promising, at first. An additional point of IQ would cost Corwin 10 character points, but save only 4 points on Mental skills (2 saved on Naturalist, 1 on Traps, and 0.5 each on First Aid and his second language). But Corwin also has Alertness +3, giving him a perception roll of 14 or less. When he adds a point of IQ, he can cut his Alertness to +2 and still have a 14-or-less roll. This would save him another 5 points, bringing his total savings to 9. Thus, raising his IQ would have a net cost of one point – another bargain.

Raphael Holyoak, the sample mage in GURPS Fantasy, is an even closer case. Raising his IQ from 13 to 14 would cost 15 points, and saves 14.5 on skills. For a single half-point, he gets a higher IQ. Even better, this increases his skill with many of his spells – those upon which he had spent the minimum possible number of points – from 14 to 15. This is a significant bonus, due to the reduced fatigue cost to cast at 15.

Finally, let's look at Sally O'Shea, from Car Warriors. Increasing her DX costs 15 points, and saves 13.5 points on Physical skills. This in itself is probably a worthwhile trade, but the IQ side is even more attractive: Raising her IQ to 13 would cost 10 points, and saves 10 points on Mental skills. In addition, her Alertness could then be lowered from +2 to +1, for another 5-point saving, and the increased IQ bonus for Gunner (MG) and Gunner (RL) improves, allowing a further two-point savings, bringing the total savings to 17. If Sally decides to raise both DX and IQ by a point apiece, she gains 3.5 character points, and impoves her Gunner skills (While both the DX and IQ increase help Sally's Gunner skills, she can only cut the costs one level, to the minimum of 1 point).

This fine-tuning process probably won't help characters with less than 30 total points in skills, but it is almost certain to improve those with more than 45 skill points. Those PCs in-between may benefit, especially if they concentrate on skills based on a single attribute (IQ or DX). Fantasy wizards (and other characters with a large number of different skills) are less likely to benefit, since they usually have the minimum possible number of points in many of their skills.

But even though it may not work for every PC, it's worth checking to see if there's gold buried in your character's skills.

(Back to Roleplayer #10 Table of Contents)

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