Productive Members of Society

by Jeff Wikstrom

Art by Dan Smith

Productive Members of Society

"Dependent built with 0 or fewer points: Possibly a young child or feeble older person." GURPS Basic Set, Third Edition, pg. 38.

GURPS offers a remarkable tool in the Dependents disadvantage. Friends and family especially are areas that most games don't delve far into; it's amazing how many player-characters seem to be orphaned only children whose only touch with the rest of humanity is the other PC's. The GURPS Dependents rules make for an excellent opportunity to expand a character's possibilities and add real depth to a campaign, making the fictional world three-dimensional.

While a small child or member of the elderly can certainly be built on zero or fewer points, those are hardly the only options. With a little creative effort and a willingness to compromise, interesting characters who are also productive members of society can be generated.

With a 0-point character, almost all the skills and advantages must come from disadvantage points, so the selection of disadvantages is the single most important step of the process. While his or her advantages and high attributes define a player-character, built on 100 or more points, a dependent must be distinctive on the basis of disadvantages. This isn't to say that 0-point characters must be totally useless; the point of this article is to demonstrate otherwise. It's important to remember, though, that every positive point spent must balance out with negatives.

The following are 0-point characters, suitable for use as dependents. Eleanor Polk and Steven Allen Dertzer violate the 40-point guideline on disadvantage points; they're extreme concepts. Jeanie Leary has 41 points of disadvantages, thanks to the uneven cost of Youth, but is actually a -1-point character. The remainder of the example characters are standard 0-point characters with 40 points of disadvantages. All skills are TL7, where appropriate; the characters have been created as dependents for a modern-day game set in the city of St. Louis. This is merely a default, however. Conversion suggestions (apart from the obvious alterations of Area Knowledge) can be found with each character.

One source of inspiration for this article is "Average Joes (and Janes)" by Brandon Cope, which appeared in Pyramid on October 1, 1999.

(Editor's note: You may also want to check out the sequel, "More Average Joes (and Janes)" from July 28, 2000.)

Eleanor Polk

Appearance: age 31, 5'8", 136 lbs., a slim, dark-haired woman wearing mirrorshades over her blind brown eyes.

ST: 9 [-10] DX: 12 [20] IQ: 13 [30] HT: 12 [20]
Damage: Swing: 1d-1 Thrust: 1d-2
Dodge: 6 Parry: n/a Block: n/a
Speed: 6

Advantages: Acute Hearing +2 [2*], Charisma +3 [15], Empathy [15] (*half cost for Blindness)

Disadvantages: Blindness [-50], Brontophobia (severe) [-20], Charitable [-15], Generosity [-5], Pacifism (Total) [-30]

Quirks: Allergic to cats [-1], Dresses in one color at a time [-1], Enjoys classical music (played softly) [-1], Idolizes and emulates Gandhi [-1], Wears mirrorshades to conceal her blank gaze [-1]

Skills: Area Knowledge (St. Louis)-13 [1], Chess**-14 [1], Computer Operation-14 [2], History-12 [2], Literature-14 [6], Knowledge (Classical music)**-16 [4], Meditation*-12 [2], Philosophy (karma yoga)-13 [4], Research-13 [2], Swimming-12 [1], Writing-14 [4] (*realistic version) (**hobby skill)

Languages: Braille-14 [4], English-13 (Native)

Ellie was an editor for a New York publisher, and on the fast track to success; everything was going her way. That all changed the day she was involved in the four-car highway accident that cost two people their lives and Ellie use of her eyes. To this day she can't stand loud noises. For several years Ellie was despondent, but eventually she was exposed to the teachings of Gandhi. His example in the face of adversity gave her a new lease on life, and today she makes a modest living writing with the assistance of specialized software on her computer. Ellie works out of her apartment, which is small and very sparsely furnished, except for her computer and sound system. Speech technology also allows her some access to the Internet.

Quote: "That sounds awful. It reminds me of the Mahatma's time in the South African prisons."

In ancient or medieval times (or a generic fantasy setting), Eleanor is the intellectual eldest daughter of a nobleman, who suffered great tragedy before she found religion. Replace her Philosophy and Meditation skills with Theology-14 [6], and replace Computer Operation, Research, four points to Literature and two points of Writing with Literacy [10]. She likely would wish to join a convent, but she is an only child, and her father demands she marry to secure the line.

In a science-fiction setting Ellie's blindness may be treatable, but her religious convictions and wealth both prevent that. Remove Brontophobia and add Poverty [-15], and change her Philosophy to an appropriate type.

Herman "Jiffy" Ross

Appearance: age 24, 5'9", 148 lbs., dark hair and eyes. Perpetually dressed in black slacks with a white shirt.

ST: 10 [0] DX: 11 [10] IQ: 11 [10] HT: 10 [0]
Damage: Swing: 1d Thrust: 1d-2
Dodge: 5 Parry: n/a Block: n/a
Speed: 5.25

Advantages: None

Disadvantages: Clueless [-10], Low Pain Threshold [-10], Obsession (his job) [-15], Workaholic [-5]

Quirks: Afraid of dogs [-1], Can't bear to think ill of a customer [-1], Devoted to waiting tables [-1], Quirk-level cowardice [-1], Uses bizarre words in conversation [-1]

Skills: Area Knowledge (St. Louis)-11 [1], Diplomacy-11 [4], Driving (Automobile)-10 [1], Knowledge: Television*-12 [1], Merchant-11 [2], Savoir-Faire (servant)-18 [16]

Languages: English-11 (Native)

Herman (please, call him Jiffy!) is a waiter at a medium-quality restaurant, and this is the single defining fact of his existence. Ever since "Jiffy" was a small child, he knew what he wanted to do in life, and now he does it. He loves his work, which may make him unique among the waiters of the world. With a song in his heart and a dance in his step he serves his customers, and no one is happier than he.

In his limited free time Jiffy reads widely if not deeply, and has an exceptionally large vocabulary, mainly of adjectives. "Half-as-perfect," "Tickety-boo," "bootless," and "slithey" all receive regular use in his speech.

Quote: "Gloriously, we offer not one, not two, but three different kinds of cheese on our hamburgers. Do you think you would prefer the bitingly-sharp cheddar, the taliaferric Swiss, or the just tickety-boo monterey jack?"

Herman's niche is one which can be found in a wide variety of settings (although sadly not all: GURPS Dinosaurs, for example). He is thus essentially the same in all versions, although his Driving and Television skills would need to be replaced with local equivalents (Riding and Knowledge: Folk Music, possibly), as would his unique slang.

Steven Allen Dertzer

Appearance: age 53, 5'9", 283 lbs., balding red hair, blue eyes. An obese man in a Hawaiian shirt, typing at a terminal.

ST: 9 [-10] DX: 9 [-10] IQ: 13 [30] HT: 8 [-15]
Damage Swing: 1d-1 Thrust: 1d-2
Dodge: 0 Parry: n/a Block: n/a
Speed: 4.25 (0.25 with Fat encumbrance)

Advantages: Collected [5], Voice [10], Wealth: Comfortable (x2) [10]

Disadvantages: Addiction (tobacco) [-5], Age (53) [-9], Bad Back [-15], Fat [-20], Unfit (Very) [-15]

Quirks: Hates public transportation [-1], Keeps his hair short [-1], Moderately lecherous [-1], Uses the expression "over the hill" whenever he refers to someone even a year older than he is; has done this for years [-1], Wears loud clothing [-1]

Skills: Area Knowledge (St. Louis)-12 [1/2], Astronomy-11 [1], Chemistry-11 [1], Computer Hacking-12 [4], Computer Programming-17 [12], Computer Operation-14 [2], Chess*-14 [1], Electronics Operation (Audio Equipment)-15 [6], History-11 [1], Law-11 [1], Literature-11 [1], Mathematics-13 [4], Performance-16 [4], Philosophy (Aristotelian)-11 [1], Physics-12 [2], Research-12 [1], Speed Reading-12 [1], Swimming-13 [1/2], Teaching-13 [2], Typing-13 [1], Writing-13 [2] (*hobby skill)

Languages: English-13 (Native)

Steven works at a software company, in the programming division. He's well-read, moderately wealthy, and has an encyclopedic store knowledge and a healthy yen to learn. However, that's the only healthy thing about him: he suffers from an unfortunate glandular condition, is extremely out of shape, and has a trick back. He telecommutes because he can't stand public transportation and he can't fit in a car. His hobby is his radio: he runs a low-watt AM station out of his garage, which, despite its intermittent broadcasting schedule, boasts an unusually large following.

Quote: "Hmm . . . now where do I want to go today?"

In ancient/medieval/fantasy times, Steven is a sage widely reknowned. Replace the Voice advanatage with Literacy and the Electronics, Performance, Typing, and various Computer skills with more points in scientific skills. A science-fiction version of Steven could take on a variety of forms, depending on the nature of the setting. One possibility would be to remove his technical skills, using the points to buy Wealthy [10 more points], Reputation (as a media personality, a small bonus from most people most of the time), skills to match, and remove the Age disadvantage (to reflect the longer lifespans of higher-TL cultures), making Steven a media outlet in his own right.

Ted Havershack

Appearance: age 27, 6'1", 157 lbs., dirty blond hair and hazel eyes; a tall guy in cheap clothing reading a comic book.

ST: 10 [0] DX: 9 [-10] IQ: 12 [20] HT: 11 [10]
Damage: Swing: 1d Thrust: 1d-2
Dodge: 5 Parry: n/a Block: n/a
Speed: 5

Advantages: None

Disadvantages: Berserk [-15], Bloodlust [-10], Code of Honor (generic "nice guy") [-5], Sense of Duty (friends and family) [-5], Stubbornness [-5]

Quirks: Dislikes people who belittle comic books [-1], Dresses in bland clothing [-1], Likes comic books [-1], Slouches [-1], Has no ethical problem with mooching off relatives [-1]

Skills: Area Knowledge (St. Louis)-15 [6], Carousing-11 [2], Chemistry-12 [4], Comic Books*-13 [1], Driving (Automobile)-10 [4], Mathematics-10 [1], Physics-11 [2], Research-10 [1/2], Role-Playing Games*-14 [2], Streetwise-10 [1/2], Writing-12 [2] (*hobby skill)

Languages: English-12 (Native)

Ted did pretty well in college, majoring in chemistry. After that, though, he revealed he had no interest in finding a job; instead, he lives with his relatives.

He isn't a bad guy, but had a lot of problems growing up; he has very poor anger control. He's taken several rage-management classes, but still finds that the best way to avoid breaking into violence is avoiding contact with the world at large. Thus, his seclusion in his parents' basement.

Quote: "Hey! No way that guy could survive that blast! This movie was made by idiots! Stupid movie! STUPID TAPE! STUPID VCR!"

If the game's setting includes feudalism, Ted is a serf who fled his manor. Remove his skills, except for Area Knowledge, Carousing, and Streetwise, and give him Semi-Literacy [5] and skills such as Animal Handling and Agronomy (to reflect his past) and Hiking and Brawling (indicative of his current status as wanderer). A future-Ted is much the same as modern-Ted, although the focus of his attention is likely to be shifted away from comic-books and roleplaying games, toward some other, equally vapid, pursuit.

Susan Roosevelt

Appearance: age 25, 5'6", 112 lbs., thin platinum blonde hair, watery blue eyes: an unkempt, scraggly girl in black and white clothing, playing chess with herself.

ST: 9 [-10] DX: 8 [-15] IQ: 14 [45] HT: 10 [0]
Damage Swing: 1d-1 Thrust: 1d-2
Dodge: 4 Parry: n/a Block: n/a
Speed: 4.5

Advantages: None

Disadvantages: Loner [-5], Low Empathy [-15], Odious Personal Habit (drones about chess) [-5], Sense of Duty (Friends) [-5], Shy [-5], Unattractive (nerdy) [-5]

Quirks: Does crossword puzzles [-1], Likes to dress in black and white [-1], Sometimes wears piano glasses [-1], Tries to turn any conversation to chess [-1], Unconcerned with her appearance [-1]

Skills: Accounting-12 [1], Area Knowledge (St. Louis)-14 [1], Chess*-28 [14], Computer Operation-14 [1], Driving (Automobile)-9 [0], Mathematics-15 [6], Merchant-9 [1], Speed Reading-13 [1] (*hobby skill)

Languages: English-14 (Native)

Susan is a shelver in a large used-bookstore, and also handles finances. She was a mathematics major in college, with a scholarship, but after getting a master's degree decided it was a dead-end field. Her real passion is chess: she's a ranked member of the American Chess Federation and reads voraciously every book on the subject she can find.

She doesn't get along very well with other people, however; sales drop considerably whenever she's working the register. When she's not working, Susan is either at a chess club meeting or in her dingy apartment.

Quote: "Uh-huh. Are you going to buy that, or just disfigure it?"

In a setting without chess, Susan isn't likely to appear . . . . An appropriately cinematic Arabian Nights game might feature her as a harem-girl from a faroff land, for nights when the Calpih perfers an intellectual challenge. Remove her Accounting, Computer, Mathematics, Merchant, and Speed Reading skills to replace Unattractive with Attractive (a 10 point shift). Lower her Chess skill to 24 [10], and add Professional Skill: Courtesan-15 [4]. She can be transplanted, as is, into any science-fiction setting with both bookstores and chess.

Ronald Nimble

Appearance: age 23, 5'7", 143 lbs., dark hair and eyes; a good-looking guy behind the wheel of a pizza delivery car, speeding.

ST: 10 [0] DX: 11 [10] IQ: 10 [0] HT: 9 [-10]
Damage: Swing: 1d Thrust: 1d-2
Dodge: 5 Parry: n/a Block: n/a
Speed:: 5

Advantages: Absolute Direction [5], Attractive [5]

Disadvantages: Compulsive Lying [-15], Laziness [-10], Poor [-15]

Quirks: Always has a joke ready [-1], Drives unusually fast [-1], Gets offended when people don't believe him (whether he's telling the truth or not!) [-1], Keeps the radio tuned to rap [-1], Light drinker [-1]

Skills: Area Knowledge (St. Louis)-13 [6], Bard-11 [4], Darts-14 [8], Driving (Automobile)-13 [8], Fast-Talk-12 [6], History-7 [1/2], Performance-10 [2], Writing-8 [1/2]

Languages: English-10 (Native)

Ron is a pizza delivery boy in St. Louis. It's about the only job he can hold down: he knows the city as well as he knows the inside of his apartment, and he's an excellent driver. He tried other things: college, the corporate world, etc., but his habitual lying kept getting in the way. So far it hasn't been a problem at the pizzeria, but it may just be a matter of time. Add to this the way Ron avoids hard work as much as possible, and it's a real recipe for chronic unemployment.

The only thing Ron seems willing to work for is his darts game; he was runner-up for All-City Champion last year, and hopes to win in the next tournament.

Quote: "Well, I was on my way over here, with your pizza, when all of the sudden this van just came out of nowhere . . . "

A low-ranking member of the generic-fantasy Thieves' Guild, Ron can often be found skulking on the streets of Generic Fantasy City. Replace his Darts, Driving, History, and Writing skills with a mix of Thief/Spy skills; a few points in a wide mix of skills is more appropriate than specializing, but Ron could fill virtually any function for the Guild.

Jeanie Leary

Appearance: age 15, 5'2", 108 lbs., brown hair dyed black, brown eyes: a small girl in trendy clothing.

ST: 7 [-20] DX: 11 [10] IQ: 11 [10] HT: 10 [0]
Damage: Swing: 1d-3 Thrust: 1d-3
Dodge: 5 Parry: 6 Block: n/a
Speed: 5.25

Advantages: Absolute Timing [5], Lightning Calculator [5], Mathematical Ability [10]

Disadvantages: Epilepsy [-30], Sense of Duty (Family) [-5], Youth (-3) [-6]

Quirks: Considers piercings passe [-1], Defensive about epilepsy [-1], Enthusiastic fan of pop music and MTV [-1], Mocks dorks so people will know she's not one [-1], Tries to look older than she is [-1]

Skills: Area Knowledge (St.Louis)-11 [1], Computer Operation-11 [1], Fast-Talk-12 [4], Judo-10 [2], Knowledge (MTV and pop music)*-16 [5], Knowledge (television)*-15 [4], Mathematics-16 [8], (*Hobby skill)

Languages: English-11 (Native)

Jeanie is a fifteen years old, and fairly normal, except for two things about her. The first is that she's a mathematical prodigy. She qualifies as a "gifted" child, and is involved regularly in math-related afternoon and summer programs at the university. Jeanie doesn't especially like math, but doesn't dislike it either. She does know she is very good at it, and is proud of her talent. Jeanie's second abnormality is her epilepsy. She suffers from a particularly bad form of the disease; she's acutely and irrationally embarrassed by this, as most teenage girls would be. She lives with relatives in St.Louis, where she is a freshman in high school. Jeanie's Judo skill rises from self-defense classes her father insisted she take (until they began to conflict with her differential equations classes).

Quote: "But Daaaad!"

An interesting variation on Jeanie for a fantasy game is a reluctant shaman. Replace Mathematical Ability with World Sight [10], and her Computer Operation, Judo, Knowledges, and Mathematics skills with Occultism-10 [1], Theology-9 [1], Dreaming-8 [1], two points in basic shamanistic magic spells, and Intuition [15]. In a science-fiction setting, the Mathematical Ability and Lightning Calculator advantages might be the result of Bio-Tech genetic engineering, with her Epilepsy an unwanted side effect.

Jack Blumen

Appearance: age 29,5'10", 159 lbs., blond hair, green eyes: a guy in a rumpled suit with a window seat, engrossed in a spy novel.

ST: 10 [0] DX: 10 [0] IQ: 11 [10] HT: 11 [10]
Damage: Swing: 1d Thrust: 1d-2
Dodge: 5 Parry: n/a Block: n/a
Speed: 5.25

Advantages: Claim to Hospitality (various friends) [5], Cool [1]

Disadvantages: Chummy [-5], Code of Honor (professional ethics) [-5], Combat Paralysis [-15], Duty (to company: almost all the time but not usually hazardous) [-8], Sense of Duty (Friends and family) [-5]

Quirks: Loves greasy fast food [-1], Likes the color green [-1], Quirk-level insomniac [-1], Travels light and takes all his baggage carry-on [-1], Wears black socks with everything [-1]

Skills: Area Knowledge (Midwest)-12 [2], Area Knowledge (St. Louis)-11 [1], Carousing-11 [2], Computer Operation-11 [1], Driving (Automobile)-9 [1], Fast-Talk-11 [2], Merchant-14 [8]

Languages: English-11 (Native)

Jack's a commercial traveler, a salesman for a computer company. He's good, but not great. Somewhat surprisingly, he has a high level of job satisfaction: he loves travelling around, loves airports, loves that greasy fast food. He has friends in almost every city in the Midwest, which saves on hotel costs.

His only real hobby is reading thick airport novels; Jack has a weakness for Tom Clancy and John Le Carre. When he's not traveling, which isn't often, Jack has a small apartment in St. Louis and a cat.

Quote: "Hey, that's a nice laptop. Where'd you get it? Because if you're thinking of upgrading . . . "

Jack fits right into the Old West, becoming a salesman of bicycles or something similar, who plies his trade between the Missisippi and the Pecos. Trade Driving for Riding, and Computer Operation for Veterinary (Horse), but the remainder of the charcter can remain as is. He also falls easily into any SF setting with traveling salesmen.

Article publication date: October 6, 2000

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