Animal Vessels in GURPS In Nomine

by Elizabeth McCoy

Were-characters, and other kinds of shapeshifters, are covered briefly in GURPS Bestiary, and are the focus of the forthcoming GURPS Shapeshifters. However, GURPS In Nomine vessels have properties which are peculiar to the setting, and are thus treated somewhat differently.

In GURPS In Nomine, a basic human vessel costs 30 points if the character has a Role associated with it (i.e., Alternate Identity, p, CI20), or 35 if the vessel is Zeroed (p. CI32). Advantages and disadvantages that affect only that vessel modify it accordingly, but the cost can never be less than 5 points (p. IN34). (It's never a disadvantage to have a spare vessel; the alternatives are always . . . worse.)

To aid the GM or player designing animal vessels for celestials and ethereals, here are some guidelines.

Animal vessels are bought as a collection of advantages and disadvantages that modify the basic 35 points for a Zeroed vessel. (There are a few types of animal vessel which warrant the 30 point cost; prizewinning racehorses or police dogs, for instance. Subtract 5 points if the vessel has such a Role -- or role -- attached to it.) Note that the default for an animal vessel is that it can speak and sees in full color! Colorblind, Disturbing Voice, and Mute are disadvantages. Also remember that it's the default to transport the characteristics across "straight" -- DX is DX for the character, not the racial type.

Animal vessels come in three modes: economy, deluxe, and exotic.

An economy vessel only modifies the form of the being. Cats don't have Catfall, dogs can't distinguish smells much better than normal, eagles can't see all that well from the air, and horses tend to fall down if anyone heavy tries to ride them. These are the cheapest form of vessel, and considering that the average characteristic of a celestial is 14, not 10, that's not too shabby. (Cats, dogs, and eagles will all be very strong for their sizes. Elephants and horses get enough Natural ST to move around, but tend to slip and fall over if they try to push against things, etc.)

Deluxe vessels add in all the advantages inherent in the species, such as Catfall for cats, Discriminatory Smell for dogs, etc. Large vessels, such as horses or elephants, get enough Natural ST to do more than lumber around carefully. (There are shades between economy and deluxe, but those are more likely to depend on what's affordable.) Skills packages (see below) are usually part of a deluxe vessel, but should be bought separately.

Exotic vessels add something extra to the package; prehensile tails are popular. If the extra feature is unusual enough to draw unwanted attention with a casual search (a bird with a pair of arms, or a dog with thumbs), it also has the Unnatural Feature disadvantage -- which, in this case, adds to the cost of the vessel! (You have to have that many more brownie points to get a Superior to give you something that could get the mortals in an uproar.) Note that an exotic extra can be added to an economy vessel!

Many vessels may have a skill package associated with them -- a set of skills for being an effective, normal-seeming member of the species. This package only needs to be purchased once, and will affect all similar vessels the character owns (GM's decision as to what is "similar" enough). At the GM's option, these skills apply to the base character and are not limited to the vessel! Otherwise, these skills are optimized for the animal vessel only, and must be improved separately from any skills in non-animal vessels.

Also, disadvantages are sometimes taken, such as Colorblind or Disturbing Voice. (Few celestials or ethereals willingly take Mute -- but it happens now and then.)

Sample Vessel Templates

All point costs are drawn from GURPS Bestiary and GURPS Compendium I unless noted otherwise. Consult those books for the actual values of individual advantages.

If a given economy vessel's cost would be below the minimum, such as cat and dog vessels are, advantages are added to it until it is at least the 5-point minimum.


(Based loosely on the Parrot template on p. BE111)

Birds all get Flight at DX by default; the GM may rule that celestials without winged celestial forms have a default of DX-4 instead.

Economy Bird Vessel: 18 points (with an Alternate Identity as a pet) or 23 points (if Zeroed). Advantages are Decreased Life Support (Small Vessel, -50%), Enhanced Move (Flying) ×1.5, Flight (Winged, Cannot Hover), Increased Speed×½, and Peripheral Vision. (Owls lack Peripheral Vision, but gain Night Vision.) Disadvantages are Fragile (necessary for flight), Inconvenient Size, Poor Grip, Poverty (Dead Broke), Restricted Manipulators, and Social Stigma (Valuable Property). This is a good template for the average pigeon vessel.

Deluxe Bird Vessel: 52 points with Alternate Identity, or 57 with Zeroed. Adds the advantages of Acute Hearing +3, Alertness +5 (Mundane Only, -10%), and Attractive Appearance. (Predator bird forms will add Sharp Claws, and large values of Acute Vision.)

Exotic Additions frequently include Pouch and Mimicry (p. BE111 or CI60). A very exotic addition would be a pair of Short Arms, folded into the feathers to be hidden from casual viewing, removing the Poor Grip and Restricted Manipulators disadvantages, but adding Unnatural Feature, for a total charge of 15 points.


(Based on the Cat template on p. BE108)

Economy Cat Vessel: 5 (with an Alternate Identity as a pet) or 8 (if Zeroed). Advantages are Acute Hearing +4, Acute Taste and Smell +4, Attractive Appearance, Fur, Claws, Decreased Life Support (Small Vessel, -50%), Double-Jointed, Enhanced Move ×½, Faz Sense (3-hex range), Four Legs, and Sharp Teeth. Disadvantages include Horizontal, Inconvenient Size, No Fine Manipulators, Poverty (Dead Broke), Short Arms, and Social Stigma (Valuable Property). The economy cat vessel includes no skills.

Deluxe Cat Vessel: 81 points (with Alternate Identity) or 86 points (if Zeroed). This adds the advantages of Alertness +5 (Mundane Only, -10%), Catfall, Discriminatory Smell, Night Vision, Perfect Balance, and Ultrahearing. The first cat vessel will include the Cat Skills Package, below.

Cat Skills Package: Acrobatics, Climbing, and Jumping at DX, and Stealth at DX+2. (15 points.) Note that cats are at +3 to climb up, and -3 to climb down, as per GURPS Bestiary.

Exotic Additions frequently include Prehensile Tail, Pouch, and Thumbs.


(Based on the medium-sized Dog template on p. BE108)

A small dog vessel adds Inconvenient Size, reducing costs by 10 points; in the case of the economy vessel, this is below the minimum of 5 points for the vessel, and is treated as 5 points, for a cost of 10 or 15 (Alternate Identity or Zeroed). The largest dogs no longer have Decreased Life Support (Small Vessel, -50%), raising their cost by 5 points.

Wolf-vessels are similar; remove Decreased Life Support from the economy Dog vessel, change Social Stigma to Barbarian, and add Penetrating Call and Thick Fur to the deluxe Dog vessel.

Economy Dog Vessel: 13 points (Alternate Identity) or 18 points (Zeroed). Advantages are Acute Hearing +4, Acute Taste and Smell +4, Alertness +5 (Mundane Only, -10%), Decreased Life Support (Small Vessel, -50%), Enhanced Move ×½, Four Legs, Fur, Sharp Teeth, and Ultrahearing. Disadvantages are Horizontal, No Fine Manipulators, Poverty (Dead Broke), Short Arms, and Social Stigma (Valuable Property).

Deluxe Dog Vessel: 36 points (Alternate Identity) or 41 points (Zeroed). Add the advantage of Discriminatory Smell (functions as Empathy within 2 hexes,+50%). The first dog vessel will include the Dog and Wolf Skills Package, below.

Dog and Wolf Skills Package: Brawling, Running, and Stealth at DX. (7 points.)

Exotic Additions typically include Pouch and Prehensile Tail.


(Based on the Dolphin template on p. BE109)

This is a popular vessel for Jordi's Seraphim, rarely found among Servitors of other Superiors. Some ethereals also favor dolphin vessels, especially if they happen to have a Beasts strand, or an Image of Flipper.

Economy Dolphin Vessel: 10 points (Alternate Identity) or 15 (Zeroed). Advantages are Acute Hearing +3, Enhanced Move (Swimming) ×1, Independently Focusable Eyes, Nictating Membrane ×1, Oxygen Storage, Peripheral Vision, Pressure Support, Sonar Vision, and Ultrasonic Speech. Disadvantages are Aquatic, Horizontal, Increased Life Support, No Manipulators, Poverty (Dead Broke), and Social Stigma (Barbarian). This is a slightly weak dolphin for its species, and the vessel requires water to function over long periods of time.

(If using Transhuman Space dolphins, remove the disadvantage of Horizontal and the advantage of Acute Hearing, adding 4 points to the total economy template.)

Deluxe Dolphin Vessel: 86 points (Alternate Identity) or 91 (Zeroed). Add the advantages of Enhanced ST +6 (No Fine Manipulators), Alertness +3 (Mundane Only, -10%), and 3D Spatial Sense. Remove the Increased Life Support disadvantage -- a beached deluxe dolphin vessel will merely be annoyed, not in danger of death. The first such vessel also gets the Dolphin Skills Package, below.

Dolphin Skills Package: Acrobatics at DX and Survival (Open Oceans) at IQ +4. (14 points.) Considering the typical IQ gap between celestials and dolphins, Survival (Open Oceans) might be lowered somewhat, modifying the package's cost.

Exotic Additions: most commonly include trading No Manipulators for No Fine Manipulators and One Fine Manipulator (raising the cost by 5 points), and a male dolphin vessel. There is enough anecdotal evidence that male dolphins can control their anatomy that few humans would be surprised to observe this. This can also justify changing No Manipulators to One Fine Manipulator with Bad Grip (raising cost by 25 points) or One Fine Manipulator with Poor Grip (raising the cost by 30 points). Changing it to merely One Fine Manipulator would count as a secret Unnatural Feature -- no one expects that amount of flexibility! Likewise, a hermaphrodite dolphin might attract some attention, if discovered.

Other exotic additions include weak arms (raising the cost by 50 points, hidden in pouches near the front fins or in the genital slit, and slowing swimming speed if not "stowed"), Gills (typically replacing Oxygen Storage, for a gain of 4 points), and Pouch. Jordi's Seraphim frequently take Disturbing Voice for talking to "landlubbers"; their Ultrasonic Speech lets them communicate with each other without hassle.


(Based on the Warhorse template on p. BE112)

Economy Horse Vessel: 24 or 29 points. Advantages are Enhanced Move ×2, Enhanced ST +10 (No Fine Manipulators, -40%); Four Legs, and Peripheral Vision. Disadvantages are Horizontal, Inconvenient Size, Increased Life Support (Large Vessel, -50%), No Depth Perception, No Fine Manipulators, Poverty (Dead Broke), and Social Stigma (Valuable Property).

Deluxe Horse Vessel: 83 or 88 points for a pony (no extra Enhanced ST); 128/133 for a racehorse (Enhanced ST +20; No Fine Manipulators, -40%); 137/142 for a warhorse (Enhanced ST +30; No Fine Manipulators, -40%); 140/145 for a draft horse (Enhanced ST +40; No Fine Manipulators, -40%). Aside from the Enhanced ST suitable for the type of horse, add the advantages of Acute Hearing +2, Acute Taste and Smell +4, Alertness +6 (Mundane Only, -10%), Attractive Appearance, and Enhanced Dodge. Also add the Horse Skills Package, below.

Horse Skills Package: Riding (Being Ridden) at DX. (2 points.)

Exotic Additions typically start with buying off No Depth Perception, raising the cost by 10 points. Prehensile Tails can also be hidden in the horsehair. Pouch is sometimes used, but usually only when paired with a Prehensile Tail, or low-ST arms that tuck into the pouch as well. (While a Prehensile Tail might be missed on such things as x-rays, pouch-arms are Unnatural Features.) Servitors of Beleth are prone to adding such Unnatural Features as Fangs, retractable hoof-Claws, and finger-tentacles that protrude from the hooves, giving them a form of Restricted Manipulators (p. BE118; the structure is such that they can't swing a weapon or use more than one "hand" at a time easily). Adding the Unnatural Feature of a Horn (Long tusk, p, CI67) gives one a unicorn. Adding Fragile and Winged Flight (Cannot Hover) results in a pegasus . . .

Rat and Mouse

(Based loosely on the Giant Rat template on p. BE110)

Economy Rat Vessel: 11 or 16 points (Alternate Identity or Zeroed). Advantages are Acute Taste and Smell +2, Cast Iron Stomach, Decreased Life Support (Small Vessel, -50%), Faz Sense (3 hex range, -20%), Fur, Night Vision, Passive Defense +1 (due to size), Peripheral Vision, and Sharp Teeth.

Deluxe Rat Vessel: 48 or 53 points. Add Acute Taste and Smell +2 (total +4), Alertness +4 (Mundane Only, -10%) and Cast Iron Stomach.

Exotic Additions start with eliminating No Depth Perception, and continue with Prehensile Tail and Pouch. A mouse's Pouch would be even smaller, but even a tiny Pouch can carry a gemstone or two, or valuable postage stamps.

Animal Vessel Advantage Notes

Alertness for vessels has the -10% limitation that it does not affect resonances or other supernatural abilities that require a Perception roll. The vessel's Alertness is only a combination of increased sense of touch, Acute Hearing, Acute Vision, and Acute Taste and Smell.

Decreased Life Support with a -50% limitation reflects the reduced breathing needs of a small vessel. Since celestials don't eat and drink, breathing is the only life support they require. (A vessel that is very large will have the same limitation, as it only requires more air.)

Prehensile Tail replaces No Fine Manipulators with One Fine Manipulator with Poor Grip (-2 to skills requiring a firm grip) and Extra Flexibility, adding 25 points to the vessel.

Pouch adds a discreet kangaroo-style pouch to a vessel, frequently with sphincter muscles to hold it closed, costing 2 points per pound of capacity. (More detailed rules for large races are in GURPS Bio-Tech, p. 136.) For a bird-sized vessel, the maximum is a half-pound (and restricts flight accordingly!). For cat-sized vessels, the pouch holds a maximum of one pound. For medium size dog-sized vessels, the maximum is three pounds. For large dog-sized vessels, the maximum is 10 pounds. Horse-sized beings have a maximum of 100 total pounds of pouch(es), and elephant-sized gets a maximum of 1,000 pounds! (Naturally, someone can always have smaller pouches than the maximum that an animal vessel will allow.) A pouch is very useful for Thieves and Windys!

Thumbs are primarily useful for cats with polydactylism ("extra fingers"); the fat, doubled "thumb-claws" conceal the muscles and joint-modifications required for an opposable thumb. Replace No Fine Manipulators with Bad Grip (-4 to anything requiring a firm grip), for a net gain of +20 points. (This does not affect cats' Climbing skill.) When in doubt as to what actions could be accomplished, wrap rubber-bands around the player's finger's middle knuckles.

Unnatural Feature, as stated above, is an "advantage" for the purposes of obtaining a vessel; the weirder the form, the more likely that it will bring the secret of celestials to mortal attention. (Alternatively, the GM could simply bring even more pressure to bear on the Secret disadvantage in every non-human's racial template -- but Unnatural Feature should never reduce the cost of a vessel, since the purpose of vessels is not to attract attention to unnatural goings-on.)

A Note on Wealth

The animal vessels above all have Dead Broke and Social Stigma attached to them. That's because they're animals. It doesn't matter if your other vessel has a Filthy Rich Role -- you can't touch that money to buy things or bribe people while you're a parrot. (Flying up to the ATM to get money out is considered bad form, and you can't spend the money anyway.)

One loophole in this is the Internet or, if your voice sounds the same as your human vessel's, telephone. In the In Nomine spirit of "don't sweat the small stuff," these are ignored. You'll have enough trouble typing in your credit card with your beak (or paws; on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog), and signing for your package when it's delivered.

Article publication date: February 27, 2004

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