GURPS Fourth Edition Preview: Updating Katrina

by David Morgan-Mar

I was quietly minding my own business in the Pyramid MOO one day when Andrew Hackard said to me (paraphrased, but only ever so slightly), "How would you like to lose your eyesight and sanity by laboriously going through GURPS Third Edition, Compendium I, and Fourth Edition; comparing every attribute, advantage, disadvantage, and skill; and figuring out everything you need to know to convert Third Edition characters into Fourth Edition ones?"

"Beauseant!" I cried, thinking that sounded a jolly good lark, indeed.

Over the next couple of months I put more wear and tear on my Basic Set and Compendium I than I had in the entire previous eight years, and became familiar with the wonders of the new Fourth Edition rules.

And what was the point of all this? To produce the latest edition of GURPS Update! The previous version had been a rules update to allow people with GURPS Second Edition to upgrade to Third Edition without buying a whole new Basic Set. But this time around the changes are significantly greater, and doing a similar thing would have produced an update about the size of the entire new edition.

So the latest edition of GURPS Update concentrates on the character generation rules. It gives you a summary of all the changes to attributes, advantages, disadvantages, and skills, plus advice on how to convert Third Edition characters to Fourth Edition quickly and painlessly. It'll be useful for anyone running or playing games that they want to convert to Fourth Edition, or for anyone who wants a distilled primer on what has changed in character creation in the new edition.

I included two approaches: Thorough conversion produces characters matching their Third Edition abilities as closely as possible, but takes a bit of work. Quick-and-dirty conversion gives you the bare minimum you need to know to produce a rough Fourth Edition equivalent, with just a few quick table look-ups. Using quick- and-dirty conversion, I estimate you could convert a typical character in under five minutes.

Updating Katrina

To demonstrate the conversion process, let's go through a thorough conversion of Katrina's character sheet (p. 216 of GURPS Basic Set Third Edition, Revised).

Attributes and Secondary Characteristics

Looking at the Strength section of Update, we follow its advice on human characters and keep Katrina's ST 12 unchanged. Her DX 13, IQ 12, and HT 11 also remain unchanged. The point cost of DX 13 increases from [30] to [60], while the cost of IQ 12 increases from [20] to [40]; the cost of her ST and HT do not change.

Since basic damage is the same for ST scores above 7, Katrina's thrust and swing damage stay the same. Basic lift is a new characteristic, and we calculate it to be 29 lbs (ST×ST/5, rounded to the nearest whole number).

For hit points, we have a decision to make. Katrina used to have 11 hit points, equal to her HT score, but she has ST 12, which implies 12 hit points in Fourth Edition. We could stay with 11 hit points by buying the total down from 12 at a cost of [-2], but we decide that we like the new way of determining the default number of hit points and choose not to bother with this extra bookkeeping. So Katrina now has 12 hit points. Her Will is 12, as it was before, and the new Perception attribute is also 12, equal to IQ. For fatigue points, we have the opposite situation we had with hit points -- fatigue points used to be equal to ST, but in Fourth Edition are equal to HT. Again we decide not to bother buying the default total back to the old value, and stay with 11 fatigue points, a reduction of one.

Basic Speed is calculated the same way as in Third Edition, and since Katrina's DX and HT have not changed, remains the same at 6.00. Dodge is now equal to Basic Speed+3, rounded down, which comes to 9, significantly higher than in Third Edition. This is to fit in with changes to the combat system. Basic Move is simply Basic Speed rounded off to 6, the same as before. As Katrina is an average-sized human, her Size Modifier is 0.

Parrying is not mentioned in the character creation section of Fourth Edition -- we'll leave that until later.

Social Background

For this new section of the character sheet, we need to know a bit about Katrina. She is from Yrth, which is a TL 3 society, so we record this as her native TL. Let's assume she is from the country of Megalos -- this decides her native cultural familiarity. She doesn't look to be the sort of character who has traveled extensively, so she probably doesn't have any other cultural familiarities, although we could add those now if we knew she had. Her native language will be the common tongue of Megalos -- Anglish -- and since she is literate she will have both spoken and written capabilities with it. This is the assumed zero-point default level in Fourth Edition, so this costs her no points. She has no other language skills listed, so we are done with social background.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Katrina has three advantages. We look these up on the Advantage Conversion Table in Update to see how they have changed. Attractive is now recorded as Appearance (Attractive), and costs only [4] instead of [5], but works the same way. Literacy is no longer an advantage at all -- we have already accounted for it with Katrina's native language level. Toughness is listed in the table as becoming Damage Resistance 1 (Tough skin, -40%), at only [3] per level! We record this new name and point cost.

For disadvantages, we check the Disadvantage Conversion Table. Alcoholism, Skinny, and Stubbornness are all listed as unchanged, so we record those with their old point values. Berserk is more interesting: we see this is given with a self-control number of (12), for a cost of [-10], rather than the [-15] of Third Edition. We could lower the self-control number to (9), multiplying the cost by 1.5 and making it worth [-15] to match the old point cost -- but then we realize that Katrina's Will, which she uses to resist going berserk, is 12. So, for the same game effect, we decide to leave the self-control number at (12) and accept the change in point cost.

We quickly look at Katrina's quirks and decide that they are valid under the new Fourth Edition rules, so keep them unchanged.


Now we work through Katrina's skills on the Skill Conversion Table. On the first run through, we'll ignore point costs and just concern ourselves with any changes to skill names, specializations, and other rules.

Armoury now requires a specialization. Looking at the options under Armoury in Fourth Edition, and Katrina's equipment list, we decide that this probably represents skill in tending her bow and making arrows, so we choose Missile Weapons as the specialization. We see that Fencing skill no longer exists, being split up between a selection of individual fencing weapon skills. Since Katrina has a saber listed as equipment, we change Fencing to Saber at the same skill level. Knife Throwing has changed name to Thrown Weapon (Knife), but is otherwise the same. Savoir-Faire requires a specialization, but checking Fourth Edition we see that the most common specialization (High Society) can be assumed if no specialization is recorded. As this is the most appropriate specialization for Katrina, we leave it implicit. All the other skills look the same, so we record them with the same skill levels as before.

Next we look at the point costs for the skills. Bow has changed from a P/H skill to a DX/A skill, and the cost for Katrina's skill level drops from [8] to [4]. She had half a point in Cooking, and half- points are no longer used, but we also see that Cooking has changed from Easy to Average, so she now needs a full point in it to keep the same skill level of 11. Scrounging, on the other hand, has not changed in difficulty, so we decide to increase Katrina's skill from 11 to 12 so that she now has a full point invested in it. We also notice that Tracking is now based on Perception rather than IQ, but since her scores for these are the same there is no change in skill level or point cost. All the other skills have the same base attribute and difficulty, and none are at levels high enough to run into the point cost changes at high skill levels, so their costs remain the same.

Now we can look at Katrina's parry. This is covered in Defending in Fourth Edition's Campaigns book. Parry scores are 3 + half the weapon skill, rounded down. This makes Katrina's parry with her saber equal to 10.

Finally, we add up the points. Katrina is now a 134-point character, ready to adventure in Fourth Edition!


134 points

5'9", 100 lbs. (SM 0).

ST 12 [20]; DX 13 [60]; IQ 12 [40]; HT 11 [10].
Dmg 1d-1/1d+2; BL 29 lbs.
HP 12 [0]; Will 12 [0]; Per 12 [0]; FP 11 [0].
Basic Speed 6.00 [0]; Basic Move 6 [0]
Dodge 9; Parry 10 (saber).

Social Background

TL 3 [0].
CF Megalos [0].
Languages: Anglish (Native) [0].


Appearance (Attractive) [4]
Damage Resistance 1 (Tough skin, -40%) [3]


Alcoholism [-15]
Berserk (12) [-10]
Skinny [-5]
Stubbornness [-5]


Dislikes heights [-1]
Feminist; likes demonstrating she's "as good as any man" [-1]
Picks fights for fun [-1]
Sleeps outdoors when possible [-1]
Talks to animals and inanimate objects [-1]


     Armoury/TL3 (Missile Weapons)-13 (IQ+1) [4]
     Bow-14 (DX+1) [4]
     Brawling-13 (DX+0) [1]
     Cooking-11 (IQ-1) [1]
     Fast-Draw (Arrow)-13 (DX+0) [1]
     Gambling-12 (IQ+0) [2]
     Knife-13 (DX+0) [1]
     Leadership-12 (IQ+0) [2]
     Saber-15 (DX+2) [8]
     Savoir-Faire-14 (IQ+2) [4]
     Scrounging-12 (IQ+0) [1]
     Stealth-13 (DX+0) [2]
     Tactics-12 (IQ+0) [4]
     Thrown Weapon (Knife)-13 (DX+0) [1]
     Tracking-11 (Per-1) [1]

Designer's Notes

So what sort of issues came up when writing GURPS Update? Well, some abilities were dead easy. Flight works the same way and costs the same number of points -- not a problem. Some required a complete restructuring. Flash, for example, is a rather complex natural attack in Third Edition, with multiple effects. It doesn't exist in Fourth Edition, but there are tools to build something similar, using a new advantage called Affliction. After some questions to Kromm on how various new enhancements and limitations worked, I came up with something that does almost the same thing as Flash. And it's listed in Update so you don't have to figure it out for yourself.

And then there were a few (very few) abilities that just didn't work with the Fourth Edition Basic Set rules. Some are superpower-like, and will need to wait for GURPS Powers, and the rest are cinematic martial arts skills that need to wait for the new edition of GURPS Martial Arts. But the existence of these abilities -- and exposure to some of the amazingly cool new rules in Fourth Edition -- gave me an idea for another way to build some of them. So here it is, completely unofficial, but an example of how easy it is to customize the Fourth Edition rules:

New Limitation

Skill-Based (Variable)

Your advantage is not activated at will; instead you must make a successful skill roll to activate it. You must buy levels in a corresponding Activation Skill just as if it were any other skill. This means you can improve your chances of using your advantage through "training". The activation skill may be based on any attribute. The value of this limitation depends on the difficulty of the activation skill:










Very Hard:




This limitation can be used to construct new skill-based powers, as well as reproducing some Third Edition advantages that cannot be constructed using the Fourth Edition Basic Set. For example:

Invisible Boy is a superhero who can become invisible if he succeeds at willing himself to do so. This is Invisibility (Skill-based: Hard, -30%; Switchable, +10%) [32]. To use this power, he must spend points on Activation Skill (Invisibility) Will/H. As he gains experience, he will become better at turning invisible.

Mountain Heart (M/VH) is a cinematic Third Edition skill that allows you to heal 1d hit points with a successful skill roll (after entering a meditative state with Breath Control and Body Control). Something similar could be constructed in Fourth Edition as Healing (Accessibility: Only in meditative state, -30%; Injuries Only, -20%; Skill-based: Very Hard, -40%) [6], plus points in Activation Skill (Healing) Will/VH.

Dexitroboping (P/H) is an esoteric skill based on HT from GURPS Lensman that allows you to survive in the vacuum of space on a successful skill roll once per minute; if you fail, you still survive, but lose 1 fatigue point. This could be constructed in two stages. First, define a Space Support package containing Doesn't Breathe [20], Immunity to Cold [30], and Vacuum Support [5], totaling 55 points. The Dexitroboping advantage is then the package: Space Support (Costs Fatigue, -5%) [53] and Space Support (Skill-based: Hard, -30%) [39] for a total cost of 92 points. You will also need points in Activation Skill (Dexitroboping) HT/H.

Article publication date: August 20, 2004

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