Roleplayer #25, August 1991

Too Much of a Good Thing

Saving Some Gadgets For The Next Adventure

by Scott Paul Maykrantz

When your players get their hands on GURPS Ultra-Tech, they'll be thrilled . . . maybe too thrilled. If each player character is suddenly carrying seven weapons, a dozen scanners, and 33 assorted gadgets, you have to get things under control.

Because hardware doesn't cost character points, PCs can makeup for their "meager" 100 character points with a full complement of weapons and gadgets. If the player characters have lots of money, they can buy enough devices to be as powerful as a 500-point super! Characters who can't afford a lot of hardware can still overdo it if they have easy access to a Patron's arsenal or the spoils of heavily-equipped enemies.

The most important solution, which should be considered before any of those that follow, is common sense – both for the GM and the players. The game is no longer enjoyable when the player characters become too powerful. Less is more . . . fun!


Make some gadget(s) unavailable to the characters. The TL of the item may be higher than the TL of local technology, the item might not be sold locally for some reason (legal restrictions, environmental hazards on that particular planet, or simply a lack of demand). Or the item may be available only to a select type of person – soldiers, criminals, techs, etc.


While illegal weapons would also have limited availability, legality also poses a risk. If the PCs can get something on the black market, they have to deal with criminals. Some criminal dealers would just as soon rob the buyers as soon as they know the buyers have enough money for their merchandise – the dealers get the money and keep the goods to offer to the next victim. And even if the dealer is "honest," PCs caught with illegal hardware will soon find themselves on the run from the law!

Power Cells

What good is a scanner with no power cells? Power cells might be very expensive in some areas. They could "burp" once or twice in every ten uses (pull the trigger but nothing happens). They could also be volatile (exploding for 1d+1 concussion damage if broken). Power cells can be permanent and need to be recharged, not replaced – even if the characters can afford the recharge, their adventures will surely take them far from the nearest recharge station!

Side Effects and Health Hazards

Gadgets may be harmful to the user's health or life style will be avoided. The more powerful ultra-tech drugs are balanced by addictive qualities, altered behavior during use, or other side effects. Any gadget can use these principles to balance its beneficial effects.

A gadget that bonds in some way to the user's body can have drug-like side effects. Implants, bionics, any type of life support, and psi technology can all have this risk. For instance, rebreathers in your campaign may work so well that users become dependent on the gadget's purer, healthier air. Although there are no game effects while in use, any character who uses one for four or more hours with feel weak when he takes it off.

Bionics and implants are even more likely to have some sort of hazard. For example, characters may lose 1 Fatigue every hour that a bionic part or implant is without power. They will have to find a recharge station or have the cells replaced before they drop from exhaustion!


One of the simplest methods of cutting down on gadget use is to make technology too expensive for PCs to abuse. If they have to save every penny just for a laser pistol, they won't even think of buying a contragrav chair!

Social Effects

Bionics and similar gadgets are likely to be unacceptable in many societies. It's hard to get used to the idea of the average citizen with a mechanical arm or a radio built into his head. Some devices may be offensive to the majority of the people a PC will meet. This is a Social Stigma. And if the hardware is hidden (the arm is covered with fake flesh, for example), they are Secrets.

Any form of technology or gadget can be socially un-cceptable. If the campaign involves an enemy race or organization (the Sauroids, the Empire, the AAnn, etc.), any gadgets associated with them will be shunned, even if those gadgets are advantageous to use. This idea can also be used for whole types of technology; cloning or beamed power, for instance.

For example, suppose the evil, reptilian Sauroid hordes use screamers and vibroblades exclusively. The PCs make a successful raid on a secret Sauroid hideout on an agricultural planet. The hideout is full of screamers and vibroblades. But the PCs can't use them because their brethren in the rest of the galaxy look upon these weapons as brutal and inhuman – any non-Sauroid using these weapons has "stooped to the level of the enemy" and will get a reaction penalty. They can't even sell the stuff, for the same reason!

(Back to Roleplayer #25 Table of Contents)

Copyright © 1997-2024 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved.

Steve Jackson Games | GURPS | Roleplayer Index