Roleplayer #8, January 1988


GURPS Talk is a new feature in Roleplayer, intended to serve as a forum for discussion, among GURPS players, game masters, authors and other interested parties. Topics will no doubt range from nuts-and-bolts rules interpretation and GURPS design to roleplaying philosophy in general. If you have an opinion, a reaction, an observation, you'd like to share, GURPS Talk is the soapbox upon which you can stand to address the GURPS world.

Regarding the Detect Lies skill: GURPS Humanx says there is a -2 penalty to detect a lie told by a member of another species. I would be inclined to assess only a -1 penalty for a human detecting a thranx lie, or vice versa, due to the close contact between the species. It might also be appropriate to eliminate or reduce the penalty for anyone who has been spending a good portion of his life in the company of another species, when detecting lies told by that species (say a xenologist who specializes in a single species).

– Geoffrey DeWan, Urbana, IL

Sounds reasonable. The GURPS rules are set up to be generic and universal, and as such, must cover many topics with broad generalizations. From time to time, special cases will arise where the general rule, as written, seems too harsh, too lenient, or otherwise inappropriate. In these cases, it is the job of the GM to provide reasonable interpretations and extrapolations based on the existing rules. This certainly appears to be one of those cases.

The variation you suggest – that a human attempting to detect a lie told by a thranx suffers only -1 to his skill roll – seems reasonable. Of course, it will become "official" only when or if it appears in either a later edition, of GURPS Humanx or Roleplayer Errata, but until such time, you are certainly free to have it work that way in your campaign.


Success rolls in GURPS are based on 3 dice. This gives a bell curve of probability. An 18 – or a 3 – is only rolled once in 200 times! Why use 3 six-sided dice instead of a linear system based on a 20-sided die or percentile dice?

Also, HT (Hit Points) seem very low and are hard to raise. Powerful characters often have the same HT as "naff" characters. Why is GURPS designed like this?

– Pete Koning, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

The decision to use three dice for most rolls in GURPS was based on several factors. First, six-sided dice are familiar to nearly everyone, and are readily available. Second, 3 six-sided dice provide a very useful range of numbers – 3 to 18 – which fit neatly onto a 1 to 20 scale, with the mean falling at the halfway mark of 10.5. Third, the 1 to 20 scale is the most commonly used range for attributes and abilities of characters in roleplaying systems, and is therefore already familiar to most roleplayers.

But the most important factor in the selection of the 3-die system was the bell curve itself A bell curve resembles the human learning process far more accurately than does a linear system. The difference in skill between, a character with DX 10 and six months of training in a Physical/Average skill (a skill roll of 9 or less, or a 37.5% chance of success) and an identical character with two years' training (a roll of 11 or less, or 62.5%) is much more pronounced than the difference between a character with six years' training (12 or less, or 74.1 %) and a character with eight years' training (13 or less, or 83.4%). Near-complete mastery of a skill (a skill roll of 17 or less, or a 99.5% chance of success) is attained only after 24 years of training. In GURPS, as in real life, human beings are able to develop basic levels of competence relatively quickly, but true mastery of a skill comes only with great investment of time and effort. A straight linear scale would not reflect these patterns; with such a scale it would be just as easy to increase one's skill from a 90% chance of success to a 95% chance as it is to increase it from a 15% chance of success to a 20% chance. Such a scale simply would not reflect the way in which humans actually learn and perfect their skills.

The observation that HT seems relatively low in GURPS may well be valid when comparing the system to others on the market. In GURPS, a single bullet from a respectable handgun stands an excellent chance of putting a character on the ground. Once again, GURPS reflects reality on this point. In reality, a person hit by a .45 slug will, in all probability, fall down. With medical attention, he may well survive (a fact also reflected in GURPS), but he is most likely out of that fight. Many RPGs on the market allow characters to take several bullets and keep walking, but a conscious decision was made in designing GURPS to make this very unlikely.

It is certainly true that HT is difficult to increase in GURPS, and that many "powerful" characters will have a HT equal to or less than that of their less dangerous minions. Here again, GURPS is designed to reflect reality. A person does not become more resistant to physical damage simply because he has become more competent in his skills. Falling from a twenty-story building is just as likely to kill Conan as it is the Maytag Repairman. A fighter improves his survivability not by increasing his ability to soak up damage but by increasing his ability to avoid being hit. His combat experience hones his ability to parry, block or dodge the attacks of his opponents; it does not make him harder to cut with an axe.


[The following is excerpted from a longer letter discussing the material presented in GURPS Horror.]

I am an engineer at McDonnel-Douglas, and $4,500 per month is much too high. Most engineers here make $2,500 to $3,500 per month. I haven't quite figured out all the repercussions of the change in the pay rules yet, so this criticism may not be valid.

Furthermore, what about taxes? I know roleplaying is often about getting away from depressing realities, but GURPS is supposed to be realistic. It would be easy enough to just give monthly income in net pay (in which case the engineer's salary is even more off), but some mention should be made of taxes, and, given that the worldbook is about horror, maybe the IRS.

– Tom McKendree, Address unknown

That the listed salary for an engineer in the Modern campaign background is $4,500 does not mean that all engineers make this amount, or even that most do. It simply means that it is possible to make that amount of money, or even more. It appears that you and your co-workers are characters with an Average wealth level in a Comfortable job, which means you earn about half the listed amount.

Concerning income taxes: in order to prevent a GURPS campaign from turning into Paychecks and Paperwork, we recommend that you don't spend a lot of time worrying about income taxes and similar mundane bookkeeping tasks. After all, when was the last time you watched Indiana Jones fill out a 1040? Of course, if a game master really wants to mess with income tax, he can do one of two things: either assume that the listed salaries represent after tax income, or determine the amount the characters would owe on their salaries if they were real people, by actually doing the paperwork for them. Of course, you might as well figure in, social security, property taxes, sales taxes, vehicle registration and inspection fees, electric bills, school taxes . . .


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