No Discount Brains In The Apocalypse! (or, “How Alric Got Ripped Off”)

by mshrm

One of the players asked why I’m not reducing the price of IQ, even though I’m taking away some of its utility by basing Perception on HT, after being mightily persuaded by “Playing With Health” from Pyramid 3/83: Alternate GURPS IV. In a nutshell, it’s because I think IQ’s still a bargain at regular price.

(Up front, I’ll admit I don’t think any of these arguments are original to me. These are discussions that have been floating around for a long, long time.)

Overpriced IQ?

OK.  Let’s start with a regular ol’ point of IQ. Costs 20 points. A point of Will comes with that IQ, for free. Will costs 5 points per level. You also get a bump in Perception, which also costs 5 points per level on its own. Sell those both back, and you’re effectively paying 10 points for a Talent that raises all your IQ-based Skills. That includes knowledge-based skills (like Paleontology and Occultism), practical hands-on skills (Poisons, Explosives), esoteric skills if you can get ’em (Power Blow), skills concerning operating and repairing technology (Computer Operation, Electronics Repair), social skills (Fast-Talk, Diplomacy), and combat-affecting skills, particularly the one key skill that affects initiative (Tactics).

By way of comparison, Alric was happy to pay 10 pts/level for Outdoorsman, which adds to Camouflage (IQ), Fishing (Per), Mimicry (IQ), Naturalist (IQ), Navigation (IQ), Survival (Per), and Tracking (Per)… and nothing else. Oh, yeah, he gets a Reaction Modifier from Timmy after pulling the kid out of the quicksand, too. Meanwhile, Jed buys a point of IQ without the Per or Will for 10 points, and gets a bump in Camouflage, Mimicry, Naturalist, Navigation, Fast-Talk, Hidden Lore, Tactics, and approximately 87 different spells.

I think Alric’s getting the short end of that stick.

And that’s not even getting into defaults. Once you’ve got IQ over 15, it turns into a super-power from the defaults alone. (Come to think of it, wasn’t that part of “Lucky Girl”‘s powers, from the Supers 1200 game? She had great defaults?) A character with a 17 IQ can walk in off the street and make a living as a falconer (Falconry-12, defaulting from IQ-5) without ever having seen a living bird up-close. Just from picking up hints from comic books and Wild Kingdom, apparently. That same person could take her default Streetwise-12 downtown and start a career in wet-work, using her default Stealth-12 (yeah, Stealth has a default from IQ), Disguise-11, and Poisons-11, even if she’s fresh off the bus from Kansas. If she gets hurt, she’s got First Aid-13 (and Physician-10!) to fall back on, from watching Quincy and ER.

I’ve seen that TV show before.

The higher the TL, the more dominant IQ becomes. When we first started up the Space Cowboys game, I was amazed to see the average IQ of the PCs jump by 2 points. Nerds rule in space, it’s a natural law. IQ is the attribute of technology. The more gizmos available, the more room for IQ-based skills to make a difference.

Nerds. RULE. In. Space.

Much more than a smidgen of IQ isn’t realistic. People just aren’t that omni-competent. It’s not even all that true to fiction, either. I can’t think of many characters that are well-educated, keen-sensed, strong-willed, and socially adept, all at the same time. I feel it’s more satisfying to use Talents to boost a character’s key Skills in a targeted fashion, rather than raw DX and IQ.

I guess you could say that my goal here isn’t to make HT more attractive, it’s to nerf IQ.

Will too?!?

In fact, I’m wondering if perhaps I should go a step further, and split Will off from IQ as well. For arguments in favor, see the advice offered by the Reverend Pee Kitty (aka Jason Levine, Assistant GURPS Line Editor and author of a bunch of GURPS books) in the first of his house rules. He starts Per and Will at 10, and still leaves IQ at 20 pts/level.

I’ve said a lot recently about expecting Fright Checks to be common in the upcoming post-apocalyptic game. Fright Checks are based on Will, and with Will being based on IQ, the setup seems to favor geeks with nerves of steel. It might be worthwhile to divorce the concept of willpower from that of intelligence when creating characters for such a game. If nothing else, it would clean up that odd back-and-forth with animals, where the template sells back lots of IQ, then buys all the sold-back Will over again.

And… that still leaves IQ worth 20 points, in my opinion, just as a basis for Skills and rolls to escape mental Stun.

The Bargain Gunslinger

With Guns and so forth based on Perception, and Perception based on HT, and both HT and Perception being so much cheaper than DX, shouldn’t I be worried about crack shots that can spot a mosquito at a half-mile on a foggy day and who laugh off rattlesnake poison?

So… this guy?

Maybe I should be, but I’m not.

It’s a question of what the players are going to emphasize while making their characters. As it stands, across all genres, I see a heavy emphasis on DX, because that’s the one that controls the skills that let you hit stuff. If a character is going to have more than one or two good physical skills, that character will have a high DX. In genres where there’s technology to fiddle with, there’s a sudden rush to IQ. I don’t believe that moving a handful of combat skills, no matter how desirable, is going to change that. There are just too many useful skills that are still under those two Attributes.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a PC in one of my games with points in Perception, aside from the ones based on templates that did so. I have seen several folks who were really happy with the 14+ Perception that they got for free when they raised their character’s IQ to “smartest person who ever lived” levels.

Practically speaking, it’s a moot point. Nobody’s going to have Guns-21, because for this game, I’m turning on a bunch of the buzzkill “realism” switches. I’m following the suggestions from GURPS Tactical Shooting, on page 42, where the average armed citizen is operating at default and most trained police officers might have 1 or 2 points in the Skill. Unless there’s some world-class anti-terrorism task force in Portland that I’m not aware of, the highest skill level in town is likely to be a 15.

Plus, the PCs only have 50 points to work with (plus Disadvantages, of course, but those only go so far), and I don’t think any of my players expect me to set up an apocalypse that takes nothing but Guns skill to defeat. (I’m sure they all remember the time in the Space Cowboys game when the question of “Do we all go to jail, is our cargo confiscated, and is the ship impounded?” was settled by the outcome of a single Housekeeping roll.) I’m expecting more points in Guns than is strictly realistic, but I don’t expect anybody to go crazy. If anything, the players’ chatter has me expecting characters calculated to have remarkably high Scrounging and Urban Survival. Probably Stealth, too, they really like their Stealth.

Anyway, gunfire attracts zombies. Well-known fact.