Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: Disadvantages

The Grizzled Old Prospector Who Turns Out To Be Lovable Under His Gruff Exterior

That was one of the original character concepts for the Old Weird West game that kicked off the ongoing fascination with 4th edition GURPS. For some reason, this old discussion has been floating around in my brain, the last couple days. Possibly, I’m thinking in that direction because I’ve been watching the Dungeon Fantasy PC’s mental and social Disadvantages work themselves out over time. It reminds me of this old conversation that never went anywhere, really; the player considering the grizzled prospector with the heart of gold eventually settled on the lawman with amnesia and a murky past. At any rate, I figured I’d share, and get it out of my head, once and for all. ūüėČ

It’s a common enough character trope: ¬†the character who comes across as distasteful at first meeting, but comes to grow on you. ¬†“Gruff but lovable” was how it was first described to me, as I recall, but that’s just one variation. The cliche “hooker with a heart of gold” is another. It’s any character who ends up being more likable after getting to know them, after an initial negative reaction.

Mechanically, in GURPS, being “likable” boils down to “having a positive Reaction modifier”. The reverse is true, as well. A negative net Reaction modifier means that the character isn’t likable… or worse. Those with a bad enough penalty risk prejudice or even being taken as hostile monsters and attacked on sight.

The meat of the trope is the switch from a negative net Reaction modifier at a first impression, to a positive net modifier after getting to know the character. So, when building the character, you pick up traits to cause that change over time.

Case in point: ¬†Let’s say you’re making the grizzled ol’ prospector for an upcoming game of GURPS Apple Dumpling Gang.* The prospector is Unattractive, giving a -1, but has a Sense of Duty to kids, for a conditional +2 from kids when in a pinch. The first time the kids run in to him, they’ll make their Reaction roll at -1, and likely not much care for him, compared to the Attractive (+1) schoolmarm. On the other hand, when they’ve discovered the schoolmarm’s Secret: Kidnaps Kids To Work In The Old Silver Mine, converting the secret into a Reputation worth -2, and the ol’ prospector puts himself at some personal risk to hide them from her, he’ll be at a net +1.

Obviously, this is an overly-simple example. GURPS offers the tools to build some real nuance into a character, so there’s lots of possibilities. There’s modifiers for the up-front reaction, like Appearance and Charisma. There are traits that require triggers, like Sense of Duty and the Reaction bonus from most Talents. You can fine-tune Reputations and Secrets to represent hidden virtues and skeletons in the closet.

When the snoopy kids find the old man’s box of photos from The War, will they find “Reputation, +3, War Hero, known only to a small group: those who remember The Battle Of The Blarg” to outweigh his “Odious Personal Habit: Shakes cane and tells kids to get off his lawn”, or “Secret: War criminal” to offset his Charisma and Diplomacy bonus? ¬†(Showing that the same method, of having Reaction modifiers that evolve over time and with the addition of knowledge, works just as well in the other direction, turning an apparently-lovable character into a hated enemy.)

In the comics, Wolverine keeps meeting young women with the Empathy advantage. (In the Marvel Universe, at least, it seems that being less than five years old automatically confers Empathy… with a possible exception for the infernal.) They initially react poorly to his Callous disadvantage. Later on, he often ends up fighting against impossible odds on their behalf, demonstrating that Sense of Duty, and winning back the battle for the net Reaction bonus.

In the movie¬†Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight — oh, hey, if you haven’t seen it, then (mild) SPOILER ALERT, though really, the thing is nearly twenty years old now**, so I think you’ve out-waited the rush — there’s a great set-up where you see (what you’re led to believe is) the desperate outlaw on the run from the cool, collected sheriff. Appearance modifiers and perceived Status are definitely in play. I would argue that under the circumstances, one should somehow¬†define a white cowboy hat as a +1 bonus. Of course, it’s a bait-and-switch. Again, the potential victims start feeling a +2 for the guy with the Sense of Duty, after he goes to bat for them. Once they hear who the cowboy is and what’s really going on, his -4 Reputation (“The Devil”, or close enough) kicks in. Victims’ opinions of the two change.

All of this only applies to NPCs. PCs can’t be influenced directly by Influence skills, and they don’t make Reaction rolls. The player makes the decision as to who likes who and why. That said… you would expect the PCs to go with the flow just from pure role-play. Let’s say you’re playing a fighter, you’re under siege by a very angry dragon, and you’ve got two hirelings. One has Greed and Cowardice and runs as soon as you take your eyes off him, taking a sack¬†full of loot with him. The other has Sense of Duty (The Boss) and stands beside you as a stalwart ally, come way may. Who do¬†you reckon gets an effective Reaction bonus, when y’all get back to town?

* I would totally play GURPS Apple Dumpling Gang. I would play it vigorously.

** Mind the mummy wrappings, if you stir up the dust we’ll never be done sneezing.



Majority of Party Displays Poor Impulse Control

If you’re reading between the lines on the play reports, or even just reading them, you might have noticed that there’s something of a moral crisis brewing among the party members. You’ve heard about the quiet pocketing of loot before the party split. You’ve heard how TKotBO sat out the fight, praying for his comrades, when the rest of the party took on the ogre. And, you’ve heard about the mysterious Mississippi Jed and how he’s learned the fate of his former companion, who was attacked from behind without warning, stripped of his belongings, and nearly sold into slavery, all by the party that now calls Jed a member… though he doesn’t seem overly upset about it.

A note on the party members’ Disadvantages might be informative.

In the first corner, we’ve got TKotBO, whose defining personality trait, aside from an unwillingness to wear outwear that isn’t iron-based, is his chivalrous Code of Honor. It seems that his faith compels him to search the ruins for holy relics, which I’m sure he sees as his own personal crusade. I think he’s just figured out that his current comrades aren’t as much motivated by chivalry as he is.

In the second corner, we have all the Impulsive types, which includes Alric, Gabby, and Jed. Gabby suffers from the classic combination of Impulsiveness and Overconfidence, plus the standard swashbuckler swagger and a healthy case of Greed. If she weren’t so good at what she does, she would seem suicidal; when the day comes that she has to make a choice between the rest of the party and a profit, she might just cross over that line. In Alric, Impulsiveness¬†comes across more as an unwillingness to worry about details, a sort of “call me when the enemy army shows up” vibe. When it comes to Jed, I get the feeling that it’s more a question of him getting swept up in his own patter. In all cases, we’re not talking about folks who think their actions through. They live in the moment.

In the third corner, Needles stands alone, likely lurking in the shadows. Despite what you might expect, Needles isn’t Impulsive. He suffers from Kleptomania and Compulsive Lying, that’s all. During an earlier session, discussing Needles, I mentioned a proverb I had heard: “The difference between an alcoholic and an addict is, an alcoholic will steal your wallet and then feel bad about it. An addict will steal your wallet and then help you look for it.” ¬†Needles is the kind of guy who would always help you look for your wallet.

Cutting across these groups, there’s the question of loyalty. Alric and Jed have a Sense of Duty to their adventuring companions.¬†(In Jed’s case, it remains to be seen if that translates to siding with the missing Kadabra against the PC’s, or the other way ’round. Maybe he thought Needles was telling tall tales when he actually told the truth?) Gabby and Needles have a pirate’s Code of Honor and won’t back-stab their buddies. TKotBO doesn’t seem to have any particular loyalty to his comrades. He’s bound to keep his word, at least. That’s something.

Everybody seems to agree that the ambushing orcs are the bad guys, anyway.


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