Intermediate Skills and Contests

Another Thursday, another peek into the wonderful world of GURPS!

Today we’re looking back at skills. The sections to read for everything about skills are pp. 167-173 in Characters and pp. 343-361 in Campaigns. The “Task Difficulty” section on pp. 345-346 is particularly delicious.

The main difference between using skills as explored in the two original basic posts and here in the intermediate post, is that your options explode.

In GURPS Lite, there are 66 skills to choose from; in the Characters book of the Basic Set, there are more than 250!  GURPS Lite also doesn’t have much in the way of skill modifiers outside of combat. The Basic Set has a ton.

skillsHere are some of the many skill roll modifiers a GURPS GM might take into account:

  • Language Comprehension (p. 24): Some skills (Fast-Talk, Research, Teaching, etc.) can be affected by how well you know the language you are using.
  • Tech Levels (p. 168): How using the skills your character learned at her native Tech Level might be affected when using them amidst higher or lower TLs.
  • Familiarity (p. 169): Modifiers for using equipment that differs from what you’re familiar with, like a .357 Magnum when you’re used to a .38 snub-nosed, or a bitchin’ Camaro when you’re used to an Audi. (This may be one of the crunchiest bits in all of GURPS-dom! Probably belongs in the advanced skill post, but I wanted to keep the list cohesive).
  • Geographical/Temporal Scope (p. 176): Some skills (Area Knowledge, History, etc.) can be affected by unfamiliar times, places, and distances.
  • Planet Type (p. 180): For planet-hopping games, the type of planet can affect certain skills (Biology, Geography, etc.).
  • Physiology (p. 181): Still other skills (Body Language, First Aid, Surgery, etc.)  are affected when used on non-human characters (or, non-whatever-type-you-learned characters).
  • Equipment (p. 345): A lot of skills (things like Disguise, Mechanic, Surgery, etc.) assume you have access to at least a bare minimum of equipment. If this isn’t the case, using those skills becomes much harder (or easier, if the equipment you have is top-of-the-line).
  • Time Spent (p. 346): Taking your time to get things done right can give you a bonus on skill use… but having to (or choosing to) hurry will give you a penalty.

As you can see — there are a lot of potential skill modifiers! The kind of game your group enjoys will dictate how many of these actually come up at the table. A very gritty, realistic science fiction game could easily use all of them in various situations, while a quick and light game where the PCs are all dolphins in the same pod is unlikely to use any.

For an example, let’s check in on Kerna. During a recent battle to drive a mated pair of Trolls from the environs of the outpost, her armor was damaged by acidic Troll blood — the right shoulder joint has all but dissolved. The availability of qualified smiths at her remote billet is spotty at best, so she has learned it’s often faster to do your own repairs if you’re at all capable. So, once back at the outpost she removes her damaged armor and heads for the smith’s shop. He and all of his assistants are, indeed, up to their eyeballs and beyond with projects being worked; they barely even notice her come in. She grabs an out of the way corner and sets to work.

Kerna’s base skill is 11. Right off the bat, the GM suggests the repair will be at -2 because of its location on a critical joint, lowering her effective skill to a 9. The shop itself does have (most of) the standard equipment, but much of it is old, worn, and cobbled together, so the GM imposes a further -1 (equivalent to “Damaged Equipment,” p. 345), lowering Kerna’s effective skill further from a 9 to an 8.

On the other hand, she is determined and patient, so she chooses to take a full 8 hours to complete this normally 2-hour repair (by the way, I am completely pulling that number out of the ether. I have no idea how long it takes to repair a damaged scale armor joint. I suspect it’s a lot longer than 2 hours, but for the purposes of example I didn’t want to strand poor Kerna without functioning armor while she spends days working on it). Since this is 4x the usual time needed, it gives her a +2 bonus, raising her effective skill from 8 to 10.

If Kerna rolls a 10 or less, she will successfully complete the repairs; otherwise, it might just be beyond her skills, and she would be better off waiting for one of the actual smiths to have time for it.

Skills and contests don’t work any differently between GURPS Lite and the Basic Set… they just have a greatly expanded pool of possible modifiers that come into play. In a Lite game, there is no functional difference between using a katana or a cavalry saber — they both use the Broadsword skill. Basic Set allows the option of a -2 familiarity penalty. In a Lite game, a character could use First Aid to tend to wounded Humans, Elves, and Dwarves. Basic Set allows for a -2 familiarity penalty.

As with most things GURPS… it all depends on the kind of game you want!

Next week, we’ll get to see Kerna layeth down the smacketh in the intermediate melee combat post, throwing in a few more options from the Basic Set that aren’t in Lite. See you then!

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