This is mostly just a bit of idle musing. Last time I played +Nathan Joy‘s DF campaign, +Theodore Briggs‘s character, Thumvar, got hit with a spell (Burning Death, for what it’s worth) that made him roll vs. HT every turn, or else terrible consequences would ensue.

In other areas, I have mused about the cost of HT before. In this post discussing The Last Gasp, I noted the following breakdown of things that HT influenced, and a commentary on overall pricing.

Fixed and Knowable Costs

While breaking down certain GURPS abilities into component parts is chancy, here’s one way to look at it:

  • Fatigue Points: 3 points/level
  • Basic Speed: 20 points per level, requires +4 HT for each +1: 5 points/level
  • Action Points (from The Last Gasp): 2 per level.

These are fixed costs, but only the first two are firmly defined in GURPS Basic Set. Action Points is from my own article; we pegged it at 2/level, but that’s soft.
Thus, the FP and Basic Speed components of HT cost 8 points per level. Toss in my Action Points pricing and that’s 10 per level (which argues that if the pricing of HT is fine as-is, if you play with AP it should go up to minimum 12/ level.
OK, but there are other components to HT, which are harder to pin down for actual costs. Mainly, they’re
  • The ability to make HT rolls (resisting poisons, knockdown and stunning, consciousness rolls, and death checks, checking for fatigue and other resisted conditions)
  • HT-based skill rolls
That first one is interesting, since there’s a lot of game-relevant utility there. That being said, let’s come back to it.
Skills

There 11 HT-based skills in the Basic Set. If you were to buy a Talent covering that many skills, it would cost 10 points per level.

However, and this is an important point, you buy a Talent as part of characterization, and you want and will seek to use all – or most – of the skills in it. So the list of skills you get with HT come along for the ride, and thus are probably worth half or a quarter of the base price of a Talent (plus you don’t get the ‘look cool doing it’) factor.

On the other hand, let’s suppose that the cost of the ability to buy skills with attributes is discounted by 1/2 to 3/4 because it’s just more efficient to train everything having to do with fitness or coordination than do one thing at a time. So the cost of all HT skills is 3-5 points (5-7 less than above, or 7-9 less if you also strip out AP). 3 points per +1 to all HT-related skills (again, 11 of them) seems just too low. In fact, the basic 5-10 points per level you’d get for a basic Talent is still a great deal. I choose to settle on roughly 5 points/level for the “boost to HT-related skills” piece, recognizing that not all of these are useful, and +1 to a defaulted skill goes mostly from “really sucks” to “sucks slightly less.”

That means that without considering the HT-based rolls to resist Stun and Knockdown, Stay Conscious, or Not Die, you’re lookat at 13 points/level at the low end (no AP), or 20 points/level with the cost of Action Points and paying 10 per level for skills. If we split differences and indulge in pentaphilia, we get 15 points/level as a base cost.

Persistence of Action

There is yet another, and a very important, part of the HT attribute, which is the ability to persevere in the face of hardship. This includes HT rolls to keep running or avoid fatigue, but in most cases it will be the rolls you make to avoid getting stunned and/or knocked down in combat, to stay conscious and/or alive when wounded badly.

GURPS already gives pricing for bonuses to some of these via Advantages like Hard to Kill and Hard to
Subdue. However, first consider that there are two kinds of these rolls.

  • One-Time HT Checks: If you pass these, you’re OK. Keep acting. Death checks and stun/Knockdown checks.
  • Repeated Rolls: You have to do these every turn. Resisting certain spells (like the aforementioned Burning Death) or rolls to stay conscious each turn if you’re at negative HP.
One-Time Pricing

Well, this seems fairly straightforward. This is a combination of +1 to rolls to not die (Hard to Kill at 2 points per +1) and +1 to avoid Knockdown and Stunning (High Pain Threshold has 10 points for +3 to such rolls, or about 3 points/level). Boom, an extra 5 points/level for an equivalent bonus to HT.
Non-linear Impacts

A small mathematical digression. Both the one-time and repetitive pricing seems OK, perhaps, at first. The pricing is basically right there in the Characters book, and is all I have to do is note that Hard to Subdue is 2 points per level, and that’s it. Add ’em up. 20 points/level for HT at the low end of the scale, and as high as 27 points/level on the high end.
Thing is, it’s not quite that simple in play. You can look at HT rolls, especially the ones you have to make every round, in the inverse way: how many rolls can you make until you fail one?
For consciousness rolls, this question is “how many rounds of actual action can you do until you’re killed or eaten” in many worlds. So the non-linear nature of these rolls for HT from 10 through 16 (17 or 18 always fails, so it stops there) is key.
For death checks, you get into the “not dead until you hit auto-death at -5xHP” thing, which caps how many death checks you’ll really make. But how many rolls extra do you get?
Well, that many. 
So you can see the results in the HT scores of player interest are strongly non-linear. HT 11 is not that big of a deal. On the average, you get less than one extra roll before you’ll fail one. So booyah, you get one extra turn to act before you get KO’d, and you’ll pass one extra death check.
I actually look at the first as more important than the second. If you get KO’d, you’re out of the fight and if your side doesn’t win, you’ll face death at your foes’ whim.
Still, you can also look at it another way. You get effectively extra HP to keep fighting until auto-death sets in. Those are 2 points/level, and at 10 HP you could say that’s worth about 2 points x 10 HP x number of extra rolls. This maxes out at the number of increments from -HP to -5xHP, or about 40 HP for the ST 10 person, 50 for a ST 12 warrior, etc. 
I’d not do that, though, because you’re talking “extra HP that only work if you stay conscious.” So they’re rather heavily limited. 
The KO roll, though. That is valuable. It’s how many extra seconds (turns) you can stay fighting.

But how many points is an extra turn worth? Well, it’s potentially an attack and a defense per round, which would normally cost about 2 AP or 4 points. At minimum it’s probably a 2-point base for the equivalent of Hard to Subdue.

Cut to the Flippin’ Chase

The game value of higher HT might look like this:
Where HT 13, while costing 30 points by the Basic Set rules, is probably worth in excess of 70 points in terms of the additional oomph it gives characters. 
Why does it drop down so hard at the end? You’re out of the non-linear region, and you’re just buying a boost to avoid penalties. Maybe that says “20 points/level” for HT 17 and higher, since that does have value.
Would I price things like this? Um, no. But an increase to a flat value of a minimum of 20 (like DX and IQ) to an upper limit of around 30 points/level for HT seems to better reflect the game utility. If you want to simplify quite a bit, Fit is +1 to all HT rolls, plus the ability to recover FP twice as fast (!!). That would put HT at about 20 points/level, if we ignore recovering 10 FP in 50 minutes instead of 100 (both are “we have downtime, poof I’m not tired anymore). 

Back to Thumvar, the Dungeon Fantasy Knight. His HT 13 – not even extreme – allowed him to shake off the effects, turn by turn, of a pretty nasty spell. Characters with Supernatural Durability pay 150 points to be completely immune to shock, physical stun, and knockout. You have HPT included already. And you get to fight all the way down to -10xHP, all at once. And you can only be killed by a particular item.

So, perhaps that’s worth more – maybe 200-300 points (which seems like too many). Supernatural Durability is priced equivalently to HT 25, which according to the above chart would be a lower bound of about 275 points, so maybe not that off.
Or, no matter what math you want to play, diminishing returns sets in, and you shouldn’t price HT more than 20 or 25 points per level. 
Parting Shot
If HT is worth 20-30 points per level, aren’t DX and IQ, which give boosts to so many skills, worth even more? Possibly, possibly. 
Another time, perhaps.

21 thoughts on “The Price of Fitness

  1. Given that power pricing is fundamentally scetchy (ie, multiplicative vs addition modifiers– you decide!), I only look at the point values as a rough guide. And when I'm making a character, I'm more concerned about the idea I'm modeling than in the way GURPS models it.

    But yeah… GURPS points are not the same thing as Car Wars cost, BattleTech battle value, or Star Fleet Battles BPV.

    1. This is a good philosophy! My point here is mostly that I hear a lot of gamers talk about capping HT at pretty low levels in order to avoid behaviors like Thumvar displayed in both heroes and villains. That's probably good evidence that you're getting a pretty good deal. This was deliberate, though – in a "keep your characters alive" kinda way.

    2. Ah, yes… I see.

      So there's a perceived imbalance in the design system. This is reminiscent of the controversial nerfing of the ramplate rules in Car Wars. Some people are bitter about it to this day…!

      As a referee, I am content to work around known issues like this via templates, scenario ground rules, and campaign outlines. I think it is really tough to determine if the rules really need to be changed, even if "everyone" is using the same set of workarounds. From a design standpoint, I would avoid hyperfocusing… but look at a set of similar issues all at once. The real issue may be further upstream….

    3. I have been on a path in the last few months towards a general aversion to figured characteristics, and it's thought experiments like this one that reinforce it. We're already in a point-based system of character creation, so there's little reason not to simply divorce all of the secondary attributes, skills and the like from these primary stats.

    4. "My point here is mostly that I hear a lot of gamers talk about capping HT at pretty low levels in order to avoid behaviors like Thumvar displayed in both heroes and villains." Oh, that's interesting. My friends sometimes complain about GURPS, but high HT was never a case. They're more like "you've passed the 4th death check? Freaking awesome!" And the stat was only once the main attribute in my game. I also like my PCs alive, both as a player and as a GM, so I won't probably bother with HT cost before 5th edition.
      I do agree that breaking down HT to components is messy, but it's not really a problem because, you know… who buys down BS and FP? Not my players. As for Hard to Kill and Hard to Subdue, I prefer to buff them by removing the restriction to HT rolls, effectively separating them a bit from the attribute.

    5. It's cognitive dissonance due to the fact that we're holding on to what is at its core still just a tri-stat system.

      That is the thing that is most amusing about a game that is as developed, streamlined, and modernized as much as GURPS 4e is.

  2. There is a straightforward argument that ALL GURPS stats are good deals in terms of points for power: People making characters consistently [1] buy stats UP. If they were balanced with skills or other advantages, PCs would have a more bell-curvy distribution of attributes[2].

    This is probably deliberate. Part of our cultural perception of Action Heroes is "Tough, Smart, and Deadly" so encouraging PCs in that direction is good.

    [1] OK, it is not uncommon to have a dump stat or two in areas that the PC does not have any relevant links skills or abilities (or want low for characterization reasons). You might argue that without the skill/ability links, stats are close to correctly priced. (Although not HT – I have only ever seen hardcore role players and the completely GURPS clueless buy down HT.)

    [2] It is interesting to me that ST, which doesn't have much in the way of skill goodness, is the most commonly bought down stat.

    1. Henry Cobb used to talk about the IQ! pseudo-wildcard skill (i.e. IQ but with Will and Per bought down), for 10/level. Assuming you have the headroom in disadvantage limit to cover it, it rapidly becomes an extremely good deal for an IQ-based character. It's less true of DX! (DX without the Basic Speed, for 15 points). And there's some truth in the saying of one of my players that GURPS essentially has two character classes, DX and IQ, and learning cross-class skills is mostly inefficient.

      I'd like to see someone play an HT-based character, but the skill mix would be a pretty odd one. Body Control, Breath Control, Carousing, Flight, Hiking, Kiai, Lifting, Running, Sex Appeal, Singing, Skating, Skiing, Swimming. Layer on some reaction mods and get a super-fit social monster?

      Generally what I see PCs do in a long campaign is start by improving key skills, then after a bit switch over to saving for stat increases. (We generally end up with about 3 points given out per session, which is probably on the high side.) Magic confounds this, of course.

    2. The SJG Forums thread I link to in my post goes over this a bit for HT. Basically, while I think you can break ST down into it's parts reasonably well (5pts for Striking ST, 2 pts for HP, 3 pts for LIfting ST), doing so for the other stats gets painful pretty fast, and HT is actually more egregious than most. Even without my Action Points addition at 2 points/level, the concept of HT! as a pseudo-wildcard skill is arguably worth negative points – HT in RAW is already worth more than its component parts.

  3. I should note that this is also one of those highly situational things. If you get hit, shot, stabbed, flayed, and burned a lot in the course of adventuring, and thus often find yourself between 0 and -5xHP, the non-linear pricing will come up a lot, and be a game-driving thing. So in Dungeon Fantasy, Fantasy, and martial-artsy action/melee stuff, you'll probably get to this place a lot.

    In modern gun-based games, or blasters, you may or may not have this issue. With pistols, you probably do. With rifles, it's just Not That Hard to hit that -5xHP barrier (three bullets to the torso from an M16 will just about do it) and so the bimodality of "hale and robust" and "deader than hell" kicks in.

    1. Bingo. This is why you don't change the rules at the first smell of wonkiness. If HT is wonky in Dungeon Fantasy… then the question should be, what guidelines for maximum HT best suit the desired style of play and the requirements of niche protection by character class.

  4. As I noted in the first line of the post, I was more looking at the sources of non-linear behavior I've observed in the HT attribute. That players can stay up, alive, and IN THE GAME is, in my mind, worth the low price of HT and the wonkiness. I have been in games where dice variability (but not low stats) have kept me from doing anything effective all game (this was a few instances of Jeromy French's Pathfinder game, where the dice hated me with the fiery passion of a thousand suns). That was frustrating, largely because while I'm sitting at my desk gaming for two to four hours, I'm not writing, playing with my toddler, or interacting with my wife. Or exercising, yak shaving, or anything else.

    Last game, and another before it, the same player was reduced to rolling HT every turn (and mostly failing) to wake up from stun, for most of the combat – which took most of the game.

    Sure, "sucks to be him," and "that's just the way the dice go." But this is a game, and if fun is not had, unlike life, you can walk away. High HT for players keeps you IN THE GAME. That is fun.

    Too-high HT for monsters can be an issue because they Just. Won't. Die. Sometimes that's fun, often it's not.

  5. I wonder if a big part of the "problem" with high HT comes from the way HT 14-16 can allow characters to shrug off wounds indefinitely, at least on a combat time scale. Maybe we don't need to alter the pricing of HT, but those specific mechanics. For example, I recall an idea being tossed around on the forum that would replace the "roll every turn to stay conscious" with a single roll, with the margin of success dictating how long the character could act. So instead of HT 16 giving them effectively 50 extra turns of action, it would now give them just 6. That might be going too far in the other direction; maybe look up the MoS on the Speed/Range table, so MoS 0 gives 2 seconds of action, and MoS 6 gives 20 seconds.

    1. Simpler solution that still allows for heroic grit, and really reduces the number of rolls you do in play:

      The margin of success on HT roll to avoid unconsciousness is the number of turns you remain conscious and active while at 0 or less HP. If your effective consciousness roll decreases, roll again, with your remaining active time being the lower of the time you had remaining, or the time allowed by the new roll. Once that time is up, you fall unconscious, unless you can make a new consciousness roll, at a cummulative -1. To reset this penalty, you need to spend a number of minutes "doing nothing" equal to the total penalty to consciousness rolls accrued.

    2. Assuming average rolls, both result in results of "I get to stay up forever!" if HT is 16.

      20 seconds based on the S/R table or 21 seconds assuming an average of 10 on the dice in Kuroshima's version – that's a good deal longer than most fights take in the combat system as designed – easily alleviated by using Doug's Action Point system, but still.

  6. Let's not forget that the consciousness rolls DO become penalized the more damage you take. Unless I completely missed it, Doug was only doing an analysis on Death Checks, which are never penalized (and maybe that's a problem?).

    Even if you take no additional damage and have made the death checks, hovering at -3xHP, for example, is a -3 on consciousness checks. That takes even an effective HT 13 down to a mere 50% chance of staying up.

    Death checks are important, but I think the consciousness checks are more so. An analysis of those would be messier, because they change as you get injured, but they are far more common in almost all games compared to Death Checks (of which any single PC can only ever make 4 in a single combat without being healed of his wounds in between death checks).

  7. Also, a HT of 17 or 18 or higher is NOT pointless, precisely because KO rolls are modified the more damage you take. A HT of 18 has value because I STILL can only fail on a 17 or 18 even if I'm at -2xHP.

    1. I did forget that further KO checks are penalized; for some reason, I thought the only penalty was if you cross multiple thresholds at once.

      Assume that my calculations hold for 0 to -HP (which they do), but if you're in a continual injury mode (bleeding, or a certainty then the number of seconds you'll stay up goes down, but given the pace of GURPS combat, I have to wonder if it matters much. The marginal value of effective HT from 15+ is probably "the combat is over before you KO" in most cases. The difference between 20 turns and 50 turns of extra combat is probably in the "you stay conscious until you're dead" range. The largest penalty you will ever take to this roll is -4 ('cause at -5 you're dead)so I'd probably give a slight nod to HT to about 19, but again, I suspect the extra value is at the margins.

      Now, if you use The Last Gasp, with it's fairly large list of penalties to HT, and the longer combats it should provide due to the need to recover AP the marginal value of higher HT is probably more.

      In the end, while I think my little analysis shows mostly that HT is worth more than 10/level, I still think it's a valid design decision for the game to price it low. But then you run into bullcrap like HT!, where you buy down derived attributes. I'd almost rather, in that case, tell the PC: buy your HT at the lowest score you want. Buy UP everything from there.

      Either that, or just say "it's 25 points/level" instead of the current price. Then you run into the cost of DX and HT being "only" 20/level . . . but again, that's another story.

    2. I'd be comfortable to nudge it up some from 10/level, but not as far as 20 or 25 points/level. Obviously that settles it somewhere around 15/level – still clearly discounted for the purposes of Fun, but not /quite/ as aggressively.

      The flip side is HT below 10 – when it's only 10/level, players don't get NEARLY enough points back for buying down HT. The reward for the handicap is so microscopic that it's Not Done. It "breaks the game pattern", but I would be DEFINITELY comfortable with buying DOWN HT to be -25/level. I doubt players would do it often (any more than you see people ever actually take Cursed), but I think you'd actually see at least one person do it at least once in a while.

    3. At 15 points/level, one could say that (ignoring Action Points) the fixed costs are 8/level, the +1 to HT rolls is 5 points (like fit) and the skill costs are 2 points/level. Many don't take those anyway. So net/net, 15/level does exactly what you say: provide a "PCs don't die" discount without having too much incentive to invoke the broken "HT!" concept.

      My overall point of the post is mostly to expose the implications of the discount. If one slaps down a monster with HT 13 or something like that, odds are you're providing 70-75 points in combat value for what you might have thought was 30 points. In fact, though many would cringe, one could explicitly give the PCs a 'stay alive' discount.

      Hmm. I wonder what level of Luck would correspond to enough value to offset the ability to make failed HT rolls.

      I'm with you on the assymmetric give-back. The same way HT and Combat Reflexes are worth more than the sum of their parts, getting back points for HT needs to be attractive enough to motivate the sale.

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