In the past, I’ve done posts on the meaning and value of skills, both for ranged and melee combat. When chatting with my fellow GURPS bloggers, for some reason we hit on going through the basic attributes and their derived abilities, and commenting.

This is the start of a multi-blog series on the basic and secondary attributes in GURPS. If you’re new to the system, what are some things you’ll want to think about? If you really want some good stuff, go visit +Peter V. Dell’Orto‘s entry for this GURPS 101 subject – his extensive experience with DF gaming, where the templates and power-ups encourage a lot of variation in ST (and monsters! don’t forget monsters!) makes for better insights as to breakpoints and the value of HP, especially. 


Look for other GURPS 101 discussions of ST and HP at . . . 


Ravens N’ Pennies: GURPS 101: Mass and Power – What ST/HP Means To My Players
Dungeon Fantastic: Strength and Hit Points
RPG Snob: GURPS 101: An overview of Strength


Still, here were my own notes on the subject:

This week, we’re talking ST and HP.

The Value of ST


In lower tech games, ST is pretty much awesome, I think. It’s inexpensive at 10 points per level. And it gives you several things.

Damage: people love to focus on this one, and indeed, Striking ST is 5 points per level, and is basically buying extra points of damage. So that’s super-cool, right? Half the value, right there?

We’ll get back to it.

The other two things ST gets you in the usual breakdown are Lifting ST (3/level) and HP (2/level). We’ll cover HP later, so I’ll come back to that.

Lifting ST is interesting. Canonically, it buys encumbrance. If you use The Deadly Spring, it also gets you the ST used to draw bows and span crossbows, while if you also use Technical Grappling, Lifting ST is your Grappling ST, the figure used to do Trained ST. And since Trained ST/Lifting ST give control points (another variant on damage, but for restraining people), this is also good.

It’s thrust-based, though, where striking ST is often able to do swung damage, so it’s just better from that perspective.

Lifting ST, and the encumbrance it buys, is the unsung hero, I think, of lower TL games. Your Lifting ST 16 lugnut has basic lift of just over 50 lbs. That means he can stack up 50 lbs of gear and be unencumbered, at full Move and Dodge. Our ST 10, BL 20 lb. guy? That same 50-lbs of gear has him at Medium encumbrance, or -2 to Dodge and 0.6xMove.

So for 18 points worth of Basic Lift (and yes, you probably can’t just go buy that straight-up), you have just avoided something like 30 points of dodge penalty (+1 to Dodge being 15/level) and +2 to Move (worth 10 points). And since that 50 lbs (or double down, and make it 100 lbs, which would be Heavy encumbrance (3) at ST 10, but Light (1) at ST 16) is likely something like “a weapon and 45 lbs of armor and shield” the value of that ST is pretty clear.

In fact, when playing Cadmus, my Warrior Saint, I find the mobility loss especially is nice to avoid, because with the relatively frantic pace of GURPS combat, it keeps you in the fight, actually having fun, rather than plodding along hoping that by the time you get to the bad guys, it’s not all over.

So at least to me, the more ST the merrier at TL 0-4 at least, especially if you pair that with enough delving skill or Wealth to survive to afford 90 lbs of armor (Cadmus sports DR 12 on his head, neck, and torso, and DR 9 everywhere else. It weighs about 84 lbs, requiring ST 14.5 to have him at light encumbrance, and ST 20.5 to have him at No Encumbrance. He has ST 14 at the moment, so a 3-point spend on Lifting ST (or just find another +1 to ST somewhere) would be well worth it (actually, you’d want to push it up a bit so that you can carry all your fight gear).

At higher TLs, damage tends to be deprecated at melee, because, well guns. When you can toss out 5d or more a few times per second, at range, well, ST doesn’t seem to mean as much.

I’m not sure that’s right, though. If you look at The Modern Warrior’s Combat Load , the minimum weight a soldier heads to a fight with is about 60-70 lbs. You need ST 13 to hump that (and the full load is over 120 lbs) and being able to run around while being shot at (or near) is still important. And (thanks to +David Pulver ) it wasn’t any better in WW2, either.

That brings me to the other side of the ST coin, which is . . .

Hit Points


I’m of two minds about HP. I almost always just leave it where it is. I know one of +Peter V. Dell’Orto‘s players has bought his HP up to 25 or so.

Thinking about it, though, someone with that many HP can take 16 HP before flirting with the HP/3 loss of secondary attributes. That’s more damage than Cadmus can take before he’s playing “try to stay standing a second at a time,” and 16 HP is an average roll on 3d+5/4d+2. That’s a lot, and against more mundane foes, that might swing for 2d+2 or so, you can take a few shots (even out of armor) before you hit death spiral territory.

The death spiral in GURPS is real, and a true “feature” of the game, so avoiding it is a good idea. I haven’t played enough high-end DF to experience HP higher than ST by more than +3/30%, though, so I’m not the best to comment.

Parting Shot


All in all, I think my call here is “ST is awesome, buy lots of it at TL0-4. At TL 6+ when you’re dealing with decent guns raher than swords and spears, buy half as much.”

For HP, I’d probably ignore them unless you can exceed the normal extra, like in a game like DF. In that case, they’re good . . . but HT is probably better.

9 thoughts on “GURPS 101: ST and HP

  1. HT is better than HP, for the most part. The only time I advise players to buy PCs HP up is when they have ST 16+ so they can get to 20 HP, a very useful breakpoint for healing effects.

    1. Depends on your HP, though. Going from HT 11 to 12 increases the average amount of damage before a failed death check by 17%. Going from HP 6 to 7 will do the same thing (and costs 2 instead of 10, but it's competing with hard to kill, not HT). Efficiency of HT also drops off at the top end because of the -5xHP limit.

    2. Avoiding crippling from having high HP is great.
      Avoiding shock penalties is great, if you haven't bought High Pain Threshold yet (and why haven't you? Shame on you if you're building a meatslab!)
      It tends to actually come out in the wash as far as slamming and such goes (especially when you look at falling damage), but it's worth noting. It also resists knockback from other really big sacks of meat, so don't sneer.

      Frankly, once you're about HT 15 (Effective), buying more HT isn't nearly as useful as stacking on more and more and more HP 🙂

      (Why yes, I did play a giant minotaur berserker. Lots of HP helps you avoid berserk checks too, since that's based on fraction of HP…)

  2. Just would like to add that ST actually is very handy in high TL settings as well. I've been GMing a modern TL8 counter-terrorists military-style campaign for a few years, and all I can say is that, after a few hits of added encumbrance whenever they needed the heavy weapons, carrying a wounded party member, or just not suffer that penalty to Dodge (which when you got to dodge bursts of machine gun fire that penalty can make all the difference), my players stopped improving skills and other traits and right away spent all their future earned points to raise ST and Lifting ST to the maximum I allowed in the campaign.

    They tweaked on that idea after the grappler in the team increased her Lifting ST to maximum when I incorporated Technical Grappling, and all saw the effects it had on her Move, Dodge, what she could carry, etc. So they all duplicated that choice.

    1. I alluded to that, perhaps not strongly enough, when I linked through to the amount of weight that our US Soldiers carry even into battle. I personally find that the reduction in Move even from medium encumbrance crippling (or at least really, really annoying) in a melee fight at TL3/DF, and if a squad of PCs can't stand and fight, but MUST close on an objective, you'll be rate limited by your load and ST.

    2. Information about Roman loadouts suggests ~50-70 lbs is basically "it" throughout history, as a baseline. Adjust of course according to local conditions, availability of portable food, pack animals, special circumstances blah blah blah. And whether your military uses batteries. Shudder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *