GURPS 101: Guest Blogger GEF talks Social Traits Part 2 of 4

This is a guest blog column by Geoffrey Fagan. He doesn’t have a blog himself, but participated regularly in the GURPS Forums under the username GEF.
Social Traits
GURPS addresses social traits in its game mechanics, comprehensively, in a couple of ways: Those traits that establish existing relationships, and “Reaction Modifiers” that affect the formation of new ones. No matter how great your PC is on paper, the real secret to “power” gaming is your ability to influence the plot, and to do that, you need to have some traction in the setting. That’s what social traits get you.  

Part II: Relationships
Usually, a player
creates his character, and the GM creates everything else, but certain traits
on a character sheet allow a player to take a step into the GM’s domain. By
defining relationships for his character, the player requires that certain NPCs
exist in the setting. As a rule of thumb, think of three relationships for a
starting character’s backstory: Family members, old school chums, the bully who
beat you up, maybe a former mentor. Even a deceased relation can provide a plot
hook, but living relations may be may be represented as traits on your
character sheet
If you have an
existing relationship with another character, then he might be your Patron,
Ally, Dependent, Enemy, or Contact, or if he’s just an old friend, perhaps a
Claim to Hospitality. A single individual can justify more than one of these
traits. If you’re a spy, and you work with a spy for another country, he could
become your friend and yet work against you on a future mission where the
interests of your countries diverge. At least he’ll apologize before he shoots
you. All of these traits require interaction with the GM, for the player
proposes, but ultimately the GM decides, and while it is traditional to let a
player run his character’s Allies, especially in a fight, the GM is free to
co-opt control of any NPC. The decision to do so is ultimately helpful to
players, because it puts their characters in the spotlight.
A sidekick is an Ally
less powerful than you are. For 9 points, he’ll be pretty good, though (75% as
good as you), and he can hang around most of the time (95%). That’s good enough
to be an honorary party member, and he can augment your character with skills
that you can’t afford for yourself. Maybe you’re a cowboy and good with a gun,
and your ally is a half-breed Indian with good Stealth. Even if his skill-set
is similar to your own, it never hurts to have a capable pal watch your back,
and bandage you up if you live through the fight. If your Ally is a loved one,
maybe your little brother, you actually get points back for having him as a
dependent, too! Add the value of Ally and Dependent together to determine the
net cost of the relationship, and that’s what counts against your campaign
limit on disadvantages.
Allies need not be
human. That same cowboy could have a horse as an ally, and that’s the best way
to model a horse with unusual intelligence, training, and loyalty. In a fantasy
campaign, a witch’s familiar is an Ally, and it makes her eligible for a steep
discount on supernatural advantages (Granted by Familiar, 40% off).
A more powerful
character is probably a Patron instead of an Ally, though the defining
difference is the nature of the relationship, not the point cost. An Ally is
there with you in the thick of the action, whereas a Patron helps you out with a
job offer, vouchsafe, supplies, or maybe an extraction when your exfiltration
goes awry. Pay careful attention to the various modifiers that go into the cost
of the advantage: One of the best is to cover the cost (and licensing) of
special equipment. Kit for a medieval knight is expensive, and they two ways to
get it are with Wealth (or some variation, like Signature Gear) or a Patron.
The latter provides a better plot hook, though. Remember that a patron with
money, position, and supernatural powers is of no use if you can’t reach him.
The Patron advantage
is very flexible, for it can model anything from a parent who helps out with
tuition or a senior officer who shepherds your career, to a god from whom you
can call down curses upon your enemies. In the latter form, it’s the ultimate
super power, though quite expensive. Patrons typically come with a duty, though
it’s not mandatory, and you can even have a Secret Patron who helps you for
reasons unknown.
Contacts are
specifically defined as sources of information, the iconic example being a
cop’s snitch. GURPS is somewhat plastic, though, and variants that involve
specific services probably qualify, such as a black marketeer. He doesn’t give
you illegal guns – that’d take a Patron – but if you have the cash, he can set
up the buy. Contacts who capable, ready, and discrete are quite expensive, but
that’s okay, because a less-than-ideal Contact is actually a better vehicle for
driving drama in the story, and that’s the point of the game, after all. Remember
that Contacts are a mutual relationship. Usually thequid pro quo happens
off camera, but the GM is well-justified in using a Contact to start an
adventure or add a complication.
Claim to Hospitality
is the cheapest way to represent a friend, a single point, a perk. Most
realistic characters have at least one! The benefit spelled-out in the rule is
a place to crash, but don’t get wrapped up in that. With merchant house as a
specific example, it should at least extend to introductions to people known to
your host, a guide to the city, or any comparably minor favor. In modern times
it would include access to such conveniences as a phone, computer, and car (if
only when the host is not using them). Remember, you have the claim on a person,
not a rule, and he can do what a person could do, albeit not an adventurous
person (because then he’d be an Ally). Influence skills are appropriate to
determine just how much help you can get, hopefully with a bonus because this
guy’s already your friend, right? Just don’t wear out your welcome.
Dependents are Allies,
but so weak or so dear that they represent a net disadvantage in game terms
(though I would say that a loving, happy family is a net positive in real
life). The big advantage of this disadvantage is that you can get points for it
without being crazy or crippled, and simultaneously you provide the GM with a
plot hook to get you involved. He needn’t threaten Dependents directly; he may
just be able to start an adventure when your character goes to pick up the kids
from school, or leverage a husband’s desire to do well by his wife as
motivation to get involved with a high-stakes venture.
And that brings us to
Enemy, the best bargain in the game! Combat Reflexes gives you lots of benefits
for just 15 points, and attributes make you better at lots of skills, but Enemy
puts your character right in the spotlight and gives you
points back! Yes, your Enemy may hate you, but having one makes you important.
The enemies of your Enemy become your friends. The best Enemy is actually a
variant, a Rival, someone who isn’t trying to kill you, just to outshine you.
He’ll provoke the best from you in turn. If you reciprocate the animosity, that
may suggest another advantage, like Obsession. A Rival can also be an Ally, the
kind with a base cost of 5, because he’s never a mere sidekick. This is an
especially interesting relationship fraught with real role-playing opportunity,
and as with an Ally-Dependent, apply the net cost of the relationship against
the campaign limit for disadvantages. (While an Enemy need not be human, if the
whole universe is out to get you, look at Divine Curse instead.)
Scaling Up
Patron and Enemy both
can represent groups large and small, but what determines the value of these
traits is power, of which the membership roster is only one aspect. Claim to
Hospitality is built to scale into levels that don’t require specifying every friend,
so if you’re the popular kid at school, or a salesman who’s built up an
extensive base of customers who’ll take his call, just spend 5 to 10 points on
Claim to Hospitality. You can’t count more than a couple of Dependents, but
Contact and Ally scale up to groups with a caveat: To be eligible for the bulk
rate discount, they all have to be the same.

However, there’s a
trick you can play with Ally Group, if your GM permits it. Since this is a
primer, I won’t dwell on the mechanism, but in short it’s Cosmic Modular
Ability with an Accessibility limitation worth -80%: Individual Ally Can’t
Reallocate. Build your allies mostly the same, but reserve some number of
points, say 20%, for personal traits. For 50-point Allies, that’d be 10 points.
Then, divide that number by 2, and each of the mostly-similar Allies can have a
personal touch, worth 5 points in this case. One might have Absolute Direction,
and another might be emotionally Sensitive, and another might be a decent
(IQ+2) Carpenter and dabble (IQ-1) in artistic Woodworking. 

2 thoughts on “GURPS 101: Guest Blogger GEF talks Social Traits Part 2 of 4

  1. Thanks for the encouragement, Jason, but alas my output is too sporadic. The GURPS forum is a great place to post what output I do generate…but a lousy place to find it. What made the GURPS 101 invitation so appealing is the index. Write once, read many. What a concept!

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