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.
Part III: Reaction Modifiers
When you can’t do it on your own, you ask for help and roll on the Reaction Table. This is the one time in GURPS, other than damage, when you want to roll high! To understand how this works, understand the table: It’s on page 560 of the Basic Set (Campaigns). You’re looking for at least 10, for 9 means no help, and 6 or less could create a hindrance. Even a 10 means the best you can hope for is directions to the nearest gas station.
13 is a Good reaction. People are pleasant, but that’s it. The merchant still sells at list price, but he gives you service with a smile.
16 is Very Good. Now that merchant actually gives you a discount. The cop lets you off with a warning.
19 is Excellent. Half price. The bandits who ambushed you let you go and apologize. If you ask for help, they help in every way within their power. That bears repeating: Every way within their power.
Now as you may infer from that last entry, Reaction Rolls take modifiers that can push the result above 18 (or below zero). Some of these modifiers are situational, but some are permanent features of your character sheet. If you have a Reaction Modifier of +6 (a Beautiful Appearance), then a quarter of the merchants you meet will sell at half price. If there are 4 merchants in town, the odds are high that at least one of them will.
The general rule for reaction modifiers is that they cost 5 points per level. That’s what Charisma is, a generic reaction modifier, independent of circumstances. You’ve got it – whatever “it” may be. The opposite of Charisma is an Odious Personal Habit, which can be something specific (like excessive vulgarity), but it doesn’t have to be. Your character can be generically creepy just as his opposite number is generically cool.
Appearance and Voice act like Charisma with slight limitations (vision- and hearing-based respectively). With a good voice (or disturbing one), the discount is not evident; that’s because it’s balanced by a modifier to certain skills as well as reaction rolls. In a campaign with alien sapience or fantasy races, Appearance may not provide universal benefit, but it always applies with members of your own species. Past the first positive level, Appearance is half off because it only applies to members of the opposite sex (or who play for the other team). Fashion Sense is a level of Appearance with a transferable benefit, and it comes in a perk-level version (from Power-Ups 2): Looks Good in Uniform. Negative Reaction Modifiers count against the campaign limit for disadvantages, so while it may be interesting to play the Ugly guy with a lovely Voice, you wind up with a net neutral Reaction Modifier but still count 8 points against the limit.
Other sources of Reaction Modifiers are Status and Social Regard (culture-wide) and Rank (organization-wide), discussed in Part I, and Reputation, which is based on your personal legend and not that of the group to which you belong. If your character has a Reputation for competence in his field, that’s included in the Talent that makes him so capable. While the special effects differ, Reaction Modifiers are mostly fungible for game purposes. Whether people like you because of your looks or title, they still help you.
The degree to which people help depends in part on your roll, but also on their ability, and how much it costs them. Answering questions costs them nothing, so they’ll do that with even a moderately good Reaction Roll. In other words, information wants to be free, so a good Reaction Modifier can be as useful as a Contact.
As the example of Appearance illustrates, Reaction Modifiers can be conditional. Beauty always is, and Reputation usually is. A modifier which affects only some Reaction Rolls is cheap, and as with an Ally-Dependent, a rep which gets you a bonus from some folks and a penalty from others counts its net value against the campaign limit for disadvantages. That brings us to the point of this article. If everyone despises you, that is a crippling disadvantage, and you might as well make a character with HT 7. However, if some people like you and some don’t, that’s cheap overall, yet almost as beneficial as if everyone likes you! You may not be able to get help from just anyone, but you can always get help from someone.
Characters with mixed reaction modifiers are quite believable. Imagine a Triad enforcer in old San Francisco. He’s a member of a minority (Social Stigma) and has a Reputation that gives him a +2 bonus in Chinatown and a like penalty with the cops. Such a rep is a mere perk if he’s recognized half the time. About town, he’s scorned (Reactions -2), but among his own people, he’s respected and feared (Reactions +4 when recognized). He might get thrown out of the fancy stores downtown, but he can always get a good deal nearer the docks.
What Reaction Modifier do you want? A review of the Reaction Roll table suggests some breakpoints:
Instead of Appearance, take a Talent at level 4, for minimum cost 35 points with Charisma +3. Now, you get +4 to several skills, and +7 to reactions from the people with whom you deal most often. From others, you rarely experience a Bad reaction, and you get a Good reaction half the time. This is an excellent build for a leader in his field, and if that justifies a couple levels of Rank, which comes with a level of Status, it alleviates the need for one level of Charisma, net cost 40 points. Even for a 100-point character, this is quite affordable, as the Talent makes for impressive skill levels. Since a highly skilled professional can make a lot of money, the concept can extend to Wealthy, providing another level of Status, obviating another level of Charisma, net cost 55. Now that’s a big chunk of points, but it gets you a character with +4 in certain skills, +3 to +8 for reaction rolls, plenty of his own money and access to the resources of an organization. Not bad. Remember that when you have discretion over whom to ask for help, you can choose someone with whom your larger Reaction Modifier applies, in this example preferably someone in your own organization.
+4 means that you never suffer worse than a Poor reaction, so some folks are rude but none are violent. Most of the time, you’ll get a Good reaction, meaning that the people around you are pleasant and you don’t get ripped off, and they answer your questions accurately if not thoroughly. Every once in a while, you’ll meet someone who’ll do everything in his power to help. This is a good level to shoot for with any character, at least on a conditional basis, arguably the best bang for the buck, and you can get it from a single advantage (Appearance, Reputation, Talent). Of course, a fitting Talent may be worth the cost for its skill bonuses alone, but don’t overlook the way its Reaction Modifier can make life easier.
+1 means you’ll never suffer Very Bad reactions, let alone a Disastrous one, and most of the time, you’ll get at least Neutral. If you have 4 points left over, buy Attractive. Conversely, with -1, you’ll still manage a Neutral or better reaction half the time, so it’s not crippling. With -3, you’ll suffer a Poor reaction (or worse) most of the time, and that is crippling if it’s not a conditional penalty. If you’ve reached that point, you may as well pile on more!