Thursday, December 12, 2013

[Urbis] GURPS Rules of the Cold Frontier, Part I

As I have mentioned before, the rule system I will use for my Cold Frontier campaign will be GURPS. GURPS, as many of you will know, is a generic, universal role-playing system which allows you to create pretty much any character imaginable. But because the system is so extremely flexible, it requires firmer guidelines on what kinds of characters are appropriate for any given campaign. In many systems with more constrained character creation - such as level-and-class systems like D&D - pretty much any character you can build with the basic rule system is supposed to be "balanced", though you might still have to negotiate which character fills certain party "niches". Not so in GURPS - for instance, in a modern-day setting it would be completely feasible according to the rules to, say, buy 7 levels of the "Social Status" advantage and build the President of the United States as a player character - but this would not be an appropriate character for most modern-day campaigns, unless you are playing GURPS West Wing or GURPS Scandal or something.

Of course, it helps if you play with reasonable players, who know better than come up with wildly inappropriate character concepts. Still, it never hurts to give some good guidelines on what kinds of characters are appropriate for the campaign, and I wrote up several short documents to that effect. As these are in German, I won't post them here but instead give a summary of the major points - and also included are some house rules which the players felt strongly about due to prior experiences with GURPS. Hopefully, these guidelines will provide a good example of what kind of campaign preparation is useful for GURPS campaigns, as well as give some insight into the campaign itself.

Character Creation

Characters start with 150 character points, with up to 50 additional points from disadvantages and 5 points from quirks. To create valid character concepts, the players should keep the following in mind:
  • Each player character needs to be able to contribute something to the wilderness exploration of the first campaign arc, whether practical survival knowledge, fighting ability, or knowledge skills which help with evaluating which resources will be useful for later exploitation.
  • Each player character also needs to be able to take over some position of responsibility in the later colony, whether administrative, diplomatic, or defense-oriented.
  • Each player character also must want to join the expedition and later take on such a position of responsibility. They don't necessarily need to share the profit motive of the Far Shores Trading Company, but they need some reasons for joining such a profit-oriented venture.
  • The player characters need to be able to be more or less "presentable" to NPCs. That doesn't mean that they all need to be expert diplomats, but obvious monsters or sociopaths are right out.

Secondary Characteristics

Player characters (and certain "important NPCs") start out with twice the normal number of hit points (that is, STx2). The players wanted this because they felt that normal GURPS characters are too fragile and get their limbs broken too often.

There is also no limit on how many extra hit points and fatigue points the characters can buy.

Social Background

The Tech Level of the setting is TL3+2 - that is, tech development until the local equivalent of the Middle Ages was similar to that of Earth, but then this world started to use magic and magic items as a form of technology until they reached a level roughly similar to the late 19th century.

The following "cultures" are campaign-relevant for the purpose of the Cultural Familiarity advantage: Flannish Cities (the "default" human culture where the Far Shores Trading Company comes from), Elvish, Hobgoblin, Dwarvish, Coastal Tribes of Nardhome, and Inland Tribes of Nardhome.

As for languages, all player characters start with Common. As Common is an extremely easy language to learn - in fact, suspiciously easy to learn - all player characters start with proficiency in Common for free. Humans and those who have grown up in or near the Flannish Cities also start with a human regional language (the local equivalents of English, German, and Dutch). Other languages include Nardhome-Flannish (the debased language of the Inland Tribes), Inquat (language of the Coastal Tribes), Elvish, Dwarfish, Goblin, Sylvan, Draconic, Atalan (a "classical" language similar to Latin), Aklo (a prehuman language whose spoken form is unknown, though some groups have invented on), Celestial, Infernal, and Qlippothic (the language of demons).

Wealth and Influence

Starting Wealth is $5000, which represents silver pieces. Gold and copper pieces exist as well, using the standard D&D conversion rates of 1 gold piece = 10 silver pieces = 100 copper pieces - though bank notes are usually used for larger sums of money. Later on, once the colony is founded, the player characters get 10 character points to increase their Wealth level, as well as a "wage" representing their income as colonial administrators, as described in the GURPS Basic Set, page 517 - which not only represents a direct wage but also secondary incomes from investments, bribes, etc.. This may encourage player characters to increase their Wealth after character creation, which is an entirely indended effect. They may further supplement their revenue with Independent Income.

Apart from clarifying the Status table for Urbis, I've also introduced Merchant Rank for the Far Shores Trading Company. The PCs get Rank 1 ("Associate") for free and once they become colonial administrators they get Rank 2 ("Senior Associate") while the Colonial Governor gets Rank 3 ("Factor").


The Social Stigma disadvantage needs special mention. While the society of Urbis is based on the late 19th century, which also includes a strong element of sexism, not everyone wants to deal with that in a game. Thus, for female player characters the Social Stigma (Second Class Citizen) is optional. If the character has it, then that represents permission for the GM to introduce sexism against that player character, but if the character lacks it, she will be accepted as equal by most NPCs. Likewise, for non-human members of the so-called "Civilized Races" the disadvantage is also optional. This includes the following races:
Dragonborn, Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, Halfling, Half-orcs, Hobgoblin, Human, and Sidhe. More exotic player characters will usually have a -5 point Social Stigma, though more extreme Social Stigmas are inappropriate for the campaign.


To help the players identify useful skills for their characters, I've provided three lists of skills. The first one represents "Survival" skils useful for, well, surviving in the wilderness, the second one includes Knowledge skills which gives them a better understanding of the world around them, and the final list are Colonial skills useful for running the colony. Especially useful skills are listed in bold.

Survival: Animal Handling, Armoury, Boating, Camouflage, Carpentry, Climbing, Cooking, Diagnosis, First Aid, Fishing, Hiking, Leatherworking, Merchant, Meteorology, Naturalist, Navigation (Land), Observation, Packing, Physician, Riding, Search, Skiing, Stealth, Survival (Arctic, Mountain, Plains, Swampland, Woodlands), Swimming, Tactics, Tracking, Traps, Veterinary.

Knowledge: Alchemy, Anthropology, Achaeology, Architecture, Area Knowledge, Biology (Terrestrial, Extraterrestrial, Ultraterrestrial), Cartography, Chemistry, Expert Skill (Military Science, Political Science, Thanatology, Xenology), Farming, Forensics, Geography, Geology, Hidden Lore, History, Linguistics, Occultism, Paleontology, Physics, Prospecting, Research, Sociology, Writing

Colonial: Accounting, Administration, Criminology, Cryptography, Current Affairs, Detect Lies, Economics, Engineer, Finance, Intelligence Analysis, Interrogation, Law, Leadership, Market Analysis, Politics, Propaganda, Public Speaking, Savior-Faire (Military and High Society), Soldier, Strategy, Streetwise.

Racial Templates

Fortunately, I had already started on a D&D to GURPS Conversion at the GURPS Repository months ago, and since Urbis is largely based on D&D, I could just copy most of the racial templates I had created earlier. This included the templates for Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Half-Elves, Halflings, Half-Orcs, and Hobgoblins. That left the racial templates for Dragonborn (from D&D 4E), and Sidhe ("High Elves" imbued with the power of Faerie - originally based on the Eladrin of D&D 4E but with some alterations). To accomodate the wishes of two players, I also added templates for the Pathfinder races Catfolk and Nagaji, with the former being directly lifted from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 3 - The Next Level.

Dragonborn (47 points)

Attribute Modifiers: ST +1 [10]; HT +1 [10].
Advantages: Dragon Breath [12]. Rapid Healing (Very Rapid) [15].

Pick one of the following breath weapons:

Acid Jet: Corrosive Attack 1d+1 (Jet, +0%, Costs Fatigue 2, -10%) [12].
Acid Cone: Corrosive Attack 1d (Cone, 5 yards max, +50%; Reduced Range 1/5, -20%; Costs Fatigue 2, -10%) [12].
Fire Jet: Burning Attack 2d+2 (Jet, +0%, Costs Fatigue 2, -10%) [9].
Fire Cone: Burning Attack 2d (Cone, 5 yards max, +50%; Reduced Range 1/5, -20%; Costs Fatigue 2, -10%) [12].
Frost Jet: Crushing Attack 2d+2 (Jet, +0%; Costs Fatigue 2, -10%) [9].
Frost Cone:  Crushing Attack 2d (Cone, 5 yards max, +50%; Reduced Range 1/5, -20%; Costs Fatigue 2, -10%) [12].
Lightning Jet: Burning Attack 2d+2 (Jet, +0%, Costs Fatigue 2, -10%) [12].
Lightning Cone: Burning Attack 2d (Cone, 5 yards max, +50%; Reduced Range 1/5, -20%; Costs Fatigue 2, -10%) [12].
Poison Jet: Toxic Attack 3d+1 (Jet, +0%, Costs Fatigue 2, -10%) [12].
Poison Cone: Toxic Attack 2d+1 (Cone, 5 yards max, +50%; Reduced Range 1/5, -20%; Costs Fatigue 2, -10%) [12].

Additional breath weapons may be purchased as Alternate Attacks for [3] points each. Dragonborn of mixed heritage may purchase breath weapons of up to two different types (such as Frost or Lightining).

The maximum cost for the breath weapon was based on my personal house rule for Innate Attacks in fantasy campaigns - no more than 1 CP in the most expensive Innate Attack for each 12.5 CPs the character is worth. Thus, 150 point starting characters may put up to 12 CPs in an Innate Attack.

Furthermore, Dragonborn may embrace their draconic heritage and purchase additional Advantages as their bodies change. This includes the following:

Claws, Dark Vision, Flight (Gliding or Winged), Night Vision, Teeth.

They may purchase a "Dragonborn Talent" for 5 CP/level which adds to all rolls involving the innate abilities of their race.

Sidhe (60 points)

Attribute Modifiers: DX +1 [20]; IQ +1 [20]; HT -1 [-10].
Secondary Characteristic Modifiers: Per +1 [5], HP -1 [-2].
Advantages: Charisma 2 [10]; Extended Lifespan 4 [8], Less Sleep 4 [8], Magery 1 [15], Night Vision 3 [3], Resistant (Immunity to supernatural “sleep” effects) [5], Resistant (+3 versus supernatural charm effects) [2].
Disadvantages: Dependency (Mana; Very Common; Daily) [-15], Vulnerability (Cold Iron; Rare; x2) [-10].
Perks: Trance instead of sleep [1].

Nagaji (10 points)

Attribute Modifiers: ST +1 [10]; IQ -1 [-20].
Secondary Characteristic Modifiers: Per +3 [15].
Advantages: Damage Resistance 1 [5].

Some Nagaji have learned how to spit a mild poison which can blind their opponents:
Blinding Spray (+170%): Affliction 1 (HT; Blindness, +50%; Jet, +0%; Limited Use, 4 Uses Per Day, -20%; Reduced Range, ×1/2, -10%; Vision-Based, +150%) [27].

Some Nagaji also develop a strong talent for hypnosis. This is represented by either an Affliction (Incapacitation, usually with Daze) or Mind Control. The "Sense-Based (Vision)"-Limitation is mandatory, and anything more complex than putting the victim into a trance requires verbal commands, which gives it the Nuisance Effect (Obvious) Limitation. The "Suggestion" Limitation from GURPS Powers, p. 61 is also common.

Coming up: The rules for magic in the Cold Frontier campaign!

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