July 8, 2012: You Might Have A Point There
With the release of GURPS Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys, players have more things than ever to spend their bonus character points on! There are so many new options, in fact, that the GM might need to revisit how these points are handed out in the first place.
Why They Earn Points (and How Many)
GURPS Campaigns recommends giving out 0-5 points each session, for good roleplaying and successfully advancing the mission -- both reasonable criteria. But there are other benchmarks the GM can use, depending on the tone and style of the game (see How They Earn Points, below), and different ways to use them:
When They Earn Points
The frequency with which points are given can make a noticeable impact on game play. In all cases, this is distinct from how many points are given per session, which is discussed above.
The End Reward: The GM makes a note of how many points each player earns per session, but waits until the end of the adventure and then awards it all at once. This has the advantage of tempering impulsive players who might not normally save up for large "purchases" (e.g., +1 to an attribute). It also encourages them to spend points during downtime, which is often more realistic.
Session Awards: The GM bestows bonus points at the end of each session. Because this keeps a steady supply of points coming, the players are more likely to take advantage of Impulse Buys. As well, it encourages incremental progress: raising a skill (instead of an attribute) or adding a perk (instead of an advantage). Such growth might not be as realistic as points spent during downtime, but it feels more natural.
Instant Gratification: The GM gives the player a bonus point when he does something really appropriate -- right on the spot. This can add a real sense of excitement to the game, especially if the GM brings poker chips or beads and tosses them across the table with a grin. It can also encourage players to spend bonus points because "I'm sure I can earn another one!" The biggest issue is inflation -- it's easy for the GM to get so into these rewards that he gives out 15-20 character points instead of 0-5. It's also easy to focus on flashy moments, ignoring the PCs who quietly work to make real progress in the game. (In particular, don't reward a player just because he rolls a critical success. That's luck, not roleplaying.)
How They Earn Points
There are an infinite number of ways to roleplay; this list represents some common campaign styles. The style doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the character types or their goals. Instead, it says something about the tone – the way the game is meant to be played. Each lists the types of things that should earn the player bonus points. The GM should choose a style (or two, or more!) that encourages the type of game he wants to run. For example, a noir game might work well with both Challenges and Relationships, but not Comedy or Style.
Action!: Acting with a minimum of planning. Keeping the pacing fast and furious. Doing something to spur the party when they get bogged down in a long discussion.
Austerity: Minimizing bystander casualties. Covering up a secret. Coming up with the perfect plan. Taking a brilliant tactical action. (This and Action! rarely get along.)
Challenges: Having bad things happen to you that weren't of your own making. The GM gives players bonus points proportionate to the amount of uncalled-for pain he inflicts. (Ideally, the player can then use those points to deal with it!) Disadvantages have already given their extra points, and never generate more.
Comedy: Making everyone laugh. Putting humor before success. Intentionally misunderstanding something important because it's funny.
Melodrama: Taking a minor problem seriously even if you could have just let it go. Exploring your PC's angst and issues. Possibly overacting (overACTing!) but this doesn't have to be silly -- real drama fits as well.
Relationships: Learning more about the history or life of an important NPC (e.g., Ally, Dependent, or Contact). Bringing your relationship into the spotlight or putting it ahead of mission success.
Style: Doing something over-the-top and flashy even when more practical means might have worked better. Working your trademarks and catchphrases into the game without making them annoying. Being cooler than everyone else around you.
Do You Get The Point?
By varying why, when, and how players can rack up bonus points, character awards can be tailored to the game at hand, rather than being a fixed institution. Your Monster Hunters games will feel like epic battles against secret evil when the poker chips are flying across the table, and your Tactical Shooting SWAT teammates will be more likely to think their actions through when the extra character points this earns buy them a necessary bit of luck. Just one more way that GURPS puts control in your hands.
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