Help Me Understand the GURPS Design Perspective

pemerton

Legend
On that note have you seen the Sentinels Comics RPG? It's as close to a streamlined Marvel Heroic 2e as there is ever going to be.
Sorry, no, don't know it (other than the references in this thread).

GURPS runs on a linear scale for damage as stats increase, MHRP runs on a logarithmic one.
In a loose sense, I guess that's true. For instance, for Strength (p OM85):

* Enhanced Strength d8 allows you to turn over cars, break through solid barriers, and bend ordinary iron bars.

* Superhuman Strength d10 allows you to lift and throw vehicles, smash through stone and metal, and tear apart most barriers.

* Godlike Strength d12 confers the power to hurl objects into orbit, push over tall buildings, and demolish most structures.​

But there's more to it than that. (As I'm sure you know. But for those out there who don't . . .)

The descriptors (Enhanced, Superhuman and Godlike) each bring a default die size with them. They also set the parameters of fictional positioning and action declaration (in HeroQuest revised this is called the "credibility test"; MHRP doesn't have a label for it, but discusses it on p OM55). And those two things can come apart: for instance, a character might have an ability that allows stepping up a die (so eg turning the d8 Enhanced Strength die into a d10). But that doesn't necessarily mean that the character can, on those occasions, throw and lift vehicles rather than just overturn them. That would depend on the relevant fiction that explains the die step up ability.

This feature of MHRP - namely, that it assumes a prior fiction that serves as a constraint on action declaration and resolution before any dice are pooled and rolled - was a source of numerous complaints when it was first released, from RPGers who don't want to treat the fact that (say) Spider Man can't normally beat The Hulk in an arm wrestle as a fiction-derived constraint on permissible action declaration, but rather want the action resolution mechanics to produce this as an outcome.

(And this ties back to @innerdude's OP. I think GURPS is definitely for that second sort of person, who wants the mechanics to establish what is possible in the fiction, rather than treating already-known fictional states of affairs as constraints on what is possible via the mechanics.)

MHRP's damage is literally just another die-trait; one can make boosts/hinders with exactly the same mechanics as doing damage.
This is something I like very much about MHRP. It's also a big part of what is fun in our Cortex+ Heroic Fantasy Hack game, which is mechanically pretty much the same as MHRP. (Our hack game is influenced by the Hacker's Guide, but makes fewer changes to to system than the suggested hacks in that book - only the speciality list (= skills, for non-MHRPers) is different.)
 
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pemerton

Legend
There are plenty of examples in the comics of Batman being completely unable to stop Superman from doing what Superman wants to do. None of his "greatest analytical mind" and wealth can do anything about it... except when the author wants it to.
I don't quite get this.

In an RPG there typically isn't when the author wants it to - unless we have table consensus, but in Batman-PC fighting Superman-PC I'm assuming that such consensus is lacking!

So that's when we turn to the mechanics. If Batman's player wins the contest, then we know that his anlaytical mind or wealth or whatever (details will of course depend on the minutiae of the resolution system) was enough to beat Superman. If not, then we know -conversely - that they weren't. Perhaps because Batman didn't anticipate that Superman would throw a trillion-times-FTL punch right now!

when you look at official builds for such disparate character types within officially licensed game systems for Marvel or DC, “luck” mechanics are seldom included for the hyper-talented mortals. IOW, even if the game mechanics allow it, they don’t have it.
In the case of MHRP, there is no need for "luck" mechanics because the issue is addressed at a more fundamental system design level.

I take it that this is what @Umbran is getting at in saying "You worry about 'plot armor' because 'plot armor' is a patch to a physics model to make up for its lack of ability to do what the genre asks of it. "
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
As opposed to the Batman-player being annoyed because his character is reduced to being a sidekick?
You mean how some people complain about “Linear Fighters and Quadratic Wizards”? See also the spoof of the superheroic equivalent:

A lot of games use some version of ‘plot points’ to smooth over power discrepancies. The greater the power discrepancy, the more powerful the plot points need to be to compensate.
And for some, that’s as bad as the problem you described above. No system solves all problems; all solutions introduce their own issues. Which is why there’s more than one RPG system out there.

One of the biggest gripes about Mutants & Masterminds several players in a group I was in was how the system handled Autofire attacks. They wanted each shot to get its own roll like other systems do. M&M’s mechanic interfered with how they viewed their PCs’ actions.

Those same guys played D&D for 20 years mainly playing martial PCs while another player almost always played some slight variation of the highly optimized Wizard PC he’d played campaign after campaign. No complaints.

I’d imagine players like that would be far more annoyed by plot armor neutering “trillion mph“ punches than by being sidekicks to demigods.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
Um, no. Not really.
There are plenty of examples in the comics of Batman being completely unable to stop Superman from doing what Superman wants to do. None of his "greatest analytical mind" and wealth can do anything about it... except when the author wants it to.
Not only that, Batman was unable to prevent Bane from breaking his back.

He has also been unable to prevent the Joker from racking up a body count of @600 in the comics and over 1000 in movies and TV shows.

Batman may have plans, but his plans don’t always work.
 
One of the biggest gripes about Mutants & Masterminds several players in a group I was in was how the system handled Autofire attacks. They wanted each shot to get its own roll like other systems do. M&M’s mechanic interfered with how they viewed their PCs’ actions.

Those same guys played D&D for 20 years mainly playing martial PCs while another player almost always played some slight variation of the highly optimized Wizard PC he’d played campaign after campaign. No complaints.
And here I'd say you've put your finger on a problem. You have a group that has adapted to one specific mode of play and wants to see everything through that mode of play. I can think of no RPG that uses fully automatic modern guns and has you roll once per bullet, which is what they would apparently have demanded. And they must have been playing extremely slow fighters to only swing their swords once or twice per six seconds or even per minute.

The problem here is not M&M - ordinary people don't have this problem. It's the bad habits they'd picked up from D&D that in the context of D&D make no sense anyway.

Kinda my point about plot armor making more sense in comics than RPGs.
But if you aren't trying to replicate what happens in the setting why are you using that setting at all other than to deconstruct it?
 

macd21

Explorer
Not only that, Batman was unable to prevent Bane from breaking his back.

He has also been unable to prevent the Joker from racking up a body count of @600 in the comics and over 1000 in movies and TV shows.

Batman may have plans, but his plans don’t always work.
Which can be represented by plot points having limitations. They’re not ‘I win’ buttons, they’re a balancing mechanism. They don’t let the Batman character beat Superdude 100% of the time, but they increase his success rate from what would otherwise be zero.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So that's when we turn to the mechanics. If Batman's player wins the contest, then we know that his anlaytical mind or wealth or whatever (details will of course depend on the minutiae of the resolution system) was enough to beat Superman. If not, then we know -conversely - that they weren't. Perhaps because Batman didn't anticipate that Superman would throw a trillion-times-FTL punch right now!
Yes. The point is that if you are modeling both characters well, the result isn't a foregone conclusion. Superman doesn't automatically win. Batman has talents of similar fictional weight that could counter Superman's abilities. So, we need to use the mechanic.

In the case of MHRP, there is no need for "luck" mechanics because the issue is addressed at a more fundamental system design level.

I take it that this is what @Umbran is getting at in saying "You worry about 'plot armor' because 'plot armor' is a patch to a physics model to make up for its lack of ability to do what the genre asks of it. "
Pretty much.

In real physics, you do not typically use the same equations at different scales - the model we use on the quantum scale is different from the model we use on the normal human scale, and that's different from the model we use an relativistic scales. But, for some reason, we expect the same rules engine to handle Aunt May and Superman's strength. That's silly.

Moreover, when we pay so much attention to physical action, we give short shrift to non-physical things that, in fiction, typically carries a lot of weight. Powers that aren't based in the physics model are undercounted and undervalued. Bruce Wayne's billions are probably only used to determine if he can acquire something expensive in play. Superman doesn't have to think about how his Invulnerability is applied - it is always effective in the instant it becomes relevant. Batman's money, not so much.

So, we put a patch on the game engine that is designed to help us resolve physical tasks, to make up for what the model doesn't do well. And gee, you know, patches are never as good as native design to do the same thing.

In games like MHRP, there is no patch, because the system isn't designed to be a task-based physics engine. It is more a conflict-based fiction engine, with broad concepts of what can be effective.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Batman may have plans, but his plans don’t always work.
And Superman died. So, his strength doesn't always work.

So, there is a question, for each of them, if they will prevail. That's what we have a mechanic for.

I have to ask: In the comics, Batman works with Superman all the time. Somehow, he not only survives, but remains relevant and effective. Is that, in and of itself, a problem for you? Do you find it easy to accept a man who can fly around the world fast enough to travel in time, but find it hard to accept an exquisite mind greater than that of any person at your gaming table might have preparations the player didn't think of before play began?

If that's the basic conflict, your conflict is with the genre, and we can't help you. You are trying to emulate a genre with aspects you don't like, and the best we can say is, "well, don't play games with that aspect."

If your problem is the implementation of making the mind and money competitive with the strength and speed, then we can help you - we are laying out what the issues are with many mechanics that lead to the need for a layered on, kludgey, "plot armor".
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
Go take a look at... Shadowrun. A mundane person, who has not spent a lot of their build capacity on being magical, or having lots of cyberware, and so on, can have higher Edge. Edge is the game's luck stat, allowing the player to manipulate their die results somewhat - rolling more dice, rerollng dice, buying off critical fumbles, and the like. Edge is powerful - and you can only have lots of it if you are basically mundane.
I don't remember Edge, or any other luck-type stat, in 2E. Do you know when they added it? Because that seems like a pretty significant genre shift, to suddenly introduce a plot armor stat. Back in 2E, the mundane person simply had no chance against a street samurai, and that seemed like an important part of the setting.
Comic books do not have consistent physics! Comic books are a media in which Squirrel Girl, with the proportional strength and agility of a squirrel, can defeat Galactus off screen, and have that be satisfying!
Squirrel Girl defeated Galactus on screen, and it was satisfying. You might be thinking of her defeat over Thanos.

This is also the series where they do go out of their way to make the physics as consistent as possible, given the seemingly-inconsistent precedents from across the decades. For example, they describe why giant bugs can't exist due to square-cube law, and then make explicit exceptions for Pym particles and cosmic radiation.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don't remember Edge, or any other luck-type stat, in 2E. Do you know when they added it? Because that seems like a pretty significant genre shift, to suddenly introduce a plot armor stat. Back in 2E, the mundane person simply had no chance against a street samurai, and that seemed like an important part of the setting.
I think Edge came up in 5e. And I don't think of it so much of a genre shift as realizing that their mechanics rather cut out large portions of the genre - the typical cyberpunk story has a fairly mundane character along as a viewpoint, after all.

Squirrel Girl defeated Galactus on screen, and it was satisfying. You might be thinking of her defeat over Thanos.
You ever notice how many of the Marvel biggest bads are... mostly purple?

For example, they describe why giant bugs can't exist due to square-cube law, and then make explicit exceptions for Pym particles and cosmic radiation.
I laud them for noting the actual sicnece, but... really, dude, this is still the Marvel universe. Iron Man gets to fly around all day without refueling, while everyone else has to put gas in the tanks of their cars. Don't try to tell me there's any consistency or sense to it in the long run.

Also, in the story where she defeats Galactus, she equates dietary calories to life energy for Galactus, which is pretty much nonsense, because if "energy you can get from oxidation" is Galactus' "life energy", then any and every gas giant would be a better target than a planet with lots of life on it.

So much for consistency :p
 
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Saelorn

Adventurer
Plot armor in a work of written fiction makes much more sense than plot armor in an rpg.
There is a premise, which not everyone will buy into, that the rules of an RPG reflect the natural laws of its setting. GURPS is solidly in that camp, and I'm right there with them on that. Rules that operate outside this context are anathema.

Do the natural laws of the DC Universe include plot armor? If so, then nobody within that universe has ever been able to detect it, which makes it extremely hard to codify into any ruleset. If not, then the writers are cheating a bunch in order to tell their stories; and GURPS doesn't abide cheating.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
I laud them for noting the actual science, but... really, dude, this is still the Marvel universe. Iron Man gets to fly around all day without refueling, while everyone else has to put gas in the tanks of their cars. Don't try to tell me there's any consistency or sense to it in the long run.
The premise of a fictional world is that it could actually exist, though. That needs to be the case in order for us to role-play there, and pretend to be an actual person who actually lives there, rather than playing as narrative constructs. (You can't role-play as a narrative construct, because they don't have independent thought or agency.) And yes, this is extremely difficult for the Marvel universe, due to a variety of reasons.

Still, our options are to either try and reconcile these many issues, or concede that it's just a story. Only one of those options will allow for role-playing in-character within that world.
 

pemerton

Legend
pemerton said:
In an RPG there typically isn't when the author wants it to...
Kinda my point about plot armor making more sense in comics than RPGs.
I don't follow this at all.

In the post you're quoting from, I went on to explain how decisions are made in RPGs when there is no table consensus, namely, via mechanical resolution. If that resolution allows Batman's wits to anticipate Superman's superfast punch, well, we have "plot armour" (in some generic sense) at work. All "plot armour" means here is a resolution system that gives Batman a chance of winning. I know two RPGs that can handle this pretty easily - Marvel Heroic RP, and HeroQuest revised. I suspect Fate could also, but makt that suggestion a bit more tentatively.

Batman may have plans, but his plans don’t always work.
And Superman may have superspeed, but he doesn't always get everything he wants either.

This is why RPGs have resolution mechanics. They resolve this uncertainty, most typically via the use of dice rolls.

EDIT: Ninja'd by @Umbran, although I might say that he was in turn ninja'd by my first post on the same point not too far upthread! @macd21 has also made a similar point about "plot points" in particular.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
Batman may have plans, but his plans don’t always work.
In fact, they rarely work. They work only as often as often as would be interesting for the story. Batman's villains are regularly able to thwart the caped crusader despite having merely ordinary villainous skills which would present no real challenge to The Flash, Superman, or the like.

Likewise, whenever teamed up with Superman in the old comics, there would always be some contrivance where Superman would completely lose his powers and conveniently Batman would be there to save Superman. Of course, this would only happen while Superman was teamed up with Batman, and when Superman was out on his own facing beings of enormous power the ability to deprive Superman of his powers wasn't in the cards.

I suppose you could use a variant of the JarJar Binks fan theory her to justify it, in as much as maybe Batman was arranging for Clark to lose his powers while pretending to be helpful, which would in fact suggest Batman was incredibly capable since he could keep coming up with ways to reduce Superman to a mere mortal that the villains Superman normally faced - even geniuses like Lex Luthor and Brainiac - could never have come up with.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
And here I'd say you've put your finger on a problem. You have a group that has adapted to one specific mode of play and wants to see everything through that mode of play. I can think of no RPG that uses fully automatic modern guns and has you roll once per bullet, which is what they would apparently have demanded. And they must have been playing extremely slow fighters to only swing their swords once or twice per six seconds or even per minute.

The problem here is not M&M - ordinary people don't have this problem. It's the bad habits they'd picked up from D&D that in the context of D&D make no sense anyway.
He closest I can think of off the top of my head is HERO (and possibly Spycraft). Where additional hits in M&M Autofire adds a little extra damage based how well you rolled on a single attack, HERO adds the full effect of the power- you roll all the attack dice, you generate additional triggered/linked effects, etc.*

When presented with the difference, the players affected by the M&M rule expressed a strong preference for the HERO version. Actually rolling those dice resulting from additional hits feels more like real, discrete successful attacks, at least to some. (Myself included.)

But if you aren't trying to replicate what happens in the setting why are you using that setting at all other than to deconstruct it?
Plot armor is a device the author uses to protect a key character or characters. In RPGs, that’s most directly analogous to DM fiat, not so much a mechanic someone incorporates into a character.

As such, it can exist in any RPG in which a game master chooses to use it.

Luck, Edge, etc, are close, but they’re usually not as final or powerful as actual plot armor.



* It‘s been several years, so I don’t recall whether additional hits with M&M Autofire also generated additional possible linked/triggered effects.
 

pemerton

Legend
Plot armor is a device the author uses to protect a key character or characters. In RPGs, that’s most directly analogous to DM fiat, not so much a mechanic someone incorporates into a character.
It can easily be a player-side mechanic. Eg in Burning Wheel, if a PC suffers a mortal wound the player may spend a Persona point to have his/her PC survive (this is the "will to live" rule).

One consequence of this mechanic is that if a player spends his/her last Persona point to buff his/her dice pool in a conflict, you know s/he really means it!
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
It can easily be a player-side mechanic. Eg in Burning Wheel, if a PC suffers a mortal wound the player may spend a Persona point to have his/her PC survive (this is the "will to live" rule).

One consequence of this mechanic is that if a player spends his/her last Persona point to buff his/her dice pool in a conflict, you know s/he really means it!
i agree that it can be, but if we’re talking about a mechanic whereby a hyper-skilled but otherwise mundane character- IOW, a Batman, not a Longshot- can thwart a “trillion mph” punch, that’s a system I personally wouldn’t want to be playing.
 

aramis erak

Explorer
I think several people are forgetting... Batman ALWAYS prevails in the end... but his opponents are then entrusted to Arkham Asylum. And that's his weakness: He trusts the system to keep these super-potent nutjobs off the street, and Arkham keeps failing to do so. Repeatedly. Again, and again.

The one thing Bats is consistently blind to is the failure of others to be at his level and to do their part.

There's not likely anyone who can play Bruce/Bats the way he needs in a gritty ruleset; he's almost always the smartest guy in the room until the villains show. And then, most of the time, he still is. But Smart and Prepared fall victim to human frailties of others.

In MHRP, Bats can plot-point a needed item that, in GURPS, would need a creation roll beforehand.
In Hero System, Bats is a guy with a gadget pool that hasn't been limited to "prepared first only"... and some excellent stats and wealth, and massive piles of all-combat levels.

It's also worth noting: DC has been done in Cortex Plus. In fact, the first CP ruleset was a DC property: Smallville. MHRP wasn't just a hit on its own; it was a system related to DC, but tuned to be Marvel in tone and execution.
 

macd21

Explorer
i agree that it can be, but if we’re talking about a mechanic whereby a hyper-skilled but otherwise mundane character- IOW, a Batman, not a Longshot- can thwart a “trillion mph” punch, that’s a system I personally wouldn’t want to be playing.
See, I’d rather a system where he can. It feels appropriate for the genre.
 

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