Help Me Understand the GURPS Design Perspective

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
In Marvel Heroic RP, the plot point that (as per @aramis erak's post upthread) allows Batman's player to delcare that Batman has such-and-such a gadget on him that he prepared earlier for just such a contingency is not a resource the character has. The resource the character has is the gadget. And the capabilities the character has include skill in prepraging gadgets, and cleverness in anticpating when they'll be needed. The plot point is a resource that the player has which s/he can spend in accordance with the rules of the game.
But if it doesn’t make sense- a device operating faster than it has any reason to be able to- that’s a solution that creates more problems.

(This isn’t unique to comics. You see it in all kinds of fiction.)

Wouldn't this be on the player? (At least primarily.)
The GM is the one who has to make sure the solution fits within the setting universe, not just now, but at any point in the future if/when the situation arises, not players.

Given the speeds at which you are saying Superman can move, in fact he can do everything worth doing in the context of a RPG scenario effectively simultaneously.
That’s not me saying it, it’s DC Comics writers. And yes, people have pointed this out as a big problem.

This is a more general question that arises in any superhero fiction (and often in genre fiction more generally). In some Marvel comics (I think 70s Super-Villain Team-Ups) Magneto could control minds by manipulating blood flow in the brain by manipulating the iron in the blood. Why not do it all the time?
Agreed.

Superman can (you've been emphasising) travel much much faster than light, yet he doesn't race around the world stopping every act of violence, or taking every gun from every villain, before anyone can react.
Yup.

Or more likely, taking those weapons from everyone, because moving that fast, he may not be able to ascertain which of all the living statues he encounters were actually the aggressors, because he isn’t all-seeing either, and presumably, as a mortal being, even he needs to rest.

(They did a storyline along those lines decades ago, hen he took out all the nukes, Don't recall how that one ended, though.)

Of course, what’s to stop someone from rearming themselves when he does so?

First he gets the guns. Then the knives. Then the rocks. Then the poin-ted sticks. Then the bananas. It’s a never ending job, protecting humans from themselves. Logically, the only way to solve the problem of human on human violence is to get rid of all the humans.

(OK, that’s more of a Sci-Fi storyline, not very comic book-y...at least not for fallen heroes.)

Just like readers do (whether for an official No-Prize, or not) in a RPG we can construct our own explicit or implicit rationalistaions. And the system mechanics establish the rationing (eg in MHRP the GM can establish that Dr Doom was really a Doombot, but that costs points; Nick Fury can turn out to really be a Life Model Decoy, but that costs points; etc).

Playing a superhero game with the mindset and aesthetic expectations of ASL seems misguided.
ASL?

You give your own counterexamples to this.
Of course- I want honest discussion, and not pointing out known exceptions exist wouldn’t be right.

But this is incoherent. In our world, the very same things that explain the square-cube law make it the case that there are no Pym particles or cosmic radiation as those things exist in the Marvel Universes.
Agreed. And no subatomic worlds for the Hulk to visit.

There's no physics there - in the sense of a systematic body of knowledge that explains the fundamental ways that the world is. It's all tropes - the use of particular vocabulary, paritcular sorts of fictional framing, etc - used to tell a story.
Agreed.

But the more you have to contort to answer the question ”why/how did this happen?”, the worse the story becomes. Can you think of anyone into superheroes who thought the static electricity explanation for Spidey’s wall-walking was anything besides extremely bad writing?
 
Last edited:

dbm

Explorer
Genre conventions are, by my definition, plot armour.
This is the key, in my opinion. Super hero comics usually pit heroes again ‘appropriate’ enemies, which works fine in isolation but really stretches credibility when put into a more flexible RPG context. ‘What would happen if Superman went berserk in Batman’ is a non-question in the comics, as that just wouldn’t happen. I don’t claim to have read all the Batman vs Superman comics but I really doubt it has happened.

RPGs with built in mechanisms for genre conventions (e.g. having campaign aspects in Fate) can mechanically enforce these. For everyone else, there is the social contract. And if you can’t agree on a social contact with your table for a game then it is simply the case that this game and system combo won’t work for your table.
 

pemerton

Legend
But the more you have to contort to answer the question ”why/how did this happen?”, the worse the story becomes. Can you think of anyone into superheroes who thought the static electricity explanation for Spidey’s wall-walking was anything besides extremely bad writing?
I'm not familiar with that; it sounds a bit midichlorian-like. And like mid-chlorians, it seems to be the result of an attempt to transform genre tropes into would-be scientifid explanations.

The reason that Spidey can walk on walls is because he was bitten by a radioactive spider. We don't need more explanation than that! (And no more expalanation than that is available.)

But if it doesn’t make sense- a device operating faster than it has any reason to be able to- that’s a solution that creates more problems.

(This isn’t unique to comics. You see it in all kinds of fiction.)

<snip>

That’s not me saying it, it’s DC Comics writers. And yes, people have pointed this out as a big problem.
If you think this sort of thing is a big problem, then I don't see how you can take superheroes very seriously as a genre? (Except very austere versions, perhaps, like Watchmen? Maybe the Phantom?)

I've always assumed that if someone wants to play a supers RPG, then they're prepared to just suck up issues like superfast heroes nevertheless sometimes being too slow, or The Hulk's pants not tearing, etc.

Advanced Squad Leader.
 

pemerton

Legend
This is the key, in my opinion. Super hero comics usually pit heroes again ‘appropriate’ enemies, which works fine in isolation but really stretches credibility when put into a more flexible RPG context.work for your table.
But superheroes also includes teams as part of the genre. And those teams can be like the Avengers (Hawkeye together with Beast together with Thor) or the New Mutants (Cypher with Wolfsbane with Sunspot and Cannonball).

A RPG that is going to do justice to this genre needs to be able to manage story impact of a character in different terms from physical impact or scientifically ascertainable impact. This is what GURPS struggles with; whereas HeroQuest revised or Marvel Heroic RP have no trouble with it.
 

dbm

Explorer
A RPG that is going to do justice to this genre needs to be able to manage story impact of a character in different terms from physical impact or scientifically ascertainable impact whilst being fun to play
Fixed that for you :)

I jest, but my group simply bounce off HeroQuest, Fate, Cortex+ and other games with a strong narrative viewpoint as opposed to a (for want of a better word...) simulationist view point. So, for my group GURPS with its limitations would be a better super hero system than Marvel Heroic.

I would never try to sell GURPS as the answer to every question of ‘what system should I play for X’ for everyone. But for some people it is the right answer. A better answer than Cortex+ etc.

The OP wanted to understand GURPS so they can decide for themselves if it would be a good game for them. Hopefully the information being provided by people who play GURPS is helping with that.
 

macd21

Explorer
Sometimes.

But if Supes simply snapped with no precursors, Bats would have to be an Oracle or time traveler to avoid:
View attachment 115528

RPG plot armor mechanics- to me- handle this much worse than DM fiat, which usually works worse than the actual plot armor comic book writers.

Plot armor mechanics- for the most part- depend on resources the character has. Like the comic book writer, though, the GM has no such restraint.

Batman having access to personal time travel devices to save himself from a suddenly rogue Kryptonian would require some serious ‘splainin; a GM using a time traveling NPC to save Batman really doesn’t.
IMO if you want to run a game with Batman and Superman in the same team, then you need to accept some compromises. And IMO DM Fiat is inferior to giving the players the tools to handle these issues. Superman snaps and attacks Batman? PC spends a Batpoint: ‘Good thing Superman gave me a kryptonite ring to defend myself with if he ever went rogue!’ Things continue to escalate. Spends second : ‘looks like it’s time to get out my armoury of kryptonite weapons that I keep for emergencies!’ Superman continues to be unreasonable. Third Batpoint: ‘I set off the Kryptonite Nuke.’
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Umbran, I’m criticizing from the basis of the comic books’ actual storylines.
As I said - if you have a problem with the genre itself, we can't help you with that. We cannot change the genre itself - we can at best munge a game system into emulating it..

It should also be noted that in previous panels in that sequence, he says he knows what his top speed is...but that he hasn’t traveled like this ”since Pa.” AFAIK, at no point is there an indication that- like the Flash- he has traveled through time.
Note: Flash typically needs the "Cosmic Treadmill" to travel in time. His speed alone is not sufficient.

So, even if “trillion mph“ punch is off, according to the writers creating the DC universe, Superman can indeed travel several orders of magnitude faster than light in normal space. Maybe not all day, every day, but occasionally is enough to be problematic.
Except, of course, the real issue here is not the action, so much as it is the nonsensical labels the writers put on it. Whether Superman knows what an attosecond is isn't the issue - whether the writers do is.

So, again, I say you are getting mussed up by how a genre with inconsistent physics is using physics words, and then holding it to that by putting it into a physics simulation, and finding issues with the results...

Well, what else did you expect?

The thing that's been said several times, which seems to be getting ignored, is that the physics simulation form does not work well for superhero comics!. Should I say that in all caps, so it comes across?

PHYSICS SIM GAMES (and interpretations) DON'T WORK WELL FOR SUPERHERO COMICS!

Thik of this instead in terms of the narrative. Superman does not have the power: "moves faster than light". He really has the power, "moves at the speed of plot". When he pushes to the point seem in the segment you show, from our perspective, what is going on is the GM is asking, "How much do you want to put into saving her? You may be able to do it, but it'll cost you..."

If, in the stated scenario, Batman is indeed badass enough to anticipate that previously perfectly fine Superman with that kind of speed & power is homicidally snapping RIGHT NOW so well that he survives, he has no business being outwitted by The Joker or Bane.
Again, with asking for consistency?

Superman comics are not true crime novels. Nor are they biographies. They are mythologies. Mythology isn't clean, or consistent. Mythology is built over generations by various authors, and sometimes the stories don't mesh too well. Asking DC comics depictions of Superman over the decades to be consistent is like asking the musical Camelot, Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and Peter David's Knight Life, to be consistent.

They are consistent in THEME. Not in the specifics of what characters can physically do.

....so he‘s hyper aware of Kryptonian psychology and microexpression? Or his in particular? Do Kryptonians HAVE microexpressions? Hell- do Kryptonians change from sane to insane at humanlike speeds, or are they faster? Or slower?
Fictionally, Superman is positioned as an immigrant with superpowers. He grew up among us - his displayed emotions and reactions are entirely human, as are those of other Kryptonians. Kryptonians blend in with humans perfectly, without setting off anyone's sense of the uncanny valley. Humans behave like Kryptonians. Same for Daxamites, who are positioned as alternate Kryptonians. Anyone who knows evolutionary science would take this to be complete horsepucky, but we are also talking about a universe in which you have multiple species with outward morphology that's basically indistinguishible from each other anyway.

If you want a character who might not signal as a human being, you want Martian Manhunter, who is positioned as an Alien Among Us. J'onn J'onzz is frequently depicted with what humans would call a flat affect, and hard to read. J'onn also has occaisional trouble understanding human choices, and humans sometimes don't quite get him. He can pass when he wants to, because he can also shapeshift and read minds to meet expectations, but sometimes he doesn't use that power. He is, however, not quite as strong or fast, so he doesn't pose the same problems as Superman, either.

Even for The World’s Greatest Detective, anticipating Supes‘ trigger flipping would require great fortune indeed.
Well, he is a god. Not just in the "among the most powerful" sense, but in the mythological sense.

I‘m not positing brawn beats brains 100% either, but I AM saying there are times when Batman can and will be caught flat and unprepared, and will not be able to save himself or the person he’s trying to save.
Sure. Game mechanics do not ensure success. We are only arguing that you apply the mechanic rather than pre-decide, "Bats can't succeed at this."

That’s how Bane beat him.
So, let's go back to one of the very first superhero role playing games - "FASERIP" Marvel Super Heroes. It had the concept of "karma points". Characters of a given power level could stretch their abilities up to higher levels... but it cost them Karma. When they ran out of karma, they were at the mercy of dice.

So, for our purposes... Bats ran out of Karma. And then, he's a little more vulnerable.

I didn’t say he was unreadable, but he IS an alien. Just because he looks like us doesn’t mean he has all the same kind of tells as we do. They may count megalomaniacs (Zod), serial killers (Faora) and psychopaths (Rog-Ar) among their number, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to react to a Rorschach test like an insane human.
Except, they totally do. I mean, in canon, it is all over the place that Superman's expressions are entirely human - he hangs his head when ashamed or sad. He furrows his brow and grits his teeth when angry. He smiles and laughs. Imagine - Clark Kent and Lois Lane will not be attracted to each other if their sub-conscious tells are not readable to each other! The comics very specifically draw Kryptonians and Daxamites with entirely human expressions. For whatever reason, they are exactly like humans in these respects.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
....so he‘s hyper aware of Kryptonian psychology and microexpression? Or his in particular?
We know that Batman is very aware of Martian body language, and J'onn is probably a better actor than Clark is. Of course, that's not really the deciding factor here, after choosing "Hino Rei" for a pseudonym.
1573242238231.png
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
We know that Batman is very aware of Martian body language, and J'onn is probably a better actor than Clark is.
Nice catch!

Of course, that's not really the deciding factor here, after choosing "Hino Rei" for a pseudonym.
He thought the name "Ford Prefect" would be nicely inconspicuous...
 

pemerton

Legend
I would never try to sell GURPS as the answer to every question of ‘what system should I play for X’ for everyone. But for some people it is the right answer. A better answer than Cortex+ etc.

The OP wanted to understand GURPS so they can decide for themselves if it would be a good game for them. Hopefully the information being provided by people who play GURPS is helping with that.
Back on the first page (and in some follow-ups too) I posted about my (very extensive) RM experience, and what the appeal is. I've never played GURPS, but I think its appeal is pretty close to RM.

But I don't think you can do supers with RM. Or, rather, while the PCs might look superheroes, the stories won't look like superhero comics.
 
Back on the first page (and in some follow-ups too) I posted about my (very extensive) RM experience, and what the appeal is. I've never played GURPS, but I think its appeal is pretty close to RM.

But I don't think you can do supers with RM. Or, rather, while the PCs might look superheroes, the stories won't look like superhero comics.
If I'd touched MERP (or even seen the rulebook) in the last decade and a half I might be tempted to take this as a challenge to hack. But it would end up as very different to MERP.

One thing I'm sure about - the armour types would be replaced by defense types, and "Invulnerable" defenses like Superman's and The Hulk's would take very little damage other from banes (kryptonite, etc.) but instead of bleeding a la Rolemaster there would be environmental damage and bullet ricochets that endangered the bystanders. But we're getting very deep into hack territory here.
 

pemerton

Legend
If I'd touched MERP (or even seen the rulebook) in the last decade and a half I might be tempted to take this as a challenge to hack. But it would end up as very different to MERP.

One thing I'm sure about - the armour types would be replaced by defense types, and "Invulnerable" defenses like Superman's and The Hulk's would take very little damage other from banes (kryptonite, etc.) but instead of bleeding a la Rolemaster there would be environmental damage and bullet ricochets that endangered the bystanders. But we're getting very deep into hack territory here.
Modelling superheroes can be done with the PC build elements in RM, though not with the existing build rules.

Eg Superman etc have Invulenrability (as per the spell in RMC I), which is half concussion hits and only super-large crits. Jean Grey has the Mentalist lists, and Telepathy, to 50th level with no ESF and a very big PP pool. Wolverine has Self Healing to 50th level with no PP required (or maybe a max number of PP to spend per round). Etc.

But you would need completely new resolution rules to get anything like superhero gameplay - like the ricochet rules you mention. Personally I don't think it would be worth it. Just go with Champions!
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
I’ve seen “evil Supeman“ type stories printed in Marvel, Dark Horse and other companies’ lines, but the Daxamite swap would be an interesting one for me. Imagine, the Daxamite teams up with Lex Luthor, who thinks his stockpile of kryptonite will keep his hand on “Superman’s“ leash. Which seemingly works fine until the ruse is dropped...
Isn't this where Flaw: Deadly Lead Allergy comes into play for GURPS? Does that mean Daxamites are actually really vulnerable to most small calibre handguns in GURPS?
 

dbm

Explorer
Back on the first page (and in some follow-ups too) I posted about my (very extensive) RM experience, and what the appeal is. I've never played GURPS, but I think its appeal is pretty close to RM.

But I don't think you can do supers with RM. Or, rather, while the PCs might look superheroes, the stories won't look like superhero comics.
Rolemaster was our game-of-choice for years, across both Second Edition and Standard Edition. The longest running campaign I have ever played in is still a RM campaign. So I am well aware of its strengths and quirks.

Comparing any attempt to run supers with RM versus GURPS is meaningless. The amount of effort needed to get RM like a supers game would be at least one order of magnitude, probably two or even three orders of magnitude larger than running the game in GURPS.

RM is too similar to DnD and, I am sure you will know, originally started off as a set of optional rule systems you could bolt-on to your DnD game. To run supers in DnD you need to make so many changes it basically becomes a completely new game - Mutants & Masterminds. M&M now has so few shared components with DnD OGL it’s a vestigial relationship at most.

GURPS 3e sucked at supers, big time. 3e was a time of rapid expansion for GURPS, and every genre book was standalone, with limited shared design space (yay for the thread topic!). The most egregious example of this was Supers vs Psionics. Both games include psionic powers, but the cost of these powers was at least twice as expensive in Supers. If you tried to mash-up the psychic systems from the two books, any character made with Psionic version would wipe the floor with a Supers version (and throw shade at most other super characters with the same point total, too). This is because the two genre books were created with different baseline assumptions.

GURPS 4e (which is now 15 years old) was written to take all the stuff created across the lifetime of 3e (which itself lasted 16 years), distill it down, find the good stuff and eliminate as much as the rules cruft as possible. Yes, there are still a lot of rules available in GURPS but the vast majority of those rules all exist in the two core books (Characters and Campaigns). The other books provide guidance on how to use the existing rules to play a game of the type you (the hypothetical ‘you’) are looking for. They may provide more detailed options to increase the emphasis on different aspects, but these are just that - options. There are also ever more books with pre-made materials so that you don’t need to create everything whole-cloth if you are the GM.

Which brings me back to the core question: what is the GURPS design perspective? It is that people want to play different games, and there isn’t a perfect (or even imperfect, in many cases) system already existing that will support those games. And even if there was, why learn a new system with rules that are 70-80% new ways of doing the same thing when you can instead have one system you learn that covers core actions with the same rules and just tops-up with optional rules for the more unique stuff?

Also, since RPGs are about a shared experience and there is an element of chance (as opposed to books etc. where everything runs on author fiat) there needs to be a mechanism to help ensure all players have the same amount of spot light time / game impact. There are several different ways of doing this. GURPS has tried to use a fairly scientific approach as the observable world is the most accessible benchmark we have available. If you like games with strong internal logic, then you will probably find GURPS enjoyable. If you think this kind of stuff gets in the way of having a cool game with your friends then there are other systems which might be a better fit for your needs.
 
Last edited:

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
@Umbran
Again, with asking for consistency?
Nope.

I’m pointing out comics are RIFE with inconsistencies, many of which are addressed with plot armor, handwavium, and the like. Because, as you no doubt realize- as do most in this thread- writers often have only the most fleeting acquaintances with the Sci-Fi terminology they use.

Complicating things further, what a given character can do can vary wildly upon the writers assigned to the title. Character bibles (if they exist) for superhero comics are suggestions and guidelines, not rulebooks.

RPGs based on comic, though, ARE rulebooks. Games that rely on/permit too much plot armor & handwavium lose internal coherence. And a loss of consistency in a game/campaign can kill it.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
IMO if you want to run a game with Batman and Superman in the same team, then you need to accept some compromises. And IMO DM Fiat is inferior to giving the players the tools to handle these issues. Superman snaps and attacks Batman? PC spends a Batpoint: ‘Good thing Superman gave me a kryptonite ring to defend myself with if he ever went rogue!’ Things continue to escalate. Spends second : ‘looks like it’s time to get out my armoury of kryptonite weapons that I keep for emergencies!’ Superman continues to be unreasonable. Third Batpoint: ‘I set off the Kryptonite Nuke.’
From this post, it looks to me like only Batman gets those plot-shaping “points”.

Where’s Snapped Superman’s?
Point 1: “Glad I gave Batman that fake kryptonite to put him at ease?”

Point 2: “I wonder when he’ll realize I used my heat vision to ruin the circuits of his kryptonite arsenal?”

Point 3: “While he’s trying to trigger that deadman switch, I’ll zip out to the asteroid belt and start lobbing rocks in his general direction. Nuking Bats from space is the only way to be sure.”
 

macd21

Explorer
From this post, it looks to me like only Batman gets those plot-shaping “points”.

Where’s Snapped Superman’s?
Point 1: “Glad I gave Batman that fake kryptonite to put him at ease?”

Point 2: “I wonder when he’ll realize I used my heat vision to ruin the circuits of his kryptonite arsenal?”

Point 3: “While he’s trying to trigger that deadman switch, I’ll zip out to the asteroid belt and start lobbing rocks in his general direction. Nuking Bats from space is the only way to be sure.”
Superman gets plot points if he has enough chargen points left over for them after buying up his strength, speed, heat vision, flight etc.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
I'm not familiar with that; it sounds a bit midichlorian-like. And like mid-chlorians, it seems to be the result of an attempt to transform genre tropes into would-be scientifid explanations.

The reason that Spidey can walk on walls is because he was bitten by a radioactive spider. We don't need more explanation than that! (And no more expalanation than that is available.)
Spectacular Spider Man, 134-136.

Thankfully, an idea that quickly got ignored and replaced with other unlikely rationales for the ability that are less obviously wrong.

If you think this sort of thing is a big problem, then I don't see how you can take superheroes very seriously as a genre? (Except very austere versions, perhaps, like Watchmen? Maybe the Phantom?)
Dude, I’ve been reading superhero comics since my youth, mostly Marvel & DC. My collection goes back to the early 1960s, and I only stopped in the late 1990s because of space considerations.

I enjoy the HELL out of superheroic comics, fiction like Wildcards and (to this day) playing the games. None of which stops me from noticing the inconsistencies.

To me, they’re no more a barrier to my enjoyment of THAT fiction than 10klb flying fire-breathing reptilians are for fantasy or galaxy spanning empires for Sci-Fi.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
Oh yeah...@Umbran

Why should we assume Superman is an “easy read“ for Batman? As in, tipping Bats off that he’s going kookoo?
 

Advertisement

Top