Learning GURPS: Awarding Character Points

A short musing around the awarding of Character Points in play when using the GURPS rules set. As I move away from traditional “level-based” games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, and embrace the GURPS system, I noticed this interesting quotation from Dr. Kromm in the excellent, “How To Be a GURPS GM”:

Earned character points in GURPS aren’t in any sense “experience points” (xp) awarded to the character for feats and deeds, but are “bonus points” given by the GM to the player as a reward for attendance and good roleplaying, and in theory redeemable for anything the GM chooses to offer. This includes temporary and permanent benefits for the PC – which should logically be both in-game and meta-game, since the points themselves are awarded for meta-game concerns.

How To Be a GURPS GM, SJ Games (2017), page 14

Pretty clear that the Character Points awards are intended to be player rewards, not character rewards. Fair enough.

But here’s two curious points from Chapter Nine of GURPS Basic Set:

If you attempt a default skill roll in a stressful situation, you may try to acquire that skill during play, regardless of whether you succeeded or failed (you can learn from your mistakes!). The GM is the judge of whether a given situation qualifies as “stressful”…

GURPS Basic Set, SJ Games (2004), page 292

And also, with the Optional Rule on “Maintaining Skills”:

Realistically, if you do not use a skill, you will forget it or your knowledge will grow obsolete. At the GM’s option, if you haven’t used or practiced a skill for at least six months, you must make an IQ roll to avoid skill degradation

GURPS Basic Set, SJ Games (2004), page 294

Is there a tension there between the designer’s intent and the implications of those (admittedly) optional rules? Maybe. If the Character Point awards are purely out-of-game meta-rewards, how come character skills can degrade through non-use, presumably costing that character valuable Character Points?

I guess they are separate: the Character Points awarded are bonuses given for the player’s achievements and to show appreciation for things such as roleplaying consistently, turning up, and being clever enough to complete in-game goals. The character’s learning comes from in-game moments and failure to use skills can cost you that character expertise.

But here’s my question: does the in-play attempt to try an untrained skill imply an experience award? I think it does and this is reinforced by the idea that not using a skill leads to degradation of said skill.

To my mind, this in-turn reinforces Dr. Kromm’s first point – that Character Points are not, “aren’t in any sense” XP. In other words, you can add to your character as a reward for playing well; your character can also learn some new skills through having a go in-session. Those are separate elements of the game. Thus, both conditions make sense to me.

The main adjustment I need to make, which is entirely baggage from playing “level-based” games, is that Character Points are rewards for the players. These are meta-game awards that are designed to reward the type of play experience you want to have at the table. Interesting difference.

Game on!

One comment

  1. I think the usual interpretation of “If you attempt a default skill roll in a stressful situation, you may try to acquire that skill during play…” is that if you do this, you have definitely qualified to spend a bonus point on the skill. Some GMs feel that you should only spend points on skills you have actually used, although personally, I’m more liberal on that point.


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