GURPS 101: An overview of Strength

Strength is a bit of a conundrum in most RPGs. It’s the attribute that is easiest to define in real-world terms, but potentially difficult to model in the game. As far back as D&D, there were figures on how much weight you needed to be able to press to get a certain value for your Strength, and nobody was disputing it like they could with IQ, or working entirely on wild-ass guesses like they were with health or agility. But even then, what did it mean in terms of your ability to wrestle, or swing a sword, or carry a load long distances if you could bench press a certain amount of weight?

In GURPS, ST is also the easiest to figure out the math on. At 10 character points per level, it breaks down to:

1 level of Striking ST (5/level)
1 level of Lifting ST (3/level)
1 Hit Point (2/level)

Unlike DX or IQ, where the benefits are more ephemeral and rolled into which type of skills you’re focusing on, this is clear-cut.

The most common reason for increasing ST is to increase damage potential. I suspect that a good many builds would be better modeled with a more thorough use of Striking ST, but very few seem to follow that path. Even the rules say, for a realistic game, not to allow more than a 30% variation from base ST.

Is it worth it, at 5/level, to increase damage? Yes and no. ST damage is typically leveraged through a weapon, typically adding between 1 and 5 points of damage to your base, and each level increases Thrust damage by 0.5 and Swing by 1. But that same 5 points could buy you a level of Crushing Innate Attack and get a whole die of damage in the right setting and for the right character. You’re paying more for the flexibility of being able to apply that damage in many different ways. The artificial benefits of adding an additional die of damage also tend to make for “sweet spots” that will tempt those who get to add one or two points of damage per die to their totals.

I’ve yet to run into anyone that has taken Lifting ST, but with the recent new grappling rules in Technical Grappling, this gets a bit of a boost. Adding that to the general benefits of being able to carry more gear – more specifically armor – and those three points start to look much more valuable.  Certainly any ‘tank’ style warrior would benefit from more Lifting ST, but the majority of them would also benefit from more HP and the ability to do more damage, making splitting this stat far less likely.

Hit Points is the last consideration, and it can be a divisive one. Players coming from That Other Game are always lamenting the fact that their characters, no matter how much more powerful they get, are still just as fragile when it comes to HP. But the connection with ST is an interesting one. It’s realistic, in some settings – the stronger you are, the bigger you are; the bigger you are, the heartier you are. But it doesn’t always quite fit that way – supers settings likely have characters that aren’t all that terribly beefy, but have higher than normal strength – and yet you’ll be unlikely to see them “selling back” any of their extra HP from being stronger than your average guy.

The one thing that becomes clear to me is that Strength in GURPS is a candidate for being removed entirely. With the breakdown into three subcategories, it just seems to make more sense to just use those values instead. But that gets into house-rule territory, and that’s a different post.


  1. "I’ve yet to run into anyone that has taken Lifting ST"

    Try playing in a high-tech or ultra-tech game. You don't need striking ST beyond what your heaviest gun requires (rarely above 10 unless you're using a heavy sniping rifle or something like that), and you don't need extra HP because if you get hit you'll be out of the fight anyway. But you do want to be able to carry lots of Stuff.

    1. Good point, Roger. I'm much more a fantasy oriented guy, so my experience is probably skewed.

    2. I was joking with a friend that for our new GURPS Space campaign, I could make a 150 point character with a load of Wealth, Carrying ST, and Gunslinger. I'd load him up with the best armor, force fields, and high ACC beam weapons. I wouldn't need to bother buying up his Gun skills because he'd get the ACC bonus without aiming. That's not the actual character I'm building, I'm making my first "Face" social skill character instead. Thanks for posting the article!

  2. I always advise against a warrior in my fantasy games buying Striking ST; BL and HP are just too important. It's better in my opinion to get everything at once and it's not like 10/level is expensive for what raw ST gets you.

    1. From a strict value level, I agree with your Chris. Those are all valuable. But, if your character idea doesn't include that sort of lifting ability or ability to soak up damage, Striking ST makes sense.


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