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Zapskills

by LEG (leg@telekabel.at)

"You never told me you could do that!"
"You never asked!"
     -- timeless piece of dialogue

Very old characters from a GURPS Highlander campaign or a world where life-prolonging abilities (spells, potions etc.) are common create a very serious problem for the GM and players alike, apart from characterizing such an ancient individual: Skill selection becomes a monumental task. One answer are Zapskills.

A Zapskill is defined as a Skill the Character always had, but has not used in the campaign or mentioned before. The Skill is suddenly revealed when it is needed (it appears with a Zap!). Note that Zapskills are not limited to cinematic action adventure, like the Up to the Challenge advantage, and they not unrealistic. They are just a bookkeeping aid, and a way to flesh out a character on the run.

In game terms, this means the character is created only with the Skills that are reasonably expected to be needed. The remaining points are placed in a "pool" for Zapskills, that is, they represent unrevealed Skills. Whenever the situation requires the use of a Skill the character does not have on his character sheet, the player may declare he is trying for a Zapskill. The GM then rolls against the attribute governing the Skill (DX or IQ) and applies the following modifiers:

The following table gives the number of character points from the "Zapskill Pool" that may be invested in the Skill:
Roll made by: Max. character points that can be invested:
0 1/2
1 1
2 2
3 4
4 6
5 8
6+ 12
The player may opt not to use the full number of points allowed, but the unused points return to the "Zapskill Pool" and may not be allocated elsewhere. The GM should allow points to be split between Skills and maneuvers, however.

The GM may impose an upper limit to the points that can be allocated for special circumstances. So, if the player of a magician Character rolls for Shortsword Skill and comes up with 12 Points, the GM can impose an upper limit if the Characters background indicates that he should not be a great fighter. The dice should be a guideline, but not a replacement for thinking. Likewise, the GM should be generous if a certain Skill seems necessary, or if it was obviously overlooked during character creation.

Failing a Zapskill roll means the character loses 1 point from his Zapskill Pool. This rule is meant to prevent excessive use of Zapskill rolls. Also, a note is made that the character does not have the Skill. Of course, the character may learn the Skill normally later.

The Skill is written on the character sheet normally, because it is a normal Skill in all respects. It was just not mentioned before.

Zapskills can help to keep the bookkeeping for character with long lives and lots of Character Points at manageable levels, but are also prone to abuse. A good way to balance Zapskills is to limit the number of rolls to one per session, increase the Point cost for a failed roll, or rule that no more than a certain amount of Character Points may be allocated to the Zapskill pool.