Beyond the Grip of Realism
A Fistful of Action-Movie Advantages for GURPS

By S. John Ross
Copyright ©1997, 1999 | Version 1.2

"I am ready man, check it out, I am the ultimate badass. State-Of-
The-Bad-Ass-Art. You do not want to fuck with me. Check it out!
Hey Ripley, don't worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses
will protect you."

- from Aliens. He was wrong.

The advantages that follow are designed for cinematic campaigns. They work best in adventures where Our Heroes are above the merely realistic, and granted a blind eye from the Grim Reaper to indulge in heroic carnage - flipping cars, crashing airplanes, leaping through windows 300 feet above the ground as the terrorist bomb fills the screen with flames. GMs running more sober adventures should forbid these rules entirely, or allow them selectively.

In completely cinematic, pumping-blood-and-burning-cordite games (or in four-color GURPS Supers), many of these advantages might be given out as "campaign perks" not included in the normal price of characters. This is especially true of the Car Crawler, Cinematic Ammo, The Leap, and Second Wind advantages, which form a kind of "standard package" for modern action films and comic books.Chow Again - in Hard Boiled, I think

Beneficial Enemy; Variable

This is the Enemy Advantage. Somebody is out to get you, but they are destined to fail. Whenever they try, it's an opportunity for you to look good for the camera.

This works exactly like the Enemy disad, except you always -- always win. Beneficial Enemies use any villainous tactics appropriate to the genre (kidnapping dependents, holding cities hostage, and so on). They aren't humorous unless the genre is; they're dead serious, and have no idea the deck is stacked against them. They will typically show up at opportune moments to make you look good in front of potential employers, friends, or romantic interests.

In all other ways, treat this as a normal Enemy. Each session, the GM checks for appearance, and the enemy will appear at a time in the adventure best suited to make your character look great. Point cost is equal to the value of a normal Enemy. A 100-point Beneficial Enemy would cost 10 points if he appeared on a 9 or less.

The bigger the villain, the better you look. After trouncing the foe, you get a temporary +2 to reactions for each 5-point base value of the advantage; taking care of that 100-pointer would be worth a +4. This bonus applies only to characters who haven't known you for a long time.

Boomer-Bullets; 5 points/level

Once per session (per level of this advantage), you can declare that any bullet you've successfully fired at a vehicle hits a vital fuel line, sparks a fume, cracks a capacitor bank, or otherwise triggers a devastating explosion. The vehicle is destroyed, and any nameless NPCs inside (generic thugs, faceless drivers, and so on), are automatically killed. Signifigant NPCs will somehow survive unless the GM rules otherwise. Any PCs near or in the blast must fend for themselves!

Your Boomer-Bullets can also ignite heavy machinery, barrels of fuel, or anything else that the GM rules is volatile. In TL8+ campaigns, this advantage also applies to shots from beam weapons. The GM should feel free to prohibit the use boomer-bullet shots in honest sporting competition, such as an arena battle in GURPS Autoduel.

Car-Crawler; 5 points

Any time you are required to make a DX, Acrobatics, Climbing or Jumping roll to safely leap onto or off of a moving vehicle, or simply to hang on to one, you will fail only on a Critical Failure, and may always roll, regardless of how ludicrously high the penalties are. This advantage doesn't protect you from the effects of failure in any way, and some effects of success can be dangerous, especially at high speeds.

Cinematic Ammo; 2/5/10 points

You do not follow the normal ammunition rules (including Power Cells). This advantage comes in three varieties, any of which may be combined:

Safe Reload (2 points): Anytime you run out of ammo during a gunfight, you cease to be a valid target until you have a chance to reload your weapon. You must reload as quickly as possible (using Fast-Draw and Speed-Load skills if you have them), but no hostile action can be taken towards you while you're loading up (more often than not, the opposition will take the time to reload their weapons, since they can't aim or fire at you).

Guns Everywhere (5 points): Whenever you run out of ammo in a gunfight, roll one die. On a 1-5, there is another gun at hand (lying on a nearby table, for instance) which is at least half-full of ammo (more at the GM's whim); a Ready manuever is all that's needed to be armed again (dropping your current weapon is a Free Move, as always). The guns come from a variety of sources -- downed foes from earlier in the scene, your own prepared stashes, etc., as appropriate. They are most often pistols or shotguns (SMGs in some genres) -- the GM may choose or determine randomly.

Cowboy Ammo (10 points): You never need to keep track of ammo; your guns Linda in Terminator 2almost never run out of bullets. This advantage applies to any weapon that normally has multiple shots (it doesn't apply to single- shot weapons like many holdout pistols, anti-tank weapons, or Dino Lasers, but it does apply to all shotguns, including breech-loaders). Whenever you roll a Critical Failure on a shot, however, there is a 50/50 chance that you are out of ammo, rather than the normal result. This advantage doesn't offer special protection from disadvantages that might result in lack of ammo, such as Unluckiness or Absent-Minded.

Cinematic Blindness; 15 points

You can't see -- but who needs it? This is an unrealistic version of blindness, of the sort found in martial-arts movies featuring Blind Elderly Masters, and in films like Yellowbeard and Scent of a Woman.

The Drawbacks: Colors and details don't exist. Printed images might as well be blank. Light is meaningless (although you can detect "warm" light on your skin). Unlike a normal Blind character, you pay full cost for acute senses. You still get the +1 reaction bonus in civilized societies, though.

One-Hex Radar: Within your reach (which can be extended by a cane or melee weapon), your senses of smell, hearing, and touch almost entirely make up for your lack of sight. At this range, the general shape and movement of everything is known to you. Stealth is useless against you within your reach, and you automatically recognize, by touch, any object or person you've touched before. Unencumbered by reliance on sight, you learn any melee skill at +2 to your DX.

Normal Sense Rolls: You can roll against Smell/Taste to recognize the distinctive scent of any person or animal (including lingering scents), or to identify any familiar brand of shampoo, shaving cream, perfume, and so on. With a Hearing roll, you can single out any conversation in a crowd and listen to it to the exclusion of others, or recognize anyone you've heard speak before.

Difficult Sense Rolls: With a Roll against Smell/Taste at -6, you can accurately determine someone's mood or hair color, or get a general idea of where they've been in the past two hours (they must pass within your reach). With Hearing-6, you can identify bearded men, the style of somebody's clothing, or recognize people by the distinctive sound of their movement. You can also guess at how physically attractive a person would be to the sighted, by considering their voice and demeanor, among other clues.

Each new insight requires a separate roll. The GM rolls in secret; you might be wrong, and you have no way of knowing...

Beyond your reach: You can guess at the outline of a room, with about a 5O% margin of error for distances. You may make ranged attacks against any living or moving target (tracking them by sound), but range penalties are doubled. Immobile, inanimate targets may also be attacked, but you take a further -10 to skill unless a sound indicates their location. When you are attacked with a ranged attack, you get your normal Active Defenses if you make a Hearing roll. If not, you may only use Passive Defense.

Deadly Karma; 15 points/level

Once per game session (per level of this advantage), you can change any Success Roll made by your character, or against your character (such as an enemy attack) into a Critical Success or Critical Failure.

For every time you invoke this power, the GM will turn a future Success Roll against you in the same fashion (it need not be the same type of roll). The GM may not kill your character outright with this (it's more deadly to your foes than to you!), but should otherwise reserve the "karmic backlash" as maliciously as possible to do harm to your character. The GM may reserve backlash criticals between sessions, if he wishes.

Jackie Chan in his best ever - Drunken Master IIFistfighter; 10 points

Whenever you are one-on-one with a foe (nameless thug or Feature Villain -- it doesn't matter), you can eliminate the possibility of a gunfight or blade-fight by simply putting up your fists in invitation (or taking a stylized stance, depending on how you fight). You don't have to say anything; just the gesture is enough. Your foe must make an IQ roll, at a penalty equal to triple any reaction bonuses you have (penalties are ignored). If he fails, he sheathes or holsters his weapon and raises his own fists, and the scene becomes a punch-and- kick match. If he critically fails (not uncommon for nameless thugs), he sets his weapon down on a nearby table, bartop, etc., rather than holstering or sheathing it. You, of course, can maneuver to grab it during the fight.

This only works mano a mano; if you face a group of armed soldiers, you can't coax them all into fighting you with their hands unless the GM rules that they are truly insipid. However, an entire group of PCs with this advantage could have that affect on an NPC group of equal or lesser size!

If any NPC tries the "fistfight invitation" on you, you must roll at Will-4 to resist! The same one-on-one conditions apply.

Immune to a Poison; 5 Points

There is a single drug or poison which you have deliberately built up an immunity to. The poison can be anything, but the choice is subject to GM approval. Increased tolerance to alcohol is covered in GURPS Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, and is independent of this advantage. Each additional poison costs 1 point. If none of the poisons taken are lethal, reduce overall cost by 2.

The Leap; 5 points

You cannot be killed in an explosion unless you are trapped with it (in a sealed bank vault, for example, or literally surrounded by multiple large explosions), or you deliberately caused it. As long as there is a window, balcony, cliffside, or something else to leap over or through, you can throw up your arms and "ride" an explosive shockwave to safety (usually against a background of expensive pyrotechnics - you're "thrown clear of the blast"). Chow with Baby - in that movie with the hospital and all the babies ;)You'll fall either a short distance, or a long distance ending in something soft. You take 1d-3 falling damage whenever you use this advantage (Toughness applies; see sidebar, p.B131, for location), but are otherwise immune to injury for the duration of the explosion.

Luck Type II; 3 points/level

For every level of this advantage you have, roll a d6 at the beginning of each game and record the result. These are "luck rolls" which may be substituted for die-rolls once the game begins. As each luck roll is used, it is erased. Luck rolls may be used to replace any required roll of the dice, provided at least one die remains random (exception: damage rolls). Luck rolls may not be saved between sessions.

For example, if you have three levels of Type II Luck and roll a 2, a 3, and a 1 at the beginning of the game, and are then called upon to make a difficult skill roll, you could (instead of rolling 3d against your skill), roll 1d and use the 2 and the 1 to dictate the result of the other two dice! The 2 and 1 would then be erased and used up. You could not use the 2, 3 AND the 1, because at least one die must be random.

Retroactive Type II Luck is also available, for 5 points/level. This advantage is identical to Type II Luck, except that you may roll the dice first, and then decide whether to "spend" any of your luck rolls to alter the roll. One of the dice rolled must remain unchanged, but the choice is yours.

Type II Luck may be used to affect any die-roll that normal Luck can affect.

Pacifist Weapon Master; 20 points

Only total (-30 points) Pacifists may take this advantage. A single Combat/Weapon skill of your choice is doubled (tripled if the skill is for ranged attacks). When you use the skill, penalties for visibility, partial concealment, or speed are ignored. This includes total darkness and Invisibility. Related Fast-Draw and Speed Load skills are learned at +5. Size and Range still applies (if you are in an Old West campaign, you can shoot off belt-buckles without harming the wearer).

If the skill is used in melee (including defensive skills like Shield and Cloak), you get an extra attack or parry or block (as appropriate or needed) every turn for every 5 full levels of skill above 20 (using final, multiplied skill). You may also parry or block for others, if the attacking weapon is within reach!

If you injure an intelligent creature (directly or indirectly), you will suffer a nervous breakdown (use the rules under Cannot Kill Pacifism). During the breakdown, Will rolls will be required to even touch a weapon, let alone use it. If you are responsible for a death, triple the duration!

Rush of Pain; 20 points

You may not have either High or Low Pain Threshold. You feel pain, but it gives you an intense rush of adrenaline! You are immune to Stun from injury. You gain no special bonus to resist torture.

The Shock rules (p.B126) are reversed for you -- and then some. If you are hit and injured, you will have a bonus on your next turn, rather than a penalty! The bonus is equal to the amount of damage taken, and may be divided in any way between your (combat-oriented) Success Rolls, and damage rolls for hand-weapons, punches, or kicks (or more exotic body-attacks, for nonhumans). It may not be applied to Defense Rolls.

Example: Olaf the Hirsute is struck by an axe for a total of 7 points damage, which takes him to -2 HT (he had already been wounded earlier. On his turn, he has a +7 bonus that he can divide up any way he sees fit. His first order of business is to make a HT roll to stay concious, so he takes +2 to his HT to make sure he does. He then attacks the offending axeman, taking +2 to his attack roll. If he hits, he still has +3 left over to apply to damage! If he had wanted, he could have saved the entire +7 for damage -- counting on lucky rolls to make sure he stayed conscious and hit his foe.

The bonuses may not be saved between turns -- they must be used on your next turn or they are lost.

Safety Bullets; 5 points

Whenever you make a ranged attack, innocent bystanders are ignored. They do not provide cover for your target, and cannot be hit by missed shots unless you critically fail your attack (incidental explosions can still frag them, though). Other Player Characters (and your foes!) receive no special protection.

Second Wind; 75 PointsSigourney Weaver IS Ripley in Aliens

You can be seriously injured, even killed, but when the scene is over, you're better off. You might even rise from the rubble, brush yourself off, and walk away.

You take your lumps normally until the scene ends ("the scene" is left for the Game Master to define according the needs of the plot). In the aftermath, divide the damage you took by a factor of 1d+1, rounding in your favor. History is rewritten. If the die-roll comes up a total of 3, that 11 points of damage the spear did blowing through your torso becomes a more palatable 3 points: the difference between minor injury and short-term coma!

This isn't magical healing or a super-power -- those extra 8 points of damage didn't really happen. It just looked like it. You are free to distribute this "healing" any way you like, if the GM requires that you keep track of individual wounds (for the Accumulated Wounds option, or for injuries that crippled a limb). Note that crippling wounds "undone" in this way are still considered "temporary" (p.B129) unless the character can make an immediate HT roll.

Note: An unconscious character is still unconscious if he's at zero hits or less. A dead character is still dead if the "second wind" doesn't bring him back above the point which he failed his HT-based "death check."

Stunt Driver/Stunt Pilot; 15 points

You cannot be killed in a vehicular crash as long as you're controlling the vehicle. You can get unconscious and bloody, but even that's unlikely, since you (but not the vehicle) takes half damage from impacts or rolls. If using the rules from GURPS Vehicles, any vehicle you're operating has twice the Maneuverability Rating and Stability Rating that it realistically should. If using the Bleeding rules (p.B130), you can't bleed to death from injuries sustained in a vehicular crash, unless you are hemophiliac.

This advantage comes in two forms for TL6+ campaigns: Stunt Driver (which applies to all ground and water-surface vehicles), and Stunt Pilot (for aircraft and spacecraft). Each costs 15 points. A low-tech version ("Stunt Rider") would have similar effects for equestrians. Other effect of the advantage:

Races and Chases: You receive a +3 bonus to any Contest of Skills in a chase scene or race. All vehicles being equal, you don't often lose! And even if you're in the slow vehicle, you always have a chance.

Stunts: You can, by making an ordinary skill roll against the appropriate Vehicle skill, do all sorts of cinematic stunts (ride a cycle safely down an escalator, angle a jet-fighter between two skyscrapers, or anything the GM and players agree is entertaining). Ignore modifiers and the laws of physics -- just a single skill roll and away you go (it's all special effects anyway).

Ramps: You can use nearly anything as if it were a smooth, prepared ramp. If you're driving a car or truck, any earth-embankment will do the trick (and they'll almost always be handy), and you'll have the upper hand on suddenly-parting drawbridges. If you're on a motorcyle, then cars make good ramps (from the front) along with stairs, piles of trash, office furniture, and stacked firewood. Furthermore, you'll always survive a deliberate jump completely unharmed, even if your vehicle doesn't.

High-G: You are immune to "blackout" and "redout" effects from high-g manuevers. This is mostly important to pilots, but can matter in ultra-tech ground-racing, too.

High Vehicle Mortality: The drawback of this advantage is that you go through a lot of vehicles, both your own and those of your pursuers. If you run an enemy vehicle off the road, for instance, it's likely to explode for no good reason other than "the special effects budget allowed for it." When your own vehicle finally goes (and it will, eventually), it's spectacular, and another one is always available soon after to borrow or steal.

Truly Badass; 75 points

You are the shape emerging from the flaming wreck, the spectre of justice, the silent killer, the daring pilot, the suave agent. You're a badass, and every ounce of confidence is justified.

This advantage represents the many perks of being a cinematically- competent individual, and falls somewhere between a special kind of Luck and a special kind of Charisma. The GM should require that any character purchasing the Truly Badass advantage be able to back it up with real ability -- the Truly Badass are at the top of their field: healthy, assured, and capable of getting the job done (whatever the job might be).

Important to many facets of the truly badass is the "Scrub" -- any character with Benno real identity, unworthy as foes. Nameless thugs are scrubs. Generic congressmen wandering through a crowd scene are scrubs. Almost all security guards are scrubs. If the GM has assigned the character a motive that extends beyond a single scene, he probably isn't a scrub.

The many facets of the Truly Badass:

If it isn't important, you can just kill it: That's without a die- roll of any kind. By taking a one-second Attack maneuver, any Scrub becomes dead. Or they can become unconscious or maimed, if you feel like it. They must be within reach (or yards equal to your DX, for ranged weapons). Characters or foes of signifigance (GMs discretion) are immune to this. If you have multiple attacks you can make multiple kills.

If it's weaker than you, it's scared: Crowds of Scrubs will part to let you pass. Furthermore, they must make a Will roll in order to attack you. When they do attack you, rules such as Buck Fever (p.CII65) are appropriate, if the GM enjoys them.

If it's recognizable, you recognize it: If you have Driving skill, you can identify a model of sports car by the purr of the engine. If you have Guns skill, you can identify a model of pistol by the sound of the safety releasing. If you have Savoir-Faire skill, you know an Armani on sight, and so on. This requires an IQ roll.

If you want to be there, you are: In an action scene, when nobody is looking, you seem to move like a ghost, appearing out of nowhere. You may use a Move maneuver to get anywhere in a single turn (into an air-vent, on top of an elevator, beneath a stairway), silent and undetected, provided it is within [Move] yards, and you are unobserved. No die-roll is needed (see the opening scenes of The Professional for this).

If you want to be noticed, you will be: When you decide to be conspicuous, you are. Crowded rooms will hush slightly when you enter, and people will pay attention. Nobody will forget you.

If it's mechanical, it likes you: Your motorcycle can explode, but it never breaks down. Your gun can run out of ammo, but it never jams. Your laptop can be fragged by an antitank weapon fired through the window, but you don't experience irritating system-crashes. You take great care of your equipment, and it never fails you in any mundane way. This doesn't protect you from the failures of experimental equipment.

If you play, you win: You can never lose a Quick Contest with a scrub -- the dice need not be rolled. You just win. Likewise, any skill roll made against a scrub will Also Bensucceed -- you will automatically Fast-Talk them, seduce them, Intimidate them, and so on.

Note that while this advantage is useful for sweeping aside the rabble (and speeding play), it should be used to enhance roleplaying, not to sidestep it. Saying "I kill the twerp with the Beretta pointed at me" isn't enough; the player must always describe his Badass exploits for the amusement of those at the gaming table. "I flip the Beretta's muzzle back into his gawping mouth and squeeze his hand on the trigger" is much more amusing.

For 50 points, a character can be merely "Badass." He may choose any three of the above traits to comprise the advantage. Both Badass and Truly Badass characters are automatically immune to things like the flu, getting their shirts stuck in their fly, and other minor problems of the mundane world, as a matter of style.

Up to the Challenge; 50 points

You are an action hero, and action heroes can handle any kind of action! You might not be able to pilot a Jet-Ski for recreation, but if you need to chase an enemy across a lake, you'll handle one like a pro. If a conflict-action scene (including chase scenes and sports conflicts) requires a physical Animal, Athletic, Combat/Weapon, or Vehicle skill that you lack, you gain it for the duration of the scene at a level equal to your DX (IQ-based gun-bonuses and other special modifiers are ignored).

At the end of the adventure, you may put one of your earned Character Points into any skill this advantage granted during play. Optionally, the GM may require you to. From then on, you'll really have the skill, and all normal rules for it apply. This advantage is especially appropriate for action heroes with long, serialized careers (James Bond or Mack Bolan types).

For a variant form of this advantge, click here.

Enemy Magnet; 5 points

You have an uncanny knack for earning the lethal emnity of villains. Any Bad Guy (GMs discretion) that is ever harmed or inconvenienced by you (even indirectly) will hate you for it, developing a savagely paranoid view of you and and obsessive desire to pay you back, even if it means being distracted to their own defeat... Thus, the rest of the party can use you as valuable bait. A dangerous, double-edged advantage, best suited to the very lucky, the very cocky, or the willingly-martyred.


Thanks to the faithful playtest crowd among the Lower Reprieve Generals. Special thanks to Marty Franklin, a true swashbuckler (and afficionado of atrociously schlocky films), and Clint Gaige, the "Action Movie GM" of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Both provided the inspiration, comments, and critiques that made these rules fly.YipYipYipYipYipYipYip!

Thanks also to the (now long-deceased) io.com GURPS discussion forum, for their comments on the Truly Badass advantage.


Original HTML conversion by Incanus; go visit his page now!

Then return to the Blue Room. That's my home page! Or head back to Gunmetal Blue. That's my action GURPS page! Or read this very same article in Italian, 'cause it's just too cool to be constrained by a single language!

The cartoon guy? That's Ben, the star of Full Throttle, a sadly out-of-print classic adventure game by Lucasarts. If you've played the game, you know why I picked him to illustrate Truly Badass. Now go play the game. You can still find it around if you hurry. Go. Shoo.

The girl? Oh, that's Amy Yip. She's in lots of cool Hong Kong films. Most of them aren't really action movies. And, okay, she's not exactly holding a gun or being a cop or hitting somebody. But it's a nice picture. Go. Shoo.


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