The Humble Half-Point

House rule articles contain a short intro, a rambling section on how to come up with a solution to a problem called “Cooking It up“, just the plain rules in a section called “The Finished Dish” and some musings about what else you could do with that in the final section: The Leftovers“.

One of the things from 3rd Edition Revised I’ve been missing is the use of half-points for skills with little training. It was an easy way to give a character some background colour without making them spend too many points. Of course, that turned out to be the crux of the problem. In 3rd Edition spending half a point on a skill gave you a skill level of -1 below what you got for spending a whole point. That worked fine for a regular-guys range of attributes, but it quickly broke down for mages and martial artists – the former especially spent only 0.5 points on each of their hard spells and 1 point on their very hard ones. In short abolishing the half-point was better than keeping it unchanged.

Cooking it up

This section contains my thoughts on the matter at hand. It may be a bit rambling. Look at the next section if you just want the rules.

Now, in 4th Edition we have the Dabbler perk, which seems to offer a good way out of problems like that. I don’t like it for several reasons:

  • You basically need two or more skills you want to be slightly proficient in and whatever level you choose in one affects what level you can choose in the others. In practice it’s a bit messy. Do you write the skills and their levels with the perk or do you write them in your skill list with a special note? What happens if you learn one of the skills for real?
  • The maths is based not skill level as when learning a skill, but on default attribute level. That makes for weird cases like having a level of attribute-4 in Mathematics (a hard skill) as costly as having it in Physics (a very hard skill). That may be more of a problem of the defaults, but that’s how it works out in play.
  • That brings us to the worst offender so far: it’s darn cheap. The typical IQ 15-mage can get the classics Diplomacy, Mathematics, Naturalist and Tactics all at skill level 11 for a single point.
    Sure, you need to sacrifice a general perk slot, but I haven’t ever run afoul of that limit in 100-point and higher campaigns – in lower-point campaigns dabbler doesn’t do much anyway. It doesn’t count as a studied skill, but that’s the only drawback.
  • That drawback makes sense game-mechanically, but not story-wise. What does dabbler represent if not superficial learning?

Now, an easy solution is to reintroduce the half-point, but keep it at steady -2 to skill below the 1-point level. The mage in the example above would pay two points for his four skills. There would be no incentive to use dabbler for very hard skills with defaults of -6. Skills could still be listed in the regular skill section with a cost of 0.5. They could be used as defaults and so on. In order to prevent abuse they cannot be used to fulfil prerequisites.

The Finished Dish

This section gives the plain and simple houserules that can be used without further ado.

Skills can be bought for 0.5 points. That gives you a skill level of -2 compared to what 1 point in a skill gets you (e.g. attribute -4 for a hard skill). That skill is normal in every other regard. The rule for prerequisite skills is unchanged. You need at least a whole point in a skill for it to count as a prerequisite.
The GM is free to set a limit on the number of half-point skills a character can have if they feel the rule invites abuse. That may be a hard cap on the number of these skills – preferably an even one – or restricting them to mundane skills and requiring a one point minimum in esoteric skills, cinematic ones and spells.

The Leftovers

This section contains further musings on the topic that might be codified at some later point.

If half-points get out of hand in your campaign, insist that character’s have to spend the other half point, once they have used a skill often enough to justify some increase in proficiency.

Half-points could also be used for determining the final cost of abilities. This would often prevent the common problem of having a low point advantage with a low-point, but non-trivial limitation. It would however make it necessary to recalculate all the official abilities and templates. But for those using multiplicative modifiers that work has to be done anyway.

Another option would be spending half-points to turn a marginal failure by one into a success. Sure, it’s pricey compared to turning any failure into a success, but if you don’t need to succeed by more than 0 you might as well save that half-point.

Also giving out half-points (or even quarter-points) is a good way to reward clever players or moving role-playing without inflating points in essentially realistic campaigns. If the players get three points a sessions adding one whole point is a big deal. If you just give half a point extra it’s perfectly justifiable.

Or you might use half-points to give smoother progression of technique levels.


The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.

GURPS is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games, and the art here is copyrighted by Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy

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