Friday, May 27, 2022

Rules I Don't Use, Replace, or Revise: Jumper

One of my favorite advantages in Gurps is Jumper. Jumping from one world to another is a central feature of the signature setting, Infinite worlds. Jumper lets you travel in time, journey to Hell,  reach the elemental plane of earth, explore a shadow version of a place, venture to alternate histories, and rule pocket dimensions. It is an exceptionally evocative advantage central to multiple subgenres. It inspired some of my first gurps characters, and it shows up on character sheets in my games today. 

Its also a jumbled quirky mess. Normally, I wouldn't bring this up unless I had a fix, but a conversation with other Bloggers has increased my willingness bring up the problem without proposing a finished solution.  We will look at the odd quirks in Jumper, some reasons for those quirks, and hopefully get a gut feeling for what a fix would look like. 

The Advantage is Packaged with Non-Generic Limitations 

For most advantages in Gurps, we get a very basic advantage that we then modify to make it do what we want. Default advantages usually take one maneuver or less to use, and cost no additional FP. Exceptions exist, but they are just that: exceptions. Jumper is one of those exceptions, and specifically takes 10 seconds, but has special rules for taking less time (-1 per second skipped), and costs "at least" 1 FP. The time is weird, the way the time is reduced is weird, and adding an FP costs to it makes it hard to modify, and really doesn't feel that justified, not in the same way that Create and Healing can have explosive effects if not prevented from being used rapidly in quick succession. 

Jumper's modifiers only Partially Line up with Warp

The unusual timing rules for jumper would be annoying if they existed in a vacuum, but they don't, and that makes it worse. Jumper has a sister advantage that also involves disappearing from one place and appearing in another. Warp and Jumper share a bunch of modifiers that other advantages don't, and both have non-standard timing rules. Unfortunately, they have different non-standard timing rules, and jumper has an extra FP cost, while warp doesn't. It is easy confuse which one takes 10 seconds by default and which takes 30 seconds. It'd be nice to at least line up the modifiers for these two advantages, so we only have to learn one. Though better yet, it'd be nice to drop all of the weird timing cases altogether. 

Inflexibility when Pricing By World

No matter how many worlds you can reach, Jumper always costs 100 points to reach all of them. Until it costs 200 points, because traveling from Midgaurd to Vahalla is a huge leap in capabilities from travelling from Midgaurd to Gernsback . If your GM allows alternate abilities, the price jump can be worked with, but the basic assumption that "all worlds of a type" is always worth 100 is flawed. I get that pricing the base version of the advantage at 100 no matter what has its appeal, but there is a notable difference in utility between being able to access 100 varied alternate earths at any time and being able to access one very close parallel.

Of course, the number of worlds is not a great approximation for how useful or useless the places you can travel to are. Traveling to one hour in the past is insanely powerful, letting an agent exploit critical information, interrupt key moments, and generally wreck havoc on your enemies. Traveling to an uninhabited shadow version of the mortal realm is less powerful, but quite useful for enabling the user to scout strong points and spy on their foes. Traveling back and forth between alternate worlds enables interesting plots, but can be hard to exploit without also purchasing a different advantage like High TL.  The ability to travel to a single hell dimension filled with hostile demons is somewhere between a bit of personal trivia and a very desperate backup escape plan. Jumper can represent a lot of different concepts, but they are not all equal, even if they are priced that way. 

Its difficult to make a simple rule to handle all these cases fairly, but Jumper doesn't try. It just charges 100 points. And maybe the next point can help us understand why.

The Base Case is Time Travel

Yep, the first line of the advantage is: "You can travel through time". And then goes on to say OR other worlds. This is probably the source of a lot of Jumper's weirdness. Jumper is made for time travel and its priced for time travel. I suspect the advantage originated in the Time Travel book in the third edition. I can look at the time travel version, and say "Yes, that's worth 100 points". But despite my love of alternate worlds as a setting, I've never used the time travel version. Perhaps one day, but I generally use the world or plane jumper version -- which is not what Jumper was originally priced for. A lot of the restrictions make a bit more sense for a narrow, out of the box version of a time travel advantage... but that's not what I use Jumper for in my games, either as a GM or as a player.

People Don't Buy It

So this is where "I don't use, replace, or revise" comes in. While I've seen Jumper used a fair amount, I've almost never seen someone buy Jumper. The characters who have it in my current games were given it as a campaign advantage, and I've had a GM offer it to our characters essentially for free. I've stuck very limited versions on NPCs. I've bought it as an alternate ability on a 1000(!) point character. But I've never seen it purchased in an environment that had any serious point economy. 

When people don't buy an ability, that usually means they either don't think its worth it, or they don't think it will suit the game. Jumper has a weird case of both. Time travel is a powerful ability that quickly takes over games that feature it and looks intimidating to GM's. The time travel version of jumper is probably worth the 100 points, but players don't usually feel comfortable asking their GM if time-travel is appropriate for the game, because its usually not. 

World Jumping and Plane Jumping are more likely to be appropriate in a campaign, but are not great deals, so people don't go out of their way to ask if they available. They don't give a great return on investment. If Jumper was 10 points (which is too cheap), Players would frequently ask their GM's if it was available, because it would give them a lot of capability for not too many points. 

This principle applies to most advantages: Advantages that cost too much aren't purchased by players and thus don't see play. Not all players are min-maxers, and there are some determined role-players out there who might try to buy anything, but the grand majority of players strike a balance between the two, and don't play concepts that drop below a certain level of point efficiency, and will see if they can find a fun concept that makes use of a cheap power.

So What Can We Do?

I never said I had the answers! We've explored some of the issues, and we've concluded that:

  • Using the same timing system for Warp and Jumper would be nice. 
  • Eliminating the 1 FP from Jumper would be nice
  • World and Plane Jumper are probably overpriced, but there are a lot of variables to consider for different scenarios
  • Jumper (Time) is probably priced just fine
  • Most GM's who want the advantage in their games give it away for free anyway

So we've at least got a starting place for tweaking the cost of Jumper. I hope you've enjoyed this analysis, and enjoy the next world you visit!

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