Tiny GURPS idea: A better Outdoorsman

Edit 2019-01-14: Added notes on Outdoorsman in Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game, and on other talents of use to outdoor types.

Edit 2020-01-23: Added further ideas on beefing up the sparse Green Thumb talent with two druid-friendly skills.


While we’re on the topic of back-to-nature barbarians:

GURPS offers the nifty Outdoorsman Talent (B91) that boosts seven relevant skills for 10 points/level. That’s a great bargain over buying up the individual skills at high levels. Yet it feels expensive to some gamers, especially in any genre that prioritizes success in combat or social dealings over competence at the campsite.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Denizens: Barbarians even calls out the issue on P21, suggesting two fixes:

  • Cut the cost of Outdoorsman to 7 points/level, using alternate cost rules in GURPS Power-Ups 3: Talents; and/or
  • Add an eighth skill, Weather Sense, to Outdoorsman (bringing the above alternate cost up to 8 points/level).

Both are fine ideas. But why stop there? It seems to me any of the following skills could also join the nature-boy jamboree:

  • Hiking
  • Knot-Tying
  • Swimming
  • Climbing
  • Riding
  • Animal Handling
  • Traps
  • Skiing

That’s a lot of skills! In fact, you could toss in the lot of them and make Outdoorsman a valuable Talent at 15 points/level!

Granted, these extras aren’t as natural a fit as core components like Survival and Tracking (I’m wavering on Traps in particular, for its non-outdoorsy usefulness), but they wouldn’t be out of place. My suggestions here would be:

  • Under the Basic Set‘s Talents rules, add some of the above to bring the list up to 10 or so skills (maximum 12, to avoid jumping up to 15 points/level); or
  • Under the Power-Ups alternate pricing rule, add some of the above to bring the list up to exactly 10 skills, at a cost of exactly 10 points/level. 

The GM could define the new Outdoorsman, or let players define their own list of 10 (or so) skills. (Whether to rename a custom version is up to you. Denizens: Barbarians, as an example, offers a rebuilt Outdoorsman for peg-leg-and-parrot types, and names it Seafarer.)

If barbarian players are still a bit bored by Outdoorsman’s woodsy merits, here’s one more idea:

  • Let Outdoorsman include one hunting weapon skill, like the Thrown Weapon (Harpoon) of Seafarer.

Getting some fresh air

Me? I think I like this as a rebuild of the Talent:

  • Outdoorsman: Camouflage, Climbing, Fishing, Hiking, Mimicry, Naturalist, Navigation, Survival, Tracking, Weather Sense (10 skills; 10 points/level under either Talents pricing scheme)

I’m torn between the inclusion of Swimming or Climbing. Either seems a good match; the former impinges a bit on the Seafarer crowd, while the latter steals some thunder from a fantasy staple and player favorite, the thief/rogue. A comment below, though, sold me on Climbing, so I updated the list to reflect that.

If a player talks me into replacing one of the above with a weapon skill, I think I’d go with Thrown Weapon (Spear), probably in place of Climbing. Bow would also be a natural choice, but in a fantasy game, that steps a bit on the toes of the scout-type bowmasters.

The (very) indoor outdoorsman

Like its spiritual parent, the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy line, the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (DFRPG) focuses on indoor, underground action. PCs will still appreciate Outdoorsman in these games, but it becomes all the more important that they get full value from it.

DFRPG’s writeup of Outdoorsman covers nine skills, adding Disguise (Animals) and Weather Sense to GURPS’ selection (while sensibly restricting Mimicry to Mimicry (Animal Sounds and Bird Calls)). I like this take on Outdoorsman, too; I hadn’t thought to include Disguise. If using DFRPG’s version, I’d make only one change: the addition of a tenth skill. Hiking seems the best fit to me.

Other talents for outdoor types

Looking at other talents of interest to lovers of the wild, the obvious thematic choices in the Basic Set are Animal Friend and Green Thumb, each a thrifty 5 points/level. (DFRPG offers these as well, though its shortened skill set means fewer boosted skills. In particular, its Green Thumb aids a paltry three skills. I think I’ll let this intuitive understanding of plants also add to Theology (Druidic) and Esoteric Medicine (Druidic), as well as  Survival when used for veggie foraging.)

Beyond that, I’ll just plug a talent of my own invention. From The Talented Thief: Stealing the Spotlight in GURPS and DFRPG, it’s intended for rogues and cat burglars who sneer at physical obstacles, but it’d aid wilderness types both indoors and out: 

Naturally Nimble 5 points/level
You can move. You get +1 per level to the Acrobatics, Climbing, Jumping, Running, and Swimming skills.
Reaction Bonus: Anyone who appreciates amazing athleticism.
Alternative Benefit: +1/level to any sports skills, sporting contests, or generic DX rolls that take advantage of your full-body agility.

Naturally Nimble 5 points/level
You can move. You get +1 per level to the Acrobatics, Climbing, Jumping, Running, and Swimming skills.
Reaction Bonus: Anyone who appreciates amazing athleticism.
Alternative Benefit: +1/level to any sports skills, sporting contests, or generic DX rolls that take advantage of your full-body agility.

How do you outdoor?

How about you? Any preferred ways for making Outdoorsman a more popular Talent? Or do you find it doesn’t need enhancement in the first place?

11 Comments

  • Charles Saeger

    Only take the advantage in games where it’s relevant.

    Seriously. If what you’re playing is a dungeon crawl, ditch Outdoorsman. It’s worth a much as Business Acumen. If you’re playing a hex crawl, it’s worth every point as-is.

    • tbone

      Sensible enough! On the other hand… If he player likes the idea of the classic barbarian, and wants to be better-than-average at any outdoorsy tasks that come up, he’s going to want some sort of Outdoorsman. And if it turns out that outdoor challenges don’t come up that often, well, he’s still got the character concept he wanted, so arguably he should live with that and be happy.

      But, on yet another hand… apparently, enough people feel shortchanged by the Talent as it appears in the Dungeon Fantasy barbarian that Denizens: Barbarians felt a need to address it. Perhaps the best chain of responses is:

      1. Players: Talk to the GM first. If he says there won’t be much outdoor adventure, then (as you suggest) don’t buy Outdoorsman. (GMs: In this situation, if you’re using DF templates, freely let the player drop that Talent.)

      2. GMs: If the situation is the above, but the player really wants to play a super-capable outdoor PC, well, see if you can’t work up more hex crawls, more adventure on the way to the dungeons, etc. Or keep those infrequent, but make them important. Or somehow let Naturalist, Tracking, etc. come up more often inside the dungeon. Whatever it takes… if you can swing it, let Outdoorsman pay off.

      3. GMs: Regardless of whether you plan a lot of outdoor scenarios, consider the alternate cost from Power-Ups, either cutting the cost of Outdoorsman to reflect its number of skills, or boosting the included skills to 10. (This one’s just my personal preference. I’m not a fan of, say, two Talents that cover 7 and 12 skills respectively, yet have the same cost. The alternate Talent costs just seem better all around to me.)

      Thanks!

  • PeterD

    You’ve already seen my ideas for Outdoorsman, since I wrote the book you’re referencing. But commenting on your 10/level 10 skill version, I’d say go Climbing instead of Swimming. That way Seafarer makes a good alternative for actual seafaring barbarians. The base one assuming climbing, the sea-oriented version includings Climbing and Swimming. It doesn’t really undercut the thief if multiple people can climb – climbing is rarely just a “only one guy needs this” skill. Maybe if you’re climbing to a spot to do a thing, but if it’s an obsctacle to the group, it sucks in a major way when the muscled outdoorsy guy is like, “my Climbing sucks, can someone Levitate me? If I fall I take double damage because I have 22 HP.”

    Avoiding Traps is a good idea if only because it’ll primarily be used not for building snares (which is Survival) but for spotting dungeon-based traps with Per-based Traps. While the barbarian with keen senses is a nice idea, it’ll stamp heavily on thieves and scouts, who are more particuarly designed to spot hidden traps in all areas.
     

    And by all means, use the concept buried in the Girdle of Savage Might and let Outdoorsman have perks that come only to those with Outdoorsman in proportion to their level.

    • tbone

      All right, you changed my mind about Climbing and Swimming. The image of barbarians scaling trees and cliffs feels right, and if Outdoorsman has the unintended side effect of letting the Conan-types keep up with the thieves on urban rooftops… well, that actually sounds amusing. Besides, I recall an important note in… maybe How to Be A GURPS GM, I forget… which points out (as you do too) that Climbing is one of those skills everyone should be good at, as the party will only climb as well as its worst member. (Swimming, not so much. PCs find a boat when everyone needs to swim, and if one non-swimmer proves a problem when everyone takes an emergency dunking, there’s always lifesaving.)

      Re traps: Right, there are some traps that come naturally to outdoor types, but those are covered by Survival. So I’ll happily leave Traps out of Outdoorsman.

      Re that Girdle of Savage Might: Ah, I forgot about that. I really like the concept! That is, it’s obviously a “for barbarians” item, but not by way of an arbitrary “Works for barbarians only” decree. (I don’t know how you’d game “for Character Profession X only” when a GM gives players freedom to modify the Adventurers templates almost beyond recognition, or even ditch them altogether.) Rather, the write-up cleverly ties the bonus to a trait – one that’s most likely to be found in (and partially defines) barbarians. Nice!

      Same with the Jotun Horn: it’s not “for barbarians” per se, but its enhancement is triggered by the presence of traits that the Barbarian profession is likely to have. It’s a great mechanism.

      (That said, though: There are other examples like Terrifying War Paint, which does specify special effects for “barbarians”. If I build a barbarian-ish character of my own design, or have, say, a custom Wizard with a modified Barbarian lens, what determines whether the PC qualifies for Terrifying War Paint’s special bonus? Stated more broadly, what determines whether I can access any profession’s special power-ups, bonuses, etc., when I have a custom, sort-of-that-profession-ish PC design? GM call, I guess, but it’s a niggling little question I have for DF in general. I should go ask it on the forums soon.)

      • PeterD

        “There are other examples like Terrifying War Paint, which does specify special effects for “barbarians”. If I build a barbarian-ish character of my own design, or have, say, a custom Wizard with a modified Barbarian lens, what determines whether the PC qualifies for Terrifying War Paint’s special bonus? ”

        The GM. Just like the GM determines a lot else in DF, like who can buy what power-ups or lenses, which Clerics are available, etc. The game can’t – and in my opinion really shouldn’t – answer all of those questions definitively.

        • tbone

          Yep, GM call. And it’s an easy GM call in many cases. For purposes of some “for Wizards only” rule, is a PC a Wizard or not? Well, if the PC has Magery 1+ and the GM has limited her to the “Wizards only” spell list, that’s pretty much a clear indicator. Is a PC a Druid? If he has Power Investiture (Druidic), then that’s a pretty clear yes.

          It’s not clear, though, for Barbarian, or Knight, or Thief, or other profession that doesn’t have a defining trait. Is that a problem? Not likely – especially in DF, which pretty much assumes you will use one of the templates. The GM call is again an easy one.

          But in a game that uses DF-like restrictions of “these bonuses are for Barbarians only”, “this Power-Up is for Swashbucklers only”, etc., but encourages free-form character building… what defines a Barbarian or Swashbuckler becomes an interesting (if not terribly pressing) question. Mebbe a topic for later musing.

          Thanks!

  • uE5Xg9p2

    Charles Saeger wrote:
    If what you’re playing is a dungeon crawl, ditch Outdoorsman.

    tbone wrote:
    And if it turns out that outdoor challenges don’t come up that often, well, he’s still got the character concept he wanted, so arguably he should live with that and be happy.

    How about having each Talent apply to all skills rolls of a given *theme* (the way Wildcard skills do), but with its price fluctuating based on the likelihood of those skills being *used* in a given campaign (as if applying Accessibility)?

    • tbone

      Outdoorsman is set in print (even in Basic Set) as a 10-point Talent, so I wouldn’t want to change that. But I’m all in favor of a 5-point version, under a different name (an idea that gets a mention in this article).

      What to drop to make a 5-point version? I think I’d agree with you in dropping Mimicry first. It’s a nice add-on for a dedicated hunter, but hardly a key survival skill.

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