Intro: Repricing ST and its parts
Some GURPS players have wished for a different pricing scheme for ST – specifically, one that lowers the high cost of building superheroes or other hyper-strength beings. This article offers one such scheme that vastly lowers the points required to build a battleship-smashing super. As a bonus, its cost progression can make building supers and giant creatures easier, not just cheaper.
The scheme and its clever cost progression come courtesy of D. Weber. While the original idea is his, the accompanying text and expanded ideas are mine; anything screwy is my fault.
The content below goes way back to the GURPS 3e days, was updated for 4e around 2013, and now gets a 2023 update.
The Alternate Cost of ST Table
The Alternate Cost of ST Table (PDF below) introduces a steadily-declining cost for ST.
The columns are as follows:
Score: ST score.
Initial score: A shortcut for buying ST within the indicated ST range. Start with the noted ST score, pay the noted cost, and buy ST up from there. Example: To buy ST 130, start with the ST 100  noted in the “Initial score” column and buy your additional 30 ST from there.
Cost per +1: The cost per additional point of ST within the indicated range. Example: Raising ST from 100 to 130 costs only  per +1 ST. Total cost: .
Cost per…: The cost of additional ST, priced in easy-to-use “blocks”. Example: To buy ST between 701 and ST, pay the cost of  for ST 700, then pay [0.167] per +1 ST… or to make things easier, pay  per +6 ST.
Using the Table
The purpose of the Table is to greatly reduce the cost of high levels of ST by applying a flat cost to multiples of ST. Every cost of  multiplies ST by two or a bit more; every  multiples ST by about five; and every  multiplies ST by 10.
Not that you need to know that. Just purchase ST using the Table as in the examples above, and enjoy that low, low cost.
Extending the Table
To extend the table to a new row, repeat the values from four rows higher, with these changes:
- Multiply the ST score range and the initial score by 10
- Divide the values for “Cost per +1” and “Cost per…” by 10
- Add 300 to cost of the initial score
Striking ST, Lifting ST, and HP
To buy a component of ST up or down by some amount, figure what the cost difference would be to purchase the same amount of higher or lower ST, then pay 50% of that difference for Striking ST, 30% for Lifting ST, or 20% for Hit Points.
Example: You’ve purchased ST 260 for a cost of  (that’s  for the initial ST 200,  for the additional ST 60 at [0.5] per +1). You want to bring your Hit Points up from 260 to 290. Another 30 ST would carry a cost of ; pay 20% of that, or , for your extra 30 HP. Total cost: .
Nothing changes in the procedure when the purchase of a component crosses a border into a new per-level price, but watch out for the change.
Example: You purchase ST 260 for a cost of , and want to raise your Hit Points to 320. ST 320 would have a cost of  (that’s  for the initial ST 300,  for the additional ST 20 at [0.25] per +1). The difference between  and  is ; pay 20% of that, or a paltry , for your extra 60 HP. Total cost: .
One cost fits all
This alternate cost of ST is intended to replace any special schemes designed to reduce the cost of high ST in any character, including large creatures and supers. (It’s generous enough on its own, without any added discounts!) In particular, the scheme replaces the SM-based cost limitation (-10% cost per SM above 0) on ST and its components (B16), and replaces the Super-Effort and Super-Strength options in Powers and Supers. Use the Alternate Cost of ST Table for everything from superheroes and giants to old-fashioned steel-thewn barbarians.
Do keep limitations (or other cost modifications) that reflect other specific functional matters, such as the No Fine Manipulators (B145) limitation on the cost of ST and Striking ST.
The above scheme doesn’t change anything for low ST. That’s not a flaw in the workings; there’s just no neat cost progression that would provide happy results for both superhuman and weak ST. Use the standard cost at low levels: [-10] per point of ST under 10.
Variants and options
Alternate Cost of ST Table (Expanded)
An expanded version of the Table (PDF below) adds a little detail – and makes more clear how the cost progression lets you quickly set stats for super-strong designs.
Big! Let’s see what’s useful in that.
The Expanded Table starts with the earlier Table, but also breaks out the costs of added Striking ST, Lifting ST, and HP. (For completeness, there’s also an “Initial score” point cost for each component, though this is useful only if you’re buying up the component from a base of 10.)
The other key change to the table is some extra rows: the row for ST 11-20, for example, is divided into ST 11-15 and ST 16-20. This doesn’t change any values; the ST costs in the 16-20 row simply repeat the costs in the ST 11-15 row.
So what’s the purpose? The extra rows highlight a pattern that emerges from the cost progression: the ST ceilings in the “Score” column end in 15, 20, 30, 50, 70, 100, 150, 200… – the well-known progression from GURPS‘ workhorse logarithmic table, the Size and Speed/Range Table. The Expanded Table highlights how each “step” in ST along that progression carries a flat cost of  (with similar flat costs for the components of ST).
And what good is that? Well, as noted earlier, any progression that ties a given multiple of ST to a flat cost is both easy to work with and greatly reins in the cost of super-high ST. But this particular progression offers a further bonus: a neat connection to SM.
Easy design for large creatures
While it’s not clearly laid out in Basic Set, the general way to scale ST with size in 4e is to multiply a human-sized ST score by the creature’s height multiple (i.e., the Linear Measurement for its SM divided by the two-yard Linear Measurement for SM 0). Under the given cost progression, this yields a neat correspondence between SM and rows on the Table.
The “SM?” column is not a prescription that binds SM to some range of ST; it simply suggests where ST might fall for a being of “typical” human ST, scaled up for size. That gives you an instant baseline ST for a creature of any size; from there, tweak it as modestly or as wildly as the design calls for.
Example: What ST to give a SM +5 creature? From the “SM?” column on the Table, something in the range of ST 71 to 100 should be appropriate if the creature’s power is on par with a scaled-up human. Adjust from there: take ST below that range if the creature has the power of a weak scaled-up human; boost ST to 150 or more if the creature’s build would give it twice the ST of a human at any size; and so on.
Many odd-sized designs should have ST stray from that of an “all else being equal” scaled-up human; in particular, designs for huge creatures should boost ST (and possibly Lifting ST even more) to account for load-bearing muscles and bulky frames, if you want to get all realistic about things. See GULLIVER Mini for a brief treatment of suggested ST boosts.
Easy design for supers
The amazing strength of supers typically isn’t tied to SM, so there’s nothing about the progression and the Tables that makes it easier to decide what ST score you should place on Captain Capeman. For supers, this article is all about making the cost of ST lower and quicker.
Every 10-fold boost in ST costs a flat , buying you a bucket of damage dice and 100 times the Basic Lift. Alternately, you can buy a 10-fold boost to Striking ST for  if you just want the damage dice. Or buy a 10-fold boost to Lifting ST (with a 100-fold boost to Basic Lift) for , for classic superhero lifting prowess. Flat costs make these big multiples easy to use.
Things add up quickly. If a cost of  gets you 10 times starting ST, then  gets you 100 times,  gets you 1,000 times, and [1,200] gets you 10,000 times starting ST. That last one is pricey even by supers standards – but you can get that boost for only  if you buy it as Lifting ST. And either way, 10,000 times starting ST or Lifting ST means 100,000,000 times starting Basic Lift: you have the lifting power of 100 million people! (Hm. “Hundred Million Man” may not be the greatest name for a supe, but I’ve heard goofier.)
Many cape designs will want super-strength without super Hit Points. Just buy components up or down as required. Buying ST 100, but with Lifting ST boosted to 150 and HP kept to a measly 15, is as easy as buying Striking ST 100 , Lifting ST 150 , and HP 15 , totaling .
That example reveals a tip for building supers under this cost progression. Try to set ST, or its components, to those neat waypoints on the progression: 10, 15, 20, 30, 50, 70, 100, and so on. That makes it easy to grab costs right from the “Initial score” columns, with no further tweaking. (The four-color supers genre doesn’t need fiddly distinctions between Striking ST 50 and Striking ST 52!)
Just the multipliers?
Under this rule’s cost progression, every  spent on ST multiplies the initial 10 by another “step” along the multiplier progression of 1.5, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 15, 20, and so on. The same goes for flat-point purchases of Striking ST , Lifting ST , and HP .
As an option, you could use these multiplier purchases at any point in design if convenient, not only to initially raise the trait from 10.
Example: You have ST 22 . You decide to raise this by another 50% for striking purposes (representing a new evolution in your super powers). Instead of calculating the exact cost to reach Striking ST 33, the GM lets you buy a “step” of Striking ST for  to get that multiplier of 1.5. You now strike at ST 33. Done.
Example: You decide to design a giant as a creature with human-scale ST of 13, scaled up to SM +3 for its height multiple of 3. That suggests ST 13 x 3 = 39. Instead of buying ST up to 30 and then finding the cost for the remaining +9 ST, start with ST 13 , then buy three “steps” of ST for  to get the multiple of 3. You now have ST 39. Done.
Because the Table’s cost progression is nicely logarithmic in the big picture but not at the detailed level, the cost of stats bought using these multipliers may not perfectly match the cost of stats bought through more precise accounting. But they’ll be in the ballpark – and for supers and the like, that’s arguably detailed enough!
When to use it
What good is this new cost scheme? It’s appealing if you want a single scheme that’s intended for all designs (with no complications for SM or superheroes), changes nothing for most designs (PCs with ST and HP under 21), makes eyeballing stats and costs for supers and large creatures easy, and makes those designs far more affordable, too.
On the other hand, the scheme calls for some familiarization before you’ll smoothly wrangle the costs of higher-power designs. (Love it or not, a universal “ per +1 ST” is easy!)
New damage for ST
Game design musing: New damage for ST examines damage progressions that scale neatly with ST: multiply ST by X, and you multiply damage by X.
Using that damage scheme, every “step” of ST  or Striking ST  multiplies ST-based damage by about 1.5, while every 6 “steps” of ST  or Striking ST  multiplies damage by 10.
Now that you’ve nabbed a quick’n’cheap ST of 190 or whatever, would you also like ST-based skills, Contests of ST, and other rolls against ST that play nicely? STROLL brings that to the table in the simplest way possible.
Using the Alternate Cost of ST Table together with STROLL and its ST Roll score, every flat-cost purchase of ST or Lifting ST will equate to a flat boost to ST Roll. Roughly, every “step” on the Alternate Cost of ST Table (Expanded), representing a ST multiple of about 1.5, boosts ST Roll by 5, and every two “steps” (a ST multiple of about 2) boost ST Roll by 10. Six “steps” (a ST multiple of 10) boost ST Roll by 33 or 34. (It’s not quite as neat as we might like, but such are the loosely rounded ways of the Size and Speed/Range Table’s numerical progression.)
I noted back in the 3e days that this cost scheme would work much better under “Quad ST” – i.e., ST with lifting ability that scales with the square of the ST score. That’s precisely what 4e later brought, and this price scheme does indeed work nicely with it.
I don’t play mega-ST supers games, though. When ST scores rise into the hundreds and higher, your experience outweighs mine. Put this cost scheme through the paces in your own super-powered games, and report back if something breaks!
Miscellanea on the cost of ST
After bouncing from one scheme to another for the treatment and pricing of ST, GURPS finally settled upon a happy solution in 4e. It works nicely. Much better than the ST of 3e and earlier (an attribute so unwieldy it spurred nutcase fans to all but rewrite the game).
Actually, ST mostly works nicely now. The attribute attribute remains tricky for some concepts of strength for heroes in tights, prompting optional schemes in 4e supplements like Powers and Supers. There’s a wholesale reworking of the attribute in “Knowing Your Own Strength” (Pyramid 3/83) for the still-dissatisfied. And 4e still leaves Contests or other ST-related rolls problematic, at least until now.
For better or worse, ST in 4e maintains an old quirk: the ever-decreasing relative return that each additional point of ST confers. For a purchase of +1 ST [10 points], a ST 1 rat gets swole, doubling its ST and quadrupling its Basic Lift. A ST 10 Joe making that same purchase, meanwhile, sees far more modest gains: just an extra 10% ST and an extra 20% or so Basic Lift. Yet that’s a greater improvement than what a ST 100 super-being gets from the purchase: near-zilch boosts of another 1% ST and about 2% Basic Lift.
I’m not saying that’s bad! Those three body-builders gain vastly different relative enhancements to physical power, but they still enjoy the same absolute boost to ST and components like HP. That’s how we normally expect things to work: a purchase of an extra DR 1 doubles the protection of a bear’s DR 1 fur but only slightly enhances a dragon’s DR 10 armor, relatively speaking – yet it adds the same absolute bit of protection to either creature, so we price it equally for either. That works for me.
GURPS is actually generous in one way to high-strength characters who buy more ST: as a side-effect of the Basic Lift calculation, the higher your ST, the greater the absolute lifting power that every +1 ST adds. Buying +1 ST may give the above rat a mind-bending quadrupling of lifting power while giving the super nearly no meaningful boost, but in terms of absolute gains to Basic Lift, the rat gains an extra 0.6 lbs., the human an extra 4 lbs., and the super an extra 40 pounds. It’s all good.
Still, ST is an oddball among the attributes, maybe even among traits in general. Something about its hugely open-ended nature, servicing the power needs of everything from mice (and smaller) to towering gods, leaves some GMs wishing for a scheme that makes each level of ST a relative step – or barring that, just any scheme that curbs the high cost to build a bus-hurling super.
This article attempts this through a Table that groups per-level ST costs into a progression that’s logarithmic at the big-picture level. This allows quick flat-cost purchases of multiples of ST (with a neat tie-in to SM for big designs), while changing nothing else about the ST attribute.
Here’s this article’s old Table, in all its muted glory:
Rest well, old soldier!
Interesting stuff; my thanks again to Mr Weber for the idea and numbers. Try out the new costs the next time you need to bulk up a super or monster!
Header image: Artificial intelligence takes a shot at “circus strongman lifts a million pounds”. Good job on the strongman. Didn’t quite nail the barbells.
(Come on, BlueWillow AI. Do you even lift, bro?)
If you like, consider those twin strongmen as representing this article: the old version of this article at left, and the new version at right. The new is pretty much the same article as the old, but with its new blue Tables represented by… wild blue hair on the strongman.
(I wonder what in the world makes AI pick out one of several variations on a creation and decide “you know, I think I’ll give this one blue hair.”)