GURPS Power-Ups 2: Perks introduced a new perk that I loved immediately: Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). This one-point beauty lets you specify some task or action that your character performs as a matter of course, even off-screen – reloading weapons (good for action heroes), sitting with your back to a wall (good for paranoid heroes), and many more – without your having to say that the PC performs the action.
“Cool”, I thought. “It’s automation for characters.”
There aren’t a lot of SOPs offered in Perks, but they’re easy and fun to think up. Here’s a giant handful of SOPs to keep your PC busy, on and off screen. But first, please put up with some opining on the proper use of this perk:
As good as done. (Maybe.)
An SOP is an agreement between the player and the GM that automates some PC tasks. It saves the player the hassle of
- declaring that the PC performs the actions; or
- arguing with the GM over why the actions should have been performed anyway.
The SOP is a guarantee that the task gets accomplished – but it’s not a guaranteed guarantee. The important fine print: conditions have to reasonably allow the PC to have worked that SOP magic.
Conditions may apply
First, an SOP only dictates that the PC undertakes the stated task, not that she necessarily succeeds. Success may be a given if the task is easy enough (or the PC is capable enough) that no roll should be needed. If swapping ammo magazines is a foolproof task, then that SOP should just happen without incident.
But how about the PC who wants to “automatically” repair demolished vehicles, or whip up tricky magical enchantments, during off-screen downtime? The GM should call for a success roll for difficult SOP tasks, or require that a non-expert PC devote extra time offscreen for the SOP to work – or simply declare that a PC with meager abilities nets meager results from the SOP.
Time and other resources
As Perks suggests, money, tools, or other items may be required for an SOP. Perks‘ “Off-Screen Reload” does nothing if you’re out of ammo. Likewise, an SOP that says “You keep your vehicle fully repaired” will accomplish little in a wasteland without critical tools and parts.
Time may also be a condition. An SOP described as “You always check the room for secret doors” is going to take up plenty of time in every dungeon room (the bigger the room, the longer the time). If the party spends only enough time in a chamber to trade a few blows with its monster and then flee back down the hall, clearly there was no time for investigating hidden door latches.
Keep in mind that resources devoted to SOPs can’t be spent elsewhere. Unless the GM is really generous, the PC with an SOP that says “You care for all of the party’s animals at the end of the day” won’t be able to claim a lot of free hours for studying magic by the campfire. The PC with the SOP “You keep your tech gear updated to the latest models” deserves a cost-of-living surcharge.
Attention and focus
Some SOPs suggest considerable demands on PC attention. It’s fun to think up SOPs that automate a PC’s focus: “You always watch the party’s rear”, “You always seek out interesting rumors in town”, “You always check for secret doors”, and so on. The GM can nicely game these as some bonus on rolls to detect the subjects of focus (probably using Per or Per-based skills like Observation and Search).
But the focus should mean less attention paid elsewhere, suggesting penalties on other uses of Per. The dedicated rear guard won’t likely be the first to spot threats coming from other directions. The fellow always pressing tavern patrons for rumor details may not see the bartender whisper to a hooded stranger. And the secret-door seeker tapping on the walls clearly isn’t paying attention to what’s crawling out of the well in the center of the room…
Keep it simple
With the above in mind, give a thought to how “big” your SOP should be. The broader its scope – the bigger and more numerous the meddlesome tasks it lets you waive – the greater the requirements that the GM might set. “You keep all party vehicles in repair” will require more time, tools, and money than “You keep your own motorbike in repair”; “You keep close watch on all henchmen” will eat up more attention than “You keep close watch on your own hireling”.
In short: The greater the requirements for an SOP, the more leeway the GM has to declare that the SOP partially or fully failed to kick in because the conditions weren’t met. Or that some other task failed because the SOP consumed the character’s attention.
Standard Compulsive Behavior?
A final thought: Standard Operating Procedure isn’t the same as Compulsive Behavior. An SOP could be a compulsive thing, sure, and could nicely pair with a similar-themed Compulsive Behavior. But the latter is a pretty serious disadvantage that pulls the PC out of the safety zone, needlessly eats up lots of time, or otherwise causes trouble. An SOP is a minor advantage that (often) gets some useful task done.
SOPs are fun. Grab one or a few to automate the dull parts of playing your PC. But don’t overlook the benefits of keeping your SOPs short and simple!
A bunch of new SOPs
The SOPs below are easy to work into play and should be broadly useful for adventurers. (Several automate actions that practically define the adventurer PC…)
- Marching Order: You maintain a predetermined position within a certain group when on the move. This is useful for soldiers on the march – or dungeon raiders creeping down a corridor. (Individual PCs with this SOP will maintain a general position within an unruly group, but overall order may be a mess if all members of the party don’t buy it.)
- No Surprises (also known as And Stay Down): After a fight (or during, if you have the time), you check whether downed foes are truly down, or tied up, or in whatever state you want them. Given a choice, you never turn your back on a downed foe until you’re sure it’s safe! (This SOP goes well with a cautious attitude… or Bloodlust. Hapless horror story characters, meanwhile, take the opposite action – Never, Ever Check the Body – as an inevitably fatal quirk.)
- Loot the Bodies: You work over corpses for coins, gear, or whatever you can steal. Eww. (Come on, you do this anyway; you just don’t have to say it any more.)
- Always at Hand: You keep a specified item close at hand, even when sleeping. A handgun under the pillow is a classic example. (The GM can rule on what “close at hand” means; a large item like a shield won’t reasonably always be on your person. If in doubt, call it 1d6 seconds away.)
- Ammo Reclaimer: You collect unbroken arrows or other reusable ammo after a fight. (How many can be found in good shape is up to the GM; if nothing seems reasonable, try rolling 1d6 to get 10-60% reclaimable.)
- Up to Data: You keep your address books, journals, notebooks, databases, and other information stores up to date, in good condition, and backed up (if computerized).
- Dear Diary: You reliably maintain a diary, log, or other record of information, typically adding to it once per day. Give the GM a brief description of the sort of information you keep, and its level of detail. (This could be a copious amount, or even a running stream of note-taking – but serious demands on time and attention may apply.)
SOPs with likely resource conditions
The SOPs below are largely “off-screen” actions that may require skills to perform successfully, or may require time, money, or other resources to perform at all. See notes in the main text above.
- Topped Off: You always keeps some category of item replenished (e.g., drugs and supplies in your medical kit). (This is similar to Energizer, Full Tank, and Off-Screen Reload from Perks.)
- Equipment Check: You always keep some category of item checked, repaired, and ready (e.g., your bard keeps his musical instrument tuned, oiled, and ready to play, or your warrior sharpens weapons and checks armor after every fight). (This, too, is akin to the above-mentioned perks.)
- Caretaker: You check, feed, and otherwise care for a pet, mount, etc. at appropriate times (generally at least once per day). (Again, this is in a similar vein to the above-mentioned perks.)
- Checklist: You reliably run through a checklist of tasks, typically when changing locations, starting or ending a job shift, or at the end of the day. Examples include a “closing time” round of checks (doors, window, stoves, etc.) for an innkeeper, a final security sweep for a night watchman, or a daily round of trap checking and resetting for a hunter. (This is a minor variation on Last Man Out from Perks, more clearly defined as running through a formal or informal list of procedures.)
- Leave No Trace: You are careful to erase traces of your presence and activities. This should generally require an SOP for each key action: hiding your tracks while walking, picking up your bullet casings, wiping fingerprints, erasing traces of computer usage, etc. (The result may be penalties on foes to find you through Tracking, Forensics, Criminology, and so on – but keep in mind that effective erasure generally entails considerable time and skills.)
This SOPs below involve focusing your attention on targets of interest. The GM may award you a special roll to notice items of interest related to those targets – threats, attempts at Stealth or Shadowing, or other points of interest – or may give you a small bonus if anyone would get such a roll. However, the GM may penalize your attempts to notice things other than that focus when the SOP is in play. See notes in the main text above.
- Room Check: You carefully scan any room you enter for available exits, number of people, potential threats, etc. (In general, use Observation skill to notice points of interest; roll against an appropriate skill like Tactics to put observations to good use.)
- Like a Hawk: You keep a close watch on some person or item of interest: a dependent, a buddy, other members of the party, etc. This may help you quickly notice an absence, a change in behavior, etc. With the GM’s permission, the target of your attention can vary (such as “current client” if you are a bodyguard). Keep in mind that a large number of targets or hard-to-follow targets will seriously divert your attention from everything else…
- People Watcher: Similar to Like a Hawk, but you watch strangers around you while resting or when otherwise given a chance. This may be out of some academic interest, nefarious intent (spotting “marks” to scam), or just a general love (or fear!) of people.
- Position Player: Similar to Like a Hawk, but you pick a certain direction or area to watch. This generally means acting as the rear guard who scans the path behind, the flank guard who watches one side, and so on – even the point-person on the alert for threats overhead or underfoot.
- Forager: You keep a constant eye out for some class of item as you travel: herbs, small game, firewood, etc. This may aid passive Scrounging attempts.
- Considerate Contributor: You always leave comments on online articles of interest, adding your own thoughts and contributions.
Does that describe you? If so: What new SOPs would you offer to GURPS PCs?