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"Upon Death" Abilities

Many fictional races (and a few unique monsters and even heroes) come with a special surprise -- either an ability (often an explosion) which triggers automatically upon their death or an ability which they can trigger voluntarily, but which instantly kills them. Can GURPS handle something like this? Why, what a silly question...

First off, let's note that the trigger in question shouldn't affect the cost. That is, "I explode if someone kills me" and "I can blow myself up with a Ready maneuver, but then I die" are equivalents. The former will give your foes pause before attacking you, while the latter puts you in control but has no effect if you're killed before you decide to blow. If you get the best of both worlds (i.e., you can voluntarily explode but you automatically explode if killed), buy the ability once and then add an Accessory (Self-remote-control) perk.

There are three ways to handle this, depending on the ability in question.

0-Point Feature

Not many things fall into this category. But if we're talking about either a physical change to your body when you die, or the ability to kill yourself after spending at least five minutes in uninterrupted concentration, it's a 0-point feature. Anything that involves voluntarily, fast suicide, or that has the potential to affect someone else, costs points. Read on.

(Possibly Leveled) Perk

The ability to commit instant suicide is a perk. If it causes a change to your body or has a very minor benefit when you die, that's fine. For example, if you slowly turn to stone when you die, that's a 0-point feature. But if you can choose to turn to stone, and doing so kills you, that's a perk -- if only because it allows you to escape capture via an unstoppable suicide method and (if you time it right) lets you sacrifice yourself to prop up a gate, fall onto a foe from a great height, etc.

Most other "upon death" abilities (whether voluntary or triggered) are perks as well. For example, if you broadcast a homing beacon when you die, or turn into corrosive goo that destroys your equipment, or fire a spray of permanent dye (which can be dodged or blocked) at the person who killed you, that's a perk. Since explosions are the most common ability, though, let's look at them a little more closely.

I'd say the best way to handle a realistic explosion is the method that Kromm suggests. Treat it as a leveled perk ("Suicide Bomb"), which buys the equivalent of a Payload full of explosives. Assume 2 lbs./level of the best explosive available for your TL. "You die if you use this" is implied by the fact that it's internal, and is balanced by the perfect concealment and the explosive and trigger both being included for no additional dollar cost. You can have up to five levels of this perk (at 1 point/level, of course), and it does the following damage per TL:

TLExplosiveLevel 1Level 2Level 3Level 4Level 5
TL3serpentine (REF 0.3)9d+16dx24dx46dx37dx3
TL4black powder (REF 0.4)11d5dx36dx37dx36dx4
TL5black powder (REF 0.5)6dx26dx37dx36dx47dx4
TL6TNT (REF 1.0)6dx36dx46dx57dx56dx6
TL7-8plastic explosive (REF 1.4)5dx47dx47dx58dx55dx9
TL9PLASTEX B (REF 4)7dx56dx86dx107dx107dx11
TL10HEE (REF 6)6dx76dx106dx126dx147dx13
TL11Plasma Explosive (REF 10)6dx97dx117dx136dx186dx20
TL12Plasma Explosive (REF 20)7dx116dx186dx226dx255dx34

One-Use Advantage

More versatile (or powerful) abilities can be built as advantage, with the "upon death" part being represented by two important things.

First, from GURPS Powers, the Backlash, Heart Attack (-300%) limitation. Though since a Heart Attack normally takes a few minutes to kill you, this will be a (same cost) variant -- call it Backlash, Instant Death (-300%) -- which trades off the extra time for either a guaranteed, instant suicide ability or an automatic trigger that works even after you die. Since a net modifier worse than -80% is wasted, use the "extra" 220% to buy lots of enhancements -- for example, a deathsplosion could buy Explosion 3, Fragmentation 12, etc.

Second, from GURPS Supers, the "one use only" modifier, which reduces the cost to 1/5 of the modified value. This is a flat reduction, not a limitation, that represents the fact that you're only able to use the advantage once.

After calculating the final value by applying both of the above factors, you can often save points by also turning this into an Alternative Ability. If its cost (yes, after applying the 1/5 "once only" reduction) is less than that of a similar, related ability, go ahead and knock it down to 1/5 cost again! This will greatly reduce the price, which is fair given that you hope you're never going to have to use it! Of course, then it does fail to work if its parent ability is jammed, crippled, neutralized, etc.

Example: Celsius is a fire-wielding hero with many superpowers, including the ability to explode with the force of a miniature star at the cost of her own life. She buys this as Crushing Attack 1,000d (Armor Divisor (3), +100%; Backlash, Instant Death, -300%; Emanation, -20%; Explosion 3, +150%; Incendiary, +10%; No Blunt Trauma, -20%; Super, -10%; Variable, +5%) [1000], which becomes 200 points after applying the 1/5 "one use only" discount. Since her most powerful normal attack cost her 250 points, she decides that this is an Alternative Ability to that attack, which drops the price further to only 40 points.

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