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Thread: GURPS Magic

  1. #1
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    GURPS Magic

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    How many people use the default GURPS magic system? How's it working out?

    How many people use a "magic" system based on powers? How does it work?

    How many people use some sort of homebrew or port from another game? What is it, and why is it cool?
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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    I'm still interested in an answer to my question, but for now I'll give one possible alternate magic system. It's stolen from the Fudge supplement "A Magical Medley", where it was called "Occultism".

    First off, my objective is to push magic into the background, as a cause for PC's to act but not as an easy solution to an obstacle. This fits fantasy in the style of Robert E. Howard or Clark Ashton Smith, as well as older sources where wizards were either villainous masterminds or mysterious allies.

    People who actually study magic have one primary skill, a specialization of Ritual Magic for their style or tradition of magic (e.g. Shamanism, Witchcraft, Dark Arts, Nature Magic, etc.). To be effective, they also need the Magery advantage (discounted to 5 pts, maybe); Willpower is a definite plus. Depending on the magical style, a magician may need supplementary skills, such as Singing, Dancing, Artist (Woodworking), Jeweler, Fire Eating, Knife, etc. Skills like Occultism, Hidden Lore, Thaumatology, or what have you are always useful.

    All magic is ritual magic, taking anywhere from a half-hour to several days. Sometimes preparing props for the final ritual takes longer, if they aren't at hand. The first step is to discover a ritual for the correct effect, usually requiring Research or (in less literate or more dangerous traditions) some form of social engineering and/or adventuring. If a ritual is a variation on another that the character already knows the character can improvise a modification instead. To understand an existing ritual, or to improvise one, the player rolls against Occultism or Hidden Lore, with bonuses or penalties determined by the GM. (I haven't worked out modifiers yet, but factors include whether the ritual is in a compatible tradition, how clearly a writer/speaker explained a ritual, how different it is from other rituals the character knows, etc.)

    A character can memorize a ritual as an Easy skill, and remember it off the top of his head with a skill roll. Otherwise, he'll have to carry around written notes, and study them before attempting the ritual. (At the GM's discretion, some rituals may be so basic to the tradition that the character knows them as part of his Ritual Magic roll, e.g. banishing evil spirits in Shamanism or Blessing in any tradition but Dark Arts.)

    Rituals also have "props", anything from a circle of white sand to a hair from the intended target to a virgin slain at the climax of the ritual. A prop may also be a particular place or time where the ritual is more potent, or a taboo that the caster must observe (e.g. abstain from sex for a fortnight). Sometimes a ritual will specify its props; an expert in that tradition can roll against Occultism to infer more.

    Each ritual has a Base Chance to perform successfully, anything from 10 (for something dead easy) to 3 (for something devilishly hard). This is sometimes, but not always, correlated to the net effect of the ritual. Modifiers to this roll include the caster's level of Magery, the presence and proper use of necessary props (anything from +1 to +3 apiece), ample time to perform the ritual (-1 to -5 penalty to rush), and a lack of distractions (make a Willpower roll to stay focussed).

    If the final casting roll fails, nothing happens. If the roll succeeds by one, the ritual has an effect. Whether that effect is what the caster thought it would be is another question, although a successful Occultism roll can tell whether a ritual will have unintended or even utterly unexpected effects. ("Hey, this so-called healing charm summons Shob-Zaggoth into the body of the target!")

    If, however, the roll succeeds exactly, something like the intended effect happens, but with a horrible twist. A curse goes awry; a ghost is in fact a lying demon; when you looked into the future the future looked back at you. The GM may make the casting roll secretly, so as not to spoil the "surprise".

    Note that a caster without Occultism can cast a meticulously described ritual. In fact, some malign entities embed rituals for their own summoning in seemingly rhymes or games ... if the stars are right and a bunch of kids are screwing around with a Ouija board, the Eater of Eyeballs may awaken ...

    Now, if you want more immediately useful powers, you can always make a pact with a god, powerful spirit, or demon. How hard can that be? And surely there won't be strings attached ...

    So, here's what I like about this system, rough as it is:

    • Magic is a rare and unpredictable force, not a pseudo-science. Sometimes hidden variables affect the outcome, and sometimes results aren't easily repeatable.
    • Rituals take too long to cast under combat conditions, in normal cases. However, the climax of an adventure might be for the magician to finish his ritual before the Eater of Eyeballs breaks through magical and mundane defenses to suck the party's eye sockets clean.
    • Fighters, thieves, and other mundane types can and must have an active role to play in defeating the supernatural. (As a corollary, mundane means can harm a monster, although sometimes it's finding the right mundane means.)
    • As a lazy GM, I like the idea of giving magicians access to only a small number of rituals, and dropping more along their path as they go.

    By the way, obvious inspirations for this system, apart from Fudge Occultism, are Call of Cthulhu, Castle Falkenstein, and (to a small extent) Sorcerer.
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

  3. #3
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    I pretty much use the default system from Gurps Magic and Gurps Grimoire (I haven't updated to Gurps 4th edition yet, although my cousin has it and I've skimmed through it a bit).

    Personally I like the system in Gurps Magic because it works for the style of Gurps fantasy that I run. It could be just because thats what I know, but from my point of view the system of prerequisites makes a lot of sense. It sort of adds a degree of science to the system, so when you think about magical "research", you can imagine more why thats necessary. At least it makes sense for me.

    For stuff not covered in there, I usually won't let players learn stuff beyond that, and even some spells that are listed I might put them in the catagory of "hidden knowledge", and either require an unusual background cost, or require them to actually role-play a search to find a way to learn that spell.

    Interesting concept with the ritual magic. I usually like the game to be fast paced and have magic integrated into the action when appropriate, so the main gurps magic system works fine for me. I might include ritual stuff for NPC bad guys though, at times when I want them to do something that isn't covered in the main list of spells and I want the players to have a chance to stop it from happening.

    I know the gurps magic system (3rd edition) pretty well, so if you have any questions just ask.

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