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My Free-Form GURPS Magic System from the 1990s

This article is from around 1995 as far as I can tell. I designed a free-form magic system for GURPS (probably 3rd edition, I’m guessing). My gaming hiatus started around the time this article was written, so I never got around to playtesting it. 

The Principles of Magic and the Order of Things

Alternate and Additional Rules for Magic in GURPS

By Stu Venable, Jr.

The Science of Magic

Most mages learn spells by rote. Many mages, even some of the most powerful ones, may know scores of spells but be unable to describe the forces that make the magics work. They have been taught the procedures and rituals that make magic, but they do not understand the underlying principles — the theory — of magic.

Some mages, however, have learned the acedemics of magic. These master mages, while not powerful combat monsters, have the ability to bend the forces of magic to their will, in ways a “mundane” mage could only dream. Their magics are very powerful, but they are also very time-consuming. These are the mages who will research and develop new spells.

Thaumatology (Mental/Very Hard)

Defaults to IQ+Magery-6

See Compendium 1, Page 149.

Thaumatology is a basic, non-specialized skill of the physics of magic. It is a prerequisite for all other Thaumatological Specialties.

The Principles of Magic

The following skills describe the relationships between things, and how those relationships can be changed or enhanced. The Principles of Magic control the forces of magic that affect the world.

Principle of Affinity (Mental/ Very Hard)

No Default

Prerequisite: Thaumatology at equal or higher level

The Principle of Affinity is the study of methods for creating attraction or affinity between entities. It causes object to want to behave like other objects or be in close proximity of them. Examples would be spells of attraction, detection, and location.

Principle of Disparity (Mental/Very Hard)

No Default

Prerequisite: Thaumatology at equal or higher level

The Principle of Disparity describes the action of making aversions between entities. Examples would be spells of protection and warning, like force dome, watch dog, et al.

Principle of Melioration (Mental/Very Hard)

No Default

Prerequisite: Thaumatology at equal or higher level

The Principle of Melioration describes efforts to make a thing more of what it is — improve it or increase it. Growth spells, earth to stone, and similar spells use the Principle of Melioration.

Principle of Degeneracy (Mental/Very Hard)

No Default

Prerequisite: Thaumatology at equal or higher level

The Principle of Degeneracy describes efforts to make a thing less of what it is — to deteriorate, damage or shrink it. Shrinking spells, death touch, and similar spells use the Principle of Degeneracy.

Principle of Transmutation (Mental/Very Hard)

No Default

Prerequisite: Thaumatology at equal or higher level

The Principle of Transmutation describes the action of making a thing into another thing. It is in parity with the Principle of Affinity, except Transmutation actually affects the subject’s nature, not it’s behavior.

Principle of Spontineity (Mental/Very Hard)

No Default

Prerequisite: Thaumatology at equal or higher level

The Principle of Spontineity is the study of methods of causing something to exist when it does not. It is of the making and creating of things.

The Order of Things

The Order of Things describes the things that magic can manipulate. These are the people, the animals, the elements, etc.

The Four Elements

Element of Fire (Mental/Hard)

No Default

Study of the actual Element of Fire and its traits: passion, violence, light.

Element of Water (Mental/Hard)

No Default

Study of the Element of Water and its traits: compassion, healing, darkness.

Element of Air (Mental/Hard)

No Default

Study of the Element of Air and its traits: movement, susceptibility, illusion.

Element of Earth (Mental/Hard)

No Default

Study of the Element of Earth and its traits: stasis, protection, substance

The Three Parts of Man

Soul of Man (Mental/Very Hard)

No Default

Study of Man’s soul, the dead, resurection, and the life force. The Necromancy and Healing colleges deal with the Soul of Man.

Body of Man (Mental/Very Hard)

No Default

Study of Man’s body, and all aspects of it. Most Body Control spells deal with the body of man, as do some spells in the College of Healing and Protection.

Mind of Man (Mental/Very Hard)

No Default

Study of Man’s mind, including the intellect, passions, et al. Mind Control spells deal heavily with the Mind of Man.

The Two Realms

Realm of Nature (Mental/Very Hard)

No Default

Study of the realm of nature, of plants, animals, lakes, babbling brooks, et al. Most Plant and Animal spells deal with the Realm of Nature

Realm of Magic (Mental/Very Hard)

No Default

Study of the Realm of Magic and the magical manipulation of that realm. Most Meta spells deal with the Realm of Magic

The Matter of Creation

Prima Materia (Mental/Very Hard)

No Default

Study of the basic material and structure of the universe. Includes aspects of time, space, other dimensions.

Thaumatology 401: Applied Studies

Now that the theory of magic is well-founded, we can go on to the creation of magic.

1. Identify Principles and Things

The mage must first determine what it is he want to do. Once that is clear, he must identify the Things will be affected by his magic. Also, he must determine what Principles will be evoked in the manipulation of the Things. The GM should also be involved in the determination of Principles and Things. Once the Principles and Things are determined, the character rolls each of those skills, noting the amount by which the character fails or suceeds.

2. Determine The Skill Level

To determine the skill level, average the amounts of failure and success. Drop all fractions. Add this number to IQ+Magery-7. This number is the character’s skill roll for THIS CASTING ONLY. Each time the character tries to cast the same spell, this procedure must be started anew. To codify the spells, see below.

3. Determine Time to Cast

 
Order of Things Time to Cast No. of Principles Time to Cast
Prima Materia One Hour One 2 Seconds
Realm 10 Minutes Two One Minute
Part of Man One Minute Three 10 Minutes
Element 2 Seconds Four One Hour

For each Thing affected by the spell, add the corresponding time. Also add the corresponding time for the number of principles. This total

Note: this is only the time to cast once the Principles and Things have been resolved. In combat, each Principle roll takes 3d MINUTES, and each Thing roll takes 2d MINUTES. Magic of this sort is not suited for combat. In the event of combat, or similar time-critical occasions, the Thaumatologist will have a few known spells under his belt.

4. Cost to Cast

Order of Things Fatigue No. of Principles Fatigue
Prima Materia 8 One 1
Realm 4 Two 2
Part of Man 2 Three 4
Element 1 Four 8

Take all of the Things to be affected, and add their total fatigue costs. Also add in the corresponding cost for the total number of Principles.

Note: Once Time to Cast and Fatigue have been determined, either may be reduced by increasing the other. Halfing time doubles fatigue, and halfing fatigue doubles time.

Other Skills of Magic

The following skills were designed for mages only. They are really magical perception rolls. Under normal circumstances, it would be inappropriate for a non mage to have these skills. Note that all of them have Magery as a prerequisite, and Magery is required to make a default roll.

Vision of the Gift (Mental/Hard)

Defaults to IQ+Magery-7

Prerequisites: Magery

This skill provides the ability to see if someone has the magical gift. It also allows the caster to identify an object or person as enchanted or otherwise affected by magic. Vision of Gift will not yield any other information. It cannot be used to read auras, determine spells, etc.

Note: This skill is considered a perception roll. The GM should note that the character has the skill, and its level, and make all rolls in secret.

Arcane Sense (Mental/Very Hard)

Defaults to IQ+Magery-8

Prerequisites: Magery

Arcane sense allows the mage to sense when the forces of mana are being manipulated. The distance of the manipulation affects this skill (use long-distance modifiers). The power of the spell also affects perception (+3 to -3, GMs ruling). It will not tell distance or direction of the manipulation, but it will give an indication of the magnitude of the disturbance.

Note: This is considered a perception roll. The GM should note all characters with this skill and their respective levels, and make all rolls in secret. The default for this skill is optional — GMs may rule that their is no default.

Scry Sense (Mental/Very hard)

Defaults to IQ+Magery-8

Prerequisites: Magery

This skill provides the ability to sense a scrying attempt. Any information spell that will reveal the condition, location ,etc. of any object or person in the character’s company may trigger this sense. Each yard away from the character the scryed subject puts the skill level at -1. This skill will only detect a scry attempt. It won’t tell where it came from, what knowledge it seeks, only the target.

Note: This is considered a perception roll. The GM should note all characters with this skill and their respective levels, and make all rolls in secret. The default for this skill is optional — GMs may rule that their is no default.

Researching New Spells

Researching a new spell, and codifying it for other mages to use requires a great amount of time. Once the spell is determined, used the following table to determine how many days it will take to codify the rituals of the spell.

Element Time
Each Thing Affected 2 Days
Each Principle Used 5 Days
Each Fatigue Point* 3 Days
Affects Parts of Man 2 Days
Affects Realms 8 Days
Affects Prima Materia 16 Days

Calculate the fatigue cost using the rules in Thaumatology 401.

After the appropriate number of days, the Thaumatologist may roll his skill for each Principle and Thing, and a general Thaumatology roll. If any rolls fail, the mage may research that Thing or Principle again (only the time for that element) and try that roll again. If the Thaumatology roll fails, however, it reflects a flaw in the theory of the spell, and research must begin anew.

If the rolls succeed, the GM and the player may then determine time and cost to cast, and all other particulars of the spell. The cost to cast and the time to cast may vary greatly from the mage’s original form. The only rule for determining cost to cast and time to cast for the newly created spell is game balance.

Once the spell is researched, it can be learned and cast like any other spell.

 

Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of DoucheyDM.com. He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

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2 Responses to "My Free-Form GURPS Magic System from the 1990s"

  1. Tim!No Gravatar says:

    I think it is the purview of every GURPS GM to experiment with homebrew magic systems. I once wrote a GURPS magic system influenced by, of all things, Magic: the Gathering.

    http://www.gibberinggamer.com/1999/02/gathered-mana.html

  2. James AustinNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve only skimmed this article so far, but on the surface it looks a lot like GURPS Ritual Path Magic. Have you read that book Stu?
    I’ll have to come back and read this properly later.

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