Friday, August 19, 2016

Revising GURPS Magic, Part II - The Spells

After revising the basic rules of GURPS Magic in my previous post, let's look at the list of spells and see how we can balance them better. As before, these tweaks were initially discussed in this forum thread.

Air Spells

No-Smell: Characters in close range of the recipient of the spell who are relying exclusively on their sense of smell can still determine the target's location via a Smell-based Perception roll at a -2 penalty, by detecting eddies of other smells within the local air currents. However, even if they succeed their attack rolls will still be at a -6 penalty.

Notes: I wanted to reduce the number of automatic "I win" conditions in the spell list. This brings the effects more in line with that of invisibility (see B394) and doesn't render smell-based enemies completely helpless, though they are still at a serious disadvantage.


Concussion: Instead of doing area damage according to the rules for explosions, damage decreases by 1d for each yard of distance from the center.

Notes: The "Explosions" rule on B414 might be realistic, but by dividing the damage done by (3 x distance in yards from the center) they pretty much make all the "explosive" damage spells of GURPS Magic useless. This rules change - applied to all similar spells as well - returns the situation to the 3E rules.


Animal Spells

Spider Silk: A single strand has an effective ST of 10 plus the base energy cost paid for the spell, as well as DR 3. The caster may shoot as many strands as he has arms from a single casting of Spider Silk; calculate the total cost of the casting by adding up the total length of all strands. Resolve the attack as Rapid Fire (p. B373) with Rcl 1. The web has DR 3 and a ST of 10 plus the base energy cost paid for the spell, plus 1 ST for each additional strand.

Base Cost: Any amount up to your Magery. A base strand has a length of 5 yards, and you can extend this length by 5 yards by paying one point of energy beyond the base cost (maximum 100 yards). Half that to maintain.

Notes: The base spell is rather weak, since a normal humanoid caster with two arms can only get the web up to ST 11 even if he hits with both attacks and the target fails to dodge - which won't stop the target for long. This variant will make the spell a more attractive alternative in combat.


Partial Shapeshifting: As a clarification, unlike with Shapeshifting the continuous use of this spell does not reduce IQ unless the entire head of the caster is transformed.

Body Control Spells

Might/Grace/Vigor: The "always on" magic items for these spells are no longer permitted. Replace with "Any item; only affects the wearer." Energy cost to create is equal to that of the "staff or wand" item for these spells

Notes: Especially considering the new enchantment rules, anyone who lives in a fantasy setting where magic items can be bought and is rich will want to get the best stat-boosting items you can afford - and considering that the Wealth advantage scales geometrically, having high Wealth in order to afford stat-boosting items is a vastly better character point investment than buying up the attributes directly. With this rules change, "permanent attribute boosts" can still be modeled by combining this enchantment with the Power enchantment - but that is less problematic since Power does scale geometrically.


Enlarge/Enlarge Other: The cost increases to 10 (same to maintain). A single casting of the spell will only increase the target by +1 SM, though multiple castings stack. However, casters should note the increased costs for casting Regular spells at targets larger than SM 0 (see M11).

Notes: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers was absolutely correct in increasing the costs for this spell, but I thought that the base cost of 15 was a bit harsh. However, in order to prevent "Godzilla" incidents if someone manages to access enough energy I limited this to a stackable +1 SM per casting. This not only makes repeat casting significantly more expensive, but also creates further problems with maintaining the spell.

Communication & Empathy Spells

Sense Foes: This spell only detects plans or a desire for physical violence against the caster (which can also be directed against the group he is traveling with as a whole). Additionally, the spell is resisted by Will.

Notes: As written, this spell was absurdly powerful - especially considering that it doesn't have any prerequisites. It could be used to circumvent all sorts of courtly intrigue scenarios, simply by detecting who has "hostile intent" against the caster without allowing a resistance roll.


Sense Emotions: This spell is resisted by Will.

Notes: As with Sense Foes, permitting a resistance roll makes it somewhat more balanced.


Telepathy: Both caster and subject know the whole of each others' surface thoughts only.

Notes: The spell description states that it includes the effects of Mind Reading, which reads surface thoughts - but doesn't mention Mind Search, which allows to search for deeper memories. Even with this limitation the spell requires a lot of trust between the characters - without it, there would be no privacy left at all.


Communication: As a clarification, an audible, illusory image of the other participants in the spell appears before each participant, which can be observed and listened to by other people.

Notes: The spell description was somewhat unclear whether this was merely a projection within the minds of the participants or something that bystanders could observes, but I was swayed by the argument that both Voices and Simple Illusion were prerequisites.

Earth Spells

Seek Earth: Use the distance modifiers for Regular spells instead of long-distance modifiers. However, do not use this modifier for determining whether the success roll is a critical failure.

Notes: As written, this spells would quickly allow characters to find every significant gold, silver, mithral etc. deposit for many miles around, which would make for rather drastic changes in how prospecting and mining works in fantasy world. With Regular distance modifiers, it's still useful for detecting if there is any undiscovered gold treasure nearby, but it won't break the economy. The additional clause was needed because otherwise critical failures would occur almost constantly if no amount of the desired material is nearby.


Earth to Stone/Create Earth: As a clarification, the "Permanent" duration of these spells mean that their effects remain magical after casting - and that a "Dispel Magic" or similar effect can end them and a no-mana zone will suspend them. Additionally, if some of the magical earth or stone is broken off or otherwise removed from the bulk of the material, it loses its magical properties - transformed stone will revert into earth, and created earth will dissipate into nothing.

Notes: Create Earth is probably one of the most controversial spells in the spell list due to its ability to quickly produce metal or stoneworks and thus disrupt the economy, but I find that by thinking about the implications of its "Permanent" duration most issues can be resolved. The "no removal of the material" clause was added to further reduce their usefulness for craftsmanship.

Enchantment Spells

Talisman/Amulet: By doubling the energy cost, the provided bonus will work against all spells of an entire College.

Notes: As written, a resistance bonus against a single spell is so specific as to be almost useless, considering the sheer number of spells out there.


Penetrating Weapon: This enchantment is unavailable.

Notes: In typical fantasy campaigns, an Armor Divisor of (2) is almost always better than Puissance +1. It would be different if Hardened armor was more common, but pretty much no fantasy creatures or armor published so far has it. Rather than retrofit Hardened DR to existing creatures, it is probably best to eliminate the Penetrating Weapon enchantment.


Powerstone: Powerstones can recharge even when in close proximity to each other. However, they can only provide energy if used as "dedicated" or "exclusive" powerstones - i.e., when combined with a magic item - and never directly provide energy for the spells of a spellcaster. For an alternative, see the "Power Item" advantage at the bottom.

Notes: While the reasoning between the "powerstones cannot recharge within six feet of a larger powerstone" limitation is understandable, in the end it causes too much bookkeeping and too much keeping track of sleeping arrangements and the like. The Power Item advantage should be easier to keep track of.

Fire Spells

Resist Fire/Resist Cold: Instead of providing complete immunity to their respective element, they give the target DR 4 against that element per energy point put into the spell (half to maintain).

Notes: The core GURPS 4E rules have moved away from "complete immunity" effects, and so should spell effects.


Explosive Fireball: The damage decreases by 1d for each yard of distance from the center.

Notes: See Concussion, above.

Healing Spells

Lend Energy/Share Energy/Recover Energy: These only work for a spellcaster's Energy Reserve. A "Lend Fatigue" spell also exists (which might be limited to priest types).

Notes: It always struck me as inappropriate that mages recover Fatigue much more quickly than seasoned warriors - but then again, GURPS Magic was written before the Energy Reserve advantage was published. The way I see it, an experienced mage will primarily draw upon their Energy Reserve and use Fatigue only when the Energy Reserve is getting depleted.


Suspended Animation: Any injury will wake the character.

Notes: Considering that the spell only costs 6 energy points, there should be some mundane countermeasure.

Illusion Spells

Create Warrior: Add 1 energy to the cost to cast and maintain in order to give the warrior a full set of leather armor (DR 2) as well either a shortsword and a small shield, or a shortbow. Add 2 energy to the cost to cast and maintain in order to give the warrior a full set of scale armor (DR 4) as well as either a broadsword and a medium shield, or a longbow. The GM can permit other weapon and armor combinations for suitable energy costs.

Notes: While the basic idea of the spell is neat, needing to equip the warrior in addition to the lengthy casting time makes it almost useless in a fight.

Knowledge Spells

Aura: A spell called "Psychometry" exists which works the same as Aura, except that it examines the psychic impressions and emotional associations of an inanimate object or place.

Notes: I found the absence of such a spell a curious oversight - while "History" comes close, it doesn't fulfill the same function. And what's the point of playing a diviner if you can't say things like: "I get baaad vibes from this place..."?

Making and Breaking Spells

Explode: The fragmentation damage of the spell is [1d] ([1d+2] for double energy cost) regardless of the number of damage dice dealt to the initial object. Furthermore, the damage dealt by the individual fragments cannot exceed half of the hit points of the destroyed object, rounded down (see the "HP and DR of Objects and Cover" table on B557). As a clarification, the maximum range of the fragments depends on the damage dice dealt to the destroyed object (compare with the fragmentation damage rules on B414) - that is, five yards times the damage dice.

Notes: In my previous campaigns we assumed that the damage dealt by the fragments was equal to the damage dealt to the object. As a result, Explode was basically the IED spell, perfect for slaughtering small armies - a favorite was to combine it with Delay on a small object and then teleport it into an enemy camp. However, after re-reading the rules for fragmentation damage I noticed that explosives that cause it generally have separate damage values for the direct hit and the fragments, and applying that principle to this spell gives much more reasonable effects - although the spell is still very useful for injuring lots of people. The damage limitation based on the exploding object's hit points was added in order to prevent the old "exploding pebble" trick.

For your convenience, I have created a table showing the correlation between the effective skill of the fragment and the average number of hits. The distances assume a SM 0 target that is not prone or behind cover.


Meta Spells

Counterspell, Great Ward, Reflect, Suspend Spell, Ward: These benefit from the "Improved Counterspelling" perk, described below.

Mind Control Spells

Wisdom: Replace the "always on" item with: "Any item. Allows the wearer to cast the spell on himself. Energy cost to create: 2,000."

Notes: See the discussion about Vigor/Grace/Might earlier.

Movement Spells

Levitation: If cast on himself, it limits the caster's Dodge as if his Speed was 3.00. A "Dodge and Drop" is possible at the caster's normal Dodge, but it cancels the Levitation spell (costing the usual 1 FP in the process, as well as possibly causing falling damage).

Notes: The spell description doesn't specify this, but it makes sense that a relatively slow and clumsy flight spell like Levitation would hamper a character's Dodge.


Wallwalker: Cost changes to "1 per 100 pounds, half that to maintain". Furthermore, the -2 penalty to combat can be bought off for individual combat skills as a Hard technique.

Notes: It wasn't clear why Wallwalker should be more expensive than Levitation, despite Levitation being more versatile - so I made Wallwalker cheaper.


Lockmaster: This spell specifically disables magical locks and does not assist with opening mundane locks.

Notes: Otherwise it would make mundane Lockpicking skills redundant, which would be boring.

Necromancy Spells

Steal Energy: This spell works on characters' Energy Reserve. A "Steal Fatigue" variant exist which drains Fatigue.


Zombie: As a clarification, despite what M10 implies, this spell does not have a "Permanent" duration and Dispel Magic doesn't destroy zombies - instead it effectively has an "Instant" duration which just happens to create a new magical creature. Corpses reanimated with this spell gain the "Brawling" skill equal to their DX, if they don't have it already. Furthermore, a "Dread Zombie" variant spell exists with a base cost of 30 which adds +3 ST, +2 HP and +2 DR to the relevant template. Such undead have their appearance altered by the stronger necromantic energies - glowing eyes, black mists surrounding their bones, and so forth.

Notes: As zombies and their ilk are undead abominations hating all life, I find it appropriate to give them some actual skill in combat for free. The "Dread Zombie" variant spell is intended if a necromancer has access to some special corpses of powerful people - say, dead adventurers - which would be wasted on an ordinary Zombie spell.


Banish: A successful roll with an appropriate Hidden Lore skill should give the caster a good idea of the approximate casting cost for this spell on a particular entity.

Plant Spells

Heal Plant: This works only on inanimate and non-sapient plants - for other types of plants the spells of the Healing College are required.

Notes: By the rules as written you could cast Plant Form Other on someone and turn them into a tree, cast Heal Plant on them, and once the former spell ends they are completely healed, no matter how badly injured or diseased they were before! Only the general reluctance of the player characters to spend any time as a tree prevented this trick from being used more often in my old campaign.

Protection & Warning Spells

Missile Shield: Instead of providing complete immunity from missiles, this spell reduces the effective skill of the attacker by -1 for each energy point put into the spell, up to a maximum of five energy points. Half to maintain.

Notes: Missile Shield, as written, is possibly the spell I hate the most - it represents the most absurd "total immunity" effect available, and combined with a Levitation or Flight spell makes the caster completely immune to any mundane reprisals from the ground. The new version is still very useful (and doesn't require the mage to be aware of the attack, as it should be), but the mage still shouldn't taunt an entire battalion of archers, or a master marksman.

Water Spells

Resist Acid: Instead of providing complete immunity, the spell provides DR 4 against acid damage for each energy point put into the spell. Half that to maintain

Weather Spells

Resist Lightning: Instead of providing complete immunity, the spell provides DR 4 against electricity damage for each energy point put into the spell. Half that to maintain.

Explosive Lightning: The damage is reduced by 1d-1 for each yard of distance from the center of the explosion.

Ball of Lightning: The damage is reduced by 1d-1 for each yard of distance from the center of the explosion.

New Advantage - Power Item

A spellcaster can dedicate one item he owns as a Power Item. This is essentially an Energy Reserve (see GURPS Powers, p. 119) with appropriate Gadget limitations (B116), as well as any other limitations the GM permits. The exact form of the Power Item depends on the style and preference of the spellcaster (a wand for a wizard, a holy symbol for a priest and so forth), but the maximum amount of energy a Power Item can hold depends on its mundane value, as outlined on p. 28 of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers. However, unlike the Dungeon Fantasy variant, this type of Power Item will recharge on its own according to the usual rules for Energy Reserves (take note of the Slow Recharge/Special Recharge on p. 119 of GURPS Powers). If the spellcaster has an "internal" Energy Reserve of his own, this internal reserve will always recharge first.

Notes: As outlined earlier, this is intended to replace classical powerstones as a reserve of energy. The Dungeon Fantasy notion of linking the maximum capacity of the item to its mundane value is a good one, but forcing the caster to return to town in order to recharge it doesn't sit quite right with me. Furthermore, adding new limitations to the Power Item can be used for some interesting concepts. Want a Power Item which has to be bathed in the blood of sacrificial victims in order to be recharged? Now you can!

New Magic Perk

Improved Counterspelling: This perk can be taken once for each College of magic, and requires that the character knows six spells from that college. A spellcaster with this perk can use Counterspell, Great Ward, Reflect, Suspend Spell and Ward for all spells of this college, whether the caster knows the spells being affected or not.

Notes: Needing to know the individual spells that need to be countered is a huge weakness of the assorted warding/counterspelling spells. This perk should make them significantly more useful without being unbalancing.