Willpower Magic System
This magic system is an attempt to remove the aspects of the standard
GURPS magic system that I don't much like. It uses some ideas from
S. John Ross's
Mana magic rules.
This document describes the operation of normal "wizardly" magic.
Clerical Magic is described separately.
The guiding principles of this magic system are:
- Magery is not inborn. Anyone intelligent enough to learn to read
can learn to cast magic given the right training.
- Magic is an intellectual skill. Spellcasters need an understanding
of the basic principles of magic in order to be able to cast spells.
- Magic is cast by invoking force of will on the natural world
through learnt rituals.
- Spells have vastly fewer prerequisites than in the standard GURPS
magic system. Most spells have no prerequisite spells at all, though
they do require a general backgrounding in magical lore. More powerful
spells are, however, still more difficult to learn than more basic ones.
- Casting spells does not automatically get faster, less gesture
and vocalisation intensive, or cheaper in terms of cost as
skill level increases.
- Mana to power a spell or magical effect can be drawn either from
the ambient mana in the area or personal energy reserves (fatigue).
- If mana is drawn from an area, it weakens the mana available in
that area for a time, and possibly also the fabric of reality.
- Areas with aspected mana, or lower or higher mana levels than
normal are fairly common.
- Ley lines are real lines of magical power (often earth-aspected,
but other aspects are possible).
- Powerstones do not exist.
Magical Aptitude (Magery)
The Magical Aptitude advantage is treated simply as a group skill
bonus for spell (and other magic) skills. It is not required to cast
spells, though it
is required as a prerequisite to learn some of the more complicated
spells (as given in standard GURPS books). Since it is not an inborn
talent that distinguishes mages from non-mages, the advantage is not
synonymous with the term "Magery".
Magical Aptitude costs a flat 10 points per level, ignoring the usual
extra 5 points associated with the first level (going from non-mage
to mage). The Magical Aptitude skill bonus for Thaumatology still
This skill is the study of magical theory and practice in a general
sense. A good grounding in this knowledge is necessary for mastery
of spell-casting. A character's effective skill level (i.e.
after modifiers) in a spell can never be higher than one's level in
Thaumatology, though the base skill level may be higher. Thus anyone
who wants to be a competent wizard needs to invest substantial time
learning the fundamentals of magic.
A character receives a bonus to final Thaumatology skill level equal
to his level of Magical Aptitude.
Any spell can be learnt by any person, regardless of prerequisites
listed in standard GURPS books. However, to avoid wizard characters
learning only the most powerful spells, each "skipped" prerequisite
exacts a cost of 1 on the final skill level of a spell.
For example: Fireball normally requires a chain of 3 spell
prerequisites. A character of IQ 13 investing 4 character points in
a non-magical M/H skill would have a skill of 13, but would only have
a skill of 10 in Fireball. If this character later learnt Ignite Fire,
one of the skipped prerequisites, to level 12, his skill in Fireball
would immediately increase one point to 11.
Although not a prerequisite, anyone who wants to cast spells
reliably should have some level of Thaumatology skill.
Casting spells does not (usually) cost the spellcaster fatigue points.
Rather, the cost of a spell is added to a running Tally. When this
Tally reaches or passes a certain Threshold value, the nature of
reality in the universe can be disrupted, usually in negative ways, and
sometimes disastrously. The further above the Threshold the Tally rises,
the worse the effects. Generally though, the spell will still work if the
spell skill roll is made. Disasters are side effects of using too much
magic in too short a time.
Casting a spell always requires a Will roll, the Magical Will
roll. Magical Will is normal Will plus any Magical Aptitude bonus. The
game procedure for casting a spell is as follows:
In normal cases, steps 2, 3, and 4 can be skipped and the defaults
assumed, which result in no modifiers to the rolls.
- Declare the spell to be attempted.
- Declare level of gesture and incantation to be used (see below).
- Declare any extra willpower to reduce spell cost (see below).
- Declare any special effort to reduce spell cost (see below).
- Make Magical Will roll, using bonuses/penalties determined in steps
2 and 3.
- If Magical Will roll succeeds, make spell skill roll to determine
success of casting, applying bonuses/penalties determined in steps 2 and 4.
If the Magical Will roll fails, the spell cannot be cast on this attempt,
but the cost of the spell is not added to the Tally. If the Magical Will
roll is a critical success, the spellcaster may take either a +3 bonus
to the spell skill roll, or reduce the final cost of the spell by 1.
If the Magical Will
roll is a critical failure, the spell cannot be cast on this attempt,
and the spell's cost is added to the Tally!
- If the spell skill roll succeeds, the spell works as intended, and
its cost is added to the Tally. If the roll fails, the spell fails, and
1 point is added to the Tally regardless of the spell's cost. If the roll
is a critical success, the spell works particularly well, but its cost
is still added to the Tally. On a critical failure, the spell backfires,
and its cost is added to the Tally.
Modifying the Casting Process
Gestures and Incantations
Normally casting a spell requires speaking words of power and
making physical gestures. This requirement does not reduce automatically
with higher skill levels. A spellcaster may however use sheer willpower
to attempt magic with reduced ritual components. Refer to the following
Normally a spellcaster will be assumed to be using the normal gesture
and incantation levels, which result in no Magical Will modifiers. The
player may however declare an attempt to use different levels of gesture
and incantation to cast a spell. The gesture and incantation levels may be
chosen independently. Add together the modifiers and apply them to the
Magical Will roll. If the Magical Will roll succeeds, also apply the
same modifiers to the spell skill roll.
|Extravagant. Full arm and leg movement.
||Loud and clear.
|Normal. Full arm movement.
||Normal speaking voice.
|Subdued. Wrist/hand movement.
||Soft speaking voice.
|Tiny. A finger or two.
||A whispered word or two.
Cost Reduction by Exerting Willpower
The spellcaster can exert his own willpower more forcefully in an
attempt not to upset the delicate balance of magic and nature as much.
He may expend Fatigue (and/or hit points
in an emergency) in units of 3 to attempt to reduce the spell cost by
1 point for each 3 Fatigue/hits spent.
Normally a spellcaster will be assumed not to be expending Fatigue. If
the player declares a Fatigue expenditure, the Fatigue is immediately
spent. This gives a penalty to the Magical Will roll equal to a third
of the Fatigue points spent, rounded up. However, if the Will roll is
made, the spell cost is reduced by 1 for each three full Fatigue points
Cost Reduction by Special Effort
The spellcaster can make a special effort not to upset the delicate
balance of magic and nature by attempting to fit the spell into the
local mana flow.
The cost of a spell added to the Tally can be reduced by 1 point
for every -3 penalty the caster takes to his effective spell skill,
representing the difficulty of conforming the spell to the mana flow.
This does not affect the Magical Will roll.
Instead of a spell skill penalty of -1 per hex for Regular spells,
the penalty is determined from the Speed/Range Table. Add 2 to the
range in hexes, so that touching counts as a "range" of 2 and has a
Mad Harry knows the Sleep spell at level 20. His Thaumatology skill
is 15, his Will is 13, and he has a Magical Aptitude of 3. He wishes
to put an orcish guard across a castle courtyard to sleep, without
drawing attention to himself. The orc is 8 hexes away. Adding 2 gives
a "range" of 10, which is a -4 skill modifier on the Speed/Range Table.
Harry is hidden from sight, but does not want to make much noise, so
he whispers a couple of quiet words (-2 penalty) while gesturing
extravagantly to try to make up for the lack of incantation (+1 bonus).
He has also used a lot of magic recently and does not want to upset
the local reality too much, so decides to exert extra willpower to
keep the cost of the spell down. Harry expends 3 points of Fatigue
for a -1 cost. He now makes his Magical Will roll, against 13 +3
(Magical Aptitude) -2 (whispering) +1 (extravagant gestures) -1
(extra willpower) = 14. He rolls a 7, so continues to the spell skill
roll. This is against 20 -4 (range) -2 (whispering) +1 (extravagant
gestures) = 15. Since this effective skill is not higher than his
Thaumatology level, Harry rolls against the 15, scoring a 12. The
orc unfortunately makes his resistance roll, rolling under his HT
by more than 3 points. Sleep normally has a cost of 4, but
because of the extra willpower Harry put into the spell, only 3 points
are added to the Tally. Harry sighs, realising another spell could
damage the local mana flow and seriously jeopardise his chances of
escaping, and pulls out his sword.
Tally, Threshold, and Recovery
These are game mechanical numbers whose general behaviour is described
below. The GM should set specific details for locations important to
a game using these guidelines.
The Tally is a running total of the magic points spent in an area
in the recent past. Each point in space has a Tally value associated
with it, and that value is increased whenever anyone casts a spell
in the vicinity. A spell adds to the Tally in an area of variable
radius around the casting point.
In general a spell adds its full cost to the Tally in an area about
100 hexes in radius, though this can vary between about 10-1000 hexes.
The addition drops rapidly to zero outside this radius.
[The 100 hex radius is more a narrative mechanic than a hard rule.
It is meant to prevent wizards from casting multiple spells with
impunity simply by the normal walking around done in an adventure
episode, and can be modified by GM fiat for dramatic necessity.]
The actual area of effect depends on the structure of the
local mana flow, and can be affected by physical reality. For example,
a castle, or single set of catacombs, or city block, or large forest
grove, forms a distinct physical structure of about the right size,
so channels the mana flow around that particular region. A spell cast
in a castle will likely (but not invariably) add to the Tally within
the entire castle, but not outside it. The localisation of mana flow
to physical structures means that mobile structures, such as ships at
sea, carry a Tally with them, rather than drifting through open seas
of zero Tally.
The Threshold is a value also related to location. As long as the
local Tally remains below the Threshold, the mana flow is stable. If
any magic use pushes a Tally above its Threshold value, the mana flow
is disrupted and reality can be adversely affected.
Whenever magic use pushes the Tally above its Threshold, a
Calamity Check is made. If the Tally is already above the
Threshold, any use of magic, even one with no cost, triggers a
Calamity Check. A Calamity Check is made by rolling 3d, and adding 1
for every full 5 points the Tally is above the Threshold. Look up the
result on the Calamity Table.
The Tally in an area eventually drops of its own accord as the normal
mana flow reasserts itself. It usually takes at least a full day before
points added to the Tally are removed. The Recovery Rate is
usually about 8 points per day, but may be spread unevenly throughout
For example, an area aspected with death magic might recover 8 points
at midnight, while an area aspected with life magic might recover 1
point per hour during daylight.
Sensing the Tally and Threshold
A character does not automatically know what the current Tally and
Threshold in his location are. If he wants to know, he can take a
turn to Concentrate, making a Thaumatology roll to sense the details
of the mana flow. The GM should roll in secret.
A success will reveal a qualitative feeling for the current Tally
and Threshold in his current location, along the lines of "a little
magic has been used here recently, and 2 or 3 reasonably powerful
spells could be cast before anything bad happens". A critical success
will reveal whether the immediately intended spell will push the Tally
beyond the Threshold or not. A failure reveals only how much magic
has been used (Tally), but no Threshold information. A critical failure
reveals incorrect information; the GM should lie.
GURPS is Copyright
Steve Jackson Games Incorporated.