Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Review of GURPS Powers Based Magic

Advantages to Spells

GURPS has a wide range of advantages and modifiers to tweak them such as to create an ability for just about any ability, at least with enough character points. A magic system based on advantages should be balanced to psionics, cinematic warriors or even supers since they all use the same basic system. Hero Systems does something similar, though there everything is based off the same system so, to me at least, it felt kind of bland,
All you really need for this system is GURPS Basic but GURPS Powers expands and explains various methods using a lot of examples so is a solid addition. The Power-Ups line and several additional Powers books also add options and examples. Here are some key worked systems.

GURPS Power Ups 1: Imbuements

Want to empower your weapons or fists with supernatural power? This system was created to do exactly that. There already were some ways to add abilities to mundane equipment but they were a bit clunky and required a GM well versed in Powers. This system lets you take your ordinary sword and turn it into a flaming sword while you use it. It works for any weapon, even missile weapons and has a large variety of options. It offered hints at other possibilities and has been expanded in several Pyramid articles. An Imbuer buys a leveled advantage and skills for specific effects but its pretty cost effective. The main drawback for the player is it can burn a lot of fatigue.

Pyramid Issues
3/4 Magic on the Battlefield The Perfect Defense
3/13 Thaumatology The Mystic Knight
3/36 Dungeon Fantasy Powering Up: Imbuements
3/60 Dungeon Fantasy III Mystic Power Ups
3/71 Spaceships II Vehicle Imbuements
3/102 Epic: Crafting Imbuements Designer notes

GURPS Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys

I think this was born out of the GURPS Monster Hunter series which expanded the Wildcard or Bang! skill system by giving the character a meta power, sort of luck points. So for example an expert shooter could get really lucky when shooting.
Impulse Buys ran with that concept and created a narrative or story based system where things could work out the way you wanted them, even in non subtle ways.
This can achieve very powerful effects but they are not as common as most magic systems. So this system tends to create interesting mages who can do very impressive feats, but not often, and thus need to rely on other abilities for the day to day stuff. It is very suitable for settings like GURPS Discworld (Wiki) or the MythAdventures series.

Pyramid Issues
3/48 Secret Magic Forewarned is Forearmed
3/75 Heroes Jackpot Drinkable, Wearable, Impossible Points
3/100 Pyramid Secrets Impulse Control

GURPS Social Engineering: Pulling Rank

This is primarily a book about using Patrons in a different way than a simple appearance roll. It provides a wealth of material for those who work for an organization, including supernatural ones.
Abilities are more narrow and focused than what Impulse Buys provides but again this is not a great standalone system for an adventurer.  However it is a nice compliment to other abilities. I have used a variation of it for various organizations, including the Accounting Office from the Dragon Knight series. I also like it for spirit hierarchies such as organized demons or angels.

GURPS Powers: Divine Favor

What if you had God for a Patron?
That is the premise for this book and it is a simple system that goes back to basics by simply looking at the Patron advantage and exploring new ways to use it. Priests essentially have two subsystems, Pray for a Miracle and Learned Prayers.
  • Pray For a Miracle basically relies on the frequency of appearance modifier plus a reaction roll to see if your god helps out, and how much. Its pretty free form since if you succeed your god basically can just step in and do what it wants.
  • Learned Prayers use the alternative ability system presented in GURPS Basic for attacks and expanded to other abilities in GURPS Powers. This tends to be a less powerful but much more reliable and predictable effect.

GURPS Thaumatology: Sorcery

Another back to the basics approach, this one relies on Modular Abilities.
The idea here is the sorcerer buys a leveled advantage to create a fast improvisation spell pool using modular abilities. These are expensive but give the caster an effective cantrip type spell option.
More powerful spells can be learned as alternative abilities, or even improvised on the fly for a hefty energy cost and skill penalty. The book comes with a nice catalog of pre-built spells and has been expanded with Sorcery: Protection and Warning Spells, Pyramid articles and fan created spells.

Pyramid Issues
3/63 Infinite Worlds II The Power of Sorcery
3/82 Magical Creations The Sorceror
3/105 Cinematic Magic Super Sorcery!
3/105 Cinematic Magic Chi Sorcery (Uses Sorcery system for Chi powers)
3/105 Cinematic Magic Gourmet Alchemy (Modular Powers as Elixers)
Fan built spells by Eggplant
Michael Thayne started a forum thread with his own contributions.

This is an effective and versatile system for the advantaged based mage. While a number of effects are more expensive than other systems it leverages alternative abilities well to help bring down the cost.

GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers

While presented as a Chi based system it can be easily converted to a magical elemental system and gives a good starting point for other specialized systems. It is considerably more expensive than Sorcery since it buys each ability separately and at full cost. If your using it in a setting with Sorcery or regular magic consider allowing alternative abilities to help them stay competitive.
This book goes into quite some detail on using these abilities which makes it a good complement to either Powers or even just the Basic set. It includes a comprehensive list of options for using these abilities to enhance skills and rules for Extra Effort for temporary power boosts.

GURPS Psionic Powers

While presented as a psionics system this serves as a good model and worked examples easily adapted to mental magics.  It also explores the power stunt and abilities for everyone options from GURPS Powers. In practice this is kind of like the alternative ability system but techniques are learned to tweak core abilities into different applications.
This allows multiple abilities to be purchased at discounted rates, the trade off is making skill rolls to swap abilities. It would work well with Chinese Elemental Powers but require some effort by the GM to adapt.

Misc Powers Options From Pyramid

3/1 Tools of the Trade-Wizards Necromantic Tools
3/19 Tools of the Trade-Clerics Auras of Power
3/68 Natural Magic Green Power
3/91 Thaumatology III Technomysticism
3/99 Death and Beyond Soul Reapers


The Powers approach to magic has a lot of worked examples and different approaches. The key benefits are most of these books can be used with each other to expand spell lists or provide other options and they are well balanced against the core GURPS system and each other.

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