Thursday, January 20, 2022

GURPS Madwand

 I have a friend trying to convert Earth Dawn and Shadow Run to GURPS, one thing hes trying to get is pattern items and thread magic. Trouble is the description I am given is not helpful towards building a system.  So I asked him if he ever read Madwand by Roger Zelazny as that might be where they got the idea. I read this book as a teenager so hopefully remember it well enough.  Here is my attempt to describe that system.

Magic is both a force and a material. Magicians can see it as threads floating in the air and will it to move. Sophisticated mages can even learn to tie it in knots and anchor these threads to objects so they can carry the threads with them and not be so dependent on what happens to be nearby.  Later on in the book the protagonist learns to perceive and shape the threads as clouds and possibly other shapes, granting new ways to use them. Some of my inspiration for converting this system is The Stuff of Raw Magic (GURPS Thaumatology, p. 277-229)

Magery (Thread)

Magery allows mages to see these threads and manipulate them.  Roll Per + Magery to see threads and Will + Magery to move them.  Threads come in different colors, essentially aspected mana with different colors having different capabilities.
The problem is the threads are common but not ever present and they need to be in contact with something to achieve an effect. Threads can be moved at Magery/yards per turn.
If other magic systems are in the setting this can be purchased as an alternative ability to other forms of Magery.


Thaumatology allows a mage to skillfully manipulate threads to achieve various effects. Anyone with Magery (Thread) can see and move threads around, even activating them. But that is child's play.  Real magicians learn how to tap the energy in a thread to actually cast spells or move them around.

Bind Thread (Raw Mana)

This advantage allows the mage to bind and store 1 point of raw mana or a thread per level. It costs 5 points per level and a mage is limited to Thaumatology/2+Magery in levels. See Raw Magic Store, GURPS Thaumatology, p. 228.

Using a Thread

A thread is essentially stored energy and can be tapped for many effects. Each thread is aspected and works best for similar effects.
A single thread can do one of the following things...
  • Provide 5 energy to power a spell or magic working.
  • Fixate or stabilize and enchantment by providing 100 energy to an appropriate enchantment or the duration of an appropriate spell.
  • Grant a +3 skill bonus to casting an appropriate spell.
  • Directly affect a subject it is in contact with. Each thread counts as a Thrust attack (ST5 +Magery) or effect effect for the purpose of manipulating something or doing damage to it. The exact effect varies by aspect.

Threads of Many Colors

Every thread has its own color, which tells the mage what aspect it has.
  • Black is water aspected and can extinguish fire, cool, or even freeze things.
  • Blue is air aspected and manipulates the air, it does damage as a gust of wind and can clear things, its especially suitable for area and cone attacks.
  • Brown is earth aspected and can physically crush or move objects without harming them.
  • Green is life aspected and especially suited to healing. Treat damage as healing.
  • Red is aspected towards fire and can do burning damage
  • Yellow is spirit aspected and can manipulate emotions. Treat as a QC between its effective ST and the Will of the subject to incite or inspire a given emotion.
These are obviously just a small list of examples and what aspects are available in a setting is up to the GM. The frequency of appearance of threads is also an important choice. In some settings they may be everywhere, in others they may only appear in certain areas or distilled from magical beings or items and need to be carried around for use. As a rule of thumb each thread should be worth about 5 character points in effect and cost a FP to activate for a single turn. This is envisioned by mages as causing the thread to pulsate. Multiple threads can be bound together to create more powerful effects, but cost 1 FP per level used.

Dueling With Thread

Mages can move threads they see towards someone and once the thread touches them activate it by spending 1 FP.  Since non mages cant see them until they pulse this can be a nasty surprise! However once a thread is pulsed or energized it beeomes clearly visible and can be dodged, blocked, or even parried. The threads have a physical form and will not pass through things, though they appear weightless.
Mages can fight each other over a thread, this is a Quick Contest of Will + Magery (Thread) with the winner moving the thread as they desire up to the lower of margin of success or Magery.
Experienced mages have learned that slowly moving threads around the battlefield, while subtle and hard to defend against is rather slow and awkward. Mages can thus learn to bind threads and swing them as weapons, typically using Whip, Lasso, or Net  to hit. They can also be bound into an object such as a sword or staff and pulsed for extra effect when they strike a target.


This is obviously a bare bones magic system but it does have an interesting flavor and can be used with other magic systems for more variety.  The Raw magic Store advantage allowing threads to be used as temporary attacks (or relying on one just happening to be where you need it) is a nice perk but probably not over powered.  Essentially your using them as limited attacks of about the same point value at the cost of 1 FP/use and have to spend points on other abilities such as Thaumatology and a specific variant of Magery.  Pretty equivalent to a use of alternative abilities and Abilities at Default from GURPS Powers. This also factors in the the cost in time and effort in find and capturing the threads in the first place.

In Madwand threads were the initial use, but later he could see and manipulate them as clouds and perhaps other shapes.  This can be represented by adding Area Effect or treating threads as nets.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Skills as Powers!

 Skills as Powers

So I have been pondering this idea off and on for awhile now and two recent interactions over the past few months have brought some of this to the fore and coalesced a few things.
I like GURPS Powers and a powers based magic system is intriguing.  It has the benefit of being inherently balanced when compared with other powers based character types. It does have disadvantages compared to tech based types though, especially as tech level increases.
GURPS Supers was probably the first book to attempt top deal with the disparity between buying stuff off the shelf and building it with powers. Basically you paid for the difference between the starting equipment and what it could do better.
I later suggested and others have debated the value of a cost reduction for powers that duplicate gear such as dividing the cost by 5 (based on the internal payload only, alternative ability pricing, or costs character points modifiers). We also have the Accessory perk.

GURPS Power-Ups 1: Imbuements by Sean Punch aka Kromm also approaches this in a way with using powers to modify weapons. Later expanded on in Pyramid articles to include armor and other gear.
Christopher Rice also created Metatronic Generators, first introduced in Pyramid #3/46 Weird Science. Its seen a few additional articles and more in his campaigns and hopefully will someday see a full treatment as a standalone supplement.

Recently someone asked for help in converting Shadow Run and Earth Dawn to GURPS and he wants to use Sorcery as the core spell system but a skills based magic system for additional subsystems.
Also I have started playing a non cinematic gadgeteer in our "one shot" campaign while one of our regular players has been working extra hours during the holiday season. This is a horror campaign where we started off as 75 point everymen and progressed very rapidly to 150 point characters and have only just started to slow down in growth.
Combining both these things for inspiration and looking over old material I thought I would post this as yet another example of how GURPS can do something in many different ways, depending on what the group wants.

Basic Premise

Take a power and create it on the fly as a penalty to a skill roll. We have seen a couple of examples and different ways to do this, go read Boil and Bubble: Magical Ability Defaults from Skill by Christopher Rice for instance.
You back? Good, here are some related ideas....

  • Its Pure Chemistry, Pyramid #3/28 Thaumatology II by Christopher Rice allows Temporary Enhancements for potions and such.
  • The Magic of Stories, Pyramid #3/13 Thaumatology by Kelly Pedersen is built around Book/Path magic but could be inspirational here.
  • The Daughter of Necessity, Pyramid #3/46 Weird Science by Roger Burton West is a powers based approach to invention and Gadgeteer that is also inspirational. Specifically it has a way to determine Complexity (used for invention) based on the trait costs and then applies that to skill rolls.
  • Sufficiently Deranged, Pyramid #3/122 All Good Things by Phil Masters. The first half of the article works well with devotional magic and time spent and could be a useful part of the converted magic system for my friend. The second part is based on Syntactic Realm Magic (GURPS Thaumatology, same author).

These ideas can be merged into a skills as powers system, including magic, weird science, alchemy, story telling, etc.

The Story Teller

This individual can tell a story, sing a song, recite a poem, or even give an impressive speech that can shape reality! Take an appropriate skill such as Enthrallment or Musical Influence, add in supporting skills such as specific story specialties (The Magic of Stories), music, poet, or writing specialties (perhaps even Artist) taking the role of weird sciences (Sufficiently Deranged) and determine effects and skill penalties using Boil and Bubble: Magical Ability Defaults from Skill, Daughters of Necessity, or one of the other systems above.
This lets a character achieve effects based on the story told, mood generated by music or art, etc.

The Spirit Worker

This individual works by gathering spirits of various types and persuading them to do specific things. Take an appropriate skill such as Ritual Magic (Spirit Worker) and add specialized skills based on types of spirits, Otherwise, see Story Teller above.

The Ritualist

As above but start with Thaumatology and add different magical specialties. The colleges in GURPS Magic are a perfect example and already suggested as Hard skills using the Ritual Magic option (p. B242).

The Chi Specialist

Why not something similar for martial artists? Go with Esoteric Medicine (manipulating your Chi) or perhaps Body Sense and various Chi skills, perhaps treating the five Taoist elements as separate sciences with optional specialties.

The possibilities are endless, but this is a blog post not a GURPS article or supplement. Besides most of the mechanics are already described in the referenced material!

Insiders Peek: Nordland Bestiary

 Douglas Cole of Gaming Ballistic launched a kickstarter for a full color bestiary for the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (Powered by GURPS). I knew from prior experience this was going to be a very good book and went in as much as I could afford, even adding the VTT tokens for Foundry as an add-on though I don't have a license (I'll give my copy as a late Christmas present to someone who does). Also bought the hard copy as I know it will be excellent in quality and appearance, even if I am unlikely to be playing face to face instead of over the internet. His products are just that good and well worth supporting!

The author shared a preview copy with some people to get feedback and gave me permission to post this sneak peak.

Overall Impression

As expected the layout is very nice! I like that each entry gets a good picture and each picture includes a shadow of a Viking to help scale things. The descriptions, stat blocks, and summaries all are easy to read and pleasing to the eye. Also included is just enough humor to make reading it fun. The way an entry is laid out it will be very easy to just turn to a page and have the relavant information jump out at you. The addition of the creature reference cards, standup art, and Foundry tokens will also be very useful in helping the GM and players get a fast feel for each creature.
As should be no surprise to anyone who has bought material from Gaming Ballistic, were getting good value for our money here!


Honestly? This was a pleasant surprise!  I expected the standard bit, but what I saw was so much more useful and fun. As this is for a specific setting the author was able to tailor some things. The "Not Norse Mythology" cosmology section was brief but gave a good feel for the Nine Worlds and had me thinking for a moment "I didn't realize the void was like that!"  The entry blends together the Lovecraftian Elder Things into the setting in a very fitting manner that suits the mythology. The origin and function of each of the Nine Worlds works well and is very evocative, while being fairly close to the source mythology as I recall it.
But you know what really stood out and made me take notice?
The section on faerie and how it blended with Irish and European folklore as well as common tropes into what feels like a cohesive cosmology.  Also the trait descriptions for various advantages and disadvantages really works for me. It made me want to play in the setting.

The Creatures

The bulk of the bestiary is of course the creatures, and I have only seen up to the letter E in the sneak peak. 
  • Aesir: What would a Norse bestiary be without some Aesir? So far only the Dark Pack are here but boy do they stand out as fearsome and fun foes! Not just wolves, but undead wolves that keep coming back!
  • Alfur and Faerie: We get some standards from folklore but also some new, or at least relatively unknown critters as well. Further the examples fit together in a way that gives is chaos and diversity, yet flows well enough that new creatures are easily inspired. Frankly, they just make better sense as a whole than I have often seen.
  • Animals: Each animal entry covers several known species, typically with a collage of pictures. Animals are often overlooked but they provide not only low level foes but also useful companions and background. We have the staples here, and a few odd ducks that you wont always see.  Also of course there are dire and giant versions.
  • Demons and Elder Things: They have a set place in the cosmology and we get to see some interesting and scary varieties.
  • Dragons: A nice variety here too, with more to come; These are typically creatures of Jotunheim and come in a good variety of scariness.
  • Elementals: They hail mostly from Nifleheim which I found an interesting choice and contrast with the typical elemental and para-elemental planes we see in That Other Game.
I wont go into detail on the specific creatures, we have so many good ones and some nice creatures to bring a gleam to any DMs evil or appeal to the avarice of most delvers.

Summary or Buy This Now!

This project promised a great deal, and no surprise its delivering on that promise. I am confident that not only is it going to be well worth my money, it will help generate even more goodness for GURPS, The Fantasy Trip, and Dragon Heresay in the future.