Monday, January 30, 2023

Spirit Contracts and Magic


Spirit Contracts and Magic

On the Steve Jackson Games Discord server, a question came up. A poster wanted a magic system that represented negating with spirits for various effects. GURPS has Spirit Assisted Magery and other options, mostly in GURPS Thaumatology but these did not quite meet his expressed need.

So here is an initial run at addressing that. Note that there are many ways to handle things in GURPS and it gives GMs a good foundation to work out options and come up with specific things to address their needs for their campaigns. So this is just one way to do it and by no means the only way and has not been play tested by me. But it’s a fun exercise and interesting idea, so here goes.


What System?

Book/Path Magic, Divine Favor, GURPS Magic, Realm Magic, Ritual Path Magic, Sorcery, Syntactic Magic and more exist. I think Book/Path is the best fit here. Default spells take longer to cast which can represent negotiating time. Divine Favor would be good if each spirit was a Patron or if they were taken collectively as a single Patron but this implies an existing good relationship.


Book/Path as Spirit Bargains

I think the Effect Shaping variation is best here, though Energy Accumulation could work too.

Effect Shaping means the result of the negotiation is from a single die roll. Energy Accumulation provides “energy” over a period of time and repeated rolls so could be more of a :slowly winning the spirit over” approach. I just recommend Effect Shaping as a cleaner and less convoluted method.

Ritual Magic represents a knowledge of spirits and rituals for entreating them for power. So we keep the core skill, perhaps elaborating on it for the setting and different cultures may have different specialties representing the difference between kinds of spirits.


What I would change though is the Paths or Books. Each Book/Path should represent either a specific powerful spirit (say a book for a named demon outlining common deals it is known to make) or a Path for a collection of related spirits (Fire spirits, ghosts, Djinn, Nature spirits, Fairie, etc.).

Assign and create new rituals to appropriate Book/Paths, many rituals will be in multiple paths as is the current case. In this case each ritual is pretty much a boilerplate contract for specific services rendered. The ritual may be all that is required of one or both parties or it may involve something more from one, especially the magician. Perhaps a sacrifice or promise to do something in exchange for the service provided by the spirit. This could lead to some interesting spells, though each spell would need some work by the GM to come u0p with just what the magician has to do to honor their side of the deal.

I would put the Fetish ritual into every Path and many Books though. Or rather a variation on it that only applies to the appropriate spirit. This represents a prearranged deal and allows casters to have some effects be very quick because the deal was already made.

Alternatively create a new ritual for this and charms are effectively tokens that trigger the already bargained for effects.


Using this in a Setting

I could see using this in a setting, though I would want to make up new rituals and outline spirits to help me formulate the Paths. My upcoming supplement GURPS Template Toolkit: Spirits as lenses for various types of spirits with a vey brief description of personality and other traits so that would help a GM using this system but ideally that GM would come up with more detail.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

GURPS Wealth Revisited

Wealth in GURPS is a weird advantage. It can influence how much money you make from a job or even transactions. It can benefit from high Rank or Status and it can be a game breaker if one PC is the group financier.

Mburr on the forums suggested a breakdown into Income, Starting Cash, Assets, and Lifestyle.

Income is currently covered by Wealth and Independent Income.

Starting cash reflected by the above (usually 20%) and possibly debt, Signature Gear, or points for cash.

Assets is covered mostly by Wealth, but Patron can also factor in here.

Lifestyle is mostly from Status level but modified by some disadvantages.

It can be a complicated and nuanced combination to get just the flavor you want.

Abstract Wealth, Pyramid #3/44 Alternate GURPS II by Jason Brick has another take. It converts Wealth into a secondary attribute. It uses a table instead of a flat number for different levels and you roll against the level by comparing the item value to wealth level to see if you can purchase said item. I kinda like the concept but the execution feels overly complicated. Its main claim to fame is to avoid having to track actual money and thus save bookkeeping.

So how could we change the current system to make something simple yet fun and useful?

Start with Wealth (p. B25)

Dead Broke [-25]

Poor [-15]

Struggling [-10]

Average [0]

Comfortable [10]

Wealthy [20]

Very Wealthy [30]

Filthy Rich [50]

Multimillionaire [+25/level] over the cost of Filthy Rich.

You have to have a job to earn this money. Independent Income lets you get money based on Wealth level without working for it and assumes passive income like an allowance, interest, royalties, etc.

Patrons do not generate revenue (though you may get a salary if employed there) but can provide equipment and other assets on a decent roll. I used Patron to handle being a ships captain/owner without having to be rich in my article The Captains Boat, Pyramid #3/71 Spaceships II. I wanted a way to get characters like Han Solo who had their own ship but were not wealthy. The idea is a ship (including a crew) can be seen as a small company.

Lets take a look at treating Wealth like most advantages and apply modifiers.

Independent Income: You get a percentage of your income without having to spend time working for it. Gives +1%/level up to +20%. Gives full income at +50%. [+1%/level up to +20%; Full income for +50%].

Supernatural Access: You can get your funds anywhere. No need to get to a bank or worry about a lost credit card! [+50%].

I used this for a submitted article (not published) for Conjurors, inspired by the Dragon Knight series.

In High Tech settings it may not be needed and is often overkill.

Liquid Wealth: Your wealth is liquid and does not include the normal assets associated with it. You may still earn the normal amount and have other perks but live a nomadic lifestyle that does not include fixed assets. Instead of the usual 20% liquid and 80% permanent fixtures it is 100% liquid and available for adventuring gear. This gets more for adventuring use but precludes assets like a house or car that you could borrow against. In some settings this may be the default and it severely cramps a stable lifestyle.[-0%]

Starting Wealth: This is a case of one use ability or ability that costs character points. Wealth is purchased at 1/5 cost but once used the money is gone! Wealth can be purchased multiple times at different levels this way to represent markers that can be called in. Impulse Points may be allowed, especially for cinematic wealthy characters.

Optional Rule: Patronage

Appropriate Patrons or Contacts (but not Allies) may be purchased as alternative abilities to Wealth. The total points in alternative abilities cannot exceed the points in Wealth. This can represent well established characters who own or have controlling interest in companies and can leverage that asset.


This is an initial thought on how to make Wealth a bit more intuitive. By applying modifiers we can tailor Wealth to meet the needs of the character or campaign without a lot of complicated and scattered rules.
Bruce Wayne would have high level Wealth + some incidents for Starting Wealth for say when he needs to buy a bank or build a space station. As Ben Affleck answered Flash, his superpower is being rich.
A super with a lab? Wealth + Patron as an alternative ability, and if they can occasionally get very expensive gear seemingly out of nowhere they may have had a use of Starting Wealth saved up/
Han Solo? Starting Wealth would be another way he started the campaign with his own starship.

Lifestyle is not addressed here, I think that is still well represented by Status and I have some ideas on that in my upcoming GURPS Template Toolkit: Spirits supplement.