Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Pirates! Session #2

The Crew:

  • “Dirty”, the dapper bosun.
  • “Big Tuna” Heketoro, plus-sized warrior.
  • “Mad” Mags, rope expert and capable swimmer.
  • Mo’, able seaman with a can-do attitude.
  • “Papa” Sean Geaux, quartermaster and man of reason.
  • Raphael, cabin boy.

What Happened:

Captain Courvoisier emerged from his quarters after several hours. He took Papa aside to ask a technical question. Would it be possible, he asked, for Papa to use his profane magical gifts to silence a man for a time? In effect, to take a man’s tongue?

Papa allowed as how such a thing might be done, but he would need a few things: five chickens, one red rock, and one blue rock. Oh, and a bottle of rum. Intrigued, the captain gave orders to collect these things. Those of the crew not required for sailing took part in a mad scavenger hunt. The rum was no problem, of course, and there were enough live chickens on board, but locating two specific rocks proved challenging. Raphael found one, stuck in the heel of his boot, while Dirty was able to coerce the crew into locating the other. Papa performed his ritual, and presented the captain with a pouch of powder.

Captain Courvoisier took the pouch and returned to his quarters. Several minutes later, he emerged. Several of the PCs observed him tucking a wriggling bag into a pocket. Raphael spoke up, questioning what the captain had, there? The captain responded with a glare, making out as if he hadn’t heard the question. “What’s a cabin boy doing lounging around on deck?” he shouted, and ordered the boy aloft. “Make sure he doesn’t kill himself,” he ordered Mo’, an expert in the rigging.

Raphael demonstrated that he’s not only no sailor, he’s no climber, either. He was nimble enough to keep from falling, but had trouble making any progress. Finally, Papa called him over and performed a quick ritual to give him a bit of help. With this assistance, the boy was able to make it to the crow’s nest alive.

Again taking the quartermaster aside, Captain Courvoisier announced his intention to embark upon a voyage to the Miskito Coast. The captain didn’t give any details, but did agree that it would be prudent to keep some spare room in the hold in case of taking on cargo. The two calculated that it would take perhaps ten days to get there, plus another ten days back, with an allowance for ten days there, meaning they would need to take on provisions. Therefore, they would make for Port Royal.

(The voyage to the Miskito Coast was to remain privileged information, but Big Tuna overheard the conversation from his place of hiding from labor, in Papa’s galley.)

The crew was much in favor of some time in port, and so everyone turned with a will towards making good speed. The weather was fine, and everything was going smoothly. Then, Dirty decided that he would do a little ritual to help things along, to make the ropes work a little more cooperatively.

Sadly, he botched it. The boat’s lines came to violent life, bucking and heaving as if they resented being tied down. Mo’ and Raphael were barely able to keep their perch. Mags was not so lucky. She was thrown free and pitched into the ocean. Being able to swim, she quickly came back to the surface and began looking for a way to climb aboard. Big Tuna grabbed a loose rope, quickly wrestled it into cooperation, and jumped in the water after here. Mags didn’t wait to be rescued. She planted a boot squarely in the big man’s face, using him as a foothold to get started climbing up the rope. After some spluttering, he followed.

Papa didn’t know who had caused the havoc or why, but he knew the effects of bad magic when he saw it. He cautiously moved to correct the problem, reaching out with a spell of communication, trying to make contact with the angry spirits in a bid to soothe them. This did not work out at all. The spirits were offending by the ritual. The weather had been clear, but now swirling storm clouds began to form. The wind began to pick up.

Raphael had had enough of all this. He slid down the mast to the deck and went to the quarterdeck, where the captain was standing. Most of the other PCs converged there, as well.

Dirty announced his theory that the spirits would only be placated with blood. He suggested that they should choose a random member of the crew to act as a sacrifice. Papa objected strongly to this course of action.

As they argued, a crew member called out, pointing towards a sail on the horizon. Big Tuna pulled out his spyglass for a closer examination. He observed two masts, and sails decorated by huge red crosses. A Spanish warship!

At this news, the argument expanded. Some of the PCs wanted to attack, while others wanted to flee while flight was still possible. The balance of the discussion shifted, as different crew members changed their minds.

Finally, two decisive actions ended the arguments.

First, Mo’ dropped out of the rigging, brained a passing seaman with his boarding ax, and hacked off the man’s head while everyone nearby was still stunned. Holding up the bloody head, he shouted to the skies, saying that if any spirits wanted a sacrifice, they were welcome to this one. He then handed the head off to Papa.

Second, the captain weighed in on the fight-or-run question, pointing out that there wouldn’t likely be much profit in a battle. The crew agreed, better to run off to find richer targets.

Sadly, it looked like the Spanish ship was somewhat faster than La Fille Joile. The PCs cooked up a scheme to slow them down.

Papa used his magic to call a friendly swordfish to the surface. The crew dug up an extra-large grenade, which Dirty enchanted to enable to float. Papa also drew a seagull on the side of the bomb, so it wouldn’t look suspicious. Mags tied up a rope harness so the fish could drag the bomb along behind it. The plan was to have the fish carry the bomb to the Spanish ship, with a long fuse burning, and then leave it behind, attached to the ship’s hull.

Everything with the plan went perfectly, up to the point where it went horribly and completely wrong. (GM Note: This would be, I think, the third triple-six of the night. The dice were not kind.) Once armed, the swordfish took off, swimming powerfully… in a big arc that brought it around, full circle, to aim at the PC’s boat! Big Tuna threw a harpoon at the swordfish, but it dodged out of the way. Just as it was closing in on the boat, Dirty leaned out over the water and fatally shot it.

Having had enough of magic for a while, the PCs depended on mundane discipline and sharp shiphandling for their escape. It took the rest of the day, until long after dark, but they finally lost the Spanish ship.

As soon as they were out of obvious danger, the drinking started. Captain Courvoisier called Raphael over and ordered him to go collect food and rum. Especially rum. And as long as he was about it, he should take a meal to the prisoner, too.

Raphael followed orders, but then got caught up in choosing a bottle to stash for himself. Eventually, the captain got tired of waiting, and sent Mags below to hurry him up. When she found the boy lingering over the spirits, she put a boot to his behind and told him to hurry up. Heated words were exchanged. Mags smacked him, once, when his words became too heated. Intimidation rolls were made, going both ways. In the end, Raphael ran away, shouting “You’re not my mom!” behind him.

After finishing his delivery to the quarterdeck, Raphael took some food to the now-mute prisoner, in the captain’s quarters. While there, he snooped around a bit, examining the captain’s small library and some charts that were out. He tried to figure out what the charts might mean, but lack of navigational skills made this impossible.

In time, they came to Port Royal. Most of the crew was eager to get ashore, sweeping aside the suggestion that shore leave should be cancelled.

Papa went to purchase provisions for the upcoming voyage. While he was there, he heard a voice in the distance that sounded like the captain’s, telling him to buy more rum. Seeing sense in this, Papa did as he was ordered.

When Dirty stepped onto the beach, his signature enchantment activated, leaving him cleaned and starched. He went into town to visit a gunsmith, hoping to improve his armory. Along the way, he noticed a beautiful, obviously-wealthy young woman waiting outside. He paused to flirt, exchanging a series of meaningful glances and lifted eyebrows. Just as he was about to open his mouth (and speak, and ruin it all, no doubt), he felt a tap at his shoulder. He turned to meet an older, obviously-wealth gentleman, clearly irritated, holding a pair of gloves in his hand.

Well, Dirty knew how to play that game – he had always wanted to be in a real, live duel, like the fancy folk have in Paris! He backhanded the gentleman, not bothering to remove his hand from his glove.

After recovering, the gentleman said that he agreed to Dirty’s challenge. They would meet at dawn, on the beach, and fight to the death with rapiers. (This was where the player remembered that the challenged, not the challenger, gets choice of weapons.) With that, he gathered up his companion and left.

Word spread, and the next morning, there was a bit of a crowd on the beach. Dirty was there, passed out on the sand, snoring, when the unnamed gentleman found him. The gentleman nudged Dirty with his boot, then turned to take a step back, moving to draw his rapier.

Meanwhile, Dirty opened one eye, pulled his primed pistol from where he had held it under his arm, and shot the man in the vitals, from behind. The gentleman fell, dead.

While the PCs gathered around to shake Dirty’s hand (and pick the dead man’s pockets), there came a commotion from up the beach. As the pirates turned to see what was the matter, they saw several apparently-drowned sailors standing up from the water and striding up on the beach, cutlasses drawn.

The PCs’ response was mixed. Some went on the offensive, while others weren’t so eager to engage. Mo’ threw a bystander in front of himself as a human shield, then took a look around to get an idea of the wider situation. He saw that there were actually dozens of the drowned sailors coming ashore, all up and down the beach. He could also see that several ships in the harbor seemed to be having troubles, as well. There were screams of fear and sounds of ragged gunfire.

Even as they put down the nearby sailors, the pirates began a retreat. Mo’ wanted to head inland, seeing that the uncanny creatures were coming from the ocean, while the others moved towards the nearby longboat. When someone on La Fille Joile started firing the cannons to give them cover (“Yay, Gabby!” the players shout) he changed his mind and joined the group. They got the NPC crew members rowing, with Papa providing inspirational music on the balafon.

Everyone made it back to the boat, where the captain gave orders to take the boat out of the harbor, away from the menace of the sailors. As the crew turned their eyes towards the harbor’s mouth…

… they saw, in the distance, sails bearing a red cross….

Cool Point: Earned by Dirty, for his unconventional dueling style.

The moral of the story, according to the players:  “Magic never solves anything!”



A duppy is a spirit, usually evil, from Caribbean folklore. Like a lot of spirits from folklore, they’re somewhat ill-defined. Some traditions say that every person has two spirits within them: one that’s good and flits off to the afterlife at the point of death, and one that’s evil (or at least troublesome) that hangs around on earth to do mischief. The latter would be a duppy. On the other hand, a duppy might be an evil spirit that never was a human.

GURPS Voodoo (3rd edition, but awesome) describes duppies and loa as the same, varying only in power. It goes so far as to explain that the duppy of a famous and revered person might go on after the person’s death, feeding on the belief of their fans, and grow into a worshiped loa. Like, say, Elvis.

GURPS Undead (also 3rd edition, also awesome) mentions that one might call a duppy from a grave to inflict sickness on one’s enemies. They sound more like an explanation for the special effects of a spell, rather than distinct personalities.

One of the possible origins for the name “Davy Jones” says that it’s a corruption of “Duppy Jonah“, with “Jonah” being a reference to the Biblical fellow who drew down a storm on the boat he was on, got pitched overboard for it, and was helpfully swallowed by a big fish. “Duppy Jonah” would then mean something like “the spirit that brings bad luck to sailors”.

There’s a Jamaican saying, “Duppy know who to frighten”, meaning a ghost isn’t going to waste its time trying to scare a brave person. Folks don’t start fights with people they know are stronger.

Call A Duppy To Bring Sickness To My Enemies
Spell Effects: Lesser Control Spirit
Inherent Modifiers: Affliction
Greater Effects: 0 (x1)

This ritual is meant to be cast at a distance of up to ten miles, to afflict a target who fails to resist with Retching. (See GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns, page 429, for details.) As a rule, the ritual will be cast over a grave, calling forth the dead person’s duppy, to get a Traditional Trappings discount.

(The campaign’s cosmology expects there to be a small duppy, capable of doing the job of carrying sickness, at hand just about anywhere. If this is not the case, the ritual might also require a Create Spirit effect, to bring such a duppy into existence.)

Typical Casting: Lesser Control Spirit (5) + Affliction, Retching (10) + Range, 20,000 yards (10 miles) (24) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs (3). 42 energy (42 x 1).


Rituals for Pirates: Gunplay

By request from Dirty’s player, some Path of Matter rituals involving guns.


More Bullet
Spell Effects: Lesser Create Matter
Inherent Modifiers: Bestows a Bonus, to damage
Greater Effects: 0 (x1)

Generally cast as a charm on a projectile, this spell causes the projectile to grow in flight, adding +2 to damage. Like an All-Out Attack (Strong), this bonus may be converted from +2 to +1/die when cast on a large projectile, like a cannonball.

Typical Casting: Lesser Control Magic (5) + Lesser Create Matter (6) + Subject Weight, 10 lbs (0) + Bestows a Bonus, +2 to damage (2). 13 energy (13 x 1).

Hardened Bullet
Spell Effects: Lesser Transform Matter
Inherent Modifiers: Armor Divisor (2), +50%, on pi+ damage
Greater Effects: 0 (x1)

Often cast as a charm on a bullet, this ritual briefly changes a lead bullet into a much harder metal. When the bullet is fired, the attack gains a (2) armor divisor. The typical casting is scaled for a pi+ attack of no more than 3d damage, like a typical flintlock pistol. To put the same charm on a cannonball for a 9-lb ship’s gun (as found in GURPS Low-Tech) would cost 41 energy.

(Based on suggestions from this forum post.)

Typical Casting: Lesser Control Magic (5) + Lesser Transform Matter (8) + Subject Weight, 10 lbs (0) + Damage, External, Large Piercing 3d (Armor Divisor (2), +50%) (10). 23 energy (23 x 1).

Bokor’s Fast-Draw
Spell Effects: Greater Create Matter
Inherent Modifiers: None.
Greater Effects: 1 (x3)

This ritual creates a loaded flintlock in the caster’s hand. It is almost always prepared as a conditional spell.

If the caster cannot make a successful roll against Armory (Small Arms) at -4, the flintlock will not be operational. It might even be dangerous to the user, with a bad enough roll.

The created flintlock exists only for a short time, just long enough to use it to threaten someone. If in doubt, the pistol uses the statistics of the Flintlock Pistol from page 278 of GURPS Basic Set: Characters.

Typical Casting: Lesser Control Magic (5) + Greater Create Matter (6) + Duration, 10 minutes (1) + Subject Weight, 10 lbs (0). 36 energy (12 x 3).

Bokor’s Reload
Spell Effects: Lesser Create Matter
Inherent Modifiers: None.
Greater Effects: 0 (x1)

Generally prepared as a conditional spell, this ritual instantly reloads a personal firearm. The weapon does not need to be readied, but the caster must touch it. If not used within 10 minutes, the summoned powder and shot will vanish quietly away.

Typical Casting: Lesser Create Matter (6) + Subject Weight, 10 lbs (0) + Duration, 10 minutes (1). 7 energy (7 x 1).


Pirates! Session #1

The Crew:

  • “Dirty”, ambitious gunslinger and apprentice magician. Bosun.
  • Gabby, thirteen-year-old fencing prodigy. Cabin girl and master gunner.
  • “Big Tuna” Heketoro, towering Polynesian harpooner. Boarder.
  • “Mad” Mags, fencer with fire in her eyes. Boarder and rope-maker.
  • “Papa” Sean Geaux, Haitian voodoo bokor. Quartermaster.
  • Raphael, thirteen-year-old French aristocrat with a classical education. New to the ship.

What Happened:

One morning, during a middling-successful voyage, a sail was sighted. Captain Courvoisier asked the crew if they felt like taking a prize. The crew responded with a hearty affirmative, and so they approached the other ship. As they came to hailing distance, they hoisted the black flag. Surprisingly, the other ship tried to run for it.

(One of the players asked what was going on, that there were two armed thirteen-year-olds among the crew, so we had a flashback. When Captain Courvoisier was asked the same question, he just smiled and put a finger along his nose. “Don’t y’all worry,” Papa told the crew, “Cap’n’s got a plan.”)

Over the course of the day, they harried the other ship, firing the cannons when opportunity presented, and taking potshots with hand-held weapons at other times. It was noted that the other ship didn’t appear to be flying any nation’s colors, which was noted as an oddity. There were attempts at intimidation. Papa Sean Geaux played his balafon (made from human skulls) and shook his shrunken head at them. Finally, Gabby got a good shot off, disabling the sails of one of the other ship’s two masts. This slowed them enough to bring the chase to an end. Courvoisier brought the two ships together with bows almost touching, to avoid possible cannon fire, and ordered the boarders forward.

The PCs rushed forward. Gabby and Tuna led the way across the bowsprits, with Mad Mags close behind. (Tuna got his nickname from a mistranslated partial hearing of his real name, among other things. Mags get her epithet from her remarkably crazy eyes during combat, among several other things.) As they stepped onto the forecastle, they encountered… nobody. Tuna spotted one sailor cowering at the tiller, but everyone else seemed to be in hiding.

Meanwhile, Dirty and Raphael aimed to swing across on lines in the rigging. (Dirty got his name ironically. He uses conditional ritual magic so that the moment he steps off a ship back on land, his clothes are restored to perfect, pristine cleanliness.) Dirty made it over handily, landing perched on the other ship’s yard with a pistol in his hand. This gave him an overview of the deck, where he saw a good-sized and well-armed crew, all lying in ambush. Several were pressed up against the forecastle. Others hid behind the masts, the ship’s boat, and other cover. Some were dressed as Spanish soldiers, which was noted as another oddity.  “Avast!” he shouted, before the vanguard on the deck walked right into the trap.

Raphael aimed lower, for the deck, but couldn’t quite manage the landing. He got one toe just barely on the other ship, then slipped and fell into the water. Everyone expected him to drown then and there, but just as he went under, a passing dolphin gave him a nudge, and his flailing hand landed on a trailing line. (GM Note: Crit failed the Acrobatics roll for the swing, landed in the water with no points in Swimming, and then rolled a critical success to stay afloat.) He spent a few seconds climbing back aboard.

Meanwhile, Papa unleashed a prepared spell meant to point out the other crew’s strongest warrior. He threw a handful of fine flour in the air, where it streamed off to mark its target. The cloud flew past the boarders on deck, then took a right-angle turn to drop straight down as soon as it passed over the edge of the forecastle. With a laugh, Tuna leaned over and delivered a titanic blow with a boarding ax, taking the unfortunate man directly in the skull.

In the rigging, a sailor jumped down with a shout to land on the yard between Dirty and the mast. Dirty immediately flipped his pistol and cracked the man on the skull. Staggered, he fell off the yard to the deck below, where things were getting chaotic. The hidden crew members came out to attack. Some fired wheellocks at the boarders, while others advanced with cutlasses.

Despite being outnumbered three-to-one, Gabby and Mags tore through their opponents. Tuna took a bullet to the calf, but it was only a flesh wound, barely enough to make him irritable. It wasn’t enough to stop him from rampaging across the deck, throwing sailors into each other and slamming the ship’s boat back to pin one man to the mast.

Seeing the battle turning so decisively against them, the enemy crew began shouting to each other in Spanish. (GM Note: At this point, it was realized that none of the PCs speak Spanish.) One soldier crossed himself, then stepped towards a stack of powder barrels. He took aim, clearly planning to blow the ship up.

Raphael had climbed aboard by this time, so he ran along the top of the railing towards the suicidal soldier. While Mags finished off the wounded, Gabby broke away to join the rush. Dirty tried to swing down to the deck, but missed his mark, falling painfully to the ship’s orlop deck. The fencers cut down the soldier, but another stepped up, also trying for the powder. Dirty stood up and threw his empty pistol at the second soldier, breaking his arm. With this, all organized resistance came to an end.

Accordingly, the crew set out looting. Noting that the crew had something that they would rather die than hand over, the pirates were in good spirits. They did make off with quite a haul of food and other sundries, but no cargo was apparent. Raphael found a shelf of fine books in the captain’s quarters.

Below, Dirty heard someone’s cries for help. Following the sound, he found a locked hatch, a new installation, leading down into the hold. He considered using magic to open the lock, but in the end, just blasted it with a flintlock. (Everybody on deck jumped.) In the hold, ankle-deep in water, he found an emaciated, raggedly-dressed man, bound hand and foot in irons. He asked if he were being rescued. When asked what he had to offer to make him worth a rescue, he whispered that he knew the location of “Lucifer’s treasure”.

Doing his duty, Dirty took this intelligence to Papa, who passed it along to the Captain. Tuna broke the man’s chains, and he was brought before Captain Courvoisier. The two retired to the captain’s quarters to discuss matters.


Cool Point: To Papa, for revealing the enemy crew’s strongest warrior and various other nice bits.

Boobie Point: To Raphael, who has Perfect Balance, but doesn’t have points in Swimming, and yet somehow managed to fall off the boat into the water as his very first action, ever. Word is, he’s thinking of investing the point in Swimming.😉


Pieces of Eight! Pieces of Eight!

“It was a long, difficult business, for the coins were of all countries and sizes—doubloons, and louis d’ors, and guineas, and pieces of eight, and I know not what besides, all shaken together at random. The guineas, too, were about the scarcest, and it was with these only that my mother knew how to make her count.” — Treasure Island, Ch. 4 “The Sea-Chest”, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Pirates don’t generally store up GURPS dollars in their treasure chests. The 3rd Edition GURPS Swashbucklers gives conversion factors for many currencies that were popular in the 17th century, but those are 3rd edition dollars, not 4th edition. So, I decided to do some math.

According to GURPS Basic Set: Characters, page 264, a pound of silver is worth one thousand GURPS dollars. According to Wikipedia, pieces of eight were supposed to contain 25.561 g of silver. Incidentally, they were also 38mm in diameter, just about the same size as an Eisenhower dollar. The pieces of eight had a lot more silver in ’em, though.

That comes out to right around $56.35 each. That is one darned inconvenient number.

Luckily, we’ve got plenty of wriggle room. I can round of history to the nearest round number and still claim authenticity. So.

Let’s say that minting silver into coins adds enough value that a piece of eight is worth $60. (That’s GURPS dollars, remember, not U.S. currency.) That means “two bits” is worth $15.

Taking that value back to the conversion tables in GURPS Swashbucklers, it turns out that a gold doubloon is worth $300, a gold French louis d’or is $180, and an English guinea is $315. An English shilling comes out to $15, making a penny worth $1.25.



Spain had maintained a colony on the island of Jamaica since the early 1500’s. In 1655, English soldiers took the island from a small number of Spanish troops. After several attempts by the Spanish to re-take the island, the governor and wealthy landowners concluded that they needed more protection than the Royal Navy was prepared to offer. In 1657, Governor Edward D’Oyley offered the buccaneers access to Port Royal and letters of marque against Spanish shipping, in exchange for their protection.

Oliver Cromwell rules England as “Lord Protector”. Philip IV of Spain has reigned over the Spanish Empire for nearly 40 years. On paper, the ruler of France is  Louis XIV, but since he’s still in his early teens, the real power is in the hands of his mother, Anne of Austria, with considerable input from Cardinal Mazarin. Mazarin’s mentor was Cardinal Richelieu. (Yes, the same Cardinal Richelieu who was played by Tim Curry, who has not only played Long John Silver, but Captain James T. Hook, as well. Yes, the same one that had the problems with some Musketeers.) France and England are allied in a war against Spain. The Tokugawa shogunate is in charge of Japan, which is a closed country, allowing very limited relations with other countries.

Coffee first arrives in France in 1657, carried by a traveler returning from a visit to Constantinople, but won’t be generally available there until a couple of years later. Thanks to the East India Company, it has already become available in England. London has had a coffeehouse for a couple of years. The tables are turned, though, when it comes to chocolate. Hot chocolate had been a popular drink in Europe for some time, but in 1657, a Frenchman opened the first chocolate house in London.

The first pendulum clock is patented in 1657 by Christiaan Huygens, who also publishes the first book on probability theory. This means that the 3d6 bell curve that lies at the heart of GURPS is cutting-edge science.

While there are methods of determining one’s longitude, in 1657, none of them are effective for use on a ship at sea. Though the sextant lies decades in the future, navigators have equipment to determine latitude. The crew of a ship on a long voyage would know their location north or south of the equator, while having only a relatively vague notion of where they were, east to west.

The Salem witch trials are still 35 years in the future. Shakespeare has been dead for over 40 years, Miyamoto Musashi for 12. Fifteen years ago, Abel Janszoon Tasman’s expedition brought the first European contact to the Māori. (It didn’t go well.)  The Great Plague of London hasn’t yet occurred; neither has the Great Fire.

Isaac Newton is a teenager living on his parent’s farm, with no training in mathematics. It’s still a few years until the Royal Society will be established. Science is only starting to question the idea that fleas just spring into existence from dust, and maggots from raw meat. It’ll be another six years before cells are discovered.

New York is still New Amsterdam, for a few more years. Harvard University has been established for nearly twenty years, and is training Puritan ministers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.


Playing With Dolls

For the “Pirates!” game, we’re using Ritual Path Magic, mainly in the form of Hollywood Voodoo. In Hollywood Voodoo, if you’re not raising the dead (or convincing living people that they’re really dead), you’re committing various atrocities against dolls. The way it works in the cartoons is, you make up a little doll, incorporating the hair or fingernail clippings or what-have-you of your victim, and it gives you power over the person it represents.

What kind of power varies. Most often, it’s dealing out damage at a distance. Sometimes it involves controlling the victim’s actions, while leaving them able to talk for comedic effect. Other times, it’s inflicting sickness, or flying the person around the room with telekinesis, or paralyzing them, or making them crave beer. (Yup, beer. The Simpsons, “The Joy of Sect“.)

In the RPM system, rituals are defined by their effects. The important thing isn’t the magic words and the mystic gestures, it’s what happens when the spell goes off. Crippling a person’s leg is one ritual, lighting them on fire is another. Thus, there aren’t any grimoires for the “Voodoo Doll Ritual”, since there isn’t just one.

The business with the doll isn’t the ritual, it’s an example of Traditional Trappings (GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic, page 19). A standard ritual can be cast with very little ceremony, nothing more than a word or a gesture (page 14). Anything more elaborate gets a discount in the energy cost, up to -25%.

Even a weak attempt at sympathetic magic should be worth -5%, or a discount of 1 point for every 20 energy in the spell, for “a clear link between the trappings and the spell”. Even simple measures that “embod[y] the spell so well that anyone watching
could probably guess what the spell was designed to do” are worth -10%, or 1 per 10.

Pat together a crude figure out of mud, tell it “Your name is [target’s name]”, and poke it in the chest with a sharp stick. If it’s a heart attack ritual, I’d allow -5%. If it’s a ritual to deliver impaling damage, I’d go for -10%. More expensive dolls built to creepily resemble specific targets could rack up even more discounts.

Extra points for drums and make-up. Obviously.

As for the bit about scrounging up the target’s fingernail clippings, that could be an effort to boost the “bother” and “coolness” values under Traditional Trappings, but it’s more likely to be a way to provide a connection to the target. A caster without the appropriate subset of the Ritual Adept advantage who cannot see or precisely locate their target will suffer a -5 penalty to their rolls without such a connection. Of course, a determined caster could offset this penalty with an expensive grimoire and a potent place of power, as easily as a lock of hair…


Voodoo Doll (Stick ‘Em With A Pin)
Spell Effects: Lesser Destroy Body
Inherent Modifiers: Damage, Internal, Impaling (Selective Effect, +20%)
Greater Effects: 0 (x1)

This spell causes 1d+2 imp to any target within a 10 miles radius who fails to resist. The caster can choose to target a particular hit location.

Typical Casting: Lesser Destroy Body (5) + Range, 20,000 yards (10 miles) (24) + Damage, Internal, Impaling 1d+2 (Selective Effect, +20%) (8) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs (3). 40 energy (40 x 1).


Voodoo Doll (Burn ‘Em Up In The Fire)
Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Body
Inherent Modifiers: Damage, Internal, Burning (Incendiary, +10%)
Greater Effects: 1 (x3)

This spell causes 6d burning damage against any target within a 10 mile radius who fails to resist. The Incendiary enhancement changes the flammability class (see GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns, page 433) of the target, as described in GURPS Power-Ups 4: Enhancements, page 19. This means human targets who take 10 or more points of damage will start to burn.

Typical Casting: Greater Destroy Body (5) + Damage, Internal, Burning 6d (Incendiary, +10%) (20) + Range, 20,000 yards (10 miles) (24) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs (3). 156 energy (52 x 3).

Cast and Crew

We’re coming up on the first session of the “Pirates!” campaign, and character sheets are trickling in. First drafts, anyway.

There are relatively few solid names. Remember, any PC who cannot provide a name when asked will be given a name by the other players. Needless to say, this is a fate worse than death.

So, who are our protagonists for this go-’round? In no particular order…

“Gabby the Cabin Girl, the Prequel”

Spiritually, this character is Gabby from the Dungeon Fantasy game, but younger and in a boat and born in a world that isn’t flipped east-to-west. I’m not 100% sure what the character’s name will be in play. There was some talk of the possibility of masquerading as a young man and going by the name of “Sammy”. We’ll see how that works out in time.

She’s more-or-less the same manic, greedy fencing machine that we came to know and love in the dungeon. Despite being described as 13 years old, she doesn’t have a Social Stigma, so she’s considered an adult and a full member of the crew. This is likely because she’s the most dangerous member of the crew with a blade, being a student of the Italian School of fencing, with an effective Rapier skill level in excess of 20. She’s also highly proficient with the ship’s cannon.

Finally, she’s a full-on Trickster. Keep in mind, that Disadvantage means that she needs to play dangerous tricks on targets who could pose a real threat. Simply defeating enemies isn’t enough. I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out. The high-DX pirate outwitting her foes is plenty genre-appropriate, after all…

“Gabby’s Special Friend, Polynesian Boarder #1”

To be named later, from what I understand. He’s the scary brute to back up Gabby’s agility and precision. He’s big in every way, being over seven feet tall and Very Fat besides. He’s also loud, boisterous, and covered from head to toe in tattoos.

Aside from his abilities in the spheres of combat and intimidation, he’s notable for his ability as a swimmer and diver. Upon discussion, most of the players agreed with the historical pirates: learning to swim isn’t worth it, since it just means trading a quick death by drowning for a slow death by shark attack. If you fall off the boat, it’s not like the Coast Guard is going to come looking to rescue you, right? This guy goes the other way entirely, with Swimming at 18.


Another fencer. This one’s a young Frenchman, trained in the Transitional French School of fencing. He’s new to the crew. His family has run into some serious money troubles, so he has vowed to raise a fortune to ransom them. He’s sure-footed and well-educated, but has little practical knowledge of the seafaring life.

While he’s a year older than Gabby, he took Social Stigma (Minor), meaning that the crew sees him as a kid. He’ll need to work to gain their respect.

He also has quite a few unspent points. I expect that he’ll end up spending them shortly, as he learns the ropes.

Mad Maggie

Mad Maggie is a Dutch pirate who has a real problem with bullies. She has an Intolerance, an Obsession, and a Higher Purpose, all tied around thumping those who prey upon the weak.

She’s a fencer, like the two kids, but unlike them, she chose the saber over the rapier. Rather than investing points in a full-blown style, she concentrated on the core Saber skill.

When she’s not putting captives to the sword, Mad Maggie is a highly trained rope-maker.

“The gunfighter”

Born in Dahomey, he was sold into slavery at a young age, only to be rescued when French pirates took the ship he was on. He joined the crew and made a life for himself. He’s a lucky, charismatic scoundrel with a natural talent with guns. In his youth, he learned a little magic, mainly concerning the Path of Matter.

His personal life is… complicated. He aspires to being a wealthy, respected French gentleman with a beautiful, well-born wife. He is hampered in the pursuit of his goals by his birth, his occupation, his poor French, his alcoholism, and his missing teeth. His attempts at improving his station in life have a tendency to get him in hot water.

“Papa” Sean Geaux

A voodoo priest from Hispaniola — specifically the western part that’s dominated by French buccaneers and tobacco farmers, the part that will become Saint-Domingue and eventually, Haiti. He’s skilled in the Paths of Body, Mind, and Spirit.

Sean Geaux has troubles with money. He owes a debt to Captain Courvoisier. He’s also trouble by the voices of ghosts.

Another pirate, to be named later…

There’s one other PC, whose player won’t be able to make it to the first session. Last I heard, he was going to be up in the rigging. Further details remain to be seen.


Rituals for Pirates. Also, grenades.

“This one has more scars… more fights.” (nods towards the other) “You’ve got a better chance against this one.” — Captain Flint, “Black Sails”, season 2, episode 1

Detect Warrior
Spell Effects: Lesser Sense Body + Lesser Sense Mind
Inherent Modifiers: None.
Greater Effects: 0 (x1)

This spell allows the caster to examine others’ auras for personal combat ability, so as to pick out the most powerful fighter. It is used to answer such questions as “Which one should we hire?” and “Which one should we shoot first?” Combat readiness is measured from the condition of the subject’s body and mind, weighing several factors. Among these are: current ST and Hit Points, including any natural modifiers, such as the effects of wounds or disease; Advantages and Disadvantages, such as Combat Reflexes or Cowardice, that reflect upon one’s readiness to do battle; points in combat-related Skills and Perks. There are many tactically-significant factors that the spell ignores. Importantly, it says nothing about how one is armed or one’s tactical circumstances. For example, it might point out the world-class wrestler, tightly bound on the deck of another ship, while skipping over the sniper in that ship’s rigging.

Typical Casting: Lesser Sense Body (2) + Lesser Sense Mind (2) + Range, 200 yards (0). 4 energy (4 x 1).

Shipshape and Bristol Fashion
Spell Effects: Lesser Strengthen Body + Lesser Strengthen Mind
Inherent Modifiers: Area of Effect + Bestows a Bonus, to Seamanship
Greater Effects: 0 (x1)

Many rolls against Seamanship are against the crew’s average skill. This spell gives every member of a ship’s crew a bonus to Seamanship for a day, raising that average.

Typical Casting: Lesser Strengthen Body (3) + Lesser Strengthen Mind (3) + Area of Effect, 20 yard radius (12) + Bestows a Bonus, +2 to Seamanship (2) + Duration, 1 day (7). 27 energy (27 x 1).


Dapper Me!
Spell Effects: Lesser Restore Matter
Inherent Modifiers: None.
Greater Effects: 0 (x1)

As requested by one of the players:  Usually cast as a charm, this spell cleans and performs minor repairs on an outfit of clothes worn by the caster.

Typical Casting: Lesser Control Magic (5) + Lesser Restore Matter (4). 9 energy (9 x 1).

And, as promised, grenades.

As far as I can tell, there are no official, published examples of small TL 4 grenades. There’s mention of them in GURPS High-Tech, but the earliest example from that book given stats is the TL 5 grenade à main. Coming at it from the other side, GURPS Low-Tech has several TL 3 versions, using serpentine rather than black powder, and a couple of larger TL 4 bombs.

Historically speaking, I’m finding references to hand-held “grenados” from the late 1600’s. Maybe a trifle late for our 1657 starting point, but close enough. After all, who can resist little round iron bombs with honest-to-goodness fuses sticking out of them? Anyway, if I don’t provide stats up front, some PC will surely start pouring powder into a hollow gourd during play.

So, for simplicity, we’ll say that the TL 5 grenade à main is the equivalent of a TL 4 iron grenado. Any improvised version made from gourds, empty rum bottles, or the like will take the stats of the TL 3 paper bomb from GURPS Low-Tech, page 85.


Rituals For Pirates: “Keep Your Powder Dry”

Keep Your Powder Dry
Spell Effects: Lesser Control Matter
Inherent Modifiers: Bestows a Bonus, to offset Malf. penalties for wet conditions
Greater Effects: 0 (×1)
When cast upon a TL 4 firearm weighing no more than 10 pounds, this spell acts to offset the Malf. penalties for wet conditions under “Water and Firearms” (GURPS Low-Tech, pg 90), for one day. The given bonus is enough to keep a pirate’s frizzen-equipped flintlock dry in a hurricane. It can’t stand up to full immersion, though!
Typical Casting: Lesser Control Matter (5) + Bestows a Bonus, +3 to offset Malf. penalties for wet conditions (4) + Duration, 1 day (7) + Subject Weight, 10 lbs (0). 16 energy (16 × 1).
Peter's ESL

Just another weblog

Set Adrift, On 3d6

A brief look into my life through GURPS.


adventures in designing a GURPS Dungeon Fantasy setting

False Machine

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Dreams in the Lich House

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Game Geekery

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape


Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Dark Paths and Wandered Roads

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Roll and Shout

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Dice and Discourse

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Ravens N' Pennies

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

One Yard Hex

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

The Lands of Nandêmē: A Hexcrawl for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Richard's Dystopian Pokeverse

Mostly Old-school RPG musings

Orbs and Balrogs

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

RPG Snob

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape


Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Spiderweb in the Corner

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

The Tao of D&D

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Game in the Brain

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape