Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: magic

In Hindsight: Taking Down The Faerie Godmother

So after last session, the big question is: How exactly did our heroes survive that? One would think she would just turn them all into winged monkeys and continue on with her day. I was wondering, the players were wondering, and even Douglas Cole, the author himself, was wondering over at Gaming Ballistic.

So, let’s delve into that question with some of that 20/20 hindsight folks talk about…

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Wilderness Catering For Delvers

In the current campaign, our heroes are engaged in a long journey through the wilderness, which is rather novel for our group. In discussing the challenges of the trip ahead, the players took a lot of comfort from the Create Food spell. They brought food, sure, and the scruffy bushwhacker types scavenged for fish and berries along the way, but they never really had a sense of urgency about it. If it came down to it, the cleric could miracle up some grub and they could carry on.

Well, last session, the pony with all the iron rations fell down a hole, so now the hypothetical has become practical. It’s time to work through some scenarios, do the math, and see where our heroes actually sit.

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Ritual Path Magic and “Buffy”: Two Castings

This month’s game was called off, due to a combination of holidays, new jobs, and illness, so instead of a play synopsis, here’s some thoughts about a ritual from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe and two times we saw it cast on-screen. (Obviously, spoilers ahead, for the show that’s over 15 years old and one of the major building blocks of the Monster Hunters genre…)

Two times in season 6, we see Willow cast a ritual to bring a person back to life.

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Steampunk Monster Hunters #2: “Aaoooooo”

Some of our protagonists chose to become consulting field agents for a shady Association, “on-screen”, last session. The newcomers have also signed up, in the background. There was some discussion, pre-game, concerning how far the Association can be trusted – “Do we really know who these people are?”, that kind of thing – but the majority of the group seemed to feel good about the group. On the one hand: the PCs want to hunt monsters, the Assocation wants monsters hunted, it’s win-win. On the other: any group that has Charles Dickens as a member must obviously be a force for good.

Who’s Who

  • Lucretia Gasser Buttersnaps, Philanthropist Commando; wife of Octavious, tipsy and American
  • Margaret Anne Chapman, Accidental Hero, Sleuth; “World’s Greatest Girl Detective”
  • Mercy Patton, Philanthropist Sage; governess with luggage that’s bigger on the inside
  • Nayler H. Knuer, Philanthropist Techie; wealthy, well-traveled, unhealthily sophisticated
  • Octavious Buttersnaps, Hired Gun Psi; husband of Lucretia, bitter and intoxicated

What Happened

Our heroes were all invited to breakfast at Dickens’ home on the morning of Sunday, 1 June 1851. As is the way of PCs, much attention was paid to the menu, including the obligatory cider joke, so let it be noted: there were kippers.

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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).


Taking The Nerf Bat To Bless

One of the first tricks the party picked up was to have everybody stop off at the church and get themselves a Bless. These days, they’re going with 2-point blessing all around, except for FuBar, who usually can’t make it into town, and so has to get by with a mere 1-point blessed button up his nose. From my perspective as the GM, there’s good and bad sides to it.

On the “pro” side:  It’s another thing to suck up excess money, which is good, because it lights a fire under them to get more money. There’s a real, immediate cost for playing a monster who can’t come into town like normal folk, which is good, because if you’re not paying for your Disadvantages, they aren’t worth points — even in a game as fast and loose as this one. It’s a buffer against them being wiped out in one shot, which takes care of any reluctance I might have to play hardball.

On the “con”: Picky to track, hard to remember who has it and who doesn’t. It’s a pain to come up with miracles that can save a person from disaster just a little bit. It’s even worse when somebody gets whacked hard, three turns go by, and then somebody says, “Hey, wait a minute, shouldn’t the miraculous hand of divinity have stooped down and sheltered so-and-so from harm a minute ago?  He shouldn’t be falling off the bridge on fire at all! He should have cake! And ice cream!”

Which brings up the point: sure, it sucks money, but not much at all. For $10, you get a 1-point Bless, which makes you better at everything you do, until you need a miracle to pull your fat out of the fire. Then, a miracle turns “dead” into “wounded”. Not even “mortally wounded”, since the example given is moving a heart shot to an arm. Now that is some bang for your buck! If they were serving that at the coffee shop, I’d buy a big cup of it every morning, just for the +1 to all rolls. Come to think of it, back when I was working downtown and passed by several dozen coffee shops every morning, I would regularly pay nearly that just for a +1 to rolls to wake up in the morning, no miraculous protection required.

In the case of the Bless-on-a-person, it’s hard to envision how a person could know if they were, or were not, still blessed. With the enchantment, at least, you can say that the icon breaks, giving a nice visual indicator. But if you’ve gone in for a Bless from your friendly neighborhood cleric, and you get shot in the arm:  did you just get shot in the arm?  Or did that bullet have your name on it, it was going right for your heart, and your Bless spell jumped in front of it? How could you be sure? (I guess you could have your buddy the Holy Warrior take a look at you, but this party’s pretty low on the faithful these days, what with getting all their priests killed…)

I wonder what the existence of such a spell would do to society.  I envision peasants saving up to afford the $10 that would suddenly make them prosperous. Not that it matters, in a Dungeon Fantasy game, where the peasants working the fields in the background are just an animated backdrop for Town, and Town is just two shopkeepers, a healer, and an old guy telling stories in front of the inn.

Not Strang; no, nor Mamu neither; though by your smiling you seem to say so…

You can tell Bless is high-octane stuff, because in by-the-book Dungeon Fantasy, it requires Power Investiture 5.  That’s 5, alongside such fun party tricks as Earthquake and Storm. That’s the level of Power Investiture enjoyed by Moses. The only tier higher is PI6, the tier that includes… hey, look, there’s our old friend Resurrection!

… and now that I look at it, I see that Resurrection is a “one try” spell, so next time around, I guess we’ll need to roll and see the effective skill for the spell and roll it to make sure Jed’s not dead after all, huh, how about that (makes notes)…


Now where were we?

Oh, yeah.


I think I’m a-gonna nerf Bless.

At this point, perhaps it would be useful to point out this post over on Dungeon Fantastic, in which Peter Dell’Orto mentions that he removed Bless from his long-running campaign entirely.  I follow his suggestions pretty closely; my players could be forgiven for thinking that the biggest stained-glass window in the church was dedicated to the Great God Delorto, he gets mentioned so often.

In this case, though, I fear player revolt, so we’re going to go with something less drastic, for now.

I think the thing that bugs me most, really, is the question of how, exactly, everybody knows when they just cheated death. It wouldn’t hurt to make it a trifle more expensive, more on par with healing potions and so forth. Therefore, I’m just going to say that The Church has announced, they will no longer provide the Bless spell to be cast on people.

Why? Precisely because the layman can’t tell when a Bless has worn off! It has come to the attention of the priesthood that folks are pushing their luck, taking risks that they ordinarily wouldn’t take, because “I’m protected by the gods! Hey, y’all, watch this!” Tembladera’s the kind of town where you find people standing on the bar at three in the morning, lighting themselves on fire. On a week night. When they take up risky behavior, it’s a hazard for miles around.

Mechanically, we’ll do it like this.  If somebody picks up a blessed button or the like, I’ll give ’em a poker chip. Flash the chip, get the bonus. Take a hit, turn in your chip, and we’ll figure out your miracle. Lose your chip, well, I guess you were almost bit by a black widow back at camp, or you didn’t step in the pile of leaves that had a rattlesnake in it.

… and I’m sure somebody’s immediately thinking, “We’ll just hire a cleric and have them pray for us on the way out of town!”  Sure, that’ll work. Except for, there’s a few hurdles to clear, first. You’ve got to find a cleric, which has been problematic in the past. You’ve got to find a cleric, willing to go into the dungeon for day-labor pay, who has PI5.  That, I would describe as “challenging”.  Then you’ve got to fast talk or browbeat that cleric into disobeying the standard orders of the higher-ups. Clerics with PI5 are often known for being wise and strong of will. You go through all that trouble, you deserve your 1-point Bless.

Somebody could always play a cleric, but I reckon that’s a drastic move. I don’t expect they’ll go that far, just for one spell.

Anyway, if they manage to thread that needle and get the spell cast directly on themselves, as they have been, well, like I said:  the layman cannot tell if they are under a Bless or not. I’ll make a note of it, and apply the effects as necessary. If it goes away, I won’t say anything.

Any player rebellion?  😉


Magic ain’t as mechanical as all that

One of the oft-recurring complaints about the basic magic system from GURPS, the one outlined in the basic book and then expanded in GURPS Magic, is that it’s too mechanical, it’s too “nuts and bolts” instead of “sense of wonder”. I’m not so sure.

From one angle, any magic system you care to mention is going to be, to some extent, “mechanical”. GURPS is a role-playing game, and the goal is for people to play the game. Sooner or later, shorn of all the frills, it’ll come down to a question of adding up modifiers and rolling some dice. Most likely, three dice. You can try to change it up and inject further randomness with different props or GM fiat, you can shake the Magic 8-Ball, but it’s all just modifiers. You’ve got to have a way to resolve the action at the table, and that method of resolution is going to have rules… even if the main rule is “bribe the GM with pizza”.

It could be that “sense of wonder” isn’t a big goal anyway, even if you are running entirely free-form and diceless. Tolkien had it easy, he could wave a hand and say “Look, elves!” and get all the starry-eyed wonder you could ever ask for.  If I try that stuff, my players aren’t going to go all Samwise and get gushy about finally seeing the pointy-eared shiny people. They’re going to mug ’em and take their hand-crafted cruelty-free wallets. I reckon the closest I’m going to ever get to “wonder” is more “shock and awe”, and the way I’ll get it won’t be through the mystery of magic, it’ll be through some giant lizard rolling in and incinerating Alric in one breath.

(Sorry, Alric, just an example, you know I love ya!)

(But you do know, the first time a dragon breathes in this game, it’ll either be directly at Alric, or it’ll be because Needles crit-failed a Stealth roll at a very, very bad moment.)

I’ll count it a win if I can get the trappings of wonder. When it comes to magic, that pretty much means that your poor man’s Gandalf has to be able to mutter darkly about not tampering with forces beyond our ken, and the party has to be a little fuzzy on the wizard’s limits.

The muttering, you get for free. According to the standard magic system, if you crit fail while casting a spell, you get a roll on the Critical Spell Failure Table. Most likely, that means the wizard is down some Fatigue and everybody gets an amusing light-show. Sometimes, it means that a simple cantrip just summoned an angry demon. Statistically, Gandalf is going to roll an 18 once out of every 216 spells he casts. If your wizards are casting spells at 15 or less effective skill — a rarity, I admit, especially in DF — the number of spells between possible demon-summonings goes down.

During the Deadlands-inspired Old West game, we used the huckster magic system from the 3rd Edition GURPS Deadlands: Weird West. The player of the huckster character was always claiming to be exasperated with the others, whenever they asked him to cast spells. “Don’t they realize I could draw a black Joker at any moment, and end up possessed by an evil spirit? Where would they be then?” The huckster system had much higher odds of an explosive accident, since the spell caster had to draw several cards from a deck of 54 every time. Even so, it never came up in play, that I can recall. The huckster character was in more danger from  the other PCs than he ever was from brain-sucking spirits.

If the rest of the party — the characters, not the players — knows exactly what the wizard can do, magic is just another technology. It may seem that way to the players, but to the characters, there’s still plenty of mystery.

First, there’s mana levels. A factor that the members of the party without magical awareness can’t sense. They’re just walking along, and suddenly the wizard’s muttering again and everybody’s magic items go dead. If your campaign includes Very High Mana (and mine does!), it could go the other way, too: walking along, minding their own business, until a moment when the wizard looks all overjoyed, starts casting spells like a thundercloud sheds rain, and then explodes when a regular failure goes critical, or a critical failure goes nuclear. A couple of experiences like that, and the rest of the party will be only too happy to agree that magic is a subtle and fickle art.

Mana’s even tricky for the wizard. Remember, a mage can’t just “feel” the local mana level. They can detect the boundaries between different mana levels, with a Perception+Magery check, that’s at -3 if they’re not specifically searching for a boundary. That modifier tells me that we’re talking about noticing something small, something one has to pay attention to if one is going to notice it at all. I would think further modifiers might be in line, if there are significant distractions at the time the boundary is crossed. Furthermore, I don’t see anything saying that the wizard who notices the boundary can tell the relative levels on either side of that boundary without making some tests…

If you need more muddy in those waters, there’s all sorts of things you can do.  Ley lines come to mind. Another possibility would be to work up some sort of mana-based “weather”, so conditions can change over time.

Mana aside, it’s still pretty hard to be sure you know all of your party’s wizard’s capabilities.  A new spell only costs a point, after all. In DF, it’s even harder to keep track, what with the Wild Talent advantage being right there on the Wizard template.

The great thing about Wild Talent is, it can represent many different things, depending on one’s interpretation and the character’s explanation. Maybe the wizard crafted that one-off spell from the raw stuff of magic itself. Perhaps it was some half-remembered scrap of a spell taken from a long-lost book that the wizard stumbled across during unrelated research, weeks ago. Or it could be that wizards know hundred and hundred of incantations and magical spells, each involving the application of astrological calculations and the cajoling of higher spirits, all of which are summed up in the two- or three-dozen lines on the character sheet under the “Spells” heading, and the only reason Jed can’t throw a Great Wish every day is because he only knows a few versions that only work when the stars are right… it’s just that the stars are only right once per game session per level of the Advantage.


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