Tuesday, June 10, 2014

GURPS Magic Notes 02: Basic Set Spells and Options Strategy Guide

Lets see what what best practices can we come up with just the options in the Basic Set. The idea is to master the basics and discover all the possible applications and uses of the spells and how they compare to each other with only those found in the basic set. We can also look at point budgets to see how much it can cost to achieve a desired effect.


In a module as long as Harkwood you will be fine. In fact you can pretty much be fine for an entire dungeon delving campaign with little magic and just full of monsters and traps. 
In overland adventures with magic that is disappearing in the setting, the spell list is fine. If Mages have any influence in the economy of the world (and are not being burned as witches) you will need more rules and spells. 
Shape Air and Water is very much under-powered compared to Shape Earth. I wish it followed the recallibration of the Control Advantage in GURPS Powers p.90. There is a lot of Emphasis (more options) in the Elemental Spells, Necromancy and Healing. Few options but effective for Communication/Empathy  and Mind Control. Light Darkness, Protection and Warning, Knowledge and is pretty useful but takes more effort to be effective. 

Balancing Issues

There are some annoying Balance issues in Magic. At a certain point, as the Mage of the game advances he may want to bring up his magery. Many can be solved by creating some Magical Demographics. 
  • Cap Magery. How much to Cap depends on how frequently IQ above 10 appears in the setting, how much is the Mage expected to spend on Spell (B292, improvement through study skills and techniques), and how high the Spell Skills are supposed to be based on B237 under Magic ritual. 
    • If IQ12 (140IQ) is rare, like 1:260+ and IQ14 (180IQ) is 1:20M, the GM expects skills of 15-20 for many spells, and that mages have many spells in Normal Magic System at 1cp in each spell, Magery 6-8.  
    • If most heroes have an IQ12, and Smart Heroes IQ14-15 or only Smart People can learn magic, Spells are expected to be Skill-15-19, about 2cp per spell, and they have Tons of Extra FP, then Magery 3-5 would suffice.   
  • Cap Extra Fatigue. Many Spells cost a lot ot be useful. When you have 1/2 penalty in move and dodge at being 1/3 FP Extra Fatigue is really important in the mage build. 
  • Cap Spell List - since this is just Basic Set then you don't have much of a problem. Unfortunately you will quickly run out of variety with just 100 spells and will find yourself considering buying GURPS Magic for more spells. 

Extra Energy for Basic Set 

Extra Fatigue, dedicated to Spells would have an Accessibility Limitation "Only Spells"* (-10%). You can have the Preparation Required to take 1 hour (-50%) to be able gather this energy, the character still needs time per FP. You can have Limited Use x4/day (-20%), to be able to redraw this power over a day. This basically gives you 5FP for every 3cp (1 hour to recover all the energy). So 9cp would be 15FP (3 hours to recover all the energy).  

Once the "pool" has been exhausted the Mage has to use Preparation again to be able to gather the energy again. After 4x of use in a day, the mage has to wait a day to be able to do again. 
Your mages would benefit spending 15cp for 25FP of energy.

Note that the "Preparation Required" is difficult to come by in an adventure. 1 hour of "alone time" in a stressful day of adventure will prevent players from replenishing. 

*See B110. Only spells is a narrower use of FP than Half of the total options since FP can be used in both mental and physical activities. A conservative GM may make it 10%.

more detail in this post.

Verbal and Somatic Components

If you use "playing a Trumpet" on B110, an example in Accessibility, as a baseline then you can say a use of a skill, keeping both Hands and Breath busy would count as a -20% Limitation. If you want it Half Power then its a -10% Limitation. It gets complicated when you have a skill below 15 because there are other gestures and words. 

It gets complicated when you have a skill below 15 because there are other gestures and words, just grant a bigger bonus in identifying a spell or anyone who sees the character instantly knows he's up to something no-good and or ask for a Performance check to get "Mesh" the gestures and verbal components together. 

Ceremonial Casting

This is what familiars are used to best effect. Since you need 15 to do a ceremonial spell, this becomes best use o prevent critical failures happening 1:52 to 1:216 times. 


Example, 95 points
  • Magery 0 [5]
  • Magery 8 (Accessibility: Granted by Ally -20%, half power when familiar is killed; Accessibility, Half Power without Verbal AND Somatic Components Mudra, Dance, Kata -10%*; Accessibility - Half Power unless using Aspect College, -20%) [40] 
  • Extra Fatigue FP+20 (Only Spells, -10%; Preparation Required, 1 hour of Rituals, -50%; Limited Use, recover it only x4 a day, -20%) [12]
  • Ally (50% of mage's point value 2 point; Freq - Constant x4 points; Sympathetic, brings the mage to 0HP when killed, -25%; Dependent, 50% of mage's point value, Freq-6, -2 points) [4]
  • Speak/Comprehend Special Language (Fluent) [3]; Special Language Read/Write (Fluent) [3] 
  • Meditation (Mudra), Dance, Combat Art for the Gestures [4]
  • Ritual Magic (VH) IQ+1 [12]
  • College of Specialization (VH) IQ+1 [12]

Body Control Spells

All body spells are resistible by HT checks except death touch. Because this is resistible, the mage will need to rely on a strategy of delivering this spell often to enemies. This spell will very much benefit with a Staff (B481 and B240) so the mage can repeatedly deliver spells using "touch" for melee spells and "pointing". Many of these spells Ignore Armor.
  • Itch. 0 count. Powerful against fully armored foes, the DX penalty has cascading results to Move, Dodge, and Attacks. Casting it where they cannot scratch (like the small of their back) would make the effect enduring.  
  • Spasm. 1 Count. Too bad you can't use it on a wait maneuver unless you have GURPS magic and use meta spell to make it a "reflex spell", Otherwise its just used to drop important things. If you have an ally you can use this spell to give them a chance to escape a grapple. Lasting an Instant and not being able to Wait to use this spell without meta-spell, makes Spasm very difficult to use to great effect. 
  • Pain. 2 count. Lasts a full second which gives it more uses, but not very much. 
  • Clumsiness. 3 count. Since it lasts a minute and can have a much bigger penalty this is a very useful spell IF you can overcome Resistance. note how expensive the spell is. Typically penalties from the same source do not stack generally in many RPG games, ask your GM if it applies to this spell.  
  • Hinder. 4 Count. Penalizes dodge, and move for one minute intervals, resistible.
  • Rooted Feet. 5 count. Some GMs don't anymore have ST checks, you can make this an HT check with Extra Effort reducing the penalty by 2 on each attempt. 
  • Paralyze Limb. 5 counts. Legs are typical targets of such spells since mobility can neutralize both combat and defenses. 
  • Wither Limb. 6 counts. same as Paralyze Limb but more expensive and permanent until healed. 
  • Death Touch. 7 counts. Damage that ignores armor.  


  • Haste. 0 count. Increases Dodge, expensive. 
  • Apportion. 0 count. Moves objects
  • Hinder. 2 Count. Penalizes dodge, and move for one minute intervals, resistible.
  • Great Haste. 1 count. needs IQ12+.
  • Lockmaster. 1 count. Does lock master prevent "barred doors". the GM could answer
  • Deflect Missile. 1 count.  Causes a Missed ranged attack which makes it powerful. 

Protection and Warning.

  • Shield. 0 count. Expensive to be effective. 
  • Armor. 1 count. Expensive to be effective. 
  • Magelock. 0 count. Needs a good door in the first place and resists lock master spell. If you are concerned with the Lockmaster spell Bolt and Bar the door. 

Water Spells

  • Seek Water, Count 0. Annoying requires a dousing rod.  
  • Purify Water, Count 1. On long sea voyages this means the mage can convert sea water to potable water, or any water found on land. Far from other water - filter pee, sweat, mud, etc... remove potential poisons and toxins IN the liquid that is mostly water based. this does not prevent a poisoned cup's poisoning. 
  • Create Water, Count 2. a great value spell since water is one of the heaviest supplies you will need to carry. So many applications in survival, in combat try drenching someone's arming coat in Freezing temperatures. 
  • Destroy waterCount 3. Destroy all the water supplies of a target! this would cause them heat exhaustion if they cannot drink while performing streneous physical activity. 
  • Shape WaterCount 3. A narrow wall of water would slow down projectiles and can be clouded with particulates. Controlling 75 liters or 165lbs of water per point. Depending on the GM's interpretation, using Shape water to create a drag effect to propel a ship can only generate 205 kg/m of force or 0.2 tons of thrust. You cannot generate as much force and energy as shape earth.  
  • Breathe Water, Count 3. for underwater adventures.  although the PC may not be able to get this spell if he cannot make the requirements.
  • Ice WeaponCount 3. adds +2 dmg, great against creatures with fire vulnerability. 
  • FogCount 4. Purify air can disperse this depending on the GM's call. Useful for escape 

Mind Control

tricky spells, gets really useful when you have Psychology, Body Language, Acting and other social skills.
  • Foolishness. 0 count. Resisted by Will, note that Acting is harder to beat with a lower IQ. 
  • Forgetfulness. 1 count. In the heat of combat, cause an enemy which is friend or foe! If there are facts that can be assumed about the target, causing the target to forget certain facts - his boss is X, whose boss Y. "Forget all the guys wearing St. Georges Cross are allies"."Forget that I am a wanted mage". "forget the last orders of your Lord". "forget you know me". "forget you have an oath". If you can figure out motive or objective, you can target hamstring many cognitive efforts with the right application of Forgetfulness. Cause someone to make a faux pas by forgetting their manners. intercept a spy only to cause him to forget his secret. Cover their tracks by causing them to forget who they spilled the means too or if they ever spilled the beans. For more idea check out Social Engineering and Cognitive Biases: Memory Errors.   
  • Daze. 1 count. +Peter V. Dell'Orto has some corrections you should consider because as is, its more effective than sleep. If you do use the corrections, than 
  • Command. 2 counts. A strategic use of this spell is in order, and can ruin a carefully planned action because unlike many spells this can be used with a Wait maneuver because its a blocking spell. Commanding an enemy to Strike at his nearby ally "Hit him" is a pretty good use of the spell. "Drink This", "eat this" "Kiss him", "take this", "Pinch her", all can be very dangerous and effective in the right circumstance.   
  • Sleep. 2 counts. Neutralizing obstacles with Sleep and Stealth hides 
  • Mass Daze. 2 counts. IQ13+ as you can imagine, an effect that has an exponential magnitude.
  • Mass Sleep. 3 counts. IQ13+ same as mass daze. 

Necromantic Spells

  • Death Vision, 1 count. A parlor trick to shake someone up. 
  • Sense Spirit, 2 count. typical area is at 6 sq yrds. 
  • Summon Spirit, 2 count. A powerful spell that can bring useful information to the game.
  • Zombie, Count 4. You will need some templates and skills in embalming  to make a good durable zombie for such purposes. Zombies are pretty useful as you can imagine. they can alter the economic landscape of a game setting - cheap automatons. 
  • Turn Zombie. Count 5. damages zombies, and in a 1/6 chance causes them to flee. 
  • Summon Demon. Count 11. This will be useful.
  • Banish, Count 11. the best way to deal with a powerful alien entity, but note that these things tend to have really high Will. The setting will need some Cosmology notes. 

Light and Darkness

  • Light. 0 Count. wow, its underwhelming how much light this spell produces - 1 Lumens
    • Suggested rule. Cube the Skill level in Lumens. So a 20 skill will be 8000 lumens enough to light up an area like moonlight at a 30 yrds/m radius or 11k sq yrds. 
    • A Mage of skill 15 would be 3375 lumens or dim moonlight for 30 m/yrd radius. 
  • Continual Light. 1 Count. To be useful in a battlefield, you will cast this spell at about 6FP. Note that being close to the light source can be blinding and ruining the ability to see on the edge of the lights radiance, ask the GM how he's going to resolve this. If it is blinding, then you may need to use Apportion to move around the light source. 
  • Darkness. 2 Count. The description of the spell makes it that it is an area where light does not escape since Light Enters but Light cannot escape to be viewed outside the spells area. ask the GM how he rules the principles behind this, because there is a lot of funny business by the definition of the spell - or if the GM just handwaves it. 
    • as an Area Spell the darkness is 4 yrds high per hex or 3.5 cu. yrd of Darkness. You will need shape darkness in GURPS Magic to make better use of this spell. 
    • use (3*(N-1)*N)+1 to get the area per increment of spell pas level one.  
  • Blur. 3 Count. Expensive to be useful. 


  • Counter Spell. 0 Count. Nullifies an Ongoing spell. This means the spell has a duration where the the mage can react! If you come from a DnD or Magic card familiarity, this is more like a "dispel magic). The difference with Dispel Magic is that it targets a Specific Magical Effect which may need the mage to analyse the spell in the first place or saw the other mage cast the spell.  
  • Dispel Magic. 13 Counts. Dispels ALL the ongoing spells in an Area (very similar to DND SRD dispel magic). 


Knowledge spells need skills to let the mage draw important context 
  • Detect Magic. 0 count. A magical yes or no, and if temporary or permanent.   best cast with an angle to capture as many people and targets as possible.
  • Aura. 1 count. Information and Instantaneous. This spells gives a lot of information, and like Detect Magic, ideally cast in the best angle. 
  • Seeker. 2 counts. IQ12+. A powerful spell, considering how it basically does a lot of problem solving for the PCs. 
  • Trace. 3 counts. Basically your Tracking Spells if you can maintain it. Very easy to maintain since it is a spell that is in hour increments. 
  • Identify Spell, 1 count. Timing dependent spell, in 5 seconds this spell must be cast or you will need to use Analyze Magic below. 
  • Analyze Magic, 2 count. Benefits from high skill because it takes a while to cast and expensive to cast as well. Tedious because it works from the cheapest spell up. Strangely the spell mentions Conceal Magic which is not in the Basic set. 

Healing Spells.

  • Lend Energy. 1 count. Already a lot of problems because if there is "Aspected" FP for the mages, will the GM allow this to be converted to FP to the other PC. You will need fit or Recover Energy for this. Brings PC up past 1/3 FP. 
  • Lend Vitality. 1 count. Used to bring a character past the 1/3 HP threshold that allows them to be unhindered temporarily. 
  • Recover Energy. 1 count. Fastest rate of FP recovery until you get GURPS Powers at 50cp. 
  • Awaken. 1 count. Surprisingly useful spell to keep character alert and awake. If the character is suffering from sleepiness or slow riser or lost sleep penalties to Self Control (see B426). This is magical coffee or coca! Counters the effects of Mind Control spells that Daze or make the character sleepy. 
  • Minor Healing. 1 count. Heal 1-3HP
  • Major Healing. 2 counts. Heal 1-4HP (with minor healing, characters can heal 7HP at 11FP cost)
  • Great Healing. 3 counts. restores all the missing HP of the character. 
  • Fire Spells
  • Refreshing one's understanding of B433 Fire will help a lot in expanding the use of this spell. 
  • Ignite. 0 count. Very versatile, especially since you really don't need to "touch" or attack the target. Combined with a Long Staff to extend the Mage's range, ignite can be used to Light up hard to burn and hard to put out materials. Burning the Arming coat found underneath every heavily armored individuals, or ignite the waxes and oils inside heavy leather.
  • Create Fire. 1 count. Note again the size of this fire at 4 yrds x 0.866 sq yrds hex. This basically lights up an area like a bonfire. If this fire is not igniting anything or consuming air, then this would be a smokeless fire. In mid air its a sphere with a volume of (3n(n-1)+1) * 3.46 cu. yrds  at 1 energy this is a 2.74 yrd diameter sphere! If you're creative with geometry you can shape just 3.46 cu. yrds or 2.6 cubic meters of fire easily. 
  • Shape Fire. 1 count. This can only control a finite amount of fire, but the immediate use I can see is channeling the fire away from the user. Shaping Magical Fire of Create Fire becomes a very interesting exercise since you can distribute the effect of 3.46 cu yrds of flame among your enemies 
  • Extinguish Fire. 1 count. An expensive spell and covers only a small area. 
  • Deflect Energy. 2 count. A powerful spell, even if it cannot be cast at discount it will basically stop a  lot of direct energy attacks immediately regardless of powerlevel. A caution for mages planning to use direct energy attack missile spells and invested a lot of energy into it, it may be futile. The odds of a deflect energy are better than most parrys.  
  • Heat. 2 counts. The description gives good advice in melting points, armed with chemistry this spell can be very dangerous.  
  • Fireball. 2 counts. A missile spell that has an interesting FAQ see 4.3.1. Deflect Missile and Energy countermeasures make it difficult to use, especially among other mages. 
  • Resist Cold. 3 counts. 
  • Cold. 3 counts. like heat spells, a knowledge of chemistry and what happens when things reach their freezing points will be useful. 
  • Resist Fire. 4 counts. A powerful Spell, with Create and Shape Fire, such a character is sheathed in a shield of fire. So powerful it can protect from the heat of a Star. So if you cast this spell on a ship  (size and power modifiers apply) and has the acceleration to make an escape velocity you can go into a star.
  • Explosive Fireball. 3 counts. The best way to avoid those pesky deflection spells. 

Air Spells

You will really need Extra Energy to use Air-Spells because they are rather expensive. It has such high costs, the player will need skill in timing and creativity to use. Air spells are great to elminate non-magical fires, swarms, and many pesky

Area Spell Notes: Area Spells extend 4 yrds up making it 4 x0.866 sq. yrds per hex.

  • Purify Air, Count 0. Cast this spell to dispel not just poison or toxins or disease in the air, but smoke and dust. As an Area Spell it has a Volume of effect equal to (3n(n-1)+1)*4 * 0.866 sq. yrds (*0.76 to get cubic meters), where N is the increment amount of energy spent. Ask your GM if it affects gaseous beare Cings. Ask the GM if you can target the air in your lungs as part of the spell, per casting. If he allows this, purify air allows the character to hold "his breath", getting a new breath every casting. Other uses is breathing through a wineskin or waterproof container with Purify Air - you can imagine a character jumping into water with a wineskin full of air. A weigh down boat capsized and this spell allows a party to walk beneath the sea floor.
  • Create Air, Count 1.  the ability to instantly negate a vacuum is very useful and if you check B437 it is a very painful experience and the absence of Air as a "heat sink" has other side effects. You may rarely use this spell, but it is definitely a lifesaver.
  • No Smell, Count 1. The kinds of game where the sense of smell comes into play is rare, but for those games this is a very important spell. Consider social occasions where the character has not bathed or has an odius personal habit or Bad smell disadvantage. Process of elimination of who "dealt it" lolz.
  • Shape Air, Count 2, this is a very subtle spell where the GM makes a call if he will allow some creative freedoms. Taken note of the detail that it creates a stream of air that can directed and "shaped". A stream of air does not have to be on direction, it can spiral and have a tighter or looser rings.
    Shaped as a ring, it can create a vortex or a barrier against missile weapons or for concealment raising up particulates. Its up to the GM to give free reign how the air moves because the spell is very weak to be used any other way. If the GM allows the stream of air to spiral it can channel particulates or other gasses.
  • At 1Fp you can create a small whirlwind to keep the air of "stench" within a particular confine or allow the player to bring up dust, leaves and particulates as concealment.
  • Stench, Count 1. A powerful spell damage over time spell, 1d6 per inhalation if you can keep the target in one place. With Shape air you can "move" the tiny vortex of bad smell to follow your enemy. This is a powerful spell against swarms. The most powerful use of this spell is causing the subject to move, if you have traps or you don't want that target in that space, Stench is your go-to spell.
  • Breathe Water, Count 3. for underwater adventures.  although the PC may not be able to get this spell if he cannot make the requirements.
  • Walk on Air, Count 3. Many adventures can be overcome with the ability of flight. Walls become trivial obstacles.
  • Predict Weather, Count 4. Rarely does bad weather factor in games, but when it does it has very powerful consequences. A Wizard casting this spell, with farmers and their families all pitching in as part of a ceremonial spell can alter an entire economy in the next 50 days! Note that a planting season is  People will plant more efficiently, choosing grains that can withstand drought or dry weather or can survive wet weather. 50 days allows an entire economy to mobilize to correct or take advantage of the surplus. If the Farmers get together every 30 days to get the next 50 days forcast you can imagine the efficiency in a low tech environment. As soon as there is a disruption, reports of magical disruption will be important to rulers.
  • Earth to Air, Count 4. At 28L or 1 cu.ft. per energy spent this spell can be very useful applied strategically. If the GM allows the player to convert mortar to air instead of whole sections of the wall it gets more work done. If the GM allows for selective transformation, like all the X stones are transformed into air leaving behind Y (imagine panning for gold).  
  • Lightning, Count 6. A powerful missile spell and effective if you can get it up to skill-15. 1d-1 burning per energy or 3 dmg per energy cubed *0.27777778  to get the KWh. In a low tech game this can be meaningless but in TL6+ and the right tools, this can power a lot of things.
    Some useful benchmarks - Tesla Roadster has a 53KWh battery, a Car battery is 7.2KWh, a police car battery is 14.4KWh, a smartphone with a 5400ma 4.5V is 0.0243KWh,

Enchantment Spells

Enchantment Spells have a cost per energy point suggested in B482-483. There are suggestions given but it boils down to those made by the GM. If mages were as rare as Pyromancers in Byzantium, Clockwork machinists in Roman era, or Engineers in the Ancient world. Note the tactical opportunity costs given some enchantment and how cash poor a low tech setting may be. The funny thing about enchantment is that the cheaper it is, the more variety there will be and the more you will need GURPS magic and various other rules - while the more rare it is the lower the benefits and in opportunity cost it just becomes something fancy example - Greekfire was legendary in Byzantium but in the end it was not enough to prevent the empires fall - Gun powder is pretty much magic but when technology allowed it to be cheap and mass produced did it alter the landscape of war. 
  • Accuracy. Since the "Balanced" quality is not available in Basic Set accuracy. At just plus 1 it costs the equivalent of 5 heavy warhorses. 
  • Deflect. Relatively Cheap among the enchantments, ancestral armors or lighter metal shields can benefit. While shields got lighter in Low Tech, note that B438 gives you the rules to create Lighter but lower HP shields. Half to 1/4 of the weight of shields in B287 and just recalculate the HP based on B438. 
    • Example: Large Metal Shield of 1/4 the weight is 18HP with same DR and a much lower Over Penetration Score. 
  • Fortify. Relatively cheap and in the absence of armor quality and tailoring rules the only way to increase the upper limit. 
  • Power. Many magic items need power to be used and enduring. really expensive and only useful for a few spells 
  • Puissance. Weapon Quality makes this obsolete. Note that a +2 to damage is cheaper by quality than by Puissance.
  • Staff is pretty useful. Consider using it with a long spear to add more reach and since long Staff is not in the Basic Set, you can pretty much guess the stats based of long spear. 

Communication and Empathy Spells

  • Sense Foes, Count 0. Hostile Intent is tricky so you gotta clear it with your GM first. Are mindless automatons "Foes". Also pretty expensive and a small area. 
  • Sense Emotion, Count 1. Since it can detect loyalty you may use this to screen NPCs. Combined with Psychology, Body Language, and Interrogation this spell can be very effective. Note Ask the GM if it will let you find out tells - the particular expression a person uses for a particular emotion. Even after the spell effects are done, you can detect their moods by your intimate knowledge of all their tells. 
  • Truthsayer, Count 2. Combined with Interrogation, Psychology and Body Language there are many ways this can be used to gather information and to "push" NPCs to talk. 
  • Mind-Reading, Count 3. Don't get carried away using this spell, its best used when the subject does not know this capability is present. Combined with Sense Emotion, you may have an intimate mastery of someone's thoughts - ask the GM if translates to anything because if it doesnt then whats the point lolz. 
  • Hide Thoughts, Count 4.  Protection against magical manipulation - while - the spell is on. Social engineering is about putting the target in a position unable to use their defenses. 

Earth Spells 

this is covered already here

Tweaking Notes

If Water and Air, are in the same amount of Energy (Mass*Vel) being manipulated as in Earth 2.55KW (Metric Tons/ m/s or Tons/ yrds/s). 

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