Faith-Based Magic

by Jeremy Seeley

Art by andi jones

GURPS adventuring parties are filled with characters that have a Magery of 3, with only the occasional PC having a Magery of 2, or much less often a 1. This is not realistic, as Magery should be an innate ability that naturally occurs (when it does) in varying degrees, and not automatically min-maxed for the power gamer's pleasure. Priests are usually nothing but a Mage-variant, and are not treated with the full respect that they deserve as devout followers of the divine. In this variant, all of the standard GURPS magic rules, as presented in the Basic Set, Magic, and Grimoire, are still in effect, except for changes noted below.

A spell may be attempted at a skill as low as 4, instead of the old minimum of 12. This allows a character to be truly inept at magic, and also lets a character learn and grow into a more powerful spellcaster, rather than being written up from the start as one. The fumbling wizard is a legitimate character, seen in the movies Krull and Willow, for example These wizards continually messed up their spells, and they often resulted in a critical failure. This rule change also allows a prerequisite spell to be learned at 4, making it possible to learn the bare minimum and slide on by.

In addition to the use of Fatigue and Health, this variant system allows characters to develop certain "spell point" thresholds as well. Mages have Mana Threshold and Priests have Faith Threshold. These are separate pools, and are explained below.

Faith and Magical Aptitude (also explained in detail below) are not mutually exclusive. A Mage may also be a Priest. In fact, a Priest may even have Magical Resistance, as it has no effect on Priest spells. Although the character can use Fatigue or Health for either, remember that the two Thresholds are separate. Also, knowing a spell as a Priest has no effect on spell requirements as a Mage.

Many GMs may want to put a cap on the level of Magical Aptitude or Faith that a character has, as well as determine which variants are available. It is suggested that a beginning character spend no more than 125 points on Magical Aptitude or Faith.

It is also suggested that all characters that expect to ever have Magical Aptitude begin play with a minimum level of one; additional levels can be developed through play at the usual double cost. Faith, on the other hand, can be developed at any time in the character's life. It may or may not have the double cost -- it is up to the GM to decide this, and it may be doubled at only specific times, or under certain circumstances, or always be at normal cost . . . all depending on the whims of the character's deity.

Increased Power

A mage or priest may cast a spell at an intensity that is not normally allowed by the rules. By using more time as well as power, the character can magnify the spell by up to ten times. Using this option, a Flame Jet may do up to 30d, provided the character concentrates for 10 seconds and spends 30 points of energy. For spells that inflict no damage, but are resisted instead, such as Enslavement, each additional multiple is worth a -2 penalty to the target's resistance roll. The cost for a -18 would be 10 times normal, as would the casting time.

Keep in mind that the usual effects of high skill apply to Increased Power as normal. So, a skill of 21 -- worth a -2 to cost and the casting time halved -- would modify the 10 seconds of concentration and 30 energy for the 30d Flame Jet in the example above to 5 seconds of concentration and 28 points of energy.

Faster Spellcasting

A character may expend more energy in order to reduce the time necessary to cast a spell. The cost is 4 additional energy per second saved. This is applied after the effects of high skill are determined. Therefore, a spell that requires 1 second of concentration may be cast instantly by expending 4 more energy while casting it; this additional cost has no bearing on the cost to maintain a spell. For a spell that requires 10 seconds, the additional cost would be 40 in order to make it instant. This means that the 30d Flame Jet that takes 10 seconds of concentration would cost 70 points of energy if attempted instantly. If the character has a 21 skill in Flame Jet, then he would just need to reduce it by 5 seconds, costing him 20 additional energy, for a total cost of 48 points of energy.

The Cost of Magical Aptitude and Faith

The Faith and Magical Aptitude advantages have the Standard Point Cost, as shown in the table below. The variants of Magical Aptitude are detailed in GURPS Compendium I, on pages 39 and 40. The variants that cost 50% are Dance Magery, Dark-Aspected Magery, Moon-Aspected Magery, Musical Magery, Star-Aspected Magery, and Sun-Aspected Magery. The variants that cost 60% are College-Restricted Magery, Solitary Magery, and Song Magery.

Level Point Cost 50% Cost 60% Cost
+1+25 each+12.5 each+15 each

Magical Aptitude

This advantage is based on the advantage of the same name on p. 21 of the GURPS Basic Set. The ability to cast spells, and to detect magic, is no longer based on the character's IQ. Instead, his Magical Aptitude level is the determining factor. So a Mage with a Magical Aptitude of 14 will roll against a 14 to detect magic, and base his spells as M/H or M/VH on 14. Magical Aptitude is an inborn talent, not a matter of intelligence (though IQ still plays a factor in the use of magic, see below).

Many spells require a specific level of Magical Aptitude. Spells that require a Magery of 1 can be used by a character with a Magical Aptitude of 5; spells that require a Magery of 2 can be used by a character with a Magical Aptitude of 10; and spells that require a Magery of 3 can be used by a character with a Magical Aptitude of 15.

Some races and special character types start with some level of Magery. To convert, the points for the advantage are merely transferred towards the development of the character's Magical Aptitude. For example, Magery 1 grants 15 points towards the new advantage, Magery 2 grants 25, and Magery 3 grants 35.

IQ and Magic

Above-average IQ gives a bonus to all spells a character knows. The bonus is +1 for an IQ of 11, +2 for an IQ of 13, +3 for IQ 15, +4 for IQ 17, +5 for IQ 19, etc. IQ still plays a central role in the development of a character's magical abilities.

An IQ check is required in order to learn a spell. The character point is spent, and then the IQ check is rolled. Success means that the character has successfully learned the spell, at the level as determined normally. A critical success results in the character getting a free character point in the spell as well, for a total of two. Failure means that the character has wasted a character point. A critical failure not only means that a point was wasted, but that the character actually has a spell ineptitude with that particular spell, and he may never learn it.

Mana Threshold

A character's Mana Threshold is equal to his Magical Aptitude multiplied by 10. For example, a Magical Aptitude of 12 fives a character a Mana Threshold of 120. This Mana Threshold refreshes itself at a rate of (Magical Aptitude) + (HT) per 24 hours, which may be given back to the character all at once, or spread out over the day, depending on the GM's wishes. For example, a character with Magical Aptitude 12 and HT 10 will regain 22 Mana per day, or almost 1 per hour.

Faith-Based Magic


Faith uses the same magic system as Magical Aptitude. However, given its different origin, it has many special differences. There are no variants to Faith, but most religions require certain vows or other disadvantages.

IQ has no effect on Priest magic, but neither does Magical Resistance. Priests may follow the basic magic rules, but the Mana level has no effect on their powers. Their powers are effects generated through prayers to their deity, not the channeling of Mana.

Faith provides the ability to cast spells, more appropriately termed prayers. These are M/H or M/VH skills that are based on the character's Faith advantage. A character's Faith Threshold is equal to his Faith advantage, added to 1/2 of any levels of Power Investiture that he has, multiplied by 10. Therefore, a character with a Faith of 14 (and now levels of Power Investiture) would have 140 points in his Faith Threshold. The Faith Threshold is recharged through prayer and meditation. The rate is equal to one half of the total of the character's Faith plus levels of Power Investiture per hour of worship. Our aforementioned Priest with a Faith of 14 will regain 7 points per hour of worship.

The Power Investiture advantage is described on p. 42 of GURPS Compendium I. It is usually reserved as a gift from an organized religion for great service. All characters must have Clerical Investment, as on p. 22 of the same book, to get any rank within the religion. However, it should be noted that Faith, Power Investiture, and the level of Clerical Investment do not necessarily affect one another. They usually do, but it is not always the case. And a remember, Power Investiture grants a +1 per level bonus to the character's priest spells. When creating a character's religion, the player and GM should work together. GURPS Religion can be a great asset here, obviously. Below are several advantages, their costs, and an example in their use in the definition of a Priest character.

Religion Template Elements

Clerical Investment. Cost: 5/level. Level 1 is a minimal requirement.
Danger Sense. Cost: 15. Treat as the advantage on p. 20 of the Basic Set, using Faith instead of IQ.
Divine Favor. Cost: Variable. Some deities choose favorites, for whatever reason.
Medium. Cost: 10. Some religions can see the spirit realm.
Oracle. Cost: 15. In many religions it is possible to receive signs.
Power Investiture. Cost: 10/level. If a character serves his religion well, he may be blessed with this advantage.
Recognize other members of the religion on sight. Cost: 5.
Spell Casting. Cost: 1/spell. The character may learn any of the prayers that are taught by his religion. Each spell learned is at the 1/2-point level, which may be developed further as normal. The other 1/2-point was "wasted." This is not all that bad, as the prayers ignore the spell requirements that govern the magic of Mages. Of course, the character's available spell pool is generally quite limited as compared to that of a Mage.
Spell Casting Bonus. Cost: 10/level All spells are at a skill bonus of +1 per level Usually the limit is +3.
-5 to -15 Discipline of Faith. Cost: -5 to -15. These are the fundamental rules of the religion, and are treated like a Vow.
Sense of Duty to followers of the religion. Cost: -15.

Sample Religion

Priest Template for a generic "Healing" deity:

Character Point Cost: 35

Advantages: Clerical Investment level 1 (5), Faith 10 (10), Literacy (10), and Spell Casting Bonus +3 (30).

Disadvantages: Cannot Harm Innocents (-10), Sense of Duty to the followers of the religion (-15).

Prayers: (Note that these all cost 1 point to get at the 1/2-point level, and are based on Faith +3, counting the Spell Bonus advantage): Awaken 10, Cleansing 10, Major Healing 9, Minor Healing 10, and Recover Strength 10. This is 5 prayers at the 1/2-point level for 5 character points.

Prayers Available: (These are prayers that the Priest may learn throughout his development): Awaken, Body-Reading, Cleansing, Cure Addiction, Cure Dehydration, Cure Disease, Cure Insanity, Cure Starvation, Detect Poison, Healing Slumber, Instant Neutralize Poison, Instant Regeneration, Instant Restoration, Lend Health, Lend Strength, Major Healing, Minor Healing, Neutralize Poison, Recover Strength, Regeneration, Relieve Addiction, Relieve Madness, Relieve Paralysis, Relieve Sickness, Resist Disease, Resist Poison, Restoration, Restore Hearing, Restore Memory, Restore Sight, Restore Speech, Resurrection, Share Health, Share Strength, Sterilize, Stop Bleeding, Stop Paralysis, and Stop Spasm.

Article publication date: November 5, 1999

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