Rules Wizardry

Q&A on GURPS Magic and Grimoire

By Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch

What follows are some clarifications and answers to questions about the GURPS magic system, including specific spells from Magic and Grimoire. These questions were originally posed on the Internet, and have been edited here for clarity and brevity, and to preserve context. Feel free to send your questions to Dr. Kromm.

General Questions

1. The "Limits on Protection" sidebar (p. M11) states that magic can provide no more than 5 levels of protection. Does this include the protection granted by magical devices? E.g., if a ring grants Blur +2, can a second spell add +3?
2. If one had a Blur +3 ring enchanted at power level 15 and a Blur +2 ring enchanted at power level 20, which ring would take effect? The one enchanted with a higher power level, the one offering the higher bonus, or both, adding the effects?

1. This sidebar really imposes two limitations:
(1) No spell that offers protection can ever offer more than five levels of protection.
(2) If multiple spells of the same type are cast, they do not add. Instead, only the highest level of protection applies.
Both limitations apply as much to enchantments as to other spells. If a ring gives you Blur +2 and someone casts Blur +3, you have Blur +3 (the strongest spell) and not Blur +5.
2. The +3 ring would take effect, since it offers more protection. The "strongest" spell is the one offering the most protection, not the one cast at the highest skill level. Multiple castings of the same protective spell, regardless of their origin, never add.

Magic and Psionics

1. Quark the psi is attacking Boojum the mage with Mindsword. Boojum has Shield and Armor spells up. The Mindsword ignores "normal PD and DR," but does the magic protection help poor Boojum?
2. Boojum is at home under a Teleport Shield and an Utter Dome. Quark's companion, Snark, wants to use Clairvoyance to look inside Boojum's home so that he can Autoteleport there. Will Snark succeed on either count?
3. Boojum, wondering why the heck all these psi-goons keep ganging up on him, casts Hide and Hide Thoughts spells on himself. Will Quark and Snark be able to use Telescan and Seekersense to locate Boojum?
4. The mage Bix hears a burglar breaking into his Silicon Valley home, so he casts Body of Lightning on himself. Little does he know that he faces the psiber-crook J. B. Good, who uses Dampen followed by Surge against the wizard. Does J. B. Good walk out with the goods or a new shock perm?
5. Quark is once more harassing Boojum, who has grown tired of taking his guff. Boojum has a Ginsu Knife enchanted with the Penetrating Blade enchantment. Will Quark's PK Shield protect him against this?
6. Taking the offensive further, Boojum casts a Beacon spell on a vat of aqua regia he got down at the hardware store. Is Snark in for a biiiig surprise the next time he tries to crash a party at Boojum's?
7. Boojum uses the Seeker spell to find one of Snark's cigarette butts, hoping to use the History spell to learn more about who the heck is trying to kill him. Snark, however, is paranoid, and has used Erase Signature on his cigarette butts. What happens?
8. What if Snark had been smoking at a store front and Boojum used Images of the Past on the window? Would Boojum succeed, or is Snark safe?
9. One of Boojum's friends casts a Great Geas on Snark to make him leave poor Boojum alone. Snark's buddy Quark wants to use Mindwipe to get Snark back in action. Will we see Snark again?
10. Boojum finds himself face-to-face with Quark again, and once more, the bully has a Mindsword out. Boojum uses a Phase spell to avoid it, not realizing that the Mindsword extends into the astral plane. What is Boojum's astral PD and DR?
11. Quark's teacher drives up alongside Old Man Muwaji, Boojum's neighbor. Old Man Muwaji, in a random act of aggression, casts an Age spell on the passing psionic motorist, who knows Life Extension. Has Old Man Muwaji indeed "struck again"?
12. Does the Warmth spell offer any protection against Cryokinesis? Does Resist Cold?
13. Will Astral Projection, Seekersense, Clairvoyance or Telescan assist in locating someone hidden by a Sanctuary spell?
14. Quark has found Boojum's careless apprentice, Griff, in a compromising position with his girlfriend. Having no beef with these two, he opts not to Mindsword them and Mindwipes them instead. If Boojum later uses a Recall spell on his apprentice, will Griff remember the incident?
15. Can Quark Telecontrol warriors created with Create Warrior? Would they have to have Independence cast on them as well? Or would it not work at all?
16. Would Photokinesis have any effect on a mage using the Body of Shadow spell?
17. Can the Erase Signature psi skill be used to remove the Mystic Mark spell?
18. Will a False Aura spell fool ESP and Telepathy?
19. Can a Vigil spell be used to ward off the effects of a psionic Sleep attack?
20. Can a Solidify spell be used to force an astral psi back into his body?
21. Does the Sense Observation spell warn of spying via psionic Clairvoyance?
22. Could a psionic mage cast Create Warrior and then use Mindswitch to inhabit the body?
-- Anonymous

The rule of thumb in GURPS is that magic and psi do not interact at all on the "metaphysical" level. They only interact when their physical effects oppose one another.
1. Magic cannot shield against Mindsword; the Shield and Armor spells give no protection at all.
2. He will succeed on both counts. An Utter Dome protects from magical and physical energies; psi is neither, and may penetrate an Utter Dome as if it weren't there. Teleport Shield is only effective vs. magical teleportation.
3. Yes. Hide Thoughts specifically resists mind-affecting spells. Hide simply manipulates light. Since Seekersense and Telescan are psi skills and not spells, and do not track their subject visually, neither Hide nor Hide Thoughts will protect against them.
4. This is an example of physical effects interacting. Bix has physically become electricity using a spell, and J. B. can affect electricity; therefore, J. B. can affect Bix. Dampen would freeze Bix in place. Surge probably wouldn't do a whole lot, since it affects machines and not the flow of electricity per se.
5. Penetrating Blade reduces the effectiveness of armor and not DR in general. It has no effect on the DR of a PK Shield.
6. No. First, Beacon does not "suck in" teleporters; it merely makes it easier for them to travel to the Beacon if they choose to do so. Second, Beacon works only for the Teleport, Timeport and Plane Shift spells, not psi.
7. Boojum will not be impeded! Erase Signature eliminates the psychic residue that Signature Sniffer zooms in on, but not the magical residue; that requires the Remove Aura spell (p. G69).
8. Boojum will succeed.
9. No. A geas (any sort) is an external magical effect that compels the victim to act in a certain way. It constantly influences the mind, and no matter how the victim's thoughts are jangled, it will continue to exert its influence.
10. A mage using Phase becomes ethereal and not astral. Mindsword extends into the physical and astral realms, but Boojum isn't in either, so he cannot be affected.
11. Life Extension and Age are two different ways of affecting the physical aging process. Since they would interact indirectly via this physical process, Life Extension would help. Roll a Quick Contest of Age spell vs. [(Life Extension - 10) + Power]. If the Age spell loses, the psi is off the hook. If the Age spell wins, the psi may still resist with HT.
12. This is another case of physical effects interacting. Cryokinesis affects internal (body) temperature. Since Warmth shields against cold external temperatures, it will not protect. On the other hand, Resist Cold maintains a comfortable internal temperature and lists the specific temperatures it can resist, so as long as the cryokinetic attack does not exceed those limits, Resist Cold will be effective.
13. No. Sanctuary opens a door to a completely isolated pocket dimension. Anyone in that dimension effectively "ceases to exist." No psi power can find him.
14. The Recall spell explicitly states that only a critical success will restore a Mindwiped memory.
15. It would not work at all. Created beings have a semblance of life, but no real mind or will to subvert (a lot like a golem).
16. No. Photokinesis manipulates light, not the "tangible darkness" created by certain Light and Darkness spells.
17. No. See the answer to #7 for why.
18. No. False Aura quite clearly states that it affects magical emanations.
19. No. Vigil allows one to avoid the effects of a missed night's sleep, but one can still sleep with Vigil on, and it does not protect one from unnatural sleep attacks like Sleep spells, the psionic Sleep skill or sleeping gas.
20. No. What it will do is cause the astral psi to solidify, giving him a second "physical body" for the duration of the spell. His original body remains helpless.
21. Yes. The spell states that it detects all observation, "magical or otherwise."
22. No. Created beings are not subject to mental influence or possession. They are not living, thinking beings with souls, but material manifestations of magical energy.

Does a magical illusion qualify as a physical effect to a psi with Photokinesis?
-- Dwight Clayton Upton

No. It's a field of purely magical energy -- call it "shadow matter" -- and can only be manipulated with magic.

Magic and Supers

Is there any way to handle magic in a GURPS Supers campaign that doesn't lead to mages who get spell levels of 20-something for 1 or 2 points? I am just wondering if you know of any good way to incorporate magic into Supers without sacrificing game balance.
-- Runar Magnusson

You can limit mages with artificial caps on IQ or spells, but they generally need spells in the 20-30 range to survive in a Supers game! Instead, charge mages an Unusual Background (UB) cost for each college they want access to. Since there are 23 colleges of magic in all (21 in Magic plus Gate and Technological spells in Grimoire), divide the UB cost for being a super (see p. SU11) by 23 to get the per-college cost. This is in addition to the cost of Magery. As the UB gets cheaper, the more common magic will be, but defenses against magic will be more common as well. Of course, you can always make magic a step or two rarer than super abilities.

Spells by College

Gate Spells,pp. G44-51

1. Suppose Boojum wants to get away from it all for a while. He goes into a Sanctuary spell and casts Time Out. What happens when the Sanctuary expires, if Boojum chooses not to maintain it?
2. Boojum's apprentice, Griff, decides that while the master is away, he'll play by bringing over a few friends for a party. He doesn't want any gatecrashers, so he brings all his buddies into a Sanctuary of his own. Later, as he gets amorous with a lady friend, he opts for a little more privacy and creates a second Sanctuary within the first. Does this work? And what happens if the first one expires before the second?
-- Anonymous

1. The Sanctuary expels Boojum and his Time Out spell at the location where he entered the Sanctuary.
2. If Griff doesn't mind the -5 for casting spells in a Sanctuary, he may certainly do this. He effectively creates a second room off of the first. If the first spell expires, everyone in it is expelled. The second spell still continues, but will now exit into the real world and not into the original Sanctuary.

Illusion and Creation Spells, pp. G56-58, M51-53

A mage enchants an amulet with Create Servant, Independence and enough Power to be considered "always on." Does this effectively create a living being?
-- Anonymous

No. Neither Create Servant nor Independence can be enchanted onto an object.

1. Create Mount costs double to cast for a war horse. Is the maintenance cost doubled as well?
2. The optional rules on p. G56 say that you can cast spells like Create Warrior and Create Object together, creating an armored warrior in one pop. It states that to do this, you roll against the lower of your two skills, add the times and costs up, et cetera. How does one determine casting time and cost reductions for high skill?
-- Maxwell C. Dancer

1. Yes. When a spell's cost is multiplied for any reason (for improved effect, or due to the size, weight or area affected), the multiplier applies to both casting and maintenance costs.
2. First, work out the cost and time to cast each spell without including any modifiers for skill. Next, add all the costs and times together. Finally, modify the total cost and total casting time based on the lowest skill level.

1. Can you enchant an item with Phantom, Initiative and enough Power to be considered "always on," making a new personality?
2. If the phantom above is possible, can it learn over time and become more "real"?
3. Can you enchant a Phantom with a large Hideaway spell on its mouth so that it can swallow an opponent whole?
4. Can you enchant a Phantom with the ability to cast Create Object?
-- Dwight Clayton Upton

1. You can create a self-powered Phantom item, but Initiative is not possible as an enchantment. What this means is that you can create an item with Phantom and lots of Power that projects a permanent Phantom that the item's wielder must concentrate to control. No Phantom has a personality, though.
2. No. Phantoms, like zombies and golems, have the Cannot Learn (p. CI86) disadvantage.
3. No. You cannot enchant a Creation, Phantom or Illusion. However real they may look, they are not actual objects that can hold enchantments.
4. No. Creations, Phantoms and Illusions cannot cast spells.

Meta-Spells, pp. G69-74, M61-65

The Scryguard spell lists an enchantment that can be placed on an item to make it resist attempts to sense it with magic. The item itself is protected, but not the individual who possesses it. Can an item be enchanted to give the individual who possesses it the effects of the Scryguard spell? If so, at what cost?

It would cost 500 energy per hex of creature it could affect, just like the other type of item. It would not work automatically, however. The user would simply gain the ability to cast the spell upon himself, with the usual casting time and cost.

Is there any way to accelerate the pace of a Displace Spell area's movement?
-- Dwight Clayton Upton


Mind Control Spells, pp. G75-78, M65-69

Can the Vigil spell be used for an indefinite number of nights?
-- Anonymous

Sure, although the spell cannot be maintained, only recast. Sooner or later, the mage will critically fail.

Necromantic Spells, pp. G82-87, M72-75

1. According to the Steal Strength spell, the subject must be "living" and "intelligent". What qualifies as "intelligent"?
2. Does an 8-year old child qualify? If so, then according to the stats in GURPS Bestiary, an elephant is also "intelligent."
-- Anonymous

1. To qualify as "intelligent," the subject must be a member of a species whose racial average IQ is 8+ and which does not have the Presentient disadvantage (p. CI103).
2. The child qualifies, because the racial average IQ of humans is 10; the elephant does not qualify, because the racial average IQ of elephants is 6.

Protection and Warning Spells, pp. G91-93, M76-78

1. Does Iron Arm count as a Parry?
2. If I have an unarmed fighter with Iron Arm, can he cast the spell and parry twice (once with either hand) as well?
3. If the answer is only once, what if he has a two-handed weapon, like a staff?
4. I assume that missile weapons are parried just as easily? Or thrown weapons, anyway?
5. What if the person has Parry Missile Weapons, making it possible to parry bolts, arrows, et cetera?
-- Peter V. Dell'Orto

1. Yes.
2. No. He can cast Iron Arm and parry once more, with the other hand.
3. The wizard must have an arm free to cast Iron Arm. If both hands are on a staff, it won't work.
4. Iron Arm can parry thrown weapons, but not missile weapons. As per the spell description, it can parry anything that a sword can parry. Since a sword cannot normally parry missiles, neither can Iron Arm.
5. Let him roll vs. Iron Arm and then vs. his Parry Missile Weapons defense to ward off a missile. In effect, the spell gives him a weapon to parry with, but does not parry missiles automatically.

Article publication date: June 5, 1998

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