This article originally appeared in Pyramid #17
Changes, New Spells, and Tools for the GM
by S. John Ross
Judging by comments I've received via e-mail and at science-fiction conventions, the Tech College is getting a lot of use, especially in near-future and Cyberpunk games. But with every compliment comes a rules question, and every tech-mage player has his own twisted abuse of the rules that he wants to "test" me on (most of which I happily endorse; a lot of GMs seem to let their blood pressure get crazy just because the party mage can tie his shoes without touching them).
This article is a collection of errata, rules changes, raw data, and clarifications based on the many comments and questions I've received. The errata and changes are "official" inasmuch as they'll be reflected in future printings of GURPS Grimoire, but your campaign is your own. Use or ignore what follows in whatever ways let you have the most fun!
The Big Change: Power Conversion
The most important change to the Tech College is the conversion between real-world "juice" and abstract spell energy. The following table brings the Energy Sub-College into line with GURPS Vehicles.
Revised Power Equivalents
A Cell (TL 8)0.1 ST
B Cell (TL 8)1 ST
C Cell (TL 8)10 ST
D Cell (TL 8)100 ST
E Cell (TL 8)1,000 ST
1 MWH10,000 ST
1 KWH10 ST
3,400 btu10 ST
360 KW1 ST/second
18 MW50 ST/second
965 Horsepower2 ST/second
These are baseline values; different spells may have dramatically different yields and/or requirements.
Keep in mind that power cells hold 50% more power per TL beyond 8. Examples involving power cells assume TL 8 cells unless otherwise noted.
New Spells for the Tech College and Others
This spell allows a computer-literate mage to create a computer program in any computer language he is familiar with. The mage need only visualize the program from the user's point of view, and the spell will take over, writing a complete program to any blank magnetic or optical media that the mage has handy. The "visualization process" can take from 5 minutes to several hours, depending on the complexity of the desired software; the spell must be cast immediately after the program has been visualized. The mage's effective skill with this spell (and the skill of the program, if important) cannot exceed his Computer Programming skill. Complexity is determined by the GM; if the software is too good, the mage's own computer might not have the memory or speed to run it!
Mages without Computer Programming skill may substitute Computer Operation (but not on default!); the energy cost for the spell is doubled.
Duration: The program will work flawlessly for 4d days. After that, it (and any copies of it), will develop bugs and rapidly deteriorate to uselessness within 24 hours. The mage will be unaware of the duration when he casts the spell. For quintuple cost, the spell is permanent, but the program is still magical, and still vulnerable to anti-magic and no-mana zones.
This spell belongs to the Machine sub-college of Tech.
Cost: 10; cannot be maintained.
Time to cast: 5 seconds.
Prerequisites: Control Machine at 17+, Scribe.
Item: Any computer; always on. Usable only by a mage. The computer requires no software, and will not run any. Instead, all functions are based on the desires of the user (limited by the computer's Complexity, and its user's Computer Programming skill). Non-mages (or computer-illiterate ones) will be unable to comprehend the computer or use it. Energy cost to create: 300.
Solar Power Area; Special
With this spell, the mage creates an area which magically gathers solar energy into an energy reservoir surrounding the mage. The reservoir is invisible (the Aura spell will detect it).
The power stored in the solar reservoir can be drawn upon to supplement or replace the mage's ST when casting spells. The reservoir is limited to (Skill x 2) points of power. Excess power is lost.
The area moves with the mage, and centers on his hex. It is best visualized as an invisible disk which rotates automatically to face the sun. If the mage goes underground, or is otherwise removed from direct sunlight, this "absorbing matrix" is useless. Light from the Sunlight and Continual Sunlight spells will not provide power to the mage.
The size of the absorbing matrix is determined using the normal rules for Area spells. Base-cost casting creates a single-hex matrix; double-cost creates a matrix that includes the mage's hex and all six surrounding hexes, and so on.
Under perfect full-daylight conditions, the Solar Power spell gathers 5 points of spell energy per hex of area, every hour. Thus, a double-cost casting (which creates a total area of seven hexes) will recharge the reservoir at a rate of 35 per hour, or about one every 100 seconds. A radius-3 casting is good for 95 ST/hour.
Less than ideal conditions lower these numbers: with the sun at a 20-degree angle under thin (cirrus) clouds, power intake is reduced by 20%. With the sun near the horizon under storm-clouds, reduce it by 97%. In the vacuum of space, on the other hand, increase base intake by 25% - the atmosphere isn't in the way anymore! This increases even further as you get closer to the sun (sun-power is reduced by the inverse square of distance, just like gravity).
These figures assume roughly 70% efficient use of the solar energy striking the area of the spell - modern solar cells are a lot less efficient!
This spell belongs to the Energy sub-college of Tech.
Duration: 1 hour.
Base Cost: 4; same to maintain. The mage may use energy gathered by this spell to maintain it.
Time to cast: 10 seconds.
Prerequisites: Draw Power at 15+, Continual Sunlight.
Ruin Fuel/TL Regular
Renders any fuel inert. Solid fuel will turn to a chalky powder, and liquid fuel will become very foul water.
This spell belongs to the Energy sub-college of Tech.
Cost: 1 per pound or 8 per gallon, as appropriate.
Time to cast: 15 seconds.
Prerequisites: Magery, Create Fuel, Water to Fuel.
Items: Identical to the items for Create Fuel and Water to Fuel (including energy cost to create), but items have the opposite effect.
Steal Heat/TLR egular
This spell, introduced at TL 5, allows the mage to drain the energy potential from any fuel, in order to heal fatigue (or just in order to inconvenience a foe!). The spell energy contained in fuel is directly proportionate to its heat content (usually measured in btu):
Wood (TL 5): Oak or Pine are most common; they are used to power steam-engines when coal isn't readily available. 25 ST/lb.
Coal (TL 5,6): Varies, depending on type, but typically contains 40 ST per pound. Charcoal is good for 35 ST/lb.
Crude Oil (TL 5-8): A standard 42-gallon barrel (the unit of international exchange), contains 17,000 ST!
Kerosene (TL 6-8): 390 ST/gallon.
Gasoline (TL 6-8): 400 ST/gallon.
Ethyl (TL 6-8): 250 ST/gallon.
Jet Fuel (TL 6-8): Kerosene with other chemicals, designed for performance at temperatures and pressures appropriate to jet engines. 350 ST/gallon.
Uranium (TL 7-9): 558,300 ST/lb.
Hydrogen (TL 7-10): In any form from liquid to the "compressed and jellied" hydrogen described in GURPS Vehicles. 150 ST/lb.
This spell can also be used to drain explosives of their stored energy; each explosive is a separate familiarity. Explosives contain 9 points of spell energy for every 2d of damage they cause. Thus, a pound of TNT contains 54 ST. A half-pound brick of C4 (see GURPS High-Tech), holds 38 points of spell energy. An ordinary stick of dynamite (8 ounces of 80% nitro), holds 20 ST.
This spell belongs to the Energy sub-college of Tech.
Cost: None to the caster! The caster regains energy at a percentage of efficiency equal to his skill with the spell. A skill 12 mage draining a pound of coal (or a half-pound of C4) would regain 5 points of fatigued ST. If he doesn't need 5 ST, then he can only drain as much as he needs.
Time to cast: 2 seconds per point of regained ST.
Prerequisites: Minor Healing, Conduct Power, Disintegrate, and four other "fuel" spells.
Items: Wand, staff, or jewelry. Useable only by a mage. The mage and item must both touch the fuel, or at least its container. Energy cost to create: 750.
Electric Power/TL Enchantment
Used to enchant a magic object that will be powered by electricity, rather than the user's ST. This enchantment must precede the enchantment(s) it will provide power for. The item must be constructed to contain power cells (a small metal-lined chamber is sufficient). This means that small items will have to be designed to take small cells if the designer wishes to keep them inconspicuous.
The character using the item may not spend ST to power the item. Instead, it draws any power needed from its electrical source, using the baseline power-equivalents given in the Tech College. Thus, a Stone Missile staff enchanted to take a single C cell is good for 10d worth of stone missiles before needing a fresh cell.
This spell belongs to the Enchantment college.
Energy cost to create: 100 times the spell-energy contained in the cell(s) the item is designed to take power from. Thus, enchanting a staff to use a pair of C cells would cost 2000 energy.
Prerequisites: Power, Lend Power, Steal Power.
Consume Food Regular
This spell is used to suck the energy from food, healing the caster's fatigue and reducing the food to rotted sludge. Food consumed in this manner doesn't satisfy hunger.
The energy-value of food is calorie-based: 860 calories equate to a single point of ST. This means that the "best" foods (for this spell, at least) are foods high in sugar and fat! A jar of mayo is worth 8 ST - enough to bring a mage from exhaustion to full speed. A single generic "meal" is worth 1 ST. This can mean anything from concentrated rations to a quarter-pound cheeseburger, fries and soda.
The spell's subject needn't be a single mass; several items in close contact (a bag of groceries, for example), is a legal subject.
Some Useful Approximations: To heal a single point of ST, the mage could drain any of the following: 4 ounces of butter or lard, 5 ounces of nuts; a half-pound of cheese, candy or pasta; 12 ounces of pepperoni pizza or fresh bread; One pound of meat or poultry; 1.5 pounds of seafood; 2.5 pounds of starches or fruit; 9 pounds of vegetables; 1.5 quarts of whole milk; a dozen eggs; a six-pack of cola or beer.
This spell belongs to the Food college.
Cost: None to the caster! The mage heals ST as above; excess is lost, and the subject is effectively destroyed. Skill has no effect on the amount of ST the mage regains.
Time to cast: 2 seconds per point of regained ST.
Prerequisites: Minor Healing, Recover Strength, Decay, and at least 5 other Food spells including Create Food.
Items: Wand, staff, or jewelry. Useable only by a mage. The mage and item must both touch the food, or at least its container (in the case of canned food, for instance). Energy cost to create: 750.
Note: The caloric figures above are averages; real-life examples can vary 50% or so in either direction. Don't plan your diet with these numbers; it could wreck your health.
More Fun With the Electric Company
Normally, the Conduct Power and Draw Power spells can only draw power from power-generating sources - engines and power plants. The GM may rule, however, that a mage can tap a building, dimming the lights to power his spells or equipment. Count range penalties from the mage to the main breaker or fuse-box for the building, treating it as the "source" for the spell, and enforcing the normal rules for line-of-sight, etc. On space colonies with beamed power, the building's receptor module serves the same function.
In a normal residence, this isn't terribly useful. Anything higher than 10 Kilowatts will blow a house's fuses or trip its breakers. Larger buildings, however, are designed for proportionately more energy. Well-designed buildings have a fuse/breaker limit equal to roughly double their average demand. And in a high-tech society, office machines, computers and lighting create a big demand. If the GM assumes a 2-Kilowatt fuse limit per person living or working in a large building (roughly 25 amps/person of Alternating Current), he won't go far wrong.
Tech College Errata for GURPS Grimoire
p. 99: A fuel's TL is determined by TLs in which people burn it to power machines. Wood, for instance, isn't considered a "fuel" for the purposes of this college until the Age of Steam (TL 5). It was burned for heat and light before that, but it wasn't until TL 5 that was used to power machines. If a fuel has more than one TL, assume the TL most favorable to the mage when calculating penalties.
p. 100, Stop Power: This is not a TL spell (although mages from TL 5 or lower worlds are unlikely to know it).
p. 101, Propel/TL: Add the following rule to the cost of the spell: Divide the required MW/Horsepower/etc by the mage's skill before converting it to required ST cost. The minimum cost is now 1 per 10 minutes; do not use the normal rules for cost reduction from high skill with this spell.
p. 101, Conduct Power/TL: The maximum power a mage may safely conduct is HT x (Magery Squared), divided by four, in Megawatts. Round to the nearest whole MW. Thus, the example mage could safely handle a strain of 9 MW. Delete the term "sunshine" from the paragraph on low-tech power sources.
p. 101, Steal Power/TL: It should be explicitly stated that the only power sources that work for this spell are stored power (batteries, capacitors, flywheels and such), and not active power plants or fuels. The mage may also drain a handful (or an armload!) of small sources, if desired, treating them as a single subject with a power equal to their combined total. If the mage drains all of the available ST from the subject, it will no longer store power. Leaving at least one full point of ST-potential will avoid this "burnout" effect.
p. 101, Draw Power/TL: The description of the spell is misleading; the subject of the spell is the mage. The mage, in turn, gets "free" energy with which to power his sorcery. Therefore, a mage tapping 9 MW from a fusion plant (25 ST/second), has, on any given combat round, 25 free points of spell energy. However, this energy is not cumulative from second to second; it must be used or lost. Since mages can cast only one spell per second (with the exception of blocking spells), this has the general effect of reducing the cost of any spell the mage casts by 25; casting time is immaterial. If a blocking spell is cast on the same second as another spell, it gets whatever is left over from the first spell.
Note: if the mage is drawing less than 360 Kilowatts, power is not available on every round. A mage drawing 180 Kilowatts of power (from a car engine, perhaps) would get 1 ST every other second.
Tech Magic And Unlimited Mana
If your campaign uses the Unlimited Mana rules (Pyramid #9), the "strain of passage" fatigue cost for Conduct Power and Draw Power still come from ST, and are not added to the tally.
Spells like Steal Power, Steal Heat, and Consume Food present special problems in a Umana game. If used as written, there's no balance problem, since they explicitly heal fatigue - they don't heal your tally! But that also kills them, and that's no fun. A balance must be struck.
For Umana games, add the following rule to all three "energy vampire" spells: The roll to cast the spell is at -1 per point of energy drained, and same-day repeat castings take a -3 cumulative penalty, as per Major and Minor Healing. Any failure (critical or not) will quadruple the mage's current tally! Critical failures will have additional effects, of course, at the cruel whim of the Game Master.
This rule limits habitual use of the spells as "free Recovery" to high-skill mages who are prudent with their power to begin with. Lesser wizards will be (justifiably) cowed by the threat of unexpected Calamity Checks, except in dire emergency.
Design Notes and Ramifications
Using a Muscle Engine (see GURPS Vehicles), a ST 10 man will have to take 5 fatigue (and 5 hours) to recharge a 1 Kilowatt-Hour battery. A tech-mage using Lend Power to "juice" a cell-recharger will have to pay twice that. However, the mage can do it in a single second, and will be ready to go again within the hour!
These values change many of the examples given in GURPS Grimoire, but it also makes everything a little easier to handle. There are a few other subtle ramifications; using Steal Power/TL, a mage can now drain a C cell from an enemy's hand weapon in two seconds! Before, the spell was all but useless in combat. The downside is he won't get nearly as much ST back for it, and the spell is much more of a financial drain for mages who like to carry power cells for an "instant recharge."
Consume Food: Okay, this isn't a Tech spell. It's a response to the many GMs who've e-mailed me asking for an "energy vampire" spell for their medieval games that non-necromancers could use. It also makes the Food Spells a little more attractive, and anything that boosts spellcaster variety is Aces with me.
Point-for-point, Consume Food is sickeningly efficient compared to Steal Power - one hundred times the Tech College baseline value for calories! Well, first of all, real food is a much more familiar source of bodily ST than a car battery . . . second, the multiple was selected for aesthetic reasons. 860 calories is a very average "meal," and the one-strength-per-meal ratio seemed appropriate to keep the spell sane.
And, just in case your players are desperate enough to need to know, the carcass of a cow or deer is worth 6 ST per 10 pounds of whole animal (which allows for bone and inedible waste-parts). Birds are more waste; they're good for half that.
Final Note: Creative munchkins will probably hit upon the idea of casting Draw Power/TL on a car's engine in order to power the same car with Propel/TL, thus increasing the fuel efficiency of the car incredibly. This is legal, but you should still give them a withering stare. For the rest of the game, have the munchkin in question refill your beverage for you, thus increasing your own fuel efficiency.
Special thanks to Ben; his tireless quest for cheap power was the foundation for many of the changes and clarifications in this article.
Article publication date: February 1, 1996
Copyright © 1996 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.