Designer's Notes: GURPS Magic Items 3

by Jonathan Woodward


GURPS Magic Items 3 is a book of several parts. The greater part is a catalog of magic items from various settings, mostly submitted by others. As compiler, the most important piece of advice I can give to those planning to submit items to future GURPS compilations: Read the submission guidelines! Then, after you have written your submission, read them again. Even if your submission is perfect in every other way, if you ignored some of the guidelines, the compiler's first impulse will be to throw it out. (The worst offender was an item submitted with no physical description whatsoever. This is despite the fact that the guidelines said that the physical description was the most important part!)

A Taxonomy of Magic Items

Another part of GURPS Magic Items 3 is the Common Enchantment Table II. This table lists the "over-the-counter" magic items listed for the spells in GURPS Grimoire and other sources. Putting this table together involved reading every spell in GURPS Grimoire and considering the nature of each item. Along the way, I speculated about a system for organizing the different types of items. This taxonomy may be useful to GMs planning on inventing new items based off GURPS spells.

Standard magic items can be broken down into several classes. The first kind enables the bearer to cast the spell. Some "enablers" are mage-only, and some are "must touch." Some that affect people are limited to affecting only the wearer. Others are limited in other ways (e.g., the first item listed for Beast Summoning, p. M23, only works on one species). Class I Examples: The Beast-Soother item (p. M23), and the first item listed under Shapeshift Others (p. M25).

A second class applies to spells that affect an area or thing; many of these spells can be made permanent, typically by spending 100 times the normal cost. (Some spells that affect people can be made permanent. They are obviously related to this class, but do not create magic items as such, and so fall outside the taxonomy.) Since these are permanent, none of them have any of the above restrictions on use. Anyone who can cast the spell can create the item or area, and from that point on anyone can "use" it. The precise effect is determined during enchantment, and can't be changed. Class II Examples: The Shatterproof item (p. M60), and the second item for the Pull spell (p. G80).

A third class consists of items that permanently cast the spell on the bearer. They are usually marked "always on." They sometimes only affect mages. If the spell has a range of possible effects, the item is often limited to one, determined at enchantment. Sometimes the spell will affect the item as well as the user (particularly protective spells, which aren't much good if the item remains unprotected), while others explicitly don't (e.g., Body of Water, p. M40). Some of these items which have negative effects automatically also have the Hex enchantment (p. M43), free. Class III Examples: The second item for the Itch spell (p. M25), and the first item for Great Hallucination (p. G76). Some items of Class I (enablers) become items of Class III when they are self-powered. If the item has sufficient Power enchantments that its cost to cast and cost to maintain are zero, and the spell is of an appropriate type (e.g., Flight, p. M71, not Fireball, p. M37), it becomes an "affects bearer" item.

The fourth class is related to the third and second classes, and consists of items that are permanently enchanted to affect a second kind of item. For example, the second item for the Preserve Food spell (p. M48) is a chest or sack, always on, that preserves any food placed inside it. This class isn't part of the second class, since the spell doesn't affect the enchanted item itself, but rather other things brought in proximity to the enchanted item. Class IV Example: The Zombie spell, as listed on p. 41 of GURPS Undead, can be enchanted into a coffin, which will resurrect a corpse placed inside it.

The fifth class is small, and is made up of items which counter the spell's effects. Class V Examples: The first Mystic Mist item (p. M77), and the third item for the Grease spell (p. G79).

Arguably, there's a sixth class, "rumored." Many of the item listings in GURPS Magic say, "Such an item may exist, but nothing definite is known." This serves as a warning to the GM that such an item may unbalance the game.

Lastly, some items simply can't be easily classified, or fall into more than one class. Spells which affect more than one target are often like that. (E.g., Beast Link, p. B23, or Propel, p. G101.)

Here's an outline of the taxonomy, for reference.

  1. Enablers
    1. May be mage-only.
    2. May be touch-only (if spell affects a person, item, or area).
    3. May only allow the spell to be cast on the wearer (if spell affects a person).
    4. May be otherwise limited (if spell has a range of effects).
  2. Permanent on Item or Area
  3. Permanent on Bearer
    1. May be mage-only.
    2. May be otherwise limited (if spell has a range of effects).
    3. May affect item as well as bearer (if spell can affect both people and items).
    4. May have automatic Hex (if effect is negative).
    5. May be a self-powered item that would otherwise be an Enabler.
  4. Items That Permanently Affect Other Items
  5. Counters
  6. Rumors


While there are several alchemical items in GURPS Magic Items 3, with statistics compatible with Chapter 6 of GURPS Magic, I didn't have the time or space to include an in-depth look at alchemy. What follows is a quick-and-dirty way of coming up with the statistics for elixirs, working from the standard GURPS spell list.

Every elixir has several statistics: Form, materials cost, time to create, a modifier to skill, and two retail costs (one for common magic, one for secret magic worlds). To define a new elixir, pick a spell from GURPS Magic or GURPS Grimoire that has the desired effect. Make a note of the necessary time to cast and total energy cost.

The form of an elixir is largely arbitrary, but there are a few guidelines. If a spell affects a person as a whole, the form is probably potion or powder. If the spell affects a body part or a wound, it could be an unguent. If it is an area spell, the elixir's form should be pastille.

Materials cost is based on the energy cost of the spell, and is equal to energy cost times $25. Time to create is based to time to cast; take the time to cast in seconds, find the square root, and round up to get time to create the elixir in weeks.

To determine the skill modifier, count the total number of prerequisites the spell has. (The Spell Prerequisite Charts in the back of GURPS Magic and GURPS Grimoire can be very helpful for this.) For example, Resurrection has 9 prerequisite spells: Instant Regeneration, Regeneration, Restoration, Major Healing, Minor Healing, Lend Health, Lend Strength, Summon Spirit, and Death Vision. If the spell requires Magery, add the level of Magery to the total. Resurrection requires Magery 3, so the total is now 12. (Any other unusual prerequisites may also increase the total, at the GM's discretion.)

If this total is 0 (the spell has no prerequisites), the elixir has a skill modifier of +1. (A special note for GMs using the Quick Alchemy rules from p. 18 of GURPS Wizards: When quickly preparing an elixir that provides a bonus instead of the usual penalty, the roll is not made at double the modifier, but rather half, rounded down, or +0 in this case.)

If the total is greater than 0, and the spell is a Very Hard skill, divide the total by 2. If the spell is just Hard, divide by 4. (Round down in both cases.) The result is the negative skill modifier.

Retail cost works as per p. M100. Elixirs cost $25 per alchemist-day ($50 per day if magic is rare), plus materials cost.

Example: We wish to define an elixir which will have the effects of the Monk's Banquet spell (p. M49), allowing the subject to go without food for a day. Since this arguably affects a body part, the form will be an unguent, which must be rubbed on the stomach. Energy cost to cast the spell is 6, so materials cost is 6 times $25 equals $150. Time to cast is 1 second, so time to create in weeks is the square root of 1, or 1 week. Monk's Banquet has 10 prerequisite spells, and also requires Magery 2 and IQ 12+; we decide to call the total 13. Monk's Banquet is not Very Hard, so the skill modifier is 13 divided by 4, rounded down, or -3. Retail cost is $25 times 7 days ($175), plus materials, for a total of $325. ($500 if magic is rare). In the GURPS Magic format:

Sangariah (Elixir of Fasting): Subject can go without food or water for one day, with no ill effects. Unguent (applied to stomach). $150 in materials; 1 week; -3 to skill. Cost: $325/$500.

This system is balanced against itself, and reasonably balanced against the existing elixirs. It could obviously use some refinement, particularly in materials cost, but overall it serves the purpose of a quick-and-dirty system for defining new elixirs.

Article publication date: February 7, 2003

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