This article originally appeared in Pyramid #3
GURPS Tech Magic
by S. John RossIncreasingly, the lines between science fiction and fantasy are becoming blurred, and vanish at the hands of adventuresome writers and fantasy gamers.
The traditional trappings of SF (from clones to gauss rifles to hyperdrives) are found more and more alongside (or in the hands of) sorcerers and dragons and giants. In some settings, magic and technology do battle, with the hoary "cold iron" theory keeping the soulless machines from interacting directly with sorcery. In others, magic and technology are so blended that they're indistinguishable.
For the first sort of campaign, the spell lists in the Basic Set or GURPS Magic are more than sufficient. If, however, the GM wants a world where magic and technology are more compatible, the grimoire databases begin to look a great deal more expansive...
This article introduces the Technology college of spells for use with any post-industrial GURPS campaign. The Tech college has strong affinities with the colleges of Making and Breaking and Air, and is itself divided into two "sub-colleges": Machine spells and Energy spells. Whether or not these are treated as distinct colleges for the purposes of prerequisites, single-college magery and so on is left to the GM's discretion.
GURPS Grimoire, the soon-to-be-released expansion to the GURPS Magic rules, will expand on the concept of optional sub-colleges in greater detail, as well as adding new Tech spells. Note, however, that Grimoire is not required to use the material presented here.
Most of the spells listed here are "TL" spells, and are treated like non-magical TL skills of any sort (see GURPS Basic Set, p. 185). If a mage is expert at magic designed to interact with TL10 technology, for instance, he will be at a penalty when trying to power a TL11 blaster or drying to drain the "juice" from a TL7 flashlight battery. These penalties also apply when dealing with prerequisites and cross-TL defaults for mages that study the spells of several tech levels. To learn Reveal Function/TL9, for instance, a mage must either know Seek Machine/TL9 at 12, Seek Machine/TL10 at 13 (to compensate for the -1 penalty), Seek Machine/TL8 at 17 (to compensate for the -5), and so on. Lastly, the TL penalty applies when the resisting subject is of a different TL than the attacking spell.
The Machine Sub-College
For the purposes of these rules, a "machine" is a tool that in some way uses, stores, or transforms power in order to do its job. A hand-drill isn't a machine for purposes of this college, but an electric drill is. A wound clock is a machine, while a sundial is not. GMs have final say in any gray areas, of course.
Mechanical Resistance: Some spells require the GM to assign a machine a ST, HT, or IQ score for purposes of resistance. "Dumb" machines (arbitrarily, IQ 7 or less) are subject to Machine spells, while "smart" machines (IQ 8+) are subject to Communication and Empathy and Mind Control spells (the GM should feel free to modify this by up to -4 for the alien nature of machine "minds," of course). Note also that an Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be smart but devoid of real Will; since Strong/Weak Will affects all resistance rolls, this is a crucial point.
As a general rule, a machine's resistance score is the higher of the indicated attribute and its tech level.
Seek Machine/TL Information Tells the caster the direction and approximate distance of the nearest machinery of any sort. Caster can also specify that he is looking for a specific sort of device: lasers, computers, light sources, etc. Any known examples of technology may be excluded if the mage specifies them before casting. Use long-distance modifiers (GURPS Basic Set, p. 151 or GURPS Magic, p. 10). Cost:3. Time to Cast:10 seconds. Item:Staff, wand, or jewelry. Energy cost to create: 100.
Reveal Function/TL Information; Resisted by spells to conceal magic Reveals the functions of the subject machine. If the subject has more than one function, the spell will reveal them in order of simplicity (simplest first), and tell the caster "there are more functions." Later casting will reveal the remaining functions, one per casting.
The spell can also be used to reveal how to activate known functions (e.g., which button to press); the caster gets one try, at -5! If successful, the caster can then use the machine with the appropriate skill (or IQ-6) at a penalty for unfamiliarity of only -1.
Cost:8. Time to Cast:10 minutes. Prerequisite:Seek Machine. Item:Staff, wand or jewelry. Cost to create: 1,500.
Machine Control/TL Regular Lets the caster control the actions of one machine (anything under IQ 8, of any size) or a swarm of small ones, up to about 1,000 machines or 100 lbs. total. The caster must be aware of the machine's functions to control it. The spell does not supply the skill to use the machine's functions -- the caster must use his own skill of Gunner, Computer Operation, Driving, and so on. Concentration is required.
The spell acts through the machine's triggers and controls, mechanical or electrical. A mage could use the spell to make a camera snap a picture, a robot strangle its evil creator or a gun discharge all of its ammunition. He could not aim the gun (or camera!), or move it, unless it were self-aiming or self-propelled (or at least without the use of an additional Apportation spell).
If someone or something else (an AI in a vehicle or a human operator in the driver's seat, for instance), then he/it may dispute control of the machine every turn via a Quick Contest of the spell's power vs. the operator's skill (or Will+TL for cybernetic control).
Duration:1 minute. Cost:6 to cast; 3 to maintain. Prerequisite:Reveal Function, Locksmith and Lightning. Item:Staff, wand, headgear or jewelry. Energy cost to create: 1,000 for an item that controls a specific type of machine, 2,000 for one that will control any machine.
Glitch/TL Regular; Resisted by HT This spell is the Machine equivalent of Spasm (GURPS Magic, p. 23). It causes something to go wrong for a moment with the subject machine. It may drop whatever it was holding, eject a part, miss a cog in its drive train, or garble a data packet. Ingenious casters will find all sorts of uses. The game effects can be anything from a trivial annoyance (if cast on a flashlight, for instance), to potentially deadly (if cast on an Automedic in the middle of laser-surgery, perhaps)... Duration:An instant. Cost:5; cannot be maintained. Prerequisite:Machine Control. Item:Staff or wand. Mage only, touch required. Energy cost to create: 300.
Malfunction/TL Regular; Resisted by HT This is the Tech college's equivalent to the Total Paralysis spell (GURPS Magic, p. 24); the subject machine ceases to function for the duration of the spell -- an airplane will fall, a sensor will be "blind," and so on. The caster must touch the subject. Duration:1 minute. Cost:5; Cannot be maintained. Must be recast. Prerequisites:Magery 2 and Glitch. Item:Staff or wand. Mage only, touch required. Energy cost to create: 2,000.
Find Weakness/TL In a high-tech campaign, this Making and Breaking spell can be used to trouble-shoot a malfunctioning device; its "weakness" is the responsible defect. It will tell the caster the location and general cause of the problem, but grants no information or bonus to skill in fixing it.
For instance, when casting Find Weakness/TL on a clock radio that won't work, the spell could return the information, "The wire to the outlet is loose inside." It won't reveal how to fix it, or even warn you to unplug it before doing so, but it will reveal at which point the connection is loose or severed. If a part is missing, it will tell you which part and where it goes, but not how to solder it in.
Measurement/TL This Knowledge spell (GURPS Magic, p. 47) is also a part of the Tech college (and any sub-colleges, if it is important). At high TLs, this spell can tell what the energy content of a power cell is, what the internal pressure of a tire or oxygen tank is, what the voltage or frequency of a power outlet is, how much memory a computer has installed, what the temperature of an oven is, and so on.
The GM should apply penalties for particularly exotic applications of the spell. Measurement cannot tell the caster what the specs of a gadget are; for example, a mage could Measure how fast a car is going, but could not Measure what the car's top design speed is (but see Schematic, below).
Chemical analysis is likewise limited; Measurement will give an element-by-element breakdown, but won't give any information on chemical structure. (Example: cast on a flask of pure water, the spell would tell the caster that the substance's composition, by mass, is 89% oxygen and 11% hydrogen.) As with other spells, if a mage doesn't understand the concept of "elements" he may not profit from the information.
Schematic (VH) Information Creates detailed technical "blueprints" of the machine subject in the caster's mind. The caster can browse through the mental schematic at his leisure, at the same rate that he could view actual hardcopy plans for the machine. Note, however, that this spell grants no appropriate skills; to interpret, for instance, a schematic of a 75 megawatt fusion plant, the caster would need some skill in Engineering (Fusion). To make any use of a schematic of a weapon, either Armoury or some sort of weapons Engineering would be required. The duration is the length of time that the image stays with any useful clarity in the caster's mind. The caster must touch the subject during the casting.
The schematic can either represent the current state of the object (showing any internal damage, alterations, and wear), or its ideal state. Both can be useful. The latter will even give plans for an object based on only a tiny fraction of it (at least 1% of the machine's total mass needs to be present). This could be used to form a complete picture from a fragmented precursor device, for instance... In either case, the cost to cast it is based on the mass of the intact machine.
The schematic image, even when maintained by the mage, does not count as spell "on" for penalty purposes.
Duration:1 minute. Cost:6 for a 1-ton or smaller object; add 1 ST cost for each additional ton. Half to maintain. Time to Cast:5 seconds. Prerequisites:Reveal Function and 3 other Information spells.
Rebuild/TL (VH) Regular This spell is a higher version of Repair (GURPS Magic, p. 52), and should be considered a part of Making and Breaking, as well as the Machine sub-college of Tech. This spell totally rebuilds any machine from as little as a fragment. The caster must first successfully cast Schematic on the subject, and (while the schematic is still in mind) begin casting Rebuild. With enough power, you could rebuild a starship from a scrap of a bulkhead!
The object re-forms itself at a rate of 500 lbs. of missing mass per second, beginning after the casting is completed. Thus, a 30-ton tank would take two minutes to completely rebuild itself.
This spell can be cast on objects that aren't "machines" (a broken suit of armor, for instance) in which case the initial Schematic casting is unnecessary, and TL modifiers don't count.
Duration:Permanent Cost:30 if the final mass will be 500 lbs. or less; the object's current state of repair is not a factor. Add 1 to the cost for every additional 500 lbs. or fraction of final mass. Time to Cast:1 second per point of energy required. Prerequisites:Magery 3, Repair, Schematic, Create Object, and at least 3 spells of each Element.
The Energy Sub-College"Power" usually means electricity at TL 7. At higher TLs, it may describe any insubstantial motive power. A "Fuel," by contrast, is any substance that is consumed to provide power, which includes anything from coal to nuclear fuels to antimatter...
Many of the spells below require equivalents between standard power sources and GURPS spell energy. Use the following table:
Energy/Fatigue Equivalents: A Cell 2 Fatigue B Cell 12 Fatigue C Cell 100 Fatigue D Cell 500 Fatigue E Cell 5000 Fatigue 2,500 Horsepower 1 Fatigue per second 1 Megawatt 2 Fatigue per second
Seek Power/TL Information Tells the caster the direction and approximate distance of the nearest significant source of power. Use the long-distance modifiers (GURPS Basic Set, p. 150 or GURPS Magic, p. 10). Any particular types or known sources of power may be excluded if the caster specifically mentions them before beginning.
Inactive power sources (such as shelved power cells) are harder to seek out than active ones (such as plugged-in power cells); double the long-distance penalty.
Cost:3. Time to Cast:10 seconds. Item:A wand which will point in the direction sought after and glow in proportion to the importance of the source detected. Energy cost to create: 60.
Seek Fuel/TL Information Tells the caster the direction and approximate distance of the nearest significant source of fuel. Use the long-distance modifiers. Any particular types or known sources of fuel may be excluded if the caster specifically mentions them before beginning. Cost:3. Time to Cast:10 seconds. Item:A thin graduated metal stick which will point in the direction sought after and give an indication of the amount detected. Energy cost to create: 60.
Stop Power Area This spell stops the flow of power in a machine (electrical, magical or otherwise) causing all powered devices to cease to function. This may cause permanent damage to the devices there, depending on their design. Barring this, any affected device will work normally when it leaves the area. Duration:1 minute. Base Cost:3 to cast; 1 to maintain. Time to Cast:3 seconds. Prerequisites:Magery and Seek Power. Item:Wand or staff. Usable only by a mage. Energy cost to create: 800.
Lend Power/TL Regular With this spell, a mage takes fatigue in order to power a device magically. In theory, a large enough circle of mages could use this spell to power a starship and its weapons. The spell cannot be used to recharge power cells; it could, however, power a cell recharger... Duration:Indefinite. Cost:The GM will have to convert the device's power requirement into a Fatigue rate equivalent (see the chart, above). Minimum ST cost is 1 per hour; high skill does not reduce cost. Prerequisites:Magery 2 and Seek Power. Example:A large vapor canteen runs for a month on an E cell; this amounts to about 1 Fatigue every 10 minutes. A holobelt runs for a day on a B cell, which amounts to less than 1 fatigue per hour, so the minimum cost kicks in. A blaster pistol gets 20 shots from a C cell: 5 fatigue each. A Gauss needler pistol fires 100 needles on a B cell; at its maximum RoF (12 needles per turn) this is 2 Fatigue per turn of firing. Firing 8 or fewer needles per turn would reduce the cost to 1.
Propel/TL Regular Similar to Lend Power, but used to propel engines; this spell provides mechanical motive power. For purposes of this spell, an "engine" is any device that converts fuel or power into mechanical motion; it could be anything from a carving knife's electrical motor to a starship's drive. Duration:Indefinite. Cost:The GM will have to convert the engine's output into a Fatigue rate equivalent (see above). Minimum ST cost is 1 per hour; high skill does not reduce cost. Prerequisites:Create Fuel and Air Golem. Example:A lawn mower (5 horsepower): about 7 Fatigue per hour. A mid-sized car (160 horsepower): about 4 Fatigue per minute. You can spend less Fatigue and underpower an engine, but 50 hp will move a car very slowly.
Conduct Power/TL (VH) Special This spell turns the caster into a power conduit, a link between an active power source and a device in need of power. The spell has two "subjects": the source and the sink. The range penalty is based on the total distance from the source to the caster plus the distance from the caster to the sink
If the source cannot be seen, the roll is at -5. At least part of the sink must be visible to the caster.
A device may draw power through one mage at a time; if several mages are competing to supply a device, roll a Quick Contest of skills between casters, adjusting for range.
The maximum power a mage may safely conduct is (HT x Magery), in megawatts. If he exceeds that level, he must roll vs. HT every second, taking 1 Fatigue for every excess MW (or fraction) on a failed roll. On a critical failure, he takes damage equivalent to the ST loss!
The low-TL versions of this spell allow the mage to tap natural powerhouses, such as waterfalls, sunshine, the wind, campfires, volcanoes...
Duration:1 minute. Cost:None to cast, 1 to maintain (due to the strain of the power's passage). This maintenance cost is not reduced by high skill. Prerequisites:Magery and Seek Power. Example:The spell could be cast on the fusion plant in a starship (the source) and a blaster pistol in the mage's hand (the sink). While the spell is maintained, the pistol is powered by the fusion plant. If the blaster is in the mage's hand and the plant is 3 hexes beneath the catwalk he is standing on, the total distance is 3 hexes, for a -3 range penalty. If the catwalk obscures the mage's view of the power plant, he is at a further -5 (note that the caster need not be looking at the power plant while firing the gun - just while casting the spell).
Under normal conditions, the blaster draws power from a C cell, an equivalent of 5 Fatigue per shot. With a top Rate of Fire of 3, this means that the heaviest power strain that a blaster requires is 15 per second - the equivalent of a steady stream of 7.5 megawatts, since a single MW is 2 Fatigue per turn. A mage with Magery 1 and HT 10 could handle up to 10 MW, so a blaster pistol should be no problem at all for most technomancers. For a larger weapon (a blaster rifle, for instance, or a squad-support weapon like a Gatling laser), the character's Magery and/or HT might become important.
Draw Power/TL (VH) Special Like Conduct Power, except that the subject is a spell. The Draw Power must be cast first and counts as spell "on" when casting the subject spell. Duration:1 minute. Cost:None to cast, 1 to maintain (due to the strain of the power's passage). This maintenance cost is not reduced by high skill. Prerequisites:Magery 2, Conduct Power and at least one spell from ten different colleges.
Steal Power/TL (VH) Regular This spell lets a mage steal power from a power source to heal his fatigue. Note that if all the energy is drained from a rechargeable cell, it "burns out" and cannot be recharged. Cost:The caster regains energy at a percentage efficiency equal to his skill with the spell; a caster with skill 10, draining a power cell completely, would himself gain 10% of the power potential contained in the cell (or less, if less would completely restore the caster's ST). The rest of the power in the cell is wasted. Time to Cast:2 seconds per point of regained ST. Prerequisites:Magery 3, Minor Healing, and Conduct Power. Item:Wand, staff, or jewelry. Usable only by a mage; the mage and the item must both touch the source. Energy cost to create: 1,000.
Catch Lightning (VH) Blocking With this spell, the mage can "catch" an incoming blast of electricity, whether from a Lightning spell, an electrolaser or any other form of electrical attack (missile or otherwise). If the spell is successful, the caster uses it to restore his own lost fatigue! If the spell fails, the missile has its normal effect.
Fatigue restored from spells is equal to half that required to cast the spell in the first place (round up); thus, catching a 3d bolt of magical lightning would restore 2 Fatigue. Fatigue restored from other sources of damage is always equal to half of the Fatigue-equivalent required to power the attack. A shot from an electrolaser pistol (10 shots from a C cell) is the equivalent of 10 Fatigue -- so a caster with Catch Lighting would regain 5 from the hit.
There is a hazard, however, aside from the normal hazard of spell failure. Any excess caught from the hit is taken as damage. If a caster who is only down 2 Fatigue successfully catches an electrolaser pistol blast, he will be restored to full ST, but take 3 points of damage from the excess power -- Toughness does apply, however. The normal stun/kill effect of the electrolaser is ignored.
This spell may be used to catch a bolt of electricity that was not aimed at the caster -- in order to protect a friend, perhaps. If the path goes through the caster's hex or an adjacent one, the roll can be made at no penalty. Catching a bolt with this spell is at a cumulative -5 for each additional hex of distance.
If the spell fails in this case, the missile simply continues onward toward its destination.
Duration:Instantaneous. Cost:None if the spell is successful; 1 if it fails. Prerequisites:HT 12+, Steal Power.
Mana Fuel (VH) Regular This spell creates a mass of magical energy that can fuel any device enchanted with the Mana-Burner spell (see next page); the subject of the spell is the enchanted engine or machine.
The size of the mass of energy is related directly to the fatigue spent by the caster, multiplied by the caster's skill. A caster with skill 12 in Mana Fuel spending 8 Fatigue to fuel a ship's hyperdrive will provide it with the equivalent of 96 Fatigue -- enough to provide a full megawatt of power for 48 seconds. The same casting on an enchanted blaster pistol would nearly equal a fully-charged C cell. Any number of casters may cast this into the same subject with no ill effects; thus, a large enough group of mages could fuel a starship!
In most TL7+ societies where this spell exists, the going rate for magical refuelling would be perhaps $1.00 per 10 points of final product energy -- the above casting would cost under $10. This may "phase out" rechargeable power cells in worlds where mages are common and public, especially if no-mana zones are rare or nonexistent. Entering a no-mana zone dissipates stored mana fuel immediately.
Duration:The energy stays in the machine or engine until it is consumed. Cost:Variable -- as much as the caster wants to spend. High skill does not "reduce" cost, but (as noted above) it drastically increases the efficiency of the spell. Time to Cast:1 second per point of energy spent (not per point of energy produced). Prerequisites:Lend Power, Propel.
Mana-Burner/TL Enchantment This spell turns any device or engine into a mana-burner. The item can then be powered either by its normal power source or by raw magic via the Mana Fuel spell. A mana-burning device will always consume its magical "fuel" first, using its power cells/gasoline/etc. as its reserve source. With this spell, anything from clocks to starships can be powered entirely by magic, without the presence or concentration of a mage, except at "refuelling" at magical power stations.
Mana-burners can store energy equal to the normal limits of their mundane power source. A blaster pistol (which uses a C cell), could hold up to 100 reserve "Fatigue" before being fully fueled. Subjects with no fuel tanks, power cells, or similar storage limits can hold enough mana to provide full, constant output (for engines) or intake (for machines) for a number of days equal to the item's power.
Cost:1 per 100 pounds or fraction of the item's mass; minimum cost 250. Prerequisites:Lend Power, Propel.
Tech Magic In The Campaign
The GM should think carefully before infusing these spells into his campaign; the repercussions of Tech Magic are widespread and complex.
If magic is known and acknowledged by the common man, many of these spells would likely be controlled by law, with varying degrees of enforcement ranging from required licenses to fanatical "witch-hunts." Spells like Schematic would be Legality 2 at best, while Machine Control might be entirely forbidden in many societies. At very high TLs, governments could use mindwipes to selectively remove forbidden skills (spells included, most likely), from the minds of dissenters. Magical forgetfulness is an option, if it is known, or the authorities might alternately enlist or kill their mana-hackers.
Enchantment spells and high technology might be joined completely; the creation of sorcerous power plants, drives and weapons could make for a strange game setting, indeed! ("Toss another newt tongue in the hyperdrive, Juran, we're gonna need all she's got!")
Item enchantment itself could be affected by technology. What if "jewelry" is read "cyberwear"?
Other changes could be extreme. Even if teleportation is "miracle" technology, workers of real miracles might pull it off with no trouble.
Groups like the Mafia are likely to have sorcerous enforcers, to exert control over a powerful magical industry, dealing in alchemical super-narcotics and the trading of illegal grimoire or darkly magical tutorial software.
Of course, the whole face of espionage is likely to change. Don't ask your GM to introduce Tech Magic to the Illuminati...
Magical countermeasures might exist, as well. Mana-flow detectors could be linked to computers and close any sensitive files if computer-influencing magic is nearby.
In short, the modern or futuristic Magic campaign requires every bit as much thought, if not more thought, than a traditional medieval one. If you come up with something interesting, be sure to share it with us.
Article publication date: October 1, 1993
Copyright © 1993 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.