Roleplayer #18, February 1990

Inherent Magic as the Only Magic

Alternate Rules for GURPS Magic

by Steffan O'Sullivan

GURPS Magic introduced rules on inherent magic, called knacks. This is a wonderful provision, and some very interesting characters can be built around a knack. For example, consider a character with a knack of Shatter (10 points) with no need to touch (+10 points) and one level of Speed (+10 points). This means that for 30 points he has a very good chance of instantly shattering any weapon he gets close to – which is good, because this particular character also has a phobia of weapons!

An even more interesting game can be run where Inherent Magic is the only magic. This is a very different game than the normal Magic rules – all spell skill levels are 15, for example! This article proposes rules for such a game, though other treatments of this idea are also possible.

Follow the rules for creating knacks on p. M86, except as noted below. The first two rules given here may be circumvented by certain mages.

(1) Any character may have a single knack, at 2% of the item energy cost in Character Points, as per GURPS Magic. However, there is a 5-point minimum cost for any knack.

(2) Knacks may not be added or improved with Speed or Power after character creation.

(3) There are no spell prerequisites for having a knack, but any minimum DX or IQ requirements must be met.

(4) Only mages may have more than one knack. The number of knacks allowed to a mage depends on the level of magery:

Magery 1 allows up to 6 knacks with a total cost of 15 points.
Magery 2 allows up to 12 knacks with a total cost of 25 points.
Magery 3 allows an unlimited number of knacks with a total cost of 35 points.

In addition, any level of Magery grants the ability to identify powerstones on a successful IQ+Magery roll.

(5) IQ 10 is a minimum requirement for buying Magery. For each level of IQ above 10, the mage may add one of the following benefits. The player chooses which powers his character has, and should record them on the character sheet.

(a) A knack costs only 1% of the item energy cost in Character Points.
(b) There is no minimum cost of 5 CP per knack.
(c) Knacks of spells whose items state "Usable only by a mage" do not cost double.
(d) New knacks may be acquired after the character is created.
(e) Knacks may be improved with Speed or Power after character creation.

For example, an IQ 12 mage might choose (a) (paying only 1 % of the item energy cost) and (d) (ability to acquire new knacks). Such a mage would have to pay double for any knack listed as "Usable only by a mage." He would also have to pay the 5-point minimum cost for a knack that non-mages have to pay, and could never improve his knacks with Speed or Power.

Any mage who raises his IQ one level with earned character points may add one of the above abilities. At IQ 15, a mage has all the above abilities; there is no further advantage for having a mage with IQ 16+.

(6) Mages who may acquire knacks after character creation do so by spending earned character points. Such knacks cost twice what the mage would have paid for the knack at character creation. The knack may be created with levels of Speed or Power, but such costs are also doubled.

While adding "inherent" abilities after character creation may seem paradoxical, it can be explained as the repeated manipulation of mana awakening long-dormant talent.

(7) Knacks may be improved by adding Speed or Power after character creation only by certain mages. The cost to improve a knack with earned character points is not doubled.

Magic Items

As stated in GURPS Magic, there aren't likely to be any magic items in a game where inherent magic is the only magic. This is due to the provision against allowing Enchantment spells as knacks.

However, in a campaign where knacks are the only magic spells, the GM may allow for the existence of naturally-occurring "powerstones." These may or may not be semi-precious stones. These powerstones are rarely more than 3-5 points in power, but there are always rumors of more potent ones to keep the players searching . . . Powerstones become objects of quests, and they make generous treasure to reward a party with.

Treat these powerstones as regular GURPS powerstones for casting and recharging purposes. Some may be "dedicated" powerstones that only work for certain spells or colleges of spells. Powerstones may be used by anyone with a knack, not just by mages.

It is also possible to experiment with the concept of materials other than stones as power sources. These might include certain areas, rare metals, plants, pools of water, fire fueled with certain wood, air wafting from a specific cave, etc.

These sources would not be common, and the power-areas would probably have temples or mages' colleges built on them. Others might be usable by a limited class of people. Plants, for example, would only be responsive to elves, druids, and similarly-minded souls.

Another possibility is a class of powerstones that do not recharge – one-shot stones. Buying a powerstone becomes risky if both types of powerstone exist: a stone may be represented as a recharging one even if it's not! A knack of Analyze Magic is necessary to tell the difference, and such knacks are fairly rare.

There will be those who miss such items as magic swords of +2 damage and so on. If the GM is willing, such items can be created by highly skilled craftsmen (e.g., Blacksmith 21+) with an appropriate knack (Might, for a sword of +2 damage, for example) and a powerstone of exceptional quality. Use the times and energy costs listed in the book for creating such items.

Mana levels

Levels of mana can be distinguished in such a campaign, but the levels must be defined differently. Normal mana simply follows the rules above.

Low mana reduces skill to 12 for all purposes.

High mana does not raise skill level, but could have one of the three following effects. The GM may choose one as official in his world, or let the players choose which their character is taking advantage of for any given spell.

(a) All costs to cast and maintain are reduced by one.
(b) Time to cast is halved, meaning one-second spells can be cast instantly.
(c) Use the range modifiers on p. B201 for regular spells instead of the normal GURPS Magic modifier.

Very high mana zones enable fatigue spent on spells by mages to be instantly regenerated, as in GURPS Magic, or could have any two or three of the above effects, at the GM's option. Critical failures are spectacular, however!

It is strongly recommended that the GM prohibit Knowledge college knacks from being self-powered. Occasional and intelligent use of Knowledge spells makes a game more interesting. Someone with See Secrets or Mage Sight on at all times, however, can wreak havoc with a GM's game!

This Inherent Magic campaign creates some very lively situations. Non-mages are as they are in any GURPS fantasy game, but the mages become very unusual. The cost of knacks limits the number of choices they can make, but the lack of prerequisites makes for an interesting collection of spells known.

And, of course, mages (and those with a knack of Mage Sight or Mage Sense) are the only people who can sense powerstones, though any character can use them. There are likely to be mage merchants who specialize in powerstones – finding one you can trust is part of the game. As usual, mages still have some power over more mundane folk, even if it's just economic!

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