Roleplayer #22, November 1990

Magic Affinities as a Limiting Factor

Aspected Magery as a Tool for Game Balance

by Steffan O'Sullivan

In some campaigns mages can become too powerful, spoiling the game for non-mage characters. Chapter 9 in GURPS Magic addresses this issue, as does the "teacher" suggestion on p. M5. This article offers yet another way to limit mages without limiting creativity or fun.

This optional system is an expansion of the Aspected Magery concept discussed on p. M93 (One-College Magery). It is used here as an illustration of how the GM may restrict mages to a narrow range of spells, rather than allowing the PCs to choose whatever spells they desire.

The basic theory is that a mage will have an aptitude for certain types of magic, and a corresponding ineptitude with other types of magic. The GM may modify this proposal as he sees fit – the system presented here is based on Medieval metaphysics.


For this system, magery works a little differently than in GURPS Magic. Spell mechanics are unchanged, but Magical Aptitude itself is limited. Any mage has an affinity for certain types of magic, and a corresponding problem with other types of magic. The magic colleges fall into four groups, called families, for affinity purposes. The families are named for the Elemental college that heads each list, and are the Air Family, the Fire Family, the Water Family and the Earth Family. They are organized as follows:

Air Family:
Air, Communication & Empathy, Mind Control, Knowledge, Protection & Warning, Sound, Meta-Spells.
Earth Family:
Earth, Making and Breaking, Enchantment, Necromancy, Body Control, Meta-Spells.
Fire Family:
Fire, Illusion & Creation, Light & Darkness, Movement, Meta-Spells.
Water Family:
Healing, Animal, Plant, Food, Meta-Spells. [And Water, as errata has pointed out . . . –]

When a character is created, the player must choose one family of spells as his specialty. He may learn spells in the colleges in that family at no penalties or restrictions.

Note that Meta-Spells are common to all of the groups. In addition, each mage may learn Lend ST and Recover ST at no penalty, and not counting towards any limit.


Each family has a friendly family, a neutral family, and a hostile family, as shown below.


Spells in a Friendly family may be learned at no penalties, but are limited in number: they may never total more than ¼ the spells known by the mage.

Spells in a Neutral family are learned at -1, and, together with spells in the Hostile affinity, may never total more than ¼ the spells known by the mage.

Spells in the Hostile family are learned at -2, and together with spells in the Neutral affinity, may never total more than ¼ the spells known by the mage.

These penalties and limits apply to all spells outside of the mage's chosen affinity, even prerequisites.

The GM may raise the price of Air and Fire affinity magic items accordingly, since such items are inherently harder to make than those of Earth or Water affinities.

The GM may allow a player to violate the above limits (though not skill penalties) by taking the Unusual Background advantage. A 10-point Unusual Background, and a good story, should be required for each limit ignored.

Social Aspects

Mages of one affinity are not necessarily the foes of those of other affinities, even those of "hostile" families. Such rivalry may occur, but is not automatic, and need not bother mages in the same party. On the other hand, the GM may create a society where the affinities are violently hostile to each other, even to the point of open warfare. In that case, a mage may need to take the Enemy disadvantage! Such a situation will result in mages feeling disgust towards certain affinities, so much so that they will rarely cast Hostile spells that they have been forced to learn as prerequisites to master a given spell. Such prerequisites should not be known above the minimum level to learn the advanced spell.

Guilds will probably be set up around these groups, though subguilds may very well exist. A whole society can be built around the ritual aspects of affinities, using this "elemental" scheme or any other. Thus, a tool for game balance can become an important part of campaign flavor.

(Back to Roleplayer #22 Table of Contents)

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