Roleplayer #25, August 1991

Spellcasting By The Book

Librams in the Magical Campaign

by Donald Quails

In the common-magic GURPS campaign, where magery is a significant force in society, it may occur to the GM that there is a limitation on mages not found in most fictional settings: the inability of a mage to cast spells he has not memorized. A common device in many fantasy novels, and in some other FRP game systems as well, is that of the already-formidable mage augmenting his abilities by using written instructions to cast complex, unfamiliar, or very powerful spells. This capability was left out of the GURPS magic system, presumably to prevent mages from becoming too powerful and unbalancing the game. While this line of thought is reasonable, those of us who remember The Fantasy Trip, or have read tales like With a Single Spell by Lawrence Watt-Evans or The Shattered World and The Burning Realm by Michael Reaves, might feel that an important part of magic has been omitted. Hence, the following optional rule.

These rules definitely make wizards more powerful, and certainly need not be allowed by any GM who feels that this would unbalance their campaign. However, if you feel that libram casting will unbalance your campaign, but are interested in the possibilities, some additional limitations are described at the end of the article.

Author's Note: The term libram as used here refers specifically to a book containing sufficient information to cast a spell unfamiliar to the reader. This concept is historically much closer to that of the grimoire, whose name springs from the same root as grammar: a book to be learned from. However, to avoid confusion, since "grimoire" already has a meaning in GURPS, a different word was chosen. Libram is derived from the Latin libri, the root of the English word library, and has developed a connotation of a mysterious or magical book.

Special Rule: Spellcasting from Librams

In the basic GURPS Magic system, there are three ways a magic spell may be cast: from memory, from a scroll, or from a magic item. The most common is from memory, as most magic in everyday life consists of using the same spell over and over to solve the same problem. Second most common in most campaigns are spells utilizing a magic item, since magic items are generally durable and thus tend to multiply over time.

The least common in most campaigns is the scroll, although it is potentially very powerful. A scroll may carry the knowledge to cast a spell far beyond the abilities of the reader, but its utility is very severely limited by the fragility of the medium, the high cost in time or money to create a scroll (remember, they must be created by an enchanter mage who also knows the spell to be inscribed), and the fact that it may be used only once. Even in campaigns where magic is quite common, scrolls may be rare.

This article adds a fourth type of spellcasting: from a libram. Many disadvantages of the scroll are alleviated by the libram. While the libram, like the scroll, contains all of the information necessary to cast a spell, it is not of itself magical, and the caster must know the spell prerequisites on which the libram is based (see below for discussion of prerequisites as applied to librams).

Casting a spell from a libram is a form of ceremonial magic, taking 60 times the normal casting time required by the spell. In addition, an extremely complex ritual is required (possibly also involving rare or expensive equipment or materials), such that the libram cannot be held in hand by the caster, but must be propped open or held by an assistant.

When casting from a libram, the spell is cast at the writer's skill-4 or at the caster's skill-5 (less any Eidetic Memory bonus normally included in Base Skill: thus, IQ 7 + Magery), whichever is lower. The writer's skill to use here is the same skill used in determining the success or failure of the creation or copying of the libram (see below).

Although this seems to be an exception to the requirement of skill 15+ to cast spells ceremonially, only the caster may participate. It is possible to use the Energy for Skill rule in casting from a libram (in fact, it is generally a very good idea to do so, if possible, to reduce the chance of embarrassing fumbles and dangerous backfires). But note that the energy must come only from the caster's ST and HT, and a single powerstone. Share Strength may not be used, as casting from a libram takes much longer than the duration of the Share Strength spell, and it is not possible to synchronize the casting as the power is used gradually over the course of the ritual.

Missile spells may be cast from librams (though this usually isn't very practical). They are simply held and enlarged (at one point per minute) as they would be in normal casting.

Learning Spells From Librams

This same libram also serves as the textbook from which one may learn a spell without a teacher. Because a true libram can only be written or copied by one who knows the spell, the prices tend to be high, and the greater the complexity of the spell, the more costly the libram and the longer the time to write or copy it.

In the case of a spell with more than one possible set of prerequisites, there will be more than one type of libram, differing according to the prerequisite path assumed in writing. A libram may only be written for a prerequisite path known by the writer, and the differences are such that a caster or learner must have the same prerequisite path as that assumed in the writing to benefit from the libram.

Creation and Cost of Librams

The cost of a libram, and the time required to write it, are also determined by the prerequisite path, as the longer the path, the more complex and costly the libram. The basic cost of a libram is $5,000, plus $1,000 per prerequisite along the chosen path, and the time required to write or copy is 200 days plus an additional 40 days per prerequisite. This is figured at the basic $25 per day to hire an enchanter mage: though it may be possible to hire a less-skilled wizard to write or copy for less on spells he/she knows, this will frequently reduce the skill level of the libram, while possibly increasing the chance of critical failure in producing the libram. These costs and times are doubled for Very Hard spells, or tripled for spells requiring Magery 3. For Very Hard spells that also require Magery 3, the costs above are multiplied by 5, if such librams are available at all!

The writer must also have either Writing or Teaching skill to inscribe a libram, or Calligraphy skill to copy it. Of course, he must also be literate. The writer or copyist must put in a full day (8 hours) of work each day of writing, though (since the day's work is written down) an interruption while working will only cause loss of a single day's work (the writer must recover the mind-set of the spell each time writing begins for a day).

At the end of the writing or copying period, a single skill roll is made against either the skill used for writing the libram, or the skill in the spell involved, whichever is lower. Success means that any student with the spell's prerequisites may use the libram to cast and learn the spell. Critical success allows anyone who can cast spells and read to cast from the libram, regardless of prerequisites (prerequisites must still be observed in learning the spell).

Languages and Librams

Librams may be written in any language (but not in pidgins or patoises: it is suggested that only languages of Average or greater difficulty be allowed). Exception: languages native to no-mana regions and languages of completely non-magical races will not contain the necessary concepts or thought models needed to discuss or explain spell-casting, and so cannot be used in libram creation.

This, of course, raises the question of attempting to cast or learn from a libram in a language not your own. In this case, learning will proceed at half normal speed (double character point cost), cumulative with any other similar modifiers (for untaught learning, for instance). Treat casting the spell as a situation where understanding is critical, and make the appropriate roll against the caster's skill in the language of the libram. The spell can never be cast at a skill level higher than the caster's skill in the language of the libram.


The GM of a campaign where magic is already very powerful may be reluctant to add the libram rules. Here are some ideas for limiting the power of the magic books.

First, most enchanter mages may not have ever learned either the Writing or Teaching skills, much less Calligraphy. Or, if they have, their skill level may be low, meaning greater rarity (and higher price), or a low limiting skill level from the creation of the libram. Alternately, creation of a libram may be even more time-consuming (and thus costly) than presented above – double these figures or more. Creation of a libram might require a unique Enchantment spell, making librams (perhaps) horribly expensive! Perhaps any failure in casting from a libram is treated as critical. Or only certain spells or spells of certain colleges may be cast from librams. Casting from a libram might also take more time than suggested above.

In a scarce-magic fantasy campaign, librams might be the only way to cast spells. Then, of course, the references to "learning" spells would be ignored, but everything else would work just the same (or be subject to additional limitations, as above). Of course, in a high- or very-high mana region, anyone who can read and knows the prerequisites can cast spells from librams, unless the spell requires Magery as one of its prerequisites.

Librams need not unbalance a campaign, and they can make mages or wizards (especially those with low point totals) much more interesting to play. GMs may wish to consider adapting these rules to fit their particular game worlds, as many new kinds of adventure can spring from book-based spellcasting.

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