Steve Jackson Games GURPS – Generic Universal RolePlaying System

GURPS Wizards – Cover

Excerpts from GURPS Wizards


GURPS is a simple system with a lot of depth, much of which lies in the character generation rules; it offers all the choices anyone could want! Unfortunately, this means new players sometimes find themselves overwhelmed by the game before they even start to play. One way to make character creation less daunting is to use a "quick-start" technique known as a template.

A template is a blueprint for a player character that can successfully fill a specific role in a particular game world. By specifying many character traits in advance, it reduces the amount of work needed to create the character and guarantees its competence. Templates can also be helpful for experienced players who are pressed for time. Finally, templates can be used to determine the rough abilities of NPCs - but keep in mind that they are generally intended to be turned into heroic PCs, not "generic NPCs."

Mechanically, a template is a partially-completed character sheet which contains only the attribute levels, advantages, disadvantages and skill levels required for the character to competently fill a certain role. The point costs of these abilities are listed, and the sum is given as the "cost" of the template. The player purchases the template, then spends his remaining points to customize it into an actual character by choosing background skills and unique talents. If the template includes fewer disadvantages than the campaign limit, more may be taken and the extra points used for customization. The same applies to quirks.

Types of Templates

The number of possible templates is essentially unlimited, but most will fall into one of a few general categories; a few will fall into more than one. Not every category will exist in all campaigns, but characters built using different types of templates may be mixed within a single campaign.

Vocational Templates

These are the most common and easily-understood templates. A character who does a job (e.g., mercenary, physician, mechanic) is expected to possess certain skills and a commensurate wealth level; see the Job Table on p. B194 and those in various GURPS worldbooks for inspiration. Vocational templates often assume a successful member of the profession in question, and include attribute levels and advantages that would lead to success.

Ethnic Templates

One's cultural background is a powerful defining concept in many settings. For example, Conan was first and foremost a Cimmerian, and this identified him throughout his adventures. An ethnic template might specify the genetic traits of a closed breeding group, skills taught to all members of a culture, or the beliefs and prejudices of a given tribe, nation or religion.

Institutional Templates

A character may be a member of an institution, such as a military unit, an order of knights or priests, or an academy. This is not the same as a job; it defines his place in society rather than his profession. These templates typically specify Duties and Vows, attributes ("entrance requirements") and social advantages such as Rank, Reputation, Status and Wealth.


An archetype is a dramatic role defined by the genre; e.g., "dashing hero," "sidekick" or "mascot." Such a character may have any job or background, but he serves a specific purpose in the story. Since this type of template attempts to define personality rather than ability, it may include many mental disadvantages. It can be challenging to design and difficult to customize.


In the modern sense, an "illusionist" is a stage magician: someone who uses misdirection and legerdemain to entertain. In a world where magic really works, however, someone like that is little more than a charlatan (p. 36). A real illusionist is a wizard who uses magic instead of, or as well as, smoke and mirrors for trickery and deception. He is most commonly a confidence artist or an adventurer, although a few illusionists become entertainers, mainly because it's less dangerous.

The con artist uses his illusions to trick people out of money and goods, cheat at gambling, play pranks and generally wreak havoc. He is typically portrayed as a mischievous trickster - a jester or fairground snake oil salesman - and not an evil sorcerer as such. Some people have no tolerance for trickery, of course, and would label all such wizards criminals. This has given illusionists a bad name in some areas. That said, some illusionists really are law-breaking scum, and some are warped or downright malevolent types who would disguise a well as an outhouse just to watch someone drown with their pants down.

Entertainers are generally similar to con artists, except that they rarely "go bad," and people know the act is a sham and usually leave with their wallets intact (minus the price of admission). They tend to focus on showmanship and presentation, and are often skilled jongleurs in their own right.

The adventurer is quite different from these first two types. He uses his magic to take on more serious challenges than robbery and to confront more determined adversaries than an unresponsive audience. He rarely works alone; instead, he supports other adventurers, providing them with disguises, camouflage and a quick smoke screen should they need to escape, not to mention guidance on the issue of illusionary tricks and traps. In a fantasy setting, an illusionist is an invaluable addition to an adventuring party.

Regardless of what they do for a living, all illusionists face one main limitation: an illusion is a means to an end only if that end can be achieved by deceiving someone. If there's no one there to experience the illusion, it's basically worthless. Being learned wizards, most illusionists are wise enough to know this, and defer to their comrades on issues such as locked doors and caved-in tunnels. Of course, many illusionists have other tricks up their sleeves, and not all of them are illusions . . .

Design Notes

Attributes: We choose a high IQ (14). Realizing that mundane legerdemain is a useful backup when illusions fail, we add DX 12 as well.

Advantages: An illusionist doesn't really need anything beyond Literacy and Magery. We choose Magery 2, which allows future access to Create Object and many of the advanced Mind Control and Movement spells that are useful to illusionists.

Disadvantages: Illusionists are usually tricky, and many of them are just plain weird, so we offer a wide selection of disadvantages. Some are suitable for a trickster (Compulsive Lying, Greed, Impulsiveness, Kleptomania, Overconfidence, Trickster), while others may have resulted from a magical backfire with an illusion (Flashbacks, No Reflection, No Shadow, Unnatural Feature, Voices). Any illusionist may have a bad Reputation!

Primary Skills: The definitive illusionist skill is Illusion Art, which we choose at 14. We also offer a choice between skills appropriate to a con artist (Acting-14, Fast-Talk-14), an entertainer (Bard-14, Performance-14) or an adventurer (4 points in Combat/Weapon skills).

Secondary Skills: A few mundane tricks can be useful in an emergency, so we add Camouflage-13 and Disguise-12. We include Stealth-12, since many illusions work better if the caster gets quietly out of the way . . .

Background Skills: Many skills suit the illusionist mentality, so we simply add 2 points to be spent on a long list of possibilities. Con artists might find Filch, Forgery, Gambling and Holdout handy, while entertainers might prefer Acrobatics, Dancing, Juggling, Make-Up, Scene Design, Sleight of Hand or Ventriloquism. Adventurers will find uses for Hypnotism, Mimicry and Traps.

Spells: We add all of the illusion spells from the Illusion and Creation college. While creation spells are also useful, they don't fit the traditional illusionist mold, and are difficult to learn in any event. We add the Sound spell, since it is a prerequisite for Complex Illusion, and tack on a couple of illusion-type spells found in other colleges (Phantom Flame, Restore).

Illusionist [100 points]

Attributes: ST 10 [0], DX 12 [20], IQ 14 [45], HT10 [0].
Advantages: Literacy [10], Magery 2 [25].
Disadvantages: Choose -25 points from Compulsive Lying [-15], Flashbacks [-5 to -20], Greed [-15], Impulsiveness [-10], Kleptomania [-15], No Reflection [-10], No Shadow [-10], Overconfidence [-10], Reputation -1 or -2 [-5 of -10], Trickster [-15], Unnatural Feature [-5] and Voices [-5 to -15].
Primary Skills: Illusion Art (M/H) IQ [4]-14 and either Acting (M/A) IQ [2]-14 and Fast-Talk (M/A) IQ [2]-14, or Bard (M/A) IQ [2]-14 and Performance (M/A) IQ [2]-14, or 4 points in Combat/Weapon skills.
Secondary Skills: Camouflage (M/E) IQ-1 [1/2]-13, Disguise (M/A) IQ-2 [1/2]-12, Stealth (P/A) DX [2]-12.
Background Skills: Spend 2 points on any of the following: Acrobatics (P/H), Bard (M/A), Dancing (P/A), Filch (P/A), Forgery/TL3 (M/H), Gambling (M/A), Holdout (M/A), Hypnotism(M/H), Juggling (P/E), Make-Up/TL3 (M/E), Mimicry (P/H; HT), Scene Design (M/A), Sleight of Hand (P/H), Traps (M/A) and Ventriloquism (M/H).
Spells* (base spell level 14, 13 with VH): One point was spent on each of the following spells:
Fire [1]: Phantom Flame-14.
Illusion and Creation [9]: Complex Illusion-14, Control Illusion-14, Dispel Illusion-14, Illusion Disguise-14, Illusion Shell-14, Independence-14, Know Illusion-14, Perfect Illusion-14, Simple Illusion-14.
Making and Breaking [1]: Restore-14.
Sound [1]: Sound-14.
* Spells include +2 for Magery.

Customization Notes

  • An illusionist with many Body Control spells may wish to consider learning Alter Visage and Alter Body, which are essentially powerful physical illusions.
  • Con artists should probably learn a few Mind Control spells, especially Area spells like Avoid, Fear, Emotion Control, Mass Daze and Mass Suggestion. Keen Eyes and Alertness would be useful for illusionists who'd like a few defenses against visual trickery.
  • Disadvantages that would limit an illusionist's senses (Blindness, Color Blindness, Deafness, No Sense of Smell/Taste, etc.) are generally a bad idea, and will limit the spells he can learn. Easy to Read, Gullibility, Honesty and Truthfulness would be fatal to a con artist!
  • Entertainers should consider advantages that give reaction bonuses, including Appearance, Charisma and Voice.
  • Movement spells (especially Air-Golem, Apportation, Poltergeist and Teleport) can make a deception much more believable, and would be a good addition to any illusionist's repertoire.
  • While Illusion and Creation spells are important, don't overlook Light and Darkness spells (e.g., Blur, Darkness, Hide and Invisibility) and Sound spells (e.g., Noise, Silence, Voices and Wall of Silence). Many classic "illusionist spells" can be found in those two colleges.

Using This Character

The illusionist is a traditional fantasy RPG character, and this template was designed to work as a PC in a 100-point campaign. By taking the remaining 20 points in disadvantages and quirks, an illusionist can master a second college of magic, like one of those suggested under Customization Notes. Illusionists are most satisfying for players who have a knack for subtlety. Those who enjoy frontal assaults may wish to select a different template.

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