Designer's Notes: GURPS Spirits

by Stephen Kenson

GURPS Spirits started off on a pretty solid foundation. There was no need to create rules for spirits or spirit-based magic, they already existed in GURPS Voodoo, with the spirit rules expanded slightly in GURPS Undead. The trick was to take that foundation and build upon it, taking the systems originally designed for ghosts and Voodoo loa and applying them to spirits of all kinds throughout human myth and legend.

Right from the start, the book had something of a split personality. On the one hand, it was about spirits: how to model them using the GURPS rules, and how to use them as both player characters and NPCs. On the other hand, it was about how mortal player characters interacted with spirits, particularly having spirit servants and calling upon spiritual power, as defined by the ritual magic rules. It quickly became obvious that if Spirits was going to fulfill both these goals, some limits had to be imposed to keep the book from expanding far beyond its projected size.

One of those limits was dropping sample spirits from the spirit template chapter. With so many templates (a lucky 13, each with many variations), there wasn't room to provide a fully developed example of each type of spirit. GURPS Cabal helps address this, offering a number of different spirits created using the Spirits guidelines. Here are several other examples, based on the templates in Spirits.

Sample Angel: Aluriel (610 points)

Ageless. When materialized: 6', 160 lbs., a beautiful feminine figure with flowing golden hair and white feathered wings, dressed in a shimmering white robe.

ST: 14 [0] IQ: 15 [10] Fatigue: 24
DX: 15 [10] HT: 14 [0] Senses: 16
Speed: 7.25 Move: 7 Will: 17 Dodge: 7

Advantages: Angel [551]; Extra Fatigue +10 [30]

Disadvantages: Fanaticism [-15]; Intolerance (of Evil in all its forms) [-5]; Truthfulness [-5]; Unnatural Feature (glowing halo and wings) [-5].

Quirks: Considers herself "a healer, not a fighter", but fights better than most mortals; Understands that suffering is a part of God's plan; Attributes her healing to a higher power ("it is not done by me, but through me"); Is always amazed by humanity's capacity for both goodness and evil; Innocent and unconcerned about worldly matters.

Skills: Bard-14 [1]; Brawling-16 [2]; Broadsword-15 [2]; Exorcism-15 [4]; Flight-15 [2]; Intimidation-15 [2]; Occultism-14 [1]; Theology-17 [2]*.

*Includes racial bonus.

Languages: Latin (native)-15 [0]; Anglish-15 [2] (or other standard campaign language).

Spells (1 point each, except where noted. Includes +3 for Power Investiture): Awaken-15; Beast Soother-15; Cook-15; Counterspell-15; Create Fire-15; Create Food-15; Cure Disease-15; Dispel Magic-15; Flaming Weapon-15; Heat-15; Ignite Fire-15; Lend Health-15; Lend Strength-15; Major Healing-15; Minor Healing-15; Regeneration-14; Restoration-14; Seek Food-15; Sense Emotion-15; Sense Foes-15; Shape Fire-15; Sense Life-15; Sterilize-15; Test Food-15; Truthsayer-15, Ward-15.

Equipment: holy broadsword (cut 2d+3, imp 1d+4)

Description: Aluriel is an angel in service to Raphael, the archangel of healing. Her duties are generally those of an angel of mercy: sent to aid the injured and the sick, and also to shepherd the dying to their rightful place in Heaven. But there are times when her duties require her to protect the innocent and the pious from the forces of Hell, which is when she calls upon her holy sword and her power to shroud it in purifying flame. Aluriel feels deeply for the plight of mortals, although she doesn't quite understand their capacity for cruelty and evil. She exists to ease suffering and offer succor, but she acknowledges that suffering is sometimes part of God's plan. Her desire to heal and end suffering does not extend to the forces of Hell, and Aluriel fiercely protects her charges against them when necessary. She hates and pities the undead and considers ending their unnatural existence a mercy.

Aluriel is suitable as a patron or an occasional ally in a GURPS Fantasy campaign where angels intervene to aid the pious. She can be used as a player character in a campaign involving powerful spirits like angels and demons; with a few adjustments she can be a player character in a GURPS In Nomine campaign.

Sample Animal Spirit: Old-Tooth (575 points)

Ageless. In material form: 20 feet long and 2,000 lbs, a large bull crocodile.

ST: 28 [165] IQ: 10 [0] Fatigue: 28
DX: 12 [0] HT: 14/22 [45] Senses: 16 (hearing 18, taste and smell 19)
Speed: 6.5 Move: 4 (land)/7 (water) Will: 14 Dodge: 6

Advantages: Acute Hearing +2 [4]; Acute Taste and Smell +3 [6]; Alertness +6 [30]; Amphibious [10]; Damage Resistance 2 [6]; Damage Resistance +2 (Limitation: except on stomach -15%) [5]; Enhanced Move (Swimming, Move 7) +20% [2]; Extra Fatigue +14 [42]; Extra Hit Points +8 [40]; Four Legs [5]; Nictating Membrane x 1 [10]; Night Vision [10]; Passive Defense 2 [50]; Passive Defense +1 (Limitation: except on stomach -15%) [22]; Peripheral Vision [15]; Sharp Teeth [5]; Spirit Form [100]; Striker (Reach 1) [10]; Strong Will +4 [12]; Subsonic Speech [20].

Disadvantages: Attentive [-1]; Cold-Blooded [-5]; Color Blindness [-10]; Gluttony [-5]; Hidebound [-5]; Hideous [-20]; Horizontal [-10]; Inconvenient Size [-10]; Innumerate [-5]; No Fine Manipulators [-30]; Obdurate [-10]; Poverty (Dead Broke) [-25]; Reduced Move (Land; Move 4) -2 [-10]; Short Arms [-10]; Sleepy (50%) [-10].

Quirks: Likes to be told he's handsome, angered when people say he's ugly; Dislikes being awakened without a very good reason; Picky eater, likes eating chicken and duck best of all; Insists on knowing a person's name and where they're from before eating them; Proud [-5].

Skills: Animal Handling (Crocodiles)- 11/16 [6]; Area Knowledge (the Swamp)-14 [8]; Brawling-15 [8]; Naturalist-11 [6]; Stealth-13 [4]; Survival (Swamp)-13 [8].

Description: Old-Tooth is a crocodile spirit that lives in an expansive swamp he calls home. He spends most of his time in the spirit world, sleeping, occasionally rousing himself to wander around looking for something to eat. He usually eats only spirit prey but he's been known to materialize to devour a particularly succulent water fowl he comes across, or an intruder in his domain. He always appears and talks with intruders first before eating them, since he likes to know where his meal is coming from. He's intelligent, but not overly interested in anything other than food and a long nap.

Old-Tooth receives worship and sacrifices from a local tribe, but he's otherwise relatively indifferent to them. Their shaman has to promise him a great feast to get the old spirit to do much of anything, but he can be persuaded through sacrifices and flattery to use his powers on others' behalf. The regular attention also helps sustain Old-Tooth so he has no worries about fading away, unless something happens to his tribe.

Old-Tooth is suitable for use in any fantasy campaign with a suitable environment. He could also easily show up in a GURPS Egypt setting as a Nile crocodile spirit (perhaps cared for by priests) or in a modern-day GURPS Voodoo campaign as an alligator spirit living in a Louisiana swamp with a Cajun community as his "tribe".

Sample Ascended Spirit: Sir Tam Ekul (337 points)

Apparent age 58. 5'9", apparent weight 150 lbs. A distinguished older man with salt-and-pepper hair and a neatly trimmed beard, wearing a military-style uniform with a cloak and a serene expression on his face.

ST: 11 [10] IQ: 14 [45] Fatigue: 20
DX: 14 [45] HT: 12 [20] Senses: 14
Speed: 6.5 Move: 6 Will: 16 Dodge: 6

Advantages: Ascended Spirit [115]; Charisma +1 [5]; Extra Fatigue +8 [24]; Reputation +2 (among Star-Knights) [5]; Strong Will +2 [8]; Trained by a Master [40].

Disadvantages: Code of Honor (Imperial: attack only in self defense; never use your powers to cause harm; uphold the law; protect the weak) [-15]; Enemy (the Dark Knights; 6 or less) [-20]; Sense of Duty (to the Knights of the Empire) [0, included in Ascended Spirit template].

Quirks: Talks in riddles to get pupils to think; Appears at inopportune times and places; Wistful about his time as a physical being; Insists that "some things never change" [-4].

Skills: Acrobatics-14 [4]; Armory (Force Sword)-14 [2]; Blind Fighting 14 [8]; Fast-Draw (Force Sword)-16 [4]; Jumping-14 [1]; Katana (Force Sword)-18 [24]; Meditation-14 [8]; Teaching-15 [4]; Theology (Star-Knight)-14 [4].

Description: Tam Ekul was an honored member of the Star-Knights, the mystical champions of peace and justice throughout the Galactic Empire. He was known as one of the Knights' great masters. When he was struck down through treachery by one of his own students, Sir Ekul's enlightenment was great enough for him to transcend the material plane altogether, becoming a being of pure spirit. He has taken his place among the ascended masters of the Knights, and continues his role of teaching new generations of apprentices the psychic arts they will need to overcome the forces of evil in the galaxy.

Tam Ekul is designed as a mentor for a character (or group of characters) in a cinematic GURPS Space campaign featuring psionic powers and martial arts. With a little adjustment (mostly involving his choice of weapon skills) he'd make a suitable spirit mentor for warrior or martial artist characters from nearly any campaign setting.

Sample Demon: Sinthia (566 points)

Ageless. 5'8" 120 lbs, a beautiful woman with long, dark hair and tiny horns on her forehead, dressed provocatively.

ST: 12 [0] IQ: 13 [30] Fatigue: 12
DX: 13 [20] HT: 13 [0] Senses: 13
Speed: 6.5 Move: 6 Will: 14 Dodge: 6

Advantages: Succubus [516]; Strong Will +1 [4]

Disadvantages: Dread (religious symbols) [-10]; Sadism [-15]

Quirks: Likes her lovers strong and forceful, at first; Likes corrupting religious people most of all; Lets people buy her drinks, then nurses them; Drinks often but never eats [-4].

Skills: Acting-13 [2]; Brawling-13 [1]; Carousing-13 [2]; Courtesan-14 [4]; Erotic Art-17 [4]*; Interrogation-13 [2]; Sex Appeal-16 [4]**; Shapeshift-17 [0]***; Slight of Hand-12 [2]; Snake Charming-14 [4].

* Includes racial bonus
** Includes Voice.
*** Free from racial package

Languages: English-13 [0]

Innate Spells: Stealth Strength-22 [0, from racial package]

Description: Sinthia is a succubus originally summoned to serve a mortal master. He got careless one day and Sinthia is now on her own, free to do as she pleases, and she enjoys being in the physical world too much to want to leave, especially when there are so many people that want her special attention. She's taken a job working as a stripper in an expensive nightclub and she's known for wearing live snakes in her act (and little or nothing else). She chooses her "boyfriends" carefully to avoid arousing too much suspicion, although occasionally an unattached man from out of town will disappear and his body will turn up in an alley somewhere.

Sinthia is suitable for a modern occult or horror campaign like GURPS Voodoo. To use her in the Technomancer setting, simply substitute the Technomancer succubus package (p. TM64) for the one given in Spirits. She can easily fit into most any other setting, from the Old West to medieval fantasy to cyberpunk with a slight adjustment to her background.

Sample Djinn: Khanjar the Mighty (650 points)

Agless. 10' tall, 2,000 lbs., an ugly humanoid figure wearing iron armbands, with a bald head and eyes like fire.

ST: 20 [0] IQ: 12 [10] Fatigue: 25
DX: 14 [0] HT: 16 [20] Senses: 15
Speed: 7.5 Move: 7 (14 in air form) Will: 14 Dodge: 10

Advantages: Djinn [600]; Extra Fatigue +5 [15]; Strong Will +2 [8]

Disadvantages: Involuntary Duty (to the holder of the lamp, all the time) [-20]

Quirks: Long-winded, especially about his own powers; Unfailingly polite, even when he threatens; Likes to wrestle to demonstrate his great strength; Dislikes servitude but appreciates praise and recognition for his work; Tends to forget about mortal limitations like breathing and sleeping.

Skills: Brawling-14 [1]; Broadsword-14 [2]; Carousing-16 [2]; Flight-14 [2]; Interrogation-12 [2]; Intimidation-13 [4]; Occultism-12 [2]; Wrestling-15 [4].

Languages: Arabic-12 [0]

Spells: (one point each for skill 12 unless specified otherwise, includes Magery bonus) Clean, Create Air, Destroy Air, Fear, Find Weakness, Illusion Disguise, Illusion Shell, Purify Air, Rejoin, Repair, Restore, Sense Emotion, Sense Foes, Shape Air, Simple Illusion, Weaken, Windstorm, Whirlwind.

Description: Despite his impressive title, Khanjar the Mighty is actually a lesser djinn, bound centuries ago to a brass lamp he inhabits. He is forced to obey the holder of the lamp, a situation that does not meet with his approval, although he carries out his duties to the best of his ability, as a matter of pride. Khanjar does not hesitate to boast about his powers or his greatness, and he always makes it clear to his master that he will wreck vengeance upon him if he ever escapes servitude.

Khanjar is suitable as an NPC for a GURPS Arabian Nights campaign or fantasy campaign with an Arabian flavor (like the Islamic nations of Yrth). He could also show up in a Supers game if his lamp falls into the possession of a world-be hero or villain.

Sample Elemental: Ember (304 points)

Ageless. 5' tall, 80 lbs., a vaguely female humanoid shape made up of fire.

ST: 9 [-10] IQ: 12 [20] Fatigue: 13
DX: 14 [45] HT: 12 [20] Senses: 12
Speed: 6.5 Move: 6 Will: 13 Dodge: 6

Advantages: Extra Fatigue +4 [12]; Fire Elemental [235]; Strong Will +1 [4]

Disadvantages: Involuntary Duty (to her master, all the time) [-20]

Quirks: Enjoys burning certain woods like humans enjoy smoking (particularly apple and hickory); Thinks humans regard fire too much as a tool; Tends toward excessive force to get the job done [-3].

Skills: Brawling-13 [1]; Breathe Fire-14 [0]

Languages: English-12 [0]

Description: Ember is a fire elemental in service to a wizard, who conjured her with a female form that pleased him and named her. Ember doesn't really think of herself as female, but has gotten used to the idea over time. Her master has treated her well for the most part and allows her to burn things from time to time, although not quite as often as Ember would like. She's intrigued by the physical world with an almost childlike curiosity, but has begun to understand that physical creatures don't share her resistance to or love for fire. Ember is a suitable NPC for any sort of fantasy campaign. For campaigns using GURPS Magic, make her a magical elemental according to the guidelines in Spirits.

The Ritual Magic Switcheroo

Announcer [whispers]: We're here at the Ministry of Serendipity, where we've switched their regular mana-based magic for ritual magic. Let's see if anyone notices . . .

The other major component of Spirits, apart from the spirits themselves, is an expansion of the ritual magic rules first published in GURPS Voodoo. Spirits focuses solely on ritual magic that involves contacting spiritual beings (other sorts of ritual magic await treatment in GURPS Ritual Magic), but it still provides a complete alternate system of magic for GURPS.

Ritual magic makes an interesting substitution for mana-based magic in a number of settings, since it's generally more subtle, mysterious, and closer to various cultures' historical beliefs about magic. Consider the possibilities of substituting or adding ritual magic to some existing GURPS settings:

Alternate Earths

Several of the worlds described in Alternate Earths 1 & 2 could easily become fantasy worlds with the addition of ritual magic and spirits. Roma Aeterna from Alternate Earths 1 could become an interesting steampunk & sorcery combo with Roman magicians as well as Chinese sorcerers and Incan shamans. Likewise, Ezcalli could feature Aztec priests with magical powers (and bloodthirsty patron spirits) along with Native American and Mongol shamans. Imagine cross-time travelers visiting Reich-5 and discovering that the Nazis' legendary mystical experiments have borne terrible fruit. Perhaps a cross-time alliance with Yrth or Merlin is called for to combat the menace?

Alternate Earths 2 offers Ming-3, the perfect setting for Chinese alchemists and sorcerers to work their magic behind the scenes, dealing with the denizens of the August Spirits Courts. There's also Midgard, where Viking vitki and sidhr can use shamanic techniques and runes to perform feats of magic. Of course, adding ritual magic to either Cornwallis or Aeolus could provide an interesting Illuminated conspiracy behind the political troubles on either of those worlds (particularly if one borrows ideas from Voodoo or Cabal for the world's mystical history).

Historical Settings

Virtually any historical worldbook for GURPS can be turned into a historical fantasy with the addition of ritual magic. The ritual magic system resembles historical beliefs about magic more than the "fireballs and lightning bolts" style of the mana magic system, so it fits easily into almost any setting. Arabian Nights, Aztecs, China, Egypt and Imperial Rome are a few example of worldbooks where ritual magic creates a historical fantasy setting. Just change the names of the various paths and rituals to something suitably atmospheric for the setting, and off you go.

GURPS Old West, features a scaled-down version of the ritual magic rules for Indian shamanism, making Spirits a great resource for expanding the powers of Indian shamans (and maybe adding in some European magicians and Chinese sorcerers to rub-elbows with them in your own version of the Weird West). A historical campaign based on the setting from Voodoo could take place in the Old West, with Lodge magicians backing the expansionist American government, working against Indian shamans and Chinese sorcerers (as well as their spirit allies).

Ritual magic also fits in well with the Victorianna of Steampunk since the Victorian Age saw a renaissance of ritual magic and occultism with groups like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. GURPS Castle Falkenstein uses a version of the ritual magic rules, adapted for that world's unique form of magic. GMs could easily substitute the ritual magic rules (as well as the faerie and spirits) from Spirits, if desired.

Cyberworld and Cthulhupunk

Fantasy/cyberpunk fusions tend toward the spectacular, with fireball-throwing mages and rampant monsters, but ritual magic can work just as well in a cyberpunk setting, either for a "secret" magical campaign or a balance between tech and magic. The Cyberworld setting is practically tailor-made for adding in some secret occult elements: the NERCC's ban on occult organizations and certain religions in the U.S. may be because there really is a "Satanic conspiracy," or at least the ProGov wants to limit the ability of magicians to operate openly. Spirits also talks about the possibilities of "net shamans," who might appear at the cutting-edge of Cyberworld technology.

The match is even more natural (or unnatural . . . ) when you add GURPS Cthulhupunk to the mix. Ritual magic works well with the feel and style of the Mythos stories. The Mythos spells and rituals from Cthulhupunk can simply be extensions of the ritual magic system, perhaps even part of a specialized and secretive path of their own.

Fantasy (Yrth)

The world of Yrth is aimed at classical swords and sorcery fantasy, but substituting ritual magic for mana-based magic creates a world more akin to Katherine Kurtz's Deryni novels or Judith Tarr's The Hound and the Falcon books. Magic is a subtle, yet still pervasive, force. Priests in both Christian and Islamic lands offer blessings to the faithful and protect them against the forces of evil. Hermetic wizards descended from Middle Age occultists vie for power and knowledge in Meglos and elsewhere, while the Northern Barbarians (and perhaps even the orcs) have their shamans, and who knows what spirits (or magic) can be found in Sahud or beyond the Fence of God, in the land of the Djinn?

Of course, ritual magic can be pretty spectacular at times, too. With three levels of Ritual Adept and five of Ritual Aptitude (which conviniently cost the same as three levels of Magery), a ritual magician can almost rival a mage in terms of speed (casting rituals in 1d seconds), plus a magician isn't dependent on mana and ritual magic has no fatigue cost! This means ritual magic can also be an effective rival of mana-based magic as well as a substitute. Perhaps the religious mystics of Yrth tap into spiritual power while wizards wield magic based on mana, creating a distinction between clerical and arcane magic.


Ritual magic significantly changes the feel of the Technomancer setting, since ritual magic is less given to mass production (unless the GM wants to develop a ritual parallel to the industrial enchantment system in Technomancer). Still, imagine the potential of a modern world much like our own where effectively ritual magic was widely known, and you can create urban fantasies more like Sean Stewart's Night Watch or Emma Bull's War for the Oaks than Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos or Harry Turtledove's Case of the Toxic Spell Dump (which Technomancer more closely resembles). Imagine taking the "secret history" of Voodoo or Cabal and making it (or at least some of it) public knowledge.

How will the world change to deal with the existence of spirits and their powers? Only you can say for sure. Have fun with it!

Article publication date: July 20, 2001

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