Magic in the Crucible


by Peter V. Dell'Orto

This article is a supplement for both "Martial Arts Styles for Mages" and "Campaign in a Box: Kung-Fu Crucible." While the previous article focused on fully integrating martial arts styles with magic, it also seemed obvious that magic could simulate the really powerful characters and moves in wuxia films and in video games. This article can be used to enhance a current Crucible game, or to start a whole new campaign in a more magical Crucible.

Why the Crucible?

The Crucible is an ideal setting for magic-based martial arts styles. Console and Arcade video games always have a few fireball-tossing, shapeshifting, arm-extending voodoo Shinto snake priests running around. Finishing moves are filled with not just wuxia-style jumps and leaps, but raging flames and thunderous cracks of lightning from the heavens. Where do all of these fighters perfect their style, brave enough to face a martial artist whose blows will scorch the flesh or fry their mind? Why, the Crucible, of course. Where else?

The Setting: Always Magic, or Adding Magic?

The first question to be answered is, did the Crucible always have magic?

If you are starting a new campaign based in the Crucible, it is easy to add magic-based martial arts to the setting; follow the advice in this article and "Kung-Fu Crucible" and decide on the power and mana levels. The heroes do not necessarily have to be aware of such magical powers; perhaps they come from a more austere setting, only to be whisked to the Crucible to test their mettle against Flying Dragonjutsu stylists that really fly, and Tiger Kung-Fu stylists that fight in tiger form. This can make an excellent campaign nova for a campaign -- see "Going Nova: Big Newness in Your Campaign" by Ken Hite and "Getting A New Writer" by Brian Rogers.

It also makes a good crossover setting for Supers-style martial artists. They are already used to dealing with wizards, alien invasions, bizarre plots twists; the Magical Crucible is a good place to visit even if they do not stay. This "just visiting" style can be a good change of pace, and can be used instead of the usual Not Very Deadly Deathtrap routine if a martial-arts super is captured. "You wake up in a small cottage . . ."

If you are already running a game in the Crucible, it may seem problematic to introduce such a decidedly overt change into the setting by adding magic. However, remember The Prisoner, one of influences behind the standard Crucible setting. In The Prisoner, Number Six encountered elements that seemingly would have been hard to miss, but were introduced suddenly (and disappeared just as suddenly) without comment from the rest of the villagers. One day the Crucible can be lacking magic entirely, the next day it could have magic as it was always there . . . and disappear the next. Not all players will react well to such a new introduction (even Number Six had his own issues with this kind of event at times). A smoother transition is possible if you are already playing at the Wu-Wu-Wuxia or Chambara levels: A new "dim mak" practitioner shows up, but his attacks more closely resemble Deathtouch than Pressure Secrets. Later, a showy stylist using fire as part of his warm-up act can spit a few flames or toss a few "fireballs" in his fights. Are they novelties or has the Young Master found some new place to bring in stylists from?

The Rules

Now that you have decided to put magic in the Crucible, how is it implemented? The critical decision to make is the Austerity level of the game. This is turn will determine the Mana Level of the Crucible.

The Crucible works well at multiple Austerity levels, but magic-based wuxia powers work best at low levels of Austerity. The Crucible benefits the most from magic at the "Chambara" and "Wu-wu-wuxia" level of Austerity. It can work at Chi level as well, but works best when used in a campaign that centers on characters using high-powered, physics-defying powers. In a Chi Austerity game, magic may be completely overpowered by the martial arts. The default assumption is that The Crucible is at High Mana. A dial of mana levels can be used to vary this assumption to make very different campaigns.

Low Mana is not recommended; it defeats the purpose of adding magic to the Crucible. Magic added with Low Mana will be very weak, cost a large amount of points, and be relegated to secondary status. This is possible, but it does not fit the "theme" of the Crucible. If the masters wish to test the power of magic-using stylists, they would not hamper them so . . .

Chi: Normal Mana: Magical stylists can use spells normally, but must be naturally skilled and train hard to be effective. This level best matches the "normal" power level of fantasy magic -- spells will enhance, but not replace, martial prowess. Because of this, you are likely to end up with specialist mages occurring in order to maximize their ability to use their power against martial artists.

Chambara: High Mana: Anyone can learn a few mana-manipulating tricks; with the "Master of One Style" option all martial arts may know spells appropriate to their style. At this level integrated magic/martial arts styles utilizing fairly powerful magics really shine. Most fighters are capable of video-game like feats -- throwing fireballs, elemental attacks, and even flight.

Wu-Wu-Wuxia: Very High Mana: Magic flies thick and fast; this is the arcade game or epic wuxia level. Magical powers are used regularly in combat with almost no regard to cost, but the penalties for the slightest mistake (failure is a critical failure, critical failure is disastrous) can be devastating to the stylist. Any fighter without significant magical and or chi powers is reduced to spear-fodder status by those that have them.

Very High Mana is best suited for games simulating extremely powerful wuxia fighters. Since all fatigue comes back at the end of the character's turn, the only limiting factors on wuxia fighters will be the number of spells "on" and the maximum amount of mana they can expend at once. Spell-based attacks will fly thick and fast; attacks not backed up by magic will be secondary. Critical Failures are also best handled by GM decision rather than the chart on p. M6. Few failed "magical" strikes in wuxia films result in summoned demons or casting on the wrong target. Spectacular failures of powers can still occur however, and Critical Failure rolls are the best way of simulating this occasion failure of the Flying Heaven Lightning Strike to do what it is supposed to . . .

Take That! And That! And Some of These!

A staple of high-powered wuxia combat are attackers throwing a bewildering amount of attacks, especially when face with numbers of spear fodder. This is no different with magic-using wuxia fighters. At the same time, the emphasis needs to be on martial arts, not on standard fantasy wizards. Therefore spells need to be cast faster, but limits need to exist to discourage wizards who eschew martial arts to simply toss huge Area spells around.

No spells can be cast without gestures -- in fact, most spells require them. Kiais, shouted battle cries, and frequent announcements of the maneuver you are using are de rigueur for some campaigns. Regardless of skill level, no spells will be able to be cast with less than "full" gestures -- spoken words and hand gestures, or at least extensive hand gestures (for your vow-of-silence monk types).

Multiple attacks are calculated normally for Magic Jet, Magic Breath, and Spell Throwing, depending on the method chosen: 1 for 8 points of skill, 1 for 3 points of skill over 12, etc. This will bring these skills in line with other Trained By A Master martial artists.

Especially at the lower Austerity levels, it makes sense to use a variant of the "Reduced Concentration for Cinematic Skills" sidebar rule (p. MA61). Allow Trained By A Master mages to spend attacks for seconds of concentration to throw spells; this will dramatically increase the effective speed of mages. Mages are still be only able to cast one spell (plus a Blocking spell, see below) per turn, with some exceptions:

Missile spells: Unlimited missile spells are allowed, up to the normal limits of concentration and number of attacks. Example: A mage with Trained By A Master, Fireball-20 and Spell Throwing (Fireball)-21 would have four attacks. He could throw four 1-die Fireballs per turn, two 2-die (spending 1 attack per extra second needed to generate the fireballs), or a 3-die fireball and a 1-die fireball (2 attacks per extra second for the 3-die, 1 attack for the 1-die). All of these attacks will be unaimed, but with skill 21 accurate attacks should not be a problem.

Blocking Spells: One option is to allow extra blocking spells, at 1 extra Blocking spell per 3 points of skill over 12. These defenses are instead of and not in addition to the normal complement of parries and blocks. For example, a mage with Karate-21 and Iron Arm-21 gets 5 parries from Karate and 4 from Iron Arm; he can use up to 5 total parries including blocking spells, but only throw up to 4 Iron Arms (the limit of his Iron Arm spell level) among those 5 defenses. This will allow mages to block furious numbers of attacks very easily (in fact, automatically if the spell succeeds), and the GM should consider carefully before allowing it. It works best in a campaign where PCs will be fighting large numbers of spear-fodder opponents, as using these spells will make penetrating defenses even harder. Blocking spells ignore Feints, Ripostes, penalties to defend against Spinning Punches and Spin Kicks, etc. and make the defense penalties for maneuvers like Back Strike, Lunge and Fleche easier to deal with.

Extended Criticals

Another option recommended for a Magical Crucible game is the Extended Critical rule from p. MA59 and p. CII73. This rule should be extended to magic as well, allowing more occurrences of automatic victory over resistance and more spells cast without cost. If this is done, a GM should only give "special bonuses" to critical successes if the roll is a 3 or 4. Criticals of a 5+ should make the spell free (and bypass resistance normally if a Resisted spell).

For the Wu-wu-wuxia level of power, especially when PCs are fighting lots of spear-fodder (not common in the Crucible, but it could happen), another option is to ignore the Rule of 16. Powerful stylists should be able to casually defeat the Will of spear-fodder with their resisted spells; to make up for it most stylists should be a lot of points in Will and Mental Strength. This fits the magical wuxia movie style well -- the final battle is always a contest of will between good and evil . . . but only after hundreds of lesser foes have been mown down by the powers of the heroes or villains or both. To simulate this, anyone without Magery (any level), Mental Strength, Weapon Master (any level) or Trained By A Master should be exempt from the Rule of 16, making nearly automatic victory over resistance more likely. Combined with the Extended Criticals option, this allows high-skill fighters to truly dominate when facing lesser-skilled opponents.

Your Chi is No Good!

One possible assumption for a magic-as-wuxia powers game is that Magic will replace Chi; instead of using Invisibility Art, Pressure Secrets, and Blinding Touch you will use Invisibility, Deathtouch, and Strike Blind. Chi powers do not exist, since they are simulated with spells instead. But what if both Cinematic Skills using Chi and Wuxia Magic coexist? If Chi powers have been completely replaced, no further decisions need to be made. But if both coexist (and the Crucible is the place for that to occur if anyplace is) you need to decide how they interact.

The distinction between Mana and Chi should be decided by the GM. Are they facets of the same universal source of power, each tapped differently by the stylists? Or are they opposed but linked forces, with Mana as the Yang and Chi as the Yin? Or are they diametrically opposed powers, with each side warring over the superiority of their special powers?

If they are facets of the same power, flavor demands minor changes. First, most stylists will use both Cinematic Skills and Magic. Recover Strength becomes Recover Chi; only the name changes.

If they are opposed but linked, stylists who get out of balance in their skill levels may be regarded warily by fellow stylists. Those too dependent on mana may be perceived as having too much Yang and those who learn both equally well may be perceived as being In Harmony and regarded well. That could be the basis of a positive Reputation, while an imbalance might be a matter of reputation or result in Ying-Yang Imbalance (p. CI100).

If the powers are opposed, fierce fighting between camps would likely occur -- the Young Master must know which is superior! The various Lodges will have chosen between Chi powers and Magic; if not prohibited by the GM it might just be prohibited by custom. In that case, stylists who choose to study both would have a powerful edge and a dangerous Secret. Keeping it hidden in the confines of the Crucible would be a truly Herculean task.

Regardless of how Chi and Mana are distinct, interaction of the powers should occur. The easiest way to do this is "effects based" interaction. Dispel Magic will not undo Blinding Touch, but Cure Blindness will. Instant Restoration might counter the effects of Hand of Death. See Invisible will detect stylists using Invisibility Art to move around undetected (or more prosaically, Keen Eyes and Alertness might help counter it as well). This type of interaction is compatible will all three ways of perceiving Chi and Mana -- if the powers are the same, the ways of manipulating them should affect one another. If they are opposed, it should be possible to challenge one force with another. If they are linked, it only reveals the true subtle interaction of the universe by the myriad of ways they play upon one another . . .

Advantages, Skills, and Styles

Magic Resistance is not recommended in this setting. The idea of "interference" from particularly resistant defenders causing wuxia powers to fail does not fit the genre very well. Mental Strength (p. CI142) is recommended instead; all Trained By A Master characters should be allowed to learn the skill even if it is not within their style. Strong Will is also a very good advantage for tough NPCs and PCs to have; it will both help to resist attacking spells and keep them standing after absorbing lots of damage.

Extra Fatigue and Extra Fatigue (Magic Only) (see GURPS Myth) are highly recommended for this style of game; wuxia fighters are defeated by superior foes, not from being too tired! Extra Fatigue (One Spell Only) is excellent for a "finishing move" spell, especially with a low recovery rate. As an alternative, see Special Abilities from "Cinematic Points!" for another way to handle powerful but rarely used attacks. Powerstones can be used, but do not especially fit the Crucible. Extra Fatigue is a much better fit.

For example, Arnise the Whirlwind is a Tae Kwon Do stylist who wants a "last ditch attack move" comprising of the Windstorm spell. He wants to affect an area 5 yards across with his whirling form; this is Area 3 and costs 12 points. He buys Extra Fatigue (Whirlwind) +10 for 10 points, which along with his Whirlwind-21 gives him the ability to cast this without tapping into any of his other fatigue reserves. Arnise can use this whenever he wants, and can create a Whirlwind even after his Extra Fatigue pool is expended, but at a great cost . . .

Trained By A Master

Trained By a Master is still a requirement for Cinematic Skills and Cinematic Maneuvers. Trained By A Master is also a requirement for multiple attacks, extended criticals, and all of the other rules described above. At the GM's option, it can substitute for Magery to allow Masters to learn only those spells their style teaches; treat the Trained By A Master stylist as having the equivalent of Magery at the appropriate level to learn any spells within the style. This is only for purposes of determining if the spell can be learned, no bonuses to spells or other benefits of Magery are accrued. To gain the benefits of both, a stylist should have both Magery and Trained By A Master.

Another alternative to Trained By A Master for learning spells is One-Style Magery.

One-Style Magery


Cost 10/6/6

Otherwise identical to Single College Magery, this form of Magery allows its possessor to learn and use spells within a single martial arts style. It affects all primary, optional, and prerequisite spells for a single style, plus Recover Strength.

Style Familiarity

Cost of Style Familiarity is normal; however any style that exists both with and without magic counts as two styles when purchasing it. If the 25- point level is allowed, it should cover both Chi and Magic variations of any styles.

Weapon Master

Weapon Master is ideal for armed magical styles. Weapon Master should act identically to Trained By A Master for multiple attacks for armed styles. For these purposes, treat "Spell Throwing" as a weapon skill for multiple attacks, but not for the +1/5 skill damage bonus.

Esoteric/Cinematic Skills

All Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers from GURPS Martial Arts are available if Chi powers are being used. Also recommended are the skills Chi Treatment, Mountain Heart, and Ying/Yang Healing from GURPS Compendium I.

Example Styles

The styles below are named generically; this is intentional. They make excellent basis for similar styles; change the weapons slightly and mix up the maneuvers and give them entirely different names to get a good mix of wuxia styles. Naming the styles is as simple as rolling on the Crucible's Special Move naming chart. Example names are in parenthesis for each style.

Additional styles can be made by taking standard GURPS Martial Arts styles and adding spells to them. The styles from Martial Arts for Mages are easily adapted or modified -- Death Fist can have Stealth added as a primary skill and Invisibility Art added to Cinematic Skills to make it a ninja-like style, Flaming Sword fits right in especially with dual-wielded Flame Jets, and Stone Missile Fighting can be the basis for a good ranged style.

Flying Sword ("Heaven's Graceful Blade")


13 points/24 points

Flying Sword is a style of grace and beauty -- long leaps, acrobatic flips, and fast flying. Spinning Strike is not normally allowed for swords; here it represents the incredibly acrobatic flying and twisting sword maneuvers used in the style. These can be extremely effective, especially against lower-skilled opponents, but are less so against highly skilled foes. Against those foes stylists use Feints instead of Spinning Strikes. This style is extremely acrobatic and the vast majority of its techniques are executed while airborne.

Fighting While Seated is used to represent those masters who fight, in flight, while seated in the lotus position ("Flying Lotus Sword"). Because of the vulnerability of shieldless flying foes to missile attacks, Missile Shield is a common optional spell. Some stylists add a variety of throwing weapons to the style, propelled by Winged Knife. Paku and Shuriken are especially popular choices.

Variations of this style can use almost any martial arts weapons -- paired butterfly swords, spear, light horse cutters, knife-wheels, etc. Campaigns using The Sword (p. SW14) would find this an excellent style for those using that skill.

Primary Skills: Acrobatics, Fencing [2], Fencing Art [2], Jumping.
Secondary Skills: Fast Draw (Sword), Parry Missile Weapons.
Optional Skills: Calligraphy, Karate.
Maneuvers: Feint (Fencing), Spinning Strike (Sword).
Cinematic Skills: Flying Leap, Kiai, Mental Strength, Power Blow.
Cinematic Maneuvers: Enhanced Parry (Sword), Fighting While Seated.
Primary Spells: Flight (VH), Hawk Flight (VH) [2].
Optional Spells: Missile Shield, Winged Knife.
Prerequisites: Magery +2 plus Apportation, Levitation.

Leaping Fist ("Southern Jumping Monkey Kung-Fu")


15 points/20 points

This style emphasizes fast movements and long-reach strikes. Stylists move in leaps and bounds, often magically hasted. Walk on Air is used to allow the practitioner to "bounce" in mid- air, allowing multiple leaps without ever landing. The optional spell "Great Haste" is used for that "finishing move" flurry.

Unlike actual "flying" styles, this style depends on long leaps, air- walking and wall-walking to get around. A common variation of this style uses Hawk Flight instead of Flying Leap and Wallwalker ("Northern Flying Monkey Kung-Fu").

Primary Skills: Acrobatics, Karate, Karate Art, Jumping, Running.
Secondary Skills: Parry Missile Weapons.
Optional Skills: Judo, Spear, Broadsword.
Maneuvers: Axe Kick, Jump Kick, Sweep Kick.
Cinematic Skills: Flying Leap, Mental Strength, Power Blow.
Cinematic Maneuvers: Flying Jump Kick, Roll With Blow.
Primary Spells: Walk on Air, Haste, Wallwalker.
Optional Spells: Great Haste (VH), Cloud Vaulting (VH).
Prerequisites: Magery plus Apportation, Create Air, Purify Air, Shape Air.

Flaming Fist ("Fist of Agni")


17 points/24 points

This fearsome style uses flurries of punches, kicks, and fireballs interspersed to force a foe to submission. The style is explosive, and includes a lot of theatrical moves that are more show than substance. Opponents should be warned that this style is dangerous for all of its flashiness. Chi-powered Flaming Fist masters launch both Fireballs and punches and kicks at range using Flying Fists.

Some variants of this style use a variant version of Flaming Weapon that works only on the caster's fists and feet! For this sub-style add Flaming Weapon (Fists) to the Spells; remove Fireball and Spell Throwing Fireball. Style cost decreases by 1.

Primary Skills: Acrobatics, Karate, Karate Art, Spell Throwing (Fireball).
Secondary Skills: Fire-Eating.
Optional Skills: Hypnotism, Performance.
Maneuvers:Back Kick, Hook Kick, Jab, Spin Kick.
Cinematic Skills:Breaking Blow, Flying Fists, Meditation, Mental Strength, Power Blow.
Cinematic Maneuvers:Springing Attack, Roll with Blow.
Primary Spells: Fireball [2], Create Fire, Resist Fire.
Optional Spells: Flaming Armor, Burning Touch.
Prerequisites: Magery plus Ignite Fire, Extinguish Fire, Heat, Cold, Shape Fire.

Transforming Fist ("Claw of the Tiger")


16 points/37 points

Animal styles of Kung-Fu are popular, but some styles transcend mere aping of animal styles and transform the stylist into that animal. The style below is for the very popular tiger style. A style exists for each Shapeshifting spell -- for example "Bear Kung-Fu," "Bloodfist of the Eagle Kung-Fu," "Snake Fist," and so on -- and can exist for other Shapeshifting spells otherwise unknown. Imaginative stylists may develop have Shapeshifting (Giant Mantis), Shapeshifting (Monkey), Shapeshifting (Wombat) (for "Byzantine Shadow Wombat Kung-Fu") . . .

All maneuvers in this style are taught for both human form and animal form. In tiger form, the stylist will bite instead of grappling, and Shuto becomes a slipping bite designed to confuse aggressive defenders. Springing Attack is very powerful when executed by a triple-strength stylist in tiger form. Tiger stylists tend to go for the neck or head with their attacks.

Primary Skills: Acrobatics, Jumping, Karate, Wrestling.
Secondary Skills: Animal Handling, Intimidation.
Optional Skills: Naturalist, Survival (Jungle).
Maneuvers: Head Lock, Hit Location (Karate), Neck Snap, Shuto.
Cinematic Skills: Blind Fighting, Flying Leap, Mental Strength, Power Blow.
Cinematic Maneuvers:Enhanced Dodge, Springing Attack, Roll with Blow.
Primary Spells: Shapeshifting (Tiger) [2].
Optional Spells: Beast Soother, Beast Speech, Master.
Prerequisites: Magery plus six spells of any kind. Animal spells are very popular prerequisites for this style.

* * *

Special thanks goes to Chad Underkoffler for his inspiration and encouraging me to use The Crucible, and Adam Solis, who came up with the idea of "One Style Magery" on the Pyramid Message Boards and graciously permitted me to use it here.

Article publication date: May 28, 2004

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