by Stephen Kenson

Art by andi jones

Cyberpunk-Fantasy is one of the most popular "genre jams" in roleplaying: the juxtaposition of magical fantasy against the high-tech, low-life future. GURPS Technomancer presents an alternate 20th century Earth where the Trinity nuclear test unleashed magic on an unsuspecting world. GURPS Cyberworld describes a dark future of government corruption and corporate control. "Zauberpunk" is a setting that combines the two. "Zauber" is a German word for "magic." Zauberpunk is when magic meets the low-life punk ethos of the One-and-Twenty.


The history from GURPS Technomancer happens as described. What follows is a brief outline of events from GURPS Cyberworld, with an emphasis on any changes brought about by the existence of magic. In the 21st century, pressure fell increasingly on the United States as the "policeman of the world." Former Soviet Russia formed an economic alliance with Japan, promising resources, magical knowledge, and a ready work-force in exchange for technology. This formed the beginning of an ongoing Russo-Japanese alliance, in economic competition with the powerful North American corporations.

In 1999, there was a huge outbreak of Ambulatory Necrotic Plague world-wide. Plague zombies infected huge segments of the population, and there was a rise in associated necromantic and magic-resistant diseases, notably vampirism. Many governments and municipalities were forced to declare martial law in order to keep the plague under control. Riots and breakdowns in infrastructure followed.

In 2006, problems caused by the necrotic plague and subsequent concerns about magic use led to a world-wide stock market crash called the Grand Slam. The disaster sent inflation skyrocketing in most nations and led to a restructuring of the world financial system, as well as increasing lack of confidence in magical forms of prediction, which failed to foresee the crash.

The greatest change for the United States came in 2010, when President Burris was killed by an assassin using an anti-personnel rocket armed with an enchanted warhead. Vice-President Patterson immediately assumed office and blame fell on a terrorist group called the Army of Satanic Order (ASO). President Patterson called for immediate strikes against the ASO and exposed to the nation a vast, demonic conspiracy. Almost immediately, stronger measures for controlling magic and mages were passed through Congress, to prevent the "demonic threat" from spreading. Numerous wizards who failed to cooperate were blacklisted.

In 2024, the continuing deterioration of American society led to mass riots and civil unrest. President Patterson suspended the Constitution and declared martial law. Full power is given to the Provisional Government (ProGov) "for the duration of the emergency." Some 20 years later, ProGov is still in control, and the "state of emergency" seems permanent. America is a dictatorship, under the rule of the ProGov and the National Emergency Resource Coordinating Commission (NERCC), or the "nerks."

The World

In 2045, exactly 100 years after the formation of the Hellstorm, the world is a very different place. The United States remains under the rule of the ProGov and the NERCC, led by ProPrez Adam Hammond. The country has a "citizenship scale" that rates a citizen's rights and privileges. Mages are given preference, provided they are willing to cooperate and abide by the ProGov's restrictions. The NERCC and the ProGov's propaganda machine still rely on the specter of a "demonic conspiracy" to keep citizens in line. Chimera tend to be low-scale, unless they have some kind of useful skills or influence. Societal prejudice towards chimera has grown, since they are often associated with fears of "demonic magic."

The truth is far more disturbing than most people imagine. In fact, there is a demonic conspiracy, but the ProGov isn't fighting it, they are it. President Patterson sold his soul to demonic forces for the aid necessary to achieve his coup, and his followers are similarly indebted to demons who move unseen in the halls of power in Washington. Nobody knows exactly what these demons want; they may simply enjoy causing human suffering, or their machinations may be preparations for some kind of invasion or other demonic plot. A few fringe conspiracy-theorists who have figured out what's going on suspect the demons may be setting up for Armageddon.

Mexico's government fell during a particularly harsh outbreak of necrotic plague. The nation was annexed by the United States, both to ensure control of Mexico's considerable magical resources and to deal with any security risk posed by plague outbreaks and rumors of "blood sacrifice cults." The ProGov treats the Mexican states like poor relations. There is a small, but growing, rebel movement which has attracted many disaffected mages and chimera.

In 2025, Argentina, backed by the Condor Group, invaded and annexed its neighbor Chile. The United States and other nations were too concerned with their own affairs to notice. Argentina is the major power in the Southern Hemisphere, and their neighbors wait and watch fearfully, waiting for another invasion. American authorities are also concerned about possible Argentine aggression, and maintain the Central American nations as "buffer states."

The Russo-Japanese Alliance is a major world power, with considerable manufacturing clout. Although it still lags behind America in terms of technomagic, the Alliance is continuing to rise as America sinks into the grip of the "permanent emergency."

China's moderate reform government collapsed in 2032. Since then, China has maintained a "bamboo curtain" against all outsiders. China remains at the technological forefront in alchemy and genetics, and rumors of strange Chinese genetic experiments abound.

United Europe is a moderately stable alliance of nations, playing second-fiddle to the larger and more powerful alliances like the Russo-Japanese and the Americans.

In 2037, Australia suffered a terrible outbreak of an unknown strain of Ambulatory Necrotic Plague. In a matter of five months, every person on the continent was dead, a great many of them reanimated as plague zombies or other strange undead. The surviving Australian government established itself in New Zealand, and the world-community has quarantined Australia; destroying any plane or ship attempting to leave. Thus far, no viable solution has been offered for dealing with the "zombie nation." Weapons of mass destruction are too likely to cause environmental problems, and no two nations can agree on a military solution. Governments and corporations are known to back covert missions to Australia to collect technological information and resources or data on the necrotic plague. Otherwise, the nation is off-limits.

The Megacorporations

One of the strongest powers on the One-and-Twenty is the megacorporations or "korps," which have continued to grow in power and influence all throughout the worst troubles the world has faced. They are dominated by the "unholy trinity" of the Leviathan Group, Manadynamics and Sephiroth Industries, the three largest corporations in the world. After the top three come various other corporations like North American Technology & Thaumaturgy (NAT&T), Kosmozavot Tenno-Tanjo, Ishido Communications, Korsakov-Shimadzu, Rio Largo Manufacturing (Argentina) and Fabrique Europa.

The korps have little or no interest in politics, provided they do not interfere with their bottom line. Many korps recruit mageborn from America and other nations, providing them with education and shelter from some of the harsher realities of life in the 21st century.


Magic has accelerated the race into space. The Moon is home to America's Kennedy Base, supported by NASA as a space colony and mining facility. Other outposts on the Moon include a Russo-Japanese moonbase and mining facility. Major orbital stations include the American Hermes platform, the Russian Mir station, the Russo-Japanese Tenno-Tanjo platform and Sephiroth's Tiphares and Kether stations. Argentina is clearly gearing up for ventures into space, constructing an orbital teleportation facility near Tierra del Fuego. The race is on for missions to Mars between the Russo-Japanese, the Americans and Argentina.

Magic in the One-and-Twenty

Magic still has a major impact on the development of technology in the 21st century. Technomagic has pushed many areas of development to Tech Level 8 or even higher in some cases. The major technological developments include:

New Spells

Golem Limb (VH) Enchantment

Similar to the Golem spell (GURPS Magic, p. 39) this enchantment animates a prosthetic limb and attaches it to a wearer, making it a functional replacement for a missing limb. The spell grants the prosthetic full flexibility and range of motion, regardless of its material composition; a solid metal limb can function normally using this spell. Many ancient heroes possessed golem limbs, like Nuada of the Silver Arm, from Celtic myth.

The limb has DX equal to that of the wearer and ST 14. Additional DX and ST can be enchanted into it as well. The wearer can feel through the limb, but does not feel pain from damage done to it. Damage to the limb does not heal normally, but any Healing spell can repair it.

A golem arm costs character points equal to 30% of the cost for the difference in ST and 60% of the cost for the difference in DX, half that for a golem hand. A golem leg costs 10 character points.

Energy Cost to Cast: 200. Additional DX costs 500 per +1. Additional ST costs 300 per +1. Halve costs for a prosthetic hand.
Prerequisites: Enchant, Animation.

Graft Healing

The caster can use this spell to graft different biological or even non-biological parts onto a living creature. The subject of the spell must be either willing or unconscious and unable to resist. The spell ensures that the subject will not reject the graft. It becomes a normal part of the subject's body. Biological grafts continue to grow and heal normally, while non-living implants are harmlessly incorporated into the subject's body. This spell greatly eases implant and organ replacement surgery, ensuring compatibility. The caster is at -2 to graft biological parts not of the subject's species, and -4 for grafting non-living objects.

If a magic item is grafted to the subject, the subject can use the item normally. GMs may require subjects with grafted magical items to pay character points as if the item were a Knack (see below).

Energy Cost to Cast: 20. One try.
Time to Cast: one minute.
Prerequisites: Cure Disease, Restoration.

Knack Tattoo (VH) Enchantment

Grants a subject a magical Knack (GURPS Magic, p. 86) by tattooing a pattern on the subject's skin. The tattoo covers a number of square inches equal to the knack's cost in character points; so a Night Vision tattoo (Energy Cost 200) would cost 4 points and cover four square inches. The design of the tattoo can be whatever the caster desires, although it must incorporate some appropriate symbols for the knack being enchanted. GMs may require characters who get knack tattoos to devote any earned character points to paying for them.

Energy Cost to Cast: Equal to the energy cost of an equivalent magic item.
Prerequisites: Tattooing 12+, Enchant, one spell from each of 10 different colleges.


In 2021, Manadynamics perfected the Graft and Golem Limb spells, starting the "zauberware" revolution. Originally designed to provide replacement limbs and organs for medical purposes, zauberware quickly spread beyond its original designs and became almost a fashion trend. Other corporations began developing their own zauberware designs.

Common zauberware includes golem limbs, often with enhanced ST or DX or built-in weapons like Claws or Flame Jet. Replacement eyes are enchanted with spells like Aura, Mage Sight, Dark Vision, Hawk Vision and See Invisible. Implants providing Dexterity, Might and Vigor are also known. Zauberware can duplicate virtually any of the implants from GURPS Cyberpunk or GURPS Ultra-Tech, along with some unique technomagic combos:

Hideaway Flesh Holster (TL9)

A flesh holster (GURPS Ultra-Tech, p. 107) can be enchanted with Hideaway, allowing it to hold much larger and heavier objects than normal, such as large weapons (rifles, swords, even spears). The object still must be able to fit through the opening of the flesh holster. Such holsters are generally enchanted so as not to add to encumbrance.

Powerstone Implant (TL8)

A powerstone can be implanted in a suitable body cavity. The advantage is that the user is always "touching" the powerstone and can drawn on its stored energy at any time. The stone is also difficult to detect and take away. The limitation is that other powerstones recharge slowly in the presence of the wearer and the implanted powerstone cannot be upgraded without removing it surgically. For game purposes, the character is considered to have the Extra Fatigue advantage, with the -30% limitation "Only for spellcasting."

Scrollchip (TL10)

A scrollchip is a TL10 version of a digital scroll from Technomancer. It is used in the same manner, except the user must have a suitable jack to plug the scrollchip in.

Spellchip (TL10)

A spellchip is a skill chip (GURPS Ultra-Tech 2, p. 117) with the knowledge of a particular spell encoded onto it. The chip provides the user with the knowledge necessary to cast the spell, however the user must either be a mage or in a High Mana area like the Manabelt. The spellchip ignores all prerequisites except Magery requirements. The user expends fatigue on the casting normally, adjusted for the effective skill provided by the chip.

Ghostchip (TL10)

A ghost chip is a receptacle for a Soul Jar spell. The chip has all the normal properties of a soul jar, plus the spirit in the chip can attempt to "possess" anyone who jacks the chip. Roll a Contest of Skills between the spirit's Will and the subject's. If the spirit wins, it takes control of the subject's body for as long as it wishes. If the subject wins, the spirit cannot try again for at least an hour. A ghostchip enchanted with Machine Possession can also "take over" any machine it is plugged into, including a computer. If the data on a ghost chip is ever erased, the spirit is destroyed.

Chimera Grafts

The Graft, Alter Visage and Alter Body spells permit the creation of artificial chimera, adding animal traits to otherwise normal humans. These include virtually any of the traits of chimera from Technomancer, as well as any other animal features permitted by the GM. Gangs often go in for common animal-traits, like sharp teeth and cat's eyes, for example. Alter Visage and Alter Body spells are common for cosmetic changes, while Graft is used to provide more comprehensive alterations, like adding new limbs or other organs. Players and GMs can consult GURPS Bio-Tech for additional inspiration.

Tattoo Magic

Tattoo Knacks are popular enchantments, especially among the young and organizations like the Yakuza. Most street-tattoos focus on protective or sensory spells, along with some combat-useful spells like Might or Dexterity. A mage can determine what spell a tattoo provides using Identify Spell. Any of the legally restricted spells from Technomancer are also legally restricted as knacks.

Street Alchemy

Alchemy has filtered its way down to the streets in the One-and-Twenty. Backroom alchemists set up illegal labs to brew different elixirs and sell them on the black market. Various legally-controlled elixirs from Technomancer like combat elixirs, Lecherousness and Love can be bought cheaply on the streets. Mana-active drugs like PHTP and spelljack are epidemic on the streets, both in high and low society.

Some zauberware can take advantage of different elixirs. Characters with a Poison Reservoir can carry an elixir rather than a normal toxin. Morpheus is a popular choice.

Sample Characters

"Aqua" Reggie Vasquez, street alchemist (100 points)

ST: 10 [0], DX: 10 [0], IQ: 14 [45], HT: 10 [0]
Advantages: Acute Taste and Smell +5 [10], Contacts [three] (Street; skill-18, 9 or less, somewhat reliable) [9], Magical Resistance +3 [6], Resistant to Poison [5].
Disadvantages: Enemy (Drug and Alchemy Enforcement Agency, 6 or less) [-15], Greed [-15], Stubbornness [-5]
Quirks: Never uses drugs himself; Very punctual; Thinks mageborn just "got lucky"; Attracted to fox chimera; likes to give his potions pleasing flavors.
Skills: Alchemy-16 [16]; Biochemistry-12 [2]; Computer Operation-15 [2]; Cooking-14 [1]; Driving-9 [1]; Fast-Talk-14 [2]; Merchant-14 [2], Pharmacy-15 [6]; Poisons-13 [2]; Streetwise-14 [2]; Thaumatology-13 [4]
Zauberware: Claws [15], Poison Reservoir [10]

"Aqua" Reggie Vasquez is a freelance street alchemist, brewing up elixirs in his home laboratory and selling them to a variety of customers. He makes everything from home-brewed hair-restoratives and birth control elixirs for the Low-Cs who can't legally buy the good stuff, to combat and mind-control elixirs for sale to the black market. He always keeps a few elixirs on hand, just in case. Reggie's one restriction is that he doesn't deal in drugs; no spelljack, no addictive potions. He doesn't like to mess with that stuff. Otherwise, if the money's good, he's in. Reggie is wanted by the Drug and Alchemy Enforcement Agency for several counts of illegal production and distribution of elixirs.

Johnny Demonic, cyberwiz (100 points)

ST: 10 [0], DX: 10 [0], IQ: 14 [45], HT: 10 [0].
Advantages: Lightning Calculator [5], Magery 2 [25], Mathematical Ability [10], Zeroed [10].
Disadvantages: Addiction (Stimulants) [-5], Curious [-5], Low Empathy [-15], Skinny [-5], Unfit [-5].
Quirks: Always wears mirrorshades, even indoors; Celebrates major victories by getting a new tattoo; Cheats at computer games, then later regrets it; Avoids sleeping when he's "on the job"; Eats constantly, but never gains weight.
Skills: Area Knowledge (Net)-14 [1]; Computer Games-13 [1]; Computer Hacking-16 [4]; Computer Operation-15 [2]; Computer Programming-17 [4]; Cryptanalysis-13 [2]; Electronics (Computers)-15 [2]; Electronics Operation (Computers)-14 [2]; Mathematics-15 [1]; Research-13 [1].
Spells: (base skill level 14, 13 with VH): One point was spent each of the following spells: Seek Number, Wrong Number, Identify Caller, Magic Switchboard, Sense Foes, Sense Emotion, Truthsayer, Mind-Reading, Soul Rider, Speed Data, Purify Air, Create Air, No-Smell, Static Charge, Ether Static, Seek Emitter, Purify Signal, Lightning, Seek Food, Know Recipe, History, Measurement, Seeker, Trace, Scryguard, Counterspell, Ward, Keen Eyes, Apportation, Locksmith, Voices, Seek Machine, Reveal Function, Machine Possession, Magnetic Vision.

Johnny was trained by a korp. He won't say which, but rumor has it that it's one of the big-boys, maybe even Sephiroth or Manadyne. Instead of working as a korporate wage-slave, he decided to hit the streets and make use of his talents as a magical hacker and "computer consultant" to earn a living. Before he left, he erased all traces of his existence from the korporate and government computer banks. He also got some face-work done, such that most of his old acquaintances wouldn't even recognize him these days. Johnny conducts most of his business over the Net, a lot of his clients have never even seen him, and rumors abound that he's everything from an awakened computer to a real demon living in the Net.


Characters in a Zauberpunk game are most likely to be street operatives working for the korps, or rebels working against the ProGov and their demonic patrons, or both. GMs can run a fairly straightforward action-adventure campaign with the characters as mercenaries, street-ops or even government or corporate special forces. Conspiracy campaigns involving the ProGov, demons, mysterious artificial intelligences and Seelie abductions are also a good possibility. GMs can easily adapt adventures for other cyberpunk games, particularly Shadowrun, to the zauberpunk setting.


The zauberpunk setting provides fertile ground for crossovers with several other GURPS settings:

CthulhuPunk: Perhaps the stars were right during the Trinity nuclear test and Oppenheimer's ill-timed words did more than just bring magic into the world. Perhaps they awakened the Great Old Ones from their slumber and started the world down the road to ruin. In this case, the "demonic conspiracy" behind the ProGov is actually Mythos-inspired. It is a simple matter for Cthuhuloid cults to operate in a world already filled with strange happenings, and creatures like Deep Ones or Ghouls are likely to be mistaken for new chimera or unusual forms of undead. The Seelie are almost certainly a cover for a Mythos creature (or several different ones).

Fantasy: Oppenheimer's unwitting "spell" may have actually attracted the dark elves' Banestorm. Perhaps the Hellstorm and the Banestorm are one in the same, or related in some way. Strange creatures may come out of the Hellstorm from time to time, and it is quite possible that wizards on Yrth or Earth might find ways to cross over. Perhaps the Seelie are actual elves or faeries from Yrth who are exploring Earth.

Reign of Steel: Experiments with the Awaken Computer spell prove disastrous, creating artificial intelligences hostile to humanity. When the AIs unleash magic-resistant plagues on humanity and begin using their own golems and constructs to take over, magically capable underground rebels have to fight back.

Time Travel: Infinity Unlimited discovered the parallel of Merlin (their name for the Technomancer Earth) during the "Soulburner" adventure in GURPS Time Travel Adventures. The Zauberpunk world may be Merlin's future, or yet another parallel with similarities to Merlin. As the Tech Level advances, Infinity is going to be watching very carefully, lest the inhabitants start experimenting more with dimensional and para-chronal travel. Perhaps the Seelie are para-chronic travelers themselves, from another parallel undiscovered by either Merlin or Infinity.

Article publication date: March 12, 1999

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