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Psychic Magic

Copyright 1996 by Curtis Shenton (curtiss@netcom.com)

I've been working on some ideas for psychic magic. What follows is a real rough first draft. You'll probably need a copy of GURPS Voodoo and GURPS Psionics to understand this.

The following rules for magic based on psychic powers are an attempt to create a magic system for GURPS that both better emulates certain fictional magic systems better than the default magic system and also encourages players to develop unique spells for their characters. Several authors have created worlds with magic systems that both feel more like psychic powers and depend more on inspiration and improvisation than a traditional list of spells. The art of witchcraft in Stephen Brust's Jhereg series, Kurtz's Deryni magic, and many of the novels by Barbara Hambley all have magic which isn't represented by the GURPS system very well. I've tried to create a system that combines elements from GURPS Voodoo as well as the psionics rules to better simulate these fantasy worlds.

A psychic magician has both a Power score which is measured in levels and Disciplines which are the skills used in creating magical effects. If a psychic magician also has the psionic power that corresponds with a Discipline they wish to use they can add their levels in the psionic power to their Power score for purposes of determining the effects of that spell.

Power costs 10 points per level. The GM can impose limits on how many levels can be purchased and/or combine Power with other advantages and disadvantages to create a system like the levels of Initiation in GURPS Voodoo. For example a GM can say that in her world all psychic magicians become sensitive to cosmic forces when they gain levels of Power. In her world the first level of Power costs 25 points and includes the 15 point Awareness advantage, second level of power costs 25 points as well and includes bring up the Awareness advantage to the 35 point version and a Dread of psibegone a substance that nullifies psychic power and magic but is Rare (which makes Dread a 5 point disadvantage). After that it's 9 points a level, each level extending the Dread of psibegone by 2 hexes.

Disciplines are Mental/Very Hard skills. The primary skill is Psychic Magic which the actual Disciplines default from at -6. There is a Disciplines for each psionic power in GURPS and sub Disciplines for each of the associated skills of the Psionic power. Sub Disciplines normally default to the main Discipline at -2 but if the psionic skill has prerequisite skills or powers different from the power the skill is based on there is an additional -2 per prerequisite. For example the skill Lightning has the prerequisite Surge at 12+, so the sub Discipline Lightning would default from the Electrokinesis Discipline at -4 and would require the sub Discipline Surge to be known at 12+.

Most spells will have the same duration as the equivalent psionic effect. Usually that means the magician must make a skill roll against their effective skill in the spell once per minute to maintain the effect. But spells can be built that will last without any need for the magician to maintain the effect.

Building Spells

A magician builds a spell using the following system of modifiers. Once the spell has been used successfully several times they can spend points to increase their chance to cast the spell as if it were a martial arts maneuver. A spell if treated as Hard if it only involves a single sub Discipline and Very Hard if it involves multiple sub Disciplines.
HardVery Hard
Default0 points0 points
Default+11/2 point1 point
Default+21 point2 points
Default+32 points4 points
Default+44 points6 points
Further increases cost 2 points a level.

Psychic Magic Modifiers

Reducing time to 10 minutes: -3 to ritual roll
Reducing time to 1 second: -6 to ritual roll
Taking normal time(normally 1 hour): 0
Extending Ritual: +2 per doubling of base time

Consecrated Ground
No consecrated Ground: -4
Makeshift consecration: -1
Consecrated Ground: 0
Place of Power: +1 to +4

Material Components
Material Focus: +1
Focus is very symbolically appropriate: +1
Focus is very symbolically inappropriate: -1
No material focus: 0
Relevant symbols: +1 to +4

Spell is uses less than casters full Power: +1 per two levels less
Spell uses more than casters full Power: -1 per level
(Note: a spell can only boost Power to 100% above the casters power)

Subject knows spell is being cast and believes caster can succeed: +1
Subject has no idea spell is being cast nor believes in magic: -1
Spell is very versatile: 0
Spell is somewhat limited: +1
Spell has a narrow scope: +2


Jonathan the Psychic Wizard wants to make sure his henchmen stay loyal. So he devises a spell that will splatter the psyche of anyone who betrays him all over the astral plane. To do this he decides to use the sub Discipline of Telerecieve to key the spell to any thoughts of disloyalty in the target's mind and Mental Blow targeted at Will to render the target helpless if they set the spell off. The ritual he devises takes 4 hours (+4 for two doublings), has the subject present (+4) and aware of the spell (+1), uses symbols for loyalty and death (+1), lasts for one month (-4), and because Jonathan only has a power of 10 and wants to have a good chance of dropping the target's will to 0 with this spell it has a Power +10 above the casters (-10). The scope of the telepathic effect is very narrow and so there is a +2 both skills since he can't use the Telereceive function to read a person's mind with this spell or to attack anything but the target's will with Mental Blow. This gives the spell a total penalty of -2 and Jonathan will have to make a roll against both his Telereceive and Mental Blow sub Discipline skills. If both rolls are made then the spell will drain the target's will by 2d6.

Once he's found a traitor Jonathan wants to be able to deal with them quickly. So he decides he needs an attack spell. Basing the spell on the Telekinesis sub Discipline he develops a spell to target a person's heart. It will take only a second to cast (-6), won't require consecrated ground (-4), will have the target present (+4), has a narrow scope (+2) and will involve shouting out a magical word for death followed by the victim's name(+1 for naming target). This results in a total penalty of -4. Jonathan will probably put a couple of points into this spell once he's practiced it to give himself a decent chance of getting it off in combat. If it succeeds, which requires both a roll against the spell and the normal IQ or Physician+3 roll to target Telekinesis on someone's organs, the target will take 1d6 damage a turn as long as Jonathan concentrates.