Your First Spells

Happy Thursday, the day when GURPS goodness descends upon us from all over the web!

Because the basic posts of the “New to GURPS” series were limited to things found in GURPS Lite, we haven’t yet talked about spells, something we’re about to correct. The default magic system is explained on pp. 234-253 of “Characters.”

For the most part, spells are just very specialized skills. Anyone with the Magery advantage (and a source of learning) can buy spells as if they were IQ Hard skills (sometimes Very Hard). The level of a character’s Magery advantage is added to their IQ for this purpose (for example, a wizard with an IQ of 14 and Magery 2 learns spells as though his IQ is 16), and the process for actually casting is on p. 235. Different classes of spells (i.e., information, missile, area) work slightly differently.

We’ll see a couple of spells in action in the upcoming combat examples, but as an introduction, let’s have Kerna cast a few easy ones to see the mechanics.

A small harassing mob of the Orcs local to Kerna’s outpost attacked in the night. They were easily rebuffed, but now the Knights Defenders are clearing the battlefield of the Orc dead and wounded. Kerna is given a detail of 10 men-at-arms to get the job done.

The first thing she does is pick up a broken spear shaft and cast Continual Light (p. 249) on the end. This is a Regular class spell, with a time to cast of 1 second (turn) and a fatigue cost of 4 (to get light equivalent to a fire). She takes the Concentrate maneuver for 1 second, and at the end of that turn rolls against her Continual Light skill level of 13, succeeding with an 11. She then rolls 2d (as noted in the spell description) and gets a total of 7 — the light will last for 7 days.

Kerna’s Fatigue Points are lowered from 12 to 8 (making her a bit tired), and the end of the wooden shaft now glows brightly. She uses that light to walk the field with her men, giving orders on how and where to assemble the bodies.

At one patch of the fallen there is an Orc survivor pinned beneath the bodies of his comrades, wounded but still snarling and baring fangs at the soldiers who approach. Rather than simply kill him with an arrow or endanger her men, Kerna stands 1 yard away and casts Daze (pp. 250-251) on the Orc, a Regular class spell resisted by the target’s HT, with a time to cast of 2 seconds and a fatigue cost of 3. She takes one Concentrate maneuver, then another (since the Orc can’t go anywhere).

Though her Daze skill level is 11, she is not touching the target — she is standing 1 yard away, so her effective skill is 10 (-1 for being 1 yard away from the target; see “Regular Spells,” p. 239). At the end of that second turn, she rolls against her effective Daze skill level of 10, succeeding with a 9 (a margin of success of 1).

The Orc rolls against his HT of 11 to resist the spell, succeeding with an 11 (a margin of success of 0). Since Kerna succeeded on her roll by more, the spell effect takes place. Kerna’s FP are lowered from 8 to 5 — she is now very tired. The trapped Orc seems unaware of the four guards who approach him. He snaps out of it when they roughly grab his hands and feet and bind them with manacles, but by then it is too late, and he is marched off to the outpost’s dungeon.

While her detail piles the remainder of the Orc bodies in the center of the field as instructed, Kerna sits down quietly to rest. Fatigue Points regenerate at the rate of 1 FP every 10 minutes of rest, so after about an hour her FP are raised from 5 to 11 (60 minutes of rest = +6 FP).

She walks to the scores of dead Orcs piled in the field and begins to cast Create Fire (p. 246), an Area class spell, with a time to cast of 1 and a base cost of 2. Because the pile is so large, Kerna wants to affect a 3-yard radius around the center, so the final FP cost is 6 (base cost of 2 x 3-yard radius; see the diagram on p. 239). She lays her hand on the ground at the edge of the area of effect, to avoid any range penalties, and takes a Concentrate maneuver for 1 second. At the end of that turn, she rolls against her Create Fire skill level of 11, failing with a 14. Oops!

Even a failed spell costs 1 FP (p. 235), so Kerna’s FP are reduced from 11 to 10. Annoyed, she kneels down again, takes another Concentrate maneuver, and rolls once more, still against her Create Fire skill level of 11. This time, she succeeds with a roll of 11. Her FP are lowered from 10 to 4 — she is very tired! Had her FP gone down to 3 instead of 4, her Move, Dodge, and ST would all be halved until she could rest (p. 426).

The pile of bodies is engulfed in flame. The spell itself will last for a full minute, and by that time the bodies should be burning enough that the flames will continue on their own, without magical assistance. Mission accomplished, the weary Kerna returns to the outpost for some much needed rest.


And presto, there you go! That’s the basics of magic in GURPS. For the most part, using a spell is like using any other skill, but some things to keep in mind:

  • The range penalty for Regular spells is -1 per yard of distance. That adds up quickly, so unless your spell level is really high, it helps a lot to be close to the target. Note that a weapon with a reach of 1 (or more) can allow you to “touch” things from further away (see “Magic Staffs,” p. 240).
  • Casting times can also be reduced by knowing spells at high levels (see pp. 236-237, under “Energy Cost”).
  • Casting even just a few spells can be exhausting. Dedicated mages (as opposed to a dabbler like Kerna) would likely buy extra fatigue and high spell levels to offset this (and if you have GURPS Magic, there are also powerstones — see p. 20 in that book. GURPS Powers, p. 70, also has an enhancement for the Regeneration advantage to be used to recover FP).
  • Though the magic system in the Basic Set is the default one, GURPS has a lot of alternatives, including those found in chapters 27 and 28 of GURPS Magic, the GURPS Thaumatology series, and various issues of Pyramid magazine. Your choices are legion!

See you next week for another look at skills and skill contests.


Also in New to GURPS – Intermediate

Extending the "New to GURPS" discussion beyond GURPS Lite to the Basic Set (Characters and Campaigns).

  1. Intermediate Character – Kerna Dallon
  2. Your First Spells
  3. Intermediate Skills and Contests
  4. Intermediate Melee Combat
  5. Intermediate Ranged Combat
  6. Equipping Your GURPS Character
  7. Intermediate Recovery
  8. Intermediate Scene

View the entire series


  1. One oft overlooked option for powerful mages is the “Regeneration (FP Only)” Advantage, located on Page 70 of the GURPS Powers supplement.

    This Advantage allows them to keep churning out spells longer than they otherwise could. With the application of an Accessibility Limitation (Characters, Page 110), you can reduce the cost of this Advantage so that the mage in question can only recover FP used for spells, only recover said FP at night, only recover FP used for Fire spells, etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.