I’ve been slack in posting, but there hasn’t been much by way of updates. Three of my four players have been out of town for the past week, so we haven’t continued with the campaign. I’ve taken opportunity during the lull to work on game world design, specifically the magic systems of Ardania. The standard magic system in GURPS works great, and the list of available spells is extensive. But it’s plain, lacking in color and excitement. I was looking for something more vivid and memorable, something requiring more role-playing on the players part, and something to make magic more central to the story.
So I dusted off my copy of GURPS Thaumatology and started reading. And reading. And reading even more. Whew! There’s a lot of ideas crammed into the 272 page book. A number of major systems of magic are presented with plenty of options for personalization. It took me several times through before I began to grasp some of the finer intricacies, but it was well worth the effort. With some assistance from fellow gamers over at the GURPS forums, I managed to devise a few workable systems for use within my game world.
Throughout the next week or so I will be writing about these magic systems that characterize the world of Ardania. Topics will include the ritual magic paths used by academic mages throughout the land, and the syntactic magic used by the elves. While these systems are quite distinct from one another, they are united by one singular characteristic: threshold limits. The balance of this post is devoted to describing Threshold-Limited magic and how it works in Ardania.
In the standard magic system employed by GURPS, energy costs are deducted from fatigue points. When a character’s fatigue points drop to zero, that’s it….no more spells until they’ve rested. Of course, in an emergency HP can be used to cast spells, but if a mage pushes too far, they could die. Ardanian magic differs in that it uses the Threshold-Limited magic system, described in Thaumatology (p. 76.) Each character has their own Threshold Limit. When a mage casts a spell, the energy cost is added to that character’s running total, their Power Tally. When this tally exceeds their Threshold Limit, catastrophic results can occur. The greater they exceed their Threhold limit, the worse the effects might be. This system tends to be more cinematic, allowing mages to cast powerful spells in an emergency, at the risk of bad things happening.
In addition to tallying energy points, mages also subtract a fatigue point each time they successfully cast a spell or roll a critical failure. This has the effect of maintaining some control, while at the same time representing the small amount of effort it takes to cast magic. Fatigue points are restored by resting per the standard GURPS rules. Power tallies are recovered a little each day. A fixed number of points are recovered at sunrise every morning.
Each race in Ardania has their own specific Threshold Limit and Recovery Rate. Human mages have a Threshold Limit of 30 and a Recovery Rate of 8, while non-mages have a limit of 20 and a rate of 4. All elves, whether mages or not, have a Threshold Limit of 40 and a Recovery Rate of 6. This is due to their inborn affinity to magic. As I continue to develop magic systems for other races, they will have their own racial threshold limits and recovery rates assigned. For this current campaign, however, humans and elves are all I need to concern myself with.
There is a limit to how powerful a single spell can be. Mages can cast spells with energy costs of no more than 5 times their Threshold Limit. This means a mage with a threshold limit of 30 can cast a spell costing 150 energy points! This is crazy high and will likely kill the mage, or worse. But setting a limit keeps world-changing magic at bay. Speaking of high power tally, a mage who is approaching or has exceeded their threshold limit puts off a turbulent magic aura, detectable by those able to perceive magic auras. Keep this in mind if you want to infiltrate the enemy camp and go undetected!
As previously mentioned, a mage who has exceeded their Threshold Limit risks bad things happening. Every time the power tally exceeds the threshold limit, and every time a spell is cast when the mage is already over the limit, a calamity check is made. This is true even if the spell costs 0 energy. The GM rolls 3d and adds 1 to the roll for every full five points by which the power tally exceeds the threshold limit. Calamities take effect immediately, and the effects will not necessarily be known to the mage! For now I will be using the Calamity table from Thaumatology (p. 77), but eventually I hope to create custom tables for different situations.
Some new advantages are available to mages in Ardania: Increased Threshold, costing 5 points per level of advantage, increases the mage’s threshold limit by 20% of the starting campaign level, per advantage level. Rapid Magical Recovery, also costing 5 points per level, will increase the rate at which a mage recovers energy each morning. This is 25% per advantage level. Finally, Safer Magical Excess, at 10 points per advantage level, reduces the likely hood of really, really bad things happening.
Due to the nature of Threshold-Limited magic, certain energy spells have been modified: Lend Energy restores FP by increasing the mage’s power tally. The caster may cast this on himself or herself. The Recover Energy spell does not exist. Share Energy allows one mage to add twice the spell cost to the caster’s Power Tally instead of his own, at a maximum rate of 10 points per second.
Magic items also operate differently. Many magical items have an energy cost to use them. Such items either add to the user’s tally, or have their own threshold limit and recovery rate. For items that have their own threshold limit and recovery rate, this normally defaults to 10 and 4, respectively. However, the mage enchanting an item can change this using rules analogous to those found in Magic (p. 70) under Dedicated Powerstones.
Finally we come to Luithia Stones. More commonly known as buffer objects (Thaumatology, p. 80), Luithia Stones function by absorbing energy points that would otherwise be added to a mage’s Power Tally. They allow a mage to cast more powerful spells while reducing the risk of calamities. Luithia Stones recover at a rate of 1 point per every 2 days. And for those who are curious, the name Luithia is the Sindarin word meaning “quench.”
That’s all for now. I hope you have found this interesting and possibly useful for your campaign. In my next post on Ardanian magic I will describe the Elven magic. Until then, happy gaming!