As GURPS initially evolved, a few different subsystems started getting added on to the core attribute-advantage-skill package. One of the very early ones was the magic system in GURPS Fantasy that added spells as a complex series of skills with other spells as prerequisite dependencies, a need for an advantage to be able to use them, and so on. This would grow, and be elaborated on, until Fourth Edition’s version of Magic was a 240-page book with a couple of PDF supplements adding even more spells.

Meanwhile, the concept of advantages grew, and became more nuanced and complex, especially with GURPS Supers 2e, which introduced modifiers to advantages. In Fourth Edition the entire system got overhauled and made as complete and flexible as possible. One of the results has been a number of ideas floating around as to how to do magic using the advantage system instead of as a series of skills. SJG finally released an official product in 2015 that used this approach: GURPS Thaumatology: Sorcery. (I find it interesting that Sorcery gets put in the Thaumatology line, even though it’s a spells-as-powers system, while the related concept of magic-as-patron in Divine Favor was put in the Powers line.)

Sorcery starts off laying out some very clear ground rules: All sorcerers need to have a new Sorcerous Empowerment advantage (…which is actually built off of existing abilities, and a side note talks about how) and should probably take the related talent that boosts all rolls with sorcery. Then, each spell the sorcerer knows must be bought, at one-fifth the normal cost (i.e., if it was a normal ability instead of one of many possible spells), but the Empowerment ability must be able to cover the full cost. All of this is relatively expensive (given spell costs are from 4 to 98 points with many leveled ones capable of going higher), and will keep beginning mages in a ‘normal’ 150-point campaign either relatively low-powered, or fairly specialized into sorcery (which is not exactly against genre expectations…). Costs can increase even further as a sorcerer can only have one spell ‘going’ at a time, but can get around this by paying full cost for his most expensive spell.

Further ground rules are established with eight keywords used to define how particular spells work with consistent mechanisms instead of redefining effects, resistance, etc., every time. Since ‘obvious’ is one of the keywords, this also allows the system to easily mark which spells are easy to identify as being cast by a particular person. All spells are defined as requiring at least one second (plus one second to switch between spells) and 1 Fatigue Point to cast (with a few needing more than that, and many of the underlying advantages needed modification to bring into line), and an option is presented of speaking and gesturing instead of the fatigue cost, with the idea that character would then need to do any two of the three (so, speaking and spending fatigued while bound, etc.). Finally, a sorcerer is actually able to improvise spells (to make up for the limited options at high cost), easily if they’ve spent ten times as many points on Empowerment than what the spell requires, or ‘hardcore improvisation’ involves spending 3 FP and a Will roll to cast any spell once that would be valid to learn with his current Empowerment. This could allow casting effects not covered by any spell, but it’s noted that the GM has final say, and could declare that only existing spells can be improvised (in fact, the author’s intent is more to allow a completely new spell only if the GM decides that it’s one that should already exist in the game world, but just hasn’t been written up yet).

The bulk of the book is taken up with the write-ups of 48 spells under this system (all adaptations of spells from Magic). While that is a good number to start with, it actually works out to about two spells per college in the normal skill-based system (and these are categorized in accordance with that), so no one subject gets very much attention, and building a specialist mage (rules for which are given) would be difficult currently. The surprising part is that the attack spells tend to be the cheapest, while ‘utility’ spells tend to be expensive; if you consider GURPS advantage pricing to be reasonably well balanced, this perfectly fine, but it is surprising when you’re used to systems that keep the nasty magical hurt people abilities under the lock and key of higher spell levels.

Surprisingly, there is also a six-page section on enchanting items, with another page on economics giving the wages of an enchanter at various Tech Levels (which affects the item prices!). There’s already been a couple of different systems for enchanting in GURPS, including an extensive one in Magic. That one I never cared for, as it’s geared around making very weak magic items, or making it so hard to do (so players don’t just make everything themselves) that it seems unlikely anyone would bother. This system is more flexible (Magic gives what kind of item each spell can be enchanted into, while Sorcery lets the enchanter choose his materials), but still tries to put some interesting brakes on PC enchanters by requiring more powerful items be made from more valuable items. It’s still costly, using “Spending of Yourself” in Thaumatology to require a few character points to be spent on creating non-trivial items as well as a decent amount of time. My main problem with the system is that it still assumes that any spell can be enchanted into an item, and anything that isn’t a spell can’t. However, with the points-based costs of everything, it would not be hard to work around this. A smaller problem I have is that it is assumed an existing item is being enchanted, and there’s still no support for enchantment through the act of creation, which is popular in a lot of fiction.


As a drop-in-and-play system, Sorcery is still underdeveloped, as the relatively low number of specific spells quickly becomes a problem. Hopefully, we will see sequels dedicated to rounding out the system some more (it should be noted here that an early version of this system appeared in Pyramid Vol 3, #63, and it has eighteen fire spells that aren’t in the current volume; also, Pyramid Vol 3 #82 included two more spells and a full sorcerer template for use with the Dungeon Fantasy line). Even if/when there are further volumes, an eager GM is going to need to make multiple purchases (of course, Google searches for other GM’s spells will help); I think this could be a great place for an eventual package deal.

That said, it’s a great book for tinkering GURPS GMs on two levels: First, all the mechanics are explained (though often kept out of the way in clearly marked boxes) so it is not hard to start making new spells on your own with just Basic Set (though Powers would help a lot). Second, the solutions for how to build some of the spell effects are very inventive, and there are ideas to be stolen here that can be used in completely different contexts.

As a magic system, it provides a very different feel to the standard GURPS solutions as there are no magic skill rolls. An attack spell still needs a ‘to-hit’ roll, and the target gets a defense roll, but normally a mage has to make a skill roll to cast the spell before even getting to that point. Most of the systems in Thaumatology don’t change this basic fact, but merely reduce the number of skills in use from dozens for the standard magic system (up to hundreds for a ‘know-it-all’ mage) to about a dozen in Path/Book, Syntactic, and related systems. Here, the relatively high expenditure of points declares this to be something the character can reliably do, and the initial point of failure is removed.

Also, since there’s no need for the logical prerequisite chains of the skill-based system, it’s possible for a GM to create a spell set that has deliberate holes in it. The standard skill-based system was built around mages learning small effects and working up to large ones, with enough prerequisites drawing from other areas to cause trouble if a GM wanted to disallow one college. Most of the other systems have enough flexibility that a mage can always do a small spell (light a fire) if he has a large spell. Only Path/Book and Sorcery can say A does not imply B (and Path/Book is built around longer rituals and hidden effects instead of the endless potential for flashiness in Sorcery).