Here’s another magic system for GURPS. This one has the goal to get some of the feel of old-fashioned D&D into GURPS. This not quite a complete system, as it should include rules for a character to create a new spell (either for normal use, or as a one-off project, such as enchanting his home with protections). But I’m a long way from figuring that out, and may never get around to it (which would be Part 2).


Most spellcasting ‘in the field’ uses thoroughly-researched pre-assembled spells. They are effectively recipes giving the general procedure to produce the desired effect, complete with instructions on how to make small adjustments for current conditions (positions of the stars and planets, current weather, etc.). Many of these spells have limitations that may seem odd or arbitrary, and most of the time this is because it is the most stable version of the spell, and least likely to start giving odd (and potentially disastrous) results because one planet happens to be in retrograde today. As long as a magic-user has a spellbook with a particular spell available to study (and double-check for needed adjustments) on a regular basis, these spells are very reliable, and are treated as Sorcery-style powers.

The rest of the time, magic is a drawn-out, tedious affair, where the magic-user determines exactly what he wants to do, and works out all the possible variables, and then plans the best time to perform his working (“The stars are right!”). This is usually the most efficient possible time, to keep the casting energy down to something reasonable.

Sorcerers using this system, which requires study of spellbooks and lots of gesturing and chanting are generally known as magic-users.

Standard Spellcasting

Magic-users should take the Sorcerous Empowerment advantage (T:S4), with the following limitations:

Fatigue from Encumbrance (-10%)

Every encumbrance level a character has (B17) adds one FP to the cost of casting a spell (which is normally 1 FP). Wearing no armor is not required, but is recommended! Some spell casters may not need this (elves are a possibility), possibly by paying for an Unusual Background, or as a Style benefit.

Fickle (-5%)

Spells are designed to be stable and predictable in use, but this is only a relative thing! A magic-user must keep a spellbook (see below) on him with all the spells he expects to use, and spend a hour studying it every day, as it contains tables and formulae as to what adjustments to make to keep his spells in normal bounds. If the spellbook is lost, not studied, or does not contain the spell being cast, roll a reaction roll (magic is not willful as assumed by Fickle, but can be very dangerous when misused) with the following modifiers:

  • +Sorcery Talent
  • –1/day the spell has not been studied (max. -10)
  • +2 to –2: Roll the college of the spell as complementary skill (Pyramid #3/70 p. 14)

On a Neutral or Good result the spell goes off as normal. A Bad or Poor result means the spell does not go off, while still taking the normal amount of FP. A Very Good or Excellent result will enhance a spell while Very Bad or worse result will cause it to do something unexpected and probably harmful. The GM should feel free to come up with results that fit the spell and situation. A Very Bad fireball may go off for normal damage and normal 3-yard radius area effect… with a maximum range of 1 yard. An Excellent hold portal spell may get free permanence… but only if the magic-user would not want it to last its normal duration.

With these limitations, Sorcery costs 17 points + 8.5/level.

It is possible to also take Limited Colleges as a limitation, though this might be rare, and it is probably more common to see it only on additional levels of Sorcerous Empowerment, while the base level is not limited.

Sorcery Talent (T:S5) is available as normal with a maximum of four levels.

Normal Improvisation (T:S6) works, but only for spells that the magic-user has learned at some point. It must exist in a spellbook the character has somewhere. If it is not in a spellbook the character has studied in the last day, the rules for fickle (above) apply. Hardcore improvisation is allowed in one circumstance: If a magic-user has a spell in his spellbook, has the Sorcerous Empowerment to learn the spell, but has not paid for it, it can be cast straight from the spellbook. This costs 3FP, but does not require a roll (unless he’s casting out someone else’s spellbook, then use the rules below as well), but it does require additional time: 30 seconds for every second the spell would normally take to cast. Note that if the spell requires gestures, the book must be proped up somehow so both the magic-user’s hands are free.

Under the Hood: That Ol’ Time D&D

D&D combat rounds are an entire minute. 1e AD&D specifies how many segments a spell takes to cast, with most spells being 1 segment, or 6 seconds (2e turned ‘segments’ into an initiative penalty) per spell level. Even when using “The Last Gasp” (Pyramid 3/44), GURPS combat is a lot faster paced, so when porting spells over consider 1 segment = 1 second, which puts most 1st level spells at the usual 1 second cast time.

The rough guideline for damage is 1d/second of cast time(/level), which keeps it close to what Magic allows. Damaging spells are generally not leveled; damage is kept flat in accordance with HP generally being flat in GURPS (though other types of survivability gets better).

All spells have a definite time limit, meaning they cannot be maintained (T:S8), and must be re-cast on occasion. On the other hand, this means that a magic-user can always switch to and cast another spell, unless there’s a spell effect that he must Concentrate on to control (this happens, but is rare).

Under the Hood: Bound and Gagged

Magic-users cannot generally cast spells while silenced (gagged, etc.) or immobilized (paralyzed, bound, etc.). This requires extensive use of the limitations Requires Gestures (-10%) and Requires Magic Words (-10%) on spells. If all magic has these limitations, just remember to apply them to any abilities ported over to this system (so all standard Sorcery spells have their costs adjusted by an extra -20% modifier). It is possible to let some spells only require one or the other: figure this out while working up the spell description, and use two extra keywords: “Somatic” and “Verbal” in the spell listings to note the limitations (my spells all assume this system).

This means that Alternative Rituals (T:S7), or any variants thereof are not used with Dungeons & Sorcery. A magic-user always pays 1FP, and will usually need to gesture and chant. Note that a magic-user is somewhat more limited than a standard sorcerer, but both his spells and Sorcerous Empowerment are notably cheaper; also, the latter also has the effect of making normal improvisation (T:S6) easier (though the requirement of it being in the magic-user’s spellbook limits the scope).


All spells should also be given a college of study as a keyword. These are also specializations of Thaumatology (defaulting to it at -6). Anyone with limited colleges on their Sorcery needs to pick from the following list. The only use for the skills, as given here, is to get bonuses against unstudied casting, but these are actually the skills needed to develop new spells, or perform a one-off casting.

Abjuration: This is the study of protection. Abjuration can be used to prevent or banish effects and creatures, and are used to provide safety from danger.

Alteration: The use of magical energy to change the properties of an existing creature, item or condition.

Conjuration/Summoning: This college studies the means to bring items to the caster from elsewhere. Conjuration generally brings matter from some other part of existence, while summoning compels living creatures to appear before the caster.

Divination: The study of the means to learn secrets, either things hidden away, not immediately obvious, or the workings of the multiverse that are the underpinnings of all magic.

Enchantment/Charm: Akin to Alteration, Enchantment changes the quality of items, while charms affect the behavior of beings.

Evocation: This college allows the caster to channel magical energy to create effects and materials directly.

Illusion/Phantasm: These spells deceive the senses, and can affect the minds and memories of creatures.

Necromancy: Technically the study of life and its processes, most spells use the principles of similarity and contagion while tapping into the Negative Material Plane to produce life-like effects in once-living bodies.


A spellbook is not a tome of magical theory. Such things (entire libraries, in fact) exist, but a spellbook is a type of formulary. It tells you how to achieve a very particular effect, and includes a catalog of circumstances that can affect the spell that can be compensated for. As long as the caster follows the formula exactly, the results are predictable.

A normal spellbook is 2 lbs. with a durable wood and leather cover and 100 velum pages ($15, DR2, HP10; more durable and expensive versions certainly exist!). Each spell takes up one page per 20 character points of the full value of cost (round up!). Normally, a beginning magic-user will only have a handful of spells, and the rest of the book is blank. New spells can be bought or traded for from other magic-users, or found in the spell book of a defeated enemy magic-user.

Spells written down by different mages often use different symbols, abbreviations, and formats, so spells found ‘in the wild’ must be treated with some caution. If the spellbook is known to come from a familiar style, a spell could be cast from it, but even then it is chancy (there really is no standardization). Use the fickle rules above, but assign a modifier of +2 to -8 in place of the ‘time since studied’ modifier. For reliable spellcasting, it should be copied using the copy magic spell, which will automatically translate any odd notation systems to one the user is familiar with.

Once a spell is available to a magic-user through his spell books, he can can then pay for it with character points and cast it normally. Until that is done, the character has not studied the spell enough to be able to work it from memory (or if it’s cheap enough, it can be cast through normal improvisation).

Under the Hood: What’s a Spell?

In general, Dungeon Sorcery spells are more static than the ones you find in Sorcery, with many having no levels, and most of the rest just having extended durations. But some do have very expensive levels (Maledictions), and a few separate spells have been grouped together as separate levels of the same thing.

This brings up the question, just how fixed is a spell in a spellbook? Since this system assumes that every spell you have is written down in the form you cast it, is it legal to get base version of the spell, and then buy it up a level later even though the spellbook hasn’t changed?

This has to be up to the GM. Making minor upgrades to a spell difficult can be seen as unnecessarily punishing. On the other hand, it opens up possibilities for every magic-user to be a little bit different, with some knowing ‘advanced’ versions of spells that are little different, and with strange spellbooks needing careful study for familiar spells in a better form. “Early” and “late” spellbooks from the same mage could show changes in mastery as the same spells appear, in a better form, in the later spellbooks.

In general, it is probably best to let magic-users buy up extra levels in spells as they go to represent increasing mastery over the energies involved. However, any D&D spells that have been ‘grouped’ for convenience (like light and continual light) should probably be kept separate, requiring separate learning and copying (especially if you want a particularly D&D feel to the spells, though even here it is optional). All grouped spells will mention the separate name of each variation in the description.

Finally, reverse spells have been broken out into their own spells that require separate learning, as things would get too complicated in this system otherwise. The GM could be rule as the same thing in the spellbook, and that learning one automatically includes the other, but it’ll still require one second to switch from one to the other like any other spell.

Learning Spells

Spells are rated for how widespread they are in NPC spellbooks, and in the libraries of magic guilds and the like. The ratings are Very Common (VC), Common (C), Semi-Common (SC), Uncommon (UC), Rare (R), Very Rare (VR), and Unique (U). Unique spells have been invented by a single mage who has not shared this knowledge, though the spell itself could also be well-known if he’s famous for it. Common and Very Common spells can be found in almost any library, and Very Common spells will be cheaper than normal to acquire.

Generally speaking, a magic-user will find new spells in looted scrolls, spellbooks, and the like. But not only is this a haphazard way of gaining spells, he can find himself with multiple original copies of the same ones. The base price for buying a spell should be high, possibly as high as the average starting campaign wealth (this should depend on how much money characters are expected to bring in from adventuring).

The following table shows the general odds of a guild or other magical institution (if there are such things) having a spell available in their library. Individual magic-users halve the odds. If a magic-user or guild is specialized in the college of a spell, multiply the odds by 1.5. The same modifiers apply to cost, which rates how much a magic-user or guild will want in return for providing the spell (this could easily be in trade for other spells). Note that most Very Rare spells are actually just ‘not unique’ and only exist in a handful of spellbooks, which should be defined by the GM.

Rarity % Known Cost
Very Common 100% x0.8
Common 80% x1
Semi-Common 60% x1.5
Uncommon 40% x2
Rare 20% x5
Very Rare 1% x10
Unique 0% NA

Under the Hood: Spell Rarity

The rarity system for spells is a combination of a rough substitute for spell levels (point values also do this but ‘cheap’ ‘high-level’ spells certainly happen), and my own thoughts about making different campaign worlds different, by keeping in mind some spells are more widely known in one place than another. With that in mind, it is encouraged for GMs to shift rarity ratings around from the defaults given in my spell listings.

The basic rating system is that 1st level spells from the original PHB are VC, while all other level 1-3 spells are C, levels 4-5 are SC, levels 6-7 are UC, and levels 8-9 are R. Any spell with a particular magic-user’s name attached are moved up one level of rarity.


And a few example spells adapted from D&D:

Alarm (C)
Abjuration, Somatic, Verbal, Trap
29 points
Casting Time: 1 second
Casting Roll: none
Range: none
Duration: 4 hours

This spell wards an area so that no being can enter it without potentially alerting everyone there to its presence. Upon casting, you set a 3-yard radius area as being warded (the edge of the area must be in touching distance), and for the next four hours, a Per roll is made for any creature of greater than SM -5 or weighing more than 3 lbs., whether or not they are invisible, and if successful a loud gonging noise will be heard (normal range = 16 yards), alerting everyone in the area that something has entered the warded area. (Note that normal creatures not attempting to hide are an automatic success/+10 to Per.)

Detect (Creatures) (Extended Duration (Once Only), 750x, 80%; Nuisance Effect (target and everyone else knows they’re detected) -0%; Ranged (all effects happen at original location) +0%; Requires Gestures, -10%; Requires Magic Words, -10%; Sorcery, -15%; Vague, -50%) [0.95×30]

Notes: “Trap” is a new keyword to define spells that are cast on a location, and then do their action once, without the presence of the caster. Extended Duration (Once Only) is a cross of Extended Duration and Conditional Termination.

Burning Hands (VC)
Alteration, Somatic, Verbal
5 points
Casting Time: 1 second
Casting Roll: Innate Attack (+4)
Range: 1 yard
Duration: Instantaneous

You hold your hands together with your thumbs touching and fingers spread, and produce a sheet of flame from your fingertips. This fans out into the three hexes in front of you, doing 1d damage to anything struck by the flames. This is a burning attack and can ignite flammable objects (B433)!

Due to the close nature of the attack, on a ‘miss’ roll a die for scatter; on a 1-3, rotate the area a hex to the right, and rotate it a hex to the left on a 4-6. The center hex targeted will always be affected.

Innate Attack: 1d (burn) (Area Effect; Cone (3 yd), 80%; Increased 1/2D, +15%; Reduced Range 6, -60%; Requires Gestures, -10%; Requires Magic Words, -10%; Sorcery, -15%) [1.0×5]

Copy Magic (VC)
Alteration, Somatic, Verbal
1 point
Casting Time: 5 minutes
Casting Roll: none
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent

This is one of the basic spells learned by all magic-users, and is assumed to be in any magic-user’s first spellbook (and should be in any back up books, but that is up to the character). It is used to copy spells from unfamiliar spellbooks into one of your own, free of all errors (that did not already exist in the original), and translated into a notation system you understand.

Note that creating a new spell (or re-creating a spell who’s effects are known) results in a pile of notes which is boiled down to a formulary which could contain errors when written up.

Perk: Castable Spell (Cosmic: Any Spell, +50%; Extended Duration: Permanent, +150%; Requires Gestures, -10%; Requires Magic Words, -10%; Sorcery, -15%; Takes Extra Time 8, -80%) [0.85×1]

Notes: This is meant to take the place of AD&D Read Magic and Write, as this system does not assume that written out spells are necessarily magic in themselves.

Web (C)
Evocation, Somatic, Verbal
33 points
Casting Time: 2 seconds
Casting Roll: Innate Attack to hit area
Range: 50 yards
Duration: 30 seconds

Casting this spell fills any narrow area (up to six yards wide) with numerous strands of sticky webbing up to a full size of 6 yards x 2 yards x 1 yard deep. There must be two facing surfaces (floor and ceiling will do) to anchor this area. Anything in the area, or which then touches the web, is considered grappled (B370) at ST 12. Casting further webs in the same area will increase the ST by 1, but each application only lasts for 30 seconds, and the ST will start dropping as the first applications fade.

A victim of the web can try to break free with a Quick Contest of ST or Escape skill, but will lose one FP per failed attempt, and will be stuck again if he then moves into another hex of the web. The web itself can be attacked on a hex-by-hex basis. Innate Attacks by a webbed person automatically hit, but all others by him are at -4. Someone who is not stuck can attack, but may get stuck themselves, and could hit a trapped person they are trying to free (Striking into Close Combat, B392). Every point of damage done reduces the ST of the web by one; however, the web has DR4.

Binding 12 (Area Effect (2 yd, +50%); Environmental (between two surfaces), -30%; Extended Duration, x3, +20%; Reduced Range /2, -10%); Requires Gestures, -10%; Requires Magic Words, -10%; Sorcery, -15%; Sticky, +20%; Takes Extra Time (1 sec Concentrate), -10%; Wall, +30%) [1.35×24]