GURPS Wizard 1: Making your magic scary

GURPS, or the Generic Universal Roleplaying System, is a dizzyingly complex RPG that I’ve been playing for about a decade. I would never recommend this system for a group that struggles with munchkins (it’s easier to break than a Mexican ipod), but for veteran roleplayers looking for a little more freedom than feats and prestige classes allow, GURPS is a godsend.

What I find most impressive about GURPS is the innovation of its character creation system, which includes limitations and enhancements, or modifiers on existing abilities. This makes a flexible system even more so, and allows the group to game in nearly any setting or genre they can cook up.

Although Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy roleplaying game, few fantasy series “feel” like DnD. Gandalf’s magic was not neatly categorized into schools and levels, and Conan the Cimmerian would slap anyone who would suggest that he can only call upon his fury a certain number of times per day. With GURPS, your group can shape their characters to the specific flavors of your favorite fantasy worlds.  Let’s take a look at one now, shall we?

Elric of Melnibone

Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories are grim, fatalistic, and cynical. Elric, the last of the sorcerer emperors of Melnibone, is a man whose extraordinary abilities are eclipsed by physical deficiency and a terrible dependence on Stormbringer, his evil soul-drinking runesword. To reflect the flawed nature of heroes in Moorcock’s fiction, we required our players to take on additional mental and physical disadvantages, a particularly fun part of GURPS character creation. This insured that our group, while powerful, was carrying a lot of baggage.

Magic in Elric is dangerous and unpleasant. Elric himself practices “nigromancy” which involves demonic supplication and scaring the bejeezus out of anyone who happens to witness his rituals. Magic is also difficult, and the cost of botching a ritual is catastrophic. Players who wish to purchase supernatural abilities in the game would have to add heavy limitations, among them “Hideous” (-4 reaction penalty to those who witness the power), and an extreme form of “Nuisance Effect”, which required the players to automatically roll on the Fright Check (in the basic set) and Black Magic Failure (in GURPS: Magic ) tables. When failing meant that a character may have ended up permanently insane or dinner for demons, the abilities took on a gravity and mystique that made for great tension every time they saw use.

Cosmic entities abound in the series, and are as capricious as they are bizarre. With canon gods like Pyaray, the Tentacled Whisperer of Impossible Secrets, and Roofdrak, Lord of Dogs, we felt perfectly fine letting our players cut loose when it came to creating their own patron deities. Some went so far as to take Patron as an advantage, usually modified with Special Powers and Minimal Intervention. Others modified their existing abilities with Spiritual, which required them to make a reaction roll to their deities before invoking any of their abilities.

By Dave R.

(A big thank you to Dave R. for the article!)

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2 Responses to “GURPS Wizard 1: Making your magic scary”

  1. That sounds like an interesting change of pace. Might have to try it sometime.

  2. cheeseshop Says:

    GURPS is an amazing system. As you know it is full of realism and can be used for any genre. That was what turned me on to it many years ago. I was fortunate enough to play the 1st edition box set of GURPS. I had a few friends that were new to roleplaying at the time and being able to just run the game with the basics was helpful. As the players grew in experience roleplaying I added more of the rules for them. I have always recommend GURPS but do not force it. I understand that having fun is the priority. Though I have on occasion converted a few players to GURPS.

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