Been re-reading The Dresden Files, since I’m up at all hours with the newborn anyway.

In Proven Guilty, Harry sets up to do a ritual to use a wizardly tool to look in Chicago for fear and terror. Butcher spends some prose on describing the fact that the thing about ritual is it helps you put aside all the myriad petty distractions endemic to just being human, and focus on the magic.

That got me to thinking about certain discussions in GURPS, where you get people noting that Tactical Shooting has these non-Combat bonuses that can add up to +10 to the skill roll for knowing things like range (up to +3), shooting environment, and how much risk (emotional or physical) is tied up in the shot.

The usual argument goes “I’m going to play a character that can just switch off, and so I always get that non-Combat bonus!” Wacky fun ensues as it’s pointed out that the way to model that is to just buy higher skill.

Why is this even relevant?

What got me thinking was that it would be logical to say that, for example, a mage has been through some Wizardly version of Kolinahr.

So clearly, a mage that had no emotions, no distractions to put to the back of the mind, would just be that much better at ritual magic than a regular human mage. Just like a computer, or, say, a Terminator, will not feel pity, or remorse, and will not stop, etc.

Bullcrap. Both at a metagame and metaphysical level

That which is achieved with no work is not valued. That which one works to achieve is prized, regardless of the amount of money involved. I have seen this personally. I taught a martial arts club at my work for a few years. For a while, it was completely subsidized by my company, including a quarterly fee of about $75.

Attendance was good at first, but dropped off. People would come and go.Very irregularly.

At some point, they had to stop subsidizing in full. That cost was passed on to the practitioner.  Since we met at work for three hours a week, and a quarter is 13-ish weeks, that meant they were paying perhaps about sixty cents per class.

Attendance suddenly became very regular. You see, they were paying for it. The students modified their behavior because of a notional fee of less than one dollar per hour.

Does this have anything to do with magic?

What if one of the necessary elements for magic of any type, ritual or no, Ritual Path or spell skills, was in fact that tension between distraction and focus. That ritual is powerful and aids your spellcasting because you are waging preemptive war on your distractions. That tension, between focus and chaos, is the waterwheel through which whatever magical forces flow.

This is one of the reason fae, reasoning but ruled by passions suitable to their (in the Dresdenverse) Winter or Summer alliegence (or the tension of being unaligned) are such powerfully magical creatures. The distractions they must suppress to actually bring their power to impact the world, are large, and so their impact is large.

Computers? No distractions. No power. No magic. You can’t have a computerized ritual. Because there’s no tension there. The magic requires that balance, the focus, the suppression of random chaos, in order to be brought to order.

You can’t really ballroom dance if your partner provides no tension. Hard to dance with jelly-limbs. Sort of like that.

Anyway, it was a thought.

This is in response to a quite interesting thread on Reverse Missiles. Like many things that occur at the intersection of magic and technology of any sort, there can be many answers depending on the metaphysics of how it is all supposed to work.

Reverse Missiles 101

The key bits are

  • There is one hit roll – whatever you roll to hit your foe, you roll to hit yourself instead
  • The “game effect” is that of a bounced shot, bounced “straight back,” in fact.

Hit Roll

In a way, this is the easiest. Make the calculations to hit your foe, and like the old “I’m rubber you’re glue” game, whatever you shoot comes back to you.

The game mechanics are straight-forward. Roll to hit, and if you succeed, you have potentially hit yourself. More on implicatinos later.

Bounce Back

This is where the trouble might start. The projectile or spell energy flies from the shooter to the target, and bounces back. This innocuous statement can carry some implications that might make things more complicated.

Mechanics vs. Metaphysics

This is one of those things where you really need to decide what’s going on, and then make the rules interpretations loudly and publicly. 

It can’t be a true bounce or reflection – the trajectory would be all wrong. So there’s a magic adjustment that happens to direct i on its way.  Cool enough.

What about range? Is there a magical energy boost that restores velocity? So that the projectile hits with whatever energy it would have? GM call, but I think the answer is “yes.” It simplifies the mechanics, and as long as you’re adding energy to redirect a projectile, you might as well get back up to launch velocity too.

Hit location? Easy – whatever your intent for the target happens to you.

Basically, the game mechanics are designed to allow the GM to act like Nelson when you attack your target. It basically says “don’t give the player a clue that he’s firing into a magical field of “stop hitting yourself!”


So that takes care of the hitting. What about active defenses? 

Seems fair to say that if you were allowed an active defense based on your actions on your turn (maneuver selection), you’d be allowed one if you’re attacking yourself.

But there’s a trick. Certainly, you may usually dodge or block ranged attacks (and with a one-handed weapon, it’s possible to have a shield-and-pistol thing going on), and with Parry Missile Weapons, you might be able to break that one out. So what’s the trick?

Awareness is key

As always, the caveat to any sort of active defense is spelled out in the Basic Set,  specifically on p. B374:

You also get no active defense if you’re unaware of the attack. Examples of situations in which no active defense is possible include a stab in the back from a “friend,” a surprise sniper’s shot, and a totally unexpected booby trap.

The reverse missiles spell would seem to qualify in many cases for the “unexpected booby trap” codecil. If the attacker is unaware that magic even exists, then he’s going to be unprepared to react against it.

In a way, this is why the “Aimed and Sighted shooting is an All-Out Attack” rule from GURPS Tactical Shooting is annoying (to the players) but important. It tells all involved that you are not expecting counterfire.

So, if you are aware that such magic exists, and you take an option that allows an active defense, then you get to use yours. I’ve had this conversation at least once with +Sean Punch and for a long while we made a joke about it in GURPS Technical Grappling, that taking “Attack” instead of All-Out or Committed Attack assumes that the fighter believes that the referee or the fans of a sporting event might pull out MP5s and suddenly start shooting into the ring. I included the One Foe option in Technical Grappling for that exact reason.

I don’t like that plan

One tends to assume that if you’re shooting or loosing an arrow at a foe, you’re not expecting it to come back at you. And if you are shooting, then you’re not doing the kind of evasive maneuvering that grants you a dodge.

To that i say: yes you are. If you didn’t take Committed or All-Out Attack, you are doing that kind of movement. That’s what such options are designed to preclude.

If, however, that just bugs you, well, there’s a handy article (Dodge This, from Pyramid #3/57: Gunplay) that spends four pages giving you options, including painful modifiers to see a projectile coming so that you can dodge, parry, or block it.

Parting Shot

So, ultimately the answer to the question of “can you Dodge reverse missiles” is probably simply “yes.” If you didn’t choose a maneuver that precludes a defense, and if you are aware at all that such a spell exists, you are presumed to be ready for such.

If you don’t like that plan, there are options, but I think the intent is that you have to spend a “holy crap!” moment dodging, and that the line of fire from your notional victim to yourself is now threatened behind you!

All of GURPS is optional, more or less, though some is more optional than others. This is a bit of a rehash of

I’m on record as being not-a-fan of ST rolls. I even worked out an alternate system (granted, not a lot of playtest in that one) that really did away with ST rolls again.

So, when it came to Pickups, a generalization of the rules for lifting people up in Technical Grappling,  I asked PK and Kromm if they’d mind if I used the same table we’d worked out for grappling encumbrance, where you had a multiple of BL be a modifier, and basically asked what I’d roll against.  My rationale was that you’re straining to just lift him, and avoid injury. That’s a HT roll.

They agreed that in this case (a BOX on a very particular kind of move that really shouldn’t come up much in combat) it was an OK approach.

Not only that, when I defended this approach against some mild “hey, that’s weird” criticism on the forums (Criticism? On an internet forum? I am shocked! Shocked!), Sean doubled down:

FWIW, I officially endorse replacing all ST rolls with HT rolls for tasks that bring ST to bear, and using ST effects such as BL and damage to assess the results of success. ST has the annoying trait of being extrinsic where DX, IQ, and HT are intrinsic, and thus seems like a bizarre score to roll against – a bit like rolling against Basic Move, really. I do relent in situations where it’s clearly ST vs. ST, but even there I have to wonder if comparing thrust damage or something wouldn’t be more sensible. Interestingly, CP are found from thrust . . .

You still like ST rolls? Go right ahead and use them, of course! I even contemplated an alternate mechanic for Pickups where you do a Quick Contest of ST vs HP (and you think the modified HT roll is weird?). The basic rule for pickups is “you can’t, unless your target is less than 4xBL.” I thought that wasn’t quite right, since I can and have picked up someone closer to 6xBL in a match.

Anyway, I thought treating the weight-to-BL ratio as a modifier to a HT roll was better than a ST roll.

What about other stats?

+Cole Jenkins then asked a really good question. What about lifting someone with your brain?

If you’re using Telekinesis or a power, you could easily base the roll off of other things. Will would make a lot of sense, being supernatural durability. Maybe if you fail the roll, you take FP of exhaustion instead of HP of injury. Another way would be to use the (under-used, I think) affliction of Pain to represent impairment that doesn’t actually mean HP of injury. I’m less sold on others, but one could do DX to manipulate what are effectively extra arms. IQ is harder to rationalize for me, but I’m sure it could be done.

This one is going to be some thoughts, but I’ll get this out of the way early: I’m not terribly experienced with the current and alternate GURPS Magic systems. Some of that is lack of interest, some is lack of experience . . . but some is experience playing and GMing in a few games (not lots) where magic featured, and walking away less than fully thrilled.

Many of the issues and questions I’ll raise are not new or novel. A good, even cursory, search of the GURPS Forums will reveal most of these questions, I’m sure, along with answers. Maybe even answers from +Sean Punch or Rev Pee Kitty.

Anyway, some random thoughts and discussion about magic in GURPS.

Skill-based GURPS Magic

The basic core system presented in GURPS magic is at it’s core, skill based rather than advantage-based. No surprises there. Each spell is a skill, and you derive those skills the same way you derive all skills: a base attribute, plus any levels of bonus-granting attributes like Talents, plus points invested in the skill itself.

Whipping out Cadmus, whose skills are a blend of physical and mental stuff, I find that for this particular DF character, I’ve got 9 DX-based skills, 8 IQ-based skills, 3 HT-based skills, and 1 Per-based (which of course is also an IQ-based one). One of the IQ-based skills, though, is Holy Warrior!, a bang skill that “replaces Leadership, Religious Ritual, Strategy, Tactics, and Theology, as well as Hidden Lore, Physiology, and Psychology specialties pertaining to evil monsters. Make a Will-based roll for Exorcism, Intimidation, or Meditation.” (Dungeon Fantasy 1, p. 18).

So this character effectively has 18 IQ-based skills.

Where should I spend my points, then? Clearly on IQ, for anything where relative skill level doesn’t matter much. If I choose not to buy up Per and Will (though that counts against the disad total, should one exist) then it’s blindingly obvious that increasing my IQ is the way to go. There are some caveats. Since Monster Hunters came out, one of the great benefits of “Bang!” skills is that every 12 points in one can give you a “bonus point” that can be spent on several things, such as rerolling bad die rolls or avoiding critical failures, or even spending a couple to make a roll into a critical success. Having only one (as Cadmus did until maybe recently) is a limit, having three or so is nice, and more than that starts to get a bit silly, but they’re always nice to have, and nice to use.

Why the digression?

Magery is the Talent for casting spells (it also defines your power level), and adds to IQ when figuring the base from which you calculate skill level. There’s a 5-point Magery 0 buy-in, but after that, it’s 10 points/level, and gives +1 for every spell you know. Given that higher levels of Magery are also prerequisites for more powerful spells, and often the amount of energy you can put into a spell is limited by Magery or some multple of it . . . well, that’s looking pretty attractive. Certain genres have different limits on how many levels of Magery you can buy, but unless you’re only buying a few spells, the value here is pretty clear.

Next, especially if you are going to spend 4 points in more than five (only five!) spells, is IQ. Given how many magical effects might require a Will roll, I’d never buy down Will, but perhaps slacking on Per isn’t fatal. Maybe not. I like Perception. Too many conversations/interactions in gaming begin with “everybody make Perception rolls,” and that’s not just a GURPS thing; it happens so often in Pathfinder that I’ve made some nasty noises about how Perception should be a class skill for all classes.

Anyway, the issue here, of course, is that building your classic Mage with bunches of Magery and IQ starts to get niche-stomping on anyone with IQ-based stuff pretty quick.

If that’s a problem for you, of course many solutions exist. You could create a new stat called Magic or something that replaced IQ as the base for spells’ skill levels. You could just assume that all mages have a base of 10, plus any levels of magery. Increasing IQ is interesting, but relative skill level is based of off 10+Magery, and so you might use IQ-based rolls to discuss magic intellectually, Will-based rolls to resist the effects of a similar spell, but you roll against 10+Magery+Relative Skill Level to actually cast it.

Huge Tracts of Grimoire

In my limited experience, though, people have a lot of spells. With hundreds and hundreds of spells in GURPS Magic for Fourth Edition, and the way point investiture can work, having three or four dozen spells isn’t out of line at a point or two each. Without large dependencies on relative skill level, and the standard rules presented on GURPS Magic, p. 8 do not have such a dependency, the benefits of increasing the base level for all spells is huge. You get a reduction in the cost of a spell by 1 FP starting at effective skill 15 and another every five points of skill thereafter. Not “relative skill,” but skill, as in IQ+Magery+relative skill level.

I know where I’m spending my points.

Game Play and Feel

In the GURPS Jade Regent Dungeon Fantasy game I play in with +Nathan Joy as GM, the spellcasters we’ve had have used the basic Magic rules (as opposed to one of the alternates presented in GURPS Thaumatology, or cribbing from Ritual Path Magic, from Monster Hunters and with a big expansion book coming out).

I find that the feel of the system doesn’t work for me as well as I’d like. There are many complex effects, each of which can invoke special rules. It’s very technical, not terribly mystical, and sometimes the spells are wildly effective, and others . . . not so much. +Mark Langsdorf could probably fill many screens of text on this, since he’s got a very good grasp of the “do/do-nots” of the magic system.

That imbalance can be all well and good when you’re on the giving end; not so much receiving, sometimes.

Also, the Magic book – the spells particularly – feel like they either have too much metasystem (or metasystem applied unevenly) or not nearly enough. You’d better be ready to look up how it’s all done, and some spells seem to follow different rules. The energy cost vs. spell effects trade could really use some serious rationalization, but that wasn’t done when the book was revised for Fourth Edition.

Honestly, this is where the Divine Favor and Ritual Path Magic type systems shine. They have an underlying metasystem that’s very strong, and so you can be more sure that powers and abilities are balanced against each other. 

Parting Shot

I’ve occasionally been tempted to play a mage in the game. The versatility and occasionally power of the spells is compelling, but ultimately, I’m turned away by the complexity of the system. I happily play a Divine Favor-based Warrior Saint, though. He’s got a much smaller number of enumerated powers, and then uses the General or Specific Prayer mechanic (two rolls, one for petition, one for reaction, GM decides what the results are on a success) for other stuff. That’s a lot of GM fiat, but you can always do this, and it’s hugely flexible and fast and fun to play.

I’ve played in a game recently with Ritual Path Magic, and the mechanics for casting spells are pretty straight-forward, but they’re heavily weighted to out-of-combat play. You need to spend a lot of mechanics-time defining a ritual, make a ton of rolls to gather energy, and then you do the spell, which if you’re sitting around a table, will get you beaten to death with large core rulebooks or pelted with d4s, and you’ll deserve it. It very much rewards coming to the table prepared. And really needs a grimoire of pre-written spells, which I have to believe is a core part of the upcoming book.

I’ll have more thoughts on magic in GURPS coming up. But by and large, I’ve found it something I like other people to play, but because of the idiosyncrasies of the skill-based system, it takes a bit of work to prevent the Wizard from being the best at all things that might derive from IQ. And that’s annoying.

In my writeup of Cadmus, +Mark Langsdorf and I had a brief interchange about combat vs. non-combat healing. Cadmus is very, very powerful as a healing machine assuming that he has time to recover. The combination of Lay on Hands (Empathic Faith Healing) and Flesh Wounds (rapid wound recovery means he can bring a party of five adventurers from 0 HP to 15 HP each in about two hours.

But that’s two hours. Two. Hours. 120 turns. Pretty much a “Frederickburger” situation if you’re in combat.

That’s where the Clerical magic comes in. Poof, here’s a few dice of healing right there in the middle of combat. A virtual reset button, which is a big deal.

If you can lay on hands in hours, what are the ways to buff one or more of your party members using Powers?

So: here’s a challenge! Post some builds of powers that would make sense using Divine Favor so that a Warrior Saint or Saint can provide combat-useful healing in a challenging DF environment.

+Antoni Ten Monrós: I’d be particularly interested if you’ve thought on this.

The First Answer
Based on some interactions in the comments below, my instinct is, at the same level as you can take Lay on Hands (Divine Favor 8), you can just get Ranged Healing (Healing [30], with Faith Healing [+20%], Ranged [+40%], and Divine [-10%] [45], or 9 points as an LP). This lets you fling a spell-like healing effect by burning FP and making a hit roll. The better way is probably as a Malediction, which at its cheapest is a +100% for -1 per yard of range, and that’s 63 points (Divine Favor 10, 13-point LP) and will cut significantly into combat utility.

Challenge Expanded!

Go ahead and throw down your most potent healing builds, both in-combat and out-of-combat. Ritual Path Magic, regular GURPS Magic – you name it. Just note the build, the amount of healing, and what the limitations are!

Cheat: Power Investiture/Magery

One quick way to get this done is to buy Power Investiture 1 (10 points) and since you are not studying magic, buy Major Healing directly. It’s a Very Hard skill, so with IQ 12 (Cadmus’ level), Power Investure 1 (adds to skill), you will want to spend 12 to 16 points to get IQ+1 or IQ+2, which should net a Healing spell at 14 or 15.

That still winds up on the order of 25 extra points to get healing in there. If you’ve already got Divine Favor 8 and Lay on Hands, the Ranged Healing option above is cheaper.

I love Divine Favor. I think it’s a far better and more elegant solution to the question of miracles and clerical “magic” than the existing GURPS system, which is basically the same as Magic, with Power Investiture standing in for Magery, and Sanctity making the tag for Mana levels. You pay your cost and you cast your spell.

With Divine Favor, you are (thematically) buying a level of influence with your god(s), and you can appeal to them for aid. The quality of the aid is based on a reaction roll, and can have pretty far-reaching effects.

Cadmus, my Dungeon Fantasy character in +Nathan Joy‘s game based on Pathfinder’s Golarion and Jade Regent Adventure Path, has “Divine Favor 8” which is good for getting my deity’s attention about one time in four if I’m subtle, about half the time if I wave my holy symbol in the air and generally act like a street preacher.

Now, you can request a specific effect, such as the ever-popular Smite, which inflicts 2d burning damage of really ugly holy fire on malign supernatural creatures. It’s particularly effective against the undead. Anyway, the book comes with a list of pre-defined miracles intended as guidelines for effect, and each “level” of miracle has a reaction minimum that comes with it.

You can also buy these as Learned Prayers, which are basically something you can just do, since you’ve paid points for it, and your god has granted you the ability to get the job done more or less at will.

Game mechanically, these are Alternate Abilities, costing 1/5 (round up) the cost of the power that is bestowed; the buy-in is the level of Divine Favor required to “qualify” for the prayer.

Cadmus has used his LPs to great effect, and has several. Protection from Evil (Enhanced) and Smite are great for stomping undead, while Righteous Fury turns him into a Cuisinart for 3d seconds (adds 1d to each of ST, DX, and HT).

Recently, though, I have started to wonder if the “IF Pray, THEN Miracle” nature of how Learned Prayers work might make them a bit too “by rote,” taking away some of the variability and thus mystery of divine intervention.

I’ve not thought this through completely, but I wondered if it would be interesting to work off of the following:

When using a Learned Prayer with things that have a defined benefit, roll 3d and consult the following table:

6-       Half normal effect, double time, or -2 per die damage
7-8    2/3 normal effect, 1.5x time, or -1 per die damage
9-11   Normal effect
12-13   1.25x normal effect, 80% time, or +1 per die damage
14+     2x Normal effect, half time, or double damage

Now, the approximate weighted average of all that crap is about 105%, meaning that on the average, your Learned Prayer is about 5% more effective than the rules-as-written. Kind of a bonus for rolling dice.

Let’s take a look at a few common prayers, and see how this would impact them.

Final Rest: Here’s a great example of an example that isn’t great. You pray for a minute, and at the end, your subject (who is dead) can’t be made undead later. The only thing I can think of here is that the prayer takes longer – two minutes if you roll a 6 or less, but only thirty seconds if you roll well. Big deal.

Protection from Evil: Again, this minor miracle doesn’t let malign supernatural entities approach within a
yard. in this case, you might say that the bad results mean then can get within your hex but can’t touch you, while the bonus effects mean they stay 2 yards away. That’s actually a real benefit, especially for (say) skeletons of the sword- and axe-wielding variety.

Lay on Hands: You can transfer HP from yourself to your subject. This one’s straight-forward, I think. You say how many HP you want to transfer, and roll the dice. If you are planning on transferring 6 HP, a bad roll means you spend 6 HP to restore 3 or 4. A good one means that you either spend 6 HP and restore 8 HP or 12HP, or if (say) your guy is only wounded for 6 HP, you might spend 4 HP or 3 HP in order to restore 6 HP.

Smite: This one’s easy. Roll variable effect, roll damage. You can either just roll the damage and modify that flat out, or use the per-die suggestions above.

Righteous Fury: Cadmus’ favorite prayer, it adds to your physical stats: 1d for 3d seconds. This one could go either way, meaning you might roll only 1d-2 on a bad roll, but roll 2d on a great one! Alternately, for those who don’t relish the possibility of +12 to DX, 3d seconds might be modified directly.

Why bother? 

Honestly, I like variable effect rolls, though in many cases, the effects are already variable. The bottom line is it makes relying on your relationship with your deity just a bit chancy, but also potentially even better than you think.

Why not just use the Reaction Table again?

Um, because I didn’t think of it initially, but it’s a good idea. It’s more granular, and it’s the same basic mechanic used for Divine Favor in general. What the Learned Prayer would do, then, is bypass the Petition Roll, and have an average effect on the same magnitude as the current LP.

Try this as an alternate:

Very Bad 25%
Bad  50%
Poor 75%
Neutral 100%
Good 150%
Very Good 300%


Some people like rolling dice. 🙂

More seriously, it would definitely take some real prep on the part of the GM and/or player. Using the guidelines above, you either need to be willing to make stuff up on the fly so that you adjudicate the prayer results as you go, or you need to create the reaction table for each prayer on the PC’s sheet. Might be too much trouble, but I still like the idea that you can never really guarantee an effect when negotiating/praying for intervention.

Magic is not Technology

People who are keen on this can take it one step further, and apply the same sort of thing to magic. Either make the effects per mana point spent variable as above, look up the margin of success or MoS+some number (maybe 5?) for a casting on the reaction table (that might easily be too good), or some other “you can’t really use a magic spell the way you use a gun” type impact.

Parting Shot

Again, some campaigns styles or player character concepts would break doing this; some players would not enjoy this sort of thing. But as I said when I started, the variable and occasionally unknowable impacts of prayers is a lot of fun in the game I play now, and applying that to Learned Prayers as well is something I jotted down in my Journal of Pretentiousness as a thought experiment.