ELEMENTAL MAGIC
By S. John Ross, Copyright © 1997

Five Elements . . .

Man is made up of four elements and floats within the fifth. The four base elements are Earth, Water, Air and Fire, while the noble and mysterious Fifth Element is Ether. Sorcerers are those who can manipulate one or all of these principles, either in their raw form or in their evolved manifestations in living beings.

EARTH: Body, Shapes, Health and Physical Needs

WATER: Soul, Spirit, Empathy and Auras

AIR: Intellect, Logic, Technology and Design

FIRE: Emotion, Passion, Inspiration and Creation

ETHER: Time, Dimensions, Raw Magic

Each element is represented by an ``Elemental Skill;'' each is Mental/Very Hard with the prerequisites Occultism and Thaumatology. Magery is not required (although it's very helpful); it adds to elemental skills as though they were spells. Eidetic Memory has no effect on elemental skills.

Elemental Magic and ordinary magic aren't mutually exclusive. Unless the GM rules otherwise, characters may use both, and both forms of magic can interact freely (The Extinguish Fire spell could snuff out a flame created with Elemental Fire, for instance).

Spellcasting in Three Easy Steps

All spells are improvisational, and begin with an idea and a description. The mage-player should describe his concept to the GM and other players in terms as clear and colorful as he can manage; especially entertaining spells get a bonus!

After considering the desired effect, the GM determines which Element will be used to cast the spell, and the Difficulty of the spell (from Impossible to Trivial). The player may, at this point, decide the spell is too risky and back out. He must perform some other action than spellcasting this turn.

If the mage decides to go ahead with the spell, he must Concentrate for 1d turns (unless otherwise noted according to Difficulty). At the beginning of the turn following his concentration, he makes a 3d roll against the appropriate skill.

Failure and Success

If the roll fails, reality tells the mage to kindly go fuck himself. The mage's turn ends.

If the roll succeeds, the mage's desires become reality, with better die-rolls indicating greater degrees of success. He may also take his turn normally.

Energy Cost

Successful spells cost 10 ST, less the margin of success. Thus, a spell that succeeds by 7 costs 3 ST.

Failed spells have a cost equal to the margin of failure, squared (the maximum cost of failure is 100 ST). Fatigue in excess of ST is halved and taken as damage (if using Unlimited Mana, the cost simply increases the tally; ST and HT are unaffected, and nothing is halved). Elementalists without at least one level of Magical Aptitude pay double these costs.

Determining Appropriate Elemental Skill

Earth Magic is the magic not only of soil and metal and rock, but also of the physical body, of plants, and of health and physical needs. Any attempt to reshape a body, directly alter health for good or ill, grow or kill plants, and so on is Earth Magic.

Water Magic is the magic not only of water and other simple fluids, but of the soul and spirit. Spells that contact the soul and see it's state (revealing auras), and spells that summon and direct spirits, are Water Magic. Most weather magic is both Air and Water.

Air Magic is the magic not only of wind and lightning, but of the intellect and its creations and manipulations of the physical world. Spells involving electricity, technology, and intelligence are all Air Magic, as are magics related to mind control, contact, and reading.

Fire Magic is the magic of flames, heat and cold, and of darkness and light, but is also the magic of emotion, passion, inspiration and creativity. While Air is the magic of design, Fire is the magic of creation . . . A painting is subject to fire magic; blueprints are subject to Air. Fire magic can inspire deep emotion.

Ether is the element of mystery, time, and magic itself. Magic changes the perceptions or positions in time, space, or planar dimensions are Ethereal magic. This includes astral travel, divination, demon summoning, teleporation, and the creation of pocket realities. Spells involving raw magical force, or the manipulation of other spells are also Ethereal.

If a spell involves more than one Element (and many do), the mage must have skill in all those involved. If he is missing an Element, the spell is beyond his power and he must try a different approach. If the mage has all of the Elements required, he rolls against the lowest applicable Element, or his Thaumatology skill, whichever is lower.

When the player describes his spell, he should be careful to describe the means as well as the end. When a player says ``I summon a bear,'' does he mean that he is contacting the mind of the nearest bear and making it run to him (Air magic), teleporting that bear to him (more immediate - and therefore difficult - Ethereal magic), or creating a bear out of nothingness (equally difficult, and requiring all five elements)?

Specialists

Of course, it's usually wise to have at least a half-point into all five elements, to cover all the bases. There is, however, some minor benefit to ignoring elements. Mages with NO skill in Fire receive a +4 bonus to their Water skill, and vice-versa. The same holds true for Earth and Air. Mages with no skill in Ether receive a +1 bonus to each of the other elements. This bonus is lost when the missing element(s) are finally learned.

Determining Modifiers

The modifier list below should be provide enough guidelines to allow the GM to be consistent and fair when assigning modifiers to the spellcasting roll. In general, spells that take care of problems cleanly, quickly, and directly are difficult. Indirect and long-term magic is a little easier.

Modifiers are based on two linked principles: Dramatic Necessity and Laws of Nature. Tiny violations of the Laws of Nature are easy; spells that help the plot along are easy. Spells that thumb their noses at the universe AND the scenario tend to turn the offending wizard into Ground Chuck. So it goes.

Especially tricky or simple magic should be assigned a skill modifier. As a yardstick, the GM should keep in mind that 99% of the standard GURPS spells would fall in the +5 to -5 range, with most floating right at +0.

Two classes of spell (Difficult and Dangerous) have two modifiers - a penalty and a fraction. Use whichever is worse.

The general modifier categories break down like this:

Impossible Magic (1/10 Skill): Any attempt to utterly wreck the campaign world or campaign plotline goes here. This is subjective; if the campaign is a universe-hopping powerfest, then merely destroying ONE version of New York City isn't that big a dent in the setting as a whole. Casting time for Impossible Magic is 1d hours instead of 1d seconds (elaborate rituals and tacky decorations are often needed, too, at the GM's whim). If the roll fails, the result is CUBED instead of squared for determining fatigue and/or damage. Luck of any sort may not affect the casting roll for Impossible Magic.

Dangerous Magic (-15 or 1/4 Skill): Any attempt to directly kill dozens of people goes here. Ditto for attempts to incapacitate hundreds. Teleporting the whole group to Pluto is Dangerous Magic. Looking for the complete solution to the week's mystery in a crystal ball is likewise Tempting the Wrath of the Gods. Dangerous Magic can permanently create or destroy up to 4 tons of worthless matter (dirt, ice cubes), or up to $100,000 worth of more civilized matter. Any attempt to create an intelligent being, or a bigass beastie, is Dangerous. Dangerous magic requires 2d turns to cast.

Difficult Magic (-10 or 1/2 Skill): If the mage just wants to (directly) kill a dozen or so people, that's Difficult. He could also conjure up a machine gun and kill a lot more on his own. The mage could visit Pluto by himself with this, or take the whole party to Los Angeles. Any one signifigant hidden fact can be revealed, and freakish, unseasonal weather is possible. In general, any attempt by the mage to act as a one-man party of adventurers is Difficult. Difficult Magic can permanently create or destroy up to 2,500 lbs of worthless matter, or $10,000 worth of stuff. Any attempt to create large animals or humanoid slaves with animal intelligence go here.

Complex Magic (-5): Good for directly killing (or saving!) a single person with a good roll, or injuring a small crowd. Any attempts to shut off building power, extinguish a house-fire, feed a small army, teleport the mage long distances or the party short ones, or manipulate the emotions of a small gathering goes here. Creation/Destruction is limited to 800 lbs of worthless matter, $1,000 worth of stuff, small animals, or big plants.

Ordinary Magic (+0): A spell is ``ordinary'' if it is meant to overcome a single obstacle that faces the mage, or the mage's share of an obstacle that faces the group. Unlocking a door, recieving divinatory insights and random clues, cleaning up a small building, summoning a brief summer rainfall (in the summer!), or a standard Fireball go here. Ordinary magic won't kill with a single spell, but it stands an even chance of putting a single foe down, or seriously inconveniencing a large group. Ordinary magic can't be used to upstage a group of skilled adventurers, but it will allow the mage to pull his own weight. Creation/Destruction is limited to 250 lbs of worthless matter, $100 worth of valuable stuff, reasonably large quantities of lower plants, or an insect or two.

Simple Magic (+5): Any spell that helps the party achieve something as a whole, or acts as a tool to achieve an end, is Simple. Any spell that actually achieves something directly is probably Ordinary. Giving the party a bonus to Climbing skill, or giving foes a penalty to DX by dazzling them with a flash of light, is Simple Magic. Creation and destruction is limited to 80 lbs of worthless matter, $10 worth of useful stuff, or trivial amounts of minor plant life or a mushroom.

Trivial Magic (+10): Any attempt to magically warm a beverage, open an unlocked door, tie shoelaces, or fill an ice-chest are Trivial. Trivial Magic is stuff that the mage could do himself if he weren't so darned lazy. Creation and Destruction is limited to 25 lbs of worthless stuff or $1 worth of goods. Casting time is 1 second.

Further modifiers: Especially entertaining or inventive spells get a +3; repetitive/uninspired ones take a -3 (cumulative, in the case of persistent same-day repetitions). Some spells (GMs option) can have their odds improved by up to +10 by taking several minutes/hours/months to prepare or cast, by expensive candles and/or assistants, or any thing else that strikes the GM as very cool. The player and GM should haggle, but the GM should know when to call the deal to a close.

If the mage is fatigued and/or injured, he takes a skill penalty equal to the combined amount of fatigue and damage he is suffering! Mages with High Pain Threshold cut these penalties in half; Mages with Low Pain Threshold double them.

Temporary creation or destruction of life and matter makes any spell easier by +5 (the above rules are for permanent creation and destruction). Duration should be specified by the mage and haggled with the GM.

If the above guidelines are ever too hazy, judge by dramatic necessity instead of ``difficulty'' (or do ALL spells that way!) Viz:

  • Trivial (+10) The spell has no practical effect to speak of.
  • Simple (+5) The spell will make things more fun for everybody.
  • Ordinary (+0) The spell would be nifty. Nothing special.
  • Complex (-5) The spell would hog the scene a bit.
  • Difficult (-10 or 1/2) The spell would upstage the other characters.
  • Dangerous (-15 or 1/4) The spell would upstage the whole scenario.
  • Impossible (1/10) The spell would upstage the GM.
Magic Dodges and Other Fast Spells

Standard spells require Concentration before they take effect. The exception are spells used as an Active Defense. Mages may improvise a spell to replace any Dodge, Block, or Parry. In addition, mages may ``counterspell'' any magic directed at them, even if they didn't see it coming with their human senses. Both cases are referred to as Magic Dodges.

Magic Dodges against mundane threats are almost always cast at no penalty to the appropriate skill. Magic Dodges against other magic are treated as Quick Contests with the attacking mage.

Mages may make only one Magic Dodge per turn.

If the mage needs to shave time off of NON-defensive spells, he may remove 1 second from the rolled casting time for every -2 he is willing to take to his skill. This will even create ``instantaneous'' spells, if the mage's skill can handle it.

Resisted Spells

Spells Cast directly on the minds, bodies, or held property of intelligent beings get a Resistance roll, at the GM's option, using any stat the GM deems appropriate. Strong/Weak Will and Magic Resistance always apply. There is no Rule of 16.

Cosmological Assumptions

Once a spell is cast, the results are out of the hands of the sorcerer, unless he casts further spells to keep control of things. A summoned demon, for instance, will usually require further spells to bind it into servitude, and/or force it back home. Some of the binding spells can be cast ahead of time (Pentagrams and Magic Circles, natch).

Most spells are assumed to be either instantaneous or permanent, unless the player describes them otherwise. Other than setting the initial duration, the mage has no control over duration once the spell has been cast. Cancelling a spell, even one of your own, requires a new spell.

Mages are assumed to have handy the trappings and gizmos and symbols appropriate to the culture(s) they studied under. Loss of such trappings may cause penalties, at the GMs whim.

High Point Totals

These rules assume 50-200 point campaigns. Elemental mages are a bit slower and more power-hungry than normal mages, but much more flexible. If characters are being created with more than 200 points, change the base energy cost of a successful spell to [Starting Point Total/20], rounded up to a multiple of 5.


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