Looking Into the Eyes of the Magi
By S. John Ross
In many fantasy worlds, mages are gifted with second sight, magically heightened perception, extending outward into the past and future. In some world, Magical Aptitude and "The Sight" are synonymous; only those so gifted can cast spells, because only they can see the energies flowing around them.
In some ways, second sight is related to psionic ESP, but with a vital difference in its boundaries. Psi, a modern term for an idea most often explored in science fiction, is bound in rigid units of space, time, and energy appropriate to its genre. Sight, originating in folk-beliefs and developed in heroic fantasy, is a reflection of the ties of fate that develop in the presence of magic. The rules in this article reflect this difference, and present a series of new advantages for wizards and magical nonhumans in GURPS.
Warning! If all of the abilities described here are real in the campaign, wizards become much more fearsome (with appropriate additional expense in points)! If, for example, both Sense of Eyes and Feel for Treachery exist, spying on a wizard, or even planning to, is as good as requesting his wrath.
None of the advantages here are mutually exclusive, but the GM should forbid any that he is uncomfortable with. At the other extreme, requiring some or all manifestations of Sight for wizards can drastically increase the basic price of magic. If the Game Master likes to discourage PC magic-use, but enjoys having terrifying NPC wizards, this is one path to that end, since it will polarize mages as a character type, especially at less-than-cinematic point totals. In traditional GURPS fantasy worlds, assume that second sight manifests differently according to both predisposition and training. Some mages, then, are greatly gifted, while others (perhaps the majority) have little Sight beyond their ability to detect enchantment (p.B21).
Any living thing that is destined to die within an hour has a grey, hopeless pallor around them that is visible to the mage automatically. This pallor cannot be detected with the Aura spell; only those with Death Sight will notice it. Those who are destined to have their lives threatened (with death a genuine possibility) have a cast of dim red instead of grey. The ``red cast'' is never visible on friends and loved ones, regardless of their fate. It can only be seen on strangers and casual accquaintences.
Of course, some characters die without anyone, including the Game Master, expecting it! If this happens, and a mage with Death Sight is present, the GM should give the mage a single chance to act quickly to prevent it.
Attempts to thwart fate, on the other hand, should be countered at nearly every turn, by freak occurences if it's entertaining. Saving the doomed shouldn't be impossible, but it should be very difficult. If the mage does cheat the Grim Reaper, somebody dear to the mage will die, instead. If the mage has no friends, close relatives, or respected allies, the mage himself will die, a victim of his own compassion (a rare event; those with such potential for self-sacrifice usually have friends, unless they've recently lost all of them to tragedy). Even telling someone that they have one of the colors on them exacts a price; the mage gains the Unluckiness disadvantage for that session only.
For obvious reasons, elder magi do not teach the refinement of this Sight to irresponsible youth, but some have it naturally.
The mage can sense treachery against him. Whenever anyone, anywhere discusses cheating, harming, lying to or inconveniencing the character, the mage will recieve a vague impression that somebody is plotting against him. This is automatic, and isn't traumatic enough to be distracting in any way. It doesn't include visions of any kind; it's just a tingle at the back of the neck, above the eyebrows, or something similar (the player should define the exact effect when designing the character).
The mage will also (with a successful IQ roll) be aware of the type of plotting: whether someone is trying to (for example) rob him, poison him, or humiliate him. The Sight never reveals who is plotting, but Divination and other Knowledge spells may be used to investigate the matter further, and any spells used for that purpose are cast at +2 to skill. Furthermore, if the eyes of the mage ever meet the eyes of one of the conspirators, the mage will instinctively recognize him as such. Hiding such recognition requires an Acting roll (see p.B62) on the part of the mage!
The discussion of treachery must mention the mage by name, but any kind of name (including nicknames and aliases) will suffice. The mage always knows the nicknames his is given. If his apprentice calls him ``old stinky'' around the kitchen staff, the mage will know it the first time it is spoken aloud.
Many Paranoid mages believe that they have this kind of Sight. Some of them do; this advantage can lead to Paranoia.
If the mage is present at the site of an event that will have dire consequences to something or somebody important to him, the GM rolls to see if the Sight activates (for instance, if a close friend is about to meet a woman that would eventually marry and ruin him, or about to drink poisoned wine). If the roll succeeds, The mage gets a vision of the event and it's consequences just before the event occurs. If the mage acts without hesitation (assuming he is able to), he gets a single chance to intervene.
If the mage stumbles across such an event already in progress; he may still get a vision revealing its consequences, but will be given no special chance to intervene.
This advantage costs 10 points with an activation roll of 9 or less; use the frequency modifiers under Allies (p.B23) to modify the power and price of the advantage.
When a mage dies, part of his mind flows into the consciousness of every mage that will follow him. The brotherhood of the Craft is eternal, and the wisdom of past adepts can be drawn upon by the wizards of today. Many magical traditions include the ``Magical Memory'' as a fundamental principle. In 20th century campaigns, this relates to principles such as Aleister Crowley's talent of the same name, and to the Theosophist concept of the ``akashic records'' - a record of the lives of past magi inscribed on the fabric of the astral plane, accessible by the minds of modern magi. In game terms, Magical Memory is variant version of the Racial Memory advantage in GURPS Fantasy Folk.
Any question may be ``asked'' of the deceased adepts, but questions that are entirely contemporary are pointless. If the GM decides that a mage, in years past, knew something germane to the character's question, he should secretly roll 3d. On a 9 or less, the GM should provide an answer, in the form of a ``memory'' of how the dead wizard in question saw things. If the roll fails, the questioner recieves nothing. The GM should fake a roll if he decides that no mages in the past had knowledge of the issue.
The ``memory'' that the mage experiences will be the most recent applicable memory. Additional rolls (at a cumulative -3 to the roll) are necessary to dig deeper.
The GM should be creative in his delivery of the information. If a mage PC with this advantage is confronted with a two glowing gems floating in an ancient ruin, and questions their nature, he might recieve the memory of the last mage who found them. The PC will ``remember'' reaching for the gem on the right, and then remember being killed by it. The death was too rapid for the ``memory'' to provide any detail other than a sudden pain followed by oblivion. The PC-mage now has to work from that. Touching the gem on the right was bad, but maybe the dead mage simply didn't know the right ritual. The left gem is still a mystery, but at least the PC now knows who's skull he just stepped on.
The base price of Magical Memory is 15 points for an activation roll of 9 or less. As with Foresight (above), the power of this advantage can be altered with the frequency modifiers in the Basic Set.
Anytime the mage is secretly observed or listened to, he will sense it. The GM rolls in secret against the mage's (IQ-9) immediately, and again every 20 seconds at a cumulative bonus equal to the character's level of Magery, until the roll succeeds or the spy ceases spying.
If the roll succeeds, the mage becomes aware of the spy and (on an IQ roll), his exact location. Merely being watched will not trigger this; the observer must desire that the mage not notice his attention.
Magical scrying can also be detected, but Long-Distance Modifiers (p.B151) are applied to all IQ rolls.
Like Shifts in the Balance, this advantage relates directly to any dramatic conflict involving the mage. By taking 1dx1O minutes to contemplate, and making a roll against (IQ-2), the mage can divine the ultimate role of any pawn in his conflict. If the pawn is due to die meaninglessly, or to live heroically, this contemplation will reveal it - with details! Details of the pawn's life after the conflict (if they get one) will not be revealed.
A pawn is any character that plays a role in the conflict without directing the action. In a major land-war, the soldiers are pawns. In a campaign focusing on political skullduggery, NPC spies and informants are pawns.
As with Death Sight, the mage will be largely powerless to prevent such visions from coming to pass (at least intentionally; the Fates - represented by the Game Master - decide when they are bound by such things). At most, he can try to force two pawns to swap roles. Such tampering should exact a terrible price; double the personal grief and pain to the PC for each time he cheats fate.
If the mage mistakes a ``mover and shaker'' for a pawn, and attempts to see his fate, the Sight will fail, revealing the independent nature of the character. If the initial (IQ-2) roll is failed, subsequent attempts to view the fate of the same pawn are at a cumulative -3.
Whenever the ``balance of power'' shifts in a conflict the mage has a stake in, the mage will recieve a vision, instantly.
This requires careful judgement by the Game Master. The rule is this: if either side in the conflict gains or loses something truly signifigant, a vision will be triggered. If the mage and his friends are seeking to unseat a murderous Duke, the death or capture of an allied spy would trigger a vision; the same spy simply getting in a fight would not. If the Duke's sorcerer has summoned up an ancient evil to serve his cause, a vision would be triggered the instant the summoning was complete. If the Duke purchased some new knives for his flunkies, no vision would result.
There is no time-delay; the visions occur in real time with the triggering event, and are detailed and accurate. If the mage is sleeping at the time, the vision will come as a dream, and the mage will waken instantly when the vision ends. The GM should be as honest and detailed as possible while maintaining brevity and campaign balance.
This is normally a 10-point advantage. If, however, the visions are painful, the cost is reduced to 5 points. Painful visions completely cripple the mage for their duration, and cause 1d+2 fatigue. Visions (or the attendant pain) do not manifest when the wizard is actually present to witness an event!
If it has life, a mind, or a soul, the mage can see it, even if it is normally invisible to mortal eyes. This requires no Concentration or die-roll. Ghosts, demons, and nature spirits will be as plainly visible as living mortals (although possibly translucent). In some worlds, such spirits (especially ghosts) are everywhere; mages presumably get used to it.
Those under the effects of the Invisibility spell (or a magic elixir or similar) are revealed only as a vague shimmer, giving away location but not identity or nature (you could tell an invisible giant from an invisible leprechaun, but not a human from a gargoyle). Attacks and defenses against such creatures are at -4.
Objects without life, mind or soul are not made visible at all. Illusions affect the character normally. For mages with this advantage, the Aura spell (p.B163), has an energy cost of zero.
Existing Advantages as Sight
Empathy, Intuition, and Danger Sense all have a magical equivalent, with a cost of 20 character points each (five points more than the versions listed in the Basic Set). Mages with these advantages get an additional IQ roll if the first roll is successful, and Magery applies as a bonus to both rolls. Success on the second roll gives a brief visual clue to the mage. The nature of the clue depends on the advantage:
Danger Sense: The first roll reveals the existence of the danger; the second roll lets the mage instantly visualize it, and know approximate direction and distance between he and it.
Empathy: The first roll gives an impression of the character's nature, as described. The second roll, if successful, grants a vision of a recent incident that reinforces the impression. A person that the mage feels is violent and quick-tempered might be seen striking someone or breaking something in a fit of anger, for instance. The details of these visions will sometimes provide clues, and can be used as leverage in dialogue to impress NPCs.
Intuition: The first roll weeds right choices from wrong ones; the second roll grants an impression (sometimes visual, but not always) of why Choice B was such a poor choice compared to Choice A, giving the mage an idea of what he's avoiding.
Psi-sniffers cannot detect these abilities. In no-mana zones, they fail automatically.
Many of the other sensory abilities in existing GURPS books can be defined as having magical versions, with no changes in game mechanics or point cost necessary; these include such things as Dark Vision (p.B235), the Illuminated advantage (GURPS Illuminati) which may already be magical, Penetrating Vision (GURPS Supers) and many spell-based Knacks derived from Magic or Grimoire.
In a modern campaign with Tech Magic, the Magnetic Sense advantage (p.SU42) is very appropriate. GURPS Robots introduces point costs for ``built in'' Bioscanners and other high-tech sensors. These rules could be used to represent magical senses as well.
Second Sight for Blind Characters
Any of the advantages introduced here may be taken by Blind characters; some fantasy wizards see only what can bee seen through their Gift, and not through mortal eyes at all! For instance, a Blind mage might see ghosts moving around him in a field of featureless color or darkness, without seeing the world of ordinary matter. His only visual images of the normal world would be in the flashes and visions provided by other aspects of his Sight.
A mage may also be created with magical blindness; he has no physical eyes, but can see the world plainly through second sight, perhaps as patterns of force or stark outlines. In game terms, the mage is treated as an ordinary sighted character with the Dark Vision advantage (25 points; the no-colors version) and Color Blind disadvantage (-10 points). Of course, he will still recieve a +1 reaction bonus in any society with sympathy for the blind (5 points), and cannot be physically blinded (in no-mana zones, he may be in trouble). The net cost is 20 character points. If the mage can also see colors, it won't matter whether it's dark; the cost increases to 35 points.
Special thanks to Ron Wiltshire, and to the wizards and historians
of the Felis Pardalis campaign, for playtest, encouragement, and junk food.