Step-by-Step: DSA GURPS Conversion II – Races & Cultures

Be advised that this and all of the following conversion articles use my house-rules for variant attribute costs, fine-tuned languages and revised technique pricing – most of which make use of the half-point. Also the price of age-related traits is reduced. This isn’t GURPS rules-as-written and I’d argue, that it’s extremely hard to make GURPS DSA work without advised attribute costs, at least (or at the very minimum RPK’s splitting of IQ, WILL and PER).

Last time in step-by-step conversion I stressed how important it is to go for the immediately useful, while still having a general idea of how the big picture should look like. That’s why races and cultures are usually the first thing you decide on in a fantasy campaign (that or the magic system, but more of that next instalment).

So, what to do with the races? The fourth edition of DSA made the controversial choice of introducing traits for human races to the traditional mix of elves, dwarves and half-elves. Not only does that raise some uncomfortable parallels to some other Germans who used to books about “menschliche Rassen”, but it exaggerates differences that most RPGs thankfully sweep under the carpet. Worse, it made min-maxing savage fringe races that got attribute bonuses, cultures and professions quite desirable for munchkins. Human races are best completely disregarded (barring appearance) and the same goes . There are more than enough races to make playing DSA interesting without adding complications.

In this first post I will confine myself to the races Dwarves, Elves, Half-Elves and Humans. If there’s enough interest, I might write up some of the other “playable” races and maybe some of the ones designated “non-playable”. There are also a couple of example cultures, but I’m not aiming for completeness yet. I’ll just showcase what I’ve needed so far. The focus is on Northern Aventuria. I might expand this section later.

Races

Dwarves [+62 pts.]

Attributes and Secondary Characteristics [+21]: ST +1 [10], HT +1 [15]; Basic Move: Land −1 [−5], Basic Speed −0,25 [−5], FP +2 [6]; SM −1 [0]

Advantages [+51]:
Detect: Secret compartments, doors and other clandestine sone constructions (Takes Extra Time +3 (8 s), −30%) [4]
High Manual Dexterity +1 [5]
Extended Lifespan +2 (Aging Thresholds: 200/280/360 years) [2]
Legal Immunity: Lex Zwergia (Accessibility: Only in Middle Empire, −20%, Fickle (11), −20%) [3]
Lifting ST +1 [3]
Magic Resistance +2 [4]
Night Vision +5 [5]
Perk: Alcohol Tolerance [1]
Perk: Dwarven Gear [1]
Resistant: anorganic poisons (HT +8) [4]
Resistant: disease (HT +8) [4]
Feature: Immunities and Susceptibilities [0]
Feature: Swimming counts as a hard skill (Default: HT −6).

Legal Immunity: Lex Zwergia: For anything more than a misdemeanor dwarves are supposed to be brought before their mountain king for judgement. This applies only in the Middle Empire and not all that consistently at that.
Immunities and Susceptibilities: Dwarves are especially susceptible to seasickness (no bonus from Resistant: Disease). Dumbskull gets the better of the nicest dwarves − during the illness dwarves have Bad Temper (12). If they already have Bad Temper their self-control roll is lower by two levels. Dwarves are immune to lycanthropy and also to the poison Tulmadron.

Dwarves have a long list of modified attributes and smallish advantages. They are a bit toned down compared to most RPG treatments, but that’s just fine for the feeling of the setting. The Legal Immunity is a bit on the weird side and I haven’t seen many groups playing with that, but it is background canon in DSA and so I chose to include it.
Note that dwarves have no disadvantages tied to race. Racial Greed is in the official DSA treatment, but I see this more as socially-conditioned. They might warrant a quirk-level Social Stigma, but I didn’t want to complicate things with too many non-canon traits. They are generally seen as about as trustworthy as the average human.
Feature: Immunities and Susceptibilities is a catch-all term for background stuff that will rarely crop up and mostly evens out. I’m using that for the Elves too.

Elves [+91 pts.]

Attributes and Secondary Characteristics [+33]: ST −1 [−10], DX +1 [25], HP −1 [−2]; Basic Speed +0,5 [10], PER +2 [10]

Advantages [+66]:

Acute Senses: Vision OR Hearing ODER Taste and Smell +3 [6]
Appearance: Attractive (Androgynous, +0%; Racial, +0%) [4]
Less Sleep +2 [4]
Magery +2 [25]
Night Vision +5 [5]
Perk: Distributed Sleep [1]
Perk: Two-voiced Singing [1]
Resistant: Disease (HT +8) [4]
Unaging [6]
Voice [10]
Feature: Immunities and Susceptibilities [0]

Distributed Sleep: While Elves only need 6 hours of sleep a day, they can also re-arrange their sleeping patterns to need only 2 hours a day for 3 days in a row. If they do so, they must catch up missed sleep by sleeping double the missed hours at the end of the three-day period. This is not quite what DSA canon says, but it’s close enough for my taste.
Two-Voiced Singing: Elves can sing with two voices at the same time, which is a requirement for elfsong magic.
Immunities and Susceptibilities: Elves are immune to lycanthropy and rabies. They are especially susceptible to Battleground Fever and Sleeping Disease (no bonus from Resistant: Disease and especially serious). Plants from the garlic family and Stinking Mirble trigger Quirk: Sensitive Sense of Smell (the latter with a −3 penalty). Elves are immune against the poison of Silky Bast, but take extra damage from narcissus poison.

Disadvantages [−8]:
Quirk: Alcohol Intolerance [−1]
Quirk: Horrible Hangovers [−1]
Quirk: Sensitive Sense of Smell [−1]
Social Stigma: Second-class Citizen [−5]

Sensitive Sense of Smell: Elves are extremely susceptible to stench. They resist all attacks based on malodorous smells with a −2 penalty and keep away from bad smells generally. This is mostly negated by putting a clothes-pin on one’s nose.

Elves as a race weren’t very difficult to stat. The attributes and secondary characteristics aren’t terribly different from D&D elves. Because GURPS IQ does include considerably more than just book learning I dropped the penalty from DSA. Magery is on par with a standard DSA mage, but how that works out in the end is extremely dependent on whether the elf grows up in an elven culture or not.
Distributed Sleep is a custom perk and Two-voiced Singing likewise. No need to make things more complicated than that. Alcohol Intolerance and Horrible Hangovers are canon quirks while Sensitive Sense of Smell is a custom one. I was always mystified why DSA 4.1 made this a full-fledged disadvantage. You can pretty much negate it with a clothes-pin.
Social Stigma is tied to the race and not the culture, because the average elf won’t immediately be treated as equal, because he or she grew up among humans. Feel free to delete this if you play a mage or priest who constantly walks around in the readily recognizable dress of his profession.
Everything else is pretty much standard. Note that the template offers a choice which sense to pick for Acute Senses. That’s not a standard GURPS feature for racial templates, but the DSA treatment made sense here.

Half-Elves [+33 pts.]

Attributes and Secondary Characteristics [+23]: ST −1 [−10], DX +1 [25]; HP −1 [−2], Basic Speed +0,25 [5], PER +1 [5]

Advantages [+10]:
Apearance: Attractive (Racial, +0%) [4]
Longevity [1]
Magery +0 [5]

Half-Elves are basically Elves Light. They don’t share most of latter’s bigger advantages and none of their disdavantages, but they are close attribute-wise and also possess Magery. A Social Stigma would have been possible, but it’s already kind of dubious for the Elves as such, so I left it out.

Humans [+0 pts.]

No Modifiers by race.

Humans are nothing special. They are the default and have no traits that differentiate them rules-wise.

Cultures

These were considerably more complicated to stat up than the races. The basic problem anyone doing cultural templates faces is whether to write them up as mandatory or just giving hints to the players. I decided on a middle-of-the-way approach and gave a detailed write-up, but not a mandatory one. Instead there are lists of emblematic traits and skills – things that could reasonably show up on the character sheet of any member of the culture, but wouldn’t be universal. All cultures also list expected language proficiency levels, tech level, status range and a couple of automatic traits. The latter appear mostly for the smaller and more exotic cultures (elves, dwarves, uncivilized peoples).
In each case there are two point costs. One for just the Automatic Languages and Automatic traits and a higher one that also includes all automatic skills – a good basis to start building on.

Dwarves:

Anvil Dwarfs [+3/+15 pts.]:

Cultural Familiarity: Dwarves
Automatic Languages [+2]: Rogolan (Native/Fluent) [−1], Garethi (Fluent/Broken) [3]
Common Languages: rarely Angram
Status: −1 to +5
Tech Level: 4
Automatic Traits [+1]: ST +1 [10]; Talent: Pickaxe Penchant +1 [6]; Odious Racial Habit −1: Use of coal dust ointment [−5], Greed (12) (Dwarven, +0%) [−15]
Emblematic Advantages: 3D Spatial Sense, Fit, Talent: Born Soldier/Dwarven Craftmanship/Mr. Smash/Pickaxe Penchant
Emblematic Disadvantages: Bad Temper, Hidebound, Intolerance: Reptile-Folk, Miserliness, Motion Sickness, Phobia: Open Spaces/Oceans, Stubbornness, Sense of Duty: Clan
Inappropriate Traits: Anti-Talent: Couch Potato/Non-combatant, Faerie Empathy, Fashion Sense, Plant Empathy, Phobia: Enclosed Spaces, Unfit, Xenophilia
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: clan’s tunnels (IQ/E) [2], Axe/Mace (DX/A) [2], Forced Entry (DX/E) [2], Prospecting (IQ/A) [2], Smith: Iron (IQ/A) [2], Wrestling (DX/A) [2]

Pickaxe Penchant can be found in Dungeon Fantasy 3 and Power-Ups 3.
Greed with the Dwarven modifier treats any offer of interesting precious metals or stones (and objects made with them) as giving a -2 penalty on the self-control roll. Any offer that doesn’t involve these gets a +2 bonus on the self-control. Payment in regular coin is at no penalty or bonus.

Anvil Dwarves are one of the few cultures that get a straight-up attribute modifier. All of them are trained for war from childhood and they value strength highly.

Elves:

Lea Elf Clan [−11/+4 pts.]

Cultural Familiarity: Elves
Automatic Languages [−1]: Isdira (Native/None) [−2], Garethi (Fluent/None) [2]
Common Languages: Nivesian, Norbardic, rarely: Rogolan, Thorwalian, Tulamidya
Status: −1 to +2
Tech Level: 3
Automatic Traits [−10]: Arcane Knowledge: Salasandra [1], Code of Honor: Elves [−10], Quirk: Areligious [−1]
Emblematic Advantages: Acute Senses, Animal Empathy, Breath-Holding, Plant Empathy, Perfect Balance, Talent: Animal Friend/Born Sailor/Forest Guardian/Green Thumb/Outdoorsman
Emblematic Disadvantages: Curious, Sense of Duty: Clan, Phobia: Crowds
Inappropriate Traits: Alcoholism, Anti-Talent: Couch Potato, Bad Smell, Berserker, Night Blindness, Social Chameleon, Unfit
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: clan’s hunting grounds (IQ/E) [2], Bow (DX/A) [2], Camouflage (IQ/E) [1], Fishing (PER/E) [2], Musical Instrument: {iama} (IQ/H) [2], Naturalist (IQ/H) [1], Stealth (DX/A) [2], Survival: Plains OR Swampland (PER/A) [2], Swimming (HT/E) [2]

Arcane Knowledge: Salasandra allows members of one clan to open their souls to one another. Treat this as Empathy (Only one Person). Together with Two-voiced Singing it also enables the use of elfsong in the community of the clan.
Code of Honor: Elf is the basis of what it means to be an elf. Elves wouldn’t see it as a code, but just the way they are. Game-wise it’s sufficiently described with: Do not exploit nature, but return something of your own for every gift your receive. Revere your soul animal and do not hunt it. Keep a balance between creation and destruction in your own actions. Heed your dreams. Do not pursue wealth or dominance over others. Truly important things can only be learned in your clan’s salasandra.

Lea Elves are DSA’s “beginner’s elves”. They are easier to roleplay than the more remote Wood or Firn Elves and the fact that they can learn more languages reflects off-the-bat reflects this. Their code of honor can still be a challenge for veteran players, though.

Firn Elf Clan [-10/+9 pts.]

Cultural Familiarity: Elves
Automatic Languages [−2]: Isdira (Native/None) [−3], Garethi (Broken/None) [1]
Common Languages: Nujuka; rarely: Yeti
Status: −1 to +2
Tech Level: 2
Automatic Traits [−10]: Arcane Knowledge: Salasandra [1], Temperature Tolerance +2 (−15 to +25° C); Code of Honor: Elves [−10], Quirk: Areligious [−1]
Emblematic Advantages: Absolute Direction, Acute Senses, Animal Empathy, Danger Sense, Fearlessness, Perfect Balance, Talent: Animal Friend/Born Athlete/Born Sailor/Forest Guardian/Outdoorsman/Stalker/Survivor
Emblematic Disadvantages: Curious, Sense of Duty: Clan, Phobia: Crowds, Shyness
Inappropriate Traits: Alcoholism, Anti-Talent: Couch Potato, Bad Smell, Berserker, Fat, Laziness, Night Blindness, Overweight, Social Chameleon, Unfit
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: clan’s hunting grounds (IQ/E) [2], Boating (DX/A) [2], Bow (DX/A) [2] OR Thrown Weapon: Spear (DX/E) [2], Fishing (PER/E) [2], Musical Instrument: {iama} (IQ/H) [2], Naturalist (IQ/H) [2], Stealth (DX/A) [2], Survival: Arctic (PER/A) [4], Swimming (HT/E) [1]

Not the nicest and most accessible guys in the book, Firn Elves are mainly tough as nails.

Humans:

Garetian (Middlelandic townsfolk) [−2/+1 pts.]

Cultural Familiarity: Middlelander
Automatic Languages [−2]: Garethi: {possibly a variant dialect} (Native/Broken) [−2]
Common Languages: Tulamidya, Rogolan, Thorwalian
Status: −2 to +7
Tech Level: 4
Automatic Traits: none
Emblematic Advantages: Contact, Social Chameleon, Talent: Craftiness/Street Smarts/Smooth Operator
Emblematic Disadvantages: Anti-Talent: Couch Potato, Curious, Selfish
Inappropriate Traits: Faerie Empathy, Spirit Empathy; Phobia: Crowds
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: home town (IQ/E) [1]

Basic townsfolk in the Middle Empire and elsewhere. They are a pretty varied lot and have few emblematic skills as such.

Middle Empire (Middlelandic country folks) [−3/−1 pts.]

Cultural Familiarity: Middlelander
Automatic Languages [−3]: Garethi: {possibly a variant dialect} (Native/None) [−3]
Common Languages: Tulamidya, Rogolan, Thorwalian
Status: −2 to +7
Tech Level: 3-4
Automatic Traits: none
Emblematic Advantages: Common Sense, Danger Sense, Fit, Talent: Survivor
Emblematic Disadvantages: Delusion: Superstition, Loner, Intolerance: esp. strangers, city-folk, Social Stigma: Serf (Second-class citizen)
Inappropriate Traits: Social Chameleon; Phobia: open spaces
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: home village (IQ/E) [1], Farming (IQ/A) [1] OR Animal Handling: {Farm Animal} (IQ/A) OR Fishing (PER/E) [1]

Country folks need at least one skill to make a living – yes, even if they are merely herding the serfs who do the actual work.

Fountland (Foundlandic countryside and small towns) [−3/−1 pts.]:

Cultural Familiarity: Middlelander
Automatic Languages [−3]: Garethi: Fountlandian (Native/None) [−3]
Common Languages: Alaani, Nujuka
Status: −2 to +6
Tech Level: 3-4
Automatic Traits: none
Emblematic Advantages: Absolute Direction, Common Sense, Fit, Talent: Business Acumen/Outdoorsman/Survivor, Temperature Tolerance (only towards cold)
Emblematic Disadvantages: Inappropriate Traits: Delusions: Superstition, Chummy, Social Chameleon; Phobia: open spaces, Social Stigma: Serf (Second-class citizen)
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: home village (IQ/E) [1], Farming (IQ/A) [1] OR Animal Handling: {Farm Animal} (IQ/A) OR Fishing (PER/E) [1]

Pretty similar to the previous culture Fountlandians also represent the archetype of the clever merchant. That doesn’t mean every second serf has the skill.

Amazon Stronghold (Prerequisite: human woman) [−7/+4 pts.]:

Cultural Familiarity: Amazonian
Automatic Languages [−2]: Garethi: Amazonian OR Tuladmidya: Amazonian (Native/Broken) [−2]
Common Languages: Garethi, Tulamidya
Status: +0 to +4
Tech Level: 3
Automatic Traits [−5]: Fit [5], Social Regard: Respected +1 [5]; Code of Honor: Amazon [−15]
Emblematic Advantages: Combat Reflexes, Danger Sense, Fearlessness, Fit, High Pain Threshold, Rapid Healing, Single-Minded, Talent: Born Athlete/Born War Leader/Devotion
Emblematic Disadvantages: Anti-Talent: Unsubtle, Intolerance: Men, No Sense of Humor, Selfish
Inappropriate Traits: Anti-Talent: Animal Foe/Couch Potato/Non-Combattant, Cowardice, Cultural Adaptability, Faerie Empathy, Fat, Greed, Kobold Empathy, Magery, Pacifism for more than 10 pts., Social Chameleon, Spirit Empathy, Unfit
Emblematic Skills: Area Knowledge: Stronghold and environs (IQ/E) [1], Bow (DX/A) OR Thrown Weapon: Spear (DX/E) [2], Broadsword (DX/A) [2], Climbing (DX/A) [1], Riding (DX/A) [2], Running (HT/A) [1], Soldier (IQ/A) [1], Theology: Rondra (IQ/H) [1]

Code of Honor: Amazon resembles a Knight’s or Rondra Priest’s Code, but with a different focus. Ruleswise it’s the follwing: “Punish each insult to Rondra. Meet each challenge appropriately. Fight honorably, meaning no assassin’s tactics and poison use, ranged weapons and ambushes are permitted. Rebuke weak women and haughty men. Do not evade combat, except when honor demands it. Refrain from relationships with men. Temper your spirit and body and be hard towards yourself and others. Give a monthly blood tithe to Rondra – through combat, your own blood or animal sacrifice. Obey the orders of higher-ranking Amazons.”
“Active” Amazons who are still part of the command structure supplement this with a Duty, but few such PCs will be able to stay with any group of adventurers for long. Playing outcast or lost Amazons will be the norm.

Amazons didn’t have it easy in recent years in canon. They are also notoriously hard to integrate into a group of adventurers, but they do present a nice roleplaying challenge.

Parting Shots

In general, it is not necessary to stat every culture in the book. It is enough for the GM to know which cultural familiarity and languages exist in an area, what kind of status levels are available, what other social traits and skills are very important and what’s the general attitude of the populace. If you know Aventuria well and are familiar with GURPS you can do that on the fly during character creation. That raises an important point: The GM should always be present for the main part of character creation. Even if your players are veterans of both GURPS and DSA, don’t leave them to fend on their own. It’s generally okay for players to submit a draft, but then you should talk it through together. That goes doubly for setting conversions. A new ability or combination of traits that looked perfectly fine toa player can turn out extremely unbalancing when somebody else gives it a once-over. GURPS character creation is not Solitaire.


The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.

GURPS is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games, and the art here is copyrighted by Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy

Advertisements

Review: GURPS Thaumatology – Sorcery

As all my other reviews this one will be rated according to meat (rules, stats, game mechanics), cheese (setting, characters, story), sauce (form, writing, style, art) and generic nutritional substance (universal nature, adaptability). At the end you find a weighted average of those components and a value score that also takes into account price per page.

This week’s release was hinted at beforehand, but GURPS Thaumatology – Sorcery wasn’t exactly what I expected. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome addition to the ever-growing list of alternatives to the standard magic system from GURPS Magic.

Cover of GURPS Thaumatology - SorceryAs with last couple of titles in the Thaumatology series, prospective readers don’t actually need GURPS Thaumatology to use this book. Surprising is the fact that they don’t strictly need Powers or Magic either. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that you have an easy alternative magic system for new players here. Sorcery is almost on the level of Ritual Path Magic when it comes to the required rules-savvyness. If a GM is up to snuff, he can use the material to make it easier for inexperienced players to create magic-users, but like Ritual Path Magic the book on its own doesn’t quite provide a ready-to-use system replete with all the spells you could ever need.

Before I dive into the contents, a hint for prospective buyers: The material here is an expansion of the article “The Power of Sorcery” in Pyramid 3.63: Infinite Worlds II. As this wasn’t a magic issue of Pyramid you might have missed it, even if you have a subscription. The material has been greatly expanded from 7 pages to 32, but it’s still based on the same assumptions. If you like the Pyramid article, you will like the stand-alone treatment. The same goes for the opposite.

Facts

Author:  Jason Levine (“Reverend Pee Kitty / PK”)
Date of Publication:  2015/08/06
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 36 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1 index page, 1 page ad)
Price: $7.99 (PDF), $ 0.25 per page of content; Score of 4/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-thaumatology-sorcery

Review

The book is almost exclusively concerned with rules, but it does have a few nods to world-building mechanics (like the economics of enchantment) and atmosphere (rules for magical weapons etc.). It’s the first generic treatment of Magic as Powers as a stand-alone volume. Chinese Elemental Powers, while also using this approach, was a lot more setting specific and less comprehensive. Not that the volume at hand tries to present a ready-to-play magic kit, but its scope is much more inclusive.

The book is divided into three chapters. The first one comes in at 8 pages and explains how Sorcery works. This part is pretty exhaustive answering almost every question about the system that could come up. It offers some rules switches that give players more tactical options and explains in detail how the mechanics were arrived at. These “Under the Hood” boxes were always a strength in RPK’s work and they don’t disappoint here. In addition to that there is a discussion of spell types that gives us keywords like “Jet”, “Obvious”, “Buff” and “Weapon Buff” – in short things that really should have been in the fourth-edition treatment of GURPS Magic. This section doesn’t merely describe what the keywords mean, but also how to build spells of these types.

And this brings us to chapter two, which is basically a list of two GURPS Magic spells per college that have been given the Spells as Powers treatment and found a second life as abilities. This section is 15 pages long and takes up the lion’s share of the book. Now, that’s a bit more than three spells a page with ability write-ups, effects, point costs and spell statistics and that makes things a bit cramped. There are definitely a couple of very interesting ways of statting the abilities – my favourite is using Contact! as a base for Awaken Computer – but I can’t help but feel that this is neither very close to the original spells nor all that helpful for beginners. The grimoire in RPK’s Ritual Path Magic was much more  comprehensive and offered enough rituals for novice GMs to tide them over for a while. Maybe it would have been better to not directly mirror Magic in this regard. Readers who also own Pyramid 3.63 can, however, add a hefty dose of fire spells to the mix.

Chapter three brings us enchantment rules for sorcerers and that’s where the book really shines. In 7 pages RPK gives us comprehensive rules from spending character points to spending time (and risking failure) to the intrinsic value needed for enchanted items to the economics of enchantment. We learn why jewellery is so much easier to enchant than swords, why there are no magic clothes in this system (except for cloaks) and even how to make potions.

The book is rounded of with a sample character that shows us how compressed a sorcerer’s character sheet can be.

Meat

As I’ve said above, this book is almost all meat and will be rated accordingly. The heart of the content lies in the new advantage Sorcerous Empowerment. SoEmp works similar to Divine Favor from the eponymous volume in Powers series. Basically you have SoEmp as an enabling advantage that allows you to

a) improvise relatively weak spells (Improvisation)
b) improvise relatively powerful spells, but at a greater cost and risk (Hardcore Improvisation)
c) learn spells that cost less than the points you spent on SoEmp (Learned Spells)

Spells in this are always built as abilities and make use Sorcery Talent. They normally cost 1 FP and take 2 seconds to cast, but don’t usually mandate a skill roll or any ritual – except for hardcore improvisation. These changes make Sorcery feel quite different from Standard Magic, which is good. If you don’t like the psi-like lack of ritual, there’s an optional rule to add it back in. Sorcerers are as a rule less flexible than a fully-trained mage, but given enough power that gap closes. In any case, they have a lot of flexibility when it comes to very low-level effects, which is something that Standard Magic is not so good with.

There are however, two problems with this system. The first is that the more specialised you become the higher your level of SoEmp has to be to use hardcore improvisation and learned spells. While specialisation indeed benefits regular improvisation there aren’t that many spells you can use that way even with a very high SoEmp level. This is unfortunate, since most fictional examples present specialisation as a way to gain power more quickly. This is pretty much impossible under these rules. The other problem is more endemic to the Magic as Powers approach: It shares all the shortcomings of the standard ability system, namely that Innate Attack is very cheap and Affliction and some marginal abilities are very expensive.

For example, the relatively impotent effect of No-Smell costs 63 points, while a Sunbolt inflicting 15 dice of damage costs 60 points. Granted, not giving off any scent can occasionally be a life-saver, but I know which of those my players would choose. With most spells costing only a single fatigue point, the biggest balancing mechanism of Standard Magic is gone and the GM runs into the typical problems of a Supers game. Sure, you can set arbitrary limits on damage or pre-construct a list of of approved spells, but examples like that Sunbolt make things difficult for the GM.

Which brings us to the spell list in chapter two. The spells are not exactly conversions of the versions given in Magic, but more like re-imaginings, which makes them rather hard to compare to what various members of the GURPS community have produced over the years. The good thing about that is that they are often a lot less complicated than the spells in Magic. The bad thing is that they are sometimes really free-form and not quite rules-conforming (e.g. Grease giving only the bad effects of Control: Friction).

Having said that, some of RPK’s solutions to difficult conversion problems are sometimes nothing short of ingenious. I’ve already mentioned Awaken Computer, but any of the following are at least interesting to look at: Repel Animals, Haircut, Tanglefoot, Create Object, Disintegrate, Inspired Creation, Dispel Magic, Remove Curse, Lesser Geas and Reverse Missiles. Of course, they often do change some rather significant parts of the spells they re-build, but if nothing else they are very good studies in how to build abilities.

Chapter three contains a complete enchantment system that is the piece-de-resistance of the book. In contrast to everything that has gone on before, this part is plug-and-play. Instead of arbitrary energy costs for any given spell, it uses its character point cost as the basis then modifies it by the type of object it is cast on. This is similar to gadget limitations, but the implementation shows little of the origins. It is relatively simple and very elegant. Instead of Magic’s quick-and-dirty (less than a day, but low energy) and slow-and-sure (no limits, but taking years), the time used for enchantment is always somewhere in the middle (from days to months). That depends on how many character points the enchanter is willing to spend. The character-point intensive method is called Personal Sacrifice, the time-intensive is called Spectral Forging and is more dangerous. All powerful items need at least some personal sacrifice, though. No matter what kind of method you use, you will make frequent rolls and even if your critically fail there’s always a chance to start over without losing everything.

This excellent core system can be used with any magic system as long as you have the spells statted as abilities. In addition to this core RPK adds extra rules for the inherent value of items, economic considerations and optional rules for attuning items to the wearer if the GM is worried about Sorcery proliferation.

The sample character is nothing special, but rounds off the book nicely.

Meat score: 7.5 (empowered)

Cheese

As I’ve said, there’s little that relates to world-building or matters of atmosphere. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in a rules-focused book. Enchantment takes into consideration some world-building issues and the sample character could be easily be used for a Banestorm session or two.

Cheese score: 3

Sauce

The interior is sparsely illustrated and all the illustrations are relatively simple ones from third-edition sources, but they don’t distract much from the material. The cover, however is extremely uninspired merely combining the interior images into a ribbon. One of the illustrations is cropped in a way that you have no idea what’s going on. I much prefer some abstract styling like in Magical Styles – Dungeon Magic, Powers – Enhanced Senses or Power-Ups 8. That’s more recognisable and prettier at the same time.

The style is very readable and the editing is top-notch – I found one typo, but wouldn’t we happy if that was all we could find in our RPG books? It’s also the first RPG product I know of that has pull quotes from both My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Homestuck. Isn’t that magical enough…

Sauce score: 5.5 (okay art, good writing and editing, lousy cover)

Generic Nutritional Substance

Of course any book about matters magical is not going to be appropriate for settings without supernatural elements. Apart from that, Sorcery is certainly generic enough to be dropped into many settings. You need only add Low-Tech to make up standard S&S, urban fantasy is generally fine with powers you find within your self and even for Science Fantasy it’s a good match.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 7.5 (pretty generic supernatural upgrade for your campaign)

Summary

Sorcery brings many good things and some that are slightly disappointing. If you’re looking for something that makes your magic-users quick, somewhat flexible and not totally imbalanced, it is the book for you. If you only want a catalogue of GURPS Magic spells as powers, this isn’t it yet. If you’re looking for a good enchantment system and don’t mind the price tag, buy it!

Total score: 6,425  (good, but hampered by some hiccups)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (50%), Cheese (15%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a meat-oriented book. A “cheesy” setting- or drama-orientied book would turn the percentages for cheese and meat around.

Value score: 5.2125 (still average, though among the pricier GURPS PDFs due to its short length)
Value Score is composed of the average of Total and Price.


GURPS is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games, and the art here is copyrighted by Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy.