Fixing the GURPS Magic Framework

Fixing GURPS Magic is a two-part process and this post is merely going to offer ideas for the first step: fixing the general framework. A comprehensive bug-fix for GURPS Magic would have to review every single spell, many of which need more than just a quick once-over.

Cooking It up

There are three main problem areas in GURPS Magic and they’re all interdependent:

1) IQ + Magery beats investing points in spells
Unless you want to build a one-spell-pony, the rules-as-written don’t encourage you to invest more than a single  point per spell. IQ and a level of Magery may cost 30 points, but the number of interesting spells is great enough that most mages will have at least twenty spells in two or three colleges. Add in the general versatility of IQ and in-depth study of a spell will never make sense. Official builds from 3rd Edition supported this method with rare exceptions and 4th Edition’s Dungeon Fantasy follows that trend. Not only does this demote spells from real skills to quasi-perks, it invalidates a lot of interesting archetypes.

2) Generalists beat specialists
Magery is one of the traits with the greatest number of canon special limitations, but the one limitation we often see in fiction or the-other-game sees relatively little use on character sheets: One-College-Only. At -40% it offers a decent discount (and can be combined with other limitations), but reduces versatility by something fierce. Going from 800+ to on average 40 spells is not the main problem. The problem is lacking access to the main utility spells (Recover Energy, Magesight, Armor etc.) offering only measly 4 points / level in exchange. Tying maximum Magery to points invested instead of level alleviates this somewhat, but even then other limitations are the better option.

3) Everybody just aims for skill 15/20/25…
Arguably the biggest problem with GURPS Magic are the “free maintenance” break-points. While it is a cute idea to have an extremely skilled mage maintain spells for free, it does turn the game into “Buffing 101”. Combined with the fact that all spells (barring very hard ones) are likely to be at the same skill level this just makes generalists even more powerful − and boring.

Before I search for possible solutions, let’s look at what GURPS Magic does right − something that’s not done very often, but if it was a whole lot of garbage, why even try to fix it?

1) Spells are skills
This fits a lot of tropes in fantasy fiction. While some wizards are masters of improvisation, many do indeed use spells and invocations learned by rote. Even if they can be varied, that often has strict limits. What could and should be changed, though, is that spells are all based on the same attribute and can never be of easy or average difficulty. Some existing spells could also be changed into techniques based on similar spells.

2) You’ve got to learn to walk before you can run
Prerequisite trees are logical in a way that immediately resonates with players. Of course, you need to learn how to conjure little flames before you start throwing around fireballs. The individual trees might not always be completely logical (or easy to follow), but the concept is sound. This comes to the fore when some spells (especially the Weather college) need solid grounding in two or more colleges. This could be expanded even further

3) Great talent can overcome restrictions
One of the few changes 4th Edition introduced what that a high level of Magery can overcome built-in restrictions of spells − and also limits your damage output. This idea is basically sound, but suffers from the fact that virtually all PC mages will have the maximum allowable Magery level.

4) Competence has its perks
While they weren’t added until many years after the release of GURPS Magic, the addition of Magical styles and style perks offer the GM great tools to make their casters unique.

Tying these together this brings a couple of changes to mind:

1) Fixing attribute costs is a good start.

2) Next is disassociating Magery from its talent bonus. Ten points for +1 to all spells was never balanced and if we make IQ more costly, it’s even worse. Instead Magery costs a flat 10 points per level (including level 0) and does only do two things: It allows you exceed levelled or energy-based limits on spells and it allows you to learn more powerful spells.

3) This new Magery is complemented by Talents for single colleges, which cost either 5 to 15 points per level. Talents act as Magery for their respective colleges, but also give a skill bonus in addition. The combined number of Magery levels and Talent levels has a maximum. You can either have broad access to all spells and little talent or loads of specialised talent and a little access to more powerful spells outside that sphere.

4) Skill level has no influence on ritual requirements and maintenance costs. Instead both are tied to relative level and voluntary penalties. With a relative level of attribute −2 you simply cannot cast a spell without words or gestures, with attribute −1 you can try either at a −4 penalty each. Similar, you can try to save on maintenance costs by taking a −4 to effective skill per point of energy − a chancy thing for resisted spells.

5) Casting costs are reduced according to Margin of Success.

The Finished Dish

GURPS Magic is a complicated beast and therefore the finished rule tweaks are a bit more elaborate than usual.

Magery and Magic Talent

Magery costs ten points per level (including level 0). It allows you to exceed limits on effect as per GURPS Magic p. 9. A certain level of Magery is also part the prerequisites of most advanced spells. Without Magery 0 or a corresponding Magic Talent you cannot cast spells. Magery might or might not allow you to recognise magic items on sight or touch as per B 66, but the GM can treat this as a setting switch. Magery never gives a skill bonus or reduces studying time to learn spells.

Magic Talent costs five to fifteen points per level (excluding level 0) and gives all the benefits of the Magery within its respective college. A mage with Magery 0 does not need to buy any zero-level Magic Talents, but it is possible for a mage to have no Magery whatsoever and only rely on Magic Talents. In that case each Magic Talent +0 costs 4 points. While this is rarely cost-effective for more than two levels it opens up some ways to get more Magic Talent than usual (see below).

Magic Talent Cost by College
Air 10 Light/Darkness 5
Animal 5 Making/Breaking 5
Body Control 15 Meta 5
Communication/Empathy 5 Mind Control 15
Earth 5 Movement 10
Enchantment 10 Necromancy 10
Fire 5 Plant 15
Food 5 Protection/Warning 10
Gate 5 Sound 5
Healing 5 Technology 10
Illusion/Creation 5 Water 15
Knowledge 10 Weather 5

In each campaign there is a maximum cost for combined levels of Magery and Magic Talent. In a typical fantasy campaign like Banestorm this might 50 points. That’s enough to buy for example Magery +3 and Magic Talent: Fire +2. Alternatively it could buy Magery +1, Magic Talent: Food +4 and Magic Talent: Movement +1. Or it could buy Magic Talent: Mind Control +2, Magic Talent: Healing +2 and Magic Talent: Knowledge +1 without any Magery whatsoever.

Limitations and Enhancements affect these costs. All special modifiers for Magery work for both advantages except for Limited Colleges, which is only available for Magery, and One-College Only, which is now superfluous.

Higher and lower maximum costs are possible, but the system starts to breaking down at 80 to 90 points unless you have a considerable number of spells requiring Magery/Magic Talent +4. It’s generally a bad idea to allow any Talent give more than +6 bonus so that sets another limit on how high you want to go. At 20 to 40 points the system still works fine, but requires mages to make some hard choices. Less than 20 points are probably not a good idea.

Ritual, Energy Cost and Casting Time

All three of these are tied to both relative level in a skill and how well he can cast it. Ritual grows less elaborate with higher relative level, but does never vanish unless the mage makes a conscious effort and takes a penalty. Maintenance costs can be lowered by taking a penalty, but only if the mage has a high enough relative level. Casting time can be lowered in the same way. Casting costs are dependent on Margin of Success.

Relative level Standard Ritual1 Reduced Ritual2 Cost Reduction Casting time5
Casting3 Maintenance4
Attribute −3 Extremely Elaborate −1 per 5 MoS
Attribute −2 Elaborate −1 per 4 MoS
Attribute −1 Normal No Words or No Gestures −1 per 4 MoS −5 per energy −5 per second
Attribute +0 Normal No Words and No Gestures −1 per 3 MoS −5 per energy −4 per second
Attribute +1 Subtle No Words and No Gestures −1 per 3 MoS −4 per energy −3 per second
Attribute +2 Subtle No Words and No Gestures −1 per 2 MoS −4 per energy −2 per second

1 The words and movements normally required for casting the spell:
Extremely elaborate: Requires sweeping movements of both arms and legs − both hands must be free − and shouted words (base hearing distance: 6 m), which give a clear indication of the spell being cast. Base casting time is multiplied by five.
Requires movement of both arms and some body full body movement − one hand and both legs must be free − and loudly spoken words (base hearing distance: 4 m), which give some indication of the spell being cast. Base casting time is doubled.
Requires gestures with one hand and clearly spoken words (base hearing distance: 1 m), that give those with Thaumatology an indication of the spell being cast. Normal casting time.
Requires subtle gestures with one hand and whispered words (base hearing distance: ½ m), that give those with Thaumatology an indication of the spell being cast. Normal casting time.
2 Eliminating either ritual words or ritual gestures gives a skill penalty of −4, eliminating both gives a penalty of −8.
3 Every full multiple of the given margin of success reduces casting (but not maintenance) costs by 1 energy. MoS is always figured from effective skill, including penalties from reduced ritual, maintenance or time.
4 Maintenance costs can be reduced by 1 energy for every multiple of the penalty taken.
5 Casting time can be reduced either by one second or 10%, whichever is better. Casting time can also be increased to get a bonus to effective skill: x5 gives +1, x20 gives +2, x60 gives +3.

The Leftovers

That’s the basic framework. You still need to look at every spell and decide whether it should be easy, average or hard − very hard spells can stay that way − and whether it wouldn’t be better served by using Will, Perception, Dexterity, Health or even 10+High Manual Dexterity as the controlling attribute. This will be a long and tedious process, but the results should be worth it. While doing that, spells can be balanced against each other, made compliant with 4th Edition concepts (e.g. no absolutes), tagged with keywords, checked for incongruent prerequisites and maybe put into different colleges. It’s probably also a good idea to reduce the number of spells by declaring some to be techniques based on similar spells, too.

As for tweaking the presented rules further, you could fine-tune the costs of Magic Talent per college to cost one point per 5/6/7 spells (minimum: 5 pts.). Or, going into the opposite direction, even declare all 15-point colleges to cost only 10 points. As it is, they are a bit less attractive at the moment, but be aware that a mage with Magery +0 and Magic Talent: Mind Control +4 can be pretty darn effective.

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

GURPS DSA – Wirklich eine gute Idee?

This is a German variant of the English article. There isn’t much here that isn’t in the English version.

In der irrigen Annahme, dass jemand aus Deutschland daran interessiert sein könnte, hier noch eine Version des letzten Artikels in der Originalsprache des Schwarzen Auges.

Als langjähriger Freund und Playtester von GURPS habe ich schon manche Konversion unternommen, aber von DSA hatte ich mich immer ferngehalten bis alter Freund mal wieder spielen wollte und wir nach zwei Abenteuern feststellen mussten, dass niemand die Regeln mochte.

Für den geneigten deutschen Leser – d.h. jemanden, dem Pen & Paper Rollenspiele bekannt sind – brauche ich nicht viele Worte um DSA zu machen, aber ein paar Stichpunkte zu den Eigenschaften des Settings sind natürlich nützlich.


1) DSA ist ein dichtes Setting. Nicht jeder Spielleiter – auch nicht jeder GURPS-SL – ist gut im Worlbuilding und DSA hat genug Material, dass so ein Makel nie auffallen wird. Die Welt ist – für eine Fantasywelt – auch nicht zu unlogisch (jaja, die Klimazonen, ich weiß).

2) Der Support mit neuem Material ist sichergestellt. Alte Abenteuer sind auch gut als PDF zu erhalten. Insgesamt ist der Support vergleichbar mit GURPS, wenn auch mit anderer Stoßrichtung (Setting, Abenteuer) und etwas schwankender Qualität.

3) Durch die Abenteuer und das sehr ausgestaltete Setting nimmt DSA dem Spielleiter viel ab. Wer keine vorgefertigten Abenteuer mag, ist natürlich falsch beraten DSA oder eine GURPS-Variante zu seinem System zu erküren.

4) Es gibt jede Menge originelle Charakterkonzepte. Nicht nur vermeidet man den Standard-Krieger und -Magier, Charaktere wie Schelm, Zibilja, Kristallomant oder Geweihter laden zum etwas anderen Rollenspiel ein. Abstimmung mit Gruppe und SL ist dabei natürlich immer wichtig.

5) Die große Fangemeinde macht das Finden von Spielern recht einfach. Ob das auch für die GURPS-Variante zutrifft kann ich nicht sagen, aber eine bestehende DSA-Gruppe zu überzeugen, die GURPS-Regeln auszuprobieren war bei mir machbar.


1) Das Setting kann überwältigend sein. Der prospektive SL sollte sich klar machen, wie nahe er am “offiziellen” Aventurien bleiben will und wie fanatisch seine Spieler auf dem Kanon beharren. Abenteuer sind besonders schlimm in dieser Hinsicht mit ihren Orts- und Zeitbeschränkungen. Jedoch ist es häufig möglich letztere zu umgehen, wenn man den Kleinkram überliest. Ortsbeschränkungen sind dagegen oft nicht zu ändern, auch wenn die Abenteuer es manchmal übertreiben. Hier könnte eine gute Liste Abhilfe schaffen, aber bislang konnte ich noch nichts finden.

2) Über die Regeln kann man einiges sagen, aber viel Gutes ist nicht dabei. Ohne Automatisierung ist die Charaktererstellung ein einziger Horror, die Talent-Probe ist ein schlechter Witz, der aber für 50% des Spiels verantwortlich ist, Sonderfertigkeiten machen aus realistischer Perspektive selten Sinn und Beschränkungen wie Elfische Weltsicht sind einfach blöd. Vieles was an der vierten Edition gut ist (echte Vor- und Nachteile, mehr Kampfoptionen, Variation von Zaubern) wurde von anderen Systeme (v.a. GURPS) mehr schlecht als recht übernommen. Schwer wiegt auch die Tatsache, dass vieles einfach nicht so zum Hintergrund passt wie man ihn aus Romanen und Zitaten kennt.

3) DSA-Fans sind oft recht fanatisch. Einerseits ist das gut, da die Spieler dann nicht schnell die Lust verlieren, andererseits muss man sich als SL oft mal auf die Finger klopfen lassen. Und es ist auch nicht witzig sich von realweltlichen Praioten runterputzen zu lassen, nur weil man eine Hexe in der Gruppe hat.

4) Die Kosten für die Materialien sind hoch. Auch wenn man sich als GURPS-SL auf die Basics beschränken kann wird man doch an Schwerter & Helden, Zauberei & Hexenwerk, Götter & Dämonen und einigen Hintergrundwerken nicht vorbei kommen. Selbst als PDF laufen diese drei veralteten “Grund”regelwerke auf 60€ heraus. Das (gerade noch) aktuelle Wege-Paket schlägt sohar mit 90€ zu Buche. Und damit sind noch nicht die Hintergrüne und Abenteuer abgedeckt. Okay, GURPS ist auch nicht gerade billig, aber die Vielzahl von DSA-Regionalbänden kann den Erwerb recht teuer machen (zumal nicht alle als PDF vorhanden sind).

5) Der Sprach-Mix macht’s schwer. Die vierte Edition von GURPS gibt es nur auf Englisch und DSA gibt es praktisch nur auf Deutsch. Ich muss tatsächlich mal nachfragen, ob es legal ist Übersetzungen zu posten. DSA mit englischen Skills und Disadvantages zu spielen macht jedenfalls nicht soviel Spaß.


Warum sollte man sich überhaupt an einer Konversion versuchen? Da gibt es durchaus Gründe dafür:

1) Etwas, das GURPS immer wieder Probleme bereitet, ist das Fehlen detaillierter Settings. Ja, es gibt die Infinite Worlds, in die man jedes Setting einbetten kann. Sowohl für Infinite Worlds als auch für Banestorm gibt es sogar eine kleine Quellenbücher, aber das war’s dann auch schon, wenn man sich nicht auf Transhuman Space und dessen Übergang von 3. auf 4. Edition einlassen will. GURPS ist nichts für SLs, die ein komplettes Setting mit allen wichtigen NSCs, detaillierten Stadtbeschreibungen und einer fortlaufenden Timeline erwarten. Das heisst aber nicht, dass jeder GURPS-SL ständig nur eigene Sachen erfinden will. Manchmal ist es auch einfach schön sich einfach auf eine existierende Welt einzulassen.

2) DSA ist, im Gegensatz zu Spaßvögeln wie D&D und Rifts, einfach zu konvertieren. Ja, es gibt viel Material, aber vieles davon braucht keine Spielwerte. Es gibt nicht in jedem dritten Buch zwanzig neue Rassen und Monster. Das Regelsystem versucht realistisch zu sein (Attacken und Paraden, Rüstungen, die tatsächlich Schaden aufhalten, keine arbiträren “3 x pro Tag”-Kräfte, energiebasierte Zauber und so weiter und so fort. Wenn man sich von der inneraventurischen Wirklichkeit leiten lässt, so muss man nicht alle Heldentypen konvertieren, sondern kann sich auf den gesunden Menschenverstand der Spieler verlassen. Natürlich sind Magie und Götterwirken eine Ausnahme. Natürlich müssen Rassen und Kreaturen Stats haben, aber das ist kein unüberwindliches Problem.

3) GURPS macht DSA tatsächlich besser. Techlevel, Vertrautheiten, Martial-Arts-Stile, Göttliche Gnade, detaillierte Rüstungen, Regeln für Höhlenforschung, ausgewogene Vor- und Nachteile, realistische Fertigkeiten, Start mit erfahrenen Charakteren und vieles mehr.

Nicht so schönes

Einige Sachen komplizieren die Konversion:

1) GURPS Magic braucht nach all den Jahren immer noch ein Patch. Eines der wenigen Büchern, bei denen die Qualität auf der Strecke blieb.

2) Es gibt immer noch kein aktuelles GURPS Bestiarium. Man kann aber auf andere Publikationen und die alte Version zurückgreifen.

3) Gibt es überhaupt ein Interesse daran. Klar mache ich das sowieso für meine Gruppe, aber es wäre schon schön zu wissen, dass andere auch daran Interesse hätten. Warum sollte man’s sonst posten? Kommentare sind also sehr willkommen.

Für’s Erste wird das der letzte GURPS DSA Artikel in deutscher Sprache sein. Vielleicht schreibe ich ja noch Übersetzungen für die folgenden Artikel, wenn ich ein paar Hits aus Deutschland kriege. Bei Kommentaren schreib ich definitiv was.

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

GURPS DSA – A Good Idea?

You can find a German variant of this article here.

Das Schwarze Auge / The Dark Eye, commonly known as DSA among fans and detractors alike, ranks among the top three RPGs in Germany, but has never quite managed to gain a foothold anywhere else. Americans are most likely to recognize it as the engine that ran the three PC games released under the name “Realms of Arkania” in the nineties.

Now, there’s a couple of reasons why DSA has a very loyal following in Germany and also why it never made much headway anywhere else. And some of these make you really wish for a comprehensive GURPS conversion of the setting.

The Good

1) The setting is extremely dense. There are hidden secrets in every other town. History stretches back to reptilian precursor races. Named NPCs interact in a complex political web. Current events are very detailed and reported from multiple points of view. There’s a host of academies, holy orders, army units and fighting instructors for your characters to learn from and interact with. There are complete libraries of books to look for, ancient evils to defeat and countless causes to fight for.
If your players want to get involved in their campaign world, they’ll find hooks aplenty. Even if they don’t want to do a lot of work themselves, you can easily provide them with connections that have the right flavour.

2) The system is extremely well-supported. You want to game in a certain part of the world? There’s a regional module for you. You want to know more about secret societies or mage academies? Three modules each. Need to know more about elves or dwarves? Of course, there’s a supplement! Want to play in another time period? There’s limited support even for that. Need more info on magical artefacts? Of course, there’s a book on that. Want to read in-universe tracts about your chosen deity? The last ones will be out within the year. Maps? There are detailed posters of every spot on the continent; major cities are also mapped. Adventure modules? 250 and counting. You need an official in-universe newspaper? That was revamped a bit and now includes more scenarios than news, but there’s 150 back issues you can peruse if you prefer the straight dope.
Imagine the Forgotten Realms and cram all that detail into its western coast from Icewind Dale to Calimshan. Then multiply the number of relevant supplements by five and the number of adventure modules by fifteen. Then you come close the level of support DSA offers to the GM with deeper pockets. Note that there are PDF versions and second-hand copies that offer much cheaper alternatives.

3) The system takes a lot of work off the GM’s shoulders. I know not everybody likes adventure modules, but for the GM with a full-time job they often spell the difference between running a game or not. For everyone else they are at least a nice diversion or useful for mining for ideas. In contrast to the usual D20 dungeon the last two and a half decades of DSA has seen a varied mix ranging from intrigue and detective stories, to war, exploration and mystic themes, to more traditional dungeons, but ones that actually make sense. The same goes for much of the support supplements. DSA is pretty much the anti-GURPS in this regard. There’s very little world-building and system-tuning required by the GM.

4) The system helps players who have trouble coming up with original character concepts. The use of archetypes and the extremely dense background material are helpful for  players and GMs alike. You won’t end playing a level one fighter that is only distinguished through his random attributes, race selection and starting feat. You will have disadvantages that define you, a place ore unit where you learned your trade, ready-made connections and antipathies and even a reason to go adventuring.

5) There’s a huge fan following in Germany, which makes it very easy to get new players. Everybody plays in the same world and there aren’t all that many ways to tweak the system and world, so you can even introduce characters from other GMs’ campaigns. Of course, that also means there’s quite a lot of unofficial material readily available. A lot of it is quite good and actually on par with D20 titles.

The Bad

1) The setting can be overwhelming. There’s a myriad of details to take into account. For example, you need a very clear idea of when and where to start your campaign, because there are metaplots that will radically change your world. If you decide to leave them out, a large amount of the support elements will become unusable or take a considerable amount of work to adapt. Worst of all are the adventure modules – a significant number of which thrust the characters into the limelight of politics and unfolding supernatural events. Many players are aware of those and will want to take part in them. They might object if you change the world too much.
In the end player and GM freedom are often restricted by the burgeoning realms of the writers’ imagination. Take into account that the early generation of writers were German literature and anthropology students and you get deliberate restrictions that railroad you into a direction the writers thought proper for your game.

2) The rules show a a truly Teutonic obsession with details: For example every skill roll sees three twenty-sided dice rolled to beat three different attributes with skill points used to make up the difference. Where GURPS has four skill difficulties with everyday names (cost progression 1-2-4-8-12…), DSA sports nine difficulties from A* to H (cost progression a convenient 1-1-2-3-4-6-7-8-10-11-13-14-16-17-19-21-22-24-26-27-29 – for type A that is). The system did not use to be so complicated, but in the current edition it is virtually impossible to make a character without using a spreadsheet. Granted, spreadsheets are a good idea for every point-build system, but DSA takes complications to unhealthy heights. It used to be a half-way beginner-friendly system, but it shed that with its 4th Edition.
At the same time the system makes it very hard for beginning characters to succeed at anything. An average character who has spent years training in a skill has less than half a chance to beat an unmodified skill roll – and few skill rolls in adventures and examples are unmodified, most carry a penalty. A trained warrior who has spent six years or more doing weapons training has less than half a chance to hit an opponent before they get a chance to defend. Combat takes forever, especially since characters can often take three or four sword hits without much of an effect.Part of these problems stem from marrying what was originally a D&D-esque random roll system with a point-based system (that incidentally steals a lot of small details from GURPS). The effect isn’t very pretty in play and encourages players to invest heavily in attributes and take the maximum disadvantages before start of play. Attributes are even more important than in GURPS, but at the same time there are so many and all are important for spells that the average player is easily lured into munchkinny builds.

3) The fan base has a large number of fanatics. Even in the good old times before the internet you could post a notice in the game shop and have people ring you up only to tell you about how the Praiotian inquisition was the best thing ever and that you were a disgusting heretic for having a witch in your group. The internet hasn’t made things easier. It’s probably a good idea to never invite more than one unknown player into your group. DSA players are often defensive, because their system is often to maligned by others. DSA has a bit of a reputation as simplistic, illogical, goody-two-shoes system and if you like it very much that can hurt.

4) The system is huge and can be costly. It also tends to reinvent itself every eight years on average. Thankfully these reinventions don’t really introduce huge world-sweeping changes on their own (like in the Forgotten Realms), but you still need to shell out for new basic rules and all the extras you need to make your characters work. This is all the more infuriating, because the changes are often very subtle (4th Edition to 4.1 to 5 for example didn’t change the basic mechanics at all). On the whole this a system to sink a lot money in if you want to cover all eventualities.

5) All the nice things can only be had in German. Sure, there’s an English version consisting of like three books and there used to be versions in French and Dutch, but basically you need to either be a German native speaker or somebody with a degree in German and a huge interest in translating this stuff.

The Beautiful

Now, most of what I said serves only to whet the appetite of the average GURPS GM. Why?

1) The one huge drawback of GURPS is the lack of detailed settings. The only exception is Transhuman Space and that has to deal with an awkward 3rd/4th Edition split. Sure, GURPS attracts GMs who want to stat their own settings or run real-world campaigns, but when you’re short on players you tend to run back to vaguely Tolkieneque fantasy. DSA nicely fills that gap in GURPS.

2) There’s nothing in the setting that makes it very hard to convert. DSA tries to be realistic even if falls far short of this goal. The system is already skill-based, combat is more or less realistic with parries, dodging and armour that stops damage. Most non-supernatural stuff works on a somewhat logical basis and spell magic is skill-based, differentiated by spell traits and uses energy points.
There are a limited number of creatures, cultures, races and magics and most of the latter can be given more flavour by representing them as different GURPS variants. The same goes for DSA adventures. Instead of a different monster with three dozen modifiers per room, you’ll mainly face humanoids, animals and maybe a monster or two with at most a couple of special abilities each.
Compared to other RPG settings like D&D, Rifts or Star Trek (any incarnation) converting the DSA setting isn’t much of a chore.

3) GURPS actually makes DSA better. Tech levels, familiarities, martial arts and magical styles, divine favour, detailed armour, spelunking rules, supernatural abilities, a balanced disadvantage system, the possibility to start with experienced characters…
The possibilities are staggering.

The Not So Beautiful

There are still some things that complicate a GURPS DSA conversion:

1) The GURPS Magic spell system is still in bad need of a fix.
2) There’s no bestiary yet and that slows down creature conversion.
3) Is there even any interest in this? American GURPS players might be interested in the setting, but can’t take advantage of the German material, while German DSA players might be interested in better rules, but don’t want to buy a minimum of six English rulebooks (Characters, Campaigns, Powers, Low-Tech, Magic, Thaumatology and Martial Arts). I mean obviously I’m doing this for my own group anyway, but is there any interest online? Feedback is very welcome, especially on whether this should be German-only or English-only content or something both could appreciate.

The first part of my step-by-step conversion guide for DSA is available here.

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

Skills vs. Attributes

House rule articles contain a short intro, a rambling section on how to come up with a solution to a problem called “Cooking It up“, just the plain rules in a section called “The Finished Dish” and some musings about what else you could do with that in the final section: The Leftovers“.

One problem I’ve often faced when it comes to character creation is the fact that it’s just more effective to take yet another level in a controlling attribute than raising a skill above attribute level. This happens most often with mages who raise their IQ sky-high after taking however much Magery the GM allows.

It’s less common with fighters and other characters who need more than one attribute to fulfil most of their functions, but the fact remains: There’s little point to raise more than one or two skills above attribute level. Most often these are the one main combat skill and another to get into position (Driving, Riding etc.).

Cooking It up

There are many who say that the attribute/skill pricing is working as designed and that a highly-skilled character should have high attributes to show this, but I think that over-simplifies things. Skills also represent experience in a subject and can float to other attributes and even a flat base 10. Having DX 16 doesn’t help you maintain your gun, care for your horse or remember to buy fuel.

That’s ancillary to the two main points, however. The first is character concept: There are many times where you want to have a character that is brilliant in three or even four unrelated fields without being an overall genius. That’s a legitimate and realistic concept, but in GURPS you are forced to accept that this is going to waste a lot of points. The GM could make up a special 5-point Talent just for you, but that’s it, as far as options go. The second point is niche-protection. With high DX and IQ (HT, PER and WILL are less of a problem) characters easily encroach on each others’ terrain. The face man has been taken out? No, problem: Let the mage do it. He has two points in Diplomacy and one in Fast-Talk that gives him 16 and 15 respectively. You can mitigate that problem by not letting your characters buy certain skills, but then you’re in Dungeon Fantasy territory again and that’s a problem when the rest of your campaign follows a realistic pattern.

Just to make myself clear: I do not subscribe to the view that all characters should have attributes in the 10-12 range and high competence should be modelled by having half a dozen skills at attribute +5 level. We do, however, need a little more wriggling room.

Now, what to do about that? A solution for half of the main problem can be found among Reverend Pee Kitty’s house rules: PER and WILL are separate from IQ and IQ costs 20 points a level. Personally I’d adjust the price of IQ to 25 points a level. Sure that sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that you can always adjust your starting point level accordingly.

The other main half of the problem is, of course, DX. Instead of separating out both Basic Speed and Basic Move, there is a strong point to be made for keeping coordination (plain DX) tied to reaction speed (Basic Speed). Now running/flying/swimming fast is a completely different kind of beast and it should rightly be separated out. But there’s a third one, isn’t there? Tasks where High Manual Dexterity (HMD) comes into play still profit from a high base DX that represents mainly gross motor skills.

Separating HMD out is a bit of a problem. We don’t want to turn it into a full attribute, because the drawbacks of a low level (rightly represented by Ham-Fisted) are by far not as dramatic as the benefits of a high level. It’s probably best to keep in mind that in certain cases it makes sense to float the relevant skills to a flat base + HMD that makes sense. Keep in mind that a flat base can still be modified by task difficulty.

So, how much should the end product of DX + Basic Speed cost? I’d put it at an even 25 points per level. That makes it come out slightly ahead of IQ, whichlost both its secondary characteristics. However, there are no skills based on Basic Speed and there’s a lot more overlap in skills covered by DX (and relevant talents). Nobody needs more than at most ten combat skills, but even twenty IQ-based skills can cover wildly disparate subjects.

Now, there’s also the problem of HT. There the problem is less the existence of too many HT-based skills, but that the stat is darn useful overall. I hardly ever see an adventurer-type character with less than HT 11 (12 for fighters). Douglas H. Cole has covered this in a very readable article called “The Price of Fitness“. He comes up with a final price of 20-25 points per level. That is a bit high compared to my other attributes, so I suggest a final price of 15 points per level, but with FP separated out. The connection to Basic Speed stays as it is.

The last part of the puzzle is ST. While there are no ST-based skills and only two techniques based on it (Wrench (Limb) and Neck Snap), it still needs to be on par with the other attributes. Now does ST 20 pack the same punch as DX 14, IQ 14 or HT 16 and FP 13? Well, it does and then some. The base damage along with the increased carrying capacity is already more than enough. So, let’s at least separate out HP as a newly independent stat. After all, fat is not necessarily worse at absorbing damage than muscle. Indeed muscle might be more problematic since it fulfils an innate function. We end up with ST as the cheapest attribute at 10 points a level. Smarter minds than me might think about an appropriate way to rescale damage that makes this price a bit more reasonable. For now just keep in mind that – like HT – it’s relatively cheap compared to DX and IQ.

The Finished Dish

Attributes and secondary characteristics are changed as following:

ST (10 points/level): Does no longer affect HP. But HP are still limited to +/- 30% of ST. Damage and Basic Lift are unchanged.

DX (25 points/level): Does no longer affect Basic Move, which is now completely independent from DX and HT. Still has its normal effect on Basic Speed.

IQ (25 points/level): Does no longer affect PER and WILL at all, both are completely independent from IQ.

HT (15 points/level): Does no longer affect FP, which are still limited to +/-30% of HT (including HT bonuses from Fit and Very Fit).

HP (2 points/level): Are unaffected by ST, but limited to to +/- 30% of ST. The GM might rule that certain builds might modify that limit (+/- 10% for Skinny, +/- 40% for Overweight, +/- 50% for Fat and +/- 60% for Fat), but keep in mind that heavier builds generally have somewhat higher ST to compensate.

Basic Speed (5 points/0,25 levels): Unchanged from RAW.

Basic Move (5 points/level): Starts at 5 for native environment. All other rules referring to Basic Move or full move use the final level bought up or down from 5.

WILL (5 points/level): Is completely unrelated to IQ. Even mentally handicapped people might have great resistance to influence and genetically engineered slave races might have next to none.

PER (5 points/level): Is completely unrelated to IQ, but should rarely go below 7 for characters who are able to lead a relatively independent life.

FP (3 points/level): Are unaffected by HT, but still limited to +/-30% of HT.

Hard to Kill (4 points/level) and Hard to Subdue (4 points/level): No change apart from the costs. Are still included in HT.

Arm ST (4, 6, 9 points/level), Lifting ST (4 points/level) and Striking ST (6 points/level): No change apart from the costs. Lifting ST and Striking ST together literally are ST. Don’t buy both of them, simply buy ST!

The Leftovers

I haven’t yet said how this affects starting point values. Some character types are, of course, more affected than others. The all-rounder with 12 in all attributes and secondary characteristics comes in at 185 points in this system, compared to 120 in the rules-as-written. The brute with ST 18, DX 12, HT 13 and the secondary characteristics to match costs 205 points in the new system and 150 in the old. The genius with IQ 16 costs 210 points and 120 respectively. All in all, you should probably make sure to use a 30-50% higher starting point total if you want to make all these concepts possible. So your standard 150 point campaign should at least go up to 200 points now, possibly even to 225 points.

As a side-effect of this change characters built on raw physical strength and endurance become more viable compared to technical specialist fighters that always go for the eyes or vitals. Personally, I think this is a worthwhile outcome of the change. Also players might consider using 15-point talents now – especially ones that cover IQ-, PER- and WILL-based skills (Smooth Talent Cost from Power-Ups 5 is still advisable though).

The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. Creations of other GURPS fans are clearly attributed. 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

Technique Pricing

House rule articles contain a short intro, a rambling section on how to come up with a solution to a problem called “Cooking It up“, just the plain rules in a section called “The Finished Dish” and some musings about what else you could do with that in the final section: The Leftovers“.

For highly-skilled characters I’ve frequently run into the problem that I can’t really justify putting points in more than one technique apiece and often these are very powerful hard techniques like Feint or Dual-Weapon Attack. In 3rd Edition with its 8 points a level for DX-based skills above DX+1 it made much more sense to use techniques (then called manoeuvres). I feel that this led to more colourful characters. So how can we achieve the same thing in 4th Edition?

Cooking It up

There’s no reason to go back to 3rd Edition’s skill pricing. DX and IQ are already much more useful than buying more than three skills based on each up to above the attribute level. So, the techniques themselves need to become cheaper.

There’s also no reason not to include easy techniques alongside average and hard ones. These would be for things you really don’t want to spend a lot of points for, like the Impersonate technique (B233). There’s also room for very hard techniques. These could be used as a catch-all category for skills currently classed as hard that you might want to make more expensive, because they are a good idea under most circumstances (Dual-Weapon Attack, Feint and many cinematic techniques). This way easy techniques will be very different price-wise from their more heavy-hitting brethren.

While you’re at it, ignore the advice on B229 about selecting the difficulty level. The rules in Martial Arts for building your own techniques don’t use it either. Difficulty is based on how difficult something would be in real life, how large a part of the skill it helps with and how useful it is. Generally nothing that on its own allows you to pursue a decent career (e.g. Motion-Picture Camera for Photography) should be less than an average technique. On the other hand, many easy skills mostly have easy and average techniques.

For the actual pricing it’s good to consider half-points or – as an alternative for those not using these – skipping over certain levels.

The Finished Dish

To make some very specialised and/or not so useful applications of a skill easier, introduce easy and very hard techniques. Use half-points to give smoother progressions or skip over every second level for easy, average and very hard skills.

Final Skill Level Easy Average Hard Very  Hard
Default 0 0 0 0
Default +1 0,5 1 1 2
Default +2 1 1,5 2 3,5
Default +3 1,5 2 3 5
Default +4 2 2,5 4 6,5
Default +5 2,5 3 5 8
Default +6 3 3,5 6 9,5
Further +1 +0,5 +0,5 +1 +1,5

Be sure to re-evaluate all existing techniques in your campaign. They might fit better in a neighbouring category with this scheme.

The Leftovers

Ideally, I’d also post an adjusted technique listing for all the techniques found in Basic and Martial Arts, but I’m not sure whether it’s legal to list all techniques and I don’t have the time to go over each of them at the moment.

If you want to encourage techniques even more, consider giving a character a free point in a technique once they reach attribute level +1 in a skill.

The less coarse-grained technique difficulties also invite you to think about a way to redo optional specialisations as techniques. Instead of shifting down the difficulty of a skill if a character knows only one special subject, buy a lower level of the skill normally and buy up a technique for the character’s speciality. Base the difficulty on how large a subset and how useful the speciality is. Zoology is probably an very hard speciality technique of Biology, while Entomology might just be hard and the study of domestic cats might get away with being average.

Everything that uses techniques is also affected by these changes. I’m especially fond of the way they impact adjustable spells, which were really too pricey in most cases. You might think up a scheme that makes use of the different difficulty classes, too. Maybe reduced energy costs for higher difficulties.

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

The Humble Half-Point

House rule articles contain a short intro, a rambling section on how to come up with a solution to a problem called “Cooking It up“, just the plain rules in a section called “The Finished Dish” and some musings about what else you could do with that in the final section: The Leftovers“.

One of the things from 3rd Edition Revised I’ve been missing is the use of half-points for skills with little training. It was an easy way to give a character some background colour without making them spend too many points. Of course, that turned out to be the crux of the problem. In 3rd Edition spending half a point on a skill gave you a skill level of -1 below what you got for spending a whole point. That worked fine for a regular-guys range of attributes, but it quickly broke down for mages and martial artists – the former especially spent only 0.5 points on each of their hard spells and 1 point on their very hard ones. In short abolishing the half-point was better than keeping it unchanged.

Cooking it up

This section contains my thoughts on the matter at hand. It may be a bit rambling. Look at the next section if you just want the rules.

Now, in 4th Edition we have the Dabbler perk, which seems to offer a good way out of problems like that. I don’t like it for several reasons:

  • You basically need two or more skills you want to be slightly proficient in and whatever level you choose in one affects what level you can choose in the others. In practice it’s a bit messy. Do you write the skills and their levels with the perk or do you write them in your skill list with a special note? What happens if you learn one of the skills for real?
  • The maths is based not skill level as when learning a skill, but on default attribute level. That makes for weird cases like having a level of attribute-4 in Mathematics (a hard skill) as costly as having it in Physics (a very hard skill). That may be more of a problem of the defaults, but that’s how it works out in play.
  • That brings us to the worst offender so far: it’s darn cheap. The typical IQ 15-mage can get the classics Diplomacy, Mathematics, Naturalist and Tactics all at skill level 11 for a single point.
    Sure, you need to sacrifice a general perk slot, but I haven’t ever run afoul of that limit in 100-point and higher campaigns – in lower-point campaigns dabbler doesn’t do much anyway. It doesn’t count as a studied skill, but that’s the only drawback.
  • That drawback makes sense game-mechanically, but not story-wise. What does dabbler represent if not superficial learning?

Now, an easy solution is to reintroduce the half-point, but keep it at steady -2 to skill below the 1-point level. The mage in the example above would pay two points for his four skills. There would be no incentive to use dabbler for very hard skills with defaults of -6. Skills could still be listed in the regular skill section with a cost of 0.5. They could be used as defaults and so on. In order to prevent abuse they cannot be used to fulfil prerequisites.

The Finished Dish

This section gives the plain and simple houserules that can be used without further ado.

Skills can be bought for 0.5 points. That gives you a skill level of -2 compared to what 1 point in a skill gets you (e.g. attribute -4 for a hard skill). That skill is normal in every other regard. The rule for prerequisite skills is unchanged. You need at least a whole point in a skill for it to count as a prerequisite.
The GM is free to set a limit on the number of half-point skills a character can have if they feel the rule invites abuse. That may be a hard cap on the number of these skills – preferably an even one – or restricting them to mundane skills and requiring a one point minimum in esoteric skills, cinematic ones and spells.

The Leftovers

This section contains further musings on the topic that might be codified at some later point.

If half-points get out of hand in your campaign, insist that character’s have to spend the other half point, once they have used a skill often enough to justify some increase in proficiency.

Half-points could also be used for determining the final cost of abilities. This would often prevent the common problem of having a low point advantage with a low-point, but non-trivial limitation. It would however make it necessary to recalculate all the official abilities and templates. But for those using multiplicative modifiers that work has to be done anyway.

Another option would be spending half-points to turn a marginal failure by one into a success. Sure, it’s pricey compared to turning any failure into a success, but if you don’t need to succeed by more than 0 you might as well save that half-point.

Also giving out half-points (or even quarter-points) is a good way to reward clever players or moving role-playing without inflating points in essentially realistic campaigns. If the players get three points a sessions adding one whole point is a big deal. If you just give half a point extra it’s perfectly justifiable.

Or you might use half-points to give smoother progression of technique levels.

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