GURPS has several magic systems but for the most part they all are variations of the core system in GURPS Magic making it the required book. GURPS Fantasy (F) and GURPS Thaumatology are also strongly recommended for rules, concepts, and ideas. If you want to do a complete conversion you will also need the Basic Set (B) but that is beyond the scope of this page. Page numbers are preceded by the first letter of the book (’M‘ for Magic, ’F‘ for Fantasy, and ’B‘ for Basic) or GURPS Thaumatology.

GURPS Fantasy and GURPS Thaumatology have streamlined the mechanics of magic, making tailoring the core GURPS magic system to your particular campaign far easier than it was in GURPS 3e. As a result 3e books like GURPS Religion and GURPS Spirits are more useful for the ideas regarding Clerics in them than for any mechanics they have.

To keep things easy to understand here are the GURPS terms to denote several different methods of magic:

  • A wizard is any user of magic regardless of any other advantages or skills.[1]
  • A mage is any being who possesses the Magery advantage regardless of their ability to use magic.[2]
  • A magician is any being who uses Ritual Magic [3]
  • Invested can be used as a defacto term for any being who has the Blessed and/or Power Investiture advantages.

Beyond WizardsEdit

Normally when people say magic they think spellcaster but that is not all there is. First there are magic items and no not all of them come from a wizard’s lab in the form of enchanted items. Natural, Alchemic, Fetishes, and Holy Relics are all items that may not have a wizard behind their creation.[4]

Second, in addition to to non-enchantment magical items there is the type of magic available: Low, Formulaic, and High[5]. D&D worlds tend to focuses on High Magic to the point Low and Formulaic Magic are almost invisible (though they can show up in the creation of magic items). This is where GURPS Fantasy, Magic, and Thaumatology are head and shoulders over anything D&D has to offer as they provide a wealth of information; enough in fact that with a little work you can emulate about any magic system you want (such as the Slayers Anime)

Becoming a GURPS wizardEdit

In the spell system there several different mechanics each with its own strengths and weakness [6]. For the sake of simplicity treat magical advantages (like Blessed, any form of Magery, and Power Investiture) as "always available" Feats while treating everything thing else (including Ritual Magic and Thaumatology) as skills.

Fantasy’s Magical Arts chapter[7] is invaluable for sorting through the majority of options available. The many types of Magery available may seem a little daunting but they are are some familiar options here; Restructurable Magery can easily produce something similar to the cast and forget (in this case cast and use up Fatigue) system used by D&D. GURPS Thaumatology can be used to further refine this emulation.

Assume that Magery 0 and beyond can be learned and the powers that can grant Blessed or Power Investiture are not too picky initially. The advantages of Magery and Blessed/Power Investiture fit very well with the idea that arcane and divine magic are fundamentally different and the variants of Magery will help keep classes like the Sorcerer and Cleric distinct from the other Magery based wizards available.

Since in D&D the amount of the attribute determines the level of spells it is easiest to assume the bonus to reflect the level of Magery or Power Investiture the character can start out with as shown in this chart:

GURPS IQ = 10 + INT ability modifier

Modifier 0 = Magery 0; Blessed advantage

Modifier +1 = Magery/Power Investiture 1

For each additional +1 = +1 to Magery/Power Investiture

However the bonuses from an advantage are added in last for base skill level. The reason for this is if there are any defaults (such as with Ritual Magic) the advantage is added in after the default values are calculated.

Spell Skill LevelEdit

Spells in GURPS are either hard or very hard skills (Ritual Magic has the colleges themselves as very hard skills and the spells within each college as hard techniques). In D&D treat these as Class skills starting at IQ-2 for hard and IQ-3 for very hard (techniques go from the default). When figuring out skill levels for Ritual Magic remember that advantages are added after the skill level and any related defaults are calculated.

Because spells in GURPS are (generally) skills GURPS wizards can easily have dozens of spells even at low point totals. The flip side of this is as skills each spell has to be improved individually. For this reason give D&D spellcasters (level+1)*attribute points in addition to what they normally get to buy spells with. That may sound like a lot but remember spell improvement is not automatic with GURPS spells; those extra skill points are needed to not only improve existing spells but to obtain new ones.

Fatigue is what powers spells and it is figured from HT (CON in D&D). Skill level not only determines the amount of ritual needed for the spell but also when high enough lowers casting time (for most spells) and energy costs. At skill 15 and every 5 levels afterward energy cost is reduced by 1 point. So a spell known at Skill 20 costs 2 energy points less than the same spell known at 14.

Since D&D hit points represent actual physical damage, skill, luck, and battle sense the effects of injury on spell casters as outlined in GURPS Magic needs to be modified. The easiest modification is to divide the total hit point by 10 and round down using the result as the ratio of injury penalties. For example say a D&D wizard has 25 HP. This means that for every 2 points of damage he receives he is at -1 to skill. Note it is possible with GURPS to use HP to power spells but since this damage reduces effective skill the whole process tends to be counterproductive.

Keeping Wizards Different - Invested (Clerics) and MagiciansEdit

One of the biggest problems when different kinds of spellcasters share the same spell list is that they can have this annoying habit of blending into one another rather than being distinct. GURPS allows GMs to address this problem by providing two variants to the main magic system: Clerical (Power Investiture) and Ritual Magic.

The differences are not just in the names of the advantages but the underlining mechanics as well. While a mana level and type works the same for all mages the same is not true of sanctity for the invested; what is high sanctity to one deity may be low or even no sanctity to another even if the deities in question share the same sphere of influence.

Power Investiture also allows GMs a method of actually using ideas suggested in several Dragon #92 articles and addressed again in Dragon #101. The basic premise of the articles was that the power a deity has in a particular area (represented in GURPS by the sanctity level) is proportional to the amount of belief there is for the deity. Since belief is the exchange of power for deities one devout worshiper is ‘worth more’ then a 1,000 followers but conversely that one devout worshiper is more ‘vulnerable’ than 1,000 followers. In this context Power Investiture is not a “reward” to a cleric but rather an “investment” by the deity in the promotion of their worship (and therefore an increase in the deity’s power in a particular area). As the Cleric shows/provides more worshipers, intensifies their belief, and promotes correct behavior the area’s sanctity level increases which in turn encourages the deity to improve the cleric’s Power Investiture. Conversely the cleric that misbehaves too much or lets too many of his deity’s worshipers be converted or killed sees the area’s sanctity drop which in turn results in the deity cutting back on the investment of Power Investiture power. If either sanctity or Power Investiture drops to zero then the cleric will unable to personally cast spells until he corrects the problem.

Since Power Investiture is an investment by a deity it means that they can use non-clerics (like Rangers and Paladins) to promote and increase their power base. Also some deities may become more demanding as they provide their clerics with greater power; for example behavior perfectly acceptable for a Power Investiture 1 Cleric of a codal deity maybe disdained at level 2, frowned at by level 3, and completely forbidden at level 4.

Note: A special distinction must be made between Clerical Investment and Power Investiture. Clerical Investment is the Cleric’s social position and has nothing to do with Power Investiture. In fact it is the personality of the empowering deity rather than than the religion the cleric belongs to that will shape what is considered proper behavior by clerics. This really gets interesting is if the religion says one thing but the deity has other ideas.


In GURPS Fatigue whose based value is derived from Health (CON) is the exchange of spell casting magic. The more fatigue is put into a spell the more ‘powerful’ it is; however if Fatigue reaches 0 the character is at risk at collapsing unconscious (at -FP this is a given).

Problem is if a combat lasts more than 10 turns a character normally spends at least (1 + encumbrance level) points of Fatigue. Normally Fatigue is recovered 1 pt every 10 minutes of rest though there is a spell (Recover Energy) that speeds this up as far as spells are concerned. Note rest means sitting still or sleeping not walking around. Here we have a simple reason why GURPS wizards as a general rule do not go directly into battle; it would use fatigue which could be used to power a spell instead.

However, it must be noted that in GURPS wizard means any spellcaster - regardless of the spells being used coming from being Blessed, Magery or Power Investiture. This would put a major crimp on the classes that normally cast spells and wear heavy armor like the Cleric and Paladin if not for an advantages that deal with physical (but not magical) fatigue costs: Fit and Very Fit. In a way Fit and Very Fit are like the Armor Proficiency feats but instead of being able to move properly in the armor these advantages better model what armor training really was - getting use to the weight of armor. Fit replaces light and medium Armor Proficiency feats and doubles recovery rate, while Very Fit replaces the Heavy Armor Proficiency feat and adds halving of physical fatigue costs to Fit. These advantages also provide other bonuses but they do not effect the wizards so we will simply ignore them. Another option is to have the armor enchanted with the Lighten (M67) spell but this is costly in terms of time and energy if you go for the 50% weight option. The Lighten Burden (M143) spell can be used as another alternative but it makes all other spells will be cast at -1 and requires Recover Energy and a high skill level to make maintaining it practical. Of course this may be provided by the deity as a Blessing in addition to Power Investiture as incentive to continue to promote worship.

The most important things to pay attention to in preventing abuse is fatigue [energy] costs, range (a hex is 1 yd), prerequisites, and spell type limitations (like most non seek information spells can be cast only once per day). If a spell is being abused chances are that it is being played incorrectly. There is a quick reference spell sheet (M222-M237) which should always be at the GM’s fingertips to allow quick consulting if there is a problem.

It is important to note that GURPS not only has critical success and failure built into the system but they are on a sliding scale; in other words effective skill determines what die rolls are critical success and failures.

GURPS 3d6 SystemEdit

The main different between GURPS' 3d6 System and that of the D&D 3d6 variant is one rolls low to succeed in GURPS.

Another different is GURPS has a sliding scale where critical successes and failures are based on effective skill. A roll of 17 and 18 always fails and only defense rolls can be tried on with an effectively skill below 3 (spells that can be dodged or blocked)

Effective Skill Critical
3-6 3,4 Skill+10, 17, 18
7-14 3,4 17, 18
15 3-5 17, 18
16+ 3-6 18

Resisting spells are handled by what is known as a ‘Quick contest of skill’ where the amount the skill roll succeeds by is as important as making the roll itself. However if the attacking spell critically succeeds no defense roll can be made.

For example a wizard with effective Crystal Ball 20 is trying to see into a Scryguard 21 area. He rolls a 9 (succeeding by 11) and the Scryguard rolls an 11 (succeeding by 10); the wizard sees into the Scryguarded area and the Scyrguard spell drops to 20. However if the wizard above had rolled 3 to 6 he would have seen into the Scryguard area and it would have dropped to 20 automatically.

Resisting SpellsEdit

For people and monsters add only the relevant ability modifier to 10 (HT uses Fortitude, IQ/Per use Will, and DX uses Reflex) for saves.

Magic Resistance is the GURPS equivalent of Spell Resistance with several important differences. For regular GURPS spells it subtracts from the effective skill of the caster which can increase the chance of a backfire. In addition it provides bonuses to resisted spells (double for area spells). GURPS MR comes in two forms: regular (which cannot coexist with Magery) and improved (which can coexist with Magery) but neither form can be turned off so MR will interfere with all external spells helpful as well as harmful. Also if a non-regular spell is not resisted MR provides no benefits.

So a MR 5 being will incur a -5 skill penalty to any regular spell and if it can be resisted like Berserker they get a +5 to their resistance roll, but while a caster gets no penalty to an area spell like Terror the MR 5 being gets a +10 to resist it. A missile spell like Curse Missile incurs no penalty for the spell caster and is resisted at only +5. If you prefer only one 3d6 die roll for spells than assume a DC 16 with a modifier based on 16-the actual value. For Scryguard 21 this would be DC 16 modifier -5 (16-21). Note use this only to determine success or failure not effective skill level! This fits very well into the Rule of 16 which is designed to prevent high still level wizards from overwhelming resistance rolls.

Spells or situations that can easily be abused.Edit

Analyze Magic (M102)Edit

At first glance this spell combined with Magery’s innate magic item detection ability would seem to short circuit any mystery about magic items. Several things to remember with this spell - it can only identify one spell on one item at a time, it goes from weakest spell to most powerful, it will only identify spells the mage at least has heard of, and finally is very costly in terms of both time and energy.

Draw Power (M180)Edit

If the GM has run across the Pyramid article More Power: A Spell That Can Change a World this spell looks like a major problem in that it allows wizards to access more fatigue than they know what to do with. In addition to the limitations talked about in the article the spell in 4e now requires a device to harness the power. So you cannot directly cast the spell on a power source.


In GURPS the Invisibility spell allows one to fight while remaining invisible. At first glance this would seem to be a real problem as D&D considered fighting while invisible such a huge advantage. This is because D&D forgets about the senses of hearing and smell and just because something is invisible in normal light does not mean that it is invisible in the infrared or ultraviolet. Spells like like Fog, Rain, Frost, Hail, and Snow will form an outline about the invisible being though the GM must consider if these weather conditions are a help or a hinderance to spotting the invisible foe. Also from the wording Mage Sight seems to spot mages (but not non-mages) using the Invisibility spell. Then there is the GURPS skill Blind Fighting which negates nearly all the penalties one has dealing with an invisible foe. Note that noise decreases the success with Blind Fighting (generally -1 to -3 though an area devoid of all sound incurs the maximum -7).

Changing the power levelEdit

The easiest way to up the power level is let wizards get lots of fatigue points or up the mana/sanctity level to very high. The down side to these methods is that letting wizard have buckets of fatigue even if it is Spells Only results in wizards casting insanely huge low cost area spells. Very high mana level makes magic more common decreasing the status of a wizard (though not mages).

Unlimited Mana is another option[8] but it has some problems as well. Its main problem is it does nothing for clerics and can result in really bad things happening if the mages get careless with how much magic they throw around and start making Calamity rolls on a regular basis.

Another alternative is to combine the Ritual Magic concepts and allow wizards to draw power from the spirits they call on rather than the mana around them. This could be handled by a reaction roll on how the spirit viewed the spell being cast as per the Slayers anime; on a favorable reaction roll Lend Energy is cast by the spirit. The problem here is if the spirits have loads of fatigue they eagerly lend out your wizards suddenly become Lina Inverse Jr and can lay waste to large hunks of the countryside.

Hitting with spellsEdit

In GURPS there is an advantage and skill called Innate Attack. For our purposes the skill is our main concern as it is what is used with abilities or spells that are either beam, breath, gaze, or projectile. Note that for Innate Attack spells the wizard must make two rolls: one to see if the spell was cast and the other to hit the target. Enforce the default penalties and spell specific modifiers outlined in GURPS Magic because unlike their D&D equivalents these spells do not have a save for half damage option and magic resistance behaves differently.

Magic ItemsEdit

As outlined in GURPS Fantasy[9] there are three broad categories for magic items via GURPS: Natural, Alchemic, and Enchantment.


As the term suggests these are things that pick up an enchantment naturally. Plants and certain minerals can have magical properties and it may the task of the adventures to find out what those properties are. Such natural magic items usially have a handfull of abilities. For instance a four leaf clover was believed to break faerie enchantments and garlic was thought in some areas to ward off vampires. A weapon passed down a line of very skilled fighters may bestow their skill onto a future owner and so on.


This skill allows the creation of ‘elixirs’ (potions, powders, pastilles, and unguents). Note that in GURPS alchemy skill is totally seperate from being a wizard so anyone can learn and use alchemy. However wizard alchemists can have access to spells like Mature[10] and Distill[11] which allow them to speed up elixir production.

While written for 3e Steffan O’Sullivan’s "Historical Alchemical Elixirs for GURPS Magic" and "Talismans" articles provide good examples of what can be done with elixirs and their relative power.


This is how standard GURPS Magic and D&D items are made and this is where the bell curve of the 3d6 becomes important. Since each enchantment spell’s chance of Critical success (3-5, 6 if effective skill is 16+), normal success, quirking (on a roll of 16), or destroyed the item (17 and 18 are always critical failures regardless of skill level) It should be mentioned Divination spells will not improve Enchantment success.

Note that unlike D&D magic items GURPS magic items do not have to be mastercraft (fine or very fine) quality. However if the item that has been enchanted is broken the enchantment ends so it makes sense at least in the case of armor and weapons to use the best quality one can get ahold of. Also holy relics are enchanted by a higher power not the cleric. Such items have their own set of rules and guidelines for use which is up to the GM to flesh out.

Because there is no formal Enchant spell in D&D, its magic items generally don't involve standard enchantment but rather a heady mixture of Natural, Alchemy, and spells. A Dragon #101 article, "Charging isn't Cheap" gives an unofficial view of how D&D style enchantment may work.

Example from the "Charging isn't Cheap" article: Staff of the magi - Take a 6 foot shaft of the wood of all great magics, oak. At the thick end, place a butt of applewood, the wood of gentleness. At the other end, a splinter of blackthorn, the wood of aggression. Join the pieces with a limited wish. Rub the staff with a page from the spell book of a living wizard, but not one’s own book. Soak the staff in an ointment of ground quartz and bloodstone, for the abjurative and elemental energies of the staff, and drip in the juices of mandrake and henbane. These last two dangerous herbs boost magical ability. Leave the staff in the ointment for six months. In the meantime, obtain small amounts of yeti fur never touched by another humanoid and metal heated by a hell hound’s flame. Place the metal and fur next to the staff, wrap it up with poplar bark (for the alteration energies), and bind together with the web of a giant spider. Wish into one unit. Enchant the staff. Absorption is the only way this staff can be charged or recharged; at least one charge must be added in the first twenty-four hours. The command word is the name of the wizard from whom the spell book page was taken.

Fatigue and PowerstonesEdit

A critial factor to remember is that most GURPS magic items cost their users fatigue. Mages have only two options to reduce this fatigue cost for enchantment: use the Power spell or have a Powerstone built into the item (dedicated or exclusive). As a matter of practicality in time and energy dedicated Powerstones will be the most common option used by mages.

Powerstones are nothing more than magic batteries. You may want to add Powerstones to your treasure awards to reduce spell costs but too many of them will make wizards very powerful. Powerstones built into magic items are more efficient than ‘loose’ Powerstones: dedicated Powerstones act if they are double their FP and exclusive Powerstones act as if they are triple their FP. The main difference between dedicated and exclusive Powerstones is that magic item with exclusive Powerstones can only get their power from the Powerstone - once it is exhausted the item is useless until the exclusive Powerstone recharges. This makes exclusive Powerstone an effective way to simulate D&D magic items with ‘charges’ in GURPS.

Note that in addition to a FP level Powerstones have a Power level as well. By standard rules a Powerstone must be Power 20+ to charge or be used in a low mana area. If this is a hassle then just ignore it. Another possibility is that Charge Powerstone has been used in the enchantment[12] which effectively halves recharging time for each usage. Note that no Powerstone will recharge if an larger powerstone is within 6 feet of it.

Note that not all items that are magical in D&D are magical in GURPS. For example the librams, manuals, and tomes that raise a reader one level in D&D are simply well written instrution books that eliminate the need for a teacher in GURPS. As such they have three important limitations: they can only teach skills for which the player already has the nessasary prerequisites and/or defaults (they assume some basic knowledge of the subject), they are helpful only if the skill level of the writer is higher than the reader, and the 200 hours = 1 character point rule still applies.


In D&D the bonus of magical armor can be represented in GURPS terms by Deflect, Fortify, or some combination. There are two important points to keep in mind. First unlike in D&D GURPS magical armor weighs the same as non-magical armor unless it has been enchanted with Lighten and this spell at best only halves the weight. Second, if a piece of armor accures enough damage (natural DR*5) without being repaired magically (Repair spell) the armor looses its enchantments.


You may have noticed that the GURPS spells Accuracy (to hit, M65) and Puissance (to damage, M65) only go up to +3. Weapons above +3 are possible but they require more than simply Accuracy and Puissance.

Cutting and impaling weapons like knives, swords, axes, and polearms can be of better quality but this only increaces damage not to hit; fine quality is +1 and very fine quality is +2. The higher quality weapons are expensive averaging seven times normal cost for just a fine weapon. Penetrating Weapon (M63) is another alternative for damage but it is only effective against armored opponents. Neither option works for crushing weapons.

Lend Skill (M47) can add as much as +4 to skill level but it cannot raise skill level above that of the caster. This means that not only must the mage be skilled in enchantment but in the skill itself making high level items a rarity.

The addition of the Bless spell (M129) can add as much as +3 on top of other magics. The Bless spell has an additional “mortal danger” advantage which activates to help avert or reduce one major serious danger to the owner of the item. The major disadvantage is that the triggering of this “mortal danger” feature of the Bless spell results in the spell ending. Note that Bless items cannot be stacked; only one bless overall can be active at one time.

Converting D&D magic itemsEdit

Looking over GURPS Magic it should be clear that the more powerful a magic item is the more mage days it takes to make. Also remember the more spells an item has on it the rarer and more expensive it will be. Similarly D&D magic items that seem to best represented by a GURPS spell that normally cannot be enchanted on an item can be ruled as a Critical Success, Q&D regular failure with another spell depending on whether the spell is beneficial or harmful, Symbol Magic [13], or something that is a product of the item's history. Regardless of how the item is created it will be rarer than a “standard” magic item which in turn will increase its value.

Note that since a magic item looses its magic when broken the items the party will find will usually be of high quality or very well taken care of. So that Sword +1 is more likely to a very fine blade (already +1 to damage) enchanted with Accuracy then a cheap blade enchanted with Accuracy and Puissance (the later was more likely to break and would have taken twice as long to make)


  1. B234, M5
  2. B234, M5
  3. GURPS Thaumatology 122
  4. F22-F28; GURPS Thaumatology 112-113
  5. F147-F152
  6. F155-168
  7. F146-F172
  8. This is the "best" fit for how spells worked in DMG1 pg 40: "All magic and cleric spells are similar in that the word sounds, when combined into whatever patterns are applicable, are charged with energy from the Positive or Negative Material Plane. (...) The triggering action draws power from some plane of the multiverse."
  9. F22-25
  10. GURPS Magic 78
  11. GURPS Magic 79
  12. This was possible in 3e. The enchantment option was dropped in 4e.
  13. M205-209
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