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Unearthed Arcana Wizard

Related material: D&D to GURPS and Building D&D Magic Items in GURPS


GURPS has several magic systems but most (but not all) are variations of the core system in GURPS Magic making it the required book. GURPS Fantasy and GURPS Thaumatology are also strongly recommended for additional rules, concepts, and ideas. If you want to do a complete conversion and actually build individual spells the Basic Set becomes a must have but that is recommended for GMs who are considering taking their campaign over to GURPS or want to "build" complex magic items.

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 Classic. As a result Classic books like Classic: Religion and Classic: Spirits are more useful for the ideas regarding Clerics in them than for any mechanics they have.

Quick Glossary of GURPS terms

GURPS Thaumatology codified several terms for GURPS 4e magic:

  • Book: A collection of rituals linked conceptually or by tradition and presented in a single source – often (but not always) an actual, physical book.
  • Path: Branch of ritual magic focused on a particular type of effect, encompassing a collection of closely related rituals.
  • Adept: Anyone with the Path/Book Adept advantage.
  • Charm: Item empowered through a spell ritual or Alchemic process. Protective charms are often called amulets, while charms that draw things to the wearer or allow them to invoke an Alchemic Elixir on themselves are called talismans.
  • Fetish: Item containing the essence or power of a spirit.
  • Focus: Item that aids in the performance of ritual magic.
  • Mage: any being who possesses the Magery advantage regardless of their ability to use magic.[1] It can be tweaked via enhancements and limitations with a certain combination of these resulting in Power Investiture.
  • Magician: Anyone with the Ritual Magic skill or Ritual Magic[2]
  • Malefice: a general term for a symbolic or sympathetic representation used to cast hostile magic at a distance.
  • Ritual Magic: Also the name of a skill this is where magic use depends on a single “core skill,” typically Ritual Magic[3] or Thaumatology [4]. Each college of magic is an IQ/Very Hard “college skill” or “path” that defaults to the core skill at -6. College skills have the core skill as a prerequisite and may never exceed the core skill.
  • Wizard: Someone who can cast spells regardless of them having Magery[note 1][note 2]

Beyond Wizards

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.[5] Even some Enchanted Items may have had no wizard involved in their creation.

Second, in addition to to non-enchantment magical items there is the type of magic available: Low, Formulaic, and High[6]. 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 wizard

In the spell system there several different mechanics each with its own strengths and weakness [7]. 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[8] 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 Level

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 - Clerics and Magicians

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 enhancement and limitation modifiers to Magery.

Ritual Magic is ideal for Magicians as it is not only a (±0%) enhancement/limitation but is effectively a different system. Ritual Magic's strength come from the fact spells are techniques defaulting to the college itself based on the number of prerequisite. So knowing Air College-15 results in knowing Air Jet-12 (3 prerequisite), Ball of Lightning-7 (8 prerequisite), and so on. Of course any spell below skill 3 is uncastable until raised to at least 3 (Ideally wizards should refrain from trying to cast spells at 10 or below due to greater risk of back fire.)

Power Investiture is effectively a modified form of Magery[9] with the most important component being (Sanctity Replaces Mana: ±0%). Sanctity is totally different from mana and represents the power of a particular divine/infernal beings power in the area. So 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 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 but there are three options to this.

  • Fit and Very Fit: 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.
  • Lighten[10] and Lighten Burden[11] Spells: costly in terms of time and energy if you go for the 50% weight option as it makes all other spells will be cast at -1 and requires Recover Energy and a high skill level to make maintaining it practical.
  • Energy Reserve (spells): This is a special form of Fatigue that is only for spells and can function as the equivalent of preparing spells. By default it is recovered at the same rate as normal Fatigue and is effected by the Recover Energy spell. This can be combined with a variant of Hang Spell to allow wizards the ability to cast really huge spells via study or meditation.

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 System

The Hypertext d20 SDR goes over the implications of changing from a d20 to a 3d6. However the main different between GURPS' 3d6 System and that of the D&D 3d6 variant is one rolls low to succeed in GURPS. This results in this table:

3d6 3-4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Number of combinations 4 6 10 15 21 25 27 27 25 21 15 10 6 3 1
Single % 1.9 2.8 4.6 6.9 9.7 11.6 12.5 12.5 11.6 9.7 6.9 4.6 2.8 1.4 0.5
Cumulative % 1.9 4.6 9.3 16.2 25.9 37.5 50.0 62.5 74.1 83.8 90.7 95.4 98.1 99.5 100
d20 20 20 19 17 15 12 10 8 5 3 2 1 1 1 1

Another difference is GURPS has a sliding scale where critical successes and failures for the Success rollare 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) Since D&D is a highly cinematic it is suggested that you extend the Critical Success section with this wildcard method:

  • Open-Ended Criticals: The standard progression doesn’t stop. Success by 10+ is always a critical success: 3-7 at effective skill 17, 3-8 at skill 18, and so on. Barring special modifiers this hits the point of demising returns at 25.
2 or less NR* NR* NR* NR*
3 3-4 13-18 20 1-4
4 3-4 14-18 20 1-3
5 3-4 15-18 20 1-2
6 3-4 16-18 20 1
7-14 3-4 17-18 20 1
15 3-5 17-18 20 1
16+ 3-6 18 19-20 1

* If a non defense roll is attempted it is an automatic failure though the roll tells it is a normal or critical failure. For defense of 1 a critical failure is 11 and 2 is 12. This works out to be 8 and 5 respectively on a d20.

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.

Hitting with spells

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.

Resisting Spells

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, barring a special enchantment, 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.

Analyze Magic

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)

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 level

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[note 3] 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. Wild Mana has much the same problem with calamity rolls being more common though the Stable Casting (+40%) enhancement can be used to mitigate this to a large extent.

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.

A fourth alternative is making Powerstones and Paut Talismans more available. The base cost (not including any materials is around $33 per energy point.

Magic Items

Without Industrial Enchantment powerful magic items (or items with many spells) will tend to be rare due to how the enchantment of items works in GURPS. It should be noted that Holy Objects are limited to followers of that particular deity making them more limited then their D&D equivalents. Building D&D Magic Items in GURPS goes into the various tools and concepts that are available to the GURPS GM.


  1. Classic GURPS also used "Wizard" to refer to anyone with a 25+ skill (Basic Set (Third Edition) Revised pg 45)
  2. Yes, This means that in GURPS terms classes like Bards, Clerics, Druids, Paladins, Rangers, Sorcerer, and Warlock count as "Wizards"
  3. This is the "best" off the shelf 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."


  1. B234, GURPS Magic pg 5
  2. GURPS Thaumatology 122
  3. Basic Set pg 218
  4. Basic Set pg 225
  5. F22-F28; GURPS Thaumatology 112-113
  6. Fantasy p 147-152
  7. F155-168
  8. Fantasy p 146-172
  9. Magery (Functions as a Different Talent ±0%; Sanctity Replaces Mana: ±0%; No Zero-Level Requirement +10%; Inspired Learning +20%; No Spell Prerequisites +30%; Pact -10%; No Magic Item Sensitivity -20%; Limited spell list -30%)
  10. M67
  11. M143
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