Wednesday, March 20, 2013

College Ritual Book Magic and Threshold Mana

So I proposed a new system of magic called College Ritual Book Magic, and made a sample artillery wizard. In the process of creating the example character, I demonstrated to myself that while replacing the a 10 point Magic Talent that applies to all spells (potentially hundreds of skills!) with a 5 point Magic talent that only applies to 2-3 colleges of spells seems like it would reduce a wizard's power, it only does so in the long-term. In the short-term, a sufficiently focused wizard just saved 15 points.

+Jason Packard suggested charging a 5 point UB per college the wizard knows, up to a maximum of 30 points. It's a decent suggestion, but not the one I'm going with, because there's another problem I want to solve.

Wizards Can Cast Too Many Spells Each Day

A well-designed GURPS Wizard has Recover Energy-20, and a decently designed one has Recover Energy-15. Even assuming the wizard gets no other energy reduction on spell cost and performs no other tricks, he can cast 12-30 FP worth of magical spells every hour. That's not a huge problem if most of those spells have a very short duration, but if some or all of them have durations of a few days or more, the effects can be over-the-top. It's trivially easy for a decently prepared wizard to equip everyone in the gaming group with magically glowing rocks while fortifying their campsite with deep trenches, long wood berms, and freaky magical mists. This can be a bit upsetting in play and highly upsetting in world design.

A large part of the problem is that wizards can convert the otherwise mostly unused Fatigue attribute into problem-solving. Sure, non-wizards can use Fatigue for extra-effort, helpful in combat or sometimes to break open a wedged door or something, but it doesn't compare to a wizard being able to spend Fatigue to fly or shape earth. Fatigue as a resource for casting spells needs to go.

Fortunately, there's already a system for that: Threshold-Limited Magery.

Threshold-Limited Mages Can't Cast Enough Spells Per Day

The suggested limits for Threshold Mana are a Threshold of 30 and a Recovery Rate of 8, "a power level roughly equivalent to that under the standard rules". But that drastically underestimates how much magic a standard wizard can cast per day (trivially, a 10 FP spell every hour, not an 8 FP spell every day). The Recovery Rate needs to increase to around 30-50.

Dabblers, Extra Threshold, and CRBM Mages

My proposal is that wizards (and other "arcane" spell-casters such as Elementalists, Necromancers, and Demonologists) should get a Threshold of 5 and a Recovery Rate of 5 when they buy the 5 point Magery advantage. They can by additional levels of Extra Magical Ability at 10 points/level, with each level increasing Threshold by 10 and Recovery Rate by 15.

This system means that dabblers in magic - the hypothetical bright thief with IQ13 and a few Easy spells - can only cast a few small spells per day safely, and needs a few days to recover after any significant use of magic. Which can only be expected, as dabblers aren't mighty wizards. A professional wizard would have Extra Magical Ability 2 or 3, giving a Threshold of 25-35 and a Recovery Rate of 35-50. Professional wizards can cast many more spells than dabblers, but they still face a pretty hard limit. If they cast more than about 75 energy in a day they're guaranteed nasty effects on the Calamity table, and recovering that Threshold requires 1-2 days without casting any magic at all.

Of course, rewriting the Calamity table to make it easier to go over threshold without having horrible things happen permanently is useful, too.

Sample Artillery Mage

Here's the same artillery mage above, slightly modified to use Threshold Limited Magery with these rules. With a Threshold of 25 and a Recovery Rate of 35, he's more powerful in a tactical situation than the original, but not as powerful when there's lots of time available since he can't just keep casting small spells. His skill levels are also slightly lower, since he had to drop a level of Talent to pay for the Extra Magical Ability.

250 points

ST 10 [0]; DX 12 [40]; IQ 15 [100]; HT 11 [10].
Damage 1d-2/1d; BL 20 lb; HP 10 [0]; Will 15 [0]; Per 12 [-15]; FP 14 [9].
Basic Speed 6.00 [5]; Basic Move 6 [0]; Dodge 9.


Extra Magical Ability 2 [20]; Fuel-Air Mage Talent 2 (covers Aerobatics, College of Air, College of Fire, Innate Attack, and Weather Sense) [10]; Gizmo 1 [5]; Luck [15]; Magery 0 [5]; Wealth (Comfortable) [10].


Clueless [-10]; Oblivious [-5]; Obsession (To become the world's most powerful fire wizard; 12 or less) [-10]; Pyromania (12 or less) [-5]; Sense of Duty (Adventuring companions) [-5].
Quirks: _Unused Quirk 1; _Unused Quirk 2; _Unused Quirk 3; _Unused Quirk 4; _Unused Quirk 5. [-5]


Alchemy/TL3 (VH) IQ [8]-15; Climbing (A) DX-1 [1]-11; Fast-Draw (Potion) (E) DX+1 [2]-13; First Aid/TL3 (Human) (E) IQ [1]-15; Hazardous Materials/TL3 (Magical) (A) IQ+1 [1]-16*; Hidden Lore (Demon Lore) (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Hidden Lore (Magical Items Lore) (A) IQ [2]-15; Hidden Lore (Spirit Lore) (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Hiking (A) HT-1 [1]-10; Innate Attack (Projectile) (E) DX+4 [4]-16*; Meditation (H) Will-1 [2]-14; Merchant (A) IQ+1 [4]-16; Occultism (A) IQ [2]-15; Research/TL3 (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Savoir-Faire (High Society) (E) IQ-5 [1]-10†; Scrounging (E) Per [1]-12; Speed-Reading (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Staff (A) DX+2 [8]-14; Stealth (A) DX-1 [1]-11; Teaching (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Thaumatology (VH) IQ-1 [4]-14; Weather Sense (A) IQ+2 [1]-16*; Writing (A) IQ-1 [1]-14.


College of Air (VH) IQ+2 [8]-17*; College of Fire (VH) IQ+4 [16]-19*; College of Sound (VH) IQ-2 [2]-13.


  1. Made me go back and re-read Threshold magic. It's got a very "I get my power from the Elder Gods" feel to it, doesn't it?

    My own two cents - make the recovery value multiples of six or eight instead? 5 Threshold and 6 recovery as a baseline, add 10 Threshold and 12 recovery for every level thereafter - just to keep the math simple - "I recover one every four hours" or "I recover one per hour" - that sort of thing.

    Might even decouple them from an overarching "magic power" advantage, and let individuals buy them separately. So you could wind up with one mage whose threshold is only 5, but his recovery is 24, or threshold 20, but recovery 8?

    1. I'm firmly in the "Threshold recovers once a day at midnight" school, so the math is pretty simple. That's intentional on my part: I've played too many wizards that had to hold up dramatic chase scenes while they waited an hour or two to recover FP / recast their charms. That's frustrating for everybody. If you know you're not getting more power back until midnight, you might as well soldier on.

      I like Threshold magic for the way it combines "magic is scientific" with "magic has some unpredictable rough edges" while also providing a pretty firm little for how much magic a wizard can cast in a day. Expend 60+ FP in a day over your Recovery Rate, and you will blow up in some manner, probably spectacularly.

      I'm against letting people set their Threshold and Recovery, because I very specifically want people to always have more Recovery than Threshold. I'm hoping that will encourage people to risk casting past their threshold (since otherwise they leave potential tally unused) and minimize the "5 minute working day" problem of many daily recharge mechanics.

    2. Yeah, I guess I just didn't get the idea of a Recovery higher than your Threshold if it was only going to happen once a day - but that's mostly because I'm such a cautious player that I'd be hard pressed to find a time when I'd blow past my Threshold by very much at all.

      And I suppose so long as you're still reducing cost due to skill, you could still have a relatively powerful mage who can cast a solid handful of zero point spells all day long.

    3. I need to rewrite the calamity table, such that bad effects don't start appearing until 13+, and most of the early effects are clearly temporary (ie, no buy-off cost for imposed disadvantages on rolls of 16-21). I want wizards to be pushing their limits.

    4. Yes, there needs to be more of a happy medium between "well, that sucked" and "I guess I'll roll up a new character..."


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