Thursday, November 10, 2016

Musing on an Alternate Path perk, Magic, and DF

The GURPS Magic prerequisite system has its advantages. Just a couple off the top of my heard are that you need basic abilities before complex ones, so you don't get guys casting Explosive Fireball who can't Ignite Fire, and encouraging breadth (learn lots of spells) over depth (pick one, maximize it.) Oh, and the fact that "no prerequisites except a minimum talent level" is a cleric and druid tradeoff for a limited spell list.

But the need for some spells drives a repetitive sameness into PCs. My players adore Great Haste, but one player actively avoided it for his PC . . . until it was just a point or two away from purchase thanks to another spell he needed. Still more find that basically every wizard has certain spells and lacks certain other ones, because the path of prereqs is either on the way to something, or is littered with limited-use spells or spells they'll prefer their character was not possessed of or using.

In other words, people want to short-circuit the prerequisite system in my games not to get power on the cheap but to allow a greater diversity of approaches and spell combinations.

Lucky for everyone, GURPS has a solution to this: Shortcut to Power, from GURPS Thaumatology: Magical Styles.

Here is an idea of how to adapt this to GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, under a variant name.

Alternate Prerequisite

You've learned a spell without going the "usual" route. Replace the spell prerequisites for a specific spell with this perk. It must be purchased simultaneously with learning the spell - notably wizards with Wild Talent cannot use this retroactively (or preemptively) to remove the prerequisites for a spell cast with the talent and then Retained.

If you later learn the original prerequisites, this perk is wasted! This can safeguard you from spells such as Forgetfulness, however.

Gerry wants to learn Ethereal Body without learning a number of Air or Movement spells. Normally, he would need Magery 3 and either Body of Air or six Movement spells. Instead he spends two character points and learns Ethereal Body and takes Alternate Prerequisite (Ethereal Body). He already has Magery 3, satisfying the talent requirement for the spell. Ethereal Body will act as a prerequisite for any later spells, including Phase, despite the change in prerequisite.

Notes: I haven't tried this yet. I'm not sure if I will - or people will take it. It does save points, generally, but it also costs a very valuable perk slot. Ironically, perhaps, by saving points in spells to skip ahead or get a different prerequisite setup you reduce the number of points in spells and thus the number of perks you can have. But it's a nice way to get to particularly choice spells (Phase, Invisibility, Force Dome) without needing prerequisites that don't really fit your character concept. In other words, as much as it's a shortcut, it's one that generally fits a concept not a workaround. I'll see how my players thing about this before I make a decision, but on paper, it looks workable in a game that lacks magical styles as a limiting factor.


  1. Out of curiosity, why is the perk wasted when the wizard learns the proper prerequisites? Magical Styles suggests that the point can be used elsewhere in that case.

    I'm guessing that it's meant to keep it from being an easy choice, where you can get a powerful spell early *and* reinvest the point later.

    It also keeps the reinvestment as a benefit of learning a style, if you ever use those.

    1. Keeping it from being an easy and automatic choice, subject to later recycling. With a style, there are limits on choices, perks, spells it applies to, etc. This is wide-open, but has a permanent cost.

  2. I forced this exact method on our new "alchemist" character (she casts standard Magic spells through potions): she has no pre-requisites path at all, she just needs a Perk per potion recipe (not counted against any limit). So I can't say it's terribly unbalanced or anything like that.
    As an optional patch for Wizards, though, I'm not quite sure. There are horrible issues with prerequisite trees, but I like the idea of them. It feels like in the long run, everyone would still have the same spells, except it'd be the big spells. I mean, how do you not get Iron Arm for two points? I'd be a lot more tempted to let players come up with interesting alternate prerequisite paths (maybe 1 Perk per college, or just 1 Perk) than to let them skip them altogether. Maybe a Perk limit keeps it in check, but it feels a bit artificial - a strength of GURPS is that you don't end up with free Feats while running out of Skill points.

    1. I can't follow the feat/skill points argument, because I've never played a version of D&D that had it. I got off the bus during 1st edition D&D and didn't play it again until 5th edition.

      I wanted to avoid re-prerequisiting spells because it's just complex. It basically says that I either need to provide the tools for players to do it and then review their choices, do it myself, or some combination of the two.

      Conversely, a perk is a simple approach. There is essentially a perk economy in DF - you can only have one per 20 points in spells (DF11, p. 14.) So using them to eliminate a bunch of prereq spells is a serious decision. It costs a perk you could have spent to get Rule of 17, Huge Subjects, Power Casting, Psychic Guidance, Missile Spell Mastery . . . the players of wizards have more perks they want for their characters than the ability to buy them.

      So if you really want to get Iron Arm without Resist Pain, and pay a point to do so, I think that's fine and not an unbalanced choice. Honestly no one takes Iron Arm in my games - I used Ethereal Body (which is useful and leads to Phase) for a reason.


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