Tuesday, September 29, 2020

GURPS 101 - When to use magic?

Yesterday I blogged about when to use magic in AD&D.

What about GURPS Dungeon Fantasy?

Here is a basic overview which might prove helpful to newer players or provoke some thought in vets.

When to use spells in GURPS

Spells in GURPS have a major advantage - you can use them quite freely. You're not limited by a number of spells you can cast, but only by your skill - which limits the spells you can keep active - and your energy.

Since your energy can be recovered during rest - or by drinking paut, or by time alone (for an Energy Reserve), there really isn't a useful maximum on spells. Spells tend to be more limited in effect than in limited-spell-use systems, but can be very effective for all of that. They tend to last effectively longer, too - 60 combat turns is a common. It's vastly easier to buff combatants than to weaken or kill foes, and much easier to reshape the battlefield with area-effect magic than to directly affect enemies on it.

Potions have longer effects - an hour is typical.

In other words, spellcasters tend to use magic often and steadily throughout all situations. If you have a spell that can solve a problem, you can generally use it to always solve that problem, over and over. There is rarely a need to restrain yourself - given Levitation, climbing is only for those skilled at climbing. Given Shape Earth, digging is only for cases where the hole isn't in earth. Given Silence, you never need to risk noise unless you don't care to conceal your noisy door-bashing and gate-spiking. Spells like Explosive Fireball or Great Haste or Invisibility can be used repeatedly, during the same fight, and every fight - you can essentially depend on magical fire support or magical buffing as long as your mage is conscious. Energy limitations might cut how much of an effect, but for DF-level wizards, it's rare to be unable to cast a spell at all.

Only high individual costs or time constraints practically limit the utility use of magic. The only real barrier is cost to maintain - which may add up for big spells - and spells "on" penalties, which may increase the chance of a critical failure. Even then, often wizards have a greater net chance of a critical success than a failure. Cast away!

When to use magical healing

In GURPS DF, healing is generally best done as early as possible. Unlike offensive spells, healing spells are uniformly powerful. It's much harder to kill with magic alone in GURPS than to heal with magic alone. And the magic needed to slay a foe is costly and unreliable, while that to heal one is relatively inexpensive and reliable. For true nicks and scratches - wounds that are below a single maximum healing from Minor Healing - it's generally worth leaving them alone unless further combat is not expected. In that case, heal up quickly.

For heavier wounds, it's best done as early as possible.

Since healing results change with HP, it's tempting to knock off a few points with a lower-energy casting, but more valuable to hold it until later. A knight with 20 HP - easy for a starting character - can be healed 16 HP for 4 energy base cost with Major Healing. You're better off waiting until the knight takes a nasty, heavy blow and then heal it on the spot. Healing is fast, it's easily done in combat, and you can do it repeatedly.
(Editing later: in combat, of course, wounds that cause crippling, threaten unconsciousness, or reduce Move and Dodge should be healed immediately - doing so can be disproportionally valuable even if they don't really maximize the healing-to-cost of doing so.)
Healing suffers from a cumulative -3 for repeated castings, but DF delvers are highly skilled - your basic cleric will have 15+ in most spells, and getting to 19-20+ in all of them is easily done. So casting at a 15, 12, 9 isn't a problem - or 20, 17, 14, 11. Each spell has its own cascade, so get 2-3 different spells going (Minor Healing, Major Healing, Great Heal), plus healing potions (no penalty cascade) and Faith Healing, on top of difficulty in dying, and that 20 HP knight takes far more than 120 HP of injury to kill for sure. A bad roll can kill you, but it's hard to go down and stay down.

Between fights, getting everyone to full just requires time - a few seconds to cast, minutes to recover energy through rest. That can be sped up with cash by purchasing paut and using it. Given a relatively short time, you can heal up almost anything. Given more than 24 hours and you should generally be able to take anyone from nearly automatically dead to fine. Recovery doesn't really require rest with a PC-class cleric. It's a rare case where you need to "ration" spells between characters.

Essentially, healing should allow you to recover quickly from any fight you can win. Only broken limbs and dismemberments really slow you down - and not even then, given sufficient energy, not even then.


  1. When I played GURPS Fantasy, back when it first came out in '86, with the black-and-red cover featuring a demon & summoner, the magic rules had 100-point characters in mind. If I understand rightly, Dungeon Fantasy uses 250-point characters, which is cinematic if not superheroic in my sense of things. Could it be that GURPS magic rules reward players too much at this power level, far beyond what was in mind when the system was designed? Perhaps it's no longer simulating old-time dungeon play with 250 points for starting magic-users who can automatically heal every wound. I haven't tried it, so I'm asking what you think after reading this entry of yours.

    1. Going from non DF GURPS where I expect every Spellcaster in the Galaxy to know healing spells to DF where only a Cleric can heal it at times feels like DF rations healing through a sippy straw and issues like 'oh no the Cleric got hurt' become way bigger problems and healing through potions etc gets a stronger emphasis

    2. @lich, I think it's really just a difference in amount here, not kind. Much like how a 3rd level AD&D magic-user and a 12th level one have the same type of issue, just in different doses.

      DF is a noticable jump in initial power, but it's not fundamentally different in the workings of magic than when I ran 1st and 3rd edition GURPS games.

      The switch if healing to clerics was a bigger change, as noted!

    3. There's a couple of small things that are a part of it:
      * How often you roll for wandering monsters. Once an hour? Magic-abusers will almost always be at full strength, since you can get back 12 FP in an hour, as well as 12 Energy Reserve, which recharges alongside FP. (ER=FP for spellcasting only.) That's with Recover Energy-15; a serious Dungeon Fantasy spellcaster can have Recover Energy-20 shortly after 250 points, maybe even at 250 points, and that means the caster will get back 30 FP and 30 ER in an hour. Roll for random encounters every ten minutes? That's another story. Even if you lower how often a monster shows up (which you should if you're rolling every 10 minutes), Murphy's Law dictates that you'll get at least some encounters with 10 minutes gaps from each other, which means weakened wizards. My players will sometimes just have the spellcasters sit out random encounters they think to be trivial to keep them from losing FP.
      * Paut. For a whopping $135, you can swig a potion that gives you back 4 FP right now. Even a starting wizard can drop a few points to get more gear and stock up on paut in a bandolier. That $135 for a dose of paut gives a wizard some control over FP recovery.

    4. Kalzazz
      I didn't really notice that, but that's because I tended to have less mages, and many wouldn't even go deep into healing, so my fantasy games generally tended to be more gritty in terms of healing, especially if the //one// mage who knew decent healing went down and the 'backup' healer was under a heavy "spells on" footprint. For me, honestly, DF has made it simpler as the Players know the Cleric must be protected, so I've had less moments of "Oh shi..." where the main healer drops and no one has enough of their own back up healing (I mean teh Players still have those moments, but I don't). DF for me has meant every PC knows to carry their own potions "just in case", and of course potions are more plentiful and available... I, I was perhaps a smidge parsimonious with the alchemy back before I ran DF.

  2. A Cleric with PI 6 can bring even better heals!

    Great Healing is once a day per caster

    Stop Bleeding is nice since it doesn't suffer iteration penalties and you need it for Mortal Wounds anyway and at 15 it's free for bandaging.

    Sometimes you have to waste healing because you want to heal someone who got knocked negative, knocked below 1/3 HP, or took just enough to cripple, but not enough for full bore Major Healing of a PI 6 Cleric

    Trying to heal the Cleric due to the self healing penalties is awful

    1. All true. Clerics drink healing potions, since self-healing is not so easy.

  3. This was mostly what I expected from reading your journals. I hadn't thought about healing specifically so that part was more informative. Maybe a niggle but you say potions last longer in GURPS, like an hour! In AD&D they last 4+1d4 turns (50-80 minutes) and in Basic D&D they last 6+1d6 turns (70-120 minutes), so an hour is at the minimum random duration of D&D potions. But the smaller slices of action in combat does make short duration spells seem to last forever. A spell that lasts 5 minutes in AD&D lets you do 5 things while that is in effect but in GURPS a minute long spell is 60 combat turns.

    @Lich, 250 points does sound almost super-heroic and I think that was the intent at design time. Peter once commented that the capabilities of a starting DF character are kind of like a 7th level AD&D character. In AD&D 8th level is called "Superhero" for fighters. Players often get frustrated with barely-better-than-farmer characters and want to play true heroes. That's what DF gives you from the gate.

    1. True, it depends on the potion. My players expect everything is an hour, flat, with a couple of exceptions. AD&D ones last about an hour, with a lot of shorter exceptions. And due to the pace of the game, it is effectively much shorter as you point out 6 turns in D&D is an hour, but it's only 6 turns or 60 melee rounds. In GURPS, it's 3,600 combat turns. You're right in that imply too strongly that they're very short, but many of them are short duration - all the control ones, speed, ESP, clairaudience, clairvoyance, fire resistance, heroism, superheroism . . . probably more . . . I just glanced around the DMG for that list. I think it's 4 + 1d4 unless otherwise specified, but it's mostly otherwise specified!

      I can't remember if I actually tied DF templates to a level. Maybe in a rough sense, but I generally caution against doing so. They are heroic out of the gate, for sure. Monsters that stopped my old 3e GURPS PCs dead in their tracks are fodder in DF.

    2. Oh, yeah, Alex, I understand the idea of starting off at a more heroic level. My question was whether the GURPS Magic system was not initially designed with lower-power wizards in mind at the start, so that they might run out of spell-casting ability temporarily. I played GURPS a lot in the '80s and early '90s, from its first release, so I'm familiar with how it used to be, but not DF. What I gather from this discussion is that in DF, only Clerics get healing spells. I didn't know that. There are probably a lot of things about DF that differ from what I knew those decades ago.

      If I were to run a GURPS-based fantasy game, I would not be trying to emulate D&D, with cleric spells and all that. That's the reason I would play GURPS, after all! So it sounds as if DF is emulating D&D, so that's not for me, but GURPS still is for me.

      The starting level of power is a matter of taste. I do think that 100-point characters are better than farmers (who may have 25 points or lower), but it's a matter of perspective and preference. It doesn't surprise me that default GURPS point levels would get inflated over the years. It's the same in D&D, where 5e characters have a lot more power than B/X ones do. Again, a matter of preference.

    3. In my experience a 150-point character in 4th edition and a 100-point character in 3rd edition are roughly on par with each other. Not exactly, due to changed rules, but cost changes meant that a 100-point budget just didn't do what a 100-point budget did anymore. 150 lets you pretty much make up the same power level of character, more or less.

      DF is deliberately a jump in power. It does emulate D&D but really does so through the lens of video games like Diablo, Tunnels & Trolls, and other games - at least from Sean Punch's perspective. Mine is from a lens of AD&D, some other video games, Rolemaster, and still other assorted sources. It's a power escalation, and you start out very good, but I don't agree that it essentially breaks GURPS Magic.

      I played a lot with non-DF GURPS magic. I remain convinced it's just a change in scale, not kind, and it's just easier for wizards to use magic broadly and well in DF than in non-DF GURPS . . . but it's not by an order of magnitude. The difference between 1st edition GURPS mages with Magical Aptitude 3, IQ 15, Eidetic Memory - so 1 point in a M/H spell was a 17, and you'd paid 115 points + 1 for the spell for that - and a DF wizard with Magery 4, IQ 15, and 1 point in an IQ/H spell for a 19 who paid 141 points for it - isn't huge. The DF guy just has a larger budget to do more of that, and be better at other things.

      And that 1st edition mage? We had three like that in one game. Corell Seldarine, run by my friend Joe, Crescent, run first by Megan and then by Jack, and Szandor (who lacked EM but had +1 more IQ), run by my friend Tom who still plays GURPS with us. It's not a random example. That was doable on 100 + 40 + 5 and it was done. So for me, GURPS Magic straining under the power levels of DF sounds reasonable but clashes with my experience of GURPS Magic in play since, er, the 80s. Mostly what we noticed then was what I mention about - GURPS Magic isn't as broadly powerful as AD&D magic, but you can and do get to use a lot of it.

    4. Lich Van Winkle
      250 is can definitely be meant for cinematic style play. Even back the day of 3e I wouldn't have called 250 'superhero' level... but regardless, yes. DF is meant for the "we go out and hunt down dangerous situations from which can take treasures". Not "lowly villager defending his village from goblins, alongside all his villager friends". So, it was designed with some level of "kick in door, punch out the orc, take pie" in mind. It plays well with either high cinema levels (chandelier swinging, one man versus small gang at once, etc) and gritty and dirty (PCs have to watch rations, track torches, be wary of poisons and bleeding, etc), though with gritty and dirty play the GM does have to ratchet up the danger levels a wee bit and monitor it closely to make sure they're hitting "gritty dangerous" and not Instant TPK. Some dangers can be very swingy.

  4. This is a great post by Kromm on good times to heal. I personally add 'when restoring HP will likely fix crippling'


    1. I'll take a look - and edit in the bit about crippling. It's a good point and I missed it.


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