GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic remains one of the most popular magical systems in 4th edition GURPS. It started life in GURPS Monster Hunters 1: Champions quickly got its own book and then introduced in Dungeon Fantasy via GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 19: Incantation Magic. I know it’s spawned dozens, perhaps hundreds of posts here on Ravens and Pennies and it remains a personal favorite of mine through multiple campaigns. It’s ability to be changed and morphed to suit the setting is one of its most attractive features other than the ability to design internally consistent magical spells – something no other system can do right now. One thing I have not touched on before is how to design or modify Path skills – until now. Today’s post will offer some general advice for changing up Path skills or outright creating new ones.
Modifying Ritual Path Magic Path Skills
Most Path skills are not nice and neat packages. They are encompassing in their theme, but breaking them down into more easy to swap components is difficult. In general, try to identify the discrete pieces of the skill itself first and then swap with similar pieces for other skills. Here is a very rough guideline for the listed skills:
- Path of Body: Living flora (all planets); living fauna (all animals and even micro life such as bacteria).
- Path of Chance: Luck (making something happen that’s still possible), odds (changing the chances of something happening that’s improbable), entropy. This path also covers divinations and weatherworking.
- Path of Crossroads: Connections (how things relate to one another), doors or windows, gates (and teleportation if the GM allows), travel to other times, travel to other places, travel to other dimensions.
- Path of Energy: All forms of energy including fire, electricity, kinetic energy, light, sound gravity, etc. This also includes weatherworking spells that alter temperatures, move clouds, etc.
- Path of Magic: Any use of spellwork (ongoing or not), mana or magical energy, and spellcasting itself.
- Path of Matter: All physical, inanimate objects. This also includes weatherworking for spells that bring rain, hail, etc.
- Path of Mind: The thoughts of living beings with an IQ of !+ regardless of race. This also includes things like telepathy or communication between minds.
- Path of Spirit: As per Path of Body and Path of Mind, but only for spirit beings who were not once living.
- Path of Undead: As per Path of Body and Path of Mind, but only for beings who were once living.
Each of those pieces can be swapped or moved around as long as the scope of what you’re moving is about the same. For example, you could have the Path of Arcane that covers magical energy, magical spirits, and fire and it would be approximately as balanced as any other path skill since it takes from Path of Spirit and Path of Energy and trades away the act of spellcasting and spellcasters for other things.
If the trade is not even, let’s say Path of Arcane covered only magical energy then the GM should reduce the difficulty of the skill. In general, take the total number of things covered by the skill and divide them into what you want it to cover. Results of less than 50% reduce skill difficulty to Hard, while anything 75% or more reduces it to Average. This is akin to specializing in a skill or double-specializing in it.
Alternatively, the GM can declare that Paths which cover less, cost less energy to use for spell effects. For example, Path of Arcane might only cover magical energy, but it has no Greater effects. This is fairly balanced since skill difficulty remains the same.
New Ritual Path Magic Skills
The nine skills for ritual path magic cover universal scope fairly well, but for some campaigns they might not work the way the GM wants. They could also want to include Path skills that may not exactly be found among the normal Path skills. When this happens, use the other Path skills as examples to create a balanced Path. For example, consider a Path of Dragons in a fantasy world. Dragons might be covered by Path of Body/Mind (they’re living beings) or Path of Spirit (they’re physically incarnated spirits), or even Path of Magic (they are raw manifestations of magical energy), or maybe all of the above. To better shore up skills covering dragons the GM wants to create a new skill entirely. Dragons are numerous, but not as numerous as “all spirits” “all living beings” or “all undead” so the GM needs to decide how their new skill fits in with the rest of the Paths. In most cases the answer is “It just does” and move on. You can always err on the side of caution with ritual path magic because its effects can be powerful depending on skill and available energy. If that doesn’t suit lower the difficulty of the skill or reduce the requirement for Greater effects.
Picking Over the Bones
I’m sure there is something that could be done to give more concrete answers to this question, but ritual path magic has always been an art more than a science despite how it looks. It requires GM judgement and the basis of precedent to build on and properly adjudicate. It also requires some out of the box thinking at some points, but overall once you grasp the system it simply adds to itself as you go. This I think is one of the reasons why it remains my go-to system in most cases.
The way I’ve looked at how to make changes would be to shift Paths over to an “Elemental” framework, Air, Earth, Fire, Water, Void. Air covers not just air, but spells that impart grace or skill. Earth is not just earth, but spells that strengthen or repair. Fire is fire and indiscriminate destruction or increasing damage. Water is water and flowing or changing forms. Void is magic, chance, and spirit. Where the other four elements affect the living. the material, and the mind/emotions, all things of “this realm”; Void is what touches the immaterial and the Other.
That’s doable too! In one of my RPM hacks I created a system of nine elements where each element was what it was, but also stood for other things. Like water was the main healing element, but earth could do it too.