Boil and Bubble: A GM’s Guide to Ritual Path Magic Spell Creation

Gamemastering Ritual Path magic can be slightly taxing for new users of the system. Despite it’s nuts and bolts approach to magic and its balanced nature it does require one thing to work well: GM knowledge of the system. Considering that the original system was published in eight freaking pages (GURPS Monster Hunters 1: Champions) you’d think it’d be easy to master…in a way, it is. But it’s the edge cases that can cause the issues. I’m going to discuss a few and how I feel about them.

All Spells, Great and Small
It’s the GM’s job to decide if a given spell effect is either Greater or Lesser. Sometimes that’s a hard choice to make – the line is just too fine. Though many have suggested a “Moderate” effect to clear up this problem all it does is cause another because now you have three categories which to stuff it into – not just two. Thank you, but no, I’ll take a binary problem any day of the week over multiple flipping choice. So how do you figure out if a ritual requires a Greater effect or now? I use three simple questions:

  • How difficult is the task? Could a normal person accomplish it easily? If it so, then mark it as a “No.” If it’s hard, mark it as a “Yes.”
  • Does it take equipment or require a lot of time?
  • Are natural laws in the setting violated by the spell?If it does then mark it as “Yes.” If it doesn’t mark it as “No.”


If you have have no “Yes” answers than it is probably a Lesser effect; if you have 2 it could be either or, but go ahead and air on the side of a Greater effect if this is the first time you’ve adjudicated such a spell effect; if you answered all three questions with “Yes” then it’s almost certain you have a Greater effect. This acid test isn’t foolproof, but it’ll help you get into the right frame of mind.
Altered States for Altered Traits
It’s been brought up more than once: “Why don’t I just use a Greater Transform [Whatever] effect and give my target a Innate Attack instead of using spells with the Damage modifier?” or “Why don’t I just give myself Flight as a advantage instead of the spell?” Good questions. No, really, they are. So why not just don’t that? Because as Sir_Pudding pointed out, Altered Traits should be a last resort and that’s a damn fine attitude to have. As a GM you should probably require your casters to use rituals with the Damage modifier vs. one that gives a Innate Attack or the like, otherwise you’re going to have glass cannons. Sure, such a hopped up wizard can blast the bejesus out of a target again and again, but he can also easily lose that ability with a Dispel Magic spell and then he’s screwed. A surefire way to know if you need Altered Traits is this: Does your target have control of the ability or does the caster? If it’s the target then it’s probably Altered Traits. If it’s the caster then it’s probably just a Spell effect. Now keep in mind that charms and conditionals change the equation a little (though not much) in that you can give your allies damaging spells rather than super-charge them up with a spell that will let you damage others.
It Costs How Much?
Because of how Ritual Path magic works, it is possible to on occasion create a spell that seems like it costs too much for what it does. This might be because of how the campaign is set-up or the metaphysics of the setting. Regardless of reason there is only one thing you can do to fix this sort of thing: change the cost. If the spell requires a Greater effect then change it to a Lesser one. If it requires Altered Traits of some kind…require only a spell effect. And so on. Keep in mind though that this can make something too cheap that was never meant to be and it might break a game. The best thing to do is experiment and hope it pans out the way you want.
Picking Over the Bones
When it comes right down to it the best way to understand Ritual Path magic is to know this one little fact: It is a Rule Zero system. In the end, the GM makes the call on how a spell is put together or what is used. This might set well with some folks, but I have it on good authority that the system was designed that way from the very beginning, divorcing a arbiter from spell creation decisions could result in unbalanced rituals or unforeseen consequences.
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