Boil and Bubble: My Thoughts on the Social Implications on Ritual Path Magic

Ritual Path Magic is the new kid on the block as far as popular magic systems go. It’s got a lot going for it: flexibility, self-consistency, ease of use, well you get the idea – I’m a fan. But I’m also a advocate. For every person who says “No, this doesn’t work because I can transmute the ocean into a sea of oil” I counter with “If your GM lets you.” Seriously, concerned epic magic folks – it’s that easy. If the GM says you can…then he gets to deal with the headache. But you don’t get to say something is broken because you use extreme outlier cases all the while ignoring Rule Zero. Nope. You just…don’t. The same can be said for those who decry it’s place of birth, that is a “secret powers campaign.” Yes. Ritual Path Magic was made to emulate the various systems found in urban fantasy/secret world fiction – but it wasn’t made just for that. My good friend PK has said it numerous times, but it hasn’t stuck. You can use RPM in whatever style campaign you like and like all powers you must think of what the consequences of such a system might be and how it might affect the world you’re making. There is no hidden extra step here, any responsible GM is going to put the same thought in adding magic as he would psionics or super powers. That’s just part and parcel of building a campaign. Sparked by this thread, I put down a few more of my thoughts on the subject.

Charming Additions
As it stands, charms, potions, and other conditional spells occupy a spell slot for the caster. In a open magic setting this doesn’t make sense…at all. How can you sell charms if they still tied to the caster? I created a workaround for this in Pyramid #3/56: Prehistory. Basically, once created a caster could decide whether to bind the charm to himself or have it “caster-neutral.” If it’s caster-neutral it stays potent for a number of days equal to (Thaumatology skill + Magery level)x2. This means a typical caster (Skill 12, Magery 0) can create a charm that lasts for 24 days unclaimed. After that the magic dissipates and the caster wasted his time. To bind a given charm to yourself you just make a Thaumatology roll. Success means it now occupies one of your conditional spell slots, failure lets you try again at -2, critical failure quirks the charm even if it didn’t have one. Potions already have a similar rule in GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic (p. 30).

Forever Young
If magic is available to anyone one of the first things (other than the fermenting of spirits) that casters are going to do is figure a way to keep themselves perpetually young. In most cases this is just going to be a Greater Control Body effect using the Healing Die column and reading each point of healing as 1 month of age removed. So spells that remove a year of age on average will need 3d+2 (+10 energy), and you’re going to need Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (+3 energy) for a total base of 18 or 54 energy after the Greater Effects multiplier. Lets also assume that since age is essentially a feature in GURPS 4th edition that like lost HP its restoration is permanent. If someone casts a youth spell on you it sticks. This means that spell will cost $686 at TL3 (enough to feed a family for a month!) or $2,548 at TL8 (ditto!). That may not seem like a lot of money for adventurers – but when in the last month have you spent $2,600 bucks on anything? Of course, you still have to make aging rolls – what if you don’t want to? Well that’s just “Altered Traits, Unaging” for +15 energy plus a Duration of a year (+22 energy) and Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (+3 energy) for a base of 45 energy and 135 after the Greater Effects multiplier. That is a substantial amount to not age for a year. This brings the cost to $1,820 for TL3 and $6,760 for TL8 – all so you don’t age for one year. Again, all of this assumes a skill 12 caster with Magery 0 and no other bonuses (grimoires, places of power, etc.). The local iuventumancer is going to be better at it then the local hedge witch.

Immortal…Kind Of
Using a similar logic as above the next thing someone is going to figure out is how to be immune to sickness, poison, and other ailments. This too is a straightforward application – “Altered Traits, Immunity to Metabolic Hazards” though it would require a Greater Transform Body effect to pull off as well as a duration and the caster better put in a ton of extra energy otherwise any ole cunning man/wise woman will be able to disable it with a single magical dispel. It might also involve some form of Regeneration and Regrowth as well, but that’s for the GM to decide. Consider as a optional rule that if a character is constantly under the effect of a specific spell with Altered Traits that he might be allowed to purchase said trait with unspent character points as the Magical power modifier. This lets you ignore headaches like the one described above. Essentially, the spell has been cast so often on you it’s become a part of your “magical make-up.”

The Fruit and Fat of the Land
It stands to reason that another application for magic is going to be straight up domestic – agriculture and husbandry. Imagine if you could ensure a bumper crop every harvest? Or that you could without a doubt double your herd every year be making sure all your cows became pregnant? Other than food being more abundant, it would also do something kind of funky to the haute-cuisine landscape – rare foods would become much easier to get (imagine if you could cultivate white truffles easily – they normally sell at $10,000 or more per pound!), as would other hard to create substances (some forms of cheese, whiskey, scotch, etc.). This might lead to something along the lines of a “organic movement” within the setting – “magic free food” might become a titanic industry catering to those who can afford it.

Human Mating Rituals – Now With Magic
As true as “Find something to ferment” and “Live forever,” so is “Find something to enhance my sex life” is. Seriously, we put more money into aphrodisiacs and “male enhancement” than we do cancer research – why? Because sex sells. And it would be the same in a world where magic exists. “Male Enhancement” rituals would be fairly cheap probably only requiring a Lesser Strengthen Body effect and maybe “Bestows a Bonus” for whatever category your dirty mind can come up with. You could even create potions to help you find your perfect mate or ensure that a potential partner has no genetic anomalies you don’t want your offspring to have. Consider also perfect birth control – and not just preventing pregnancy but making sure you can get pregnant. Taking it a step further and you could even see “designer babies” altered in the womb to be whatever the parents wanted.

Law Enforcement & Warfare
Sigh. As true as sex and liquor – we humans like to find new ways to dominate and destroy one another. It’s just in our genetic code. With magic at least I’d like to think that we’d find more non-violent methods than what we use now. Sleeping bombs for crowd control, stunning spells, even spells to imprison someone in their own mind and put them into stasis. Or, if you’re feeling really dark…spells to altered the mind so those with criminal tendencies find another way…however forced. “Surgical Strikes” are going to get a helluva lot better – especially if you have access to something of the target. Fire-and-forget death curses might become the norm, replacing bunker busters and Reaper UAVs. Surveillance would become even scarier in modern campaigns, not only do they have access to technological surveillance, but they might gain access to remote viewers or scryers with near perfect ability to locate any subject at any time. Imagine the NSA if they had access to clairvoyants from the Stargate program. No information would ever be safe. David Pulver’s Technomancer has some excellent ideas regarding how magic might be introduced into the military and law enforcement agencies (I’m particularly fond of the 101st Spellborne).

Picking Over the Bones
Over all the changes brought to a campaign by introducing wonky powers are going to be at the GM’s mercy. If he decides that youth potions require rare ingredients to make (and can only be made as potions) then that’s it. This means that a GM is going to have to put some kind of thought into his campaign world unless it’s meant to be something silly like Dungeon Fantasy or such details are meant to be glossed over like in Monster Hunters.

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  1. Your ID is showing up weird here – I don't typically respond to Anonymous comments, but yeah I could have gone on forever here. There is a lot of ground to cover so I tossed out a few "good" ones.

  2. Of course, there's always the danger of botched spells, quirks, etc. When you apply these to the sort of health related issues as Unaging and the removal of lifespan. What if the critical failure for one basically ages you? Or the quirks cause the appearance of aging?

    One shudders to think about the quirks — let alone the critical failures — of male enhancement, fertility treatments, birth control rituals, etc. And it gets worse when one considers the prospect of disease. Can you say "magic resistant plague?"

    Those consequences would appear sure as shooting, and would be common enough to make such things riskier than most elective surgeries of the modern age. Of course, this is only true in the absence of some sort of "stabilizing skill" such as Symbol Drawing, Alchemy, Physician, etc.

    Just a couple of thoughts…

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