Designer’s Notes: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 19 – Incantation Magic


Wow. It’s finally out. The original idea for this article goes all he way back to early 2013 when +Antoni Ten Monrós and I were thinking about how we’d do “old school vancian” magic. I suggested RPM and he liked the idea and threw the ball back at me “What if we change the paths completely?” Inner Me: “Ohhhh. That was a great idea. Then we thought “Hell, what about putting it into DF?” Inner Me: “Oh-booooooyy.” That’s even better. We talked to Steven a bit a few months later and he decided (rightly) this was just too big…but then suggested we might make it into a book. Inner Me: “SQUEEEEEEEE!!!” We decided to try and whip it into shape and work out the kinks ourselves. This lead to us securing +Emily Smirle gaming group (and our own groups) as a testing ground. By July 2013 we had a decent set of rules. (I really wish we hadn’t because it caused issues in the first couple of book drafts – new authors reading this don’t write until they tell you to. Just trust the protcol and find something else to do.)

It wouldn’t be for over an entire year before we’d be contacted about this again. We’d both been waiting patiently, wanting to be “full authors” (it’s like a full vampire, but with words). +Sean Punch helped both Toni and I hammer out a good outline (and taught us a ton in turn). By the end of September 2014 we’d signed contracts for “Dungeon Fantasy Incantation Magic.” It was (and is) the highlights of my life. My first (of hopefully many and diverse) book contract(s). I won’t lie, I cried a little. The next six months was the struggle of my early professional career. I worked feverishly on the manuscript. Night and day I wrote, edited, and revised. I put Antoni’s version into the final notes and reformatted it because Open Office (which he uses) is useless for this. I didn’t mind (and still don’t) – Toni is my partner in crime and he worked just as hard as I did to make everything “just so.” It even took us longer than we originally thought (with original submission in January and instead we took till the end of March). I sent in the revised draft with comments from Kromm. Next, I began quietly contacting the people I felt could contribute the most to the playtest. Most said yes. Some had issues during the playtest, but everyone contributed. The group of playtesters was intentionally diverse (and +Douglas Cole proved especially useful in revising – he was flat out the reason why I removed Greater/Lesser effects so if you hate that blame Doug. No. Seriously, don’t that was the right call). Some had never used RPM before. Some had never played DF before. Others had never done either. Some had done one or the other. A few had done both. I was proud of that list of people. I slaved putting it together and agonizing over the choices. By the end of April 2015 the playtest had begun. The playtest ended in mid-June 2015 and I sent in the final draft on late July 2015. We ended up with a few more revisions and then sent it the final draft on time. We didn’t hear anything from Steve Jackson Games for another five months when +Pk Levine contacted us (he’d had troubles of his own). He then began to do a final round of revisions. That took till around April 2016 and then finally +Steven Marsh gave us some “good news” (everyone). The book was just shy of the next price point for page count so he wanted more spells. Inner Me: “Squeee!” followed by “Oh, crap, I need more spells.”  +Emily Smirle essentially saved our bacon here because both Toni and I were stressed to the max from life and other work. (We love you, Em! YOU ARE AWESOME!) The amazing and wonderful Nikki Vrtis began her arduous task of layout. Over the last several months we’ve seen production copies and hunted for errata and bugs (which we found few of – so I hope that means they weren’t hiding, but rather just weren’t there to be found). And now it’s out. It’s here and it’s own sale and I really want you to go buy a copy because honestly, if you want more books out of me this has to do well. I will say that Steve Jackson Games put us right behind their Dungeon Fantasy Kickstarter and I really hope that helps make a difference and draw in all kinds of folks.

All in all it took us about 600 hours to write, 300 hours to edit, 60 hours worth of research (mostly reading Dungeon Fantasy books and various fiction/books on magic), and 1000 hours of revision. (These values include the hours Toni put in as well). Playtest email count was over 500 (it was a very active playtest).

A few words from my co-author:

Incantation magic is the latest addition to the Dungeon Fantasy line, and many will wonder, why? What does it bring to the table? 

It’s not a surprise that I don’t particularly like the standard magic system. Many of my works in Pyramid have dealt with using alternative magic systems in Dungeon Fantasy (Dungeon Saints, The Sorcerer,…). Incantation Magic started life as a Pyramid article, trying to adapt RPM to DF. I recruited the Master of RPM, Christopher, to help me do the tweaks I expected I would need. It quickly became apparent that we would need a lot of word count for this, but hey as Douglas Cole said, The Deadly Spring and The Last Gasp got in, despite being quite long, so we might as well try. 

Long story short, it did not (big surprise, given that you’ve never seen it, right?). We were told that it might live on as a full blown DF book, if the stars aligned (as there was an OGRE in the pipeline), and eventually it did! 

So now that we’ve got the history behind us, what does an Incanter bring to the table that other delvers could not bring? The main thing he brings, is spell slot based magic. Many people have clamored for some kind of spell slot based magic, and while I find most of those systems arbitrary and quite simply “unfun,” RPM, with the charm slots, offered a version that was both interesting and sensical. Sure, given enough time, an RPG caster can do whatever they need to do, but slots allow them to cast now, launch later. This brings that often requested dynamic to GURPS, without the issues that plague other implementations: Why can’t I sit down with my spell book and slowly cast the spell, even if I didn’t foresee that I would need it when preparing my spells? Also, this kind of spellcaster fills a niche that is often requested: the blaster caster. Sure, a sorcerer is superior here, but a sorcerer is basically the sine qua non of blasting (if built that way), but an incanter that want to go that route can do so… at a considerable cost. An incanter that focuses on blasting will find that his spells get used up real fast, and that replenishing them takes a lot of time. On top of this, having such spells prepared means he doesn’t have other spells prepared. 

Regardless, we hope you’ll find out book fun and interesting. 

I haven’t really mentioned the real heroes (for me at least):

+Ann LS is my lovely and talented other half. I don’t think I would have had as many “Ah-ha!” moments without her. (Also, “Perri” from the vignettes is her Dungeon Fantasy character.) Her persistence, mental fortitude, levelheadedness, and intuition have guided my hands for the better part of two decades. I’m not even half the man I am without her and she makes me want to be better. To do better. I love her with all my heart and soul. She gives me the courage to be myself and strive. “We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams,” she’d say when I got down. Or something else equally encouraging “Christopher, you are smarter than this problem so figure it the hell out.” And then I would. If someone believes in you so truly and deeply you can do anything. What can I say other than she’s amazing and makes everything worthwhile?

+Christian Gelacio is my best friend. He never let me waver or feel sorry for myself, but reminded me (constantly) “I got you into GURPS, now don’t embarrass me.” (Not really, Chris doesn’t talk much, but he was thinking it. I have telepathetic powers. Really. It’s what he was thinking.) He was my rock.

Elizabeth “Archangel” McCoy. Beth has been my constant mentor for the past five years. She has been beating the English language into my head with a thick wooden mallet and a railroad spike. Her patience has been pretty damn legendary too and I wouldn’t be here without all her help. One day, Beth, I swear I will repay you somehow.  You’re amazing and a hundred times the editor I’ll ever be and twenty times the writer to boot. Thank you for taking the chance on me and seeing something in me I didn’t fully see.

My mother: She would let me talk for hours when I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t talk to anyone else about the book. I’d print out a copy of the material and read passages to her to see what she thought. Something of a (cloested) nerd herself, she understands enough of my work that she can provide an outsider’s opinion and act as a sounding board. Like others, she never let me give up (and there were times when I was ready to throw in the towel – the stress to live up tp my own ideals was immense).

I also want to fully call out everyone who helped with this project in some way, but I couldn’t thank properly in the credits of the book:

Robert “RevBob” Hood
+Kevin Smyth
+Nathan Joy
+Theodore Briggs
+Troy Loy
+Curtis Johnston

You’ll note I have no real outtakes here. This is intentional, I’ve saved those for a Pyramid article for our Designer’s Notes (set to appear whenever). This is more part mission report and part thank you letter. So again, for everyone I mentioned here and anyone I forgot…thank you. So much. Now go buy my book. 🙂

Edit: The official in-Pyramid designer’s notes can be found in Pyramid #3/109: Thaumatology V.

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  1. Well damn man, this is awesome. You moved on up from a GURPS blogger who blogs to much to a GURPS writer who writes to much!

    Soooo… You got sum Sorcery goodness planed for us right? 😀

    Also… So open office sucks for working with GURPS WYSIWYG format eh? That might pose some….issues for me…

  2. I've always been the latter…but now it's been published and a huge weight is off of me. Time to find the next weight and throw it on my back to lug for a while. 🙂 ANd yeah, it does unfortunately. It's prone to hiccups that migth result in undo frustration. Office 360 is pretty cheap nowadays or you could just grab a copy of 2016 (which is also cheap – I suggest you grab that ASAP because Microsoft is moving to the "pay monthly" format like so many other must-have programs these days.

  3. Thanks for the heads up man.

    Took a look at the prices and I might have to go for a monthly subscription for now. Though if I do go down this route, I'll be able to justify it to myself as a work expense heh.

  4. Congratulations on being published. I have witnessed you growing up as a Gygax cultist, Shadowrun chummer grinder and a White Wolf Vampire groupie. You have grown and matured as a gamer, a GM, and a person. And it pleases me that you have embraced The One True Game System that is G.U.R.P.S.®. Looking forward to seeing more of your stuff being published. (I've only seen a fraction of your idea vault.) Many Botha… Trees died to give you paper to write those scattered thoughts, those half baked ideas, and those what-if scenarios.

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