Spellslinging for Wizards

Players and GMs alike sometimes don’t like the cast – (aim) – attack cadence of 2-3 rounds for missile spells cast by wizards using the default GURPS magic system.  It is similar to the draw – (aim) – shoot mechanic for archers with Fast-Draw (Arrow), but while the latter can be circumvented by investing into Heroic Archer and Weapon Master (Bow), the former can’t. For a lot of games that is fine, it flavors this kind of casters not as artillery platforms but as utility casters, buffers/debuffers, crowd controllers and those who sometimes bring the whole house down before fainting due to spending all of their FP on a fat spell. And in some games archers really do shoot once every 3 rounds while melee combatants don’t hit every round or maybe even (gasp) evaluate.

In other cases, players would rather do something else than 2 rounds of nothing but stepping and then unleashing their spell on the third. Sure, a lot of regular spells have a cast lime longer than 1 second, but those can be brought down with high skill, especially at the point levels of Dungeon Fantasy. Missile and Melee spells can’t. When this is perceived as a problem, GURPS sourcebooks don’t really offer much except switching to another magic system, such as for example Sorcery. So let’s see what can be done about it.

Let’s start with the Spellslinger advantage, worth 25 points, published by Christopher Rice in Pyramid #3-66. It is intended for use with the Ritual Path Magic so it doesn’t completely suit the default magic system, but it has some parts which can be ported to spells-as-skills quite literally:

  • It effectively lets the character claim Accuracy for a spell without aiming
  • It lets them use the Mighty Spell perk from GURPS Thaumatology: Magical Styles with all spells
  • For spells requiring both a casting roll and an attack roll, it lets them cast the spell and attack with it in a single round instead over a course of two, albeit at a penalty equal to that for performing Rapid Strikes.

It also facilitates casting blocking spells with RPM which is hard in that system but not an issue with default magic, and it lets the caster use DX-based path skills instead of Innate Attack to hit. The former could, if the GM deems it necessary, be replaced with allowing the character to apply the Blocking Spell Mastery perk to all of their spells, just like they may already do with Mighty Spell. The latter is a bit trickier to port to spells-as-skills magic, since using a DX-based spell skill instead of Innate Attack would not really be advantageous for most wizards. Even with Magery applying to spells but not to Innate Attack, most spells only ever get one point put into them and the difference between a spellcaster’s IQ and DX is generally rather significant. Another option would be to use standard IQ-based spell skills to attack, but personally I’m leery of it as being too strong. A middle ground would be to apply Magery as a bonus to Innate Attack. That isn’t far fetched since it already works that way for Sorcery.

Spellslinger is a nice option with several dials to turn according to taste, but the penalty to cast and attack in a single round could make it unattractive to some. That is of course yet another dial to turn, but let’s see what else is out there.

Compartmentalized Mind taken with No Mental Separation, -20% and Limited, Magic, -5% for 38 points would let a character both cast a spell and attack with it on the same turn, without any kind of penalty. But it also effectively doubles the casting rate of the character for all spells since it allows two Concentrate maneuvers per turn for the purposes of casting. This may be too much.

We could increase Limited to “only Missile and Melee spells” and eyeball it at -30%. That would be more in line with what we want at a cost of 25 points, the same as Spellslinger. We get rid of the Rapid Strike penalty, but also miss out on some other benefits. Again, adjust to personal taste.

The final variant I’d like to discuss is a “native” feature of the GURPS Magic system. High skill reduces the casting time of spells, but not of Missile and Melee spells. If we have a problem with not attacking every round, we can easily ignore this exception. We’ll also ignore the technicalities of the case, such as these spells actually having a casting time of 1 below which reduction through high skill is impossible. Just smooth it over with “high skill reduces the time needed to cast and attack with Missile and Melee spells, down to 1 second for the attack itself”.

So at skill 20 a character could both cast the spell and attack with it on the same turn. At skill 25 they could also aim “for free” or invest additional energy into that fireball. Once more, a GM should turn the dials as they prefer. I would personally not allow the reduction for investing additional energy in spells but would allow the reduction for aiming.

The nice thing about this approach is that it doesn’t make special snowflakes out of Missile and Melee spells but instead handles them the same as all others (including jet spells, which complete the trinity of typical attack magic). Sure, mages must invest points to get spells to level 20, and I doubt any will go for 25, but that’s no different than with the Spellslinger and Compartmentalized Mind solutions. Of the three, I am most inclined to use this one in my Dungeon Fantasy game.