One of the things that sold me on GURPS as a system back in ’88-’89 in addition to the cool advantage and disadvantage write-ups and the way skills were treated, was the magic system. I had issues with Vancian magic at the time, although I keep Tales of the Dying Earth in a special place on my shelves, near The Magicians, The Name of the Wind, and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
Also occupying a sizeable portion of my shelves is my collection of occult books. I am a practicing pagan, and my assorted collections of folk magic have a personal meaning to me. One of the authors in the world of neopagan publishing happens to be Isaac Bonewits , the only known person to have graduated UC Berkeley with a BA in Magic. He also wrote a gaming supplement publushed by Steve Jackson Games called Authentic Thaumaturgy . I had seen it at a game shop years ago, but only picked it up in the last few years.
Some of his concepts about the Laws of Magick made it into very popular book The Master of the Five Magics, by Lyndon Hardy. Traces of them show up in Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books, and in David Edding’s Belgariad. Some of them are dealt with neatly in Fritz Lieber’s ConjureWife, and Robert A Heinlein also approached them in Waldo and Magic, Inc.
The GURPS “vanilla” magic has little to do with these narratives. There was a hint of something in the improvised rules, a little in the Rune magic system in Magic, and some bits I don’t recall well from a White Wolf Adaptation of Mage (there weren’t enough pre scripted spell effects for my taste). When GURPS Voodoo came out, we saw the birth of what would later become Ritual Path Magic . It was interesting, but my game operated at a much lower point range.
Technomancer was an awesome addition to the field; I used a lot from this.
A few years later, there was Unlimited mana magery, or umana, which in some ways echoed aspects of the spell failure system from Mage the Ascension. A major campaign event in my game was the result of a catastrophic umana event.
Aftet this came 4e, and Thaumatology. Then came DF, the subsystem I play, (which has this awesome kickstarter as a game that makes a better intro to GURPS than anything else, please go back this!)
There are a lot of in depth discussions about Thaumatology; some of the better ones are on Psedobobo’s blog Let’s GURPS.
There have been a number of alternate systems for magic since then; Sorcery, which does a magic as powers thing, precedented with the introduction of Magic Bolt in DF 11: Power Ups, and in keeping with GURPS Powers, but not holding a flavor I really like. There is also Ritual Path Magic, which has heavy fan support, but is a little mathy and sparse on the Grimoire end for my preferences. I am much more of a plug and play kinda guy; I am not trying to design advantages and rituals; I have too many munchkins in my game to not be checking the math, and it isn’t my strong suit. Ymmv.
Ghostdancer, my good friend Christopher Rice, together with Antoni Ten Monros, has just released DF 19 Incantation Magic, which primarily is RPM for DF, but has something rather brilliant in it.
One of Bonewits’ criticisms of Vancian (and most roleplaying game depictions of magic) is the ideas that spells, once cast, are forgotten, and, that they can be cast quickly. He proposedthat one might, through a careful, lengthy, and preplanned ritual, build an “astral machine” designed to generate a magical effect, and store energy for the effect, that the practitioner could then release later with a ritual shortened by autohypnotic trance; effectively building a spell in reserve before the adventure, and rapidly releasing it with an abreviated casting during it.
Not too far fromt he characters in the Dying Earth who would arm themselves with a few spells, and feel them buzzing about in their heads until released.
Not far at all from Incanters attaching prepared and extensive rituals to their auras and quick casting later. I checked with Ghostdancer, and Authentic Thaumaturgy was not on his list of researched books for DF 19; great minds think alike, it would seem. Incantation magic has it’s casters preload spells to cast later, and are limited to otherwise weak improvised magic. It sounds like classic dungeon wizardry, and should appeal to those who find the standard system too vanilla. Go pick it p!