Sunday, February 24, 2008

GURPS Divination: part 1

For those of you not familiar with the GURPS Magic System, here's an overview. The spells are divided into colleges, such as Animal, Mind Control, Necromantic, Elemental: Air, Elemental: Fire, Food, Healing, and so on. Most spells have a prerequisite. That is, you need to learn certain other spells before you can learn this one. In each college, there are one or more "basic" spells, that anyone can learn (only mages can actually cast the spells unless you're in a high mana zone, but anyone can learn them). These basic spells are very simple spells with no prerequisites, and in turn are the prerequisites for more powerful spells, which are the prerequisites for even more powerful spells, and so on.

Some have options ("Hide" can be learned using either "Forgetfulness" or "Blur" as prerequisites), some have non-spells ("Activate Runes" requires the "Rune Lore" skill), and some spells require that you be a mage (that is, you have purchased the "Magical Aptitude" advantage). Some spells require a certain number of spells from a specific college, but it doesn't matter what those spells are.

I mention this because I want to discuss the "Divination" spell. The spell itself is pretty straightforward: you cast the spell, and if successful, you receive answers to a question concerning the future. The exact method of doing this varies, and the prerequisites for the spell depend on the method you choose for your character to cast the spell. It lists several examples, from the mundane and standard (such as Astrology, Crystal-gazing, Tarot) to common but less mundane (such as Haruspication – examining the entrails of an animal) to the less common (Belomancy – throwing a bunch of arrows into the air and divining the answer from the pattern in which they land) to the bizarre (Molybdomancy – pouring molten lead into cold water and examining the resulting shapes).I own The Word Lover's Dictionary. The author is fond of words for divination; there are some fifty words ending in -mancy. Some of these are great, and I would love to see them for use in a GURPS campaign. So I'm going to create GURPS rules for them.

The problem I had in undertaking this project is that, contrary to what GURPS would have you believe, each word refers not to a specific act, but to a category. For example, "halomancy" (which means "fortune telling with salt") can mean observing the patterns in which scattered salt falls, tossing salt into a fire and observing how it burns, watching salt dissolve in water, or examining the patterns of deposits from evaporating salt water.

This week, we start with the "Scattering" group: nine forms of divination that involve scattering something and examining the patterns in which they fall.

Alomancy – Divination by reading the patterns in scattered salt. Casting takes 10 minutes and a carefully prepared area. Prerequisites: 3 Air spells, 3 Earth Spells, and 3 Food spells.

Cleromancy – Divination by casting lots. Most often, this is to determine the guilty party in a group of people, or to determine who will be the best candidate for a chosen task. Otherwise, each participant can represent a possible answer to a question, and the winner's answer is the correct one. This is usually done with dice, but can be done with drawing straws or scattering beans or any other method of casting lots. Casting takes 20 minutes. Prerequisites: 4 spells from each of the elemental colleges.

Crithomancy – Divination by reading the patterns in scattered flour. Casting takes 10 minutes and a carefully prepared area. Prerequisites: 4 Air spells and 3 Food Spells.

Critomancy – This is similar to Crithomancy, in that it is the scattering of flour. However, in Critomancy, the flour is scattered over the bodies of sacrificial victims (usually animals). Prerequisites: 3 Air Spells, 3 Animal Spells, and 3 Food spells.

Oenomancy – Divination by sprinkling wine onto a cloth and reading the patterns that form. Each casting of this spell requires a length of fabric (usually white, but any light colour will work) at least a yard long. It must be fine fabric; anything costing less than $10 will not work. It also requires a quality wine, costing at least $20. Prerequisites: 3 Air Spells, 3 Water Spells, and 3 Food Spells.

Psephomancy – Divination by scattering pebbles or beans marked with special mystical sigils. These items can be crafted with an appropriate craft skill roll, or purchased for $30. Casting takes 10 minutes. Prerequisites: 3 Air spells, 3 Earth spells.

Spodomancy – Divination by reading the patterns in scattered ashes. This requires ashes from the fire of a specific type of tree (which varies depending on the world and area and so is left to the GM's discretion). It must be done in a specially prepared area. The question must be asked before the ashes are created, so casting generally takes several hours, and sometimes an entire day. Prerequisites: 2 each Air, Fire, and Earth.

Urimancy – Divination by reading the patterns in scattered urine. It requires urine caught in a special sacred bowl ($40), which is then poured from the bowl into a specially prepared area. Prerequisites: 3 Water spells and 3 Body Control spells.

Xylomancy – Divination by reading the patterns in pieces of wood which are tossed into a specially prepared area. The wood must be prepared (with an appropriate woodworking roll, and possibly also a thaumatology or theology roll). Casting takes 10 minutes. Prerequisites: 2 Air Spells, 2 Earth Spells, and 3 Plant Spells.

So there are the first of my expanded GURPS Divination variant spells. I will revisit this topic at some point in the future, but for now, have a lovely time playing games, and always remember to

Game on!

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