Make your own free website on
[prior] [contents] [paths] [rituals] [next]

Psychic Magic

Source:MA Lloyd

Psychic magic almost isn't magic at all. Almost. It deals with the power of the mind, and is very suitable for a subtle magic campaign, because it's all in your head.

Source: Jonathan Lang


Charisma[tailored] varies

Charisma is the most supernatural reaction modifier advantage, and the appropriate base for mystic auras. A universal bonus(penalty) to reactions is worth 5(-5) points per level, but charismatic auras can produce both positive and negative effects depending on the situation. These can be built with limitations, or the costs estimated by the GM. Some examples:

Charisma[dread] 2 points/level. You are perceived as powerful and dangerous. This provides a bonus in potentially hostile situations, encourages people to cooperate when you are nearby (and hence threatening) and enhances the loyalty of subordinates if they believe you could discover their treachery. But gives a penalty when you are clearly vulnerable or there is no risk to betraying you.

Charisma[mana] 4 points/level. You appear magically powerful - even if this is your only supernatural ability. This usually gives you a bonus, either out of respect or intimidiation, but can produce penalties from those who distrust magic.

Charisma[religious power] 3 points/level. You project supernatural power with religious overtones. This gives you a bonus from your co-religionists and respectful unbelievers, and a penalty from the unfaithful or actual enemies of the faith, except in potential conflicts - when it adds through intimidation. This is about a 20% limitation on the positive side, 75% on the penalty since potential conflict is the normal mode of interaction with enemies, for a net 2.75, rounded to 3.

Charisma[sexual magnetism] 4 points/level. About a 20% accessibility limitation - Only those potentially interested in you sexually.

Source: Jonathan Lang

Historically, there has been little distinction made between psychic phenomena and magic; both can be thought of as the result of the human mind applying its will to affect the world around it. In fact, some psionic abilities have a downright spiritual aspect to them - Astral Projection, for instance, can be thought of as projecting your spirit out of your body and into the astral plane - which is almost certainly the same as the spirit world in this view.

Some alterations need to be made if this view is accepted: if the Astral Plane is the Spirit World, then there are no Astral Entities or Beings of Pure Thought - only Spirit Forms.



The interaction of a particular insanity with both magic and technological medicine depends on its true cause. Hostile possession can be cured by Exorcism, and potentially other types of spirit magic, but will not respond to conventional medicine. Organic brain damage and biochemical imbalances are best treated through medication, surgery or the Path of Health. Insanity caused by overwhelming passions - apparently a serious epidemic among the heroes of romances - can be cured instantly by the Path of Passions, and might respond to psychotherapy. Psychological conditions respond to psychotherapy and the Path of Dreams, while medication and most forms of magic are formally useless but may work anyway by the placebo effect if the patient believes in them.

New Skills

Brainwashing/Psychotherapy (IQ/Hard) Defaults to Psychology -3

The practical skill of changing someone's personality. The name applied reflects social opinion of the changes, the actual methods of charismatic cults and Alcoholics Anonymous, or terrorist cell indoctrinations and workplace motivational programs are quite similar.

Game mechanically this skill adds or removes psychological disadvantages. Determine the absolute number of character points to be changed, each successful skill roll produces 1/2 point of change. If the patient is not cooperating, substitute a quick contest with his Will for the success roll. A critical failure negates all previous work on this particular change.

Four hours of contact a week allows a skill roll. Nearly continuous contact allows rolls every 3 days.

The essential technique is a personal focus on the target - often offers of friendship, flattery and aid with real problems. It helps if the target can feel part of a socially cohesive group, since the changes can be presented and reinforced as group norms. Funny haircuts and robes are standard for cults; self help groups generally have to make do with nametags or membership pins.

Other useful techniques include requiring snap decisions (the meeting tonight is perfect for you, I have them on the phone, should I tell them we are coming....), guilt induction, revision of personal history by repeated retelling to the group (soon everyone's stories have the same motifs), undramatic light hypnosis (by repeating mantras, storytelling by a charismatic leader, or just focusing on a particular point in space), indirect direction (the guru doesn't give me orders, I just know what needs to be done...) and positive reinforcement.

Physiologic changes that can be used as positive reinforcement by reframing them as signs of spiritual change are very effective. Hyperventilation (easily produced by chanting, singing or yelling), repetitive movements (group clapping, rhythmic dance), dizziness (spinning around), and changes in light levels (sudden light after sitting in the dark for the inspirational filmstrip) work well. Poor diet, either deficiencies or actual hunger, or even a sudden shift to an equally healthy diet like properly balanced vegetarianism produces useful physiological changes. Sleep deprivation and hard labor are effective, but limited to extreme applications. Drugs are often more acceptable; many people will not even think of some of them as drugs - sugar buzzing, vitamin and amino acid megadoses, and of course alcohol, can all produce receptive mental states.

Physical Disciplines

Many religious and magical traditions regard control of the body and its demands as an important component of spiritual development. Today the best known examples are oriental - yoga and the internal martial arts, but it can be found in Classical philosophy and aescetic forms of Christianity [askesis, the root of ascetic, means "to exercise" or "to practice" in the sense of athletic training].

In GURPS many physical enhancements are available, but most are advantages. Allowing those advantages to be learned is a simple solution, though the relatively high costs and the all or nothing character of both functionality and point expenditures is unfortunate. If you don't want them generally available add a new advantage:

New Advantages

Trained By An Ascetic 15 points

A character with this advantage has a high degree of mastery over his physical body. He may purchase certain realistic physical advantages and increases in physical attributes at normal (rather than double) cost in play, and has access to a selection of Esoteric skills and cinematic advantages.

Ascetic masters are not always easy to find, but seldom require the sorts of quests, Duties or Enemies typical of the martial arts variety. Characters buying this advantage should have an appropriate Philosophy or Theology at IQ, an HT of 12 or more, and 2 points in each of at least 2 of Acrobatics, Breath Control, Climbing, Dancing, Jumping, Running or Swimming.

Realistic advantages available at cost include Alertness (up to 5 levels), Disease Resistant, Double Jointed, Extra Fatigue (up to 5 levels), Extra Hit Points (up to 5 levels), Fit and Very Fit, High Pain Threshold, Increased Speed (up to 3 levels), Less Sleep (up to 5 levels), Longevity, Rapid and Very Rapid Healing, and Resistant to Poison.

Cinematic advantages available to Ascetics include Catfall, Clinging, Damage Resistance (up to 3 levels), Enhanced Dodge, Hard to Kill (up to 5 levels), Immunity to Disease, Immunity to Poison, Perfect Balance, and Temperature Tolerance (up to 5 levels)

Esoteric skills available include.

New Skills

Aysana (Will/Average) Defaults to Will -5

The ability to hold one posture for an extended period. A successful roll allows the adept to remain motionless in a relaxed posture for up to 8 hours, or in a position that is ordinarily uncomfortable or requires muscular rigidity for 1 hour. The period spent using the skill counts as rest for fatigue recovery. The adept is reasonably comfortable and certainly not suffering fatigue even from the most apparently agonizing contortions. It is even possible to sleep while using this skill, though a failed roll awakens the adept.

Biofeedback (Will/Hard) No default

Techniques of controlling physiological processes such as pulse, blood pressure, brainwaves, breathing, skin temperature, sweating and involuntary muscles. The skill can be substituted for HT to resist stunning, unconsciousness, addictions, seizures or death, or to stop bleeding. It can fool many medical instruments and security sensors if you know how they work, and makes physiological lie detectors useless against you.

A successful roll will also allow you to remain conscious at negative HT for a full minute, delay the onset of a drug or toxin by at least 10 minutes, and stave off the effects of HT or FT below 3 for an hour.

Breath Control (Will/Very Hard) No default

The ability to breathe at maximum efficiency. On a successful roll you can recover a point of fatigue in only 2 minutes, triple the time you can hold your breath (not an option in vacuum) or slow your breathing so you consume only half the normal amount of oxygen for the next hour - but only if you avoid strenuous activity.

Control Bleeding (Will/Average) No default

Prerequisite: Biofeedback

A roll against this skill requires a minute of concentration, and stops bleeding from an injury. A skill roll will allow you to recover 1d HT following an injury, not cumulative with First Aid.

Death Trigger (Will/Average) No default

Prerequisite: Biofeedback

The cinematic ability to will yourself to die. It is of rather limited practical use, and it isn't clear how one practices this skill in order to perfect it, but it is found in several traditions.

Hysteric Strength (Will/Very Hard) No default

This technique allows you to briefly exceed your normal ST. It requires a minute of preparatory relaxation and breathing to do properly. A successful roll costs 1 fatigue and boosts your ST for a single action lasting less than 5 seconds. A failure costs 1d fatigue, a critical failure causes 1d injury. A normal roll doubles your ST, you can roll at -3 to triple it, -6 to quadruple it. You can combine this with extra effort (rolling against your normal ST if you don't use the HT option)

Pratyahana (Will/Hard) Defaults to Meditation -6 or Biofeedback -6

The ability to limit or shut out sensory impressions.

The simplest technique is to achieve total sensory deprivation, which is useful for some psionic skills. You can also shut down a particular sense or block a particular stimulus - for example you could block an unpleasant odor or irritating repetitive sound.

The ability to withstand pain is the most dramatic use of the skill, many faiths teach it as a form of religious dedication. A successful roll allows the adept to ignore torture or self mutilation for an hour. This will allow you to ignore flames for up to 3 turns (maximum) without injury. A typical form of self mutilation causes 2 to 6 hit points and requires either this skill or a Will roll to endure without an embarrassing display of pain.

Given a minute to prepare, the adept can totally numb any part of his body for up to an hour, preventing shock or stunning from that area and giving a +2 to surgery rolls on it.

Relaxation (Will/Easy) Defaults to Meditation or Biofeedback

The ability to relax. A successful roll reduces your pulse, respiration and blood pressure almost immediately. A few minutes of relaxation will mitigate or overcome a variety of minor ailments - stiff muscles, tension headaches, nausea, dizziness, cramps, morning sickness etc. A successful roll will allow you to fall asleep in 30 minutes, even if you have Insomnia.

Meditative Disciplines

GURPS has been through several versions of rules for meditation and trance states. I like the following set:

New Skills

Meditation (Will/Hard) Defaults to Will -5

The ability to enter a trance state. While in a trance fatigue is regained at twice the normal rate. Meditation is a common mode of prayer, and may be required for certain supernatural powers, particularly spiritual or psionic ones.

Ecstasy (Will/Average) Defaults to Meditation -4

The ability to enter a trance and experience inner peace, pure joy, union with God or some other pleasurable sensation. This is a goal of many inner disciplines, although it has little game use. The GM may allow an hour or so of it to substitute for psychological addictions though.

Clarify Senses (Will/Average) No default

The ability to filter chaotic sensory impressions to obtain information about a specific thing in the cacophony. A successful roll allows you to listen to a specific conversation in a crowd, halves the vision penalties for fog or rain, and substitutes for skills or sense rolls to penetrate camouflage, recognize something or notice patterns.

Centering (Will/Average) No default

Prerequisite: Meditation

The ability to focus your thoughts on a single mental activity. A successful skill roll allows any one of:

Increased skill. Add 1 (3 on a critical) to any sedate task, 2 (4) to any purely mental or creative skill lasting 1 hour; but attempting anything other than the focused suffers a -2.

Banish some source of stress, reducing a phobia, shyness etc. by 1 level for an hour

Close off a line of thought. Primarily useful as a telepathy defense

Restrain an emotion, most practically to add 2 (4 on a critical) to Will rolls to resist mental disadvantages or spells of the appropriate type.

It takes a minute to recover from the trance.

Frenzy (Will/Hard)

The ability to voluntarily go Berserk (B.00). It requires 1 turn under stress, 1 minute under calm conditions. Unlike the actual Berserk disadvantage you do retain enough control to end the state automatically. If you actually have the Berserk disadvantage, you can take a +5 to the skill, but then must roll against Will normally to come out of the fit.

Lucid Dreaming (Will/Easy)

This ability to control your dreams. The skill will substitute for Will rolls to resist rituals from the Path of Dreams. Alternately if you can win a contest of skill with the ritual, you can take control of the dream involved, in some cases trapping the caster in the dream. You can remember your dreams in detail by making a skill roll, which is useful for some sorts of dream prophecies or communications. It also has mundane uses a successful roll will resolve a recuring dream or nightmare, or allow you to shape your dreams for theraputic reasons.

Self Analysis (Will/Average)

A collection of contemplation and introspection techniques that an be used to psychoanalyze yourself. You may apply up to 4 hours a day toward buying off psychological disadvantages, make a skill roll for the time spent that day to help. While not as effective as psychotherapy, it can be useful in treating minor disorders and is often taught as part of therapy to help the patient feel involved in his treatment. If you also have the Dreamworking skill you can use your sleep time for this process as well.

This is only useful if you have a disadvantage you can admit is a problem - so it will help you overcome addictions, phobias, shyness and so on, but is useless against problems like Delusions, which by definition you do not acknowledge as a problem.

Sleep Control (Will/Hard)

Prerequisite: Relaxation

This skill allows you to fall asleep in 20-skill minutes, no roll is required. A successful skill roll allows you to:

Study Techniques (IQ/Hard) Defaults to IQ -6

A collection of methods for rapid learning of material. Over the long term a skill of 12 or more will double the value of self study from reference materials (raising it to the normal level with a teacher), though not from experimentation or on the job training. In the short term a roll will allow you to memorize a list on a quick read through, cram for a single test, learn a dramatic role overnight, skim a text for specific information quickly and so on.

Visualization (Will/Hard)

The ability to call up a memory in exacting visual detail and examine it as if it were present before you. Visualization brings up only details you have witnessed - you can't mentally open drawers you never opened physically; but you can manipulate the image to study any detail you did glimpse, and may make deliberate imaginative changes. A roll is required to call up a memory, though you can try again after a night's sleep, and if you have recalled it this way before you roll at +2 for each time you have succeeded.

A successful roll will also let you create and examine a purely imaginary mental image, a valuable advantage for artists and designers.

You may use this skill to recall a text. If you 'write' the material yourself - using this skill to keep nonphysical 'paper' records, you can summon your entire library with a single skill roll. To recall the image of a book you actually read you will need to roll for each page spread

Volitional Amnesia (Will/Hard)

The rather cinematic ability to force yourself to forget something.

Charismatic Magic

Duel of Wills

A martial arts staple (see MA48) but magicians sometimes settle disputes in a similar manner. The contest begins when the opponents lock eyes - maximum range is 3 hexes - and takes the form of a contest of Will. Hypnotism or Mental Strength skills may be substituted for Will, and your opponent's will is modified by your reputation - though the sign of the modifier may differ from that for reaction rolls, e.g. a positive reputation as soft hearted is a penalty here, and a reputation as a psychopathic killer may be an advantage).

Hypnosis and Mesmerism
Hypnosis (IQ/Hard) Defaults to Psychology -5

The induction of an altered mental state. Inducing a trance requires several minutes in a relaxed setting and a successful Hypnosis roll. It is at -4 without conscious cooperation and automatically fails if the subject knows what is happening and actively resists. Despite countless fictional portrayals of the swinging watch, hypnosis is done with the voice; a focus like the pocket watch, candle flame, or a colored dot on the wall is a tool to enlist conscious cooperation.

The hypnotic state causes an extreme focusing of attention, some clouding of rational thought, and a tendency to treat the hypnotist as a combination close friend and authority figure. The hypnotist can get the subject to tell anything he would a close friend, make suggestions he will obey as if asked by a good friend while slightly drunk, and make statements he accept as true as if told by his mother as a child. There are a number of applications:

Pain blocking is the oldest benefit of formal hypnosis, the subject displays much less serious response to stimuli that should be painful.

But it will not induce perfect recall and recitation of events, allow suggestions the subject would never consider doing in his waking life, or really convince the subject of something totally ludicrous.

Most more spectacular feats attributed to hypnosis are illusions based in trance logic, in which as in dreams the subject can hold contradictory ideas without noticing. The classic negative hallucination is a good example: the subject is told an object is invisible, asked if he can see it that belief is triggered and he says no, asked to point to it though he has no trouble, since this doesn't call on the belief it is invisible.

Hypnosis! (Will/Very Hard) Defaults to Path of Dreams -4,

Prerequisite: Trained by a Mesmerist

Alternately called Mesmerism. Cinematic hypnosis works quite differently from the realistic version. The trance is induced in seconds by winning a contest of Hypnosis! with the Will of the target. Once induced all of the effects of a realistic trance are available, plus a number of much more powerful abilities.

Command Voice (Will/Very Hard) No default

Prerequisite: Hypnosis!-16+

An ability attributed to mesmerists and other cinematic hypnotists. The magician speaks a command, and if the target loses a quick contest of skill vs. Will he must obey it. The command must be understood, so language matters and commands too complex to be easily remembered or digested will not work very well. The GM may modify resistance to commands the target would want to obey or find exceptionally objectionable by up to +/-4.

Trickery Deceit and Special Effects

In a subtle magic setting, one can be a successful magician with no supernatural abilities at all. Many otherwise intelligent people can be fooled by false psychic or spiritual powers. Nor is the principle limited to outright fakes. If magic is difficult real magicians will often try something else first, and when magic fails completely it is nice to have a backup. In many traditions wizards spend their lives going places and learning things nobody else does, and a perfectly ordinary skill is 'magic' where it's unknown, especially when used by a known magician. When the little old lady hurls Sir Boris to the ground, the outlander absorbs information from a book in seconds and without moving his lips to read it, or the witch-girl fails to drown when thrown in the pond what else could it be but sorcery? Well, other than Judo 10, Literacy 14 or Swimming 6.

Historically there is a lot of overlap between magicians and entertainers, and even where magic works magicians travel a lot and may pick up skills from the entertainers they share the road with. The most useful skills to a fraudulent magician are probably Fast Talk and Sleight of Hand. Other good skills include Acrobatics, Acting, Disguise, Escape, Fireworks, Fortunetelling, Interviewing, Lockpicking, Occultism, Pickpocket, Stage Magic, Stealth, Ventriloquism and Voices. Knife Throwing, which doubles as a stage trick, and Staff, which is a traditional prop, are the most common weapon skills. Advantages like Appearance, Charisma and Voice are valuable for impressing your audience. Alertness, Double Jointed and Manual Dexterity are good for pulling off many of the impressive feats.

[prior] [contents] [paths] [rituals] [next]