[RPG] How to get the non-magic-user in the party to feel more valued



I'm running a long campaign and recently one of my players mentioned feeling a bit left out, not being a caster. I kind of have to agree; all the PC's are pretty well-rounded so there isn't much that only this character can do, whereas there are many things that can only be accomplished with magic. I don't get the sense that it's about having the spotlight so much as a clear role on the team. The player is an equal participant in talking things over and solving the challenges, but the character doesn't then have an equal share in implementing the solutions.


  • The game is about 50-50 combat and puzzle solving (there's also dialogue to move the plot along, of course, but none of the PCs are that interested in social challenges.) Some of the puzzles have mundane solutions, others magical (this character has made good use of an Immovable Rod.) Combat has been primarily standard-issue fantasy monsters, including some casters.
  • The system is GURPS 3e, with Magic and Grimoire as the only supplements (though I've offered others). I don't believe this is a system-specific problem but perhaps there are system-specific answers. Everybody has points to spend and I've been pretty generous about letting people add abilities. However, I'm the only one with system expertise so the players don't necessarily know what's available until I point it out (and homework isn't too feasible with this group.) Also, magic has a number of practical applications, not just in combat (which I otherwise like, but it exacerbates the problem here.)
  • I did offer the possibility of learning magic but it doesn't really fit with the character conception.
  • Current PC's:
    • A Fragile Speedster (no magic, but clear combat role and quirky characterization mean the player is satisfied with this.)
    • A healer with a few other utilty spells who shapeshifts for combat
    • A fire mage with several other spells (especially defense)
    • The character in question, a quiet fencer and sailor with a practical attitude and skills (think Zoe but less sarcastic)
    • One slightly lower-level GMPC druid who's there for extra muscle and so I have someone to play when someone else wants to GM an episode
  • The PCs are around 175 points (except my GMPC at around 125); everyone is more well-rounded than optimized (the healer has 55 points in spells, for example, including 16 in Daze as their only high-level spell.)
  • I did have all my players fill out a character questionnaire about background, motivation, and goals; the responses for this character have helped with roleplaying but don't suggest an answer to this question.


I feel like I'm missing something obvious about why people play non-casters, possibly because I almost never do myself. How can I design adventures and/or suggest new and improved abilities such that this character is an important part of the team and occasionally essential?

Best Answer

First, it's good if you can find out why the player is playing a non-magic user. You found out it matches his character, which is good, but it might be good to find out what type of gameplay he likes, so you know what to provide and what not to avoid, which might be tricky if you yourself always prefer to player magic-using characters.

Some reasons players might avoid magic-using PC's include:

  • They don't easily relate to magic powers, and are more interested in non-magic human experiences and situations.

  • They don't know how the magic system works, and don't want to have to figure out the complexities of it.

  • They are interested in some other aspect of play (say, detailed combat), and want to focus their skills on that so it will be more interesting and/or their character will be better at fighting.

It's good to know if the reasons are like the above in that there is disinterest in magic, because if so, it may not help to offer them, say, magic items, or a special kind of super power, or even unrealistic martial arts abilities, if they are similar to the things the players don't like about magic, that had them choose to be non-magic users.

In general, I think if a player chooses to be a non-magic fighter type, they will probably appreciate being given interesting combat situations where their character is valuable. Fortunately, you're playing GURPS, which is the best system I know for that. Use tactical combat with a map, and include foes the fencer will be useful against, and/or more (or more resistant) foes than the magic will be able to take care of.

There are other reasons players might choose non-magic-using PCs, which do invite adding magic or magic-like abilities:

  • A player might have a super-skilled fighter concept, and enjoy meeting a master trainer who can teach them super fighting skills, which may be somewhat magic-like. These can offer not just fighting skills, but skills such as extreme abilities in hiding, jumping, climbing, silent movement, chi powers, possibly magic resistance through will/meditation/chi, and so on. Probably the best source for this sort of thing in GURPS is GURPS Martial Arts.

  • A player may not want to cast spells, but might like having/using magic items. If there are enough of magic items available that are useful for non-casters, and the groups gives enough of them to the non-fighter PC, then that can give that PC abilities the others don't have.

  • There may be other types of super powers available in your world that are appropriate to the non-magic-user PC, such as religious-based powers, or psychic powers, or super powers, or whatever. If the player is interested, those can give the player abilities that the magic-users don't have.

In many games, there is so much common magic and magic-like abilities, and they are so useful and/or powerful, that PCs who avoid magic are just going to be much less powerful than those who do. Fortunately, GURPS isn't one of those unless the setting or magic system used makes magic very common and strong. Standard GURPS Magic is quite strong and if most or all of the spells are available and common, there is a lot they can do, but there are still good niches for good fighters.

Another approach can be to have the adversary NPCs notice if/when the players defeat their minions or some situation/puzzle with a conspicuous use of magic. The adversary NPCs may then try to use that knowledge against the party, and come up with ways to challenge the party that counter the magic they know the party has. Something that looks like it can be burned, but can't, to bait and use up the magic of the pyromancer, for example. This can create a situation where the party needs to fight, and the fighters get a chance to shine.

Similarly, you can study the non-magic-user PCs and see what abilities and knowledge they have that are outside the domains of the magic users, and let the PC get chances to notice those. In your case, the sailing thing comes to mind. If he's the only one with seamanship and they're on a ship, he'll have advantages in knowledge, getting around the ship, not getting seasick, and avoiding DX penalties for a rocking deck, etc.

Having studied the PC's abilities, especially when (as you wrote) the player is not as familiar with the game system as you are, you may want to give that player extra information and prompts and ideas throughout the game, based on those abilities, because there are things the PC might think of that the player may not, and this can help the player grow familiar with the opportunities their skills offer.

There may also be places or factions in your campaign setting, who are opposed to magic, or certain types of magic, so that it may be criminal or at least attract attention of ill will if people know you use that magic.

GURPS-specific tips:

  • Always use a hex map. This makes combats more interesting for fighters, and results in more situations where fighters are needed and useful, and casters have more difficulties, due to range, obstacles, being engaged by attackers, etc. When you're using all the rules, including range penalties and casting times, it often isn't actually all that superior to be a mage in GURPS, as it may take too long to cast a spell, or the target may be too far away, or there may be obstacles to line of sight, or someone may come grapple you, etc.

  • Get GURPS Swashbucklers for some realistic & cinematic fencing-related abilities, tricks and equipment, as well as some sailing-related stuff.

  • Have situations where the characters have several challenges with not a whole lot of time to rest in between. In GURPS Magic, the magic-users use up mana when they cast spells, and so they'll need to use it sparingly, or run out of mana by the time they get to the later situations. Meanwhile, the fighters tend to be able to do more per fatigue point. The party may even realize that it needs to save mana for healing and even to restore fatigue on the fighters, if it is to overcome a series of challenges without running out of mana to cast spells.

  • There are situations in GURPS that call for fencers, such as multiple attackers, or dangerous foes who attack multiple times per turn and are best parried, or that are best disarmed.

  • GURPS has the concept of Low Mana and No Mana zones, and Aspected Mana Zones and so on, which can also take the magic users down a notch in some places.