Saturday, March 12, 2011

Magic in RIFTS: A Conceptual Primer

RIFTS features the use of magic by playable characters. These magic-users, these Men of Magic, gain their power through the ability to sense, tap and manipulate a mostly-unseen energy source that the rulebook calls "Potential Psychic Energy". The manipulation of this energy to create tangible effects or objects is what "spell-casting" is about, and that has implications heretofore ill-explored. The ability to train others and have them become able to do magic is also ill-explored. I am to address both and explore the implications of these two premises, both here and in later posts. As with the Coalition posts, I'm focusing upon Earth, specifically North America.

First: Magic Can Be Taught.

RIFTS published a lot of different methods for working magic. There are some methods one cannot learn because they arise out of a connection to an external source of entity, such as the ways of the Priest, Witch and Warlock. Some methods arise from a fusion of innate psychic ability and sensitivity to magical power, such as the Mystic. However, the most well-known and popular magic-users are Ley Line Walkers, Shifters and Techno-Wizards and these methods of magic-use can be used by anyone with the will and intellect necessary to master them. Race, sex, class and creed make no difference (save to psych yourself into thinking you can't do it). This makes magic use something egalitarian in its essence, which is as frightening to some people as what you can do with it. (As for the folks who gain their ability through other ways, I'll talk more about that in a later post.)

Second: Magic Has No Logistical Train

The use of magic does not rely on external sources of power, parts, munitions and so on to be effective. This makes a magic-user far more self-contained than someone who has no such power source open to him, which means that his range is limited primarily by his willingness and the limitations of his allies. It also means that he can live a far more self-directed, autonomous life than someone tied to a state (or similar entity) by means of dependency upon a logistical train. This mobility is a big deal, and wise magic-users make full use of it.

It also means that magic-users, while strongly preferring to stay on or near ley lines and nexus points due to the far stronger flows of magical power, it isn't necessary to do so. They can operate just fine while far from the rivers and lakes magical flows, and with the right application of knowledge they can even carve new channels to extend those flows where they haven't previously gone.

Third: Magic Is The Ideal Power Source

Much like how money arose as the ideal medium for facilitating trade in goods and services, magical power is the ideal medium for transmuting one form of energy or matter into another. It's infinitely renewable, totally clean and has only one side effect: attracting the attention of supernatural creatures. While we're used to the idea of magic-users transmuting magical power into something else, we're not so used to magic-users transmuting something else into magical power; spell-casting is usually thought of as resolving something into existence, not de-resolving something out of it, but clearly this could be done.

The implications of this are enormous and hardly explored at all- certainly not on RIFTS Earth. Contary to common assertions--including those in print--saying that a conflict between magic and science exists, not only does that not exist, but the best magic-users will be cross-trained as experts in mundane physical sciences; not just an expert on the magical arts, but an engineer in both. I will explore this in depth as I get into the Sky-Blue Kingdom of Tolkeen, home to a land where 100 ley lines meet to form one of the most powerful nexus points in North America. (Hint: Think of The Grid and not Disney Land.)

Fourth: It's All About Frequency

The use of magic to connect one place to another, be it to summon something forth, to send someone forth or to open a portal (etc.) involves the harmonizing of frequencies between this dimension (and this specific place in our dimension's space-time) and the destination's point. The use of magic to create tangible effects also involves the use of frequency, as it takes the magical energy employed and manipulates its into the form of the desired effect. If this takes more power than the magic-user has on hand, then time must be expended in conducting a ritual to gather up and suspend that power until there is enough to complete the process.

While it takes a living consciousness to discover and refine the techniques for doing this, the process for executing specific magical acts can be externalized. When one creates a magical item, one externalizes a magical process into an object; this can be done on an industrial scale. For example, the St. Louis Arch is now a Rift Machine and can connect to damn near anywhere through the whole of existence--anywhere, at any time--and if it were brought under control it could be the center of a vast civilized center. (It isn't, and instead is dominated by very powerful supernatural predators.)

The implications for this are mind-blowing, and are the basis for Techno-Wizardry in the game. I fully intend to explore these implications as I write about Tolkeen, for it will be a magical state that wholeheartedly embraces the potential to transform it into a post-scarcity state.

Keep these in mind as I go forward about magic in RIFTS.

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