Saturday, January 25, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in RIFTS, Part 1: The Basics

This week, and for the next few weeks, I'm going to talk about the use of magic in RIFTS.

First, get yourself a copy of the core rulebook--either version will do--and read the introduction about why most people aren't magic-users. Review that until it sticks. Second, be ready to modify parts of that introduction's key points in light of the many systems of magic used in the various settings in RIFTS. Third, be ready to modify that further because I'm going to make some corrective changes to some forms of magic in the game due a conflict in how the setting says that a thing works versus how the rules say that it works. Finally, review this previous post on the matter. That said, let's get on with things.

Disclaimer: I'm borrowing "magic-user" from old D&D editions and using it as the same catch-all category that Gary and Dave did back in the day. I am not using this term to refer to any specific character class, be it in RIFTS or any other tabletop role-playing game. When I'm referring to a specific Occupation in the game, I will do so. I'm also appropriating "mana" for Potential Psychic Energy and "mote" for discrete units thereof, as the official nomenclature is both incompetent and clumsy.

The practice of magic revolves around the gathering of supernatural power--"mana", taken from the Hawaiian traditions for this term--and then using it to produce specific effects. The big differences in the many forms of magic-use in RIFTS often fall in the source of said power, how it is gathered, how it is then used, and what effects this system produces. (The Ley-Line Walker is not the Techno-Wizard is not the Tattoo Master.) However, many of these magic-use systems do follow general patterns and therefore can be categorized by those general patterns. Furthermore, there is some level by which the practice of magic is melded with either a mundane pursuit (usually martial arts or infiltration techniques) or is itself a blended magic system that takes up two heretofore unrelated-but-compatible system and synthesizes them into a greater whole.

The first pattern of magic-use systems revolve around the user becoming the client to a supernatural patron, wherein the user receives supernatural power and some idea on how to use it from his patron in return for becoming friendly to or an agent of the patron. This can be in the form of servitude, of a bargain, or an investment by the patron unto the client at the former's discretion. This is most literally the case for the Witch, Priest, Shaman, and the various Magi that serve the Lords of Magic, and is applicable to the Warlock (a name that does not fit this Occupation) as well as (when the option is employed) the Shifter.

The second pattern of magic-use systems revolve around the user learning his Occupation in the form of a craft, wherein even the most adapt users do not have full understanding of what their magic is and how it actually works. The Druid occupations, by and large, fall into this format. Similar to this are those whose magic-use stems from intuitive breakthroughs, such as the Mystic and its variations. For some, this is a transitional stage and will in time conform to the third pattern or revert to the first one. For others (such as the Mystic) the very nature of how they came into their magic usage is not amenable to any such transition; their progression, development, and growth depends on continuing their non-linear mental and spiritual development. Some of the more supernatural martial arts systems fit this pattern, melding the practice of magic with prowess at arms as part of a synthetic whole. (For what it's worth, psychics fit here also.)

The third pattern of magic-use systems revolve around the academic, systematic, and logical inquiry--scientific, for all intents and purposes--into how supernatural phenomena work. This is your Ley-Line Walker, Shifter (when not dealing in links to supernatural powers), Wizard, Summoner, Diabolist, and especially the Techno-Wizard and Alchemist as well as all of their variants. These scholars of the arcane, occult, and supernatural are the ones who do the most (in the aggregate) to be like Prometheus and bring the power of magic from the supernatural world down to the mortal world and that is why they are considered so dangerous by both manaphobes (such as the Coalition States) as well as by supernatural-dominant entities (such as many of the human-hating species that frequent Atlantis) because the use of magic is one of the few ways that mortals and immortals can contend on equal footing.

Future posts will get into specific magic-use systems.

Whatever system your character uses, there are some constants. First, your character must accept the validity of his system's paradigm; this is what anchors his belief in his ability to use magic. For you, as a player, this means that you are well-served in getting familiar with what that paradigm is and what it means to your character; this will constrain your character's conception of what is possible with his magic, even if he witnesses some other use of magic that shows him what others can do. Second, your character must have sufficient mundane capabilities that he is not useless outside of using magic because there are times when magic alone is not sufficient or when using magic is a liability; to operate in such circumstances your character must have knowledge skills, analysis skills, proficiencies with unarmed combat and useful weapons, can handle himself if lost and alone for a time, and so on. Most of these will be acquired as part of your character's training as a magic-user, and many that you may opt to take when you create this character will be readily available and obviously viable. (I suggest picking up at least one additional language.) Third, your character is--by virtue of becoming a magic-user--always straddling two worlds: the ordinary, everyday world of mortal existence and the extraordinary, fantastic realm of the supernatural and immortal. This cannot help but to permanently shape and change his perspective on everything because he can do so much that most people cannot.

For the one running a campaign with magic-users as player-characters, not only do you need to keep all of this in mind when putting together your specific environment, but you need to think beforehand how the magical societies that produce these magic-users interact with your environment--with the mundane world, with the supernatural world, with each other, etc.--just as much as you would for political powerhouses like the Coalition States. (I will go into this in some depth later on, using Tolkeen as an example.) It can be a daunting task when you sit down and really think through the matter, but it's not as difficult as it seems; perfectly ordinary people can handle this just fine with some care and a good habit for taking and using notes. However, mastering the basics behind all use of magic ensures that you can focus your mind and energy on the higher-order issues and not on the load-bearing pillars holding all of this up. Do that, and then worry about how the Brony Warrior Society gets along with the Magical Girl Club.

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