Saturday, March 15, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in RIFTS, Part 8: The Warlock

Palladium's failure at nomenclature manifests again with the Warlock. This Occupation, originally from Palladium's fantasy game, is actually about a man with an innate connection to one or two of the four Classical elements of Western High Magic: Air, Earth, Fire, or Water. (This concept would be reused, and refined, in a more effective manner as the "shugenja" of Legend of the Five Rings.) This connection marks the magic-user as part of the spiritual community that the spirits of these elements possess, as a "little brother", and as a result this Occupation is akin to the Mystic in that their use of and comprehension of magic is both colored by this innate connection and comes from it. It is, for all intents and purposes, a shaman variation and should be handled as such.

The Warlock, therefore, has a background built into it that all Warlock characters will share. Below are the salient qualities.
  • Warlocks are born, not made; their connection to the elements is an inborn quality, especially the connection to the specific element or elements from which a specific Warlock gains his spell-casting abilities.
  • Because their powers are intuitive, as a Mystic's powers are, the powers that a Warlock manifest are a reflection of their life's events to date, barring any specific mentorship to foster the development of specific abilities; a Warlock that never needed to attack or defend won't develop powers that do so, so mentorship will artificially foster such things to achieve those ends, in the way that a martial arts master holistically trains students.
  • A Warlock's ability to contact, communicate, and summon elemental spirits is an innate quality; this means that they manifested early in life, and grew in power and sophistication as the Warlock came of age. Warlocks are insiders; Shifters, etc. are outsiders. This totally colors how they see the summoning and control of elements- regardless of their morality, sanity, etc.
  • Because Warlocks have had direct experience with spiritual entities since birth, as other shamanic sorts do, they are difficult--if not impossible--to turn into religionists as we in the real world comprehend that idea. These are people for whom talking to sentient walking things of raw elemental substance is as ordinary as airplanes or robots; it's a concrete, verifiable reality to them. You can't convince them that it's not real, or that it's all some sort of trickery by (insert boogeyman here).
  • Warlocks, being marked by the spirits, and enjoying a relationship with them, tend to extend into generational lines of Warlocks because immortal spirits prefer to go with reliable mortal counterparts- so young Warlocks are often the children of Warlocks, and over time form blood-tied societies or clans in the way that Stalkers or other innately-powered Occupations routinely do.
  • Education and training, as such, is not a priority for Warlocks. They learn everything that they need to know through their experiences with their spiritual brethren, and their own experiences as individuals, with some specific communities having elder Warlocks mentor emerging ones as they grow up. A Warlock's lived experience is that formal schooling, regimentation, etc. is a waste of time; what they need to know is what life and the elements put to them- and this is the seed for Warlock stoicism, even a sense of fatalism at times, that this Occupation's culture is infamous for.
So, let's put this together. A Warlock is an individual marked as a mortal relative to the immortal elemental community, and through this connection he acquires the powers of one or two elements as well as the ability to communicate and call forth those immortal brothers. He is an insider to this magic society, and treated as such by them. Because he learns his abilities through intuition and experience, formal training and education doesn't help him in his development much (and is often seen as worthless); his is a world where you do or die, and death is just a thing that happens, so it's not that big a deal- and this holds regardless of his moral character, as it is an ethical framework and paradigm. So, your elder Warlock is far more like the old martial arts master than anything else, and your young ones are more like eager fighters.

A Sample Variation

Deep in what formerly was known as the Boundary Waters, a survivor group that formed immediately after the Coming of the Rifts started manifested as Warlocks when they started having children. As the Boundary Waters is an area dominated by lakes, these Warlocks are always attuned to Water, with some taking secondary attunements to Air or Earth. Over time, the powers of these Warlocks merged with the survivalist skills of the original survivors. The result is a magical society of elementally-attuned rangers, now known as "Forestwalkers", and they have a loose affiliation with nearby powers such as Tolkeen as well as a long-running conflict with Stalker tribes that roam those same areas.

Most of this community is magically-active (i.e. are Warlocks), but the basis of their community remains the skillset of woodsmen, rangers, hunters, and so on (i.e. Wilderness Scouts). Playing a Warlock from this community is an easy thing to do: take as many skills from the Scout skillset as can be had, and use magic to compensate for the gaps. Think like someone who's some form of tribal warrior that's also a practicing shaman. You're not required to conform to the withered wizard in robes steretotype, so don't; this variant is here to show that you can mix elemental magic with a mundane skillset and create a viable, effective hybrid that adds value to a group. (Running games with such communities makes having the Occupation in a campaign far more interesting, so do that.)

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