Saturday, April 26, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in RIFTS, Part 14: The Stone Master

The Stone Master is one of the academic Occupations. It's in the same boat as the Techno-Wizard, as it is an artificer Occupation, but instead of items or vehicles the Stone Master specializes in architecture primarily and jewelcrafting as a sideline. As such it--as with the Shifter and the Techno-Wizard--is also very concerned with places of power (ley-lines, nexus points) and has a long logistical train requirement to make the most of his powers; as such, he also requires a great deal of planning and attention to detail from both the player and the Game Master to fully enjoy what this Occupation offers.

The other issue is that, as-written, the Stone Master must be a True Atlantean. While this can be waived--and I recommend that you do so; there is nothing about this Occupation (or, for that matter, the Undead Slayer) that actually requires that your be a True Atlantean--I will presume, for now, that this is not going to happen. Therefore your Stone Mason is always going to be a Human and thus cause some problems for you when dealing with certain bits of the overall RIFTS milieu. That's an issue; your man will, alternately, have to hide the Marks of Heritage or will wield them like a big ol' badge in order to min-max his House status to best advantage. That's yet another detail to track, and it can be bothersome for both players and Game Masters.

As with the Shifter, the Stone Master's powers require a lot of set-up and forward thinking. They, by necessity, are strategic and logistical in their application vs. the tactical applications usually required by active adventuring gameplay. This is another aspect of the Occupation that turns people off of it; when they play a magic-user, they want to pew-pew their enemies in combat and not pull out a gun instead. (For the common man, what you do when you get into a fight is the defining aspect of an Occupation; everything else is, at best, secondary to what most people think is the majority--if not the whole--of actual play- and that bugs the shit out of me at times.) You're playing an architect that can do his own bulldozing, crane-lifting, stone-carving, etc. so think less Gandalf and more Saruman; you're a guy who works best when he can shape things to his liking and makes the time to do so- be the thinker and planner (and GMs, let them).

Because Stone Masters lack the sort of immediate applicability that your standard RPG wizard brings to the table, it's not surprising to see that Stone Masters (as with Shifters, Techno-Wizards, etc.) are more often seen as NPCs than actually played at the table. If you choose to play one, or have one at your table, then don't gimp them out of hand; sit down and work out what needs to be done to make the most of the powers it has, and then dedicate game and play time to making that happen as best as campaign events allow- don't let other players push you around into doing otherwise (which is the last big reason for why this Occupation, as with the others aforementioned, aren't seen often).

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in RIFTS, Part 13: The Priest

The Priest, originally appearing in Palladium's fantasy game, returns in RIFTS with the supplement wherein multiple divine pantheons are statted up for use as NPCs. The Priest appears, adapted for the new game, but otherwise is the same Occupation as its Fantasy counterpart: to be the god's agent on that plane of existence, in that locality, and fulfill the god's agenda. To this end, the Priest is no different from the Witch, and much of what I said with regard to Witches applies here.

The big difference is that the Priest is the product of an institution, and therefore is an Occupation that only arises amongst communities that achieve a given threshold of economic and socio-political development, something that commonly coincides with the transition to agriculture and the beginnings of a city-centric sedentary pattern of settlement and the rise of a hierarchical oligarchy. Furthermore, be the Priest or his institution fair or foul, his is the very definition of a legitimate profession; priesthoods are up there with warriors and whores as the earliest of professions to arise in Civilization.

For the player, this means that--regardless of what happens after that point--your man began as part of a sacred institution and learned from a community of fellow priests. The magic you wield is a gift from the god that your man serves; it's an investment, and unless your patron is a God of Magic sort you likely have no fucking idea how magic works or why your powers actually work the way that they do. You're in the same position as a Shaman, but you have the advantage of a large institutional infrastructure to work with; you also have the responsibility to that same organization and can be called upon to act for the benefit of another priest, so this is a two-edged sword.

For the Game Master, Priests are no-brainers to include in a campaign regardless of any other genre elements you're throw into your crucible. Along with Witches, Mystics, Shaman, and other folks of similar levels of easy adaptability you've got ready-made world-building when you allow Priests into your game and you should take full advantage of that fact. The specifics of the Priest will vary greatly not only by the patron god itself, but also by how that specific priesthood organizes itself and execute its patron's agenda; a priesthood devoted to a public outreach program will not have the same sort of culture that one--even one devoted to the same god--organized to hunt down enemies of the god. Exploit this.

Outside of specific milieu such as the Coalition states, or similiar kill-all-magicians societies, you're going to have a priesthood of some sort due to gods being real and active in the universe. You might as well make that work for you, both as a player and as a Game Master. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in RIFTS, Part 12: The Mystic

The Mystic is one of those Occupations where the magic-user's powers stems from a source other than study and application of magical principles; his is the archetype of the innate power-wielder. Not only does the Mystic possess an intuitive comprehension of how to cast spells, he is also a psychic of considerable power. This access to two forms of supernatural power, combined with his inability to gain additional spells or powers any other way, make the Mystic very interesting indeed.

The Mystic likely doesn't maintain a firm distinction between his spell-casting capacity and his psychic capacity, though he likely does make one due to how each form of power looks and feels when he uses them. As the core rulebook itself notes, Mystics are not likely to value formal schooling due to the way that they relate to their powers. Mystics, therefore, favor holistic and non-linear reasoning; strict linear cause-effect schooling is, at best, seen only as something to add to their mental toolbox- at worst, they are outright hostile to the very idea due to their inability or unwillingness to see the merit in it.

Mystics have no infrastructure requirements to their magic-use. Because all of their spells are intuitively discovered and mastered, they have no need to tie themselves down to a specific place; in this respect, they are akin to Ley-Line Walkers. Because they have no strong association with ritual magic, they aren't that obsessed with places of power; they aren't that tied to items of power either, so they have little in common with Shifters or Techno-Wizards (or any other Occupation with similar logistical requirements to their practice). They have no formal ties to supernatural patrons, so they see such magic-users as fettered or enslaved usually (and they would be correct). They are, like Warlocks, a very loose community amongst themselves (and see kinship to varying degrees with others like them) and therefore are often friendly to the traveling lifestyle.

Because Mystic powers are intuitive, they will reflect their spiritual and mental well-being; barring specific mentoring intended to create, in some form of controlled manner, the need to manifest specific sorts of powers (ala Warlocks) the spells and psychic powers that a given Mystic develops are tells to a savvy observer of that Mystic and can give useful insight into how that Mystic thinks and behaves. Whatever mundane skills and knowledge a Mystic has is also indicative of that same internal self, as they will be the ordinary manifestations of their supernatural capacities.

For the Game Master Mystics are very easy to run and incorporate. While not as much of a Gandalf sort that a Ley-Line Walker is, a Mystic can be a more adventurous Galadriel (or, as a NPC, the mature one see in The Lord of the Rings); they work very, very well as seers, diviners, and other sorts whose magic and psychic powers tend towards the seeking and refining of knowledge or the healing of body and mind (and are not nearly so hung up on the mastery of mundane martial skills to defend themselves from attack). It is painless to use this Occupation in your campaign, regardless of where it is, due to the nature of its powers and the personalities that this Occupation typically produces.

Tying it together, the Mystic is one of the most universal of Occupations and can find itself a niche in damn near any RIFTS campaign that's likely to get past the pitch phase. Easy to play, easy to portray, easy to incorporate, easy to handle- easy peasy all around. What's not to love? Roll up a Mystic, just an ordinary Human (or near-Human) Mystic, and take the implications aforementioned to heart when you figure out what your Mystic is and what he does with his powers. Just remember that you're not the blaster-master sort; you're the seer and reader, whose powers allow you to punt problems away by avoiding them or press them down by mitigating them- you're not the guy who casts the spells that makes the people fall down. (That is why you have a gun.)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in RIFTS, Part 11: The Techno-Wizard

The Techno-Wizard is an artificer. It is an Occupation that focuses its mastery of magic--itself an iteration of the Western High Magic archetype--upon the creation of items, both for one's own use and for others to use. Its knowledge of spells and rituals is combined with its acumen concerning sciences of the ordinary sort to blend together into what today is sometimes termed "magitech", but it can cast spells and conduct rituals as any other magician of his archetype does. What makes this Occupation distinct is its friendliness to high technology; it often combines specific applications of spells, or the results of rituals, with existing technologies to create hybrids to varying degrees.

The big problem with this Occupation is that the rules governing its artifice capacity are not really rules, but examples and very poor guidelines instead, and for players and Game Masters used to a ruleset that actually is a ruleset governing item creation playing a Techno-Wizard is an exercise in Making Shit Up. If you're cool with that, go nuts; sit down and figure that shit out. Otherwise, you're going to have a bad time; choose something else.

Okay, that out of the way...

Playing an artificer is a fancy way of saying that your man is a gadgeteer. Your shtick is to make widgets that are useful during gameplay, either as a way of participating in the action directly (making weapons, armor, sensors, medic kits, etc.) or to facilitate the strategic or logistical processes of adventuring (making vehicles, portals, shelters, etc.). In this respect, you share a niche with Operators and others who also build/fix/repair things; your edge is that you are also a magic-user, and therefore are privy to the same knowledge and lore that Ley-Line Walkers, Shifters, and others who have to study and master magical theory in order to access and use magic have to do. Your downside, shared with Shifters as well as Operators, is that your man needs downtime and has to deal with a logistical supply train to make the most of his abilities.

In other words, Techno-Wizards need to make plans, prepare contingencies, and otherwise do the same sort of thinking and behavior that Shifters have to do; you're just adding "need to source parts", and "has to have a garage/workshop" to that bothersome aspect of playing such a character. For people of this Occupation, who are very much focused on applied knowledge, figuring out how to balance the requirements of the Occupation with the requirements of adventuring is one of those bothersome inconveniences that--like Shifters--turns many off of this Occupation and relegates Techno-Wizards to NPCs in many campaigns.

Game Masters who want to have Techno-Wizards be a thing that players want to play are going to have to put in some work beforehand figuring out something useful in terms of how Techno-Wizardry actually works due to the aforementioned crap guidelines and lack of useful benchmarks for what can be done with it compared to more genre-standard magical artifice. The sample items and devices have no sensible pattern governing the relationship between the item and what it takes to create them, so Game Masters are going to have to make up such a scheme themselves; this too often results in such magic-users being a NPC-only affair, as Game Masters find the task too bothersome to deal with.

In short, and in a bit of irony, making a Techno-Wizard is very much a fixer-upper Occupation. If you're not up for that, don't bother. If you're okay with it, then you're going to make a character that really is very much what you make of it; it's the Erector Set of Occupations in this game.