Saturday, June 28, 2014

Playing a Psychic in Rifts, Part 2: Getting Into Your Man's Head

A key thing to comprehend, with regard to playing your character, is that you need to get into your character's head and perceive the environment from his perspective. This includes the experience of using your character's abilities, so you need to imagine the physicality he exhibits when he uses certain abilities. Once you can do that, you will find that your perception of how your man thinks will become far more lifelike and therefore your performance will greatly improve.

While this is applicable to any character in any role-playing game, for a psychic it is very significant due to the interaction of his powers with his body and his environment. The game reflects that the use of psychic powers taxes the user's endurance by the use of Inner Strength Points, which means that the usage of psychic powers is very much a usage of power channeled through the user's body- something that is finite within a given interval of time, but extendable with experience as it reflects conditioning gained as a byproduct of earning that experience.

So, take a moment to imagine how your psychic experiences his powers. He's always had them, even if they didn't manifest until his adolescence or adulthood, so there was always some telltale sign of their presence; he heard things, saw things, felt things, etc. that others did not--or, at least, others not psychic--and these signs grew until his latent powers manifested and blossomed into full expression. Depending on what powers you choose, your character's early life and experiences with his powers just about tell you the story for you because they won't happen any other way.

On a related note, take a moment to imagine what it feels like when your psychic uses his powers. From some point in his brain, a thought resonates at just the right frequency to become the right effect. He will instinctively use his body, as necessary, to guide the use of this power and employ it to the desired end; a Mind Melter or Psi Warrior will, without thought, form one hand into a firm grip upon the Psi Sword that he wills into existence while a Burster will scan with his eyes the place where he'll ignite a fire a moment before willing it to spark and flare into existing. Telekinetics will gesture with hands or similar limbs as if they were either manipulating it by touch or conducting it into place. While most of these instinctual gestures are actually not needed (and therefore can be trained out of practice), the psychic's experience of the flow of power from his brain, through his body, and then out into the environment to create the effect is often unchecked by training--Mystics actively avoid it, in harmony with their own belief in emergence and intuitive cognition, for example--often correlates bodily movement (great and small alike) to effective use of power, making psychics and magic-users seem to overlap far more than is actually the case.

You will know a learned, trained, and veteran psychic (therefore) by how often he omits such tells in the use of his powers, but this means that he has to somehow deal with the fact that the instinctual displays also naturally discharge any excess energy (and I mean that in the real-world sense, not a game mechanic sense) that the use of such powers naturally produces. Psychics who are telekinetics (or other psychokinetics, such as Bursters) flail their arms about because it is a very natural method to direct and expel such energies; psychics who deal in their powers otherwise have to find other manners to cope with discharging the adrenal rush that comes with using those powers.

A savvy observer can learn how to read body language to find these tells, and other psychics are very good at learning to do this quicky due to their own psychic ability, making psychics most effective at sensing their own- this is one of the reasons for why Psi Stalkers and Dog Boys are so very effective. There are some natural tells that can't be avoided (usually associated with powers like Psi Sword/Shield and those like it), but most--across all categories--can be omitted with discipline and practice, and replaced with far more subtle ones that allow them to escape the notice of observers. Psychics with a past in organizations (great or small) whose presence persists will do this with their members; this, by the way, is one of the many reasons for why the Coalition States' inner elite of telepaths and other psychics remains well-hidden. (More on this later in the series.)

So, get into your psychic's head. Get into his body. Imagine how it feels to use those powers, and you will go a long way towards comprehending your man's mind and perspective- which will, in turn, make playing your man a far more satisfying play experience.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Playing a Psychic in Rifts, Part 1: The Basics

Welcome to the next series at Stabilizing Rifts. After spending so much time on magic and magic-users, it seemed natural to go a step to the side and talk about psychics.

I'm going to follow much the same pattern as I did before, with this post and a few others covering the basics and establishing the foundation for the rest of my posts on this topic. Then I will cover the broad archetypes for psychic characters, followed by the posts on specific Psychic types. Instead of "P.C.C.", I will use "Psychic"; "Occupation" will be used where relevant, as I did with the magic-user posts.

That said, the basics.

  • Psychics are born, not made, barring a few exceptions throughout the Megaverse. Magic can be taught; psychic powers are inherent from birth, though they may be latent in expression until a triggering event is had. How they manifest varies greatly, but they tend to conform to a series of archetypes that are commonplace (with variation) across the Megaverse.
  • Psychics do not manifest obvious displays of power use, in the way that magic-users do, when using their powers. They can be still, silent, and display no audio or visual effects by default. While many psychics do make gestures, etc., it is not required; the mark of a disciplined psychic is one that ruthlessly exploits this fact to his benefit and the detriment of his opposition. (Specific powers, on the other hand, can and do make such displays; it's hard to ignore a Psi-Sword suddenly manifesting in a user's hands.)
  • Psychic are much in the same boat as magic-users who don't truly understand their powers; they can, and do, acquire a body of practical techniques but true comprehension of what their powers are and how they work remains beyond most psychics' grasp- and it cannot be taught, as such. Psychic training is, therefore, akin to martial arts training is that the process is intended to be a controlled stress environment wherein senior psychics oversee juniors and guide them in how to make the best use of their powers. (Think X-Men, Xavier's school for mutants.)
  • Psychics, like mundanes, are diverse in both depth and breadth of power. All psychics are not equal, and as with mundanes they are going to fall into a hierarchy built upon that disparity of power as an emergent and persistent property of their existence- there is no "all men are equal" here.
There, we have some pillars to build upon for next week. See you then.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in Rifts, Part 20: Epilogue

We're at the end.

Going over the way magic works, and the useful examples of how magic-use manifests, in RIFTS has proven quite instructive and beneficial to me over these past few months. Most of what I wrote about here can be applied to other RPGs, be they tabletop games (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons) or video games of various genres (e.g. World of Warcraft, Dragon Age: Origins), so I do hope that you keep them in mind. Furthermore, because I applied some real-world occultism (*gasp!*) to bring order to the usual Palladium mess of concepts and conceits, you can look over at the New Age and Occult shelves at the bookstore for sources to fill the gaps that Palladium's amateurism and incompetent approach leaves in the material.

So, let's review the core of magic in this game:
  • Magic can be taught. At first it's by supernatural entities striking deals with ordinary mortals for the former's reasons, but in time it always turns into a wholly secular pursuit no different to how real-world science and engineering works: a body of lore on how the universe works, then applied as useful tools to solve practical problems and open new avenues of interaction.
  • Magic is both science and technology; the use of spell and ritual is how the science is applied as technology. Since both are internal to the user, this makes the knowledge into the tool and not just a means to get to a tool; this is why magic is considered dangerous- it doesn't give people bombs, it makes people into autonomous bomb-throwing bomb factories.
  • Magic is natural. It's powered by infinitely-renewable, clean (by default), naturally-occurring energy and the core of all use of magic is the ability to tap into this energy and transmute it into whatever form the desired effect takes. "Unnatural" magical energies, therefore, are caused by pollution into these natural clean flows by other entities. A magic-using civilization is one of the most environmentally-friendly ones possible, and it is always one that is post-scarcity so long as that magic energy remains available.
  • Magic-using civilizations are, without fail, always going to become stronger and tougher than those that eschew it; you can't be a Megaversal power-player if you are not a magic-user. This is why magic-use is a leveling thing, restricted where it is used by those in power and outright persecuted by those that don't; this includes those civilizations who have access to powers akin to (but are not) magic, for all intents and purposes.

Magic, contrary to what most think, is Promethean. It is how a simple boy born in the middle of nowhere in a backwater world as the son of an utterly ordinary man can become a godlike being contending successfully with Megaversal powers on their own terms; other routes to that destination require qualities that cannot be taught, require transformation of one's body or mind, or have some other random element or external constraint forever freezing out people out and keeping down those let in. Magic alone has no such constraints; the limits to a magic-user's scale and scope of power is entirely dependent on the will, imagination, and drive of the user- and those already at that point are well-aware of this fact, which is why they act as they do (out of either fear or love) with regard to magic and magic-users. Magic is what makes mortals and gods into equals, and the gods never forget that fact- and neither do powerful mortals made powerful through the use of magic. Remember this in your games and characters to come.

Next week, I begin "Playing a Psychic".

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in RIFTS, Part 19: An Overview of the Megaverse

Aside from the core of North America (i.e. Coalition territory) and a few places with similar attitudes, magic-use is a far more complex socio-political matter and its going to leave its mark wherever it goes.

  • The magical societies of the entire Megaverse, let alone Rifts Earth, are tied together by groups of Ley-Line Walkers (and those with the same power; this is an Atlantean-dominated group) and supplemented by Shifters (and similar practitioners). Massive levels of conspiratorial and operational capability requires their involvement; this is one of the reason for why "major power" and "institutional magic-use" go hand-in-hand, because non-users cannot operate on this level.
  • This includes the dimensions where demons, devils, angels, etc. reside; cross-dimensional schemes require command over ley lines and dimensional rifts, something that only magic-use reliably provides. Because these entities are the top-tier powers in the whole of the Megaverse, their conflicts will encompass and subsume everything else; they operate on scopes and scales that make even the long-term perspectives of god-like intelligences seem somehow subpar- but their motivations are hardly beyond mortal comprehension.
  • Magical societies of any significant maturity will be aware as to the existence of other dimensions. Fully mature societies will possess a mostly-accurate comprehension of what the dimensional connections binding the Megaverse together are, and how they interact; this includes the critical matter of mana flows (i.e. very powerful such as Rifts Earth, moderate such as Palladium, or weak-as-shit like some other dimensions; the latter ones are avoided and treated as useless backwaters, sometimes exploited as a place to dump dissidents and criminals).
  • The gods and similar powers are very powerful, and from a mortal and gameplay point of view might as well be omnipotent, but they are not truly alien in their mentality and not truly omnipotent either; when working at a Megaversal scope and scale, we'll see comprehensible motivations and actions coming out of these godlike beings. The illusion comes from the limited perspective that most beings possess relative to that of the greatest powers in the Megaverse; this means that perspective, knowledge, and paying attention are keys being a successful magic-user regardless of Occupation- it's how magic-users born as humble, ordinary mortals can become viable competition to the most god-like of entities.
  • Operating at this level means that maintaining awareness, and quickly getting up to speed on local conditions, is vital; your man need to be as much a competent scholar and intelligence operator as you are a magic-user (which, given the real world history of occulism and occulist overlap with espionage and intelligence operations, is hardly unusual). Gandalf, returning to a well-known example, was as much a handler and operative as he was a wielder of knowledge often hidden and employed in equally hidden ways (in addition to actual supernatural powers). (There is also the examples of Jack Parsons, for those wanting inspiration for a Techno-Wizard angle, and John Dee for a more old-school example.)
  • Operating at the Megaversal level means that your fiction inspiration starts with the Lensman series and those that it inspired: The Green Lantern Corps, the Nova Corps, and (inside the game) Cosmo-Knights. That doesn't necessarily mean that your man wields such power, but that your man does possess the capability to think and operate on that level and therefore may acquire that degree of power- but it's not strictly necessary to be effective.