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".