Wednesday, May 20, 2009

[Rifts:2112] Magic

It took a while to get here, but here we are. The last anticipated major post in my Rifts:2112 series. I'll definitely keep throwing out ideas as they occur to me, but I feel like with technology, the major players, a rough overview of world geography, and now magic, I've got all I need to start doing conversion work.

So on to magic.

Let's start by looking at this Ramon Perez piece. I didn't post it with my Perez retrospective because I was saving it specifically for this post. Like much of Perez's work, this is a perfect summation of how I want things, in this case magic, in Rifts:2112 to look and feel. As you'll recall, one of the major elements I'm integrating into my world is the Cthulhu Mythos. I love how Perez's spell-casters generally have this look about them like they're as much alien as human; you get the feeling some of them actually need those wicked helmets just to stay alive!

(Before we go any further, perhaps a note on how I'm approaching Lovecraftian magic and the Mythos in general is in order. The Trail of Cthulhu RPG introduces the concept of Mythos campaigns existing along a continuum running from Purist to Pulpy. In case it hasn't been blindingly obvious, I'm on the Pulpy side of the continuum, to put it mildly. If the continuum was on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being Pulpier Than Organic Orange Juice...well, you know. So I apologize in advance to all the Lovecraft purists out there, but I'm about to commodify Mythos magic. If I didn't, I'd just be treading old ground anyway, since I think Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa did a great job of taking a purist approach to the Mythos in a fantasy setting.)

After reading through the highly-recommended Mythos Magic monograph, I now have a firm grip on how I want to systematize magic in the world of Rifts:2112. As I've written before, I'm largely jettisoning the various magical traditions put forth for the world of Rifts as written. This includes making the eponymous "rifts" actually "Gates"--although, for the sake of brand recognition and the fact that it's a cool word, I'm still having most non-spell-casters refer to Gates as Rifts. Originally, this included jettisoning ley lines entirely, making Gates independent entities. I've since come back around, although I'm still not totally bringing back ley lines as they were presented in the original world.

I jettisoned ley lines because I've always found them rather cumbersome in practice. Palladium has never produced a satisfactory map of Earth's ley lines, which wouldn't be so much of an issue except for the fact that several rather central character classes have the ability to fly, communicate, or even teleport themselves along ley lines! At that point it becomes pretty important to know where ley lines are and other such details, which always put a bit of the burden on a GM's (my) shoulders.

That's just nit-picking, really though. The main thing I didn't like about ley lines was how they were implemented, as these rather undtidy chicken scratches that started and stopped at random. No thanks. The one image of ley lines I've always found totally arresting is the old color piece Kevin Long did for the original Main Book, the image of the dark side of Earth criss-crossed by the "most powerful" ley lines. So in my world, the most powerful ley lines are the only ley lines.

The ley line network that appeared after the Cataclysm is an ancient artefact of a long-forgotten civilization. Most scholars believe it was constructed by the Atlanteans as a means of regulating magical energy between the most potent and powerful of the ancient Gates, like some sort of magical power grid. Whoever constructed it, and for whatever purpose, when the stars shifted and magic left Earth for a time, the network, along with its Gates, "powered down."

(And a note to clarify, Gates can still be opened, or can open on their own, pretty much anywhere--the ley lines merely connect the most powerful and peristent Gates.)

Newly reactivated, the ley lines serve as powerful batteries of energy; the Gates that reopened at their nexus points are some of the largest and most powerful: the Calgary Rift (#8 on the map) is one example. Atlantis gated in through nexus point 19, and Cthulhu's sunken city of R'lyeh, now christened the Island Kingdom of Mu, rose up under nexus point 47. I'll probably go through those maps at some point in the future and figure out what's going on with each of those points. (Edit: thanks for doing my work for me Internet!)

From a game system perspective, I intend to leave the rules for using ley lines (drawing Power and so forth) as written, even though BRP magic tends to use fewer Power Points that Palladium's. This creates a pretty compelling incentive to travel to ley lines and nexus points on propitious dates--the ability to siphon dozens or hundreds of Power Points has truly epic implications for BRP magic, a concept I like very much.

On to magic systems, then. There are three main ones, all based on the magic described in Call of Cthulhu and its supplements. There are also four "minor" systems, called minor not for their power level, but for the fact that they're not as widespread globally, for various reasons.

The Major Magic Systems: Evocation, Enchantment, and Invocation

As outlined in Mythos Magic, Mythos-based sorcery can be broken down into four systems: Evocation, Invocation, Enchantment, and Divination. I'm largely ignoring Divination, as I feel it's not really "in character" for the world, although of course there would be various traveling fortune tellers and mysterious hermit-augurs. The other three comprise the three most commonly encountered spell-casters in the world:
  • Those who rely primarily on on Evocation (aka Summon/Bind spells) are referred to as Summoners or Shifters. This sort usually knows the Gate spell as well, all the better for realizing their interdimensional aspirations.
  • Those who deal primarily with Invocation (aka Contact spells) are commonly called Shamans. Mythos Magic actually has a whole chapter expanding the role and powers of the Shaman, and I'll be taking full advantage of that. To my mind, the Shaman is probably the most common and widely-distributed spell-caster of all, from the village witch doctor who uses his good relations with the local spirits to ensure a healthy harvest and even healthier children to the mad High Priests of Mu, dancing about Great Cthulhu's throne far away on that sanity-blasting Isle.
  • Those who prefer to use magic to further their own ends rather than treating with gods use Enchantment magice (aka everything else in the Grimoire). Enchantment magic, despite its threats to sanity, can be used for good ends as well as ill, thanks to Atlantean contributions to magical practice and theory (more on that below).
The Minor Magic Systems: Rune Magic, Techno-Wizardry, Alchemy, and Necromancy

The Atlanteans were once masters of a magical lore inherited from the Elder Races after the fall of the Serpent Men. Atlantean sorcerers--liking their sanity very much, thank you--devised ways of mitigating the inimical nature of pure Magic. Creating the ley line network was quite possibly one of these methods. Two others were developing the concept of Gnosis and creating their own magic, Rune Magic.
  • Rune Magic is the magic of symbols, which can either be carved into objects, written down, or scribed in skin. From a game system perspective, I'll be using the Rune Magic system outlined in the Elric! supplement, The Bronze Grimoire.
  • Gnosis is a concept introduced in Mythos Magic. In essence, it is a meditative practice (that can vary from caster to caster and spell to spell) in which the spell-caster enters a highly focused state, one which allows them to disconnect from the magical effects they are generating. In game terms, Gnosis serves as a mitigator of Sanity loss due to magic. As with D&D-style magic, however, Gnosis is fragile and can be interrupted. A wizard knocked out of Gnosis stands the very real risk of suddenly feeling all that SAN loss he had previously been avoiding. Love it!
Techno-wizardry actually grew out of early experiments with Gnosis among human spell-casters after the Cataclysm. It was found that it was possible to duplicate the effects of Gnosis using electric generators, batteries, and an array of Frankensteinian equipment. From there, groups and lone innovators began to develop and refine their own approach to magic, infusing machines and tools with the raw stuff of the Arcane, creating a wholly new style of magic in the process. Obviously, Techo-Wizardry shows great potential, but it is also a tremendous threat to the already well-entrenched sorcerous Powrs That Be...not to mention to the virulently anti-magic Coalition. This mistrust and repression, combined with the snail-slow dissemination of information that plagues the post-Cataclysm world, has kept Techno-Wizardry largely confined to the Americas, and even then it's not terribly common in the great centers of power. Techno-Wizards revel in their outlaw rebel status, and many adopt the mannerisms of wizardly rock stars (just look at that Techno-Wizard's cocky expression in the Perez illo above), purposely tweaking the collective nose of the Magical Establishment.
  • Techno-Wizards use the Sorcery Power and spell list as presented in the Basic Roleplaying Core Book; their devices are constructed and used as per the Sorcerous Items rules on p.240.
Although Techno-Wizardry is all but unknown in Europe, a similar role is filled by Alchemists. Starting in the Kingdom of Tarnow, alchemy rapidly spread to Germany and the other outposts of civilization, particularly after the first Philosopher's Stone was created. Not only could the Stones transmute base metals into gold (which actually devalued gold considerably, leading to the proliferation of the "gold piece" as Europe's main bit of hard currency), but it was found that the Stone could make iron and steel as tough and resilient as the most advanced ceramite armors. Since it's considerably easier and cheaper to produce old-fashioned plate and chain armor and transmute the metal using an available Philosopher's Stone, most warriors in Europe--when they're not clanking around in their Dampfritter Power Armor--can be found suited up like knights of old.
  • In effect, the transmuted armor no longer functions as Ancient but as Advanced, therefore giving it full armor protection against Advanced weapons.
  • More alchemical effects can be found in this handy download.
Lastly, there is Necromancy, relatively rare in the Americas but a scourge in Europe and especially Africa. The Blood Druids of Europe are inveterate Necromancers (when they're not busy Evoking horrible monstrosities from Beyond--including, quite possibly, the "gargoyles" who constantly menace the New German Republic) and have helped give magic in general a bad name in the NGR and elsewhere.
  • Mythos Magic, again, gives a great overview of Necromancy from a Lovecraftian perspective. I might also pad the system out using the Necromancy rules described in The Bronze Grimoire.
And that's about it. Other systems of magic or magical side effects, from ley line phasing and communication (representing a character who has decoded the keys to the ancient ley line network) to species-specific magic (like Cloud Magic) can be easily represened using the Super Powers system from BRP.

Post-script: As should be obvious by now, the Mythos Magic monograph was indispensible in helping me fill in the corners of magic in Rifts:2112. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in using CoC/Lovecraftian magic in their games, whether canonically or not-so-much. Unfortunately, at this point it seems to only be available in dead tree edition. Hopefully Chaosium will make it available as a PDF at some point in the future.

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