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Solitary Magic Practitioners

posted Jan 28, 2013 14:38:20 by thomas5251212
One of the no-question strengths of RQ6 is the way it tries to weave the character into the social matrix he comes from, including magic practitioners. And when it comes to things like mundane support and easy access to things like new spells and such, that seems entirely sensible. However, magical ranking also function to limit certain practical capabilities, and its less obvious why this should always be necessary.

(I'll leave theism out of this for the moment, though I'd think the magically powerful solitary hermit still has a role there in a lot of settings, but let's keep it to animists, mystics and sorcerers for the nonce).

So how does a mystic, sorcerer or solitary shaman who lives outside of his normal society advance in functional power? As written in the rules it seems impossible, being dependent on hierarchical approval of some nature.

(To make it clear, I'm talking about the abilities and removed limitations present in the four "ranks" of mage, such as the shamanic access to the spirit world and so on).
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13 replies
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RangerDan said Jan 28, 2013 16:50:46
I don't think there's actually anything in the rules preventing you from saying that some of these 'advances' can be self-taught for solitary hermits. Or, from a chicken-and-egg perspective, how did the first High Shaman come to be?

You can of course make self-teaching as easy or difficult as you like.

So let's take a solitary Spirit Worshipper of a Nature Spirit cult.

Ordinarily, after a minimum of three years in the Cult, and upon learning at least four cult skills at 70% of higher, the Shamans might deem the Worshipper 'ready' to learn more advanced secrets of the cult, and be advanced to the Shaman rank. But our Worshipper is alone (maybe his tribe is dead), so this is not available to him.

So you as GM determine that upon learning a key four skills at 70% - let's say Binding, Trance, Lore (Nature Spirits) and Willpower, the Spirit Worshipper instinctively begins to sense further potential within himself, and decides to undertake a quest to unlock new spirit abilities. If he succeeds, he is a full-fledged Shaman.

Such a quest might entail actually finding an alternative source for the knowledge outside of normal society (a powerful Ancestor spirit for Animists, a forbidden tome for Sorcerers, a holy site for Theists and so on).

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bluefenix42 said Jan 28, 2013 18:13:21
If you look through the Magic chapter, you'll find rules for founding your own magical tradition. It's expensive in terms of both XP rolls and time investment, but it does establish a basis for how a lone magic-user of any type could get going without needing to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.

There's also a lot of sources of lore out there, if the character is not the absolute first inventor of his type of magic. An Animist could learn from an Ancestor Spirit, a Sorcerer from old books, demons, or other such creatures, and a Theist could learn directly from their deity. The only one that's a bit lacking in this area is Mystics, though the lost tome of forbidden knowledge idea could still apply to all of them.

As far as the exact "ranks", I think RangerDan pretty much has the right idea. I might also be willing to let the founder of a magical tradition earn one or more of those ranks a bit faster than normal for a cult, simply to represent that they already have the authority part of it as the founder, they just need the skills.

Finally, one does have to question what the ranks actually mean in the game world. For some cults (especially Sorcery and Mysticism cults), I feel it is sufficient to say being higher rank means you are trusted enough to be taught some of the more powerful or dangerous spells. For Theism and Animist cults, however, there's an explicit, innate difference in power between the ranks. I believe this implies some sort of quest, initiation ceremony/ritual, or receiving special secret knowledge which is more than just another spell.
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thomas5251212 said Jan 28, 2013 18:29:20
As I said, I can see the point regarding theism, but some animist traditions are relatively solitary, so it begs the question as to who is going to assign these and decide you've succeeded. I suppose you could substitute vision quests and the like for those for solitary practitioners.

I'm not quite sure what that would translate into for mystics or sorcerers though.
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PeteNash said Jan 28, 2013 20:53:38
Once again RangerDan and BlueFenix have summed it up. If you don't like the path of self enlightenment then an animist can learn from the spirits themselves - Monster Island has animist cults which do precisely this, for example totemic spirits passing on secret knowledge if the previous High Shaman has been killed.

The same sort of thing can be used for sorcerers. Clark Ashton Smith sorcerers typically summon up patron demon lords, who teach them such forbidden lore (if you can get your hands on it, the Book of Ebon Bindings is an excellent example of flavoursome diabolic deal making). I tried to evoke this concept with Kratos's Saga and I'm sure we had some guidance on p232.

The main point is that Cult Rank can be transparent to the character, or even non-existent if you so desire. Its there to help encourage social integration and govern the rate of accumulation of power, but you don't need to use it for non-theism magicians if you don't want to.
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thomas5251212 said Jan 28, 2013 21:08:58
I guess what I'm asking is what those ranks mean for people who aren't drawing their power from outside sources.

Let me see if I can explain what I mean by that.

In the case of a theistic spellcaster, the rank within the organization can, effectively, directly matter to the source of the magic. This can explain the greater storage capacity, the ability to caster spells unavailable to lower ranks, and more.

Animists are kind of a twixt-and-tween case, since they're interacting with spirits, so I'll leave them out of it.

But with sorcerers or mystics, how does their organizations grant or withhold access to those higher rank benefits? What distinguishes them from simply the skill values and knowledge of the specific spells (which presumably could be acquired in other ways).

That's my question. There seem to be three things that control the power of a mage in the game; skills, "spells" and rank. Is the rank effectively a third kind of learnable "thing" that normally is kept as a secret within organizations, that they only teach to those who've been accepted to higher organizational rank?

I'm kind of trying to figure out what the assumed process here, and how the organization is effectively involved, because its less obvious to me what's going on than it is in the case of theism.
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bluefenix42 said Jan 28, 2013 21:18:24
As far as I know, Sorcerers and Mystics don't have any explicit benefits tied to cult rank. The primary implicit benefit is that cult leaders will only teach certain spells to members of high enough rank.

Theists have the Devotional Pool size tied to rank. Animists have Trance abilities tied to rank. I'm not seeing where Sorcerers and Mystics have any game mechanics tied to rank.
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lawrence.whitaker said Jan 28, 2013 21:35:02
There seem to be three things that control the power of a mage in the game; skills, "spells" and rank. Is the rank effectively a third kind of learnable "thing" that normally is kept as a secret within organizations, that they only teach to those who've been accepted to higher organizational rank?


It depends entirely on the organisation and its way of handling its canon of knowledge. Some cults may have ranks that are only revealed to its members as they attain seniority. Others may have an open structure, with clearly defined and understood ranks - just as the modern religions do.

Some organisations may withhold certain spells, in terms of tuition, from lower ranks because...

a) They want a certain degree of commitment and maturity to be displayed by the member first.
b) They consider a particular spell to be of such potency that only those who have worked significantly for the cult deserve to use it.
c) As a reward for commitment, or for performing a particular task
d) Because handing out their knowledge to everyone who is part of the organisation is a sure-fire way of handing its knowledge to its rivals and enemies.
e) Any organisation is a means of establishing and controlling power. If you give access to power irrespective of rank, it can be abused and also leads to such things as length of service, knowledge and contribution to the organisation being rendered meaningless.

Ultimately, its up to GMs to determine how, and why. The cult rules are there to offer a framework for GMs to use in devising workable organisations. Different cults have different structures and levels of knowledge/power sharing dependent on the setting and the logic of the world. Rank isn't a 'learnable' thing. But it is 'earnable'. Take the Masons, for example. They have secrets that are shared as members earn a higher position through dedication of service. Consider the Jedi, too: whilst its clear that padawns are taught a range of powers at a low rank in the order, greater powers (and secrets) come with training, diligence and dedication as one rises up the ranks.

The other thing to bear in mind is that cults are there to help give meaning to the nature of adventuring. They first appeared in Glorantha, in RQ's earlier editions. Because advancement isn't level-based, cults provided a way of giving characters both a reason to adventure (to serve a god, to gain training and higher magic), and as a reward for serving in a particular way.

Not sure if this answers your question because, actually, I find your question a very complex one and, perhaps, an over-thinking of what's being described.
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thomas5251212 said Jan 28, 2013 21:40:34
Looking through it extensively, apparently you're correct. I'd read the Theist and Animist sections most closely, and jumped the gun on the rest.

This is what happens when you've read bits and pieces over weeks, and then try to internalize the rest because you're home sick. :P
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thomas5251212 said Jan 28, 2013 21:48:56
As you can see, Lawrence, I was actually reading things into parts of the rules that apparently just aren't there. What I was talking about was something only really present in the Animism and Theism.

Though if someone could indulge me, what is it that allows a higher rank Animist to do what he can do that lower ones can't? As I said, it seems to be something other than simply skill. Or put most simply, what allows a shaman to project himself into the Spirit World while a Spirit Worshiper can't, even though they both have Trance? Is it something more than the skill level of Trance? What is it that being accepted by a spirit cult as a full shaman occurs that permits it with one and not the other? What is it that actually makes this fairly sharp binary difference here?

(As I said, what's going on with Theism is at least potentially more clear-cut since most forms of theism get powers granted from an outside source.)
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PeteNash said Jan 28, 2013 22:11:54
"Though if someone could indulge me, what is it that allows a higher rank Animist to do what he can do that lower ones can't? As I said, it seems to be something other than simply skill. Or put most simply, what allows a shaman to project himself into the Spirit World while a Spirit Worshiper can't, even though they both have Trance? Is it something more than the skill level of Trance? What is it that being accepted by a spirit cult as a full shaman occurs that permits it with one and not the other? What is it that actually makes this fairly sharp binary difference here? "

Anything you want.

I'm not being facetious. It is quite literally whatever suits your game world or campaign setting.

It can be that a friendly spirit passes on the magical ability because the animist sacrificed to it. Or the animist achieves some form of self enlightenment, figuring out how to do it in a eureka moment. Or the he accidentally drinks the supposedly deadly poisonous nectar of the ju-ju tree, which his tribe forbids anyone to touch. Or that he is the direct descendant of the first shaman of his tradition and its in his blood. Or that he finally allows the perverted old shaman to bugger him bandy and blackmails him in exchange for the secret.

Anything you want.
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lawrence.whitaker said Jan 28, 2013 22:15:37
Or put most simply, what allows a shaman to project himself into the Spirit World while a Spirit Worshiper can't, even though they both have Trance? Is it something more than the skill level of Trance?


Experience.

Really, its no more than that. Anyone with the Trance skill can achieve a trance-like state. The % score reflects the ease with which one can slip into a trance. You can quite easily have a spirit worshipper who might have a higher Trance % than a High Shaman - the difference is the High Shaman understands the depth of the trance needed to achieve the shift from one state to the next. But achieving the depth of trance that allows full-blown passage into the spirit world comes through practice and experience, plus some tuition and guidance of elders in the tradition. High Shaman have had the benefit of years of achieving a trance, perceiving the spirit world around them, and understanding the nuances that take you deeper into the trance state to transcend the physical world.

Here's a more mundane example. My 17 year old is learning to drive. His ability to steer, brake, indicate, reverse and so on are pretty good - let's say 70%. But what he doesn't have a great deal of experience of is anticipating potential hazards, reading road conditions, judging his speed without reference to the speedometer, and so on. So whilst his raw skill in driving a car is just fine, his finesse needs a lot of development: all those little things that just aren't measurable by raw competency and differentiate a reasonable driver from a masterful one.
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thomas5251212 said Jan 28, 2013 22:33:08
So the take-home I'm getting from this is that someone working outside of a tradition could achieve this, it'd just likely take them longer since they don't have an elder to show them the ropes? That's fair enough.
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lawrence.whitaker said Jan 28, 2013 23:52:12
So the take-home I'm getting from this is that someone working outside of a tradition could achieve this, it'd just likely take them longer since they don't have an elder to show them the ropes? That's fair enough.


Yep, spot on!

:-)
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