CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

From Spirit Speaking to Hocus Pocus - Magical Traditions

Pathfinder has a number of casting class that each evoke a different feel in how they cast but as I point out in my article Your Character is Not Your Class you aren’t bound by the name of your class for what your character is. And in The Magic of Magic, I talk about making your magic dynamic and I touch on the idea of magical paradigm. But how do these ideas combine into putting yourself into a magical tradition?

When we think of great wizards of course Merlin comes to mind, but the idea of Merlin is based primarily (although not completely) on the welsh legend of Myddin who was a bard living in the Caledonian forest as a madman and prophet. In class he could have probably been anything from a druid to an oracle to an actual bard, but we’ve all come to know him as one of the greatest pointy hats there is.

So how does magical tradition differ from class? Class is just a set of mechanics that explain how things get done. Tradition is the in character belief about what a person culturally believes. Take for example the Two-Spirits I wrote about in my exploration of the empyreal lord Arshea. They are listed as the medicine men of the Shoanti tribes, and for all intents and purposes could be called Shaman. But do you need to use the Shaman class to create one?

First off let me state I hate the Shaman class. Unlike all the other hybrid classes, to me it feels like they just tried to mash together Oracle and Witch. Most of the other hybrids seem to have a distinct feel all of their own, but the Shaman class is just a Witch/Oracle and poorly themed for shamanism to boot. So to answer my question, no you don’t need to be a Shaman to be a medicine man or one of the Two-Spirits.

It’s all in the tradition of the magic maker, in this case a connection to their ancestors, the lore keepers of their people and the testers of the traditions of the Shoanti. I could see the Witch Class fill this role using the ancestor, boundaries, Portents, Spirits or Wisdom patrons. A belief that their familiar is somehow the reincarnation of a previous Two-Spirit. The Oracle with the ancestor mystery and the Possessed or Spirit Guide archetype. A bard who keeps the oral traditions of his people alive believing the songs he sings are the songs of the spirits. Its all about how they go about doing what they do, not what the class is called.

Even for classes like wizards you have to determine what tradition your arcanist follows. The masters of the sacred script in Tian Xia, who use small pieces of written on parchment as a focus to cast their spells, are likely to confound one of the great learned mages of abasalom. Both use the same in game mechanic but the outward appearance, or magical tradition are vastly different. The Tian Xia masters of the sacred script might be Wizards, Sorcerers or Arcanists, and sure some of how they mechanically work is different, but the outward appearance to the world is that they have the same tradition.

You can apply this to any of the casting class and I make an attempt to when I play or run an NPC. Allowing yourself to say more than "I cast magic missile," giving a cultural identity to your magic will immerse you deeper into the hows and whys of your character. How does your Lawful Good Varundi wizard from the Island of Jalmeray cast his spells? Does he uses mantras as verbal components and tantric movements as somatic ones? Do other casters from the same area use the same verbal and somatic components, evoking the same feel? And how does the precise movements and phrases of this wizard differ from a Chaotic Evil wizard from the lands of Casamaron.

So when you’re planning your next caster don’t just think about what feats and skills your caster has. Ask yourself, what is his magical tradition. How does he evoke the magic he creates, and how does this not only affect his casting but his everyday life, his very way of thinking. Me, I’m off to create a shaman that isn’t the Shaman class for my next game.

How do you use magical tradition in your game? Is it only separated by the mechanical classes? Do different cultures evoke magic differently? Help expand the thinking on magic within the confines of D&D/Pathfinder with your ideas.

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