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Behind the Mask: The pursuit of magic

Patrick Mackey

When it comes to roleplaying, I'm a huge fan of wizards and spell casters, and it has nothing to do with gameplay roles. Magic is generally unlimited in its potential; it has the power to do anything the imagination can perceive, and the freedom to choose different roles for my characters is very attractive.

In the Champions universe, arcane practice is very different than its typical portrayals elsewhere. In most universes with a fantasy element, magic involves some chanting and spending some magic points or some other consumable resource (or possibly forgetting the spell in question) before the magic effect wills itself into existence.

For roleplayers, this magical difference is very important. Magical spells and creatures don't follow the same rules as those present in other fiction. Champions mystics follow real-life mythology and lore -- and strangely, this makes them unique among mages in other roleplaying settings.

When I say that magic in CO has a basis in the occult of real life, I'm not exaggerating. Most of the mystic principles explained in The Mystic World are culled directly from real-life arcane traditions. I'm not necessarily implying that magic exists in the real world (you can make those judgments for yourself), but even if it does not, we have a wealth of information about people who believed that it did. There's also a fair amount of information out there about magical practice in the current day, so if you're confused about what an actual witch is (it's not in the books), real-life lore is just a few Google searches away.

Another key element of CO's mystics is their greater degree of secrecy. While superheroes are generally a public part of the world in Champions Online, mages generally take a back seat, lurking in the shadows behind the scenes. Mystic organizations are secretive and reclusive, and the existence of real magic is questioned heavily among scientific experts and scholars. There is a high percentage of charlatans and cultists who have no real magic power, which ties into the invisibility of the magic community.

This is not well-justified in the lore, since the Demonflame Incident (the first one, prior to the adventure pack) was a public event. I assume that the government was involved in some kind of major cover-up in the aftermath of the crisis, because that's really the only thing that makes sense. Either way, the Mystic World is unknown to the world at large, and most superheroes only have a small inkling as to its scope.

Making potions and witch's brew

All of the magic in the Champions universe is subdivided into three major classifications: high magic, ritual magic, and natural magic. Although high magic is considered to be the "standard" for player character mages in the CO setting, ritual magic is most common in the lore. Both are more standard spell-casting techniques, while natural magic is something else entirely.

Natural magic invokes the law of sympathies between objects in the world in order to produce magical effects. The most common form of natural magic to Western audiences is alchemy (no, not that kind). In essence, natural magic relies on exploiting the latent magical properties of things that exist naturally in the world. It has nothing to do with nature spirits or druidic/shamanistic spells, which fall under the category of ritual magic.

Nature magic users rely heavily on available items and tend to have little or no magical power themselves. This is not a hard rule, however -- some nature magic experts might also be experienced users of other forms of spell-casting. Other nature mages might include people who invoke the power of gemstones or other "natural" objects in the world. Once we detour into the area of object symbology (such as tarot cards), we start traveling into the realm of ritual magic.

Clerics, wizards, what's the difference?

Ritual magic relies on contacting spirits, typically binding them into useful physical objects in order to perform magical effects. Generally speaking, the more powerful the spirit, the more powerful the magical effect. Unlike practitioners of high magic, a ritualist must form a sort of magical contract with a spirit prior to the use of magic, and this can range from simple to complex, depending on the entity invoked. Ritual magic is the most common form of real (non-fraudulent) magic in the Champions lore, and some of the older magical sourcebooks encourage using it over high magic, even for player characters.

Because ritual magic involves a lot of communion with spirits, its connections to religion are obvious. In the CO lore, religious mages of all kinds, from Solomon to Zoroaster and even people like Muhammad (Jesus was a whole different thing altogether) were most likely ritual mages whose communion with their heavenly spirits gave them mystical powers. Some of the NPCs mentioned in the sourcebooks include Islamic and Christian ritualist mages of the modern day, who "work miracles" against mystic threats to the world.

Mechanically, ritualists must still spend mystic energy (in most cases) in order to invoke the power of their spirits, even if the spirit is bound into an object such as a wand, weapon, or Tarot card. Each ritual practice is different, from Chinese geomancy to Western theurgy to modern technomancy, and each has different spirits and rituals to perform. Ritual mages vary in practice the most out of any other type of magician, and one ritualist won't necessarily know the rituals from another discipline.

Real-world occult traditions mostly fall into the category of ritual magic, so players roleplaying ritualists have a huge bulk of source material in the form of ancient myths and modern occult practice to draw from as inspiration.

I put on my robe and wizard hat

When we think of magic, we generally think of high magic. Like ritual magic, high magic relies on the practitioner communing with external forces in order to perform feats of mystic power -- in the Champions universe, shaping the laws of the universe is too taxing for mortals to perform. The closest normal mages can hope to do is to draw on the primal forces of the universe -- either higher elemental planes or the higher conceptual planes (such as those of Order or Chaos) in order to influence the universe to perform miracles.

High magic differs from ritual magic in its execution as well as its source. High magic is mostly about willpower, and the actual chanting of an invocation is somewhat secondary. For most wizards, invocations are required to create the mental focus needed to cast high magic spells, but the actual invocation is not what's important -- the mental shaping of the higher mystical forces is. As a result, simple or well-practiced spells can be executed with the simplest of invocations, such as bringing one's hands forward while shouting "Hadouken!" It's the mental concentration and focus that's important.

While high magic is generally executed within a second or two at most, more complex high-magic spells are possible. They don't require complex rituals, but influencing the primal energy to perform more difficult effects can take longer, up to a minute or so. In the case of any such difficult spells, interruption of focus ruins the effect. In general, high magic is much more prone to disruption due to its dependency on mental focus. By comparison, the lore implies that it is possible to interrupt a ritual for brief periods to deal with distractions such as answering the door or dealing with pesky adversaries.

Lastly, high magic tends to be unable to perform truly difficult or complex tasks and is more of a brute force approach to magic. Schools of magical thought tend to vary on what forms are superior, but high magic is generally preferred for combat. Roleplaying characters may find that other types of magic may provide more depth, though!

What about other types of magic?

Most types of magic fall into one of those three broad categories. For instance, traditional witchcraft is more of a hybrid ritual magic and nature magic, while druidic magic falls more into a ritual magic category, although it probably relies less on ritual objects and is cast more through will, like high magic.

Casting spells with raw magical power (rather than relying on some external force) is generally not done in the Champions universe, even by mega-wizards like Luther Black or the Demonologist. Still, magical effects can be performed by supernatural creatures without communing with an outside source (they are the outside source), and certain ultra-powerful spellcasters like Takofanes seem to have few restrictions.

I'm just scratching the surface of the Mystic World of Champions Online. CO has a very detailed and vibrant mystic landscape to dwell in, and it includes details on everything from religions (of all kinds) to the arrangement of planes and other dimensions. Even one sourcebook (The Mystic World) isn't enough; there are numerous magical sourcebooks that portray lots of different information. And if the books aren't enough, real-world arcane lore is ripe for plucking content to use for your characters. Have fun!

When he's not touring the streets of Millennium City or rolling mooks in Vibora Bay, Patrick Mackey goes Behind the Mask to bring you the nitty-gritty of the superhero world every Thursday. Whether it's expert analysis of Champions Online's game mechanics or his chronicled hatred of roleplaying vampires, Patrick holds nothing back.

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