Shadowrun Penumbra: Primitive Magic

   Here are a few speciality magical skills from the dimension-hopping Shadowrun Campaign. In this case, they were the arts practiced by a stone age shaman of the People of the Hawk. Thanks to their being less specialized than the seven modern magical skills, it proved possible (if expensive in terms of Karma and the buying of either special advantages or levels of initiation) for Iuri – and presumably other modern mages – to acquire Dreamquesting, Crafting, and Elementalism as non-exclusive magical skills  despite already having their usual allotment. As a knowledge skill, anyone can acquire Geomancy if they can find an instructor.

   For those using the Shadowrun: Penumbra magical system, a Primitive Mage, with full access to all three primitive magic skills would be a Class-B Magic-Wielder. Access to any one would be considered a Class-C Monomage or Talent.

Primitive Magic

   Magic has evolved. It reflects the minds of its users – and the steady march of progress has left it’s stamp on the minds of the world. Even the most primitive tribes no longer see spirits thrusting the sun above the horizon every morning. Still, primitive magic isn’t weak; it’s ties with the natural world grant it considerable power. It’s that its slow, somewhat unpredictable and sometimes dangerous to use. That’s why primitive magic was slowly abandoned in favor of the seven “modern” magical skills. The primitive magic skills shown below are lost arts in the world of 2060 and normally are not available during character creation.

   Dreamquesting is ancestral to Conjuration, Astral Access, and Thaumaturgy. The principle is simple: you have a problem, you probe the astral realms for a spirit that can deal with it, and you try to get it to help you.
   In practice it’s a bother. For dreamquesters, magical acts tend to be individualized adventures. Curing a sick kid may involve seeking out a spirit with healing powers and persuading it to help out, battling a plague spirit, finding a magical “herb” that embodies the spell you need, carrying the  child’s soul to the “well of life”, or whatever seems appropriate. One may fight, persuade, bargain with, or trick spirits, face weird riddle contests, undertake strange tests of worthiness and long journeys through mythic landscapes, and take a myriad of forms.  Time is subjective on a dreamquest: hours of trance may seem like weeks. Fortunately, being “defeated” on a quest simply hurls the quester back into his or her body. Perhaps even more fortunately, “great” spirits – entities such as; Death, Fate, Gaia, and major mythic Gods – are out of the reach of dreamquesters until they gain access to the metaplanes. In general, every time you seek a spirit, attempt to reshape the environment of a quest, or transform yourself in a quest, roll your skill – and knock one die off your magic pool until you rest.
   Dreamquesters may develop close relationships with one spirit per level of skill. Such friendly spirits may be called on for minor aid appropriate to the spirit up to once per session each without a quest.  Since a quest normally requires hours or even days this can be very useful. If dice are needed for such effects, roll (2x Skill Level)d6. Questers don’t suffer essence loss and can’t “lose their bodies” while on a quest; the separation of spirit and body is incomplete.

   Crafting is ancestral to Enchantment, Witchcraft, and Enhancement. Unlike those modern skills, Crafting can’t provide things with new abilities and properties; it can only grant bonuses to those they already have.  You can’t heal an injured friend with it, but you can use it to enhance a handful of medicinal herbs and use  those.
   Crafting provides a “Pool” of crafting dice equal to (2x the user’s skill level) which may be augmented, but not more than doubled, with dice from the user’s magic pool. The user may invest up to 3 of those dice (at one die per hour of work) in improving the attributes of an item. For example, a crafter could put runes on an item to make it hit harder (adding dice to the user’s attack), hammer designs into armor to make it more protective (adding to the wearer’s body dice against attacks), or even make a talisman to aid another magical skill.
   Groups of up to 7 simple items may be given a +1d enchantment at a cost of 2 dice from the pool. For example, you might bless a group’s bows.
   Fast enchantments are possible, but are only 50% efficient and are limited to a maximum of +2 dice.
   Craft effects may be made permanent, and the pool dice freed up, for 6 Karma per die. Sadly, the effects of such items don’t stack with each other.

   Elementalism is ancestral to Sorcery, Witchcraft, Conjuration, and Theurgy. It allows the user to tap into any kind of magic he or she knows how to use (i.e. has a special knowledge skill in, such as “Healing Magic” or “Weather Magic”).
   In general: 1) Pick a field. Reduce your knowledge skill level by one until you have a few hours to spend on rebuilding your magical link. 2) Roll Elementalism at a target number set by the GM to try and shape that raw magic into the effect you want, and 3) roll dice equal to your magic rating to see how powerful your effect is when unleashed.
   Sadly, if you don’t succeed on the Elementalism roll, the magic is still released – it’s just that it doesn’t do what you wanted it to.
   Elementalism does allow the user of the magic pool to augment the elementalism test, the casting test, or for spell defense as usual.
   An elementalist may spend 3 Karma to name and establish a specific effect. This eliminates the need for an elementalism check, but not the need to reduce the relevant knowledge skill or the final magic level roll. An elementalist may not establish move than (Int) effects.

   Geomancy is the fine art of occult landscaping and architecture: creating areas and structures that channel the earth’s innate mana into intentional effects. While this allows for the creation of powerful, sustained, large-scale, magic without direct strains on the user, there may be a strain on the local economy (OK! I’ll need about a million tons of stone piled up into a pyramid right here!) – and geomantic magics are neither fast nor portable.  They fell out of use as more sophisticated arcane techniques were developed and their last remnants appear today in the construction of Medicine Lodges and in the traditions of Feng Shui – albeit in degenerate forms. As a knowledge skill Geomancy may be practiced by anybody – although those without astral senses suffer a +4 target number modifier.
   The elder elves know geomancy and used it to raise the barriers around the Tir’s. The younger ones in charge of security may not be entirely happy to see the rest of the world tinkering with geomancy.

   While primitive magic is occasionally a useful auxiliary talent for a modern mage, it’s at its best when more powerful and reliable magic isn’t available. It’s also useful for minor mystics: in a primitive setting it may not be at all uncommon for relatively ordinary tribe members to dabble in magic.


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