Magical Native American is a Trope common to fiction. This both a Character as Device Trope and a Characterization Trope in that it can sometimes be the character's primary role in a story, and other times it's just a lens to color his or her personality.
The Magical Native American character has Native American ancestry (though the trope is often also applied to Aborigines, African bushmen, and First Nations), and some sort of overt or implied magic, with a particularly native feel. The character probably has one or more spirit guides, or otherwise commune with Nature Spirits.
Similar in vein to the trope Magical Negro, although usually more explicitly magical. See also Noble Savage and Religion Is Magic. For a specific Western Character that frequently uses this trope, see Medicine Man.
In some ways the air of magical competence about an Amerindian Shaman can be regarded as analogous to the gloss placed on the Oriental Martial Arts (not to mention their swords) - it's not that Europeans never had such things, but more that they were forgotten (or at least marginalised) during the "Enlightenment" and the Industrial Revolution. From a systemic point of view, there is no reason to assume that a Medicine Man from the Plains would be any more powerful a worker than a Hermetic Magus imported from the Old World.
Game and Story Use
- As with many tropes archetype has a lot of power, and is readily grokked by most players very quickly. It won't take much hinting to get the players to connect the dots.
- As with any racially charged trope, some care should be taken not to fall into the stereotype of making all Native Americans use this trope.
- You could hint that someone is a Magical Native American, and let the players make the intuitive jump. Meanwhile, the NPC in question is actually a cyborg, alien, or some other unexpected subversion of the trope.
- Taking inspiration from the trope, Native American religion, medicine, and culture could make a very flavorful base for a campaigns magic system.
- Applying it to another setting or culture could subvert player expectations nicely.
- Of course if you create an ancient evil in the US it makes sense for the Amerindian population to have encountered it before and potentially retain some kind of lore about dealing with it. Likewise, when dealing with the powers of the land, an aboriginal native probably has an advantage. Of course, the problem being that the native populations of great chunks of the US were wiped out or relocated so far from home as to be untraceable … if you needed their wisdom to combat a primordial menace east of the Mississippi … too bad.
- Although tracing the shamen of a relocated tribe could be a very interesting job for the more academic PCs: hours of library time to find that an apparently different tribe on the far side of the US took them in and adsorbed their medicine way.