Mana
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Basic Information

Mana (not to be confused with manna) is a concept of mystical energy found amongst the peoples of the Pacific Ocean and similar to the Oriental idea of chi (qi/ki/whatever). Mana manifests itself primarily as power and authority, but can also be seen as raw vitality, natural force or magical prowess - people have mana, which they can gain or lose through their actions, and which can be given to them or stolen from them, whether deliberately or inadvertently. Animals also have mana, according to their type and status, natural phenomena have or contain mana (indeed in some languages "mana" can also mean a storm) and mana also flows and pools in the landscape. The details of how mana is gained, lost and used, of who has it and how it can be identified vary from culture to culture but the basic concept seems fairly resilient. Some societies have extensive ritual practices to defend against mana theft, or inadvertent loss of mana and dietary practices (up to and including cannibalism) based on which foods are said to increase or decrease mana.

This concept of free-flowing mystical energies has since been "borrowed" by a variety of fictional magic systems as an alternative name for spell points, but usually without the added complications of the original cultures.

Similar concepts from other cultures (besides qi) would be prana (Indian), vis (Greco-Roman), teotl (Aztec) and possibly orgone energy.

Sources

Bibliography
1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Adding authentic taboos to a fantasy style mana system helps with flaws or disadvantages for a point-buy system: your wizard may have to abstain from some quite random activities or foods to avoid losing mana.
    • In a point-buy system, feel free to use these taboos as an excuse to buy disadvantages to balance out the cost of your wizarding.
    • When system building, feel free to make the taboos literally random - as in have a table on which the players need to roll. Put it near the end of character creation to punish gen-crapping.
  • Also, the idea of mana expressing itself as charisma, luck and what have you - suddenly the POW stat in RuneQuest makes a lot more sense.
    • This could be an interesting mechanism to add to your fRPG rules: expending your mana gives you a hit to social skills (much as losing fatigue points or hitpoints might deplete your physical skills).
    • It could also explain the "geek wizard" cliche: if you burn off your mana doing magic, you'll suffer socially. The "jock" fighter who has the magical talent of a dead dog never burns off any mana and can save it all for being a popular, prestigious hero.
  • And the ability steal mana from people, sometimes without meaning to.
  • Likewise the concept of your diet influencing your mana - there are some quite dark implications to the idea that cannibalising someone is a good source of magical power…
  • Naturally the flowing and pooling of mana in the landscape also explains ley lines, stone circles and other such things…
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