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Spirits, and Where to Find Them


Lordabdul

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So I've been trying to wrap my head around the role of spirits in Glorantha, and I came up with this list of all the various situations where one might find a spirit, how and why. Feel free to point out anything missing (in which case I might edit this post to keep the list fairly exhaustive). Hopefully it helps other people too.

 

Spirits and Where To Find Them

Attached to People

  • Allied Spirits: Rune Priests and Rune Lords of a cult will almost always have an allied spirit (unless they recently lost it). The spirit is an initiate of the cult, and is linked to the Priest/Lord at all times.
  • Shaman's Fetch: a shaman's fetch is the shaman's own spirit, awakened in the Spirit World, but also behaves in many ways like an Allied Spirit.
  • Pacts: a shaman would typically have ongoing pacts with a few spirits in the Spirit World. They are in contact with the shaman, and provide a few services.

A character might lose control of an allied or contracted spirit if they're too weakened, as some spirits might take the opportunity to engage in spirit combat and get free.

Bound Spirits

  • Animal/object: a spirit can be bound to an animal or object using magic. In the case of an animal, it must be a special cult-bred animal.
  • Place: with more magic a spirit can be bound to an area, such as a guardian spirit or a Sprul-pa.

Anybody can communicate with the spirit by getting in physical contact with the animal/object/area. Anybody can release the spirit and give it one order, but unless magic is used to control the spirit, it is freed after carrying out the first task. With magic, the spirit can be forced to obey more orders, or to go back into the animal or object.

The spirit is released when the binder dies, even if they're immediately revived through magic or divine intervention. If the spirit is bound to an animal, the spirit is also released when the animal dies.

Wyters

Wyters are a special kind of allied/bound spirit, which serve and defend a specific community (clan, temple, city, army unit, etc.). A wyter is both bound to an animal or object, and allied to a person (the community's leader). Unlike normal bound spirits, wyters can travel outside of the bound animal/object. When bound to an animal, they can be transferred to another animal with a special kind of ritual.

Temporarily Summoned Spirits

  • Ancestors: a character can summon the spirit of an ancestor to provide help, but there's a small chance this spirit turns out to be bad or evil: they would either turn against the summoner, or engage in spirit combat against someone, as per the summoner's wishes, but retain permanent possession of the host.
  • Cult Spirits: a character can also summon a cult spirit to provide help.
  • Spirits of Reprisal: when a character leaves a cult without going to an associated cult or sub-cult, a spirit of reprisal is sent to punish them.

Possession

A spirit might be found in possession of a physical creature if they bested it in spirit combat.

A character currently discorporated to wander the Spirit World is vulnerable to spirits possessing it body.

As Natural Phenomenon

  • Physical Health: sickness is generally caused by disease spirits, who generally serve Mallia (and are sometimes former Mallia initiates). Healing is generally performed by healing spirits (some of which are former Chalana Arroy initiates). Some spirits might just inflict pain for sheer pleasure.
  • Mental Health: spirits can be attributed to mental state, from various passions (lust, etc.) to madness.
  • Physical Phenomenon: physical phenomena in Glorantha might be caused by spirits instead of chemical reactions, optical interaction, thermodynamics, or similar. Shadow/darkness spirits (many of which are called Dehori) come out at night, haunt dark places, or gather around light sources like active volcanoes to keep them contained. Fermentation is caused by Zymurgeist spirits, which initiates of Minlister (Orlanthi god of ale) can summon and control.
  • Climate and Weather: Darkness spirits get more prominent during Dark season, river spirits during Sea season, thunder spirits during Storm season, etc.
  • Miscellaneous: earthquakes, tornadoes, dust devils, and such might be caused by earth/wind spirits (a.k.a. elements).

In the Wild

Spirits can be wandering the Spirit World randomly, although they often stick around a specific place tied to the Mundane World. Those are called Genius Loci.

  • Landmark Spirits: one can find spirits tied to special natural features. River spirits and plant spirits (tied to a field or grove or forest) are common. Some such spirits have special additional powers, including the ability to incorporate in the physical world, like Nymphs or Voughs.
  • Ghosts: the restless dead might haunt a place or object. Additionally, ancestors might become restless and come haunt you suddenly if they consider you haven't been respecting their traditions.

 

Edited by lordabdul
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Ludovic aka Lordabdul -- read and listen to  The God Learners , the Gloranthan podcast, newsletter, & blog !

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Now for the questions:

  1. Can a spirit try to possess animals by themselves (i.e. by spirit-fighting them), or can they only inhabit an animal if specifically bound to one by a magic user?
  2. Imagine you're a malign spirit looking for a joy-ride in the mundane world. Who would you target? Would you attack and possess a trollkin, or other low-POW creatures? Would you attack a sick person, or would the fight against disease spirit not be worth it?
  3. Since bound spirits are released when the binder dies, does Glorantha not have the usual trope of finding an ancient temple or artefact with a spirit trapped inside it? I'm pretty sure there are published scenarios with this premise – am I misunderstanding something?
  4. How would you decide between binding a spirit to an object, animal, or place? The first two can be transported, in case, say, a clan has to pack up its wyter and move somewhere else. An area can't be stolen or destroyed though. I would probably go for area-bound spirits for guarding a temple/shrine, and use an animal or object for everything else.
  5. I suppose a spirit is also released if the bound object is destroyed? (same as when a bound animal dies)
Edited by lordabdul

Ludovic aka Lordabdul -- read and listen to  The God Learners , the Gloranthan podcast, newsletter, & blog !

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1. It's mentioned animal spirits often possess a living animal of their type (RQB 167) so I'd say there's no reason to disallow it for others.

2. It would make sense to choose them, as they'd be easy to conquer and possess; but it probably depends on the spirit in question. Some may not want a physically fragile body, especially one ravaged by disease.

3. Strictly speaking this would probably be the case. However there are probably many spirits who willingly accept a binding, often in service to a greater spirit or god, who may still maintain their bound nature, effectively self-binding them. (It may also be possible, if the spirit knows the Binding Enchantment or Spirit Binding and the caster has some form of long duration control spells, to magically compel the spirit to bind themselves to the item, thereby eternally imprisoning them. This would be extremely cheesy, so I imagine it's something the God Learners would love to do...)

4. Well depends on what the spirit is and what you want it to do. Personally I'd say there are very few intentional area bound spirits made by humans. Not least because even the spirit of a place can be embodied in a smaller object, such as a crown or sceptre. And even an area can be destroyed, such as a dryad's grove or a ghost's grave.

5. It's mentioned a wyter is (RQ:G page 287) so I imagine this would also be the case for other spirits.

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23 minutes ago, lordabdul said:

Now for the questions:

  • Can a spirit try to possess animals by themselves (i.e. by spirit-fighting them), or can they only inhabit an animal if specifically bound to one by a magic user?

I'd say yes. Ghosts should be able to attack animals with the goal of possession. Including covert possession.

 

23 minutes ago, lordabdul said:
  • Imagine you're a malign spirit looking for a joy-ride in the mundane world. Who would you target? Would you attack and possess a trollkin, or other low-POW creatures? Would you attack a sick person, or would the fight against disease spirit not be worth it?

Dominant or covert possession?

Ghosts prefer to possess their own species, or at least beings of as close a body plan as they can manage, if they want to bring physical skills of their previous life into play. Herd men surely are a good ersatz human.

A Pain Spirit would prefer organisms that are sensitive. A Lust Spirit wouldn't usually target geldings.

Disease spirits take whatever target they can affect.

 

23 minutes ago, lordabdul said:
  • Since bound spirits are released when the binder dies, does Glorantha not have the usual trope of finding an ancient temple or artefact with a spirit trapped inside it? I'm pretty sure there are published scenarios with this premise – am I misunderstanding something?

Ghosts aren't "spirits" in this sense. Ghosts bound as spirits into crystals or matrices act like random spirits, but ghosts bound to a place via the Bind Ghost ritual or Thanatari head processes are not subject to this rule.

"When the binder dies" may have different meanings for "dies". I don't think that crossing into and out of Alkoth releases your bound spirits whenever you enter this part of the Underworld. (I might be wrong about that...)

Entering Hell on a heroquest had better not strip your questers of all their bound spirits, either, although if you

 

23 minutes ago, lordabdul said:
  • How would you decide between binding a spirit to an object, animal, or place? The first two can be transported, in case, say, a clan has to pack up its wyter and move somewhere else. An area can't be tolen or destroyed though. I would probably go for area-bound spirits for guarding a temple/shrine, and use an animal or object for everything else.

You might be able to transfer the property of place (or unmovable object) into a movable portion of that place or object, and move that elsewhere. The Thunder Oak wyter of the Varmandi might be moved into a blessed acorn, or into a shoot kept alive and then either planted elsewhere or grafted onto another tree. Whether a dryad could be moved about like that I am not quite sure.

 

 

23 minutes ago, lordabdul said:
  • I suppose a spirit is also released if the bound object is destroyed? (same as when a bound animal dies)

I'd think so. The object itself may even survive the destruction of the binding if the inscription of the binding is destroyed or amputated (in case of bound animals). A binding might be flayed off its carrier.

 

But then, a familiar with sufficiently long existence in an animal body may become an entity of its own, adopting the nature of the animal body and taking it along when the binding is terminated for whichever reason.

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Telling how it is excessive verbis

 

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1 hour ago, Joerg said:

I'd say yes. Ghosts should be able to attack animals with the goal of possession. Including covert possession.

So would it be not uncommon to see some possessed wild boar or bear or trollkin making trouble in your clan lands? Bad spirits don't have much to lose -- they can indulge in whatever trouble-making they want, and discorporate as soon as anybody looking vaguely like a shaman shows up (I'm not sure how long it takes them to discorporate, actually).

1 hour ago, Joerg said:

Dominant or covert possession?

Dominant, I suppose?  I think covert possession is used more by "simple" spirits that don't have much intelligence/personality? (disease, etc.)

1 hour ago, Joerg said:

A Pain Spirit would prefer organisms that are sensitive. A Lust Spirit wouldn't usually target geldings.

Oh good point, I didn't notice that spirits are also the source of some passions/dreams/etc. (which... sounds weird to me, actually). Didn't know there were Pain Spirits. (edited the top post to add this)

 

Edited by lordabdul

Ludovic aka Lordabdul -- read and listen to  The God Learners , the Gloranthan podcast, newsletter, & blog !

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42 minutes ago, lordabdul said:

So would it be not uncommon to see some possessed wild boar or bear or trollkin making trouble in your clan lands? Bad spirits don't have much to lose -- they can indulge in whatever trouble-making they want, and discorporate as soon as anybody looking vaguely like a shaman shows up (I'm not sure how long it takes them to discorporate, actually).

IMG, animal spirits will often possess regular ones, as a source of talking animals, godly ones, and similar.

Likewise, not all of the demons summoned by the uz may be able to form their own bodies, but can twist the forms of their hosts. The use of trollkin as vessels for these demons is quite popular.

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7 hours ago, lordabdul said:

Physical phenomenon: other physical phenomenon in Glorantha might be caused by spirits instead of chemical reactions or similar. For example, the fermentation is caused by Zymurgeist spirits, which initiates of Minlister (Orlanthi god of ale) can summon and control.

This can also include seasonal forces (shadow spirits and night spirits becoming prominent in Darkseason, rain and stream spirits appearing in Seaseason, etc.); weather (thunder spirits traveling with or accelerating growth of thunder clouds); eddies and whirlpools; earthshaking (spawn of Maran Gor or other deep earth spirits); etc.

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I must give you a warm thank you, lordabdul. I am running the first session of our HQG: Borderlands campaign sunday and one of the players created last week a spirit worshipper. I mention HeroQuest: Glorantha because in this game the Spirit Rune allows you to see spirits and communicate with them. I am 100% sure that the player will ask the following question pretty soon: "I focus on the area, are there any spirits around here? What do I hear?". As the character is also a member of a spirit society, the first question could well be: "I open a window in the spirit world, what do I see?"

Since a couple of days, I am thus reading all the sources I have on subjects related to "the spirit world", "spirit combat"and "spirits" in general". I am trying to imagine what a spirit worshipper sees, hears and feels when he is peering into the spirit world or trying to spot spirits in the area.

Imagining how the spirit landscape looks like and how spirits can be "seen" is some kind of a challenge. At least it is for me. Your summary and the thread are helping me a lot to forge my own vision. Though I am still working at it.

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31 minutes ago, Sir_Godspeed said:

I am shocked to note that no one has mentioned Dwarven distilleries yet.

If we're talking about that kind of spirit, something that is a very My Glorantha Has Varied:

"The Babeester Gor cult preserves many secrets, many of which are entirely tedious and of no interest to anyone who is not part of the cult. However, one particular secret that they know is that of distillation. With the appropriate pottery, metal flasks, and/or glassware, any Axe Maiden can distill liquors. Generally, these are not available except in cities or in particularly wealthy temples, and the batches produced are small.

Liquors produced are fairly well divided between brandies, whiskies, cordials, and shochu/soju, though the last is relatively rare, as the Babeester Gor cult is almost absent in the rice-growing regions of Glorantha. These spirits are normally stored within the Earth temple itself and shared out for momentous occasions. Within the temple, they are more commonly used for temple orgies, high holy days, and to celebrate new priestesses.

In addition, the cult possesses the recipes necessary to distill special liquors with names like Fireball, Mad Dog, and Master Hunter. These potent drinks may be used to induce or enhance a berserk fury when drunk, and it is said that for an experienced Axe Sister even looking at a little flask of Master Hunter is enough to induce such a fury. It is said that these bear the same relationship to regular liquors as Widebrew does to beers and ales."

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Though a Lunar through and through, she is also a human being.

Eight Arms and the Mask

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1 hour ago, Corvantir said:

I must give you a warm thank you, lordabdul. I am running the first session of our HQG: Borderlands campaign sunday and one of the players created last week a spirit worshipper. I mention HeroQuest: Glorantha because in this game the Spirit Rune allows you to see spirits and communicate with them. I am 100% sure that the player will ask the following question pretty soon: "I focus on the area, are there any spirits around here? What do I hear?". As the character is also a member of a spirit society, the first question could well be: "I open a window in the spirit world, what do I see?"

Since a couple of days, I am thus reading all the sources I have on subjects related to "the spirit world", "spirit combat"and "spirits" in general". I am trying to imagine what a spirit worshipper sees, hears and feels when he is peering into the spirit world or trying to spot spirits in the area.

Imagining how the spirit landscape looks like and how spirits can be "seen" is some kind of a challenge. At least it is for me. Your summary and the thread are helping me a lot to forge my own vision. Though I am still working at it.

I've found the picture in RQ:G (page 364) a very good depiction of the Spirit World where it overlays with the Middle World.

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1 hour ago, Sir_Godspeed said:

I am shocked to note that no one has mentioned Dwarven distilleries yet.

I have zero idea what you're referring to here... is this some obscure RQ mailing list in-joke thing? (searching for distilleries in my big PDF index didn't give my any results).

Ludovic aka Lordabdul -- read and listen to  The God Learners , the Gloranthan podcast, newsletter, & blog !

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4 minutes ago, lordabdul said:

I have zero idea what you're referring to here... is this some obscure RQ mailing list in-joke thing? (searching for distilleries in my big PDF index didn't give my any results).

"Spirit" is an alternate English term for liquor. Being bronze age, and liquor requiring distilling, the dwarves might be the only ones with the equipment to make concentrated enough alcohol for it to count (unless som secrets have leaked through Openhandism). 

At the end of the day it's just a pun.

Edited by Sir_Godspeed
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13 minutes ago, Tindalos said:

I've found the picture in RQ:G (page 364) a very good depiction of the Spirit World where it overlays with the Middle World.

Thank you Tindalos. I know this one and it is as much inspiring as it is confusing to me. This picture suggests that the spirit world is crowded whereas the spirits seem far less numerous as I understand the Glorantha Bestiary and lordabdul summary. I would thus use this picture to describe an exceptional part of the spirit world, maybe near a mythical middle world landmark or near spirit vortices.

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9 hours ago, Corvantir said:

Thank you Tindalos. I know this one and it is as much inspiring as it is confusing to me. This picture suggests that the spirit world is crowded whereas the spirits seem far less numerous as I understand the Glorantha Bestiary and lordabdul summary. I would thus use this picture to describe an exceptional part of the spirit world, maybe near a mythical middle world landmark or near spirit vortices.

Well, it's mentioned that all natural things have a spirit (RQ:G 365) it's just usually shamans and others are only interested in the disembodied ones, as they're the ones who'll typically be usable.

In that pic, the tree spirits, waterfall spirit, and rock spirits are embodied, and are just, well... things, like people.

The disembodied ones are rarer, such as the boar, the Great Forest Spirit deer, snake, the frogs, and the kodama little purple guys (fungus spirits?) would be the ones shamans might go after.

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1 hour ago, Sir_Godspeed said:

"Spirit" is an alternate English term for liquor. Being bronze age, and liquor requiring distilling, the dwarves might be the only ones with the equipment to make concentrated enough alcohol for it to count (unless som secrets have leaked through Openhandism). 

At the end of the day it's just a pun.

It's actually currently debated whether distillation dates back to 3000 BCE or merely to 200 CE, but it's well within the range Glorantha draws on. Distillation of alcohol is not known until well into the Middle Ages, so I would definitely keep it a cultic secret that's only produced in small batches, outside the Mostali who presumably use it to clean things and drown out the horrors of seeing plants growing.

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Though a Lunar through and through, she is also a human being.

Eight Arms and the Mask

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23 minutes ago, scott-martin said:

Around here we call that "midori" but the ladies' visceral reaction to it is usually more of a shudder than a roar.

I actually made holiday-themed Moscow Mules with grenadine and Midori for festive coloration once for a party. They were... halfway a success. 

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Though a Lunar through and through, she is also a human being.

Eight Arms and the Mask

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3 hours ago, Corvantir said:

This picture suggests that the spirit world is crowded whereas the spirits seem far less numerous as I understand the Glorantha Bestiary and lordabdul summary. I would thus use this picture to describe an exceptional part of the spirit world, maybe near a mythical middle world landmark or near spirit vortices.

It depends on the place (which of course in the Spirit World can dramatically shift very quickly). The following were images I created when my heroes were brought into the Spirit Plane to close a gateway that had been placed close to Orlmarth clan lands by an evil Lunar witch.

They first crossed over near the Guardian Woods upon their land. The scenery looked much the same except brighter, more colored, and Kero Fin very prominent (though the Red Moon did not appear in the "sky".

They followed a pathway into the Woods. Again they landscape looked "familiar" yet the path was strange and oddly marked. These areas were sparsely "populated" by spirits - at least from the hero's perspective (none were shamans - their shaman guide likely saw more).

Through the woods they came to the Assembly of Small Spirits. This place was densely populated with spirits - all minor ones, but they all wanted attention (basically looking for someone to ally or bind them so they could feel useful again).

Beyond there, they came to the Heavy Earth Land. A land or area of boulders, stones, and the like. Earth spirit guardians were encountered here and they captured the heroes and brought them into the Deep Earth Home. Powerful spirits of stone and clay dwelt there and challenged the heroes until one of the heroes found her Inner Bear and overcame the Deep Earth spirits.

Although this suggests some "path" through a small section of the Spirit World, there are myriad streams, eddies, and currents (at least in my vision of the Spirit World) that may lead to other places entirely, or connect one "place" in the Spirit World that corresponds to say Sartar with another "place" that might be the Great Swamp in Darjiin, or the Deep Earth Home (far within the Earth cube), or even to the Storm King's Castle, etc.

KeroFinspiritplane-StarfireRidge.gif

PathThruGuardianWoods.GIF

Assembly Of Small Spirits-2.GIF

HeavyEarthLand.JPG

HeavyEarthDeepHome.JPG

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