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Another kind of Spirit Magic


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I am currently working on another version of my old Asornok setting, this time

my arctic hunters will inhabit the far north of (a version of) Middle Earth, pro-

bably during the late Third Age or early Fourth Age.

The magic users of the Asor are their female shamans, the Anganoka, and their

magic is a kind of spirit magic. However, the Anganoka are only the mediators

between Inguanok, the world of the spirits, and Asornok, the "real" world, they

do not have any power over the spirits they can contact - and this seems to

require a different approach to their magic.

My current idea is that an Anganoka can develop a friendly relation with a spe-

cific spirit, for example an Ancestor spirit, an Animal spirit or a Nature spirit, and

can ask this spirit for help whenever her clan needs it. The better the Anganoka's

relation with the spirit, the higher is the chance that the spirit will agree to help

the Asor. However, it is up to the spirit to decide the precise nature of this help,

there are no pre-defined "spells" with defined results.

For example, when the hunting went badly and the clan is in danger of starving,

the Anganoka can contact a friendly Animal spirit to ask him for help. She can

describe the clan's problem to the spirit, and depending on the spirit's willingness

to help and on his abilities something welcome may happen - like a dying whale

stranding on a nearby beach, or a herd of reindeer wandering into the clan's hun-

ting grounds.

I think (well, hope) that this approach will turn the spirits from "spell machines"

into individual nonplayer characters and also make magic less calculable and more

in tune with the natural environment of the Asor. It could also give the Anganoka

a bit more setting specific "colour" through their spirit oriented social skills and ri-

tuals (including their ability to "trance travel" to the spirit world Inguanok in order

to contact the spirits there).

Any comments and ideas would be most welcome. :)

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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I think it is a good idea and a good understanding of shamanism (at least the same as mine ;)). I wrote a complete rule about shamanism to be (if accepted :o) published with a Steppes setting. It is based on Allegiance, the trance is treated as a power and there are some specific shamanic skills (like knowledge[spirit world]). I developped rules for negotiating and allying a spirit: in most d100 rules (like the different RQs) this aspect is a bit neglected, while rules for spirit combat are detailed. Forcing a spirit to accept to help shall however still be an option for a shaman .

I like your free approach, and I think also that it is the best one. I wanted to do the same, but when writing rules, I had to think about those players who like to have lists of powers and precise rules, therefore I wrote a list of typical powers, when it made some sense. For spirits which affect the PCs (like disease spirits) or which action is to be channelled by the PC, it makes sense.

I my rules, spirits are helping either with these known powers, or by any other way which fits. Powers are however the traduction of the spirit's influence on the world. It can be to influence an animal, with all the freedom this allows, or simply to give a single disease. The nature of the help is determined only when summoning.

Thus, how much freedom you like to leave depends on your players, but if they like it and accept this kind of story telling, do it. The only thing to care about is that all agree on the extend of the help they can expect and on the cost for it, otherwise, you may have to start long discussions with the players or have impose arbitrary sotutions.

You may at least define a kind of guidelines with different levels (e.g. the help from a lesser spirit shall be "human-ranged", while the help from a great spirit can be superhuman, but not as much as lifting a mountain...), and a small list of "typical spirit interventions". And shamanism is based on exchange. The shamanesses should not get the help of the spirit without somehow paying a fee (in form of a sacrifice -POW, animal, characteristic...even human being). The more powerful the spirit and its help, the highest the cost (which may have been paid for in advance).

There are 3 criteria, which should be taken into account:

- the nature of the spirit, who won't be able to do anything

- the power of the spirit: there are lesser spirits and powerful spirits, comparable to deities

- the affinity of the shaman to the spirit: this can be resolved using allegiances -I would at least separate ancestors from nature spirits

I stop here, otherwise I will write an encyclopedia...

Wind on the Steppes, role playing among the steppe Nomads. The  running campaign and the blog

 

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You may at least define a kind of guidelines with different levels (e.g. the help from a lesser spirit shall be "human-ranged", while the help from a great spirit can be superhuman, but not as much as lifting a mountain...), and a small list of "typical spirit interventions". And shamanism is based on exchange. The shamanesses should not get the help of the spirit without somehow paying a fee (in form of a sacrifice -POW, animal, characteristic...even human being). The more powerful the spirit and its help, the highest the cost (which may have been paid for in advance).

Thank you for many helpful ideas. :)

I think I will use three types of spirits, ancestors (shamans who went to the spirit world

on their death), animal spirits (similar to totem animals) and general nature spirits (for

example the spirit of a lake or a mountain).

The ancestor spirits will be able to help in the "affairs of men", for example to give advi-

ce, to heal, and so on. Their individual power will depend on their skills during their life-

time, in any case their knowledge will be far more important than their magic.

The animal spirits will be the spirits of specific species of animals, with the Owl and the

Wolf as the spirits traditionally most friendly to the Asor and their Anganoka shamans.

The animal spirits can influence the behaviour of their species of animals, and to a les-

ser degree the behaviour of other animals.

The nature spirits are very different in character and power, the spirit of a small pond

has different interests and powers than the spirit of a high mountain or a spirit of the

north wind.

Spirits are normally neutral towards the Asor, but they can become hostile when the

members of a clan disregard the spirit's wishes. Neglecting the rites of ancestor worship,

killing a pregnant animal or harvesting too many herbs at the wrong time of the year

can anger the relevant spirit enough to use its powers against the clan.

The price the shamans have to pay for the help of the spirits therefore is to act as the

spirits' allies, to perform the rites and teach the traditions, to protect the animals from

abuse, to care for the environment, and so on. This can be everyday tasks, but also

missions requested by the spirits. For example, a shaman could be asked by the spirit of

Wolf to deal with the foreign trappers who are responsible for the death of a pregnant

wolf and to punish them.

Shamans can also enter the spirit world in trance, and sometimes they can take other

members of the clan with them. Visits to the spirit world can be necessary to contact

a spirit, to ask a friendly spirit for help, to apologize for a misdeed by the clan's mem-

bers and to negotiate a compensation, or to carry out a spirit's wishes with a mission

in the spirit world - sometimes against the interests of other spirits, which can have

unwelcome consequences in the future.

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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I think I will use three types of spirits, ancestors (shamans who went to the spirit world on their death), animal spirits (similar to totem animals) and general nature spirits (for example the spirit of a lake or a mountain).

AEON common-or-garden magic is developing along a similar vein; spirits of the dead (although there is no distinction made between human and animal) and a kind of animism (the inanimate world - rocks, trees, rivers, etc.). I'm not sure yet whether these will split into two branches of magic, because the nature of the two forces is fundamentally different - psychic remnants of dead creatures vs. the inherent powers of natural forces or elements. But the approach will be similar in that the shaman doesn't 'do' magic, he uses his powers to beg, bargain or bully the supernatural into doing it for him. This is much closer to how I feel an ancient magic system should operate, rather than the legacy of battle magic which is still evident in spirit magic systems now.

The more modern temples with their new-fangled 'gods' have their own approach, of course, but I presume your setting won't need these.

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The more modern temples with their new-fangled 'gods' have their own approach, of course, but I presume your setting won't need these.

No, not really. I am aiming for a magic on a "natural level", where all results

of magic could also be explained as natural events (although sometimes ra-

ther strange ones) and the characters can never really be sure that magic

works at all. More powerful and "organized" magic is beyond the reach of

human characters.

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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Well, things are not so simple. Belief in natural spirits do not except belief in deities. Actually, it has always been the case: the lesser spirits did not make nor ordinate the world. This has been done by several or more often one main deity -a god- who assigned their tasks to different lesser deities - great spirits or gods-, spirits and living creatures. Siberian peoples believe in a supreme sky god, sometimes in a way close to monotheism. This does not prevent them from beliving in spirits, lesser or great:those are creatures of the Deity, just like animals and human beings.

In these cultures, shamans are at the same time the sorcerers who can call the spirits the way you described it (but may have some magical powers as well), the soothsayers and a kind of priests when it comes to please or ask for help from the deity(ies). The way they interact with the deities is however a shamanic way: they do not make a complete distinction between animism and theism. The superior deity is rarely called upon, living far away in his sky realm, while lesser deities are, since they are seen as very powerful but true spirits interacting with the World. Borderlines are very blurred, which makes it difficult when it comes to writing rules.

Of course, in a fantasy stting, it is posisble to simplify things, but I would still consider superior kind of great spirits, kind of deities.

Wind on the Steppes, role playing among the steppe Nomads. The  running campaign and the blog

 

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Of course, in a fantasy stting, it is posisble to simplify things, but I would still consider superior kind of great spirits, kind of deities.

Yes, I agree. However, in this Middle Earth setting the equivalents of the deities,

Eru and the Valar, are so far removed from the world of the Asor that the Asor

know of their existence, but do not expect them to directly influence the events

in their world. As a result the Asor revere them and worship them on special oc-

casions, but they are not an element of the Asors' everyday beliefs or magic.

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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