Brainstorming "Spirit" Magic

I’d like a framework for magic that would support class concepts such as animism, sha’ir, shinto, tao, wu jen, elven treesinger, dwarven earthcaller, etc. The class gains magic through “spirits”. Often, these spirits, especially the more powerful ones, are tied to locations, objects or quests/rituals. Even the minor spirits might have “odd” requirements. I picture a high-level version of such a class as the character Maleficent, from the movie Maleficent – able to single-handedly take on a small, nonmagical human army by calling forth nearby spirits. (In this view, some of Maleficent’s powers, such as sleep, are from being a faerie, not from calling spirits.) Other editions have very specific implementations of this concept, but none I know of that would support all of the concepts above. I believe the 4E Invoker (“Divine Controller”) covered this territory. However, I specifically want to avoid notions of arcane/divine, or, if you think in those terms, please consider both arcane and divine versions.

The “hard way” to approach a class like this is dramatically increasing the number of call/summon and other spells, and allow the class to somehow reset those spells based on available spirits. I’m hoping for another way.

Thank you for any and all thoughts!

Spell list full of summons, and grant Contemplation as a class power?

What I really would want for this would be something like RuneQuest’s animism, or the divine magic system I’m working on where there are no clerics but any character can pray to a deity (a reaction roll modified by Wis and circumstantial modifiers) for deliverance or blessings (typically involve some manner of sacrifice in exchange). But those are both harder than your hard way :stuck_out_tongue:

Also arguable that ACKS’ arcane magic system may be easily modified into what you’re looking for, based on the flavor text surrounding the Repertoire and forgetting spells. Spell research is vision-quests into the spirit world to find the sort of spirit you need, and making a new pact with it. Replace the book with totems and fetishes, each of which is symbolic of a deal / pact with a particular spirit. The trouble here would come when such a caster interacts with a normal mage - if you kill them and take their spellbook, can you use it?

Note 1: 4E’s Invoker was actually designed around a character who had a literal shard of the divine inside them, and powered their spells off it. 4E’s Shaman class was much closer to what you want here; though they only had a single spirit companion, it could channel a variety of effects, and if you wanted to describe each spirit-effect as a different spirit, it would work without any real problem.

The first thing I do when thinking of a new magic system is to think of its usage rate. How do you see their magic being limited?

If they can only call on each spirit once per day, then Jedavis’ suggestion sounds ideal to me; you just have to alter the standard repertoire system a little bit to account for the specific requirements of each spirit, probably with some kind of a bonus to the class involved to compensate for adding more weaknesses to the class.

If they can call on them multiple times, but at increasing difficulty as they call them more and more, I’d look at the truenamer from 3.5’s Tome of Magic for inspiration. (The truenamer had severe math problems, especially when interacting with other 3.5 elements like ‘magic items that give you a bonus to skill checks’, but the concept was great.) Basically, this would be a system wherein you have to make a throw to cast a spell, and the difficulty for the throw increases each time you successfully cast that spell, until the next day when it resets. (The truenamer actually reset each encounter, and you could of course make it reset at whatever timescale you wish. I just like day.)

If they can call on them until their energy runs out, you’re looking at a spell point system.

If they can call on them at a flat difficulty all day long, you’re looking at a flat throw system, probably similar to what I came up with for psionics/occultist; a target value based on level, with a penalty for the difficulty of the effect being attempted.

Once you know the usage requirements, you can figure out the basic mechanics of the spellcasting, and once you have the basic mechanics, you can implement specific elements (in this case, the individual spirits).

Another way to do it would be to make them not a spellcaster at all, but rather, a class that has a variety of spell-like abilities. You’d just build the class with a bunch of Thievery points and trade them all off for spell-likes unlocked at various levels. In order to make the class more varied, you could either go with paths (like witch did; you might end up with, for example, the Winter path who unlocks cold, hunger, and darkness spirit summons, or the Summer path who unlocks fire, strength, and light summons).

Great comments and suggestions that I’m going to mull over!

Another idea I’m mulling over: what if the Dwarven Machinist’s automaton feature were adjusted and re-skinned to be a summoned spirit (or spirits)? Basically, a spirit-caller would begin with a small spirit (not unlike a totem animal) that could be called once a day for a short duration. With increasing ability and sacrifices (gold), more (or more powerful) spirits could be called for increasing durations. A “blueprint” for a spirit would include its name and how it can be appeased.

A class might focus on spirit-calling or mix spirit-calling with magic (or other abilities).

Hey Charles - have you taken a look at the 2nd edition ad&d supplement called (I think) the complete shaman. It may have some ideas on talking and dealing with spirits. I haven’t read it since the 90s but I remember liking it.

I LOVE this idea!

Spirits would have to be Bound - that is, a combination of the costs/rolls of designing and building automatons. Once bound, it will serve the Shaman until slain or dispelled. I think, basically, that a spirit would be invisible until called for, and, by default, be able to walk or roll on the ground (further modes of locomotion would count as a special ability). It must have a minimum HD of 1/2 (1d4 HP) and a maximum equal to twice the Shaman’s HD. AC would equal half HD by default. All spirits are immune to poison, disease and mind-affecting spells (this counts as one power). They may have up to 4 attacks, and may cause up to three times their HD per round in damage. Remote attacks cost one special ability, and may have a range of up to 10’ per point of damage. Binding a spirit costs sacrifices worth 4,000gp per hit dice, plus 10,000gp per special power. This requires a shamanic lodge or summoning circle worth at least as much as the spirit’s sacrifice. The binding ritual requires a throw (just like the Dwarven Machinist’s throw to design automatons) with the target increased by +1 per every 10,000 in sacrifice costs; for every 10,000 in value of the shamanic lodge beyond the minimum required to bind the spirit, add +1 to the throw. Wounded spirits, unlike automatons, heal over time like characters.

The advantage of this over automatons is that spirits lack weight and are invisible until called, but their disadvantage is that they cannot carry passengers and that they may be dispelled.

What do you think?

Yes, that’s the general idea. I’m glad you like it!

I was intentionally thinking of something non-permanent to contrast with the “permanency” of automatons. Petitioning spirits versus binding them. I envision the spirits off in the spirit-world (coterminous with the material world) doing spirit things, until they are summoned for a relatively brief duration (increasing with level). Therefore, creating a new mechanic between spells and the various “magic research” mechanics.

Binding is certainly a possibility – thematically one thinks of binding with elementals, infernals and celestials. (Binding spirits may be necromancy?) Being “permanent”, this swings back toward the original constructs/crossbreeds/necromancy rules from which the automaton rules are derived (I believe). If lower level bindings are possible, probably there should always be a risk? Fiction is filled with binding mishaps galore.

I have that book … somewhere. I’ll have a look :slight_smile:

FWIW, Brandonshire had a Sha’ir class here:

that has a mechanic that’s very much like calling an external entity to create a spell effect.