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Created On 23 June 1999
Last Updated On 23 June 1999
Copyright (c) Simon E. Phipp 1999
Although shamans everywhere share similar powers and have similar properties, not all shamanic powers are held by all shamans. Where a group of shamans share common beliefs and have access to similar powers they can be said to share a common shamanic tradition. Here, a shamanic tradition is a set of beliefs, powers and abilities shared by a group of shamans or shamanic people. Normally, in Glorantha, a particular shamanic tradition is held by shamans of a particular cult in a particular area. So, shamans of Waha in Prax share the same tradition but shamans of the individual Oasis Tribes share different but similar traditions.
For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to treat a Shamanic Tradition in a hard RuneQuest-Rules fashion and will detail some of the powers and abilities that Shamanic Traditions may have. I may even suggest which traditions may have these abilities, but I feel that this is more properly a job for individual GMs.
The following are typical Shamanic Powers that are known to be available to many kinds of Shamans. It is not a complete list or even near-complete. If you can think of any more, please email me and I will add the powers to the list with appropriate scredit given.
Second Sight (Spirit Sense)
Laying on of Hands
Most Shamanic Traditions contain the use of a Fetch. This is as the normal RuneQuest rules, or using my RuneQuest variant or other variant rules. The Fetch is the Shaman's Spirit Self, that part of the shaman's soul that lives in the Spirit Plane. Shamans who have a fetch find that other abilities are enhanced, so for instance a shaman's Spirit Sense is giving increased range by having a fetch.
Gloranthan Shamanic Traditions which do not have a fetch include those who worship Tiger as that deity eats the fetches of his shamans, Vampires who apparently devour their own fetches, other undead who do not have souls, mediums and Western Witches.
This is the ability to see spirits on the Spirit Plane. All Shamanic Traditions have this but some have to perform rituals to gain this ability or have to use spells such as Second Sight. Shamans with fetches add their fetch's POW to the range of the Second Sight and to the chance of success in the skill.
The ability of the shaman's soul to leave his body and travel as a free spirit. All shamans with fetches have this ability as do certain others. The discorporation effect may be achieved via a ritual, an ability, a spell such as the RQ2 Discorporate spell, magic items or potions. The Spirit Moss plant may be refined to produce a Discorporate Potion, Blueface has a ball which forces those struck by it to become discorporate. Some Real World peoples believe that a person who dreams of meeting others or travelling to another place actually visited that person/place whilst discorporate in a dream.
If a shaman has a fetch then the fetch will discorporate, leaving the shaman's normal soul present in the body. Other people have to leave the body vacant which allows it to be possessed by other spirits unless precautions are taken.
Whilst the spirit is discorporate it must be able to move or it will be stuck in the Spirit Plane. Many traditions teach a form of Spirit Movement to their shamans, but not all. When Discorporation occurs with no Spirit Movement the shaman may well be in great trouble and danger.
When a person is possessed by a spirit there is usually only one course of action to remove the spirit - go to a shaman and ask for an exorcism. The shaman must perform a ritual and engage the possessing spirit in Spirit Combat. If the shaman is victorious in the spirit combat then the possessing spirit is exorcised and must leave the body. Sometimes, the shaman retains control of the spirit and may bind it into a binding enchantment for use later on, but more often the spirit simply goes free.
If a shaman has a fetch, he may include the POW of the fetch in the spirit combat, making exorcisms fairly routine.
Sometimes shamans can summon up spirits in order to gain information from the spirits. In the case of Channelling, the shaman causes the spirit to engage in a form of possession of the shaman where the spirit may speak and act in the shaman's body as if it where in overt possession of the body, but the shaman has ultimate control and can force the spirit out at any time, normally on a POW roll. This can be used in various ways. The shaman may summon a spirit in order that others may question it. A clan shaman may summon an ancestor warrior to lead the clan in battle. A shaman may summon a deity to lead a worship ceremony.
Not all Gloranthan shamans use channelling. Amongst those that can are mediums, Daka Fal shamans and Firshala shamans.
Shamans are well known as healers but normally they use healing magic and knowledge of healing potions and plants to maintain this reputation. However, some shamanic traditions hold the secret of Laying on Hands.
There are several types of Laying on Hands.
Shamans can cure disease by rolling their POWx5% after a short ritual. If they are successful then the disease is halted but the effects are not changes, if the roll is a critical then the effects of the disease are reversed, if the roll is a fumble then the disease worsens a stage. If the shaman fails in the roll then he is exposed to the disease as per the normal rules. Shamans can perform this ritual any number of times, but the ritual takes an hour to perform, so this limits the number of times a day the ritual may be performed.
Some shamans may purge poison using a similar ritual, matching their POW against the POT of the poison with success meaning the poison was purged from the system. This ritual normally takes only a few minutes and costs magic points equal to the POT of the poison purged.
Often, shamans may heal damage done to others by a similar method of laying on of hands and performing a short ritual. The shaman expends a number of magic points and this is the amount of damage cured. This may be able to heal general hit point damage, depending on the particular shamanic tradition.
Quite often, the ritual of Laying On Hands involves the use of ritual herbs, ointments, and clothing, so not all shamans may use it at all times, especially if they do not have their equipment and paraphernalia immediately to hand.
Since a shaman is active on the Spirit Plane, when he dies he is conscious in a way that other people are not. A very few shamans can heal the damage done to the body and, once the body is viable once more, can return to life. The shaman must have access to the Heal spell or some kind of healing magic or ability in order to perform this deed. In game terms, this means healing the body to a point where it would normally be alive, normally this is to positive hit point, in my RuneQuest variant it is to negative normal hit points, so a shaman with normal hit points of 14 would only need to be healed to -13 hit points in order to be alive. Each point of damage healed costs the shaman 1 POW which may be taken from the shaman's fetch if he has one and takes 1 hour to heal. Once the shaman comes back to life, he needs to be healed normally in order to survive - if he heals himself to -13 hit points then he will die again in a single round through bleeding unless he is healed. Fortunately, most shamans have healing magic or spirits that can heal. This ability is not held by all Gloranthan Traditions and it would be the GM's decision as to which Traditions have it.
Many shamans can contact spirits and befriend or ally these spirits. The process of doing this is very simple. The shaman must find the spirit and speak to it. He then tries to persuade the spirit to be his ally, this may be done through a single dice roll of POW + APP vs POW + INT or it may be otherwise rolled or even role-played. Once the Spirit has agreed to the deal, the shaman expends 1 POW per 10 POW or part thereof of the Spirit's POW which is then added to the spirit's POW, so to ally a POW 33 spirit costs 4 POW and leaves the spirit with 37 POW. Once allied, the spirit gives the shaman several benefits. It can be used to provide magic points as if it were a POW Spirit, it may be ordered to engage in Spirit Combat with another spirit, it can act as a Spirit Spy, checking out areas of the Sprit Plane away from the shaman. The Controlled Spirit is not in Mindlink with the Shaman, does not act as a Spell Spirit or Allied Spirit, so the shaman may not use the spirit's spells as if they were his own, but the Spirit may learn spells and cast its own spells upon command.
A shaman may only have as many Controlled Spirits as he has POW, those shamans with a fetch may include their fetch's POW in this calculation, so a shaman POW 14 with a fetch POW 10 can have 14 + 10 = 24 Controlled Spirits. If he loses POW or gains extra Controlled Spirits, those spirits bound the longest period of time will be released first until he can hold the remaining spirits. Some Spirits will only remain controlled for a limited period of time or for a limited type of service, depending on the spirits involved. If a Spirit has an open contract then it must continue to provide the service to the shaman, quite often this means that the spirit thinks of himself as a slave.
All Gloranthan Traditions have this ability but different Traditions use it to control different Spirits, so Waha Shamans may control Healing Spirits, Spirits of Law and Ghosts, a Troll shaman may control Shades, Wraiths, Fear Spirits and so on. The Duck Shaman in the supplement Duck Pond controls Elemental Spirits which are written up as Elementals but which I would play are actually Nymphs.
All Gloranthan Traditions allow the shaman to capture spirits and keep them for a single service. The RQ3 rules describe this and say that a Shaman may keep a number of Spirits in his fetch with total POW not greater than the fetch's POW. I think this is too restrictive and I would play that the shaman may store an number of Spirits equal to his POW, including the fetch's POW, so a POW 14 Shaman with a POW 10 fetch may store 24 Captured Spirits, thus making shamans quite powerful and useful. These spirits must be defeated in Spirit Combat and bound to the Shaman. Whilst bound to the shaman they provide their normal services, so a POW Spirit provides Magic Points and an Intellect Spirit allows the shaman to store spells using its INT. The shaman may require the spirit to perform a service and must free the spirit to perform the service, although this service quite often is to move into a Binding Enchantment. Often shamans use this ability to summon Spell Teaching or Healing Spirits so that they have a ready store of available spirits without having to spend POW to create Binding Enchantments.
When a shaman has both Controlled and Captured Spirits then both have to be considered against the shaman's POW with the oldest bound being released if the shaman's POW is reduced or he tries to bind/control more spirits than he has POW.
Most Shamanic Traditions in Glorantha can contact deities. This may be done in two ways. Either the shaman may contact the deity and lead a worship ceremony of a number of followers as a Spirit Cult or he can contact the deity and receive spells and abilities himself. Both methods involve a ritual or spell, Contact (Deity) but their the similarity ends. When worshipping in a Spirit Cult the shaman summons the deity to his presence and the worshippers perform a ceremony to give their essence to the deity and receive blessings in return. When contacting for personal worship, the shaman travels to the deity and asks for its blessing, sacrificing POW for divine magic, learning skills or ability and possibly gaining geases. This enabled the shaman to gain powers and abilities from many deities without the associated clutter that comes from normal worship of the deity.
In the RuneQuest rules and in my earlier thoughts on shamanism there were two types of people - shamans and not-shamans. Shamans had shamanic abilities and powers, non-shamans did not. This works well if you consider that all the shamanic abilities are available to all shamans and nobody else. However, as Stephen Marsh has pointed out, such a structure is unrealistic and ill-thought out.
Imagine the case of a shaman's assistant, he spends years studying under the shaman, learning lores, skills and spells yet cannot perform the simplest of shamanic tasks, when he becomes a shaman he suddenly has access to all the shamanic powers. This is unrealistic. Surely a better way would be for the assistant to gain some of the abilities as he studied with his gaining a fetch and certain other powers when he performs the shamanic initiation ritual.
There is also a good argument that many people in shamanic cultures would have access to some shamanic powers whether or not they are shamans in the normal sense. Whilst I have referred to shamans in the description of powers, this really means shamanic people, not necessarily shamans as such. Stephen Marsh goes in a slightly different way in his ideas where he says that anyone with shamanic abilities is a shaman but that some shamans have certain abilities and some have other abilities, but all are shamans. I prefer the idea of shamans having undergone a shamanic initiation and gaining some abilities, but also of other people who have some shamanic powers but are not true shamans. Such people I will call Shamanic People.
Shamanic People include Wise Women, Witches, Shamans, Healers, Priests, Assistant Shamans and Holy Men. I would even go so far as to say that anyone who is magically inclined and is part of a Shamanic Tradition may gain Shamanic Powers of some kind. Normally these are gained through training, study, HeroQuest or theft. So, a Wise Woman may know the secret of Laying on Hands but might not know how to Discorporate. This means that people requiring the services of shamans need not necessarily go to a shaman, merely to a Shamanic Person, thus widening access to various abilities.
Each Shamanic Tradition has a number of abilities that are part of the Shamanic Tradition. Those abilities are routinely available to people following that Tradition. Other abilities are not known to the practitioners of the Tradition and would be considered rare. Some Shamanic People liked to learn new abilities from other Shamanic Tradition through raids, cajoling or study so that they would be considered powerful as they had knowledge of other secrets. So, a Shaman of Waha who could Resurrect himself after death would be considered something special and powerful.
This idea of many more people gaining shamanic abilities and powers is very useful when converting stories and tales from the Real World into Gloranthan scenarios and tales. For instance, there are many examples in North American Indian tales where people undergo some kind of ordeal and gain powers and abilities, this would be very difficult to implement if only shamans gained shamanic abilities - these would also have to be shamans which is very unrealistic. It is far better that many people could gain shamanic abilities without being shamans.
There are many Shamanic Traditions in Glorantha and I will not detail them here. It is probably up to individual GMs to decide which Tradition has which abilities. GMs should also be able to add more abilities to the Traditions and to decide how easy it is to gain other abilities from other Traditions.
The important thing to remember is that not all Shamans are alike, that just because you know what your shaman can do you do not necessarily know what powers an opposing shaman has. This keeps players on their toes, which is always a good thing.
This also allows non-shamans to have shamanic abilities, thus making PCs that much more flexible and powerful, which is again a good thing.