Spirits that Possess People
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Created On 20 April 2000
Last Updated On 20 April 2000
Copyright (c) Simon E. Phipp 2000
There are many kinds of spirit in the Spirit Plane, some of which have been described, many have not. Here, I will attempt to describe those spirits that operate by possessing the bodies of others.
Spirits that possess people either possess overtly or covertly. Overt possession is when the spirit takes full control of the body and becomes the dominant personality. Covert possession is when the spirit lays dormant within the body and either waits to pounce and become dominant, produces effects within the body or bestows abilities or powers on the person possessed.
Spirits that practice overt possession are relatively rare, there are many more spirits that possess covertly than overtly. Some spirits possess permanently, others temporarily. Those that possess permanently are normally thought of as malign, evil or bad, those that possess temporarily may be thought of as malign but more often are thought of as servants and as good spirits.
These are the spirits of the deceased, those who have died and have not passed onto the Lands of the Dead. Quite often, ghosts want to be alive again and possess bodies in order to experience life as they had before. If a ghost possesses a person, that person's personality is subjected to the extent that it is powerless and cannot act. The ghost has control of the body, can operate as when alive and can act and cast spells as normal. Sometimes, when the ghost falls asleep the possessed personality can take control of the body and act, but this is rare.
If a ghost is bound to a certain area or has certain orders then it is still bound by those conditions, so a ghost that is bound to guard a tomb and possesses a tomb raider will remain and guard the tomb and once killed will remain once again as a ghost. Quite often, under such circumstances, the ghost will commit suicide because it knows it cannot be normal.
Shamans can easily tell if someone is possessed by a ghost and can normally exorcise the ghost. However, there are very few other ways to tell that someone is possessed. The Second Sight spell may, or may not, show whether someone is possessed, at the GM's discretion.
Sometimes, an ancestor worshipper may summon an ancestor to inhabit his body in a form of covert possession. Quite often, the ancestor will stay for a fixed period of time, maybe to teach a lost skill, perform a task or ritual or simply to talk to family members, then leave. Very occasionally. the ancestor will remain amongst the clan until killed. When the ancestor is friendly and helps the clan, this is thought benign, otherwise it is thought malign.
Many spirits are worshipped and can manifest in different ways. One of the ways a Divine Spirit can manifest is by Incarnation. This is when the spirit possesses a worshipper for a time. Quite often, a deity will send minor spirits in response to pleas from worshippers. Such deities include Firshala, Mistress Sazdorf and the Praxian Founders. Practitioners of the Voodoo cult, in the Real World, claim that their Gods possess them when they are in trances, this is a classic example of Overt Possession by a Divine Spirit.
Normally, possession by a Divine Spirit gives the worshipper enhanced physical characteristics and special abilities, but their body is totally under the control of the Divine Spirit. Sometimes, certain physical characteristics remain after the Divine Spirit leaves, for instance Firshala's worshippers become female during her possession and have a chance of remaining female afterwards, Mistress Sazdorf's worshippers retain over-sized tusks.
Most Divine Spirits only possess worshippers for a limited period of time, then leave. However, there are Divine Spirits that incarnate for the lifetime of a worshipper, so Lodril possessed several generations of a noble family to act as a warrior and ruler. The Pharaoh possesses new bodies when his old one grows old and die. Even Delecti possesses a fresh corpse when his current one decays beyond usefulness.
Many otherworld spirits have never had bodies of their own and desired them. When they possess bodies they do not let them go, retaining possession until the body dies. As with the Divine Spirits, Demons often bestow special powers or abilities on the bodies. One famous example of Demonic Possession in Glorantha is that of Granny Keeneye in Balazar and the Elder Wilds. Another is the trollkin found in the Sun County scenario pack. Demonic Possession often changes the appearance of the possessed body, giving tusks, scales, odour, glowing eyes, losing a shadow and so on. Each Demon has its own agenda and behaves differently according to what type it is, so Fiend Spirits behave differently to Dehori, to Star Children or to Krarshtides.
Many kinds of Ghoul are created by the possession of a newly-0slain corpse by a Ghoul Spirit. The body can then animate and is a new ghoul. If the body is not enchanted, it will decay as normal and fall apart very quickly. However, if the body is enchanted, the Ghoul can remain active indefinitely. Very few people know the secret to enchant a ghoul body, some sorcerers have the knowledge as do the cults of Vivamort and Subere and a few powerful Shamans. Ghouls are considered benign servants by their creators, but malign by almost anyone else.
Some Shamans know the secret of Channelling. This is when a spirit is summoned and can possess the body of the Shaman in order to impart information or perform a task. Unlike normal overt possession, the Shaman can regain control at any time, simply by engaging the Spirit in Spirit Combat. This makes Channelling safer than normal Overt Possession.
This is where a spirit possesses a person but does not take control of the body, merely existing inside the body. However, most impart some kind of effect on the possessed body or on the dominant personality. Depending on the possessing spirit, this can be considered a blessing or a curse. In fact, many Shamans can summon spirits to possess people either as a blessing or a curse. A single person may be possessed by more than one spirit at once, producing many different effects. Most can be easily removed by Shamans, as long as the possessed person realises he is possessed.
These are the servants of Mallia and, as their name implies, they are associated with Disease. They are fully described in the Lords of Terror supplement. When Disease Spirits posses a person, they have one of two effects. The person will either contract the disease carried by the Spirit or they will become immune to the disease carried by the Spirit and become a carrier of the Disease. Disease Spirits are thought of benign by worshippers of Mallia and by those who have access to Disease Spirits and as malign by those affected by the disease. Once a person dies of a disease, the possessing Disease Spirit is normally released, but is sometimes bound to the body to cause more disease amongst others.
This is a large class of spirits, described in the RuneQuest 3 rules and in the Lords of Terror supplement. Generally, Passion Spirits cause changes in emotion at critical times and often cause physical effects. Many have been described, including Fear, Madness, Pain, Lust, Greed and Rage spirits. However, there are many more spirits that could easily be included in the Passion Spirit class. Every single emotion may be caused by Passion Spirits, so there can be Grief, Joy, Confusion, Envy and Selfish Spirits, for instance. Also, there are many types of Spirit that cause the possessed person to change their behaviour without wanting to. Such spirits can include Sleeping Spirits, Insomnia Spirits, Dancing Spirits, Hopping Spirits, Quacking Spirits, Priapic Spirits, Impotence Spirits, Vertigo Spirits, Hunger Spirits, Thirst Spirits, Masturbation Spirits, Falling Down Spirits and many, many more. Most remain inactive but try to affect the possessed person's deeds by engaging in a POW vs POW roll, by rolling POWx3% or POWx1% or whatever. If successful, they cause the person to experience their Passion and amend their behaviour accordingly. So, a Hunger Spirit would cause the possessed person to eat ravenously and a Masturbation Spirit would cause the possessed person to masturbate, no matter what the situation.
Some Passion Spirits cause permanent effects, so a Pain Spirit causes permanent Pain and reduces all skills by its POW, a Clumsy Spirit reduces DEX by its POW, a Bravery Spirit increases the Brave Personality Trait by its POW and a Fear Spirit would increase the Cowardly Personality Trait by the spirit's POW. Many different cults grant control of Passion Spirits, many shamans know how to summon them as blessings or curses, some are gained through HeroQuesting and some are used as spirits of retribution by certain cults. Passion Spirits are the most common of those Spirits that Possess People.
Many Spirits that Possess People give abilities to the person possessed. These abilities may be skills, spells or magical abilities.
Spirits that give skill increases may give a new skill at a base level that can be increased through experience, the base level normally being the Spirit's POW or POWx3%; they can give a skill at the Spirit's POWx5% that cannot be increased by experience; the Spirit may also increase a skill by its POW, POWx3% or POWx5%; or some combination of these. The Three Feathered Rivals Sacred Societies summon a Sacred Spirit that gives a special skill at the Spirit's POWx5%; people wishing to learn Auld Wyrmish can be possessed by a Draconic Spirit that gives a base of POWx3%; Storm Bull Cultists may gain Ear Spirits through HeroQuest that add POWx5% to the possessed person's Sense Chaos skill.
Spirits that grant the use of spells include the Divine Spirits described in the Vikings supplement that grant the Farsee spell, Become Hawk spell or whatever. These spirits can give the possessed person a spell that the possessed person may use as if that person knows the spell. These spells may be Spirit Magic or Divine Magic and occasionally may be sorcery spells, but this is rare.
Spirits that grant abilities are even more common. These abilities are gained by the possessed person immediately they are possessed. The abilities thus gained can be permanent spells, increases in characteristics, or special abilities that are not as easily described. Thus, those possessed by the Berserkergang Spirit gain the ability to go Berserk at will; those possessed by a Clear Sight spirit gain permanent Farsee; Grazelander HeroQuestors can gain a spirit that grants Mindspeech with Horses and so on. Basically, any ability can be modelled by the possession of a cult spirit or ability spirit.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that most abilities gained on HeroQuests or through the receipt of Gifts are caused by the covert possession of Divine Spirits that grant the special ability. This has the benefit that the ability can be removed by the deity and perhaps even gambled away through HeroQuesting simply by transferring the spirit to another host.
There are some Ability Spirits that are curses. For instance, a Spirit that puts a Dull blade = POW on all the possessed person's swords would be considered a curse.
This article is not meant to be complete. In fact, if I think of any more types of Spirits That Possess People,. I will include them here. What I hope I have done is to perhaps clarify those spirits that people may have not thought about before.
I do not believe that Spirits should be classified rigidly. A Ghost is a ghost when it is bound to a place or wanders freely. When it is bound into a magical sword, it can be a Magic Spirit. If summoned by a descendant, it is an Ancestor Spirit. Similarly, some spirits may be considered a blessing or a curse, depending on how they are used. The important thing is that all spirits should be written up intelligently and used with imagination to enrich a campaign.