Shamanism, the Agnostic Faith

   Today, it’s a bit on shamanic characters and traditions.

   Shamanism is unique. In many ways, it is the worlds only personalized agnostic religion.

   You generally don’t choose to become a Shaman (unless you’re a con artist and are simply faking the symptoms). It just happens. You either start seeing things that no one else can see, hearing voices that others cannot hear, or having intuitive feelings that seem unjustified to others. For a full Shaman, after a while, it will usually be more than one of those things. This may or may not progress to full-blown out-of-body experiences. If it does, it may or may not then progress until you can perceive or have visions of some sort of “other world” or worlds.

  • If you only feel and/or hear, you’re a “Sensitive”.
  • If you only see, you have “The Sight”.
  • If the things you see or hear interact with you in some fashion, you’re a “Medium”.
  • If you can communicate in some vaguely coherent fashion with the things you see and/or hear, you’re a “Shaman”.

   If doing so produces some sort of results, you’re a competent Shaman. If those results extend beyond shrewd guesses, suggestion, personal practices (such as herbalism), and placebo effects, then you’re probably not schizophrenic or seriously deluded – although there’s nothing mutually exclusive about being crazy AND being in touch with something weird.

   Being able to at least apparently directly influence the things you interact with in some fashion, being able to have controllable out-of-body experiences, or being able to visit some “other world” while in a trance makes you a stronger or crazier Shaman, but is in no way required for the job.

   Shamans who do seem to perceive some sort of “other world” often acknowledge that their perception is highly subjective and that others may see other worlds entirely different – or may not even be perceiving the same one. There is no unified geography, set of symbols, or even true general principles to the “other worlds”.

   Shamans may believe that they’re unconsciously interacting with mysterious natural forces, and that they simply perceive them in their own idiosyncratic fashion. They may describe the things they see or hear as “psychic constructs”, or “gods”, or “spirits”, or “angels”, or “demons”, or “fairies”, or “spirits”, or “personifications”, or any of a hundred other things – but they usually see them as having personalities of some sort. Of course, people in general are notorious for seeing a wide variety of inanimate objects as having personalities of some sort… Shamans often believe that they’re communicating with spirits as they’re described in whatever culture they’re from – but that isn’t a requirement.

   Some such entities may be willing to do things when communicated with, whether in response to requests, in response to trickery, or in accordance with their own natures. Others may ask for various exchanges of favors – whether those are seen as a literal exchange of services, as unconscious rituals to focus a Shamans personal “power”, as appeasement, as honors, as worship or offerings, or as magical rituals. Others may want to form some sort of pact or bargain (wise Shaman usually avoid that sort of thing if the deal is too complex or asks for anything too nasty). Still others may be hostile, to be avoided, fought, or warded off in whatever fashion can be managed.

   Ergo, the minimum “union requirements” for being a Shaman look something like this:

  1. I perceive that there is stuff out there that does stuff or possesses information that I do not.
  2. That stuff at least appears to be intelligent.
  3. I seem to be able to interact with that stuff in a way that most people do not.
  4. I occasionally seem to get useful results from doing so.
  5. The experience is highly subjective – however
  6. I don’t think I’m entirely crazy. (The is the only “faith” that shamanism calls for).
  7. With any luck, a Shaman can also add:
    1. I have some degree of influence with or over said stuff.

   Now, as soon as a Shaman decides that his interpretation of things is congruent with reality, rather than representing his impression thereof, he has taken the first step towards religion – but a forgivable one. Most people’s instinctive inclination is to believe their senses. Most Shamans continue to recognize that the experiences and perceptions of other Shamans can and will differ. Once a Shaman concludes that his interpretation is necessarily correct, and begins to impress it on other people who lack his or her special (or insane) perceptions, then you have a religion. You no longer really have shamanism though.

   In practice, various traditions and game systems may assign a “Shaman” a wide variety of other powers and abilities, but those are all optional extras. The core of it lies in

  1. Weird stuff happens.
  2. I have been chosen to deal with it.
  3. I depart from the normal patterns of my life.
  4. I receive questionable Aid and/or Guidance from forces I do not clearly understand.
  5. I undertake strange risks, tasks, and quests to deal with the weird stuff.
  6. I transcend normal limitations, and succeed.
  7. I return (sometimes reluctantly), and share the benefits.

   Does that seem familiar somehow? It should. That’s the basic outline of the Heroes Journey – the same basic quest-structure that you find in myths around the world.

   In fact, there are many other reasons why classical Shamans make exceptionally GOOD characters. They can receive strange information or advice from semi-trusted sources at any moment, their talents are primarily driven by personal interactions rather than by game mechanics, they are easy to tie tightly into the setting, the requests from their “entities” are an endless source of quests and plot devices, they can interact with both the living and the dead (and thus keep a player with a deceased character busy until a new one can be introduced or something can be done about the death), they’re each unique – with powers and abilities determined by whatever entities they’re working with – and, since the game master must help define what those entities are, he or she is necessarily fully aware of all their resources and can readily customize their abilities to fit them into his or her game.

   Personally, I found that the people playing “classical” Shamans had a lot of fun dealing with the entities, enjoyed the surprise of “what shall I get involved with next?” and “what will my next spirit contact turn out to be?”, and found a great deal of amusement in figuring out ways in which to apply their collection of eccentric talents to what was going on at the moment. Finding ways to apply the abilities granted by a bear-spirit and a forest-spirit to a diplomatic negotiation at court called for a good deal of creativity, and made for some very enjoyable play.

   Here are the original Continuum II rules for Shamans. Why? Why not? The rules were intended to be modular anyway, and maybe someone will find some inspiration here.

   “Shamans” include houngan, wisewomen, witchdoctors, hedge-wizards, and a wide variety of other “primitive” mages. Unlike more sophisticated magic-wielders, shamans need little discipline, practice, or instruction, requiring only some talent and a willingness to “talk to” almost anything. Like any other cleric, shamans draw their powers from attuning their minds to other entities and tapping into their powers. Unlike other clerics, they make no attempt to attune their minds to any one being or type of beings. Instead, they simply tap whoever or whatever is willing to assist them. Elementals and Nature Spirits (Manitou). Demons. Gods. Faerie. Normal material beings. Undead. Empyreal spirits. Conceptual entities. Cosmic forces. Alien Powers from Beyond. Whatever. While this offers them a wide variety of powers, and is easy enough to leave them a lot of time to practice other skills, it also leaves them with no way of knowing what contacts or abilities they will acquire, incomplete attunements resulting in relatively weak powers, and a tendency to be just a bit mad due to having various sections of their minds linked to a variety of wildly differing beings. While a shamans list of “contacts” is normally determined at random, they may choose to have a special affinity for a particular type of spirit. Such shamans roll on the appropriate “affinity” subtable rather then the usual, general, table when determining their “contacts”. Note that this makes acquiring such a contact more likely – it doesn’t guarantee it.

   Shamans begin with (Chr/3) initial “spirit contacts”, and gain an additional contact for each level they gain beyond the first.

   As contacts are made through mental affinity, the contact must somehow “fit” the shaman. The “fit” may be a bit bizarre, but it will be there. While shamans have no control over the class or power of the spirits they contact, they do have considerable influence over their personality and abilities. To represent this, the game master should consult the player to come up with something playable after determing the contacts basic type. The final determination is always up to the game master, but if the player is seriously dissatisfied, then the game master is doing something wrong.

   Shamans begin with five major and five minor skills selected from those available to rogues (I guess I’ll have to put them up next, so that those skills will at least be listed) and from their own, unique, lists given below. Technologically based skills are usually an exception, but the GM may choose to allow them if the character has a good rationale.

   When purchasing Talents, due to the great variety of energies they tap, shamans can “buy” some talents more cheaply then usual. Any of the gramayre “personal energies” talents, and a few thematic psychic gifts (notably; Beastmaster and Medium, others may be permitted at the option of the game master), for two-thirds of the usual “cost”, rounded off. Greater Mental Stability is a 3-point talent that greatly reduces the effects of a shamans usual progressive insanity, although it cannot entirely negate them.

   While the majority of the rogue table applies to shamans without modification, their special abilities do differ, as shown in the next column.

Level

Aura

Special Abilities

 

Level

Aura

1

2/1

Spirit Combat

 

13

40/6

2

3/1

Empyrean Mastery II

 

14

45/6

3

5/2

Empyrean Projection

 

15

50/7

4

7/2

Minor Insanity

 

16

55/7

5

9/3

Patron Spirit

 

17

60/7

6

12/4

Empyrean Mastery III

 

18

66/8

7

15/4

Place Of Power

 

19

72/8

8

18/4

Major Insanity

 

20

80/8

9

22/5

Reputation

 

21

88/9

10

26/5

Medicine Lodge

 

22

96/9

11

30/5

Position

 

23

105/9

12

35/6

Students (1-2 only)

 

24

115/10

   Shamans deal extensively with the empyrean plane – the realm of dream, imagination, and the psyche which serves as the medium for psychic powers and invocation magic. Unlike most clergy, shamans have both a natural talent for, and lots of practice in, fooling around with the empyrean plane itself, as well as with the spirits they invoke. The potency of these linked abilities is measured by Aura – but their exact abilities depend on the skills they have developed. The first number given under Aura is a measure of the shamans total power, the second is the maximum they can expend in any single action. The relevant skills make up the Empyrean Mastery list.

   All shamans develop the power to channel aura into psychic or “spiritual” combat, and will develop other abilities at levels two and six (shamans who already possess all the empyrean mastery skills gain an additional “major” skill or contact instead). Eventually shamans are able to find a Patron Spirit. While the spirits choose the shamans, in game terms, the choice is more or less up to the player – although the GM may offer advice. As the shaman can draw on the powers of his sponsor via Aura, the choice is of considerable importance. Common patrons include Totems (the great bear, the raven, etc), who grant the shaman animalistic powers and skills, Conceptual Spirits (truth, death, the north wind, etc), who grant various weird abilities – and Divine Beings (Ra, Odin, Curennos, etc), who grant abilities appropriate to their various portfolios. While other spirits can serve as sponsors, they are considerably less common. Shamans may choose to channel or tap the powers of their patron – but not both. Channeling is far more potent, creating effects with a rank roughly equal to the number of aura points used, but isn’t entirely under the users control. Tapping the patrons energies allows the shaman to control the results, but limits the effects to a rank of about half the number of points expended. Both methods are, of course, subject to the usual aura “spending limit”.

   A shamans individual Place Of Power offers a +2/10% bonus on rolls having to do with his personal powers – and a +1/5% bonus on rolls of almost any type. Similar places elsewhere give, at best, a +1/5% bonus on rolls related to the shamans personal powers – since much of this effect is due to the gradual build-up of residual energies from the shamans works. The type of place is up to the shaman, Common choices for a place of power include wilderness glades, hidden caves, mountians and peaks, henges, ancient crypts, old temples, and so on. A shamans Reputation extends to the spirit worlds, and is often a much more powerful tool there then it is in the material world. Shamans with a particular affinity for one type of spirit will have a stronger reputation with that type – but it doesn’t normally extend beyond them. A Medicine Lodge is a bundle of supplies and odd bits of stuff which can be set up in a few hours. Once set up, the medicine lodge counts as a “similar” place of power, providing the usual +1/5% benefit. When the shaman reaches level eleven, he/she may opt to claim a Position. Such positions carry a variety of benefits and special responsibilities, and are fixed once chosen. The exact position desired must be negotiated with the GM, since shamanic positions can be very strange. Some few examples might include : “The Guardian Of The Gates Of Dawn”, “Speaker For The Mountains”, “Moon Caller”, and “Spirit Guide”. Any Students which a shaman eventually acquires sill either be lesser shamans or members of a class specializing invoking the shamans affinity group (if any). Thus a shaman with an affinity for “Manitou” will get shamans or witches. Shamans may expend “bonus points” to acquire “familiar spirits”, gaining one per point so expended. As a final note, Shamans can delay their tendency towards insanity by spending some skill points on things like “psychology”, “self discipline”, or “meditation”. Each point so used delays the effects one level, and moderates the effects when they finally do occur.

Major Shamanic Skills

  • Empyreal Energies Sublist: Enhanced Aura, Iron Will, Repulsions, Shapechanging, Soulcarrier, and Spirit Paths.
  • Arcane Lore Sublist: Ceremonial Magic, Circle Magic, Countermeasures, Empowerment, Naturalist, and Sympathetic Links.
  • Binding Words Sublist: Maledictions, Nymic Magic, Oathbinder, Runemastery, Tribal Lore, and Voice Queuing
  • Empyrean Mastery Sublist: Dream Mastery, Manifestation, Mindscaping, Residue Manipulation, Scrying, and Spirit Binding.
  • Physical Travels Sublist: Bivouac, Pathfinder, Retainers, Stamina, Travel Hardening, and Wilderness Lore.
  • Spirit Links Sublist: Bonus Contacts, Dark Temptation, Environmental Shield, Evocation, Heightened Attribute, and Minor Symbiont

Shamanic Spirit Contacts:

Basic

Table

Specialist

Table

Divine

Beings

 

Basic

Table

Specialist

Table

Empyreal Spirits

01

01-02

Major

 

61-75

01-45

Ancestral

02

04-06

Minor

 

76-80

56-60

Random Human

03-05

07-24

Demigod

 

81-83

61-71

Minor Entity

06-10

25-40

Trivial

 

84

72-75

Major Entity

 

41-00

Roll Basic

   

76-00

Roll Basic

   

Material

Subtable

     

Alien Entities

11-14

01-24

“Human”

 

85-86

01-05

Minor

15

25-32

Minor

Nonhuman

 

87

06-09

Major

16-17

33-45

Major

Nonhuman

 

88

10-12

Transcendent

 

46-00

Roll Basic

   

13-00

Roll Basic

   

Ethereal

Subtable

     

Cosmic Entities

18-19

01-05

Great

 

89

01-04

Philosophical

20-22

06-15

Major

 

90

05-20

Conceptual

23-35

16-54

Minor

   

21-00

Roll Basic

36-42

55-75

Trivial

     

Special Results

 

76-00

Roll Basic

 

91-96

 

Roll 01-90 2x or01-90 for an Allied Spirit

   

Demons

 

97-98

 

Roll 01-90 3x or reroll once and receive a gift

43-44

01-05

Arch-

 

99-00

 

Free choice from 01-90

45-47

06-16

Major

       

48-52

17-38

Minor

       

53-60

39-54

Trivial

       

55-00

Roll Basic

       

 

   The “Specialist Table” is used for shamans who specialize in particular types of beings – but even they will often wind up rolling on the general table.

Material Subtable

 

Etheral Subtable

01-08 VIP / Occ. Master

 

01-22 Nature spirit; Totem / Terrain

09-35 Professional Char.

 

23-45 Nature spirit; Group / Place

36-55 Faerie Being

 

46-50 Nature spirit; Specific Link

56-65 Undead “Creature”

 

51-54 Warped Spirit

66-69 Shadow Realm Being

 

55-60 Elemental / Earth

70-75 Spirit Realm Being

 

61-75 Elemental / Water

76-77 Extradimensional

 

76-90 Elemental / Air

78-79 Artificial Entity

 

91-97 Elemental / Fire

80-00 “Monster”/Creature

 

98-00 Elemental / Energy

 

   “Allied Spirits” will hang around with the shaman on a constant basis or, for the more powerful spirits, will maintain a constant link with some talisman he or she bears. Since this means that at least some of the spirits powers are available on a constant basis, such spirit companions are commonly much more valuable then mere contacts.

   “Gifts” are just that, a spirit decides to give you something. A water spirit decides to clear that old sunken ship and chest of gold out of its home river. An earth spirit brings you a nice big gem or an old magic sword it found laying around. Such gifts are usually valuable and/or somehow important, but sometimes they are simply strange. Spirits don’t always understand humans very well – but somehow however, their “gifts” always seem to turn out to be well worthwhile in one way or another.

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