Eclipse and Spirits II – Spirit Summons

For today it’s the rest of an answer to an old question – how to adapt a first edition metaspell (a spell that can be cast at various levels to produce a variety of effects) to current d20 games. The “Eclipse and Spirits” article was part one, and now it’s time to cover the specific effects.

Spirit Summons calls a deceased spirit to the prime material plane. The spirit is anchored there through a link with the casters personal life force, and so must return to it’s own realm shortly after the caster dies or releases it from its bond. Occasional exceptions do occur – but usually involve a spirit bonding with some other person. Otherwise, spirits may remain as long as they please. The spirits which can be called vary with the level the spell is cast at, as given below. Unlike most spells, this one can be cast at any desired level with various effects – but only by necromantic specialists; the user must integrate the basic spell formula with the study of his specialty to use the advanced forms.

Adapting Spirit Summons to current versions of d20 presents a dilemma. First Edition AD&D – with its completely arbitrary spell lists for various classes and specialists, and emphasis on the rarity of spells, and various other occult restrictions, had no problem with spells that offered permanent benefits – just as it had no problem with a fighter drinking from a magical pool and having their strength increase by two equally permanently. Current d20 games generally have far less room for this sort of thing; the stress has shifted from the party to individual characters – and thus “character balance” has become important. To maintain that balance any special character upgrade other than level advancement must come with a commensurate cost.

Since Spirit Summons is pretty obviously a Metaspell it has a known, fixed, cost – one feat or six character points. To figure out whether or not this works, lets look at what it does…

L1: Guardian. Guardian spirits are usually those of ancestors and friends. Already possessing a close tie with the caster and wanting to come, these spirits are easy to summon. Guardian spirits are quite immaterial, command minor psychic powers – and are only visible to their summoner. The character may have up to (Chr / 3) guardian spirits. On the other hand, they can be very annoying, since they WILL harass you, make small requests, and offer unwanted advice.

Guardian Spirits are simply Spirits with an existing interest in you and your well-being. That connection with you makes them easy to reach, to link with, and to anchor to the material world. They usually use the Spirit Template straight, although they (like any spirit) may have invested a few more points in Witchcraft. In other words… this gets you a small squad of (exotic) NPC Aides.

L2: Mentor. Mentors are spirits with similar interests and skills, who want to continue their studies and/or pass on their lore. On the other hand, they have been known to pose bizarre tests, and often have obscure goals of their own. Still, a “mentor” can be excellent teacher and trainer. You only get one mentor.

Mentor Spirits use the basic spirit template (although they very often know a little more witchcraft since they’re usually higher level), but happen to be extremely interested in same topics that you are and are already quite knowledgeable and willing to act as a teacher. That (very literal) sympathetic link lets you contact them – but you only get one because trying to follow that kind of again will just lead you back to the most suitable candidate; the mentor you already have.

In current edition terms, this kind of Mentor is simply an NPC aide.

L3: Lesser Spirit. These are minor spirits which can possess small animals, act as scouts, or animate a dead body. While they have very little power, they can make good servants. A necromancer can keep up to Chr/2 lesser spirits hanging around. Lesser spirits are just those who don’t want to lose touch with the world.

“Lesser” spirits are generally spirits of simple, brute, urges – fading remnants of more sophisticated spirits, or the residuum shed by spirits moving on. They can be drawn in by sympathy with the caster’s own base, material, urges since physicality is one of the things that they value most. Lesser spirits can control animals of up to “small” size, animate corpses of up to medium size, and bring back simple reports about the area nearby.

In current edition terms… “lesser spirits” are spirits with very simple urges and a couple of specialized witchcraft talents to indulge them with – Possession (small animals only, but cheaper to use) and Hand of Shadows (Only to “animate bodies”, but cheap).

L4: Mediumism: This allows the caster to hold a classic seance – calling up a specific spirit who hasn’t any interest in him. This usually requires expending some PSP, especially if the spirit actively doesn’t want to come or wants to refuse to talk or answer. A personal relic or possession helps, acting as a PSP focus.

Mediumism is pretty classic; you use an indirect link – a personal possession or an individual with a link to a spirit – to contact it. Of course the spirit you reach may or may not be cooperative.

So… in current edition terms you can get in touch with an NPC, and even demand their attention – although they’re quite free to resist, be rude, lie, or even ignore or attack you. If you happen to have the proper psychic powers you can try to force them to answer you. The only exotic element here is opening a link to them because they happen to be dead.

L5: General Spirits. While these are given a more “solid” form then lesser spirits, these are basically just people – servants, men-at-arms, and so forth. While they can’t really be slain, they can be disrupted, and will take several days to recover from that. A single necromancer can maintain up to (Chr/3) such “servants” in his employ. General spirits must be called as known individuals, using some relic of their physical lives.

At this point your arcane power is sufficient to embody spirits who don’t need bodies with much of any power-handling capacity, shaping shells for them out of raw ectoplasm. Thus if you liked cake, and had Bob the Baker’s old cap, you could summon up Bob the Baker to make cakes for you. Theoretically you could summon a powerful mage if you had a relic of them – but if they tried to use any of their powerful magic, they’d just blast themselves back to the outer planes – so there’s no point. If all you want to do is talk, and you have a link handy, you can just use Mediumism.

In current edition – or at least Eclipse – terms… you have some ordinary followers who happen to have Returning (they come back as long as you’re around to call them), and so can be hauled along on adventures readily. If your cook gets “killed”… well, he, she, or it will be back to make those tasty meals again in a couple of days.

L6: Spirit Sage. Spirit Sages are simply experts in a field chosen by the caster. Essentially, he is now powerful enough to call up someone with a specific set of skills and knowledge without any other link. This can be very useful in getting advice and such, but the lack of a link means that “sages” always leave in very short order after the consultation.

Spirit Sages take a lot of skill and power to contact because the caster is using a very tenuous link indeed – his or her interest in some problem or piece of information that the “spirit sage” happens to have a good knowledge of. Of course, once you get that information your interest fades – and so does the link, dismissing the Spirit Sage.

In current edition terms… this is more or less “I burn a sixth level spell slot to consult with a knowledgeable NPC”, which seems reasonable enough.

L7: Greater Spirits: “Greater” Spirits are specific individuals, and often powerful ones. They can be give physical bodies to act through, or can go forth on their own as potent wraiths. They will commonly want something in exchange for their services. The necromancer can maintain up to (Chr/6) greater spirits in his employ.

“Greater” Spirits are contacted using nothing more than their name for a link. They’re usually known as “Greater” spirits because no one bothers to use seventh level magic to contact the spirit of Bob the Generic Innkeeper. It’s always the spirit of a deceased emperor or something. Such spirits often have considerably greater powers of “witchcraft” than the spirits of ordinary folk, and so can be quite dangerous if displeased.

In current edition terms, these are higher-level spirits with a specialized version of the “Apparition” witchcraft power (likely among others) – allowing them to take physical form, and thus to use their skills and combat abilities as well as Witchcraft.

L8: Channeling: This application allows the caster to tap the power of a spirit and channel it through himself. It’s wise to contact and bargain with the spirit first.

Classically this is used for things like allowing the murdered king to strike back at his killer, to let a long-dead mage cast some powerful spell, or to temporarily use some power you don’t have by calling on a spirit that does have it.

In current edition terms… you’re basically getting in touch with a spirit and allowing it to partially possess you. And yes, that can be a very bad thing if it doesn’t like you much. Still the Possession ability (Advanced Witchcraft) is pretty common amongst more powerful spirits, and no one bothers with this with Bob the Generic (Whatever) unless (perhaps) it’s a role-playing bit where you use your mighty powers to let Bob make contact with his sad grandchild or some such – and for that you don’t need much power.

L9: Possession: The pinnacle of spirit summoning lets the caster summon up a spirit and place it in a truly living body. Note that damned spirits are extremely trustworthy. The necromancer’s link with them is all that’s keeping them out of hell.

In current edition terms… “hell” isn’t an especially onerous fate for dark spirits; it’s really just an obnoxious pyramid scheme. What you’re really doing here is getting some reasonably loyal spirit-minions with the “Possession” power specialized for long-term use.

Overall, in current edition terms, this metaspell includes getting a lot of spirit-minions and either two spells – “Contact Spirit” and “Channel Spirit” – or some ritualistic talents. As a metaspell it costs 6 CP or one Feat. Can we do something comparable another way?

As it turns out, we certainly can. Take Leadership, with the Exotic Modifier (Spirits), Specialized / relies on the user’s ability to cast higher-level spells, spirit followers only, followers can be temporarily banished in various ways and must thereafter be resummoned, followers are individualized NPC’s and are not always all that cooperative (3 CP) and either two spell formula (Contact Spirit and Channel Spirit, 2 CP for those who prepare spells, 4 CP for spontaneous casters) or Ritual Magic, Specialized and Corrupted for increased effect (can be fast)/spiritualist rituals only, rituals require burning spell slots for power (3 CP). Now, Leadership would require you to be of a slightly higher level at first, but this version calls for a high level of magical power to get the really useful followers – which seems more than fair.

Depending on whether or not you’re a spontaneous caster, and just how you buy it, that package costs 5, 6, or 7 CP – which is certainly comparable to the 6 CP cost of a Metaspell. Ergo, the price is fair enough presuming that the game master is allowing characters to take Leadership. If not… then Spirit Summoning should probably be on the forbidden list as well, since it does almost exactly the same thing.

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4 Responses

  1. At the risk of parsing semantics a little too closely, this seems more like a path than a metaspell.

    I say that because metaspells – as presented in Legends of High Fantasy – seem to have a great deal of flexibility that puts them ahead of domains/paths. These latter options offer a spell at each spell level along a related theme, with the spells themselves usually being (in typical d20 fashion) very strictly limited in what they can do. In essence, buying a domain/path gives you a hard limit of 9 possible effects (or 10 if you throw in a 0-level spell). By contrast, metaspells in LoHF seem to allow for freeform magic, so long as you stay within the metaspell’s theme and pay the requisite spell level for the effect you create. To put it another way, Eclipse seems to imply that domains, paths, and metaspells are all of a piece, but buying access to the sun domain doesn’t seem to be equivalent to buying weather control (LoHF p. 74).

    To that end, seeing spirit summons kept down to a path-like 9 spells exactly seems to make it oddly out-of-step with the LoHF metaspells. Am I examining this too closely, or is there something I’m not seeing?

    • Hm, I should have linked to the weather domain for a better comparison.

    • In this case the trick is simply that you’re looking at the wrong set of headings. Spellweaves have a basic “Cost” of reducing an attribute modifier by one – which equates to 24 CP and doesn’t even make it cheaper to buy the attribute up again. In Eclipse terms each Spellweave thus represents a cluster of related, if more or less limited, metaspells. A single metaspell would be one of the more specific listed aspects of the spellweave – such as Weather Control/Weave the Winds. It’s still freeform, but not as versatile as you’re probably thinking.

      Where a Path has an edge is that the spells on it can have considerably more divergent natures. Thus the Weave the Winds metaspell creates wind. There are a lot of ways to use that – but a “Path of the Winds” might include Guardian Winds (L1, Force Shield), Polar Blast (L2, Cold Blast), Wind Riding (L3, Fly), Form of Wind (L4, Dimension Door), Control Winds (L5), Dissolve to Wind (L6, Disintegrate), Wind Walk (L7), Eyes of the Winds (L8, Prying Eyes, Greater), and Elemental Swarm (L9, Air Only) – giving the user a wide variety of useful effects to draw on. That might be stretching a bit for the sake of a good example, but there are plenty of existing paths with a wide variety of effects shoved into them.

      Spirit Summons is an approximation of course; the original “metaspell” notion was introduced for a specialty necromantic spell list that I wrote up about thirty-five years ago – and since then the terminology and game mechanics have shifted more than a bit.

      And I hope that helps!

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