Shadowrun Spirit Imbuement

Spirit Imbuement in Shadowrun


   A variety of spirits can possess people, granting them increased abilities and supernatural powers – but dominating them. A few free spirits can invest a portion of their energies in a host, leaving it free but granting it substantial powers. Naturally enough, there have been various attempts to duplicate this effect in a more controlled fashion.

   Spirit Imbuement is an advanced metamagical summoning technique which simply binds a spirit into a host permanently, fusing the two together while – hopefully – leaving the host in charge. Unfortunately, this restricts the spirits which may be used. Machine, Blood, Entity, and Primal spirits are incompatible with mortal spirits, and swiftly destroy their hosts. Insect spirits absorb their hosts, Watchers, Zombies, and Allies are absorbed by their hosts, Nature spirits fade away as the host moves through various domains, Loa grow stronger and stronger until they dominate their hosts (and eventually overload and burn out their bodies), and spirits of Light and Darkness tend to subsume the host’s physical body into the astral plane.

   That leaves Animal and Elemental spirits. Both work, but Elemental spirits require special magical adaptions to the host body, usually requiring that the host possess either a special talent or be permanently augmented by an adaptive spell. Otherwise the host body will eventually be subsumed into an elemental mass and die – although such unfortunates often seem to display vast elemental power in their last few hours. Animal spirits – especially those with vertebrate, and preferably warm-blooded, templates – work best of all.

   Unfortunately, permanently binding a spirit into a mortal body greatly dilutes the flow of magic through it. The recipient does get some power however – and various disadvantages. They may also be overwhelmed by the spirit’s mind.


If you want to try this out, you’ll need to:

  1. Find a Conjurer who knows the technique. This requires a fairly high-level initiate with plenty of power to start with, and is usually something they’ve personally researched, rather than anything commonly known. In the original game where this came up, Satchel – an enhanced and experienced player-character summoning specialist – was the first to develop the technique; he was attempting to duplicate the accidental absorption of a mass of spiritual energy which had enhanced him – albeit at a price. The conjurer’s fee is open to negotiation, but is likely to be high.

  2. Undergo the ritual. This requires 1000 NY worth of materials per force point of the spirit to be used and is generally pretty embarrassing: the recipient has to have mystical diagrams drawn all over them and must be – at least symbolically – bound physically, as their body will bind the spirit. For elementals, they should be spread-eagled in a pentagram – suspended in the air, laying on the earth, laying in a pool of water, or with large fires about, as appropriate to the type of spirit to be bound into them. For animal spirits, they should be put in an appropriate posture. In most cases that’s on all fours or draped over something with their arms and legs drawn down, but if someone really wants to use a snake, bird, or other exotic spirit, the conjurer will just have to use his or her imagination.

  3. For elementals, have the transformation spell applied and rendered permanent and hope you live through the body check (Target = Spirit Force, +1 for Fire, -1 for Water). Otherwise you die. For Animal Spirits make an opposed Willpower check versus the (Spirit’s Force – 2). If you win, start applying the modifiers below. If you lose, they still apply – but the animal mind is in charge, permanently (and the character’s astral form becomes that of the relevant animal). Unfortunately, in either case, the spirit’s merged with you, and will benefit from any general effects that benefit you. Karma cannot be used by either side as it’s now a common pool. External support by a skilled Witch or Telepath may help one side or the other.

   Characters who lose to animal spirits can be restored to sentience by neural manipulation, telepathy, and shock treatment (at the same cost as the initial ritual), but must be pretty thoroughly dominated and controlled for a long time to make it stick – and they’ll always be a compromise personality with an animalistic side. In effect, they become an NPC who belongs to someone for a long time. The character is out of play. Females are sterile as well, since the physical-astral mismatch is fatal to a developing fetus (this is also why an artificial womb is not possible in Shadowrun and clones have no minds). Older characters tend to be less adaptable, if over 30 (or equivalent) they take a 1-die penalty on their roll. Children usually come through best.


4a) Apply Animal Spirit Modifiers:

  • Acquire the disadvantages of Dual Natured (characters who are already dual natured cannot be imbued with spirits, since there’s nowhere to put them), Bestial Instincts (characters who already have bestial instincts automatically lose the contest of wills), double the essence costs of Cyberware (if this takes your essence below 0, you die), take Limited or Nonexistent Legal Rights, and reduce all Karma awards by one-half (for winners) or to one per session (for losers).

  • The game master distributes (Force) points among the character’s physical attributes according to the animal type.

  • Increase the character’s magic priority level by +6 points, to a maximum of 30.

  • The character heals at (1 + Force/3) times the normal rate and gains immunity to aging, pathogens, and toxins at a rating of (Force/2 + 1). Unfortunately, this also interferes with beneficial agents.

  • Gain (Force) minor animal modifications. Typical modifications include (several) Heightened Senses, +1D6 on Initiative, +1 to the Running Multiplier, Innate Armor 1, Claws, Fur (Become resistant to cold), and so on. As a rule, those who lose the war of Wills get more physical modifications, those who win mostly get invisible enhancements. The ritualist can opt to add up to (Force/2) extra cosmetic modifications if this is desired.


4b) Apply Elemental Spirit Modifiers:

  • Acquire the disadvantages of Dual Natured (characters who are already dual natured cannot be imbued with spirits, since there’s nowhere to put them), a +2 penalty on all target numbers dealing with advanced technology, double the essence costs of Cyberware (if this takes your essence below 0, you die), and reduce all Karma awards by two-thirds (for winners) or to one per session (for losers).

  • Add (Force) points to one physical attribute and (Force/2) to the other two. Add +2 to a mental attribute (which depends on the type of elemental. Earth: Willpower, Fire: Charisma, Air: Intelligence, and Water: Charisma).

  • Gain access to the elemental’s powers.

  • Gain Hardened Armor at (Force/2), and Immunity to Pathogens and Toxins at (force). Unfortunately, this also reduces the effect of beneficial compounds and nanoware.

  • Increase the character’s magic priority level by +6 points, to a maximum of 30.

  • The character will require a permanently-active especially-designed transformation spell or a spirit-channeling power to survive. If this is ever cancelled out add +1 to the effective spirit force and subtract one box from their condition monitor after 24 hours, then after another 12, then 6, and so on, until they die or get another spell and return to normal.


   Satchel was cold and ruthless, but not monstrous. In general he charged 25,000 to imbue someone with a Force-4 (or less) Spirit of their choice (almost entirely safe), 10,000 for Force-5 (pretty good odds), and nothing for force 6-8. He didn’t accept children under 10 unless they were seriously crippled or dying of something and needed the enhanced healing to survive, in which case they got a free force-4 spirit, since they really weren’t getting a free choice, and made sure that everyone was warned on the odds and what would happen to them if they went animalistic. Of course if they did go animalistic, he assumed ownership and had them brought back to sentience with the cheapest methods he could find – some fairly brutal conditioning and shock treatment. Afterwards he rented them out, estimating that – after about twenty years – they should be stable enough to start getting treated like normal people again. Until then, why not make a profit?

   He also obtained a steady trickle of incorrigible juvenile delinquents, junior felons, young thieves, and embarrassments through his corporate, city, and personal connections. He set up a review board: any who were reformable, or who really hadn’t done anything except be kids, could opt out of the program and be employees or get force-4 spirits and be employees (they could go for higher force at the usual odds if they wanted). He normally rented those who went animalistic back to his connections on long-term contracts. He tried to hold out against agreements which called for getting them back as outright property – unless the kids were likely to be killed rather than being turned over to him otherwise. He figured better a valuable piece of property than a cheap one or deceased.


   While Satchel’s experiments did indicate that, since the changes would be inherited, his business would eventually tend to break up the human race into animalistic tribes, they also showed that the hypothetical tribes should remain interfertile, and thus one species, that the general level of magical potential and health would go up, that his subjects were immune to VITAS, and that they were (like all-dual natured entities) immune to further possession – such as by more insect spirits and related menaces. Just as importantly, it broke them free of the Necromancer Kings (a campaign-specific element from the last age of magic), greatly extended their lifespans, and greatly reduced the human war potential (which he thought was pretty important). Overall, he felt that he was doing more good than most people did.

11 Responses

  1. J: About the elemental spirit binding: are the problems resulting in the merger primarily due to (a) people doing something really screwy and insane and (b) an imperfect bond?

    T: Mostly its that the spirit tends to shape the body. A human body can readily handle, say, having heavier hair, bones, and bearlike claws. It doesn’t work so well when the liver keeps catching fire.

    J: …Which goes back to point (b)? That is, things simply aren’t sorted out properly even with a spell to keep it fm going totally out-of-whack?

    T: It’s more that things really can’t be sorted out properly by any known technique. Elemental body-patterns simply aren’t compatible with life as we know it. We can meld parts from different organisms with cross-species genetic transfers, transplants, and so on. No one’s ever successfully melded a functioning organism with a rock. The adaption spell both protects the body against the elemental effects and lets the body keep working around the rough spots. Without it, the elemental form tends to break down and absorb the human body – growing at its expense and becoming more powerful.

    J: Which actually makes me think of a few things. See, if that’s the problem, I wonder if it can’t be harnessed for gain instead of, well, killing you.

    T: Yes, you could try to stabilize at partway along the burnout cycle. It would be bad for your life expectancy and create a few other problems if you kept it up long-term, but it’s quite possible.

    J: That wasn’t what I had in mind. I was thinking, since the elemental half tended to want to absorb the human half, what’s the problem?

    T: It’s because it absorbs both the physical body and the human portion of the mind/spirit. Becoming an elemental is possible via metamorphosis, doing it this way just results in an elemental with some vague memories left over from the bonded period.

    J: Well, that’s kinda what I was wondering. Can this be the accelerated process, jumping to a much higher force than otherwise? Secondarily, can’t the elemental form then reverse the process with magic, making a temporary human body to use and possess?

    T: Yes, a free spirit elemental may be able to make a humanoid form to occupy: the human mind would still be dead and gone.

    J: Why?

    T: The spirit departs once too much of the neural structure is destroyed or changed: you can bind it to a talisman though, just like making a cyberzombie.

    J: Can’t people use Metamorphosis to become an elemental/free spirit?

    T: They can: that can transform their body and spirit, it isn’t trying to anchor it in another body – which is what the elemental has.

    J: If someone attains an elemental form, can they use magic to make a human body to work through?

    T: Yes: all the free spirit powers can be duplicated with spells.

    J: And a character could speed up the transition to elemental form with the spirit binding?

    T: Not normally: having an example internally won’t really change your spirit any faster. It probably wouldn’t help the body change any faster either really: the elemental is destroying it, not really transforming it.

    J: Nothing in life for free, huh?

    T: Not really, no. Sorry.

    J: Why, precisely, does elemental bonding eat up your Karma? If the elemental aspect isn’t actually using it, where does it go?

    T: It’s harder to gather spiritual energy because you’re already overcharged. Spirits don’t normally get karma of their own, so bonding with one cuts way down on the acquisiton rate. That’s why it matters whether or not it’s dominant. In practical terms, that usually means that a spirit-bonded character gets an immediate boost at the expense of their future potential for growth. Now, if they weren’t really planning a career of danger, adventure, and getting lots of Karma, it may be well worth it – or if they were weak to start with and wouldn’t have survived without a boost.

    J: Another question: what would/did the spirits themselves say about this? Not just the little ones, but the Totems. I would think that Shamans would consider this an abomination, since it ties someone to the wrong totem (probably).

    T: Well, totems basically have no relationship to animal spirits. Animal spirits are like minor elementals: shaped from astral energy according to a pattern. Elementals are patterned on human notions of elemental energy, watchers on their creators mind, and animal spirits on animals. They’re like nature spirits; not really individuals unless or until they’re kept around a long time and develop experiences and minds of their own.

    J: That wasn’t what I asked. I asked what the totems would think about binding someone (whom, as far as they’re concerned, is a relative) to someone./something else which is not.

    T: About the same as they think of Cyberware: animal spirits are not relatives of totems, they’re constructs.

    J: You misunderstand; I was considering the human to be the relative.

    T: Ah, basically just like cyberware – unnatural, but not really their concern. Bind to a construct of metal, bind to a construct of astral energy, use dangerous drugs – all about the same to them. Is all that any help?

    J: I had been thinking about a character who was trying to become, well, something like an Exalt – human and fire elemental all at the same time. However, since he’d need considerable karma to pay for magical abilities, including initiations and enchanting, it seems unlikely to work.

    T: Well, the easiest way is the initiation-metamorphosis route.

    J: But that basically means that he’d never be able to afford the enchanting. Initiation soaks up karma faster than a sponge.

    T: You could probably do most of the metamorphosis with a few levels of pre-game initiation. Call it “exaltation” and just go on from there.

    J: It was kinda supposed to be the upgrade for the character who started as a neuroborg, once he got his body back.

    T: Ah. Tricky there, since that’s sort of starting over.

    J: Yup. Although, technically, once he’s no longer a neuroborg, what happens to his race pick?

    T: Hm. It’s never really come up. You’d presumably get most of those points back, which would be enough to convert to a fairly powerful magician-type and possibly pay for a few levels of initiation. You could take them to start with and just call them “Latent” (and thus cheaper).

    J: Well, that would work. I’d have to switch some disadvantages around, though. If you buy Neuroborg as race, do you also have to pay the cash cost or take it as “Freeware”?

    T: Generally no.

    J: Oh, oddly enough it seems that being a neroborg still gives you “base” physical attributes. I take it, that for no particular reason, these are permanent?

    T: Yes. And no, there is no good reason for that outside of the fact that being changed back from a neuroborg is rare enough that I’ve never written any rules for it. After all, it would essentially be a near-total character rewrite.

    J: Hehe. I understand. It just seems odd that neuroborgs can increase their strength with karma.

    T: True enough: Most of them have stuck with mental improvements for just that reason.

  2. Ah, the memories. That was a fun game. And I like that, “but not monstrous”. I’ll have to remember that, next time someone tells me one of my pc’s is a jerk (to use work safe terms), I can respond with ‘I’m not a monster’.

    And actually the free trial for the higher spirits was also in part because I figured stupidity should hurt, just a little. And if your willing to take that kind of suicidal risk for a quick grab at power, it was probably best you be on a leash…

    • Indeed it was a fun game – even if it was really annoying to the players who set up an elaborate plot to eliminate Satchel to find that he’d moved to South American months before and had left an allied spirit in his place. Of course, it was months before they found out that their plot had failed.

      And I’d assumed as much with the free version – and that it was partially because, when he wound up owning almost everyone who tried a high-force spirit, he could make his money on them by renting them out.

      And nice to hear from you on the blog again.

  3. Nice saying hi again. Though if your going with Thoth, I might have to go with an Egyptian name as well. How about Khnum? Seems somewhat appropriate with my propensity for making the endless horde of new characters.

  4. im in a shadowrun champain im runing a psyical adept (tank melee)
    throughout gameplay I surged and got infected with vampireism and then the gm gave me addiction to a drug that takes me to the astral plain Is there a way that is my body dies while im astral I can become a free spirit or make a spirit pack with a pitir and use there posssesion and take a new body?

    • As far as I can make out, you’re already well out there in house rules territory (although you haven’t mentioned the edition, and I haven’t bothered with much of the newer material for fourth edition).

      Personally, I’d tell you “Yes” since I posted the rules for that years ago. You want the “Path of Spirit Transformation” section under Metamorphosis on the basic Advanced Metamagic page here:

      Your game master may or may not agree of course.

  5. for laughs Ill give you the lowdown on this.
    I was new to shadowrun so I had an expienced player make up the bace. phy adept minotaur with vampire infection allergic to sun mild. special diet metahuman skin. str is14, body 14, int 1 will 2, logic 1
    uncouth, gremlins 3: deltaware bonelacing. crti strike 9 killing hands 9
    melee skill group , mystic armour 10 helm,riot shield mil spec armour form fitting and a vest : way of the warrior. ok thats not all the stats but you get the idea.
    then after 5 games I collected all my karma and surge and took shiva arms 2 gvineg me 6 arms, elongated arms extending my reach bace to 2. scales and glowing red eyes. demal improvment can’t rememer what one. and for fun combat monster. this is a fun guy to have around.If you would like insight into some of his greatest moments let me know they are funny

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