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Binding and bargaining with spirits (djinn and otherwise)

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  • Binding and bargaining with spirits (djinn and otherwise)

    So, I've been trying to puzzle out the rules for mages who want to summon spirits. HDYDT has been pretty helpful, but I can't help but notice (p. 94) that the pact inevitably comes down to a Willpower vs. Willpower roll.

    Per the M20 corebook (p. 636), earth elementals have Willpower 10. Is it really supposed to be that hard? Or were these two books simply not written with reference to one another? (It makes sense for earth elementals to have a high WP if you think of WP as "how stubborn is this spirit," but I find it hard to imagine that earth elementals were meant to be incredibly difficult to bargain with and air elementals, laughably easy.)

    Does anyone have alternative ideas on how to handle the bargaining process mechanically?

    On a related note, I was reading the classic Lost Paths book for information about the Taftani and djinn. It explains clearly enough what Spheres are required to create a djinn bottle, and how one goes about trapping a djinn. What I'm not sure about is this: what effect is necessary for a Taftani to make sure his djinn servant obeys him when he opens the bottle? Lost Paths makes it sound like negotiating pacts is unnecessary for someone using Solomonic binding techniques, but nothing about the Bottle of Djinn rote suggests that it forces the djinn to obey.

    For that matter, do other types of mages also have ways of keeping summoned spirits in a magic Pokeball until they're needed?

  • #2
    You can fix the base difficulty of the roll then use modifiers depending on the actual bargaining of the player. Conjuring spirits is hard, painful and dangerous. In my opinion, it should be hard if the Mage did not take enough precautions. You can also lower the difficulty as well if the player prepared the summoning correctly with Wards for example, or if the Mage knows the True Name of the spirit. Anything that can increase the authority of the Mage on the spirit can lower the difficulty of the bargaining process.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Jefepato
      It makes sense for earth elementals to have a high WP if you think of WP as "how stubborn is this spirit," but I find it hard to imagine that earth elementals were meant to be incredibly difficult to bargain with and air elementals, laughably easy.
      I see the problem there. Binding spirits it's supposed to be hard, but nothing says that air elementals should be super easy to bind compared with earth elementals. SImilar cases may happen because Willpower in spirits wasn't made with these rules in mind, but rather with the standard combat/interaction rules for spirits in mind.

      I propose two alternatives:

      1º the cannon one: As NicoTheDuck says, you can alter the difficulty. It's worth to note that while magick can lower/increase the difficulty a maximum of -3/+3, no such limitation exists for the Storyteller: Hence you can determine the final difficulty based on any number of factors. The ones mentioned are good for Hermetics but others are easy to device. For instance, you could rule that because earth elementals are so stuborn, it's immensely hard to bind them to do stuff that goes contrary to their purpose or instincts, but greatly lower it if you're binding them to do a task that deviates only sligthly from what they were already doing. On the other hand air elementals are mutable and whimsical, it could be easy to bind them for a short period but you could alter the difficulty if the task the mage needs it's lengthy, or implies to do things that go against such nature (like being trapped in a single room for a long period).

      2º the house rule: Use the relative "power level" of the spirit to determine the dice they have: you could start at 5 for a Gafflin and increase it gradualy. Really powerful spirits (Lords+) should have dicepools beyond 10

      what effect is necessary for a Taftani to make sure his djinn servant obeys him when he opens the bottle? Lost Paths makes it sound like negotiating pacts is unnecessary for someone using Solomonic binding techniques, but nothing about the Bottle of Djinn rote suggests that it forces the djinn to obey.
      It's loosely written, but remember that the spell requires Spirit 4: You're already Binding the spirit (otherwise it just wouldn't go into the bottle). If you're at he point where you can force a migthy and proud spirit to enter a bottle, I would say the djinn it's trougly bound already.

      For that matter, do other types of mages also have ways of keeping summoned spirits in a magic Pokeball until they're needed?
      Sure, if you believe in what you're doing and have the Spheres required by the ST, you can do it. That's the core premise of Mage.

      If a Marauder believes spirits are pokemon...
      Last edited by Aleph; 09-07-2018, 12:28 PM.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Aleph View Post
        I see the problem there. Binding spirits it's supposed to be hard, but nothing says that air elementals should be super easy to bind compared with earth elementals. SImilar cases may happen because Willpower in spirits wasn't made with these rules in mind, but rather with the standard combat/interaction rules for spirits in mind.

        I propose two alternatives:

        1º the cannon one: As NicoTheDuck says, you can alter the difficulty. It's worth to note that while magick can lower/increase the difficulty a maximum of -3/+3, no such limitation exists for the Storyteller: Hence you can determine the final difficulty based on any number of factors. The ones mentioned are good for Hermetics but others are easy to device. For instance, you could rule that because earth elementals are so stuborn, it's immensely hard to bind them to do stuff that goes contrary to their purpose or instincts, but greatly lower it if you're binding them to do a task that deviates only sligthly from what they were already doing. On the other hand air elementals are mutable and whimsical, it could be easy to bind them for a short period but you could alter the difficulty if the task the mage needs it's lengthy, or implies to do things that go against such nature (like being trapped in a single room for a long period).

        2º the house rule: Use the relative "power level" of the spirit to determine the dice they have: you could start at 5 for a Gafflin and increase it gradualy. Really powerful spirits (Lords+) should have dicepools beyond 10
        Option 2 seems more reasonable to me. There probably should be a modifier based on whether the service you're requesting suits the spirit's nature, but I wouldn't think the base difficulty for binding an earth elemental should be any higher than for an air elemental.

        Originally posted by Aleph View Post
        It's loosely written, but remember that the spell requires Spirit 4: You're already Binding the spirit (otherwise it just wouldn't go into the bottle). If you're at he point where you can force a migthy and proud spirit to enter a bottle, I would say the djinn it's trougly bound already.
        Fair enough. It just seems pretty easy for the mage; if I'm reading this right, a Taftani can create the djinn bottle as an extended action (which is coincidental), and then the unfortunate djinn gets to roll Gnosis once against however many successes the mage built up over the course of their bottle-crafting rote.

        I dunno. I guess the Taftani wouldn't deal with djinn all the time if they couldn't do so semi-reliably -- and the same reasoning apples to every other magical tradition that summons spirits -- but this seems excessive. (I mean, learning Spirit 4 isn't easy, but once you have the required traits it's not too hard.) Certainly, it seems easier than spirit-binding has been portrayed as in HDYDT -- pitting an extended action against one roll is much safer than going Willpower vs. Willpower.

        Is Gods, Monsters, and Familiar Strangers expected to have more information on this sort of business?

        Originally posted by Aleph View Post
        Sure, if you believe in what you're doing and have the Spheres required by the ST, you can do it. That's the core premise of Mage.

        If a Marauder believes spirits are pokemon...
        Just about any Marauder concept based around "thinks he's playing a game" works out very nicely.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Jefeato
          I dunno. I guess the Taftani wouldn't deal with djinn all the time if they couldn't do so semi-reliably -- and the same reasoning apples to every other magical tradition that summons spirits -- but this seems excessive. (I mean, learning Spirit 4 isn't easy, but once you have the required traits it's not too hard.) Certainly, it seems easier than spirit-binding has been portrayed as in HDYDT -- pitting an extended action against one roll is much safer than going Willpower vs. Willpower.
          True. Keep in mind that Lost Paths was written a LOT before HDYDT. In those primitive ages turning a vampire into a lawnchair was fairly easy compared with now too . If you like the rules of HDYDT better, feel free to actualize the rote. It trully is a relic from ancient times, and usually newer rules override old ones in RPG

          However while the rules for binding spirits of HDYDT achieve what they intend to do (to make spirit binding a risky endeavor), they are the odd ones in this case.
          99% of the time in Mage you can overcome problems by doing a ritual and gathering enough successes: Want to turn a vampire into a lawnchair and worry her natural counterspelling will ruin your fun?, pile up 10 extra successes and that "savign throw" isn't going to cut it. Want to one shot a tank?, cast a ritual storing enough successes/Arete to do so and freeze it in time with Time 4.
          Usually how hard it's to do something in Mage it's based on how many successes you need, how big it's the difficulty, and how many Sphere Levels you need (as determined by the ST).
          I could say that binding a Lord it's a godlike feat worth 50 ritual successes and has a +3 to difficulty because it's outlandish, for instance. Subsidiary rolls are rare. You don't need to pit your Willpower against an Elder Vampire to control his mind, after all, you just need to roll some successes at an outrageous difficulty (if you use HDYDT, previous editions hadn't such increase in difficutly). Taftany rote borrows on that general rule, but of course you should choose whatever rule better swits your tastes

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          • #6
            The Willpower roll can be made more manageable. RPing an interaction with a spirit is important; if you can prove that you've put it into a position where you hold a lot of power over it, then the Willpower roll won't matter much.

            So for example, with an Avatar rating of 5 you can be sure the spirit knows it will struggle to harm you directly. If it can't escape immediately then it knows you have some time to hurt it. And since you've called upon it you likely have the power to harm it. And it won't ever truly be destroyed, but it doesn't want to have all of its essence stolen. Many spirits would rather play ball than be forced.

            The Willpower rolls are there for situations where the spirit actually requires subjugation; this is more of a Hermetical first resort.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Aleph View Post
              True. Keep in mind that Lost Paths was written a LOT before HDYDT. In those primitive ages turning a vampire into a lawnchair was fairly easy compared with now too . If you like the rules of HDYDT better, feel free to actualize the rote. It trully is a relic from ancient times, and usually newer rules override old ones in RPG
              The rules for Night-Folk counterspelling are a little weird; it seems like even a novice vampire could have more dice to counterspell than an equivalent mage actually has to cast. I don't want mages to trivialize everyone else in the World of Darkness, but I'm not sure if the current rules are the best way to deal with it.

              Originally posted by Aleph View Post
              However while the rules for binding spirits of HDYDT achieve what they intend to do (to make spirit binding a risky endeavor), they are the odd ones in this case.
              99% of the time in Mage you can overcome problems by doing a ritual and gathering enough successes: Want to turn a vampire into a lawnchair and worry her natural counterspelling will ruin your fun?, pile up 10 extra successes and that "savign throw" isn't going to cut it. Want to one shot a tank?, cast a ritual storing enough successes/Arete to do so and freeze it in time with Time 4.
              Usually how hard it's to do something in Mage it's based on how many successes you need, how big it's the difficulty, and how many Sphere Levels you need (as determined by the ST).
              I could say that binding a Lord it's a godlike feat worth 50 ritual successes and has a +3 to difficulty because it's outlandish, for instance. Subsidiary rolls are rare. You don't need to pit your Willpower against an Elder Vampire to control his mind, after all, you just need to roll some successes at an outrageous difficulty (if you use HDYDT, previous editions hadn't such increase in difficutly). Taftany rote borrows on that general rule, but of course you should choose whatever rule better swits your tastes
              Honestly, I wouldn't mind some kind of middle ground. The HDYDT rules are a little trickier than I'd like, but I would prefer if players can't keep a djinn under control indefinitely by doing just one extended casting.

              Maybe some kind of rule where doing all the proper research and preparation (according to the mage's paradigm etc.) reduces the mage's difficulty in the Contest of Wills? HDYDT describes a lot of steps that a well-prepared mage takes during the summoning process, but none of them actually seem to directly affect the final chances of a successful negotiation.

              (Much like in Exalted, I assume that if I end up with a summoning-happy player, I'm going to need to set some kind of limit on how many spirits they can carry around.)

              Originally posted by 11twiggins View Post
              The Willpower roll can be made more manageable. RPing an interaction with a spirit is important; if you can prove that you've put it into a position where you hold a lot of power over it, then the Willpower roll won't matter much.

              So for example, with an Avatar rating of 5 you can be sure the spirit knows it will struggle to harm you directly. If it can't escape immediately then it knows you have some time to hurt it. And since you've called upon it you likely have the power to harm it. And it won't ever truly be destroyed, but it doesn't want to have all of its essence stolen. Many spirits would rather play ball than be forced.

              The Willpower rolls are there for situations where the spirit actually requires subjugation; this is more of a Hermetical first resort.
              If I'm reading HDYDT right, it seems to be saying that you need the Willpower roll even if you're making a pact to mutual benefit (as opposed to strong-arming the spirit into compliance).

              Which is weird. You'd think friendly(ish) negotiation would be some kind of Charisma/Manipulation+whatever roll (difficulty based on how good a bargain you're offering), or something.

              I guess it's not that hard (as ST) to come up with some appropriate response, but I was wondering if anyone has experience dealing with PCs who dealt with spirits, and how it worked out.

              Thanks for the advice!

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              • #8
                Also, I can't help but notice: the merit Celestial Affinity (Book of Secrets p. 70) gives the mage a reduced difficulty on "summoning and negotiation" rolls for one category of spirit, but notably not on attempts to bind or ward against the spirits.

                I'm not sure how to interpret that, since whether the Contest of Wills (HDYDT p. 94-95) is a "negotiation" or a "binding" is pretty vague -- or arguably, it depends on how polite the mage is. >_>

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Jefepato View Post
                  Also, I can't help but notice: the merit Celestial Affinity (Book of Secrets p. 70) gives the mage a reduced difficulty on "summoning and negotiation" rolls for one category of spirit, but notably not on attempts to bind or ward against the spirits.

                  I'm not sure how to interpret that, since whether the Contest of Wills (HDYDT p. 94-95) is a "negotiation" or a "binding" is pretty vague -- or arguably, it depends on how polite the mage is. >_>
                  Negotiation includes the kind where you're pointing a magical nuke at them. No harm in the merit working.

                  I think M20 is scared of PCs controlling spirits honestly. The rules talk about good relationships with spirits being important and RP affecting things, and then you're told that activating a Fetish is always Willpower difficulty of their Gnosis. This is meant to represent you forcing the item to work, but that feels like it should only apply if the spirit is uncooperative.

                  So yeah M20 kind of assumes that spirits aren't cooperative. Perhaps because they don't want you to access an infinite list of static powers by being polite. M20 also makes Vampires and Werewolves uncooperative, so perhaps this is just par for the course.

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                  • #10
                    Well yeah, Spirits aren't well integrated in Ascension. I generally assume that using appropriate techniques helps in that regard. So a Hermetic summoning an angel, or a planetary spirit, would have reduced difficulties by using appropriate Occult+Intelligence rolls, more reductions using true (or at least traditional) name for the spirit. offering proper gifts lowers difficulty further. I do not assume you often actually force a powerful spirits to obey, rather contest of wills is sort of ritual and greeting test by some umbrood. However, for every elemental, angel and hell lord there is a host of smaller spirits (here's where Ranks would be useful) and those guys with WP~3 are the ones that get commanded by mages on the fly. If you are trying to bend over a major being, show a curtesy of researching effective methods against it to lower difficulty, otherwise it would be a chess of infinite umbral armies, not ascension war.

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                    • #11
                      There's a lot to be said for following Tradition with Spirits. When they show up they expect you to follow a certain formal undertaking. That's why the Union's experiments in "shamanism" (not that they'd ever call it that) fail so spectacularly. They don't make offerings, and they'd never feel right "dressing for the occasion" to do something the EDE is used to.

                      M20 even has a passage about this. Technocrats don't often make offerings to spirits or give polite honorifics, which will only evoke a response like "looks like you pesky mortals have forgotten the old ways... how about I teach you some manners?" from certain powerful spirits.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by 11twiggins View Post
                        There's a lot to be said for following Tradition with Spirits. When they show up they expect you to follow a certain formal undertaking. That's why the Union's experiments in "shamanism" (not that they'd ever call it that) fail so spectacularly. They don't make offerings, and they'd never feel right "dressing for the occasion" to do something the EDE is used to.

                        M20 even has a passage about this. Technocrats don't often make offerings to spirits or give polite honorifics, which will only evoke a response like "looks like you pesky mortals have forgotten the old ways... how about I teach you some manners?" from certain powerful spirits.
                        So, here's something I've been wondering: which parts of the traditional rituals are important? The Order of Hermes could probably fill a dozen libraries with all the proper methods and formalities of summoning each type of spirit, but how much of that is what the spirit itself values, and how much is just the Hermetic paradigm's notion of "this is how you cast spirit-calling magick?"

                        Suppose you're a Hollow One who uses gutter magick and has no patience for pompous Hermetic nonsense. Your ritual circle is drawn in your little brother's leftover crayon, and inscribed with your favorite e e cummings poem instead of the ceremonial names of angels or something. But you still present an offering of Tass (in the form of an imbued cup of coffee) and address the spirit respectfully, because you're not a complete idiot. Will the spirits tolerate this sort of thing, or is it going to end in blood and tears?

                        (Also: you'd think the Technocracy of all people would understand that they need to offer value for value. Why can't the Syndicate, who are all about money and economics, figure out a modern way to hire a spirit for a job?)

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Jefepato View Post

                          So, here's something I've been wondering: which parts of the traditional rituals are important? The Order of Hermes could probably fill a dozen libraries with all the proper methods and formalities of summoning each type of spirit, but how much of that is what the spirit itself values, and how much is just the Hermetic paradigm's notion of "this is how you cast spirit-calling magick?"

                          Suppose you're a Hollow One who uses gutter magick and has no patience for pompous Hermetic nonsense. Your ritual circle is drawn in your little brother's leftover crayon, and inscribed with your favorite e e cummings poem instead of the ceremonial names of angels or something. But you still present an offering of Tass (in the form of an imbued cup of coffee) and address the spirit respectfully, because you're not a complete idiot. Will the spirits tolerate this sort of thing, or is it going to end in blood and tears?

                          (Also: you'd think the Technocracy of all people would understand that they need to offer value for value. Why can't the Syndicate, who are all about money and economics, figure out a modern way to hire a spirit for a job?)
                          I imagine that the HollowOne ritual would work fine for lower ranked spirits, as they're less likely to care and more willing to take what they can get.

                          High ranking spirits have a level of history though, they have entire concepts that they govern and have watched the rise and fall of many civilizations that it has had deep relations with. They're more likely to have codified traditions they respect both for themselves and the people they established them with, and expect nothing less from a mage hoping to summon them. Would you expect the archangel Gabriel or the fallen Lucifer to show up personally to any would-be summoning by an abrahamic hermetic? Would you expect the Thor of the Aesir to show up because a Hollow one based their summoning off a marvel comic they read once? I say NO, with as much emphasis and finality as can be communicated. Big spirits like that don't come to you on your terms, you come to them on their's with the proper offerings and respect if you want even a Chance at their blessings.

                          Originally posted by 11twiggins View Post
                          There's a lot to be said for following Tradition with Spirits. When they show up they expect you to follow a certain formal undertaking. That's why the Union's experiments in "shamanism" (not that they'd ever call it that) fail so spectacularly. They don't make offerings, and they'd never feel right "dressing for the occasion" to do something the EDE is used to.

                          M20 even has a passage about this. Technocrats don't often make offerings to spirits or give polite honorifics, which will only evoke a response like "looks like you pesky mortals have forgotten the old ways... how about I teach you some manners?" from certain powerful spirits.
                          I'd like to point out that as @Jefepato has reasoned, there really shouldn't be much problem for the syndicate or void engineers hiring the right kinds of spirits to their side. In fact, given our modern worlds current developements, the umbra should be teeming with such spirits as the reflections of team projects and office meeting echo through the fabric of the umbra. Not every spirit is a shamanistic reflection of animistic traditions, The umbra is a multifaceted realm of infinite complexity and limitless possibilities. It has as much right being filled with friendly aliens, parallel worlds, and hypertech realms as it is being filled with the usual angels, demons, gods, spirits, and existential concepts the traditions deal with.

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