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  • Supporting Spirit mages

    I'd like advice on how to support a Spirit mage in my game, which largely takes place in urban settings with high Gauntlet strength.

    I've always had trouble wrapping my mind around spirits and Spirit magic. Generally the other Arcana have spells with fairly straight-forward mechanical consequences spelled out in the text. Spirit is more like... "Feed a spirit resonance points equal to Potency and hope something good happens." There are multiple spells that are focused on various strategies to get spirits to cooperate with the mage. My intuition is that Spirit is in many ways like Mind and Life had a baby that can only target spirits. So you get spells along the lines of "Emotional Urging, but for spirits." and "Honing the Form, but for spirits." There's also a subset of spells focused on making spirits more accessible so you can use the spells that affect them.

    First, it seems that to accommodate a Spirit mage, I need to roll up some spirits and have them in my back pocket. They're basically like the NPC characters or animals that a Mind or Life mage would interact with. Just like I plan people and animals for a scene, I need to plan spirits. Spirit mages seem sort of like a "pet class" that derive their power from collecting, controlling, and grooming minions -- these are long-term relationships that take a lot of effort to build.

    Which brings me to my second thought: I need to address the additional foreplay that a Spirit mage requires to bring the bulk of his spells to bear, particularly in an urban setting. To affect a spirit across the Gauntlet, Spirit spells have to punch through a double-whammy of Withstand: the Gauntlet strength plus the spirit's rank. There's a penalty for viewing the spirit remotely on the other side of the Gauntlet. It seems to me that interacting with Spirits on the other side of the Gauntlet (which seems like the common case?) requires a lot of time and preparation: the dice pool needs to be as large as possible and the Spirit mage needs to cast several preparatory spells to locate spirits and make them more accessible.

    Suppose you had a mage with Spirit 3 and Gnosis 2 who wants to make friends with a spirit of battle so as to have an ally in a future fight. What are the hoops (spells) you'd make that guy jump through? It seems like it could either be very simple, or very complicated. Either I say "Oh, there's a relevant spirit in Twilight, lucky you!" and it's pretty straightforward, or I say "Okay, find a place with the right resonance, deal with Gauntlet Strength 5, summon it, make yourself able to perceive it across the Gauntlet, inspect it to make sure it's got useful Numina and Rank, cast spells to make friends with it, draw it into Twilight. You'll probably need to relinquish some spells. See you in a few days."

    What do you do in your games?

  • #2
    Originally posted by galivet View Post
    Spirit spells have to punch through a double-whammy of Withstand: the Gauntlet strength plus the spirit's rank.
    I don't have the book on me but in case of multiple Withstand ratings don't you take the highest one and add 1 for every additional source of Withstand? I think in this case the total Withstand would be the higher among Gauntlet +1 and Rank + 1.

    Find my Homebrew Fangs of Mara 2ed update Here


    • #3
      Originally posted by Teatime View Post
      I don't have the book on me but in case of multiple Withstand ratings don't you take the highest one and add 1 for every additional source of Withstand? I think in this case the total Withstand would be the higher among Gauntlet +1 and Rank + 1.
      At the quoted (accurate or not) Gauntlet strength of 5 that is going to be 6 Withstand, regardless.

      Unless they find a Loci, or manipulate the Gauntlet strength with other spells.

      Malkydel: "And the Machine dictated; let there be adequate illumination."
      Yossarian: "And lo, it was optimal."


      • #4
        Spirit can be a tricky Arcanum to learn, but it's a lot of fun once you have the intuition down.

        First, a thing to know about spirits is that they exist in a pyramid, with Rank 0 spirits by far more abundant than Rank 1, which are by far more abundant than Rank 2, and so on.

        Spirits of Rank 0 or 1 aren't usually sapient, at least not in any human sense, which is why Rank 1 spirits use animal rules for calculating defense. What this means is, for the majority of spirits, you don't need to devise rules at all. Even for sapient spirits, I would say just use the Horror rules and give them (Rank + 5) dice in stuff they're supposed to be good at, and (Rank + 8) dice in stuff they're supposed to be really good at. Throw in a few small powers for flourish and you're done.

        Generally speaking, that's as much as you need it for, since most Rank 1 spirits are sufficient for the purposes of a Thyrsus, and aren't usually intelligent enough to hold more than a fleeting grudge against the intrusion of the Awakened. Bigger, more potent spirits are another story entirely.

        In terms of your Mage seeking a battle spirit's assistance, it's as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. If a player wants it to be simple, I'd give them and their allies a Condition to represent the spirit's blessing, possibly along with a Ban, just to make it easy. Have them roll some dice to represent persuading the spirit, give them that if they succeed, have them take injuries or be cursed if they dramatically fail.

        If you want to make it complicated, it's suddenly its own side story. The Mage doesn't just need the right Resonance; they need a place that Resonance has existed consistently for a long period of time. They need to then enter the Shadow, find the court of the spirit they're after, and strike a bargain. I wouldn't make them work too hard at this part; assume spirits of a given type just tend to have certain Numina unless you expressly want a given power to be rare. For example, if the player wants a flame spirit that can breathe fire, maybe most flame spirits have the Blast Numen.

        Once you're in the Shadow, you're dealing with a game of occult politics and, here, my advice is the same as it always is: Make the reward and the cost coincide as much as possible. If the battle spirit wants the bargaining sorcerer to kill enemies with an ax, have it give them a magic ax that wielding makes them an absolute badass in a fight. If you want spirits actually coming along for the fight, let them drag the defeated foes back to the Shadow to "play" with. Don't make it free - maybe a part of the ax's power is that it sends you into a berserk rage that makes it hard to tell friend from foe, and letting spirits drag screaming victims away should likely be a Wisdom sin, regardless of whether they're assholes or not - but don't have the player sigh and groan at having to do a task that is, to them, meaningless to get the benefit they actually want.

        Spirit, like Death, is a very situational Arcanum. It won't come up all the time as the primary motive force, but it has a lot of uses for Mages looking for an edge, and for exploring Mysteries associated with Resonance, the Shadow, and consequences.


        • #5
          What I've done for my games is expand Spirit's purview to include people's primal emotions and instincts. Spirit is the Arcanum of repercussions, after all, and souls have a Spirit component within them. This means Spirit can also shift dots in Social Attributes and Skills (changing Mind spells a bit so that they can only affect the Social Traits with Reach, making Mind to be more about articulated thoughts and intelligence rather than raw emotions) and inflict emotionally-related Conditions and Tilts. I've also made rules for Spirit Resonances to affect people in an area, and spells to allow Spirit mages to determine the particular reaction people have to those Resonances or even changing the Resonances entirely.

          That, and also allow Spirit spells to affect any type of ephemeral entity (barring non-Spirit Supernal entities, for obvious reasons) with a Mana and a Reach. This allows Spirit to be the go-to Arcanum for Twilight beings, meaning players need only focus on a single Arcanum for ephemeral-focused characters rather than three. So, if a player wants their character to deal with ephemerals, they don't have to also buy dots in Death and Mind just to affect ghosts and Goetia too, just a Reach and a Mana every time.


          • #6
            I think of Spirit not so much as a pet class, but more akin to dealing with a lot of alien and obsessed sentient powers. Spirits are monomaniacal, they live for Essence, its their food, their HP and their equivalent of mana, all rolled into one. Their morality and reasoning are all based around it, which makes them beings of extremes. An Effort spirit is not going to stop what he is doing just because a few workers collapsed from so many hours without sleep or proper nutrition, "Stop eating ? Are you crazy, little shaman ? Why would I do that ? The stress spirit is getting stronger and I see who he plans for a next meal, although, if you got rid of him.......". A fire spirit will not want to quell the fire consuming the building just because people will get hurt, and so on. No spirit is benevolent, even the most bening sounding one:


            Even a familiar is only there at its own convenience, the pact can be broken anytime. So lets say your mage has a sprit of Secrets, it will not bleed Essence from being in this side of the Gauntlet, but what else does it gain ? Why should it share its mind, Essence supply and take orders from a mage ? Perhaps it asks you to keep secrets from people, tiny, inconsequential ones that make others obsessed to reveal, generating its meals as people suspect you ever more. Maybe it asks you to hide both your sympathetic name and an item with strong sympathy in a small box, and gains power from the tension of keeping it safe and secret. Maybe it gets fed up with being fed little and starts telling your secrets to the enemy when you aren't looking. So a spirit of Battle, for example, could be profiting from combative mages, working on and off for both the Arrow and the Praetorian, then selling their secrets to The Guardians and Panopticon for Essence. So to compel one, all you would need is to find a location associated with battle (a competition stage, a wrestling ring, a gang turf, etc) and then sweeten the pot. Offer what it wants, but what is that ? Fangs and claws to beat its rival ? Or to make it slumber so it can be easily devoured ? A temporary rank boost ? Make it easier for it to cross over then make the human who unknowingly cut its essence supply solid in Twilight ? Afterwards make his successor easily possesed ? Sure, what could possibly go wrong ? I agree that mixing those two Arcana to affect spirits sounds like a powerful tool in his arsenal.

            On our side of the Gauntlet, there are ones so weak that they can be compelled to do small tasks for the shaman. Everything save humans has a spirit, that means animals, cars, trees, boulders, buildings, computers, there is a lot of flexibility possible. Lockpicking ? Why bother ? Ask the car to unlock itself, the door to open or the computer to let you login as someone else.

            On the Shadow side, you need to find a place whose emotions resonate what you are looking for, then bargain for whatever aid you need. Perhaps the spirit wants a daily offering of some random action each day for a month, like burning incense so that security spirits will protect your Sanctum. Or it needs you to eliminate a rival. Or it needs you to pay a terrible price, for example, the hospital spirit will only save your dying comrade if you infect someone else with a long acting and lethal disease. Then you need to worry how all this starts to reflect upon the real world, which spirit groups you aided and which ones you spurred, what changes now that A was devoured by B, how many deals still need to be paid, etc. A Spirit master should be tangled up in all sorts of webs of intrigue from these sentient forces, dancing on a knife's edge, as necessity for these miraculous powers makes him keep paying, and paying, and paying.............

            Sure, you can force the issue by using magic to remote control them, or dampening their essence fountain, but then you might draw their negative attention.

            For helping portray the Shadow, I find these resources to be of great aid:

            Five Pounds of Meat:

            The Pain Angel:

            They are by the Werewolf dev, which is a game that focuses more in depth on spirits, and he constantly writes new stuff, I recommen taking a look, its very evocative. Even a master of Spirit should be absolutely terrified of going to the Shadow. Werewolfs are kin to spirits, mages are interlopers, they are not welcome there. A cabal should consider very carefully before venturing there, and any even trying to make a residence there can only be considered suicidal.

            I also find this description very helpful:

            Originally posted by Papa Bear View Post
            What does the Shadow look like?

            You’ll have to go on a bit of a trip with me to get a picture of what I see when I imagine the Shadow Realm.

            Have you ever done a drawing with markers on a pad of paper and pressed so hard or run over the same space on the paper so many times that it bleeds thru to the pages underneath? If not, go try it, because the rest of this won’t make much sense.

            Imagine if an artist was to draw a picture of a factory with the cityscape behind it every day with marker. Every day, he draws the same picture from memory, but he’s not allowed to look at yesterday’s picture for reference. It has to be from memory every single time. The places that are important to him will get the most detail and greatest attention. Places that are less important will be drawn with ever decreasing attention. Because the places that are important will be drawn more heavily, they will bleed thru to the next page, making it easier to remember them. Places less important will fade over time until forgotten all together. New things may be added to the picture, even over a place that was once occupied by a forgotten object. Now imagine that not just one artist got to draw that factory and cityscape, but everybody who works at that place on that day got to draw it, but they are all on the same piece of paper and with the same markers. Places like the factory that employs half the town would be drawn so heavily that it goes thru several days’ worth of paper, except for the individual variations. The window washer who works there will know every broken window, but the foreman won’t. Other places that are important to only a few people will not fade as quickly, but the old factory that only a derelict hides out in will not be all that noticeable compared to the thousands of lines of the factory.

            Still with me? From here, we imagine that the images drawn are done by more Expressionist and/or Impressionist artists, i.e. it is a little more subjective than Realism and they’re trying to convey the feelings people have about it. While most of the objects retain their primary shapes, the drill press is not just a drill press….it’s got chains around the bottom because the one guy gets stuck working on it for a month. It’s also got a drill 3 times too big because of the 50 guys who are missing fingers because they go too close. The cars in the parking lot shuffle around slightly like herd animals, but generally stay in one spot. The mini-vans and SUVs look more like covered wagons designed by Chrysler, metal and plastic, but clearly built for hauling stuff and people over long distances. The executives fancy cars move more like sleek gazelles, except for the president’s Mustang which is, of course, a horse with a large penis (no, really, he’s not compensating for anything!). The factory itself looks both beneficial and ominous. The lights inside look more like hellfires, the smoke stacks produce a dark green smoke, but there are also dollar signs coming out of it pointing in the direction of many of the houses.

            The last element to be added is that all the markers used are mixed with charcoal and ash. They’re dark and rough (charcoal) or washed out and gritty (ash). The factory isn’t a good, healthy work environment, so it looks worse than a lot of other places. Lots of injuries and deaths, but people work there because they are short on options. The city behind it is a little brighter because those are the places people go to escape the work: home, bars, clubs, shopping, etc. Those places that have become less distinct are shrouded in a haze or over-shadowed by the other places that stand out.

            Above it all shines Mother Luna, there is no direct sunlight here. It is dusk or full night, depending on how bright Luna shines that day. The shadows are long and things hide in them.
            At the end of the day, its all a matter of how deep you want to dive into it, spirits can be as prominent and important as you need, either as a minor avenue of exploration or a big component, it all depends on what works for your campaign.
            Last edited by KaiserAfini; 08-30-2018, 09:06 PM.

            New experiences are the font of creativity, when seeking inspiration, break your routine.

            The Agathos Kai Sophos, an Acanthus Legacy of strategists


            • #7
              Thanks folks, great stuff.

              To dig in more on my second point, the set of example spells documented for Spirit seems to imply a complex, multi-step algorithm oriented toward playing spirit Pokémon. The text of the book lays out this toolkit for summoning, detecting, bribing, coercing, feeding, buffing, and binding spirits. My inference is that the essence of a Spirit mage is to use that toolkit. The spells don't seem to be worth much taken individually; they seem to be designed for use in concert -- in sequence, even. Finding spirits manifested or in Twilight is rare, right? Usually it's a lot of work to get at one unless the story is focused on spirits. People with minds are everywhere. Living beings are everywhere. Contacting a spirit requires either a plot point (e.g. I give that player a dedicated story every once in awhile so he can make meaningful use of Spirit) or the use of that Spirit toolkit to dig past all the obstacles one by one. Obstacles include: there aren't any spirits around, you can't detect the spirits, the spirits don't want to help you, the spirits can't help you much from across the Gauntlet, and the spirits aren't very strong. There are spells to overcome each obstacle, so I guess I'm meant to enforce those obstacles so the Spirit mage can cast his spells.

              So mostly I'm wondering how you guys handle that in your games, because frankly it seems tedious after the first time or two. Do you just house rule it, like "Okay you've demonstrated that you can win the cooperation of a Rank 2 spirit; I'll let you spend half a day doing that and we'll say you succeed without rolling the dice but you need to spend 2 Willpower." I don't think my other players want to go through spirit Pokémon algorithm every few sessions, but I'm not sure what else I can give the Spirit mage to do because almost all of their documented spells seem to relate to that Pokémon algorithm.
              Last edited by galivet; 08-23-2018, 12:13 PM.


              • #8
                After reading through this thread a few times, I think the best solution is simply to have spirits in Twilight be, not plentiful, but encounterable without much inconvenience. Those spirits in Twilight will be weak, starving, and afraid -- easily manipulated by the Spirit mage. More powerful, interesting, and plot-related spirits are in the Shadow and the players can all travel there together via Reaching so no one gets left out while the Spirit mage does his thing. They can all just drive an hour out of the city to get to a place with low Gauntlet strength for that. It's going to be fine. Making spirits and the Shadow a more prominent part of the setting will help flesh it out and make it more interesting.

                I think these are the two main things I have to avoid:
                1. Don't facilitate a style of play where the Spirit mage can solve every problem though "I summon the spirit of solving this kind of problem"
                2. Don't require the Spirit mage to fork off from the rest of the party to play spirit Pokémon to feel useful. Spirits in Twilight shouldn't be any less common than ghosts, and playing serious spirit Pokémon should be a team activity because of the danger of hunting powerful spirits.
                Thanks for the advice guys.


                • #9
                  Also remember Spirits have politics too, and Mages who frequently interact with them can (read will) get tangled up in them. In many aspects the spirits of a city are like gangs: getting chummy with one doesn´t only mean to do them favors once a while, but also gaining the enmity of other rival gangs.
                  Just the thing any mage needs: more enemies.
                  Last edited by Raistlin; 08-25-2018, 03:16 PM.


                  • #10
                    On the dearth of Spirits in Twilight, I assume with some of the spells at Spirit 1 that plenty of spirits at Rank 0 reside, slumbering, on this side of the Gauntlet in their respective representations. They can do that because since they're in hibernation they're effectively protected from Essence Bleed. So you can get them to do minor things for you, but you run the risk of them being sucked into the Shadow for the rest of their existence by empowering or waking them up.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Mrmdubois View Post
                      On the dearth of Spirits in Twilight, I assume with some of the spells at Spirit 1 that plenty of spirits at Rank 0 reside, slumbering, on this side of the Gauntlet in their respective representations. They can do that because since they're in hibernation they're effectively protected from Essence Bleed. So you can get them to do minor things for you, but you run the risk of them being sucked into the Shadow for the rest of their existence by empowering or waking them up.
                      The problem with this is that Rank 0 spirits can do literally nothing — they have no Influences, Attributes, Numina, or Manifestations with which to affect the world even if they were immune to Essence bleed.

                      Fetter, meanwhile…

                      Resident Sanguinary Analyst
                      Currently Consuming: Changeling: the Lost 1e


                      • #12
                        Rank 0 spirits are literally spiritual algae to eat.

                        Also, the Shadow is not the Underworld, it does not suck in spirits. The Uratha's border patrol looks quite different to a Gatekeeper's.

                        Sean K.I.W./Kelly R.A. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Sean, Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
                        The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
                        Male/neutral pronouns accepted, female pronouns enjoyed.


                        • #13
                          The few spirit mages I've seen in the fiction tend to have a little menagerie with them, perhaps trapped in fetishes or other boxes, where they can let them out to torment people, sometimes a spirit companion, which in 2e would be likely represented by a familiar. You can have a familiar 'with' you, or multiple ones, then ideally an ST has assorted spirit courts in important areas around the setting with certain named spirits that are, like you said, like NPCs. Like the ST don't have to give a name to everyone in the bar, but maybe the bartender and informant the PCs are looking for, from a Shadow POV you have who the court revolves around and who the mage is most likely to meet.

                          But for the most part you seem spot on. Just dealing through the Gauntlet is difficult on the fly, so you'd use Reaching (or found an Iris) and go into the Shadow. From there either harness spirits you can bring with you, or make deals with them and take advantage when you can. Mage is prep-time gameplay, after all. If you really do need something instant you can summon something over but most of their power is going to be in cultivating a network or even court of spirits that they can use as informants and spies and otherwise take advantage of, you can even task them to harass people through the Gauntlet if you want.

                          From a ST standpoint it likely looks like a lot of work, but if you have a character who wants to deal with the Shadow you should probably factor that into plots and mysteries. Everything doesn't have to be 'lets go to the Shadow' but if you're not going to involve it at all you should at least let them set up things during downtime between sessions.

                          Also I'm not sure if Mage uses this, but spirits tend to lay low during the day due to the ascension of Helios. This can explain lower outdoor activity for non-helion spirits during the day in the Shadow, as well as give a reason to have more spirits escaping to our world for the day.
                          Last edited by nofather; 08-27-2018, 01:36 AM.


                          • #14
                            Let me chime in and say that when I recently played a Spirit mage, I had prepared a Spirit for Combat, Investigation, Stealth, Chase, Social Interactions, Crafting, and Research in advance as basically my personal secondary cast, and it helped out a metric shit ton.

                            Sean K.I.W./Kelly R.A. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Sean, Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
                            The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
                            Male/neutral pronouns accepted, female pronouns enjoyed.


                            • #15
                              All this is great but if it ever slows you down and you just wanna roll dice or get on with it, you can do simple extended actions or ask for merit purchases/award merits/use place holder merits that represent your spirit dealings. Stuff like allies status staff retainer, ect, with an upkeep of wp and essence as you said for some off camera commitments. Nothing too exciting, but one enemy or bad play could send this domino rally going.

                              Inconvenience and drama when its personal and compelling, quick-solutions and convenience elsewhere. Whatever works.