Tuesday, July 12, 2016


I had great fun yesterday hammering down two magical/religious practices in my world in D&D terms: shamanism and animism.  Of the two, shamanism is more primitive; animism arises out of shamanism in areas of greater technology.  Both magics/religions are intended for cultures that are too primitive for spell or cantrip use - and so the rules for each had to both limit the amount of power that could be used while giving possibilities for how each could provide powers and abilities not associated with standard Vancian magic.  Both are described on the wiki and will provide plenty of reading not included here on the blog.  I recommend reading both pages through and comparing the one with the other (noting similarities and differences).

The strangest addition is Fetishism, which I'm going to post below - just because I think it is so damn interesting.  There may be some flaw in the rule that I'm missing, I hope someone will point it out to me if they see one that makes the ability way too powerful.  I stress that this would be primarily an ability for non-player characters . . . though, of course, it is almost certainly something that I would eventually add to my sage abilities in the future, so that players could partake.

Please forgive the disclaimer at the start of this.  I wanted to make clear the fundamentals of my perception of animism based on pre-European incursions and misinterpretations (which is what most of what we know about animism).

From the Wiki:

Fetishes are objects that are possessed of magical power, that enable the bearer to have power over others. The following is an attempt to separate this practice in my world from the corrupted and largely misunderstood development of 'voodooism,' or 'Vodou,' in later centuries, which is far, far from the practice that actually occurred in Old World primitive cultures. In creating rules for fetishism, I have chosen to ignore cheesy ideals that have long since become awful cliches in film and the Caribbean tourist trade. I simply am not interested in this, and don't feel it would be a good fit for my world - particularly as I am attempting to present many possible animistic regions, not just those of the West African slave states.

Retaining the idea of being able to affect others with fetishes, or talismans, the emphasis here is on positive effects. Fetishes, unlike shamanistic tokens, do not require the sacrifice of an animal or a humanoid - but they do require considerable skill in their creation. (note: this is a skill I would like to eventually add to the bard, but I do not have the necessary rules at this time].

The fetish talisman is created by the animist shaman as follows: the object must be made of a material that has been formed from a living creature: wood, wax or even dung are the most common materials. This is then fashioned in the form of a specific humanoid subject, though the likeness is not expressly important. The subject's hair must be cut directly from the humanoid's head, either willingly or without the subject's knowledge - hair taken by force will not serve. The figure must be made with cloth that the subject has worn more than once. Finally, once the talisman has been made, it must come into contact with the subject for the space of one round (12 seconds). Thereafter, the talisman/doll will serve as an effective animist fetish.

This empowers the animist shaman to perform two forms of control. The first transfers a condition or ability from the shaman to the subject; the second reverses this, so that a condition or ability is transferred to the shaman. Note that this transfer will last only as long as the shaman concentrates upon the fetish, so that in most cases it will not enable to shaman to take on powers that can then be used, since focusing on the use of that power will cause it to recede.

However, the shaman can bestow the subject with better ability stats (since the subject can take advantage of these, having no need to concentrate), a better to hit table (if applicable), a superior saving throw, greater morality and so on. Hit points cannot be transferred. However, were the shaman intoxicated, that could be transferred; likewise, the shaman could transfer an injury, taking it away from the subject to make the subject were more effective as a combatant, or giving it to the subject in order to cripple him. A disease could likewise be transferred. The shaman could drink poison and transfer that as well; or accept poison from the subject, empowering the shaman to save vs. the poison and survive it while the subject could be sustained before the effects of the poison was returned. There are numerous other ways in which the power of one individual or the other could be shared one way or the other.

Note that the effects of some circumstances, such as a fire or suffocation, could be not be transferred, as the animist shaman could not effectively concentrate on the fetish while on fire or, say, drowning. In general, if the experience is something that would suspend the concentration necessary for casting spells, the fetish cannot be used.

An animist shaman's magic can only support one fetish at any one time. To make another fetish requires that the prior fetish be destroyed, smashing it first with the hand and then setting it afire. This destruction does not affect the subject, as it is not what the talisman/doll experiences that is transferred, but what the shaman feels.

Animism is most common among tech 6 and tech 7 cultures, though there are cults of animism that exist in all cultures above tech 6.


Dani Osterman said...

That's a very cool rule. If I were in your game, I'd love for one of my henchman to be able to do this. A particularly powerful leader in these Tech 6 or Tech 7 societies, with multiple shamans at their beck and call, could be considered a demi-god by their people because of their ability to perform superhuman feats of endurance (as the shamans in turn take these burdens from the leader).

One recommendation is to have the quality of the fetish determine the degree of transferal: a poor-quality fetish would transfer very little between the two (either way), while a perfect simulacrum would allow a complete transfer (or perhaps a proportional one instead of an absolute one).

When I get to sculpture, one of the categories will include representational art, which would include fetishes. Perhaps these might interact, allowing some sort of low-power continuous magical benefit (one per servant shaman), constantly requiring renewal? That sounds like an adventure or three to me.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I could not help seeing the associations between our Bard conversations, your work on your blog and the fetishes I was researching, as well as tokens and totems, which are also described on the wiki in the links given. There are times when information is piling up in so many places that trying to get it all managed at the same time is impossible. I am lucky just to get these two religions sorted out (and now I am working on Mantraism, which is a HUGE headache - never read eastern religious philosophy without a guidebook), much less tackle the whole bard problem for my sage abilities system at the same time. I've been watching you work on your detailed work and wondering just how to highlight it - I'm going to have to pull up some sort of post about it pretty soon, because that stuff is gorgeous.

Tim said...

This is awesome! Really contributes to the strategic aspect: I'd definitely want to incorporate this for my players.