Re: Humakti; Spirit Cults

From: Nick Brooke (
Date: Tue 17 Feb 1998 - 12:57:02 EET

Thanks to Martin for printing his private dialogue with Greg.
Particularly interesting (or gratifying) to me was this:

> I think you are right. They ARE dead, and their initiation
> rites are probably funeral rites. But they are the dead in
> life -- hence their hatred of the wrong type of living dead,
> the undead.

We played a Sword-making among the Lismelder as a funeral rite,
years ago, in David Hall's Greydog game. Since the Lismelder
live next to the Upland Marsh and Delecti's horrible minions,
anything we learn about the Humakti -vs- Undead thing is of
interest to me.

When Martin writes,

> they would have a poor link to life and its positive effects --
> they might heal more slowly than a normal man, have a lower
> chance of childbirth, be very, very bad farmers, be unappreci-
> ative of beauty in the natural world and be poor at socialisa-
> tion, being unnaturally grim and "awkward" to those still conn-
> ected to life

(and Greg agrees), I think that, while true, any such effect is
visible along two axes. One is that the Humakti is specialising
in death and killing while his peers are learning about life,
love, farming, families, clans, leadership, and other "social"
skills. Thus they are naturally backward, simply because they
aren't practicing what other folk do when they go for their LH
Bastard Sword Parry training down the Temple.

The other is that, in proportion to the increase in their power
as Humakti, they may develop these grim, taciturn, infertile,
obsessive, etc. tendencies. Joining the cult of Humakt may not
require a funeral, a divorce, a clan-leaving, or a personality
warping. But staying in it, devoting yourself to it, progressing
in it, etc. almost certainly *will*. Except, of course, for those
individuals who are so well-balanced, so well-adjusted, (so Illu-
minated??) that they can stay cheery and rosy-cheeked and loving,
even while in the midst of death, war and slaughter.

But they're weird. Humakti, among Humakti, act Humakti: it's the
done thing.

Were-Ralph asks:

> Can anyone tell me exactly how spirit cults work.

Not exactly, 'cos it's an inexact science. You can find the rule
mechanics in GoG and TG, not to mention Tales #14 (and there are
Praxian spirit cults all through Tales #14-16, and in BoDR:Prax).
Much of what's below is my own opinion, and in fact I'll try to
formalise it in "Rule-Speak" at the end of the post, because I
see there's a lot that is unclear or unattractive about the way
the rules are currently presented. For my Glorantha, at least.

> a) How do you initially contact a _specific_ spirit?

Could be by luck (good or bad): chance encounters on the Spirit
Plane (perhaps around a generic holy place where hungry spirits
cluster, such as a Praxian oasis or ruin) has brought many bene-
ficial and malevolent spirit cults into the world. If a Shaman
meets and befriends a nice spirit, he may learn how to summon it
(and go back to arrange worship). If a Shaman meets and is taken
over by an evil spirit, *it* may (while possessing the shaman)
arrange a worship service to summon and propitiate itself!

Could be by being where the spirit is: many are sedentary. (This
is how "local" spirit cults survive -- a spirit that happens to
hang around the Hare Woods can always be found by the people who
live down that way, for better or for worse).

If you want to call up a specific spirit, it's best to think in
"Ritual Magic" terms: go to a place appropriate to the spirit,
bringing gifts (sacrifices, trappings, items) that you think will
be attractive to the spirit, and try to summon it to you there.
A Praxian shaman summoning Sun Hawk would wear a hawk-feather
cloak, a bright-eyed mask, and perform his ritual in the arid
uplands at high noon. And Sun Hawk still might not turn up --
GM discretion whether to allow a "straight" or modified (+/-)
Summon roll, depending on player preparations and campaign needs.

> b) Can you 'worship' more than one, or are you limited to only
> the one divine spell?

You're a shaman, and they're pipsqueaks compared to the Big Gods.
You can worship any number of them (unless they object, e.g. if a
Fire Spirit learned you were worshipping the Great Dung Beetle),
and they're usually grateful for it. In "Nomad Gods", the Praxian
tribal shamans 'worship' (i.e. use) any spirit they come across,
regardless of existing alliances, except in special cases (like
the Three Feathered Rivals, or raw Chaos).

> c) How do you re-use the spells, do you need to set up your own
> shrine to each spirit? Do you need 'Worship <spirit>' If so, how
> do you get it?

It's more to do with congregations than shrines. If you can get
loads of people to chant the praises of the Great Newt (and they
will probably do this around a stream, pond, river or spawning-
pool), you can hold your seasonal worship there ('cos it's where
your dozens of worshippers will gather), and it might be handy to
set up permanent facilities for the regular summoning ceremony
(which is, of course, what Shrines are!). If, OTOH, you're out in
desolate Prax, forget about keeping an immobile "shrine" to your-
self. A "Sun Hawk Shrine" would be the medicine bundle and mask
and shamanic costume and ritual paraphernalia in the possession
of a roving Shaman who had previously contacted Sun Hawk; if any
other tribe got ahold of these, they'd be able to summon the Sun
Hawk more easily themselves. (And if they did so at Sun Hawk's
Perch, it becomes even easier: as ever in Prax, shrines and holy
spots are known to and shared between many tribes, and used by
whoever happens to be there).

Worship <spirit> might be just as necessary as Summon <spirit>
(the rules are silent on this), but that seems rather expensive
to me. I would be tempted to say that a Shaman uses his "Summon
<spirit>" spell to arrange appropriate worship -- after all, in
many ways the summoning is a result of successful worship by the
congregation. (Also, otherwise, the el cheapo Rune spells of the
spirit cults become rather pricey: you can get the one-point Rune
magic of the troll spirit Blackfinger for the outlay of *5* POW:
two to Summon, one to Worship, one to Initiate, and one to buy
the reusable one-point rune-spell).

So that IMG a Shaman's character sheet would have a one-point
Rune spell for every spirit cult he can organise a summoning/
worship service for. (I'd do this because I am promiscuous in my
use of spirit cults: I think they are *fine* things for GMs!).

Members of a shaman's tribe will pay one POW for "initiation"
instead, and list this on their character sheet -- I would not
require the Shaman himself to pay this cost, as he is "linked"
to the spirit by his ability to meet, summon and worship it
(i.e. by the one point of POW he paid to get "Summon <spirit>
in the first place).

NB: I would *not* allow the one-point Spirit Magic "Summon" spell
to be used for Shamanic spirit-cult worship. I think a one-POW
Rune spell is a far more appropriate cost. And I'd treat the Rune
spell of "Summon <creature>" as one point rather than two, IMG,
because Ritual Magic ceremonies are fun and should be encouraged,
much like Spirit Cults.

Shamans get Spirit Cult Rune spells reusably, as long as they can
hold a successful worship service every season. Other worshippers
get them on a one-use basis. If a shaman fails to summon/worship
the spirit, his spell becomes one-use -- though, again, I would be
tempted to say "can only be regained next time he holds a successful
summoning/worship service.

> d) I assume it is still preferable for him to be an initiate of
> KL if he wishes to be accepted by other Trolls.

Definitely. And entirely compatible with shamanic worship of Troll
spirit cults.

The rules below are intended to make spirit cult membership easier
and more widespread, and also to clear up who pays POW for what,
and why. They are my proposal, and the "generous" availability of
"one-use" Rune magics reflects my suggestions (in Tales #12 and
elsewhere) for widening the scope of its availability to all users:
I'm not trying to set up Spirit Cult worshippers as "super-users"
of Rune magic, like Tricksters in GoG.


1) First Catch Your Spirit...

Shamans need to have the 1-POW Rune spell "Summon <spirit>" before
they can organise Spirit Cult worship. Any friendly spirit will
teach this to a Shaman it encounters: spirits can be met by chance
while wandering the spirit plane, contacted deliberately by going
to places that are known to be holy to them, or summoned by holding
a summoning ritual to attract their attention (in an appropriate
location, appropriately garbed, with appropriate ritual objects,
offerings and sacrifices).

Chance encounters are left to the GM. Holy places can be assigned
depending on campaign needs; Stephen Martin's recent list of the
spirit-cult holy places in Prax gives a fair idea of frequency.
Summoning spirits here are easy, though full ceremony is usually
employed (better safe than sorry!).

For summonings, a Summon skill roll is needed (modified by Ceremony
attempts measured in hours): on a failure, the Shaman loses one POW
and does not gain the Rune spell; on a success, the Rune spell is
learned and the spirit appears for the Shaman. The difficulty of the
Summon roll is modified by the GM, as the base Summon % only applies
under ideal circumstances: good location, props, and knowledge.

Summon <spirit> is a reusable one-point Rune spell available to all
shamans. It is automatically regained one season after its last use,
whether or not that Summoning ended in a worship service (successful
or otherwise). This is why Spirit Cult worship normally occurs every
season. A Shaman may sacrifice for more than one use of the spell:
this is entirely acceptable, and allows more frequent summoning and
worship of the spirit in question.

Some divine or divine/shamanic cults encourage worship of certain
spirit cults, and may maintain ritual knowledge, apparatus or sites
that makes this easier and more readily available to their practit-
ioners. In a sense, a sub-cult shrine is a permanent, institutional-
ised "Spirit Cult", with its own occasional devotees, attracting a
fragment of the worship given by Initiates of the main cult to their
deity. But that's enough God Learning metaphysical speculation for

2) Then Worship It...

A Summoned spirit should be worshipped. To be a member of a Spirit
Cult congregation costs 1 POW, sacrificed in a manner analogous to
Initiation. This should be noted on the character sheet, as it is
normally permanent (someone who once worshipped Sun Hawk in their
youth can still do so in old age, if the spirit can be found). At
the worship ceremony, worshippers sacrifice all but one of their
MP to the spirit. Roll 1D100: if the number rolled is less than or
equal to the number of worshippers, the worship was successful.

If you attend a worship service but are not a worshipper (you're
present, but have not given POW to the spirit), the Shaman and/or
Spirit may detect you and feel unkind towards you: a POWx3% roll
is probably appropriate (they are detecting your "uninvolved" POW,
so having a high POW works against you), whether you are "hanging
out" in the congregation, hiding behind a nearby rock, or whatever.
Commonly, simpler and/or more malicious spirits assume such persons
are intended as sacrifices, and don't ask twice before tucking in!

Spirit Cult worship does *not* require a "Worship" Rune spell. The
Shaman's ability to summon the spirit is equivalent to this. Shamans
who have sacrificed for the relevant Summon spell do *not* need to
sacrifice 1 POW to participate in Spirit Cult worship: they already
have a "link" of sorts to the spirit, understanding its nature well
enough to direct Magic Points to it (compare with Initiation).

3) Then Get Its Magic...

Spirit Cult worshippers who have participated in successful worship
can sacrifice for the spirit's Rune spell(s). Shamans who know the
relevant Summon ritual can gain these Rune spells "reusably": they
are regained every time a successful worship service is held with
the Shaman participating or leading worship. "Ordinary" worshippers
regain the use of their Rune spells as per normal one-use magic
(i.e. if you follow my "One-Use Rune Magic" guidelines, they are
regained annually following a successful worship service; if not,
they are one-shot spells, gone for good once cast).

4) And Keep It Happy...

Some spirits will require certain actions, attitudes or taboos from
their followers. Most can't afford to be so picky, or their "cult
requirements" are pathetically trivial (e.g. "always butcher frogs").
Some can be scary, though: be creative! A follower who breaks his
taboos cannot successfully participate in the next worship service
(i.e. his participation counts for nothing, he is not a % in the
Shaman's roll, he cannot gain or regain Rune magics). A Shaman who
breaks his taboos has the replenishment of his Summon spell delayed
for another season, and may have to explain this to his congregation.

Successful spirit cult worship is normally carried out seasonally:
this is magically efficient, keeps the spirit happy, and tops up
cultists' Rune spells on a regular basis. Spirits can afford to be
forgiving, though -- their sense of time is different to ours --
and will not bear lethal grudges if "neglected" for a while. Most
are pathetically grateful for whatever worship they can attract,
and see no point in driving away their semi-faithful worshippers.

Major religions consider most spirit cults beneath their notice.
Most spirit cults are glad of any worship they can attract. It is
unusual for a mainstream cult to bear a special animus towards a
spirit cult (how did it survive?), or for a spirit cult to have
unduly onerous membership requirements (how did it survive?).
Clearly there are general exceptions -- a Yelm priest is unlikely
to sympathise with shamanic worship in any case, even less with
shamanic worship of Darkness spirits. And the mutual antagonism
between the Three Feathered Rivals is famed throughout Prax: pity
the Shaman who maintains good relations with more than one of these
quarrelsome birds!

5) And Trust The GM!

Spirit Cults are *ideal* for GMs wanting to spring surprises on
their players. As opponents, they are sources of weird, one-off
Rune spells for otherwise "normal" opponents. If followed by the
players, the ad-hoccery inherent in Spirit Cult worship invites
new and interesting scenarios, heroquests, and challenges. Spirits
have interests, needs, requirements, and objectives, just as much
as player characters do: a spirit cult with powerful and capable
followers will encourage the spirit to widen its horizons, expect-
ing more and more from its "faithful" devotees.

Happy hunting!



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